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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Missouri abortion clinic allowed to operate without license during legal dispute

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 15:49

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 1, 2019 / 01:49 pm (CNA).- An administrative panel ruled Friday that the last abortion clinic in Missouri may continue operating while its lapsed license is disputed in court.

According to The Hill, Missouri's Administrative Hearing Commission granted the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis its latest reprieve June 28, allowing it to continue operating without a license until at least August, when the next hearing in the dispute is scheduled.

The license of the Planned Parenthood clinic was set to expire May 31, but Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis ruled that the clinic could temporarily stay open while its licensure was debated. That temporary stay was again extended at least two more times by Stelzer, who said that the clinic could remain open until the administrative panel’s decision was given.

Planned Parenthood sued the state of Missouri May 28 after the state’s health department declined to renew the clinic’s license. Representatives of the clinic have argued that there is no valid reason for state rules that mandate two pelvic exams before the administration of abortion-inducing drugs. It has also rejected state demands that officials interview its medical trainees on staff.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services rejected a license renewal request June 21 from the clinic, citing an “unprecedented lack of cooperation, failure to meet basic standards of patient care, and refusal to comply with state law and regulations.”

A 2016 report on an inspection of the clinic, the most recent available through, shows that the clinic at that time was in violation of multiple state standards involving the sterilization and storing of equipment, and the proper documentation of medication and procedures. Also among the state concerns are four botched abortions reported at the clinic.

While the state health department had demanded hearings with some doctors in residence at the Planned Parenthood clinic as part of its investigation, Stelzer ruled in early June that the state could not hold interviews of non-Planned Parenthood employees as a requirement for licensure.

The Hill reports that the next hearing in the case is scheduled Aug. 1.

An Italian nun’s expert advice: What you can do to fight human trafficking

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 05:48

Denver, Colo., Jul 1, 2019 / 03:48 am (CNA).- Human trafficking is “happening closer to us than we think,” and Catholic groups are increasingly committed to fighting it through advocacy, prayer and action, global anti-trafficking leader Sister Gabriella Bottani, S.M.C., has said.

“What we should do, more and more, is to be aware and to try to understand what trafficking is in our reality, in our communities,” Bottani told CNA June 26 during a Denver visit.

“I think that since Pope Francis started to speak against trafficking there is an increasing commitment in the Church at all levels,” she said.

At the highest levels of the Church, the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development is working on anti-trafficking issues and coordinating different agencies, including the anti-trafficking network Talitha Kum.

Bottani, a Comboni Missionary Sister, has been official coordinator of Talitha Kum since 2015. The network is led by religious sisters, with more than 2,000 of them being a part of the network. Talitha Kum has representatives in 77 countries and 43 national networks.

Members of the network have served 10,000 trafficking survivors by accompanying them to shelters and other residential communities, engaging in international collaboration, and aiding survivors’ return home. Bottani first worked in anti-trafficking efforts in Brazil, but she now lives in Italy.

At the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. June 20, Bottani was one of many leaders recognized individually as a Trafficking in Persons Report Hero by U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump.

The U.S. State Department report praised Bottani as “one of the most prominent and influential anti-trafficking advocates within the Catholic diaspora.” It noted her anti-trafficking work in Brazil which aided vulnerable women and children in favelas. She led a national campaign against human trafficking when Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014.

“Throughout her career, her work has inspired generations of anti-trafficking advocates within the Catholic faith,” the report said.

Bottani traveled across the U.S. with a State Department-hosted delegation of anti-trafficking leaders. She was among several speakers at a June 26 reception on the University of Denver campus hosted by WorldDenver, a World Affairs Council affiliate, and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

There, Bottani recounted to CNA the most recent case Talitha Kum managed at the international level: the repatriation of a young woman and mother from the Middle East to her home in Uganda.

In Uganda, this woman had lost her job and was questioning how she could support her young daughter. She received an invitation promising better work in the Middle East.

“Then when she arrived in that country, the situation was very different. There was no job for her, but there was domestic servitude,” Bottani said. “She had to be available more than 20 hours per day. She often had little food to eat.”

“At a certain point she was able to escape,” Bottani continued. “She became depressed and she went on the street. When she sought help, a taxi driver raped her. Then she was completely lost.”

Another person brought the woman to the local Ugandan embassy, but she had to wait three days outside before being recognized as a Ugandan citizen and receiving help.

