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Cardinal DiNardo notes search for justice in last USCCB presidential address

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 13:35

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 11:35 am (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, outgoing president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlighted Monday his experience leading the conference and detailing his personal growth over the last three years as his presidential term comes to an end.

“My service as president has been a continual reminder that, indeed, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,’” DiNardo said at the US bishops' autumn general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 11. While “our present culture can seem overtaken by various ideological or political divisions,” bishops and other followers of Christ need to be different, he affirmed.

“Follow a simple truth: ‘God is always courteous,’” said DiNardo. “Let us be courteous.”

DiNardo remarked that while his tenure was during the “difficult times within our own Church,” that the bishops must continue to seek justice and to work for “relationships that are ordered in the right way--that is, towards the salvation of souls, including our own.”

DiNardo presided over the USCCB after it came to light that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused minors and seminarians on many occasions, as well as during the release of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania. Other states have since begun grand jury investigations.

Properly ordered relationships, said the cardinal, exclude any trace of clericalism. An ordained man cannot act “as if he is a lord and master” over others, he said.

“The privilege of a cleric is to be a humble servant to all,” he said. “Justice demands that those who are shepherds should lead from in front, as courage requires, and from behind, as humility requires, going to those who are lost.”

The cardinal said that his experience meeting with victims of sexual abuse as president of the conference was one that “forever changed” his life.

“When too many within the Church sought to keep them in the darkness, they refused to be relegated to the shadows,” said DiNardo. “Their witness brought help to countless fellow survivors. It fueled the resolve of my brother bishops to respond with pastoral support and prevention programs.”

Sexual abuse victims empowered the bishops “with the knowledge needed to respond,” said DiNardo.

“We must never stop striving for justice and working unceasingly to prevent any future abuse from happening,” he said. “The measures we approved last June are a beginning of this renewed striving, but they are only a beginning – more needs to and will be done.”

“Traveling on your behalf these past three years, it was a privilege to learn from so many people along the way,” said DiNardo.

He spoke about his time visiting the border detention centers, and witnessing the faith of the children who were detained and separated from their parents, as well as his experience with other bishops visiting refugees and volunteers at respite centers.

“I met dozens of children who called upon their Catholic faith and the firm knowledge that Christ and His Church would be present with them. Along with my brother bishops, we went because Jesus was already there. We followed our shepherd,” said DiNardo. He extended an invitation to all present to “share our journey of solidarity with migrants and refugees.”

DiNardo said that workers at respite centers, who provided medical care and other needs for people at the border, were “doing God’s work,” as were people who worked at pregnancy centers. He praised the work of pregnancy centers, as well as public policy advocates seeking to change the country’s healthcare system.

“The continued fight to defend unborn children is one of the most significant things we do,” said DiNardo. “And it will remain so as long as the most innocent lives are left unprotected.”

The cardinal's successor as USCCB president will be elected Nov. 12. The bishops are almost certain to choose Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who is currently vice president of the conference.

US nuncio: Francis' 'pastoral thrust' must reach Americans

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 12:03

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States told the nation’s bishops that their commitment to evangelization is the measure of their communion with Pope Francis.
Archbishop Christoph Pierre addressed the bishops during the opening session of the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore Monday morning.
Pierre told the bishops Nov. 11 that he would propose “some topics for reflection” which he hoped would inform the conference sessions. The central theme of his reflections was the commitment of the bishops to a state of constant missionary engagement.
“As often as we speak of the ‘new evangelization,’ serious reflection is necessary on the outcomes of our efforts,” Pierre said.
“Do you feel that we and our collaborators have been far-sighted and proactive in efforts at evangelization, anticipating cultural, philosophical, and political trends,” Pierre asked, “or do we find ourselves in the position of having been reactive?”
“Do pastoral priorities we have chosen truly touch the reality of the life of our people?”
The nuncio said that the extent to which the bishops themselves received and were able to transmit Pope Francis’ missionary and pastoral priorities, especially in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, was the barometer of their own communion with the pope.
Pierre said that adopting the missionary impulse of the pope’s own writings “and being in a permanent state of mission might represent tangible signs of communion with the Holy Father, for it would show the reception and implementation of his teaching.”
“The pope has emphasized certain themes: mercy, closeness to the people, discernment, accompaniment, a spirit of hospitality towards migrants, and dialogue with those of other cultures and religions,” Pierre said, while asking bishops to consider if these themes were reflected in their clergy and people.
“It is an interesting question to ask,” Pierre said, “because while there has been a strong emphasis on mercy by the Holy Father, at times – paradoxically – people are becoming more and more judgemental and less willing to forgive, as witnessed by the polarization gripping this nation.”
“The pastoral thrust of this pontificate must reach the American people,” the nuncio insisted, “especially as families continue to demand of dioceses and parishes the accompaniment envisioned by Amoris laetitia.”
Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, called for better pastoral provision and accompaniment for families and couples in irregular marriages. Whether the document can be interpreted as authorizing a change in Church teaching, or permitting the admittance of the divorced-and-civilly-remarried to Holy Communion, has been the subject of debate in dioceses and countries across the world.
The nuncio did point to some positive signs of life in American dioceses, specifically singling out the defense of human life and religious liberty and the generosity of Catholics in welcoming migrants to the country.
“The generosity and willingness of Catholic to sacrifice is witnessed in the charitable works during times of national disasters or through Catholic Relief Services,” he said, and signs of hope were present in the Church “even as many of us worry about the lasting impact of the sexual abuse crisis.”
The archbishop acknowledged that the Church in the U.S. faces “many challenges,” highlighting the demographic changes and the need to engage better with young people.
Pierre also highlighted a series of priorities and concerns about the welfare of the priesthood, acknowledging a shortage of clergy had led to strained circumstances in many dioceses. He urged to make “communion with the presbyterate” a key priority.
“Establishing communion within the presbyterate is becoming increasingly challenging, and not just because of differences in age, theology, or liturgical practices.” He noted the increasing numbers of priests from other countries serving in American dioceses.
“Although we are grateful for the sacramental and pastoral care provided by these priests, we must investigate how this has affected or is affecting the presbyterate within our respective dioceses.”
In answer to the shortage of clergy, Pierre said that there is “an urgent need the bishops to foster a “culture of vocation.”
“Building a culture of vocations also means providing adequate support for and accompaniment of families, where vocations are born and nurtured even at a young age.”
Pierre concluded by saying he hoped that the American bishops would find his “reflections” useful for the coming year.
“Knowing the richness of your spiritual and cultural heritage, as well as the depth of your faith and devotion and that of your people, I am confident that the Church in the United States will discover the right path for its spiritual renewal.”

Analysis: USCCB elections and the Church's theological vision

Sun, 11/10/2019 - 18:46

Baltimore, Md., Nov 10, 2019 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference fall meeting is unlikely to offer any surprises to Church observers watching to assembly. In fact, while the meeting will begin Monday, its only real surprise came weeks ago, when the list of candidates for the conference presidency and vice presidency was published.

The bishops will elect a new president Monday, almost certain to be Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the conference vice president. The uncertain question is who they’ll elect as vice president, but Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the military archdiocese are largely considered the front-runners, and one of them is likely to win.

But the surprise of the candidates’ list, released Oct. 21, is that nearly all the bishops eligible to be elected president or vice president are  typically classified, at least by secular media, as “conservative.”

Ordinarily, candidates represent a cross-section of the theological and socio-political perspectives within the conference. But this year, each of the candidates, save for one, has been described as a “conservative,” and, to some extent, the label fits. 

The categories of political sociology are not helpful in a Church context, because the modes of thinking and acting in the Church are very different from those of political partisanship.

Rather than speaking of “conservatives” and “liberals,” it is more accurate to say that the candidates for high office in the bishops’ conference can all be seen to represent the Communio school of post-Vatican II theological formation, instead of the Concilium school represented by Cardinal Blase Cupich and Bishop Robert McElroy.

The possible exception to this categorization of candidates is Bishop Dan Flores of Brownsville, who, as a rather well-read Thomist, does not fit neatly into either category. But in the contemporary theological landscape, a Thomist like Flores is generally thought to have common cause mostly with the Communio crowd. To borrow other, different, political language, Flores might be spoken of as an “independent” who usually caucuses with the Communio school.

