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Title X restrictions on Planned Parenthood a 'major victory'

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 18:57

Washington D.C., May 18, 2018 / 04:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life advocates lauded a federal government proposal that aims to remove Title X funding from programs and facilities that promote and perform abortions.

“For too long, Title X has been used to subsidize the abortion industry. We need to draw a bright line between what happens before a pregnancy begins and what happens after a child has been created,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee.

In a May 18 statement, Dolan called the proposal “greatly needed and deeply appreciated.”  

“Abortion always takes the life of a child and often harms the mother, her surviving children, and other family and friends as well. Most Americans recognize that abortion is distinct from family planning and has no place in a taxpayer-funded family planning program,” he said.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, hailed the move as “a major victory” for the pro-life movement that helps “disentangle taxpayers from the abortion business.”

“The Protect Life Rule doesn’t cut a single dime from family planning,” she said. “It instead directs tax dollars to Title X centers that do not promote or perform abortions, such as the growing number of community and rural health centers that far outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities.”

The Health and Human Services Department on Friday filed a proposal with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that abortion is not treated as a method of family planning under Title X.

While federal law currently prohibits money received through the Title X Family Planning Grant Program from being used for abortion, pro-life advocates have long voiced concern that this regulation is not always enforced.

The proposal will require a “bright line” of physical and financial separation between Title X programs and any program or facility that performs abortion, or supports or refers for abortion as a family planning method.

It will not decrease the amount of Title X funding, which annually provides $260 million for “family planning” purposes, including contraception, pregnancy testing, and infertility treatments.

Abby Johnson, a pro-life advocate who previously worked as a Planned Parenthood director, said in a statement that there was “never any separation of funds,” and that all money the clinic received, regardless of source, went into one account.

“It was all about the bottom line,” she said.

Title X funds make up a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s funding, money that Johnson believes the organization will recoup through its network of high-profile donors and supporters.

"They should have no problem making up those taxpayer dollars though with the support of celebrities, the fashion and tech industries, and Hollywood icons,” said Johnson. “But I’m grateful that my tax dollars will not fund Planned Parenthood.”

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the proposal “is an attempt to take away women’s basic rights.”

“Under this rule, people will not get the health care they need. They won’t get birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, or even general women’s health exams.”

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the proposal a “dangerous rule” that “should send shivers down the spine of everyone who ever wanted to know the facts and the truth about their own healthcare.”

However, Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), stressed that Planned Parenthood would not explicitly be defunded under the new proposal. Instead, it would be required to separate abortion from its services in order to continue receiving Title X funds.

“The Protect Life Rule is about choice. Planned Parenthood can stop performing abortions or stop receiving family planning funding,” Smith said. “For too long the abortion giant has utilized Title X funding—up to $60 million annually—to further their core mission of destroying unborn human life. The 1970 program is in dire need of reform, and today’s actions lead the way in redirecting the same amount of taxpayer dollars from the abortion industry to actual health care providers.”

Rep. Smith, the co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, was one of more than 150 members of Congress who sent a letter to the Health and Human Services Department in April, asking that Title X dollars be prohibited from going to organizations that perform abortions.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri), another signatory of the letter, also applauded the proposal.

“The abortion industry should not be the recipient of taxpayer funded family planning programs,” she said. “This proposed rule will distinguish between health care facilities that provide family planning services and clinics whose business models promote, facilitate, and perform the inhumane act of abortion.”

While the new proposal could lead to Planned Parenthood losing about $60 million annually from Title X funding, the organization is still eligible to receive some $400 million from Medicaid reimbursements annually. Federal Medicaid funds are prohibited from going toward elective abortions, although pro-life advocates have also questioned how thoroughly that regulation is enforced.

The new HHS rule is based off a regulation issued by President Ronald Reagan, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, but was later reversed by President Bill Clinton. The new regulation differs from that of the Reagan era in that it will not ban Title X recipients from counseling clients about abortion.

Last year, Trump signed a repeal of an Obama-era regulation which had prohibited states from denying federal funds to health clinics solely on the grounds that they provided abortions.

How Meghan Markle's Catholic school is celebrating the Royal Wedding

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 18:25

Los Angeles, Calif., May 18, 2018 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- Flash mobs, sparkling lemonade, and video toasts to the happy couple are just some of the ways that a Catholic high school in California is celebrating their most popular alumna, soon-to-be royal Meghan Markle.

An American actress best known for her role on the T.V. series “Suits,” Markle attended middle school and high school at Immaculate Heart Catholic school outside of Los Angeles.

The school has taken the highly-anticipated wedding as a chance for celebration, including an outdoor pre-wedding celebration on Tuesday, complete with a group dance, fancy hats, toasts to Markle and both American and British flag-waving.  

Current Immaculate Heart students told media that they take inspiration from the fact that one of their own, who is a U.N. advocate for women and known for her humanitarian work, is being celebrated on the world stage.

“The idea that someone like her, who has had an upbringing so similar to ours, will now be able to voice her concerns on a global platform as an internationally recognized figure is a story that impacts so many young women, especially the young women at our school,” student Mia Speier said in a toast to Markle at the Tuesday event.

“She is from Los Angeles, she's half black, so I feel like no matter what ethnicity you are, no matter where you're from, you could actually make a big change in the world,” Immaculate Heart senior Chloe Hightower told "Good Morning America."

While teachers at the school recalled Markle as a bright and compassionate student with a knack for remembering names and stories, Markle says the teachers made a lasting impression on her as well.

Maria Pollia is an Immaculate Heart theology teacher whom Markle remembers especially fondly. In a recent interview, Markle recalled how Pollia inspired her when she said that “life is about putting others' needs above your own fears.”

“Yes, make sure you are safe and never, ever put yourself in a compromising situation, but once that is checked off the list, I think it's really important for us to remember that someone needs us, and that your act of giving/helping/doing can truly become an act of grace once you get out of your head,” Markle recalled in an interview for the book “The Game Changers: Success Secrets from Inspirational Women Changing The Game and Influencing The World.”

Pollia said she was humbled and proud to hear of her impact on Markle, whose humanitarian work since high school has impressed her former teacher.

“This is something that I think really fuels her, her joy and her heart. And I think it's wonderful to know that she is still that person, and that now with her place in the world, she'll be able to do that on an even greater scale,” Pollia told CNN. “I think that they are both very aware of that. And I think it's wonderful that they will be companions to each other on that journey.”

“She's bringing not just beauty and grace and smarts, but she's bringing this world consciousness,” Christine Knudsen, another former teacher of Markle's, told ABC News.

Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry has raised eyebrows not only for her Catholic ties, but also for her being half black, divorced, and an American, obstacles which just a few years ago may have disqualified the couple from ascending to the throne.

Father James Bradley, a Catholic priest in the U.K. and a former Anglican, told CNA in November that the excitement surrounding royal weddings “shows that even when, in some sense, the marriage isn’t everything we would want it to be, society as a whole has a natural inclination towards the good and towards what marriage represents.”

“So people see the goodness of marriage, even people who are opposed to the institution of marriage will cheer when a couple like this get married, or get engaged, because it takes a very hardened heart not to be happy that two people are seeking this good.”

Prince Harry and Markle will be married in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on Saturday.

Immaculate Heart will be hosting a (early) watch party for students and their families - most coverage of the event begins between 1-2 a.m. Pacific time.


Empty cradle, empty pews? What the low birth rate means for Catholics

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 18:15

Washington D.C., May 18, 2018 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Demographic reports indicate that the U.S. birth rate is at a 40-year low, with significant declines among Hispanic women. That low birth rate could mean declining Mass attendance because couples with children are more likely to attend church, one demographer says.

“It is the case that Catholics, Hispanic or not, tend to become more active in their faith when they marry and have children,” said Dr. Mark Gray, senior research associate at the Georgetown University-affiliated Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

“Thus, going to Mass frequently may not necessarily make a couple more open to having more children. Instead, having children may encourage parents to incorporate their faith in their family life more and thus lead to higher levels of attendance.”

Hispanic Catholics who attend Mass weekly on average have 2.89 children, compared to non-Hispanic Catholics who have 2.35, said Gray, citing General Social Survey figures.

“So it is accurate to say that more frequently Mass attending Catholics have more children,” Gray told CNA. “Hispanics who are not Catholic have 1.8 children, on average. Nearly half of Hispanic adults are not Catholic, 46 percent.”

At the same time, there are other aspects of the birth rate to consider.

“A growing rate of disaffiliation from Catholicism among Hispanics along with slightly lower rates of Mass attendance among Hispanic Catholics over the last decade could be having an effect on fertility decisions,” Gray added. “The economy is also important.”

The U.S. reached a 40-year low in the fertility rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control provisional estimate for 2017. There were about 3.85 million births last year, a total fertility rate of about 1.76 births per woman.

By comparison, the total fertility rate in 2007 was 2.08 children born per woman, with total births numbering as high as 4.31 million.

Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Charlottesville, Va.-based Institute for Family Studies, said the Hispanic birth rate appears to have declined the most.