The embassy “brought her to the Church to the Catholic sisters. The sisters took care of her,” Bottani recounted. “It was a very difficult situation. She had nothing to wear, she had depression.”

“The Church paid for the flight back to her country. A sister took her to the airport. This is the importance of having a global network,” said Bottani. “Through Talitha Kum we were able to inform the sisters, and we gave her the first support when she arrived, including health care.”

UNICEF estimates about 21 million people have been trafficked globally, including about 5.5 million children. Women are the primary victims, making up an estimated 51% of victims. Men make up another 21%, girls make up 20%, and boys make up 8%, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2016 report.

In the U.S., almost 9,000 cases of trafficking were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline in 2017, with the true numbers expected to be much larger, Fortune magazine reported in April 2019.

Trafficking is estimated to generate $32 billion per year, according to UNICEF. Other estimates are far higher.

While sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking, trafficking for forced labor is most common in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Sister Bottani warned about all forms of exploitation. From a global perspective, trafficked workers are forced to serve in industries like agriculture, domestic service, construction, and fishing. In some areas, trafficked people are forced to become beggars.

“People are forced into drug smuggling or becoming child soldiers,” she said.

She also warned against simplifying a complex situation.

“We have to be able to face the complexity, and we can only do it together,” she said. “We can strengthen one another in hope, and in trying to understand the root causes of trafficking.”

“Only in doing this work can we make a better world for everybody,” she added.

For Bottani, anti-trafficking efforts need support from everyone.

“Every community in the Church can support the work done, not only financially but also with prayer,” she said. “To pray but also to try to identify how we can support concretely.”

Bottani noted the Feb. 8 International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking. This day was entrusted by Pope Francis to women and men religious, with Talitha Kum in charge of the campaign.

On the matter of action, she cited the simple example of volunteers at women’s shelters who care for children when the women are undergoing training. These women often lack such a network of local support.

“We can give this support. We can offer our skills and volunteering in this context,” said Bottani.

The name Talitha Kum is Aramaic, from Jesus Christ’s words in the Gospel of Mark’s fifth chapter. There he spoke to the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, who had just died: “Young girl, I say to you, arise!” Jesus then took the girl by the hand and she got up and walked.

The network sees its name as an expression of “the transformative power of compassion and mercy” for those who have been wounded by “the many forms of exploitation.” The network grew out of efforts in the 1990s and is a collaborative effort with the International Union of Superiors General. It was formally established in 2009.

Talitha Kum has partnered with Catholic organizations like Caritas Internationalis, the Santa Martha Group, the International Catholic Organization for Migration and others.

Pope Francis has been a vocal critic of human trafficking. On several occasions he has invoked the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, herself a former slave, to intercede to bring about an end to “this plague.” In April 11 remarks, Pope Francis condemned human trafficking as a “crime against humanity” and against victims who are each human beings “wanted and created by God.”

The Talitha Kum website is

Seminarian who died in bus crash practiced laying down his life daily, friend says

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 18:01

Santa Fe, N.M., Jun 30, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- After a bus crashed on its way back to New Mexico from a Catholic youth conference in Denver, reports have emerged that the seminarian on board, Jason Marshall, may have given his life to save the kids on board the bus.

According to witnesses and the family of Marshall, the 53 year-old tried to regain control of the bus, after a reported medical incident with its driver, 22 year-old Anthony Padilla.

“He saw the driver in distress, grabbed the wheel and prevented the bus from flipping,” Marshall’s brother Jeff told Staten Island Live. Although studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, most of Marshall’s family lives in New York.

His quick thinking and selfless action may have been what saved the lives of the other 13 passengers on board, including 10 teenagers.

"A bus that big and so top heavy carrying that kind of momentum, it could have been absolutely disastrous. It could have been so horrible," Father Rob Yaksich, a priest of the Sante Fe archdiocese, told local ABC affiliate KOAT Channel 7 News.

But that Marshall would have sacrificed his life to save others does not come as a surprise to friends and family who knew him.

“Jason never walked away from any incident if he could help,” Marshall’s mother Diane told Staten Island Live.

Matthew Gubenski was a fellow seminarian of Marshall’s at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. Though they were in different years in school, the two spent at least an hour together every day in their dormitory kitchen.

“It was a pretty close-knit house,” Gubenski told CNA. “I have dietary restrictions so I have to cook most of my meals, and (Jason) likes different food, or he likes to make coffee, and we spent about an hour in the kitchen every day either making coffee or breakfast, or frequently cleaning up other people’s messes.”