In short, though, the nominees are more uniform in theological perspective than is typical for slates of conference candidates.

Candidates are selected by nomination; each bishop is asked during the summer months of an election year to nominate candidates for office, and those who get the most nominations in the running. The nominees they selected could be taken as a sign that most bishops hold to the Communio theological approach that defined the papacies of the St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, rather than the Concilium approach, which has enjoyed a resurgence in some quarters during the pontificate of Pope Francis.

It could also mean that any of the Concilium bishops who got a nomination declined it. There are, indeed, rumors that at least one archbishop who fits Concilium mold turned down the nod. But the idea that the U.S. bishops are mostly cut from the mold of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and tend to think like those men, is hardly radical, and it makes sense they would mostly nominate bishops of a similar vein.

But the nominees’ slate does signify that a one-time tradition in conference elections is probably over, for good. It has long been customary that the conference elect its vice president as president, and it was once customary that the top job alternated between “conservative” and “progressive”” bishops.

Both customs were interrupted in 2010. In that year, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was then considered to be a “conservative,” was elected president in a coup that saw “progressive” vice president, Bishop Gerarld Kicanas, left out in the cold. Since Dolan’s election, two more mostly-conservative, Communio school bishops have been elected president of the conference.

Gomez, though naturally a bridge-builder and a man of modest temperament, falls rather squarely in the Communio school, and his successor is sure to as well. That will make five bishops of mostly similar theological orientation elected to lead the conference in a row. The unspoken custom of alternating between theological viewpoints seems to be dead.

Still, if the nomination of very similar bishops as candidates for the 2019 election signifies that the John Paul II Communio approach is the predominant viewpoint maong the U.S. bishops, it’s not certain how long that will last.

There are two Americans on the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, which plays a heavy role in nominating candidates to the episcopacy. One is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is 78 and will depart from the congregation in two years. Wuerl, leaving aside the personal disgrace in which he now finds himself, is regarding theologically as a moderate Communio bishop. The other is Cardinal Blase Cupich, who, with his language of “paradigm shifts,” is regarded most definitively as a Concilium figure.

If Cupich plays a principal role in the nomination of U.S. bishops, the American episcopacy will likely tend toward the Concilium school, even as the Communio crowd takes leadership posts at the conference. Once the Concilium bishops occupy 51% of the American episcopate, however, the tides will turn.

That future likelihood, in fact, may well be the reason why no Concilium bishops are running to be conference president. If they expect that the composition of the conference might undergo significant change in the next decade, they might judge it better simply to bide their time.

The real difference of opinion between Communio and Concilium bishops concerns the interpretive lens through which the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and indeed the Magisterium of the Church more broadly, should be read. That theological debate will have implications for decades, and perhaps centuries. For a sense of how the debate is going, the leadership and composition of the U.S. bishops' conference may prove to be a pretty good litmus test.


Corpus Christi bishop donates bone marrow to save a mother's life

Sat, 11/09/2019 - 16:01

Corpus Christi, Texas, Nov 9, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- This week, Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi reflected on bone marrow donations and the life of the mother whom he helped save.

Before he became a bishop, Michael Mulvey joined the Be the Match Registry, the world’s largest register for bone marrow transplants (BMT), which is run by the National Marrow Donor Program.

After the organization discovered a match, South Texas Catholic reported, Mulvey, 70, traveled to San Antonio to make a peripheral stem cell donation. He had matched with a mother who had been diagnosed with a type of blood cancer.

Although Mulvey has never met the woman, he said he was humbled by the experience and expressed gratitude to be able to contribute to the well-being of this mother and her family.

“Knowing that because of the life I have been given by God – I was able to give back and make a big difference in this person’s life, in the life of her children and her family is something I have thought of quite often,” he told South Texas Catholic Nov. 5.

Mulvey said he was introduced to Be the Match in 2004, while he was a priest of the Diocese of Austin. There, he had met Leticia Mondragon, a donor development and engagement specialist with GenCure who partners with Be the Match.

“When I was assigned in Austin years ago, one of our very charitable and active parishioners was signing up people for Be the Match,” said Bishop Mulvey, according to South Texas Catholic. “I appreciated her commitment and dedication to this cause, and after hearing more about the registry, I signed up.”

BMT replaces unhealthy bone marrow with healthy marrow from an outside source. The procedure is used to cure cancers in the blood as well as diseases in the bones and immune system. Among other illnesses, BMT has been used for leukemia, aplastic anemia, and sickle cell disease.

According to South Texas Catholic, Mondragon said the process to sign up is more convenient than in the past, noting that people may apply through their smartphone.

Unlike blood donations, a match for BMT does not focus on blood type, but ethnicity. Mondragon expressed hope that the new system will add more “people of all ethnic backgrounds” to the registry.

She stressed the importance of BMT donors, stating that life-threatening disorders are discovered every few minutes, and thanked the bishop for his contribution.

“Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a life-threatening blood cancer or blood disorder, such as leukemia or lymphoma,” said Mondragon, according to South Texas Catholic.

“We are thankful Bishop Mulvey wanted to share his story because it is so important that we have leaders like him promoting our global life-saving mission,” she further added.

Bishop Mulvey described the experience not only as an opportunity for charity but as a spiritual encounter.

“St. Matthew says what you have received as a gift, give as a gift,” said Bishop Mulvey, South Texas Catholic reported. “We must always remember that everyone’s life is a gift and true gratitude is expressed when you are willing to give back and share what you have.”

The Impossible Burger: Ethics and a CNA taste test

Sat, 11/09/2019 - 07:00

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Food trends come and go, and the trend du jour is plant-based “meat” that is partially made in a laboratory.

Many vegans and vegetarians have rejoiced at the growing popularity and relative mainstream success of both the “Beyond” and “Impossible” brands, and there is a growing claim that eschewing meat choices in favor of these new products is a more ethical choice for consumers.

CNA spoke to Catholic moral theologians to discuss the ethics of eating meat, and the morality of eating faux meat during penitential fasts. And, lest CNA coverage of these products seem incomplete, we conducted a taste test.

According to Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America a person is not morally obligated to choose a vegan patty, like the Impossible Burger, over a beef or chicken burger.

“There’s no reason, in my opinion, to think the consumption of products so dependent upon technology are superior to the consumption of animal products,” said Capizzi.

“I do think, however, in both cases, ethically relevant issues include the production of the foods, including not merely the environmental impact, but also the ways technologies might distance the human being from creation,” he added.

Capizzi told CNA that while he does not think it is ethically superior for people to stick to eating mostly plant-based food, he does think that “people need to reflect on the ethical nature of eating.”

“Though eating is a basic human need, how we eat, what we eat, with whom we eat--including whom we exclude--are all questions that need our reflection,” said Capizzi. While these alternative products have done some work to address some of these concerns, there is much work to be done.

“One thing I’ve noticed is the lack of hospitality that can accompany over-restrictive diets,” he explained, recounting the experience of seeing a poor person offer meat to guests, presented as a luxury, only to see the meat rejected because of the guests’ vegetarianism.

Dr. Charles Camosy, a professor at Fordham University who has written extensively about veganism and vegetarianism, disagreed with Capizzi’s take. Camosy told CNA that these new products make it harder for American Catholics to justify eating meat.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists we have a moral duty not to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly,” said Camosy.

“With good-tasting protein available from so many sources now, including from new imitation meat products, the teaching of the Church would seem to indicate that the necessity of participating in the suffering of death of animals, for most of us, isn't what it might have been in the past.”

Camosy noted that the Bible states that in the new Kingdom of God that will come with Christ’s second coming, “animals are to be our companions, not our food.”

The new kingdom “will be a Peaceable Kingdom among all creatures: lambs, lions, snakes, and babies,” he said, and there will be no need to slaughter animals.

The faux hamburger market is dominated by two companies: Beyond Meat makes the Beyond Burger patty, Beyond Beef ground meat substitute, Beyond Sausage, and Beyond Beef Crumbles. Impossible Foods sells the Impossible Burger patty and the Impossible Sausage.