“Solidly half of the missing kids over the last decade would have been born to Hispanic mothers, despite the fact that Hispanics only make up about a quarter of fertility-age women,” Stone said at the Institute for Family Studies website.

From 2008-2016, Hispanic women’s age-adjusted fertility rate fell from 2.85 births per woman to 2.1. They had about 19 percent fewer babies than they were on pace to have before 2008. This numbers about 2.2 million “missing births,” according to Stone.

By comparison, non-Hispanics’ fertility rate fell from 1.95 births per woman to 1.72. About 2.3 million “missing births” would be from these mothers.

Stone credited the birth rate decline among all groups mostly to changes in marriage and marital status.
“Births to never-married women are down more than births to ever-married women,” he said.

Since 2007, the age-adjusted fertility rate for married women is down 14 percent, while the never-married fertility rate is down 21 percent.

The statistics indicate the birth rate is falling more slowly for women with graduate degrees than women with bachelor’s degrees, while the birth rate is falling most for women with no bachelor’s degrees.

“Fertility declines are most strongly associated with factors that are race- or region-specific, not broadly class-specific, as different economic classes appear to have quite similar trends,” Stone said. “This doesn’t rule out all economic causes: there are important interactions between race and socioeconomic class.”

He suggested that economically-oriented solutions may have only “modest direct effects” on the birth rate.

The CARA research blog, edited by Gray, took a look at a similar time period, 2010-2016. It found a net loss in the U.S. Catholic population of 0.9 percent.

“This is a dynamic that is happening at the level of the family where it meets the parish community. Something is disconnected,” Gray said in a March 12, 2018 post.

Decline in marriage rates between Catholics and non-Catholics also mean a decline in non-Catholic spouses who convert to Catholicism. In 1996, 31 percent of all marriages were between Catholics and non-Catholics, compared to only 23 percent in 2015, Gray said.

“The most common reason given by adults converting to Catholicism for switching their religion is that they are marrying a Catholic. Fewer marriages in the Church between Catholics and non-Catholics will result in fewer adult entries into the faith.”

The retention rate among Hispanic Catholics appears to be slipping.

In 2010, 77 percent of Hispanics who were raised Catholic remained Catholic when surveyed, compared to 64 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics. By 2016, only 69 percent of Hispanic Catholics remained Catholic, compared to about 63 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics.

In 2010, 63 percent of all Hispanic adults in the U.S. self-identified as Catholic, compared to 54 percent six years later.

“Declining affiliation among Hispanic Catholics should be of great concern to the Church because a majority of Catholics under the age of 18, those of the iGen, are Hispanic,” said Gray, referring to the generation after the Millennials as “iGen.”

He suggested that descendants of immigrants from predominantly Catholic countries often show diminishing religious affiliation over time.

“Coming from a very Catholic country to one with abundant religious pluralism … is a dramatic cultural change,” he said.

The numbers could also reflect differences among Hispanics by national origin.

“In the United States, majorities of self-identified Mexicans, Dominicans, and Salvadorans self-identify their religion as Catholic,” said Gray. “However, minorities of Cubans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans say they are Catholic.”

More Mexican residents of the U.S. are returning to Mexico than entering, with a net population decline of about 140,000 U.S.-residing Mexicans from 2009 to 2014.

Catholic immigrants’ numbers are also on the decline compared to other immigrants.

Their chapel caught fire, but Salesian sisters remain thankful

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 17:30

Newark, N.J., May 18, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a fire destroyed their chapel just days before Pentecost, a community of Salesian sisters expressed gratitude for the first responders who extinguished the flames and saved the church’s tabernacle.

“Though our hearts are heavy, we are fortunate to be able to report that no one was harmed and that firemen were able to rescue the most precious item in the chapel: the tabernacle,” the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco reported in a statement on Friday.

At 1:39am on May 18, a fire broke out at the sisters’ school, Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, New Jersey.

The blaze was a four-alarm fire, meaning at least 168 firefighters were on the scene. Fire departments from four municipalities provided support. The fire was finally snuffed out at 4am. The cause of the fire has not been released.

The chapel is regularly used by the school, and by the sisters residing nearby. The church was expected to be used for the school’s baccalaureate Mass on June 1 and commencement on June 2. The chapel was built in 1976 and renovated in 2016.

“During a morning assembly led by Principal Sr. Marisa DeRose, FMA, our community wept as photos of the charred altar, pews, and melted Peragallo pipe organ were shared, along with a warning to students to keep far from the building,” the statement said.

Despite their sorrow, the community expressed gratitude that the fire did not spread to other areas of the campus, and a donation to rebuild the chapel was received before the school day began.

“The Sisters, students,faculty, and staff of the Academy are devastated by this loss, but remain thankful to the dedicated firemen who contained the fire before it could cause additional damage to our facilities,” the sisters said.

“A testament to the strength of our community, the first donation to help rebuild the chapel was received from a faculty member before the school day had even begun; upon hearing about the blaze on the fire scanner radio, she was immediately moved to help.”

Mary Help of Christians Academy opened its doors in 1924. According to the academy’s website, the school teaches young women in the “charism of reason, religion and loving kindness as inspired by Saint John Bosco and Saint Mary Mazzarello.”

Church leaders offer prayers after school shooting near Houston  

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 15:22

Houston, Texas, May 18, 2018 / 01:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Church leaders voiced their closeness to victims of a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday, calling Catholics to pray for all those affected.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said that he was “deeply saddened” to receive news of the shooting.  

“My prayers, along with the prayers of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, are with the victims and families of those killed and injured in this horrific tragedy,” he said in a statement.

“During this most difficult and challenging time, I know the Archdiocesan community will unite to support and offer healing to those affected. As a society, we must strive for a way to end such acts of senseless gun violence in our schools and communities.”

Shortly before 8 a.m. Friday, police were called to respond to a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston, Texas.

Officials confirmed 10 fatalities in the shooting – nine students and one teacher. At least 13 other people were injured, including at least two law enforcement officers, according to local media reports.

One 17-year-old male suspect is in custody and a second person of interest has been detained. Both are teenagers and are believed to be students at the school.

The Santa Fe Independent School District later reported that possible explosive devices had been found both at the high school and off campus. Law enforcement officials were working to render the items safe, the school district said.

Local officials at a press conference asked for prayers.

In a second statement later in the day, Cardinal DiNardo spoke in his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, lamenting the “ever-growing list of those impacted by the evil of gun violence.”

“Sadly, I must yet again point out the obvious brokenness in our culture and society, such that children who went to school this morning to learn and teachers who went to inspire them will not come home,” he said. “We as a nation must, here and now, say definitively: no more death! Our Lord is the Lord of life. May He be with us in our sorrow and show us how to honor the precious gift of life and live in peace.”

Prayers were also offered by Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, where in recent years shootings have taken place at both an elementary school and a facility for those with developmental disabilities.

“My prayers for those who died in this morning's tragic school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, their families, those injured and the entire school community,” Bishop Barnes said on Twitter. “May they receive God's strength and His consolation in this time of shock and sadness.”

Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay tweeted that the students and families at the school would be remembered at a previously scheduled Mass taking place Friday morning.

“Our hearts are heavy hearing the news about Santa Fe High School. My prayers are with all those who are impacted by this horrible and senseless act. May the families of the victims experience the healing power of Jesus' love,” said Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford.

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Bishop Robert Cunningham of Syracuse, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Va., and Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver also offered prayers on Twitter.


'A call from God' - Why these Catholic couples became foster parents

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 07:00

Denver, Colo., May 18, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It was a quiet Thanksgiving for Kerry.

She and her husband had just retired from the military, and they were home in Colorado Springs with Kerry’s mother-in-law, whom they were taking care of at the time. But the house, with two extra, empty bedrooms upstairs, felt just a little too quiet.

Kerry had no children of her own, but it was around that time that she felt God calling her to foster parenting.

“I just saw this article in the paper for a foster agency and it really spoke to me and I said ‘Ok God this is what you want me to do? Because I’m a little bit old for this.’ But...I felt I was just really made to do this and God said, you can do this!”

It’s something that many Catholic foster parents have in common - the feeling that God called them to open their homes and hearts to foster parenting.

Kerry and her husband began fostering through a local Christian agency called Hope and Home, and after meeting the licensing requirements, embarked on a six-year foster care journey, in which they fostered a total of 10 kids, adopted two, and provided respite care for several other “kiddos,” as Kerry affectionately calls them.

“Foster care is a learning experience, and is probably the hardest yet most rewarding thing I've ever done,” Kerry told CNA.

For foster care awareness month, CNA spoke with four Catholic foster parents about their stories, and the faith that inspired them along the way. Only first names have been used to protect the children who have been or are still in their care.

“The greatest of our foster-heartbreaks has become my life's work” - Kerry, Colorado Springs

Kerry’s family learned a lot, the hard way, from their first foster care placement, a two-year-old named Alex.

“It was hard, as Alex had suffered abuse and neglect and was terrified of all things to do with bedtimes,” Kerry said. “We spent the first week sitting outside the door of his bedroom, because he was terrified to have us in there and yet terrified to be alone.”