“He and I really tried to make that kitchen far more of a social place than most dorm kitchens can be,” he added.

The two became close over their kitchen chats and cleaning up messes. As the assigned kitchen coordinator of the year, Gubenski said he was grateful for Marshall’s help in reminding the other guys to clean up after themselves. An older vocation, Marshall had spent some time before entering seminary as a health inspector for restaurants in New York.

“He was pretty helpful in reminding the guys, ‘Hey, there’s a reason why you wipe up the counter after yourself, it’s because of germs, it’s not just an aesthetic thing,” Gubenski recalled.

A popular guy, Marshall was involved in the school’s Senate, and despite being older than most of the seminarians, Marshall was one of the best athletes, Gubenski said.

But even more valued than his kitchen cleanliness or athletic ability was that Marshall had a way of making people feel listened to and loved, Gubenski said.

“One thing has struck me since (the crash),” Gubenski said. “I knew that (Jason) was good at talking to people...but I didn’t realize how close everyone there felt with him. You hear stories about St. John Bosco, how every single kid in the oratory felt like they were his favorite. Jason was always ready to listen, and really get you inspired, and help you in whatever way you needed to be helped. And I didn’t realize he had done that for so many people.”

One thing that Marshall would get really “fired up” about was the need for good men as priests, Gubenski recalled.

“No matter where it started, there would always be a point in that conversation where he would get fired up and say: ‘Priests have to be men! They have to be ready - they have to be shepherds and they have to be ready to stand up and potentially lay their lives down,’” Gubenski said.

When Gubenski heard that Marshall gave his life trying to prevent the crash, he thought: “That was exactly Jason, for him to get up there. He did what he’d been talking about all year.”

The crash has brought the men from the seminary closer together, Gubenski added. They are checking in with each other now more regularly over their summer break, and they are remembering Marshall with memorial Masses and in prayer.

And they are looking back at what they loved in Marshall, and trying to emulate him in their own lives, Gubenski added, including his love for people and his love for the Lord. Marshall was usually the first person in the chapel, and the last to leave, he said.

“I know that each of us has been inspired to just try to be to other people what we saw Jason doing,” Gubenski said.

In teaching catechesis this week, Gubenski said he was asked by the kids when they should start discerning God’s will in their lives.

“And I said, ‘Right now. You have to ask God right now, what is it you want from me? You have to try to grow in virtue right now.’ And Jason did all of those things.”

The Archdiocese of Sante Fe held a memorial Mass for Jason June 26.

The precise cause of the bus crash is still under investigation.

How 'Hosanna-Tabor' is shaping employment at Catholic schools

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Jun 30, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- In the wake of recent controversies over teacher hiring, and firing, at religious schools, CNA spoke with professor Rick Garnett from Notre Dame Law School to discuss the future of religious liberty.

In 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prevents the government from interfering with the hiring or firing of ministers. The case also determined what can be considered under the ministerial exception.

A woman named Cheryl Perich was a religion teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School for five years, before she went on disability in 2004. When she was cleared to work the following year, she was not offered her job back, and the school said they had hired someone else to teach religion. Perich then sued for unlawful dismissal, stating that her firing was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The court said that her firing was in fact not unlawful, due to the religious component of her job, which the Supreme Court said likened her to a minister. The government cannot be involved with the employment of ministers, which would be a violation of the First Amendment.

The Establishment Clause would prevent “a situation like in England, where the queen picks the bishop,” explained Garnett. “The idea behind the ministerial exception is that our Constitution doesn’t permit stuff like that.”

A minister, said Garnett “is broader than just, you know, an ordained priest or pastor. It includes people who work for religious institutions, and who have a role in the religious mission of these institutions.”

The effects of Hosanna-Tabor may be seen in the coming years, as the exercise of religious liberty in schools becomes a bigger and bigger problem.

“One place where this is coming up a fair bit and creating some controversy is when you have religious schools that are firing teachers who enter into a civil same-sex marriage,” said Garnett.

“That’s happened at a number of Catholic schools around the country. And in a number of these cases have been lawsuits saying the firing was illegal, on the ground that it was discrimination.”

The schools, Garnett said, have responded to the claims of discrimination that these teachers are teaching at Catholic schools, and therefore are ministers.

“So far, there's been some disagreement about how to handle these cases in the Supreme Court,” said Garnett.