“Protein, fat, minerals, carbohydrates, and water are the five building blocks of meat,” says Beyond Meat’s website. Beyond uses plant-based versions of protein--including protein from peas, mung beans, fava beans, brown rice, and sunflowers--and fats to create its products. Additionally, Beyond uses beet juice to create a burger that “bleeds.”

Impossible Food uses “heme,” a protein that is found in nearly all living things, to make its plant-based burgers taste like meat. This heme also mimics a  “bleeding” effect.

“Impossible Burger gets its heme from the protein soy leghemoglobin, which is naturally found in soy roots. Impossible Foods produces soy leghemoglobin through genetic engineering and fermentation. Thanks to heme, Impossible Burger has a rich, beefy flavor that satisfies the most discerning meat-eaters — but it contains no animal products whatsoever,” the company’s website says.

Dunkin’, the restaurant once known as Dunkin’ Donuts, launched a Beyond Sausage sandwich nationwide Nov. 6 after a successful test market in Manhattan. Customers can choose to substitute a veggie egg white patty for the fried egg. CNA paid $3.99 for the Beyond Sausage sandwich.

An ordinary pork sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin from Dunkin’ costs $4.99.

CNA recruited three journalists for a blind taste test of the Beyond Sausage sandwich and pork sausage sandwich. Two out of the three testers were unable to determine at first glance if the sandwich they were eating contained Beyond or pork sausage, and one mistakenly thought the pork sausage she was eating was actually the Beyond Sausage.

Two out of the three testers said they preferred the pork sausage sandwich to the Beyond sandwich, but one said she liked that the Beyond sandwich reminded her of a falafel. This tester was the only one who said she would order the sandwich again in the future.

The sandwich was not extremely popular among testers. But some Catholics have asked whether it would be good enough to eat on a Friday, when Catholics are instructed to abstain from (actual) meat.

CNA asked Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., the academic dean and vice president of the Dominican House of Studies, to weigh in on whether or not an Impossible Burger (or similar product) would be appropriate for a day when Catholics abstain from meat.

“The Church’s universal norms say that we should abstain from meat on Fridays, especially Fridays in Lent,” explained Petri. “The Impossible Burgers are not technically meat. So, of course, someone could argue that we can eat them on Fridays.”

Still, he said that “giving up meat but having Impossible Burgers that taste like meat seems to me to be a technicality to get out of the spirit of the penance,” he said.

“We should remember the point here is to give up something in union with Christ crucified. If a person is seeking Impossible meat to skirt the penance, it’s hard to believe they’ve really understood the point of it all.”

It is important for Catholics to remember that fasting and abstinence are not done for purposes of dieting, or to respect animals, said Petri. The purpose of fasting is to “unite our offerings to the perfect offering of Christ, and so to prepare for the great feast of his coming.”

And for those who are still struggling (or hungry) on a Friday, Petri had some advice.

“If you’re craving meat on a Friday, offer it up.” 


Family demands answers after migrant in ICE custody removed from life support

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 18:59

San Diego, Calif., Nov 8, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- Relatives are still seeking answers about an asylum-seeker who was removed from life support after an apparent accident while in federal detention awaiting a hearing in immigration court.

Nebane Abienwi, a father of six who fled Cameroon this summer, was declared dead at a medical center Oct. 1 at the age of 37 after what was described as a “medical emergency” at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, USA Today reports. The detention center is a facility of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which had custody over the man.

Abienwi’s brother Akongnwi, who asked USA Today to identify him by his last name for fear of repercussions against his family at home, said the family wanted the ventilator to be kept in place until a relative could arrive. The family wants to know why it was removed.

“We did not approve that,” he told USA Today from Cameroon. “One hundred percent, we did not.”

“The family spoke and said, ‘We believe in miracles. It has happened to other families, why not ours?’,” said the migrant’s brother. “I made clear that he should remain like that and the family would decide if we want to take him off that machine or not.”

ICE told USA Today that Abienwi’s treatment was determined by hospital staff. When its detainees are admitted to the hospital, it said, it works with relatives “to the extent possible to ensure they can participate in decisions.”

Nine migrants have died in ICE custody in the past year. The department detains over 52,000 migrants per day across 225 detention centers and jails. The numbers of arriving undocumented immigrants have surged, straining the resources of government facilities and personnel.

Akongnwi, a resident of South Africa who runs a car repair and brokerage company, has sought a travel visa to travel to California to find out more about his brother’s death, to identify the body, and to perform cultural rites before the casket is sealed. He has been denied a visa at both the U.S. Embassy at Johannesburg and in his native Cameroon. He said U.S. officials in Cameroon asked him whether he would apply for asylum like his brother.

Akongnwi has had to borrow money for his travel expenses. He has arranged for his brother’s body to be kept at a California funeral home but does not know how to get it home.

ICE officials had contacted Akongnwi on Sept. 30 to inform him of his brother’s critical situation. Officials at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center said Abienwi was bleeding profusely from his brain.

Abienwi had suffered a medical emergency about 3:24 a.m. on Sept. 26, according to the ICE detainee death report, apparently after falling off a top bunk in his cell. A nurse found him and reported that he was confused, sweating, making “jerky movements” and complaining of thirst. The detention center staff contacted emergency services at 3:50 a.m. and he was taken to the hospital.

Just after noon on Oct. 1 two doctors reviewed Abienwi’s examination results, concluded they were “were consistent with brain death” and then “pronounced him dead.” The ICE report said the doctors informed Abienwi’s wife 30 minutes later and hospital staff then disconnected the ventilator two hours later.

Akongnwi has questioned the accuracy of parts of the ICE report, saying his brother’s wife could not deal with speaking with the officials and directed them to speak with Akongnwi.

ICE officials said they are reviewing Abienwi’s death to ensure that officials followed policy.

The department has come under heavy scrutiny after President Donald Trump tightened migrant entry rules and refugee detention rules, and implemented stronger enforcement against undocumented migrants.

Watchdogs like the U.S. Inspector General have faulted the border patrol’s federal detention facilities, citing dangerous overcrowding that put detainees’ health and safety at risk.

Trump administration policy seeks to detain asylees until their case is heard in immigration court. Abienwi, who did not have a criminal record, had been in Customs and Border Patrol Custody for two weeks before being turned over to ICE for long-term detention.

Abienwi left Cameroon due to armed conflicts in his country, where about 500 villages have been destroyed, his family said. He flew to Ecuador and traveled through Colombia, Central America and Mexico before reaching the U.S. border. According to Akongnwi, his brother said he planned to request asylum.

“He wanted to go to the United States, get his documents, start to work, open a business and bring his family, so they can be safe and the kids could go to school,” Akongnwi told USA Today.

For decades, Catholic bishops and other leaders have advocated for comprehensive immigration reform.

The bishops have faulted various aspects of Trump administration policy, including its treatment of unaccompanied child detainees, its family separation policy, and its “stay in Mexico” policy wherein would-be asylum seekers are denied entry to the U.S. pending court hearings.

In June Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, whose diocese borders Juarez, Mexico, denounced “a government and society which view fleeing children and families as threats; a government which treats children in U.S. custody worse than animals; a government and society who turn their backs on pregnant mothers, babies and families and make them wait in Ciudad Juarez without a thought to the crushing consequences on this challenged city.”

“This government and this society are not well,” he said June 26. “We suffer from a life-threatening case of hardening of the heart.”

The bishops’ concerns about U.S. treatment of migrants pre-date the Trump administration. In a report released in May 2015, titled “Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System,” they charged that detainees receive harsher treatment than criminal defendants and face increased difficulty securing legal counsel and due legal process.

They advocated reducing the number of detention facilities and recommended community-based case management as a cost-effective and successful model in the legal processing of immigrants.

The report cited attorneys’ and pastoral workers’ reports of “the sexual abuse of women detainees, women forced to deliver babies in restraints, frequent hunger strikes, suicides, government officials pressuring detainees to abandon their legal claims, and the treatment of severe medical conditions with Tylenol, Advil, and Motrin.”

Second federal court rules against HHS conscience protection rule

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 16:25

Spokane, Wash., Nov 8, 2019 / 02:25 pm (CNA).- For the second time in two days, a federal judge on Thursday said the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule for health care workers violated the law.

Judge Stanley Bastian in the Eastern District Court of Washington, an Obama appointee, ruled against the Department of Health and Human Services Nov. 7 after the State of Washington brought a lawsuit against the agency’s conscience protection rule that was issued in May.