About seven months after Alex had been placed in their care, he was returned back to his biological father. Kerry strongly objected to that plan, telling their caseworker that she believed the father was not ready to take his son back.  

Kerry’s objections were overruled, and Alex went home with his biological dad. Nine months later, Kerry learned that Alex had died of severe head trauma while in the care of his dad’s girlfriend. It was because of Alex that she began to research and advocate for the prevention of child abuse.

“The greatest of our foster-heartbreaks has become my life's work,” Kerry said. “I am part of our county's Not One More Child Coalition, the secretary for our local Safe Kids Colorado chapter, and the Chair of the Child Abuse Prevention Committee for our local chapter of the Exchange Club,” she said.

“We are also working to establish a child abuse prevention nonprofit called Kyndra's Hope - named for another local foster girl who actually entered foster care in hospice, as she was not expected to live due to the severe physical abuse by her biological parents. Thanks to the prayers of her adopted mom, Kyndra is now a lively 10-year-old who, despite her disabilities, has beaten the odds.”

Kerry has adopted two of the 10 of her foster children, and provided respite care for numerous others.

Kerry said she felt relief and belonging in her local Catholic parish, because several other families have adopted children and blended families, “so to just go and sit and be a normal family with all the other people there was just really wonderful some days,” she said.

One of the main patron saints she leaned on as a foster parent was St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

“I was always praying to him for myself and for my kiddos who were really lost, just to help us all find ourselves,” she said.

“What do my pro-life duties entail?” - Scott; Lincoln, Nebraska

Scott and his wife were newlywed “classic, orthodox Catholics” living in Lincoln, Nebraska. While they had no known medical issues, they tried for six years to get pregnant, but it just wasn’t happening.

After mourning the loss possible biological children, the couple began to talk about adoption. While the idea of foster care surfaced at the time, “It scared us a little bit,” Scott told CNA.

They knew that many of the children they would encounter would come from difficult situations, and as first-time parents, they weren’t sure they would be able to handle that.

They adopted a son, Anthony, but they still felt the desire for more children. When they considered a second adoption, they were encouraged to look more seriously into foster care.

They took the foster parent preparation class, but still felt some hesitation, and so they “kicked the can down the road” a little longer. But something happened at their city’s annual Walk for Life that stayed with Scott.

“We go to the Walk for Life every year, and there’s a lady there every year, she had this sign and it basically said ‘Foster, adopt or shut up.’ That was what she was saying as a counter-protest to a pro-life group,” Scott recalled.

“It’s something that stuck with me because I thought you know, what do my pro-life duties entail?”

Soon after, he and his wife felt called by God to open up their home to foster children. They told the agency, thinking they would wait another year or two before getting a placement.

Ten days later, a little two-year-old named Jonathan came to stay with them. Even though he was young, the family has had to work with him on some deep-seated anger issues and speech delay problems.  

“This is really pro-life,” Scott said of foster care and adoption.

“This birth mom chose life, but she can’t raise this child, and so my wife and I are going to take the ball and we’re going to do the hard work and we’re going to get through this.”

“I really feel like God called us to this, and called us to this little boy,” he added. “You can’t ignore the call - or you shouldn’t - it’s similar to a vocational call in my opinion.”

Something else that struck Scott throughout the process was how much foster parenting is promoted in Evangelical churches, including those sponsoring their family’s agency- and how infrequently he heard it mentioned in Catholic ones.

“I would say that [Evangelicals] do a fabulous job in their churches as far as promoting foster care and getting lots of families to participate,” Scott said. “And we’ve got the one true faith, so I want our families and couples to learn about this and possibly participate in it,” he added.

“I know it’s not for everybody, but there’s lots of different things other than taking a child that you can do,” he said, such as mentoring a child or offering support to other foster parents.

“We’ve always had a special spot in our heart for kids in foster care” - Jami; Omaha, Nebraska

Jami’s family, like Scott’s family, experienced a time of infertility before deciding to look into foster care or adoption as a way to grow their family.

But they were also drawn to it in other ways. Before they were married, Jami and her husband had volunteered at a summer camp that united foster care kids with siblings living in other foster homes.

“We volunteered for that as camp counselors, so we’ve always had a special spot in our heart for kids in foster care, so we wanted to try it out for that reason also,” Jami told CNA.

Jami had also grown up in Omaha, Nebraska, the home of Boystown, a temporary home for troubled boys and youth founded in 1917 by Servant of God Father Edward Flanagan.

“I have a special relationship with him, even when I was younger, I used to think he was so cool,” Jami said. “And all through us fostering, I would pray to him and through him because he knows, he helped these kids in trauma.”  

Jami and her husband took an infant, Bennett, into their home. His older sister was placed in a different foster home while they waited to see if the children could be reunited with their mother.

It was an “emotional rollercoaster,” Jami said, because she knew she needed to bond with Bennett, while she also had to be prepared to let him go at any moment.

“I would pray through Fr. Flanagan and tell him just ‘please.’ I trust God and his choice in whether this kid goes home or not, because that was also really hard - I was feeling guilty for wanting to keep the baby, because it’s not yours. We’re there to help the parents,” she said.

“So I really believe that (Fr. Flanagan) was holding this whole situation, he just took care of it,” she said.

“The most challenging thing is letting yourself go, letting yourself bond with the child and not trying to protect your own heart,” Jami said, “and then coping with the emotional roller coaster because that can put a lot of stress on yourself, your husband, the whole family.”

“But the most rewarding part is helping these families, helping the parents have the time they need to overcome whatever challenges they’re facing,” she said. “And getting to bond with the (child) is such a gift because literally if you don’t give it who will? And that is such a gift to give a child.”

“This is hardcore Gospel living” - Michaela; St. Louis, Missouri

Michaela’s foster parent journey differs from many others. She and her husband already had children - four of them, all in grade school or younger - when she felt God was calling her to consider adoption.

When the topic of adoption was brought up during her bible study, “my heart just started burning for adoption, the Spirit was moving within me, but I knew that was not something I could just impose on my family or my marriage,” Michaela, who lives in St. Louis, Missouri, told CNA.

She decided to keep the inspiration quiet, and told God that if this is something he really wanted from her family, then her husband would have to voice the same desires first.

So she never mentioned it to her husband. But one day, some time later, he came to breakfast and said out of the blue: “I think we’re being called to adoption.”

As their research into adoption began, they realized that they didn’t feel called to infant or international adoption - two of the most common routes. They realized that God was actually calling them to foster care.

“It was exactly the desire of our heart, it was where God was calling,” Michaela said.  

The prerequisites for foster care include classes that prepare foster parents for worst-case scenarios - children who come from broken, traumatic situations who will exhibit difficult behaviors.

But to Michaela’s surprise, “They come and they’re just the most innocent children, this pure innocence comes from a broken life, they don’t resemble the brokenness that they come from.”

Michaela’s family is relatively new to fostering - they started just six months ago - and already they’ve had four children between the ages of one and seven placed with their family.

One of the most rewarding things about foster parenting has been the lessons her biological children are learning from the experience, Michaela said.  

“These aspects of the Gospel we cannot teach our children - I cannot teach you how to lay down your life for someone else. But I can show you with this,” Michaela said.

“This is Gospel, this is hardcore Gospel living.”

The hardest part about foster parenting can be letting go - the goal of foster parenting is not to keep the children, but to provide them a temporary home while their biological family can get back on their feet, Michaela said.

Michaela said that’s a concern about foster parenting that she often hears: “What if I get too attached? Isn’t it too hard?”

“These children deserve to be attached to, so they deserve us to love them so that it hurts us when they leave,” she said.

For this reason, she asks case workers to let herself and her children accompany the foster child to their next home - whether that’s with their parents or with another foster or adoptive family.

“It’s super hard for us, but it’s really good for the kids to see us cry, to know that they are loved that much, that someone would cry over them,” she said.

Michaela said she found great support as a foster parent through the Catholic Church and also through other Christian denominations.

“Our own church totally opened their arms to us, and brings over clothes and car seats and was just hugely supportive and welcoming when new kids come to church,” she said.

“Other churches have provided meals - there’s just such a community within the church, within foster care. They’re all telling us they’re praying for us - so it’s the bigger body of Christ within the foster community,” she said.

Michaela encouraged couples who are considering becoming foster parents to trust God and lean on their faith, even when it may seem like a difficult or impossible task.

“When he calls us to those scary, unknown places he provides, he just shows up in ways that we could have never planned for or imagined,” she said. “He does, he makes a way.”

Adoption and foster care programs for Catholic families can be found through local Catholic Charities or Catholic Social Service branches.





Trump plan could strip Title X funds from abortion providers

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 21:01

Washington D.C., May 17, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration on Friday will announce a plan to ensure that Title X family planning funding does not go to programs or facilities that promote or perform abortions, CNA has learned.

The measure would dramatically curtail federal funding to abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood.

According to a Trump administration official, the Health and Human Services Department will file a proposal with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that abortion is not treated as a method of family planning under Title X.

While federal law currently prohibits money received through the Title X Family Planning Grant Program from being used for abortion, pro-life advocates have long voiced concern that this regulation is not always enforced.