Recently, two Jesuit high schools in Indianapolis were in the news. One defied orders from the archbishop to not renew the contract of a teacher who is in a civil same-sex marriage, opting to keep him on staff. The other high school decided not to renew the contract of one of their teachers who is in a same-sex marriage, who is, coincidentally, married to the other teacher.

Other religious liberty issues are beginning to arise over school vouchers. The Maryland Department of Education last year disqualified Bethel Christian Academy from participating in the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today voucher program, which benefits low-income students in the area.

The department had previously requested to see the student handbooks of schools in the program. Bethel’s handbook includes a statement of Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

Garnett told CNA that does not think schools should be forced to give up the ministerial exemption to get vouchers, and that “every school [should] get some sort of public support.”

How a search for a church, and for truth, led this Protestant family to Catholicism  

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 06:18

Atlanta, Ga., Jun 29, 2019 / 04:18 am (CNA).- Allison DeVine’s conversion began in a preschool classroom.

There, she met another woman named Allison - a Catholic. The two women started talking because their daughters had become playmates. Both girls had strong personalities, and neither Allison believed the preschool friendship would stick.

But it did. The Allisons laughed about the improbable friendship of their strong-willed daughters.

“It was one of those moments we knew that we had to be friends. Our daughters intimidate everybody, but they got along fine. We were astonished that they didn’t intimidate each other,” DeVine told CNA.

“We began talking, our friendship grew deeper, and we found ourselves having more and more conversations that came back around to faith,” DeVine said.

Soon the circled widened to include other women. Devine, a mother of three, describes the small group as “A Catholic, a Protestant, an agnostic, and a Mormon…it sounds like the set up to a good joke, but we had very in depth conversations about what we believed; we respected each other completely.”

As DeVine and her Catholic friend - the other Allison - grew closer, their conversations always seemed to come back around to spirituality and belief, and eventually focused on the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism.

“One Halloween, we were all out in a group, trick or treating. The kids were running around, going crazy, and in the middle of it all, my friend looks over at me and my husband and goes: ‘Y’all will eventually become Catholic.”’

“My husband Jason and I were both like, ‘whatever’,” DeVine recalled.

At the time, Protestantism was home for the DeVines. DeVine and her husband were small group leaders at their Protestant church, and DeVine had worked in Protestant churches for most of her career.

“But slowly, God began taking everything apart,” Devine said. Their small group fell apart. Things at their church “just weren’t right.”

“We started looking for another church. And what we found during I guess what Protestants would call ‘church shopping’ was that nobody was grounded in truth. And that’s where it all started for my husband,” she said.

As things further deteriorated in their current church environment, the new year found DeVine and her husband church shopping on New Year’s day, looking for somewhere to worship.

“All the churches were closed in observance of New Year’s Day. Which was just baffling to us. It was the first day of the year, but we couldn’t find a place to begin our year in worship,” DeVine recalled.

Their frustration over shuttered churches set off a “chain reaction” in DeVine’s husband.

“He started reading about every single different denomination, going through every single Protestant denomination. I am pretty pregnant at this point and basically was just asking him for cliffs notes,” she said.

DeVine noted that the pregnancy itself had been another seed planted in the family’s life that pointed them towards Catholicism. The couple had used IUDs for contraception, until Allison found out they were abortifacients. They switched to Natural Family Planning, and became pregnant during what seemed like an “impossible time,” based on their charts. Even before their conversion, God was calling the couple to trust him more deeply through the unexpected pregnancy, DeVine noted.

As DeVine’s husband continued his church search, “one night he woke me up in bed and said ‘I have to talk to Allison,” DeVine recalled. “I was like, ‘ can have her number,’” DeVine told her husband, “and he was like, ‘No, I think we’re going to become Catholic.’”

Devine remembered rolling back over and telling him: “I’m going back to bed.”

But for Jason DeVine, a fire was lit. He started reading “everything he could get his hands on” about Catholicism. It was during that same week that the family went to Catholic Mass on Sunday for the first time ever.

“We were totally lost, didn’t know when to stand or sit,” Allison DeVine said. “And at the end of the Mass, my husband looked over and was like, ‘Yes, I think this is it.”’

At that first Mass, the parish announced that later that day, they would be beginning a series of talks on Catholicism. Allison’s husband told her: “We’re coming back tonight.”

“I am so pregnant at this point, and I am exhausted, I was almost in tears at his suggestion, just because I was so tired,” she recalled, “but I agreed to come back.”