The HHS rule had enforced existing laws which stipulated that health care workers and entities did not have to participate in, provide or pay for procedures they morally objected to, such as abortions.

The conscience rule was originally set to go into effect in July but its implementation was delayed until Nov. 22 because of lawsuits filed over it. Then, a federal district court judge in New York vacated the rule Nov. 6, followed by Judge Bastian’s decision Nov. 7.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a statement following Thursday’s ruling, saying that “all Washingtonians deserve to receive the full range of health care services” and that the district court recognized this.
“This rule would have disproportionately harmed rural and working poor Washington families, who have no alternatives to their local health care providers, as well as LGBTQ individuals, who already face discrimination when they seek medical care,” Ferguson said.
In allowing health care workers and entities to opt out of providing certain procedures, the rule unfairly discriminated against people seeking abortions, gender-transition surgeries, and other procedures, he argued. 

The HHS rule “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority” drew upon existing conscience protections that had already been enacted by bipartisan majorities in Congress, and provided for enforcement of these protections in HHS-funded health care programs.

Under the rule, health care providers, entities, and workers would be prevented “from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide,” HHS said when the rule was finalized in May.

HHS also issued the rule to clarify the conscience rights of health care employees and institutions so they might not “feel compelled” to participate in a procedure against their moral convictions or leave the industry altogether.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, Congress had begun enacting laws and amendments to provide some protections for health care workers or entities opposed to participating in abortions and sterilizations, in federally-funded programs. Provisions such as the Weldon Amendment, the Church Amendments, and the Coats-Snowe Amendment were examples of these protections.

In 2008, at the close of the Bush administration, the HHS also issued a conscience protection rule for health care workers that was rescinded by the Obama administration.

In 2011, HHS issued a new conscience rule, one which “provided inadequate enforcement of conscience rights,” the Trump administration later said, as it was based on only three existing laws; in contrast, the 2019 rule was based on more than two dozen statutory provisions protecting conscience rights.

In response to the 2019 rule, a coalition of 19 states, the District of Columbia, local governments, and pro-abortion groups including Planned Parenthood’s national federation and Northern New England affiliate, all sued the administration.

On Wednesday, a district court judge in New York struck down the 2019 HHS rule, saying that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution.

However, the judge did not prevent the administration from amending the rule and reissuing it, writing that “The Conscience Provisions recognize and protect undeniably important rights” and that “HHS undoubtedly has potent existing authority to remedy violations of the Conscience Provisions.”

The HHS Office of Civil Rights says that, while the rule will not go into effect for the time being, the office will continue to investigate complaints of conscience violations in health care, under the agency’s 2011 rule and the existing laws passed by Congress “to the extent not prohibited by court order.”

During the Trump administration, the agency had created a new division for conscience rights and religious freedom within the Office of Civil Rights, as an effort to hear and investigate cases of discrimination against the conscientious beliefs of health care workers.

In August, the agency released the results of its investigation in a case at the University of Vermont Medical Center, where it said a nurse had been coerced into assisting in an abortion despite her conscientious objection. HHS issued a notice of violation against the hospital.

Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said in a press call announcing the violation that over the course of eight years the agency received only 10 complaints by health care workers of conscience violations; now hundreds are received per year.

The Department of Justice had not responded to CNA’s request for comment by press time on whether or not the administration would appeal the two decisions to a higher court.

Holy See won't participate in Nairobi Summit

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 14:01

New York City, N.Y., Nov 8, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Holy See will not participate in next week's Nairobi Summit, its mission to the UN announced Friday, saying next week's international gathering is too focused on “reproductive rights”.

The Nov. 12-14 Nairobi Summit is sponsored by the UN Population Fund and the governments of Kenya and Denmark, and it marks the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, which was held in Cairo.

Its program includes five themes, among which are “Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as a part of universal health coverage” and “Upholding the right to sexual and reproductive health care even in humanitarian and fragile contexts.”

“The organizers’ decision … to focus the conference on a few controversial and divisive issues that do not enjoy international consensus and that do not reflect accurately the broader population and development agenda outlined by the ICPD, is regrettable,” the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations said Nov. 8.

The Holy See had informed Kenya Oct. 24 it would not be participating in the summit.

“The ICPD and its encompassing Programme of Action within the international community’s broad development agenda should not be reduced to so-called 'sexual and reproductive health and rights' and 'comprehensive sexuality education,'”, the Holy See stated.

Rather, there is an “urgent need to focus on critical aspects of the Programme of Action, such as women and children living in extreme poverty, migration, strategies for development, literacy and education, the promotion of a culture of peace, support for the family as the basic unit of society, ending violence against women, and ensuring access to employment, land, capital and technology, etc.”

The permanent observer mission said the Holy See cannot support the Nairobi Statement, citing that “no substantive and substantial consultations on the text were carried out. The Holy See notes that if more time and a truly inclusive approach had been chosen, broader support could have been ensured for the text and for the conference.”

It added that “the conference will be held outside of the United Nations framework, thus precluding transparent intergovernmental negotiations while conveying the misleading impression of 'consensus' on the 'Nairobi Statement.' Therefore, 'The Nairobi Summit' cannot be deemed a meeting requested by the United Nations or held under its auspices.”

The permanent observer mission added that “the Holy See is and remains a staunch supporter of ensuring the advancement of equitable, sustainable and integral human development that fosters human dignity and the common good of every man, woman and child.”

Several African bishops have also noted grave concerns with the gathering in Nairobi.

Bishop Alfred Rotich, Bishop Emeritus of the Military Ordinariate of Kenya and chair of the Kenyan bishops' family life office, told ACI Africa: “We find such a conference not good for us, (and) destroying the agenda for life.”

Archbishop Martin Kivuva of Mombasa described the summit's agenda as “unacceptable according to our teaching of the Catholic Church” and he encouraged Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to be wary of the forum.

To counter the agenda of the Nairobi Summit, the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum, with the backing of Kenya's bishops, has organized a parallel convention to be held Nov. 11-14.

Florida school asked to reconsider rejection of pro-life student group

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 11:58

Naples, Florida, Nov 8, 2019 / 09:58 am (CNA).- A Florida public high school’s decision not to recognize a student pro-life group is a violation of the Constitution, one legal group says.

Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom on Nov. 7 sent a letter to Gulf Coast High School in Collier County, Florida, asking administrators to reconsider the decision to deny the club official status.

Earlier in the school year, student Gabrielle Gabbard attempted to form a Sharks 4 Life student group on campus, affiliated with the national Students for Life organization. The purpose of the group, according to a promotional flyer, was “to educate students and bring awareness through community service projects and other events.”

However, the letter from Alliance Defending Freedom charges, Assistant Principal Catherine Crawford-Brown told Gabbard that the group would not be approved by the school district because it was too “political” and “controversial.”

The letter also says Crawford-Brown threatened the club’s faculty advisors, suggesting that they could lose their jobs if they were affiliated with the club, which caused them to withdraw from their participation in the group.

Gabbard and her peers have now missed out on club recruiting opportunities and been denied access to school facilities and advertising, the letter says.

Alliance Defending Freedom said the school’s actions constitute “a blatant form of discrimination based on the club’s viewpoint and the political content of its speech [that] is expressly disallowed” by both the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Equal Access Act.

“Public school officials can’t refuse to recognize a student organization for being too ‘political’ or ‘controversial,’ especially when they have rightfully approved a whole host of other clubs formed around religious, political, and social interests,” said Michael Ross, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, in a press release. “The First Amendment doesn’t permit a public school to play favorites when approving student organizations.”

The letter notes that Gulf Coast High School recognizes more than 75 students clubs, including others with religious and political affiliations, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Gay Straight Alliance, and Collier Students for Change, which is affiliated with Florida’s Democratic Party, have all been approved by the school.

In the letter, Alliance Defending Freedom asks the school to provide written notification of Sharks 4 Life’s approval within a week, and asked the Collier County school board to update its written policies clarifying that clubs will not face discrimination based on their religious or political views.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, warned that the scenario at Gulf Coast High School was not unique.

“Across the country, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion,” she said in a press release.