The proposal will require a strict physical and financial line of separation between Title X programs and any program or facility that performs abortion, or supports or refers for abortion as a family planning method, the official said.

It will not decrease the amount of Title X funding, which annually provides $260 million for family planning purposes, including contraception, pregnancy testing, and infertility treatments.

The new rule is based off a regulation issued by President Ronald Reagan, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, but was later reversed by President Bill Clinton. The new regulation differs from that of the Reagan era in that it will not ban Title X recipients from counseling clients about abortion.

The Trump administration official said the proposal will aid in transparency and integrity, allowing better monitoring of Title X fund recipients. It will also require Title X recipients to document how they follow state laws on reporting suspected cases of sexual assault, incest and rape.

Planned Parenthood would not explicitly be defunded under the new proposal. However, it would be required to separate abortion from its services in order to continue receiving Title X funds.

Last year, Trump signed a repeal of an Obama-era regulation which had prohibited states from denying federal funds to health clinics solely on the grounds that they provided abortions.

Trump also reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy, which states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

His administration has cut funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) over the agency's support for Chinese coercive population control programs.

As Hawaii volcano rumbles, Catholic agencies help those in need

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 18:45

Hilo, Hawaii, May 17, 2018 / 04:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With ongoing volcanic activity continuing to threaten the area surrounding Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, local Catholics are offering a helping hand to those who have been evacuated.

Fr. Ernest Juarez Jr. of Sacred Heart Parish in Pahoa said that the parish has “opened its doors to be a centralized location for the different government agencies, and for the [affected] public to come and get information, permission cards to enter the affected area, and other kinds of assistance.”

The parish said in a statement this week that it has worked “to contact members of the parish who live in affected neighborhoods to find out how we can help.”

Relief efforts have included sign-up sheets to offer temporary rooms or houses for those who have been evacuated, as well as transportation and assistance with other personal needs. The parish has been collecting pillows and blankets, preparing meals for distribution at the food pantry, and offering to talk and pray with those staying in a shelter.

“The main needs are housing, transportation, and money,” Fr. Juarez told CNA.  

Blankets, toiletries, and tents are also needed. Food has been abundant, thanks to the generosity of donors, he said.

In the early hours of May 17, the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island erupted for the second time in two weeks, shooting a plume of ash and smoke 12,000 feet into the air. The previous eruption, which took place May 3, was followed by earthquakes and the emergence of 21 fissures, some in residential neighborhoods. More than 117 acres of the island have been covered by lava.

According to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency, Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures, mostly homes, since the lava began spewing. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory also issued a hazardous fumes warning due to elevated levels of sulfur dioxide in the air.

Some 2,000 Hawaiians were evacuated in the days following the initial eruption.

Fr. Juarez said that “attitudes and emotions are everything you can imagine” – relief at being safe and hopefulness about returning home, frustration and heartbreak at damaged houses, worry for neighbors, and uncertainty over what will happen next.

While the situation is overwhelming for some, Fr. Juarez said, the people of Hawaii are in good hands with the state, local and national response teams.

“The people who are scared are those who don't understand what is going on here and are scared for us,” he stressed, adding, “No one is in any danger as long as they heed the instructions put in place for safety.”

Although local schools were closed for the day and levels of sulfuric gas and volcanic smoke are high, the priest said that “lives are not in danger.”

“It is predicted that the trade[winds] will return tomorrow, and all of the bad air will blow out to the ocean,” he said. “If that happens, our air will be fine.”  

Fr Robert Stark, director of the Diocese of Honolulu’s Office for Social Ministry, said that the diocese is involved in relief efforts primarily through HOPE Services Hawaii, which was founded by his diocesan office and is located near the eruption area.

“HOPE is working closely with state and county government to respond to the most vulnerable affected by the eruptions,” Stark told CNA. “HOPE was asked by state and county to convene the service providers in the area to coordinate their response.”

In addition, he said, HOPE is helping with both fundraising and offering direct assistance to those affected by the volcano.

Catholic Charities of Hawaii will be working in the coming weeks and months to help those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, aiding with temporary housing subsidies and emergency house repairs.

“We understand that certain agencies and first responders are there…to ensure the health and safety of those being affected,” said Terry Walsh, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Hawaii. “[Our] role is to assist those affected through recovery efforts during these disasters.”

The agency said in a statement that is also assisted in “long-term recovery efforts during the last lava flow through Puna in 2014 and following the 2006 Hawaii Island earthquake.”

The state agency has applied for $10,000 emergency seed grants through Catholic Charities USA.

Catholic Charities Hawaii is also asking for donations to assist those affected by the volcano, as well as continued recovery efforts in Kauai and Oahu, where severe flooding and landslides last month damaged hundreds of homes and causes some $20 million in damage to public property, according to Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency.

Letter asks Trump to remember political prisoners in North Korea negotiations

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 18:29

Washington D.C., May 17, 2018 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As President Donald Trump prepares for a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, religious freedom advocates are urging the U.S. president to negotiate the release of the remaining prisoners in North Korea’s labor camps.

On May 17, more than 50 scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates sent a letter to President Trump and key foreign policy leaders requesting that the U.S. incorporate human rights in the nuclear negotiations set for June 10 in Singapore.

While acknowledging that the successful denuclearization of North Korea would “benefit all of humanity,” the letter recommends specific terms that could be added to a negotiated agreement to assist those suffering from North Korea’s human rights abuses.

“We also implore you to recognize that there are tens of thousands of other men, women, and even children -- most of them North Korean citizens and many of them Christians -- being brutalized by Kim and his regime,” reads the letter written by the Religious Freedom Institute.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee, was among the letter’s signatories, alongside a number of Catholic scholars, including Princeton Professor Robert George and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel Diaz.

Elliot Abrams, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; Nicholas Eberstadt, a founding director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea; Winston Lord, former U.S. Ambassador to China; and Greg Mitchell, co-chair of International Religious Freedom Roundtable, were also among the signatories.

The letter recommends four particular requests that President Trump should negotiate with Kim Jong Un. These include allowing the International Red Cross access to all of North Korea’s prisons within one month of any signed agreement and “the immediate release of substantial numbers of prisoners of conscience.”

There are currently an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps, in which the U.S. State Department has found evidence of starvation, forced labor, and torture.

These prison camps have been documented by Google Earth satellite imagery, and detailed in the biographies of North Korean defectors were formerly imprisoned, such as Shin Dong-Hyuk’s “Escape from Camp 14” and Kang Chol-Hwan’s “The Aquariums of Pyongyang.”

Photographs of suffering North Korean citizens, as well as the United Nations human rights commission report on North Korea and other documents are attached to the letter to President Trump.

The 400-page United Nations report found that the gravity, scale and nature of the “unspeakable atrocities” committed by the North Korean regime “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” according to the UN report published in 2014.

Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and others were also sent copies of the letter.

Earlier this month, Secretary Pompeo traveled to North Korea, bringing home with him three Americans who had been imprisoned in North Korea. According to the White House, the prisoners’ release by North Korea was a gesture of goodwill ahead of the summit.

In recent days, North Korea has threatened to cancel the highly anticipated summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un in objection to the continuation of U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on May 16 that this threat from North Korea to cancel the talks was “fully expected” and that the White House is hopeful that the summit will still take place.

Foster parents join Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services in discrimination lawsuit

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 16:39

Philadelphia, Pa., May 17, 2018 / 02:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of foster parents and social workers appeared in court on Wednesday, asking that the city of Philadelphia rescind its decision to ban a Catholic organization from placing children in foster homes.

The plaintiffs of Sharonell Fulton et al. v. City of Philadelphia told a US District Court May 16 that they are being discriminated against because of their agency's deeply-held religious beliefs.

For over a century, Philadelphia has worked with Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) to facilitate the placement of children in foster care. Catholic Social Services has assisted with home visits, training of foster parents, and placements. At any given time CSS serves about 120 foster children in 100 foster homes. In 2017, the charity says it helped more than 2,200 children in the Philadelphia area.

In March, CSS was informed that the city would no longer be referring foster children to the agency for assistance. Philadelphia then passed a resolution calling for an investigation into religiously-based foster care services, after a same-sex couple claimed they were discriminated against by a different faith-based agency.

CSS has not been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Catholic Social Services will not stand in the way of anyone who wants to try and become a foster parent,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Becket is providing counsel for the case.

“They’re simply asking that they can continue to serve the children of Philadelphia consistent with their faith.”

The suit's lead plaintiff, Sharonell Fulton, has "fostered more than 40 children over 25-plus years as a foster parent. She has cared for children with significant medical needs and is currently caring for two special needs foster children," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims that Fulton "could not provide the extensive care that these special-needs children require without the support she receives from Catholic Social Services."

Other plaintiffs include a foster parent recognized in 2015 as one Philadelphia's "Foster Parents of the Year," and a long-time social worker, herself a foster parent, who claims that she would likely discontinue providing foster care to children if she could not work with CSS. The agency itself is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

If the city declines to renew its current contract with CSS, which expires at the end of June, there’s a chance that children in CSS foster-care placements will be immediately removed from their homes. Windham, however, is hopeful that this will not be the case.

Since the policy went into place, Philadelphia has put out calls for new foster parents, as the city is facing a severe shortage. According to Windham, there are at least a dozen empty foster homes in the city--which are empty because they work with CSS.

Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Chief Communications Officer Kenneth Gavin told CNA that the archdiocese is disappointed that the city decided to stop partnering with CSS, despite its history of providing care for children.

“Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) recognizes the vital importance of the foster care program in our city and is proud to provide safe and nurturing foster environments to young people in need. We have been providing those environments for over a century. We were extremely disappointed when the City ceased new foster care child intakes with CSS in late March of this year,” said Gavin.
Gavin said the foster care program provides care “for all those in need with dignity, charity, and respect regardless of their background.” Given that the Philadelphia is in “a foster care crisis,” Gavin said he hopes that CSS will be permitted to continue providing care for needy children.
The lawsuit is expected to be heard later this year.


Judge rules California assisted suicide law was wrongfully 'rushed'

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 18:42

Sacramento, Calif., May 16, 2018 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- California’s assisted suicide law was wrongly passed in a special legislative session, ruled a California judge this week.

Though the ruling might only be temporary, one terminally ill woman at the May 15 hearing was grateful for it.

“The bill’s proponents tout dignity, choice, compassion, and painlessness. I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Choice is really an illusion for a very few,” Stephanie Packer said, according to the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Angelus News. “For too many, assisted suicide will be the only affordable ‘treatment’ that is offered them.”

Packer said that her insurance company would not fund potentially life-saving chemotherapy treatments for her lung cancer, but instead offered her “aid-in-dying” drugs that would cost her $1.20. The action made the married mother of four a vocal opponent of assisted suicide laws, including California’s the End of Life Option Act.

Judge Daniel Ottolia of the Riverside County Superior Court ruled on Tuesday that lawmakers had unconstitutionally passed the law in a 2015 special session of the legislature dedicated to health care funding. The judge has postponed his judgment for five days to allow the state to file an emergency appeal.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra voiced strong disagreement with the ruling and said he plans to appeal it.

The judge’s decision drew support from other foes of the legislation.

“The act itself was rushed through the special session of the legislature, and it does not have any of the safeguards one would expect to see in a law like this,” Stephen G. Larson, head counsel for a group of doctors who filed a legal challenge to the law, told the Sacramento Bee.

The bill lacked an adequate definition of terminal illness and a provision exempting from legal liability the doctors who prescribe the drugs, according to Larson’s clients.

However, Larson challenged the bill specifically on the fact that the special session was called “to address funding shortages caused by Medi-Cal.”

“It was not called to address the issue of assisted suicide,” he said.

Under the law, lethal prescriptions may be given to adults who are able to make medical decisions if their attending physician and a consulting physician have diagnosed a terminal disease expected to end in death within six months.

The initial legislative effort to pass an assisted suicide bill failed in committee during the 2015 regular season, following months of media attention to the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with an aggressive brain tumor who moved from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of legal physician-assisted suicide there.

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, who backed the bill, charged that the judge’s decision interfered with Californians in the process of securing the lethal drugs under the law.

“It's a reminder for all of us that there are those out there who would like to take our rights away,” she said. “When we move forward, there are those who would like to drag us back.”

Harry Nelson, a healthcare attorney in Los Angeles who represents several doctors who have prescribed lethal prescriptions, told the Los Angeles Times he thinks it is unlikely the law will be permanently overturned. He believes the legislature will be able to reinstate the law with any changes the court believes to be necessary.

Matt Valliere, executive director of the New York-based Patients Rights Action Fund, applauded the ruling. He said it affirmed that assisted suicide advocates “circumvented the legislative process.”

“It represents a tremendous blow to the assisted suicide legalization movement and puts state legislatures on notice regarding the political trickery of groups like Compassion and Choices,” he said.

In the first seven months after the law took effect in June 2016, there were 111 people who chose to end their lives under it, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Including California, seven states and the District of Columbia have legal provisions allowing assisted suicide, National Public Radio reports.

In January 2018, the California Catholic Conference reiterated its opposition to assisted suicide and criticized the lack of data collected and the lack of transparency of the law’s implementation.

“There is far too much still not known about how this law is put into practice – especially as it pertains to disabled, elderly and other populations,” the conference said Jan. 24. “California is failing to properly investigate some very fundamental questions such as whether patients were coerced into the procedure or somehow influenced and, especially for Medi-Cal patients, whether they had the option of good, effective palliative care.”


Archbishop Chaput: New Pope Francis movie is a beautiful tribute

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 16:54

Philadelphia, Pa., May 16, 2018 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- The upcoming film, “Pope Francis: A Man of his Word,” has won praise from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who applauded the movie’s compelling portrayal of the Holy Father.

The director “weaves an on-going, intimate, one-on-one interview with the pope throughout the film. It’s a hugely effective technique; one has a sense that Francis is looking directly at, speaking directly to, the individual viewer,” the archbishop wrote in a May 14 column.

The hour-and-a-half documentary offers an intimate look at the pope’s travels, acts of charity, and speeches. It shows the pope’s response to social issues around the world, including immigration and the value of family life.

Distributed by Focus Features, the movie will be released in select theaters on May 18. Archbishop Chaput reviewed the film at an early screening. Additionally, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago hosted a screening and discussion on May 14.

The film is co-written and directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders. Nominated for three Academy Awards, Wenders’ previous films include “Wings of Desire,” “Buena Vista Social Club,” and “Salt of the Earth.”  

The director’s work is largely “marked by a Christian-inspired spirituality,” Archbishop Chaput said, pointing to filmmaker’s Catholic upbringing.

“He focuses compellingly on the pope’s concern for the environment, the poor, and immigrants. He also captures the pope’s vigorous commitment to marriage, the family, and the complementarity of men and women.”

Among the most powerful scenes, Archbishop Chaput said, are the pope’s visits to “immigrants, the poor, the sick, the Shoah memorial Yad Vashem in Israel, and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.”

The archbishop did critique the film on a few points, saying the movie felt too lengthy and did not fully portray Catholic teachings on the human person.

“Wenders also misses (or avoids) the opportunity to present the holistic Catholic vision of human dignity that Francis serves, i.e., the reason why Catholic concerns for the unborn child, the disabled, the elderly, the environment, and the immigrant are inextricably linked in a network of priorities.”

Additionally, he said the film was incomplete in its portrayal of Saint Francis of Assisi, who inspired Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to take on the name of Pope Francis.

“Its portrait of Francis of Assisi, while useful to the narrative, is selective and only lightly acquainted with the real saint, who was a complex and formidable man concerned for Creation as a reflection of God’s glory, not as a limited natural resource.”

However, Archbishop Chaput said, they flaws do not detract from the beauty and substance of the film. He encouraged Catholics to support “Pope Francis: A Man of his Word,” coming to theaters this Friday.  

“Wenders and Focus Features (and the Holy Father himself) deserve our gratitude for offering the world such an exceptional encounter with the Successor of Peter. May it touch thousands of hearts.”


Military bases under consideration to hold undocumented children

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 13:54

Washington D.C., May 16, 2018 / 11:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Federal officials are evaluating U.S. military bases as temporary shelters for immigrant children who will be separated from their parents after crossing the border illegally under a new Trump administration policy.

While final decisions have not yet been made, the Washington Post reports that Department of Health and Human Services officials are visiting military bases in Texas and Arkansas to examine their suitability for housing children.

About 100 shelters currently exist, but they are close to capacity, and it is estimated that thousands of additional children could be placed in government care under the new immigration policy, the Wall Street Journal says.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings on May 7. The goal is for “100 percent” of those who cross the border illegally to face charges of “improper entry by an alien,” which can result in up to six months in prison.

“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Sessions said, according to National Public Radio. “If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border.”

Under previous practice, people caught illegally crossing the border were returned to Mexico after a guilty plea and a brief detention. The violation is a misdemeanor under federal law.

With parts of Central America plagued by drug and gang violence, illegal border crossings in the U.S. increasingly consist of families or unaccompanied minors. While adults can be detained in immigration jails, the federal government is prohibited from holding immigrant children in jails.

Military bases may be used to shelter children whom the government has separated from their families, as well as unaccompanied minors. The children will receive foster care through the Department of Health and Human Services.

A department official said that the average time of custody for children in HHS care is 45 days, and 85 percent of children are released to a parent of adult relative in the U.S., the Washington Post reports.

Military bases were previously used to house children for several months during the child migrant crisis of 2014, when other resources were exhausted.

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA May 10 that the policy change will “erode judicial efficiency, taking away resources to prosecute the most dangerous, in favor of prosecuting every parent.” The new policy could cost up to $620 per night to detain a family of one parent and two children.

Furthermore, she said, entering the border with one’s child is not automatically an instance of child smuggling.

“Many of these families are willingly turning themselves over to Border Patrol. They are not hiding. They are asking for protection, they are vulnerable and looking for safety,” she said.

Under the zero tolerance policy, immigrants detained at the border could receive federal criminal convictions even if they have valid asylum claims and are judged to have a right to stay in the U.S., CNN reports.