“But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot single out pro-life groups for exclusion from recognition. Officials in Collier County need to do the right thing and do it quickly.”


Will Trump's judicial appointments matter for abortion, religious freedom?

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 18:59

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- US President Donald Trump has nominated more than one-fourth of federal circuit court judges – but what, if anything, might that entail for jurisprudence on abortion and religious freedom?

In his remarks marking the milestone of 150 judicial nominations on Wednesday at the White House East Room, Trump did not bring up the life issue, nor did he mention religious freedom.

He stated his goal of nominating judges who would “halt judicial activism,” most notably on immigration, where he said, “judges are prohibiting us from enforcing the plain letter of the law.”

Trump’s milestone was marked by the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, which celebrated the fact that one-fourth of appellate court judges are Trump appointees in a statement on Tuesday, while also noting the two Supreme Court justices selected by Trump, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

“With more than 150 nominees confirmed, President Trump is transforming the American judiciary and has more than delivered on this key promise to pro-life voters who put their trust in him,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, stated.

It is unclear how exactly the judges will rule on abortion and religious freedom cases – or how often they may see such cases on the bench.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court, for instance, has 29 active judges; the Second Circuit, only 13. Yet it is no certainty that, if an abortion case or a religious liberty case makes it to one of those circuit courts, one of Trump’s nominees would hear it.

The case against David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress—the group that released undercover conversations with Planned Parenthood officials regarding potential fetal tissue transactions—featured only a three-judge panel.

Yet although the likelihood that a certain judge might see such a case is small, their fingerprint on a case can be significant. The administration’s rule protecting the conscience rights of health care professionals was thrown out by a district court judge in New York on Wednesday.

If the Department of Health and Human Services appealed the ruling, it would land in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where one of the latest nominees confirmed, William Nardini, will be.

Nardini was one of four judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday and Thursday. The chamber voted on Wednesday 73 to 17 to confirm Danielle Hunsaker to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and on Thursday it voted 83 to 2 to confirm Nardini to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

For the district courts, the Senate also voted to confirm two new judges, Lee Rudofsky to the Eastern District of Arkansas and Jennifer Wilson to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The chamber voted 88 to 3 to confirm Wilson and 51 to 41 to confirm Rudofsky.

While three of the nominees saw their confirmations move smoothly through the Senate, Rudofsky was the only candidate of the four not elected by an overwhelming margin.

Rudofsky was a former Solicitor General of Arkansas and senior director of Walmart’s global anti-corruption compliance program, and served as deputy general counsel to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign

Planned Parenthood warned about Rudofsky’s nomination in an October statement, saying that as Solicitor General of Arkansas he defended the state’s ban on abortions after 12 weeks gestation as well as the state’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

In October of 2015, Rudofsky – as Solicitor General of Arkansas – wrote a brief with the state’s attorneys general arguing that the states should be allowed greater legal authority to regulate abortions, such as in Arkansas’ ban on most abortions after 12 weeks gestation.

The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, and in subsequent decisions, legalized abortions before the “viability” of the baby, while excluding the states from the authority to determine a specific time when viability might occur before the accepted definition of 24 to 28 weeks.

The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on “viability” should be reconsidered, the brief said.

“A State should be allowed to advance its profound interests in protecting the life of the unborn child, protecting the health of the mother, and upholding the integrity of the medical profession by enforcing a restriction on abortion prior to viability especially where, as here, a woman is given a reasonable amount of time to terminate her pregnancy and the State provides a safe haven statute allowing a woman to abandon an unwanted child carried to term,” the brief stated.

Trump, in his Wednesday remarks, did mention nominees being questioned for their religious beliefs.

“Nominees have been attacked in hearings for their religious beliefs,” he said, without mention of any specific cases. One nominee, Brian Buescher to the district court of Nebraska, was grilled by senators in 2018 over his membership in the Knights of Columbus, and how it would affect his jurisprudence on abortion.

“Every judge we have placed on the bench will hear thousands of cases over their careers. They will ensure equal justice for every party before them, regardless of age, race, income, religion, beliefs, or background,” Trump said.

US bishops counter narrative of resistance to Pope Francis

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 18:01

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops' conference issued Thursday a statement responding to a recent book which the conference says perpetuates a myth that it is resistant to Pope Francis.

Austen Ivereigh's “Wounded Shepherd” was published Nov. 5 by Henry Holt and Co.

The book “perpetuates an unfortunate and inaccurate myth that the Holy Father finds resistance among the leadership and staff of the U.S. Bishops Conference,” James Rogers, chief communications officer for the conference, said Nov. 7.

Ivereigh claims that Msgr. Brian Bransfield, general secretary of the conference, and Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, dean of canon law at the Catholic University of America and a consultant to the conference, drafted proposals for a bishops' code of conduct and lay commissions in the wake of the McCarrick scandal that were subsequently rejected by Rome. Ivereigh said the proposals were meant to bypass Roman input.

Rogers called the claim disparaging of Bransfield and Jenkins, and said Ivereigh's account “is false and misleading.”

According to the conference, its president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, began in August 2018 to consult bishops on measures that would strengthen the Dallas Charter. Draft proposals were written by the next month “under the direction of the Executive Committee” and with the help of the committees on clergy, consecrated life, canonical affairs, and child protection, as well as the doctrinal secretariat and the general counsel's office.

“It was intended that the proposals stop short of where the authority of the Holy See began,” Rogers wrote.

“For example, like the Charter before it, the lay commission was based on the voluntary participation of bishops, compiling substantial reports of abuse to be delivered directly to the Apostolic Nuncio in the United States with due regard to civilly mandated reporting laws.”

Rogers added that “while informal consultations with the Holy See took place in October, it was envisioned that the Holy See would have an opportunity to review and offer adjustments only on those drafts benefiting from the input of the full body of U.S. bishops, recognizing that substantial amendments could yet take place.”

The proposals were to have been voted on at the US bishops' 2018 autumn general assembly, but upon the indication of Rome, Cardinal DiNardo delayed that vote.

The cardinal's decision “is a clear sign of his and his brother bishops’ collaboration with and obedience to the Holy Father,” Rogers wrote.

“When Pope Francis announced the new universal Church law establishing a worldwide program of protection, Cardinal DiNardo strongly supported the measures and moved quickly to ensure the Conference’s proposals would be both ready for votes in June of this year and would be complementary to the Holy Father’s own program. The June agenda moved forward without the objection of the Holy See.”

According to the conference, “Because of the decisive actions of Pope Francis and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church is a safer place for children and adults in vulnerable situations.”

Saginaw diocese buries the forgotten dead on All Souls' Day

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 17:01

Saginaw, Mich., Nov 7, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- On Saturday Bishop Robert Gruss of Saginaw said a Mass of All Souls' Day for 175 people whose mortal remains had been unclaimed, and which were then buried at one of the diocese's cemeteries.

“The Church invites us to pray in a very special way, give alms and do works of penance for all the deceased, for our loved ones and friends, but also for all those who have died whom we have never known. There are many who have no one to pray for them,” Bishop Gruss preached during the Nov. 2 Mass at Calvary Cemetery in Kawkawlin, Mich., about 20 miles north of Saginaw.

“This is why we gather today in this special way for this memorial service for these unclaimed cremains. These individuals have no one to pray for them. They have not received a burial proper to their human dignity. But we will doing this today, giving these men, women and children a proper burial.”

The cremated bodies of 175 people were entombed in a crypt at the cemetery. Their remains had been in a county medical examiner's office or funeral homes, and while some of the people had died quite recently, the oldest remains were of someone who died in 1972. Among those whose remains were entombed were 13 veterans, and military honors were presented by the Bay County Veterans Council Honor Guard.

“These individuals, these children of God, we know very little about. We know their names, but we know very little about them. But we do know that their lives have value; in the eyes of God and in our eyes, they belong to Him,” Bishop Gruss reflected.

“We are here today to show our love and care and concern for our brothers and sisters by upholding their God given dignity and providing them a final resting place where they will be remembered.”

The bishop noted that those who were being buried after the Mass “have all been part of a family. Why their cremains have been left behind is unknown to me. Though their lives remain a mystery to all of us, every aspect of their lives, every experience of their lives is known [to] God … And in the mystery of Christ’s love, they too have been offered salvation because it is God’s will that all people will be saved.”