Intentionally increasing forced family separations at the border “is inhumane and goes against our Catholic values and the sanctity of the family,” Feasley said.

Family separation is “extremely traumatic” for children to experience, especially after a lengthy, stressful trip to the U.S. and possible traumatic experiences in Central America, she said. Very young children have been separated and left with strangers, many of whom do not speak their language.

“Then these children are put into shelter facilities which are confined spaces. The experience is doubly traumatizing,” she continued. “The American Academy of Pediatrics has cautioned against the long lasting emotional trauma and harm that separation can cause children.”

Feasley also warned that the new policy does not address “the pervasive root causes of migration,” such as state- or community-sanctioned violence, poverty, forced recruitment into gangs, lack of educational opportunity, and domestic abuse.

She said that policy solutions should consider those factors, and that Catholics in the pews should “remember the human dignity of all families and children who arrive, and look to assist these families in productive ways that help them comply with our immigration laws – ensuring that they know their rights and responsibilities in this country.”


Bishops object as Illinois governor pushes to reinstate death penalty

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 02:09

Chicago, Ill., May 16, 2018 / 12:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Conference of Illinois decried the governor’s call to re-establish the death penalty, which has not been used in the state in nearly 20 years.

“We are distressed and alarmed by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s call for the reinstatement of the death penalty in any way, shape or form,” the conference said in a May 14 statement.

“We are all God’s children, and our first – and primary – right to life must always be protected and unconditional.”

On Monday, Governor Rauner encouraged lawmakers to reinstate capital punishment in Illinois for individuals convicted of mass murder or the death of a police officer.

“Anyone who deliberately kills a law enforcement officer or is a mass murderer deserves the death penalty,” he wrote to the Illinois House of Representatives.

The recommendation came in an amendatory veto message for House Bill 1468, which would require a 72-hour waiting period before an assault weapon is purchased.

The governor cited child safety as his reason for wanting to reintroduce the death penalty. He drew attention to several recent attacks in U.S. schools.

“There is nothing more precious than our children, and they deserve to be safe and cared for at school,” he said.

Last month, an Illinois task force was created to map out a defense against school violence.

Governor Rauner said the death penalty should only be used in cases where an individual is guilty “beyond all doubt” rather than the often-used standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He said this would help avoid wrongful convictions, such as those that contributed to the abolishment of the state’s death penalty.

However, the Catholic Conference rejected the idea of reinstating the death penalty in certain cases “beyond all doubt” instead of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” saying that this distinction “is simply parsing words.”

“You cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”

The death penalty has not been used in Illinois since 1999. Then-governor George Ryan issued a moratorium on the practice in 2000, following a report in the Chicago Tribune detailing flaws in the state’s capital punishment system.

The report said that the system was “so riddled with faulty evidence, unscrupulous trial tactics and legal incompetence that justice has been forsaken.”

Among other problems, the newspaper pointed to inaccurate juries, incompetent defending lawyers, and unreliable forensic tests. These were among the errors that occurred with 12 wrongfully convicted death row inmates who were later exonerated, the article stated.

Before leaving office in 2003, Governor Ryan commuted the death sentences of more than 160 death row inmates. In 2011, the death penalty was abolished in Illinois by then-governor Pat Quinn.


Bipartisan bill would make it easier to deduct charitable donations

Tue, 05/15/2018 - 02:03

Washington D.C., May 15, 2018 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress last week would make it easier for Americans to receive tax deductions for charitable giving, regardless of whether they itemize on their tax returns.

“Charitable organizations, including churches, synagogues, and other religiously-based entities, are the life-blood of services to those in need in our society, and I am committed to a tax policy that amplifies their ability to serve our community,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who authored the bill, in a press release.

“Americans have been generous patrons of charitable causes, and we want to ensure that everyone has the support they need to continue their generosity to charitable and philanthropic causes.”

The Charitable Giving Tax Deduction Act was introduced by Smith on May 11, with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) as an original co-sponsor.

“It is always important to give back to the community,” said Cuellar in a press release. “This bipartisan bill not only encourages us to help our fellow neighbors, but it also makes sure that taxpayers can receive their due deduction for charitable giving if they choose not to itemize.”

The bill would make charitable deductions “above-the-line,” meaning adjusted gross income would be reduced. This would allow taxpayers to write off charitable deductions regardless of whether households decide to itemize. Under the legislation, charitable contributions would not be capped.

More than a dozen religious and charitable organizations have voiced support for the bill, including the Union of United Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the Council on Foundations, the Faith & Giving Coalition, and the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance.

Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations, said the bill would help correct flaws in the Tax Cut and Job Act of 2017. That legislation significantly increased the standard deduction, meaning that fewer taxpayers will itemize.

The proposed legislation would restore the tax incentive to donate, particularly for lower income households, Spruill said.

“At its core, our nation’s charitable giving policies should encourage and enable those small and medium-sized donors who serve as a powerful engine in the sector’s ability to assist communities. This legislation brings those givers back into the fold by expanding the charitable deduction to millions more,” she said.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference also praised the legislation for promoting and protecting the revenue resources that help charities to function, particularly after last year’s tax code revision “makes charitable giving increasingly more difficult.”

“Every year, New Jersey Catholic Charities agencies assist hundreds of thousands of individuals and families to meet their most basic needs. Their ability to provide quality services depends upon charitable donations,” the conference said. 

“The tax code should help not hurt nonprofit organizations tasked with serving the most vulnerable in our society. Congressman Smith’s bill would protect those revenues sources that are vital to the assistance of so many in need.”


Oklahoma bishops praise new protections for Catholic adoption agencies

Mon, 05/14/2018 - 20:03

Oklahoma City, Okla., May 14, 2018 / 06:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With the signing of a bill preserving the religious freedom of adoption agencies in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin drew praise from the state’s Catholic bishops on Friday.

“We are grateful for Gov. Fallin’s support of religious liberty in Oklahoma. The new law will bring more adoption services to the state and allow crucial faith-based agencies to continue their decades-long tradition of caring for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa said May 11.

“Since the law does not change the process for placing foster children or ban any family from adopting, we hope and pray this action will increase the number of children matched with loving families,” said the bishops.

The bill, S.B. 1140, passed the Senate by a vote of 33-7 and the House of Representatives by 56-21. In the House, legislators opposed to the bill tried to make various parliamentary measures to prevent a full vote and at one point were warned that further disruption would result in their removal, the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma reported.

Fallin said the bill “allows faith-based agencies that contract with Oklahoma to continue to operate in accordance with their beliefs. In a day and time when diversity is becoming a core value to society because it will lead to more options, we should recognize its value for serving Oklahoma also because it leads to more options for loving homes to serve Oklahoma children.”

“Other states that have declined the protection to faith-based agencies have seen these agencies close their doors, leaving less options for successful placement of children who need loving parents,” she said, according to the Tulsa World.

Catholic adoption and foster placement agencies in Illinois, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia, among others, have been forced to close because of laws or funding restrictions that would require them to place children with same-sex couples or with unmarried heterosexual couples.

The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma was among the other backers of the Oklahoma bill.

The bill’s text bars requiring a private child-placement agency to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in a placement of a child for foster care and adoption should such a placement “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”

It also bars denying licenses or state or local grants to agencies that act on religious or moral objections. Further, the law protects them from civil action.

Critics of the bill charged that it was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer for the Family Equality Council, contended it sent the message that LGBTQ people should not raise children, the New York Times reports.

Toby Jenkins, executive director of the LGBT activist group Oklahomans for Equality, charged that taxpayer dollars were being used to discriminate against both couples and children waiting for placement.

“Oklahomans for Equality is deeply disappointed in the governor’s lack of leadership. The pervasive and persistent mean-spirited legislative efforts continue to be day-to-day business in Oklahoma,” he said, suggesting recourse to the Oklahoma Supreme Court would be considered.

However, several legal scholars backed the bill’s constitutionality in an April 12 letter to State Rep. Travis Dunlap and State Sen. Greg Treat. Constitutional criticisms of the Oklahoma bill are, in their view, “obstructionist objections with no basis in existing law or in original understanding.”

The letter’s signers were professors Michael A. Scaperlanda of the University of Oklahoma College of Law; Richard W. Garnett of the University of Notre Dame Law School; Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia School of Law; and Thomas C. Berg of Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas School of Law.

“The Supreme Court is deeply divided on the question of whether religious exemptions are sometimes constitutionally required. But the Court has repeatedly been unanimous in support of the view that religious exemptions are constitutionally permitted,” they wrote.

“This provision would create an exemption from any provision of state law that might otherwise require an agency to violate its religious commitments,” they said, saying such exemptions have been an American legal tradition since the 1600s.

They cited a 1992 study which estimated there are 2,000 religious exemptions under federal and state laws. Many more exemptions have been enacted since then.

While there are limits to appropriate bounds of religious exemptions, the scholars said, the Oklahoma bill “does not come close to triggering any of these limitations.”

The 61 state-monitored child placement agencies in Oklahoma make “an ample number to meet the diverse needs of all Oklahomans, including LGBT children and LGBT adoptive parents.” With these “readily available alternatives,” said the scholars, the bill is “a model of liberty and justice for all.”