Bishop Gruss began his homily saying, “the Church has always promoted the praying for our deceased loved ones and teaches the value of this practice. Oftentimes people make the assumption that their loved one is automatically going to heaven. We can never presume anything such as this.Yes, it is God’s will that all people are saved, but the ultimate judgment belongs to God and not to us. We can only live in hope that heaven becomes a reality for our loved onesand for us by the way we live our lives. If heaven were automatic, why would the Church need to pray for their deceased loved ones?”

He added that “we gather here today to pray for all of our loved ones who have gone before us. We gather here today to pray for these men, women and children whom we will lay rest.”

Alice Lefevre, Cemeteries Director for the Diocese of Saginaw, noted ahead of the interment that “Our Lord instructs us to bury the dead. It is a corporal work of mercy.”

The diocese reported that the students of St. Brigid of Kildare Catholic School in Midland held a “penn war” to raise money for expenses associated with the burials, raising more than $500, which was used for memorial flowers, among other things.

According to MLive, the diocese reached an agreement with Saginaw County in August that it will inter any cremated remains accumulated by the county.

The county controller, Robert Belleman, says he contacted the diocese to see if they could assist with proper burial of the cremated remains of 47 people which were held at the county medical examiner's office.

“We really appreciate that willingness by the Diocese of Saginaw to agree to properly bury these 47 cremains,” Belleman told MLive.

Bishops reject funding increase for USCCB, for now

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 16:00

Baltimore, Md., Nov 7, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A proposed increase in diocesan payments to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has failed to attract sufficient support among the bishops on Monday, the first day of their annual general assembly in Baltimore.

Diocesan and eparchial bishops voted 111 to 55 to approve a requested three percent increase to the annual diocesan assessment that will be sent to the USCCB in 2021, failing to receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass, though the decision is not definitive. 

The bishops, gathered for their four-day meeting Nov. 11-14, were told that a number of economic factors in, and out of the Church had impacted the finances of the USCCB. Concerns over the cost of clergy sex abuse settlements in U.S. Catholic dioceses was particularly highlighted.

Although the proposed rate increase did not pass, the vote was declared inconclusive because 28 eligible bishops were not present on Monday. The conference hall was told that once their votes are counted, the final outcome will then be announced. The bishops from New York state are currently in Rome for their scheduled ad limina visit with Pope Francis but are reportedly following the proceedings in Baltimore and able to vote remotely.

“It caused me no surprise,” Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Budget and Finance, told CNA of the inconclusive vote. As a longtime staffer and member of the budget and finance committee, he said that “this is nothing new under the sun.”

The diocesan assessment goes to fund administrative, pastoral, and public policy programs at the USCCB, and a regular increase is necessary to maintain the reserves of the conference, Schnurr said.

The archbishop acknowledged the financial challenges of some dioceses facing a resurgence in clergy sex abuse claims from new openings in state statutes of limitations.

“There are a lot of dioceses in this country that are looking at bankruptcy,” Schnurr said.

The bishops voted on the first day their fall general assembly in Baltimore on Monday. In attendance were active and retired bishops from around the U.S. including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis late in 2018 after persistent questions were raised over the extent of Wuerl’s knowledge of his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick’s, history of sexual abuse of minors and adults.

The bishops will also consider a slate of other action items, including election of a new president and vice president of the conference, approval of a letter and short video presentation of the bishops’ document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and presentations on gun violence and evangelization.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the outgoing president of the conference, delivered his final presidential address to brother bishops on Monday morning, emphasizing the need to overcome deepening divisions and polarization in society, to promote a renewed evangelization, and to practice solidarity with migrants and immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Archbishop Schnurr addressed the bishops on the proposed 2020 budget for the conference as well as a proposed three percent increase in the annual diocesan assessment to the USCCB.

The three percent increase was last approved by the bishops in November of 2017, for the 2019 diocesan assessment. However, in November of 2018, no increase was approved for the 2020 assessment largely due to the costs dioceses were facing from a surge of new clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

Schnurr noted other problems facing the national conference’s budget including stricter federal immigration and refugee policies that have reduced the number of cases handled by Catholic organizations, and the trade war between the U.S. and China which could affect the overall U.S. economy and thus the amount of donations coming in to the conference.

The archbishop said that it was not “sustainable” to not increase the annual assessment to meet the conference’s estimated $25 million budget.

“We’re just kicking the can down the road,” he said. “The expenses are there.”

However, while the proposal fell 18 votes short of passage, Schnurr said, he expected the votes of absent bishops to push it over the finish line.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia stated his opposition to the assessment increase, saying that his archdiocese’s assessment amounts to $257,000 per year which, when paired with a matching donation to the Holy See, totals more than half a million dollars annually.

“I don’t have this kind of money to keep increasing it [the assessment],” Chaput said. “We have huge expenses because of the sexual abuse issue and related circumstances.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had to pay more than $32 million in settlements to abuse victims, WHYY reported, after a window for new abuse claims closed on Sept. 30 in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse that was released in August of 2018.

Chaput said that the USCCB also has more savings and investments in reserve than the archdiocese does.

“I don’t think that some of the work of the USCCB is essential to the mission of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” he said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich noted that a three percent increase for 2021 would arrive three years since the last increase to the assessment had been made. The requested increases would not even keep up with the rate of inflation, he said.

On Monday morning, the bishops also voted on “revised strategic priorities” for the conference’s Strategic Plan for the years 2021 through 2024. The priorities included evangelization to “form a joyful band of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ,” promoting “life and dignity of the human person,” working to “protect and heal God’s children,” and promoting vocations to marriage, priesthood and the religious life.

The priorities are all coequal, “much like bishops in the episcopal conference,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, who gave the presentation on the priorities, said.

The bishops voted 214 to 4 to pass the revised strategic priorities, with two abstentions.

Ohio Senate passes two pro-life laws despite legal challenges

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 16:00

Columbus, Ohio, Nov 7, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Ohio lawmakers have passed two pieces of new pro-life legislation while court battles challenging earlier pro-life laws continue. 

On Wednesday, the Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 155 by a vote of 22-10. The bill would require doctors to inform a mother that there are ways to possibly reverse a chemical abortion if they were to change their mind. The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with one Republican joining all Democratic senators in voting against the bill.

On Oct. 6, the senate also passed Senate Bill 208 along party lines. That bill would require abortionists to report to the state Department of Health if a child were to be born alive after an abortion, and provide appropriate medical care to keep the baby alive. All Democrats voted against this bill.

At present, Ohio law bans abortion after the 22nd week of a pregnancy, and has several other abortion laws on the books that are currently being challenged in federal courts. In April 2019, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed into a law a bill that would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. That bill was blocked by a federal judge in early July. 

In December 2017, Ohio’s then-governor John Kasich (R) signed into law a bill that would ban abortion after a child was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. A federal court blocked that bill in March of 2018, eight days before it was due to go into effect.

Abortion pill reversal remains a controversial topic, with some doctors insisting that it simply is not possible and that it is irresponsible to inform a woman about reversal treatment options. It is considered unethical to perform experiments on pregnant women, and meaning no widespread studies on the available treatments have been undertaken. Limited data provided to CNA by the Abortion Pill Reveral Network shows that if a reversal is begun promptly, many women go on to deliver a healthy baby. 

A chemical abortion is a two-step process that involves the injestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the hormone progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

The abortion can be reversed after a woman takes mifepristone, but before she takes misoprostol. The Abortion Pill Reversal Network works to connect a woman seeking to reverse a chemical abortion to a doctor who can assist.

If an ultrasound confirms the unborn baby is still viable, the mother is given a large dose of progesterone to reverse the effects of mifepristone, with additional doses of progesterone needed throughout the first trimester.

As part of the process, APRN also refers all women to a help center for support throughout the remainder of the pregnancy.

In April, an employee who works with the APRN told CNA that there’s a “64-68% success rate” for women seeking to reverse their chemical abortions, with no increase in birth defects. The preterm delivery rate for these children was lower than the general population.

Since 2012, when the APRN was established, more than 500 babies have been born after their abortions were reversed.

Survey says: Most Catholics in US reject Church teaching on cohabitation

Wed, 11/06/2019 - 20:18

Washington D.C., Nov 6, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- Nearly three quarters of Catholics in the United States are not opposed to couples cohabiting before marriage, despite the Church’s moral teaching.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center, released Nov. 6, reports that Americans as a whole are very accepting of unmarried couples living together, even if they have no plans to marry. Additionally, Pew found that a shrinking percentage of adults are getting married, and an increasing number of adults have decided to cohabit.

Only 14% of adults surveyed said they did not believe that it was ever acceptable for two unmarried adults in a romantic relationship to live together. An additional 16% said that they agreed with cohabitation only if there were plans for the couple to one day get married.

Of the people surveyed, 69% said they believed it was acceptable for an unmarried couple to live together, without any plans to eventually wed.

In 2002, the National Survey of Family Growth found that while 54% of adults between the ages of 18 and 44 had ever cohabited with a romantic partner, 60% had ever been married. By 2017, the number of adults who had ever been married dropped to 50%, while the number of adults who had cohabitated rose to 54%.

Pew found that race and religion played a role in whether or not a person was approving of the ideal of cohabitation. A total of 72% of white respondents said that cohabitation without a plan to get married was acceptable, with an additional 13% saying they approved of cohabitation without a plan to get married. Of black survey respondents, 23%, the largest of any ethnic group, said that they did not thing cohabitation was ever acceptable. Only 55% of black respondents said they approved of cohabitation without planning on getting married.

For Hispanics, only 10% of respondents said it was never acceptable to cohabitate. Slightly over one-fifth of Hispanic respondents – 21% – said they found cohabitation acceptable as long as there were wedding bells in the future.

Religion was a factor as well. Catholics and white mainline Protestants had nearly identical rates of approval of cohabitation--the survey found that 74% of Catholics and 76% of white Protestants who do not claim to be born-again or evangelical were okay with an unmarried couple cohabitating. Conversely, this figure dropped to 47% for blacked Protestants and 35% for white evangelical Protestants.

A full 90% of religiously unaffiliated people approved of cohabitation, and fewer than a third of this group said they believed society would be better off if more couples who cohabited got married.

White evangelical Christians were more likely than any other group to say that they believed increased marriage rates were better for society.

The survey also showed that married adults are more satisfied with their relationship than are those who cohabit, and they are more trustful of their partners.

The data for this survey came from the American Trends Panel, which was taken June 25- July 8. A total of 9,834 people were surveyed. Pew said the margin of error was about 1.5 points.

During the Fall 2013 USCCB General Assembly, Cardinal Sean O’Malley spoke to CNA about the reasons why couples are increasingly turning to cohabit. O’Malley cited financial instability--particularly student loans--as well as cultural norms as for why this was the case.

"Concerns about marriage – people not getting married, falloff in Mass attendance, (and the) challenge of catechizing the young Catholics" are some of the more troubling trends facing Catholicism in the U.S., the Archbishop of Boston said to CNA Nov. 11, during the general assembly of the national bishops' conference in Baltimore.

The cardinal noted that "the whole notion of family is so undercut by the cohabitation mentality," and that these social trends are having a tremendous impact on the working-class communities "who were once the backbone of the Church."

"Half of the children born to that demographic are born out of wedlock," a statistic that Cardinal O'Malley said would have been "inconceivable" a few decades ago.

Gallup diocese drops Zoom video conferencing app over abortion support

Wed, 11/06/2019 - 18:01

Gallup, N.M., Nov 6, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Gallup has chosen to stop using Zoom Video Communications for its internet meetings, citing the company's support of abortion rights.

Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of Zoom, was among the 187 executives who signed a letter that appeared a full-page ad in the New York Times June 10 criticizing regulations on abortion passed by state legislatures.

“Due to the company’s vocal support for abortion, the Diocese of Gallup has ceased all business with Zoom and will instead be seeking the use of an alternative platform for online meetings and presentations,” read a letter sent to the diocese's schools and parishes.

The diocese's education office had been utilizing Zoom for several years.

While acknowledging that “our monthly transactions with Zoom were not large,” the diocese said that “large or small, we cannot contribute to a company with anti-life policies.”

“It is distressing that the CEOs who paid for the ad call abortion restrictions 'bad for business', as if the life of a human being can be measured solely in monetary and economic value. We wholeheartedly reject this view.”

The Gallup diocese stated: “Each human, made in the image and likeness of God, is inherently worthy and has a right to life, from conception to natural death. We do not want to lose even a single future child, future student, future mother, father, sister or brother to abortion.”

“In providing the highest-quality Catholic education to our students, we must also strive to follow Christ and the teachings of his Church. We cannot truly be Christlike if we cooperate with evil or provide monetary support – even in the smallest amount - to other companies and institutions who promote and foster abortion, euthanasia, or other anti-life actions,” the diocese added.

The diocese has indicated that several Catholic companies and groups also use Zoom for video conferencing, and hopes that its decision may raise awareness of the company's stance on abortion.

Rape, incest exemptions restored to South Carolina abortion ban

Wed, 11/06/2019 - 17:14

Columbia, S.C., Nov 6, 2019 / 03:14 pm (CNA).- As the South Carolina legislature considers a bill that would ban most abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable, a Senate committee vote has restored exemptions that would allow abortions in cases of rape or incest.

The bill will now head to the full state Senate for consideration. Gov. Henry McMaster has said he would sign the bill regardless of whether the exemption is present, the Associated Press reports.

The legislation would require doctors to test for an unborn baby’s heartbeat before an abortion is performed. The heartbeat is detectable about six weeks into pregnancy.

Doctors who fail to comply could face criminal penalties if the bill becomes law. Women seeking abortions would not be subject to criminal prosecution.

An amendment to add an exemption to the original abortion ban legislation in cases of rape and incest - Amendment H.3020 - was debated by the House of Representatives and passed in a 70-31 vote in April.

On Oct. 22 a subcommittee of the Senate’s Medical Affairs Committee voted 4-3 along party lines to remove the exceptions.

In the Senate Medical Affairs Committee on Nov. 5, three Republicans joined six Democrats to refuse to advance the bill in its current state. This restored the previous exceptions. The three Republicans then sided with six other Republicans to pass the updated bill by a vote of 9-6.

Both versions of bill allowed for abortion in cases determined to be medical emergencies.

Some Republicans have objected to the bill on the grounds that it could lead to a fight in the Senate. Some said they wanted to wait to see if similar laws in other states withstand legal challenges, the Associated Press said.

A similar bill has failed in South Carolina in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018.

Republican Rep. Tom Davis of Beaufort, a backer of the exceptions, said they were comparable to the exception allowing abortion where it is believed it would save the life of the pregnant mother. A woman’s mental health could be at stake if she were required to bear a child conceived during a crime, he argued. Davis also said he wanted to vote for legislation “that has a reasonable likelihood of being passed,” the Associated Press reports.

Sen. Richard Cash, who backed the previous amendment removing the exceptions, said incest and rape are horrible crimes but argued that protecting innocent life is part of the basic responsibility of government.

“You are in fact killing an innocent human being. Whether you mean to or not, you are punishing a person wrongfully for something he or she had nothing to do with,” Cash said, according to the South Carolina newspaper The State.

The fetal heartbeat bill was introduced last December by Rep. John McCravy and Sen. Larry Grooms.

In an Oct. 24 statement, after the exceptions had been removed, the Diocese of Charleston expressed hope that the bill would become law.

“The Church deeply believes in the humanity of the unborn and supports the Senate’s vote to move the Heartbeat bill further along in the legislative process,” the statement read.

Similar bans on abortion based on fetal heartbeat have passed in Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio. Missouri passed a ban on abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy, while Alabama passed a ban on all abortions except in cases of medical emergency.

These bans have not taken effect and are now in court, though the U.S. Supreme Court is believed to be favorable towards changing the current legal precedent that mandates broad legal abortion access nationwide.

In other states, pro-abortion legislators and judges have acted to strengthen legal abortion at the state level.

'You belong to Jesus' - The unlikely friendship of an abortionist and a pro-life Catholic

Wed, 11/06/2019 - 16:31

Fort Wayne, Ind., Nov 6, 2019 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- The unlikely friendship between a controversial abortion doctor and a local Catholic shows the impact of encounter and friendship in spreading the Gospel, an Indiana priest said after the abortionist’s death.