“The religious providers need not violate their conscience, and the needs of all Oklahomans are served.”

While critics of the bill had charged that it constituted the unconstitutional establishment of religion, the scholars said “exemptions are not a way of expanding the power of the dominant religion; they are a way of protecting religions that lack the political power to prevent legislation or court decisions that impose substantial burdens on their religious practice.”

“Government does not establish a religion by leaving it alone. The Supreme Court has repeatedly, and unanimously, so held,” they continued.

Receiving government funding does not bind private organizations to be treated as if they were state agencies, they explained: “if a child-placing agency with state funding chooses to act in accord with its religious convictions, the state has not directed that choice, the state is not responsible for it, and the child-placing agency’s choice is not state action.”

Fallin said similar legislation has existed in Virginia since 2012 without any court challenges. Five additional states have similar legislation, while Kansas Gov. Jeff Coyler has said he will sign legislation recently passed by the state legislature.

Fallin said the bill would not affect any current practices allowing LGBTQ individuals and couples to foster and adopt. She said she is committed to “preserving the rights of all Oklahomans who are eligible and want to be considered for parenting.” She announced a planned executive order directing the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to publish on its website a list of Oklahoma adoption and foster care agencies who are “willing to serve everyone” who meets the state’s adoptive parent criteria.

A significant advocacy campaign to limit religious freedom protections is underway across the U.S. CNA reports have found at least $8.5 million in earmarked grants from several wealthy funders, including some of the most influential foundations in the country. Many of these funders are now working together through the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative, which says it opposes “the inappropriate use of religious exemptions to curtail reproductive health, rights and justice, discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, and otherwise undermine fundamental rights and liberties essential to a healthy democracy.”

Runaway slave-turned-priest moves closer to beatification

Sat, 05/12/2018 - 17:23

Chicago, Ill., May 12, 2018 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first African American priest in the U.S. could become the country’s first African American saint as his cause took another step forward this week.

A document summarizing the life, virtue, and alleged miracles of Servant of God Fr. Augustus Tolton, known as the positio, was unanimously approved as historically correct by a committee of six Vatican officials this week, clearing the way for the priest’s cause for canonization to continue moving forward.

Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago and diocesan postulator for the Tolton cause, called the approval a “very positive sign going forward” and noted its significance for the African American Catholic Community.

“Fr. Tolton lived during a particularly tumultuous time in American history especially for race relations,” Perry said in a statement.

“He was a pioneer of his era for inclusiveness drawing both blacks and whites to his parish in Quincy. However, due to his race, he suffered discrimination and condemnation. The beatification and canonization of Fr. Tolton will signal a significant milestone in the history of black Catholicism in the United States.”

Born in Missouri on April 1, 1854, John Augustine Tolton fled slavery with his mother and two siblings in 1862 by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois.

“John, boy, you're free. Never forget the goodness of the Lord,” Tolton’s mother told him after the crossing, according to the website of St. Elizabeth’s Church in Chicago.

The young Tolton entered St. Peter’s Catholic School with the help of the school’s pastor, Fr. Peter McGirr. Fr. McGirr would later baptize him and instruct him for his first Holy Communion. Tolton was serving as an altar boy by the next summer.

The priest asked Tolton if he would like to become a priest, saying it would take 12 years of hard study. The excited boy then said they should go to church and pray for his success.

After graduating from high school and Quincy College, he began his ecclesiastical studies in Rome, because no American seminary would accept him on account of his race.

On April 24, 1886 he was ordained in Rome by Cardinal Lucido Maria Parocchi, who was then the vicar general of Rome. Newspapers throughout the U.S. carried the story.

Fr. Tolton was ordained for the southern Illinois Diocese of Quincy. Upon his return in July 1886, he was greeted at the train station “like a conquering hero,” the website of St. Elizabeth’s Parish says.

“Thousands were there to greet him, led by Father McGirr. A brass band played church songs and Negro Spirituals. Thousands of blacks and whites lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the new priest wearing a black Prince Albert and a silk hat. People marched and cheered his flower-draped four-horse carriage. Children, priests and sisters left the school joining the procession heading towards the church.”

Hundreds waited at the local church where people of all races knelt at the communion rail.

Fr. Tolton served in Quincy before going to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics. The new church was named for St. Monica and opened in 1893.

On July 9, 1897, Fr. Tolton collapsed during a hot day and died from sunstroke at the age of 43.

His cause for canonization was officially launched in 2010, and he was given the title “Servant of God” by the Vatican in February 2011. The research phase of his cause concluded on September 29, 2014.

The next step in his cause for canonization will be in February 2019, when a theological commission with the Congregation for Causes of Saints will further investigate his life and virtue, and consider granting him the title of “Venerable,” which must receive papal approval.

After that step, Tolton’s cause would move forward toward beatification, for which a miracle through his intercession must be approved.  

More information about Fr. Tolton can be found on the website for his cause:

In Iran, Christian converts face 10 year prison sentences

Sat, 05/12/2018 - 08:02

Washington D.C., May 12, 2018 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In Iran, conversion to Christianity can be a crime meriting a sentence of more than 10 years imprisonment.

Catholic churches within the country are closely monitored with surveillance cameras to ensure that Muslims do not enter, and religious schools are limited in what they can teach, an Iranian-born journalist, Sohrab Ahmari, explained to CNA.

Ahmari is currently writing a spiritual memoir about his own journey to the Catholic faith for Ignatius Press. He converted in 2016 after living in the U.S. for more than two decades. His conversion would have been nearly impossible had he still been living in Iran.

“In Iran, Catholicism is primarily an ethnic phenomenon. There are Armenian Catholics and Assyrian. They have their own churches, but they can't evangelize and they can't have Bibles in any languages but their own,” said Ahmari, who worked for the Wall Street Journal for several years before becoming a senior editor for Commentary magazine.

“The Iranian Constitution enshrines Shiite Islam as the state religion and it relegates certain other religious minorities to protected, but second class status, so that is Jews and Christians, mainly, people of the Abrahamic religions,” he continued. “These people have a certain degree of limited rights, but they also have all sorts of social handicaps.”

The Islamic republic’s population is 99 percent Muslim, and its recognized religious minorities are strictly controlled.

“The treatment gets far worse for groups that the regime does not recognize as legitimate,” explained Ahmari. This includes evangelical Christianity and the Baha’i religion.

After facing trial as apostates, Christian converts from Islam have been subject to increasingly harsh sentencing, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2018 report, which noted that “many were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for their religious activities.”

Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a Christian convert from Islam, was released from prison in August 2017 after serving more than her her full four year sentence. Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, was among those who advocated for her release.

In May 2017, four evangelical Christians were sentenced to 10 years in prison each for their evangelizing efforts.

The U.S. State Department has designated Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom since 1999.

The Iranian government’s growing ability to censor and monitor Internet users increases their capacity to enforce official religious interpretations and crackdown on activists.

During Iran’s democracy protests in January 2018, the government disrupted internet access, including social media communication tools, according to USCIRF. Iranians protested economic and social grievances.

While Christians have fared much better off in Iran than in neighboring Iraq, Ahmani thinks it is important for Catholics to realize that these protests were different than other Middle Eastern uprisings.

“There is a tendency among some conservative Catholics to see any uprising or any democratic fervent in a democratic country as automatically bad now, precisely because they worry about those communities. They look at what happened with Iraq, at what's happening with the Copts in Egypt and they think 'no more uprisings',” said Ahmari.

“The case in Iran is different because the regime itself enshrines a kind of Islamic supremacy and suppresses minorities in various ways. The people who are rising up want religious freedom,” he continued.

Religious freedom and human rights were the focus of Pope Francis’ meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in January 2016. Iran and the Holy See have had continuous diplomatic relations since 1954.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis and Rouhani also discussed the application of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the “Iran nuclear deal,” which had gone into effect just ten days before the meeting.

On May 8, US President Donald Trump terminated the JCPOA and re-imposed the sanctions that had previously been lifted.

“The JCPOA failed to deal with the threat of Iran’s missile program and did not include a strong enough mechanism for inspections and verification,” according to the White House statement.

The Iranian regime’s human rights abuses and crackdown against protestors were also condemned in the May 8 statement announcing the end of U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear deal.

Commentary: Virtue and a losing team

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 17:59

Chicago, Ill., May 11, 2018 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- Last week I offered to spend an afternoon carrying things for my aunt, who wanted to go to an airplane hanger-sized thrift store and see how much of it would fit in her car.

While standing around between aisles, I noticed the store sold 1980s and ’90s baseball cards- batches of 100 were sold for a dollar. I lost my childhood collection in a transatlantic move, so I bought the store out on a whim, instinctively reciting the short litany of players I had grown up watching: Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson. I wondered if there might be some childhood gold to be panned from the slurry.

Living for much of my life in the United Kingdom, some parts of my character have been indelibly formed by British people and traditions. The best humor will always be, to me, self-deprecating. All humor should be spelled “humour.” At 11pm sharp on Saturday nights I crave, at a biological level, lamb rohgan ghosht.

But, even after more than two decades living away from my hometown, I find that some American things were imprinted on my heart too early to be changed. One of those is baseball, by which I mean the Chicago Cubs.

Many people follow a sport. Some follow a team to the point of calling its members their “family” or calling a stadium their “cathedral.” I’m not like that. But, for me, baseball is inextricably intertwined with both family and religion.  

Although I am right-handed, I swing a bat like a southpaw. This is a legacy from my left-handed father, who taught me how to swing on the front lawn of our family home in north Chicago. In Little League, other coaches and dads would sometimes comment on my swing. I learned the proper response from my dad too - batting lefty made me a step and a half closer to first base.

Despite my best efforts to unlearn my lefty swing for other sports, I can’t do it for baseball, not even a little. Neither can I unlearn an abiding loathing for the New York Mets, who never did a thing to me but who broke my dad’s heart in the summer of ’69 with their blasphemous “miracle”.

My grandfather, himself a lifelong Cubs fan despite his own father having pitched for the White Sox, would watch games with me in his living room, and very occasionally at Wrigley Field. I learned the players’ names from him. I watched players like Rick Sutcliffe, Mark Grace, and Joe Girardi, whose drafting by the Rockies taught me to hate expansion teams on sight. But there were three names I heard over and over again: Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson.

As we watched the games, my grandfather didn’t speak much to me about the strategy or mechanics of baseball. It was years before I understood what a squeeze play was, or when you should try one. When Grandpa spoke to me about baseball, he spoke about the Cubs, and he spoke about virtues. The litany I learned- Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson- was about men whose characters made them praiseworthy. It wasn’t about what they did, but how they did it.

Ryne Sandberg, I was taught, worked harder than any Yankee, never got into trouble, and was always more interested in moving a man over to third than he was trying for the fences. A player who could hit 40 home runs in a season made himself the best bunter on the team. His near-perfect fielding percentage at second base (.989) came from a total focus on reading the game and always, always making the play for the team. He was a leader who led with wisdom, who put prudence behind each step and every swing.

Greg Maddux was the first and only pitcher I really knew as a kid. I later had to have Nolan Ryan explained to me as being “like Maddux.” Even as a 10-year old I understood he was great. But more important, I remember his effort. My  grandfather said it wasn’t that he was good, it was that he always got better because he always tried to get better.

At his induction into the Hall of Fame, Greg Maddux said that Cubs pitching coach Billy Connors once asked him if he ever wondered how good he could be, and he said he hadn’t. Connors responded “Why don’t you go out there and try to find out?” Maddux said he’d spent every day since that conversation trying to find out how good he could be.

My father always taught me -  still encourages me today - never to consider how or what I am, but to consider what I could be. As a child I hated the word “potential.” I understood it as an unanswerable criticism, a by-its-nature unfulfillable standard.

As an adult, I have come to understand potential as the universal call to holiness, that as life is a pilgrimage toward heaven, the goal is always “nearer,” never “there.” To seek perfection is to seek God; to always have more to do is to never take salvation for granted. To enter the struggle every day takes fortitude, looking at your life for ways to improve requires courage.

My favorite player was Andre Dawson. In 1987, he was a free agent with bad knees. No one would sign him, even the 71-91 Cubs. But Dawson wanted to be a Cub, so he arrived at spring training with a blank contract, offering to play for free, just for the chance to show what he could do. This, my grandfather told me, is what humility looks like - this is how a real man acts. Dawson went on to become league MVP, during a season in which the Cubs finished in last place.

They being the Cubs, and it being the 1980’s and 90’s, their greatness was a rarely sullied by winning. To be a Cubs fan was to live in constant, cheerful hope for a World Series we probably would never see in this world. I learned to hope, not with clenched teeth and fists, but with a smile. I learned to shrug off the losses, and to invoke the promise of next year, to have faith that someday they’d go all the way.

Of course, where the Cubs finished never mattered to me, or to my grandfather, or to my father. And it never touched the greatness of the players for me. I cared that they played the game with, as Sandberg called it, respect - for the game, for each other, for their opponents. They were, as I saw it, righteous.

In 2003, I remember watching the Bartman Game with my dad, live from London in the middle of the night. By the end, I think we were almost relieved - the tragicomedy of the team’s collapse somehow made more sense than victory ever would have.

Of course, two seasons ago the Cubs did go all the way. Sadly, it was 12 years after my grandfather had died. During the 2016 NLCS and World Series, I spent most of the games on the phone with my dad. We talked about the game. But we talked more about my childhood, our family, and Grandpa. On the day of Game 7, I went to Mass (like a lot of Cubs fans). It was the feast of All Souls. I prayed for my grandfather.  

I can’t name the whole 2016 Cubs team, but I can still name the Cubs from the ’89-’90 seasons. The 2016 team was fun to watch, but they taught me nothing.

When I got back from the thrift store last week, I sifted through more than 1,000 cards. They were all there: Rick Sutcliffe, Joe Girardi, Mark Grace, even the manager Don Zimmer. I found Sandberg, Maddux, and Dawson as a matching set for the ’89 season. I called my dad. I sent him pictures of the cards. We told stories about Grandpa.

I am going to get those cards framed. When I look at them I won’t see just baseball players. I will see wisdom, fortitude, and humility. I will think of my grandfather, and our call to be righteous and holy. When I look at them, I will call my dad.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. They do not reflect the editorial perspective of Catholic News Agency.



No monkey business: Chimps don’t have human rights, philosophers say

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 13:00

Denver, Colo., May 11, 2018 / 11:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a New York judge said that courts must seriously consider whether animals deserve some legal protections afforded to people, Catholic philosophers say that human beings are unique, and that, when it comes to law and ethics, that matters.

“Chimps are amazing living beings… and it could be a big mistake to just think of the chimps as things or instruments,” said Dr. John Crosby, a philosophy professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.

“Undeniably, there is something there mysterious [about them]. There is something of worth, but there is not a person. And therefore, because they are not a person, there are no real rights the chimp has,” he told CNA.
Nonhuman Rights Project has sought to release two New York-based chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko, from the cages of private owners, and into a wild animal sanctuary. Steven Wise is the lawyer in charge of the animals’ defense.

In March 2017, Wise filed for habeas corpus relief, citing the similarities between mankind and primates. The filing alleged that chimps’ captivity constituted a kind of unlawful imprisonment.

On May 8, New York’s highest court rejected an appeal from Wise aimed at freeing the chimpanzees. The Court of Appeals voted 5-0 in favor of an intermediate appellate court in Manhattan that denied the chimps’ legal status in June 2017. The appellate court ruled that chimps are not legal persons.

“The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee's capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions,” wrote Justice Troy Webber last year, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Judge Eugene Fahey, who voted against the chimps’ rights to habeas relief on Tuesday, argued that while a chimp might not be considered a person, animals might have the right to legal redress.

“While it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a ‘person,’ there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing,” he said in an opinion statement. “In elevating our species, we should not lower the status of other highly intelligent species.”

“The Appellate Division’s conclusion that a chimpanzee cannot be considered a ‘person’ and is not entitled to habeas relief is in fact based on nothing more than the premise that a chimpanzee is not a member of the human species,” Fahey wrote.

There are a lot of similarities between chimps and people, Fahey said, drawing attention to chimps' advanced cognitive skills, ability to self-recognize, and a high percentage of shared DNA with humans, at least 96 percent.

He asked whether some animals should have the right to readdress wrongs committed against them. Animals are not morally culpable or legally responsible, he said, but neither are infants and some ill people, and therefore they might enjoy similar legal rights.

“Even if it is correct, however, that nonhuman animals cannot bear duties, the same is true of human infants or comatose human adults, yet no one would suppose that it is improper to seek a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of one’s infant child.”

Dr. Crosby agreed that animals should not be treated poorly, and he lamented over the mistreatment of animals by farms and luxury product testing. However, he disagreed with the judge’s argument about babies and comatose adults, noting chimpanzees permanently lack moral culpability.

Babies grow into morally responsible adults and comatose patients may potentially get better, he said. Even if the patient does not get better, he added, people “are the kind of being that in the normal instance has moral agency and something is blocking exercise of it.”

Animals do not have moral agency or free will, he said, while highlighting a few major differences between chimpanzees and people.

“A person is a being that possesses himself and is capable of originating action, where he freely determines himself,” said Crosby. “It’s very difficult to claim that any chimp, however amazingly skilled, is a free agent.”

Cautioning against conferring upon them the status of persons, Crosby said people should instead remember their moral obligations towards animals.  

“These animals merit a certain reverence. We ought to think of ourselves not just as users of them, but somehow custodians of them,” he said. “There are right and wrong ways of acting towards chimps and other animals, but they are not the subject of rights since they are not persons.”

Father Brian Chrzastek, a philosophy professor at the Dominican House of Studies, also reflected on the difference between chimps and people. He said that humans have a higher potential for abstract thought and originality. While animals act by instinct, he said people engage rationally with the world.

“Humans are different in kind. It’s not like we are just smart chimpanzees or something. We’re an entirely different level of thought, an entirely different kind of species,” he told CNA.