On Sept. 16, police launched an investigation after more than 2,000 remains of aborted children were found at the former home of abortion doctor Ulrich “George” Klopfer in Will County, Illinois.

Klopfer, 75, had died about a week before the fetal remains were discovered on his property. He had spent four decades performing abortions at clinics in Indiana and Illinois.

For years, Klopfer’s abortion practice had been criticized for a lack of safeguards. His license was suspended in 2016 because he failed to exercise reasonable care and violated documentation requirements, according to local reports.

In a homily on Sept. 15, Father Dan Scheidt of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Parish in Fort Wayne said that a parishioner from the church had befriended Klopfer while he was alive. The parishioner, who was not named in the homily, would routinely pray outside one of the clinics where Klopfer worked, and the two eventually got to know one another.

“Even after his [medical] license was taken away from the state, George Klopfer kept returning to his closed clinic so that he could get out of his car and sit in the passenger seat of the Saint Vincent’s parishioner's car and talk to his friend. Every single Thursday, George Klopfer drove from Chicago to be with his friend.”

Through the parishioner, Scheidt said he was also introduced to Klopfer.

“Twice I sat next to that man, who is responsible for the ending of over 30,000 human lives,” said Scheidt. “It became clear in our conversation that we were his only friends. It’s what prompted him to drive the distance and want to meet with the priest.”

Scheidt said he learned a great deal about Klopfer and the sufferings of his life. Klopfer was born in World War II Germany and witnessed “the neglect of human beings for each other,” he said. In one story, the abortion doctor recalled Russian soldiers machine-gunning small animals for their own cruel amusement.

Before Klopfer passed away, the priest said, the Catholic parishioner believed he saw the abortion doctor undergo a change of heart. At the time of their last meeting, the parishioner had challenged Klopfer, saying, “George, it’s not too late. You are like the thief on the cross next to Jesus. You belong to Jesus, George, accept that, even in the last hour, accept that.”

“The parishioner, who so many times left the Thursday meeting with frustration at the progress, he left that meeting believing that he’d actually reached George’s heart,” Scheidt said, emphasizing that God alone knows the condition of Klopfer’s soul at the moment of his death.

Scheidt encouraged members of his congregation to imitate the actions of the parishioner, seeing everyone as more than the sum of their sins, but as a child of God.

“My brothers and sisters, we must go in search of the divine image in every person. I saw in George Klopfer not simply one who slaughtered, but a lost sheep...Somebody who needed to know his sonship,” the priest said.

He encouraged parishioners to consider anyone they may have dismissed because of that person’s sin. He asked them to call on Christ for help in inviting those people into an encounter of love.

“God possesses the ability to transform and to heal human life,” he said. “This is our story and Jesus has given us everything, everything, for us to be part of the happy ending.”

Construction on Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine begins in OKC

Wed, 11/06/2019 - 15:55

Oklahoma City, Okla., Nov 6, 2019 / 01:55 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City broke ground Sunday on what will be the largest Catholic church in the state— the Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine, meant to honor a late Oklahoma priest on the path to sainthood.

“What we are about to construct here we are building for the honor and glory of God whose goodness, whose holiness, whose faithfulness, whose mercy is shown through the life of Father Stanley Rother,” Archbishop Coakley said during his Nov. 3 homily.

Rother was born in 1935 in Okarche, Oklahoma, about 40 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. He graduated from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Maryland and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 1963.

Five years after his ordination, Fr. Rother accepted an invitation to join the mission team at Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people.

Rother served the people of the parish during the Guatemalan civil war. He briefly returned to his home state of Oklahoma after a death threat, then returned knowing the dangers.

Rother was martyred in his rectory in the early morning hours of July 28, 1981 by men involved in the civil war who were attempting to kidnap him at gunpoint.

Coakley on Sunday blessed the cornerstone of the planned Spanish-style colonial shrine, the ground where the future main altar will be located, as well as the area where Blessed Rother will be entombed.

Most of Rother’s body is buried in Okarche, but his heart remained in Guatemala and became a relic upon his beatification.

Funds for the $40 million shrine come in large part from the archdiocese’s first ever capital campaign. The site will include a 2,000-seat church, a chapel where Rother’s body will be entombed, an education building, an event space and several areas designated for shrines and devotion, according to the archdiocese.

Also in attendance at the ceremony were Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, Archbishop Emeritus Eusebius Beltran, Tulsa Bishop David Konderla and Little Rock Bishop Anthony Taylor, along with nearly 2,000 priests, deacons and laypeople.

The shrine will host many large diocesan events and will help accommodate the growing Hispanic population whose parishes are significantly overcrowded, the archdiocese says.

The Oklahoma City archdiocese opened Rother’s cause for canonization in 2007, and Pope Francis recognized Rother as a martyr in 2016. His Rite of Beatification took place Sept. 23, 2017, in downtown Oklahoma City with more than 20,000 people in attendance.

Rother is the first martyr from the United States and the first U.S.-born priest to be beatified, the archdiocese says.

Rother was, according to those who knew him, a quiet man who struggled with academics at times. He was well-suited for missionary life and was much-beloved by the Tz’utujil indigenous people he served, who called him “Padre Apla’s.”

The fruits of Rother’s service in Guatemala are still apparent, Coakley and others have told CNA.

Rother helped to translate the Bible into the native language, organizing a team to translate the New Testament so they could read it at Mass. That translation is still used to this day.

He also helped to build schools, hospitals, wells, and a Catholic radio station.

“The Catholic community in Santiago Atitlan is incredibly vibrant and active. I’ve never seen as many altar servers as they have at each Sunday Mass in Santiago – it’s incredible,” said Father Josh Mayer, a priest of the Diocese of Gallup who visited Rother’s mission in Guatemala for his feast day last summer.

“The Eucharistic Ministers and lectors and catechists and other ministry groups are all incredibly well organized and everyone takes their roles very seriously. The people are very proud of what they do for Jesus and His Church. Every time I visit the parish of Santiago Apostol [St. James the Apostle], I’m inspired with a vision of what we could do at our parishes back home.”

Federal judge blocks conscience protection rule for healthcare workers

Wed, 11/06/2019 - 15:00

New York City, N.Y., Nov 6, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in New York overturned the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule for health care workers on Wednesday.

The “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care” rule was finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services in May and set to go into effect on Nov. 22. It required that federally-funded organizations be certified compliant with more than two dozen existing statutory conscience protections in health care. These protections would allow health care professionals to opt out of performing or assisting in procedures they are morally opposed to, such as abortions and gender-transition surgeries.

Judge Paul Engelmayer of the Southern District of New York vacated the HHS rule in a 146-page decision, issued Nov. 6, saying that while the provisions “recognize and protect undeniably important rights,” they do not comply with the U.S. Constitution and Administrative Procedure Act.

“The Court’s decision today leaves HHS at liberty to consider and promulgate rules governing these provisions,” Judge Engelmayer wrote.

Three sets of plaintiffs had sued the administration over the rule, including 19 states, the District of Columbia, three local governments, Planned Parenthood’s national federation and Northern New England affiliate, and National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and Public Health Solutions, Inc.

“This decision leaves health care professionals across America vulnerable to being forced to perform, facilitate, or refer for procedures that violate their conscience,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute, a legal organization that works to protect religious freedom. 

Planned Parenthood Action praised the decision on Wednesday, saying that the HHS rule gave health care workers “a license to discriminate” and that “all patients should be able to access the care they need without judgment or discrimination.”

The HHS rule was issued simply to give “enforcement tools” for conscience laws that were already in place, Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), said in a July statement.

“This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the healthcare field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life,” Severino said when the rule was finalized in May.

In August, the OCR said it had found a case at the University of Vermont Medical Center where a nurse had reportedly been coerced into assisting with an abortion against her conscientious beliefs. HHS had issued a notice of violation to the hospital.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized the district court judge’s decision on Wednesday, calling it “absurd mush” and saying that “In this country, government doesn’t get to tell you that your faith is fine on Sunday at church but not Monday at work.”

HHS is expected to appeal the decision. The rule will not go into effect as planned on Nov. 22.