DeVine said the very first night of the parish mission answered “almost all of my questions” about Catholicism. Still, they decided to return for a second night.

During that second session, DeVine got up from the pew to stretch her legs and walk out some of her pregnancy discomfort.

“(A) little old man in the back of the church stopped me to ask when I was due,” she said. “I told him, ‘Not for seven weeks,’ and he said, ‘Oh, no, that’s not right, you’re having that baby any day now.”’

DeVine returned to her pew and shared his prediction, laughing about it with her husband. She joked that “maybe we should take him at his word since we are in a Catholic church, and they do seem to know their pregnant women.”

By the end of that second night, DeVine said, “All of my questions were answered. It was as if that little priest who came to preach was actually speaking directly to our family. Every single question. Everything we were wrestling with.”

As it turned out, they wouldn’t have been able to return for that third night anyway, because Allison went into labor that night and their tiny son was born the next morning - seven weeks early, but “perfectly healthy, defying every odd.”

“We had a priest come and bless him that night, at the hospital, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Well, I guess we’re in the Catholic Church now.’”

DeVine joked that “my husband read his way into the Church, but I birthed my way in.”

The DeVines started regularly attending Mass once their son was discharged from the hospital. They enrolled in RCIA, and they formally entered the Catholic Church this past Easter, in April of 2019.

The switch to Catholicism had its rocky moments, including the loss of several of the family’s Protestant friends, who disagreed with some social teachings of the Catholic Church.

“God has really provided, though, because that core group of women, the four of us, we’re still very close, and there is so much respect,” DeVine said.

Becoming Catholic in 2019, however, is not a move for the faint of heart.

DeVine acknowledged that while she and Jason were aware of the scandals in the Church surrounding the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and other serious abuse allegations against prelates at various levels in the hierarchy, they “weren’t fazed by it.”

“When you work in the church as I did, in various Christian denominations all my life, you already know about everything that goes on behind closed doors,” she said. “Nothing shocked us. The difference is, though, these other churches aren’t big enough, aren’t institutionally organized in the same way. So some of them may break news for about five minutes, but nothing seems to capture the headlines the way Catholic scandals do,” she added.

“It’s actually amazing to me, because Jesus says ‘you will be persecuted for my sake,’ and we can see that in the way the Catholic Church is constantly in the news, constantly under media scrutiny. For us it was truly a mark that this was the true Church,” DeVine said.

“Every one of us are sinners, we all have our issues,” said DeVine. “He [Jesus] is the only one of us that’s perfect.”

The DeVine’s chose Sts. Gianna and Simon the Zealot, respectively, as their confirmation saints. As a mother herself who experienced complications in her first pregnancy, DeVine feels very close to St. Gianna. Inspired by their pro-life convictions, the DeVines have also founded a nonprofit to benefit the unborn, called the The Bespoke Foundation.

“We’re not good at going down and sitting in front of abortion clinics and talking to people, but we can sure raise money. So we started a foundation to benefit the crisis pregnancy clinics around the greater Atlanta area.”

DeVine cited the rosary, the Eucharist, and the reality of there being “church everywhere, always, anywhere we go in the world” as some of the biggest gifts of becoming Catholic.

And Allison’s friend, the other Allison? She is now the godmother to one of the DeVine’s children.

“God had all the details worked out ahead of time. He really thought of everything, it really is amazing.”

Allison’s husband, Jason, blogged about the family’s journey into Catholicism at his blog,

Supreme Court rejects case on abortion by dismemberment

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 16:45

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will not hear a case regarding an Alabama law banning abortions by dismemberment, allowing a lower court ruling against the legislation to stand.  

On June 28, the court issued a series of decisions announcing which cases it will hear in the next judicial year. 

The rejected case, Harris v. West Alabama Women’s Center, concerned the Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act, a 2016 law that banned the abortion procedure “dilation and evacuation.” The procedure involves the dismemberment of the unborn child while it is still alive, and is only used for abortions in the second-trimester of pregnancy or later. 

This case did not involve the law passed in Alabama earlier this year, which banned abortion altogether in the state of Alabama, except when needed to preserve the health of the mother. 

The 2016 law was struck down by a lower court before it could ever go into effect, finding that the legislation placed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to access abortion. The Supreme Court’s decision to not grant certiorari means that the lower court decision will stand. 

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing a concurring opinion to not hear the case, said that the Supreme Court did need to consider an abortion case and revisit its existing precedents on the “undue burden” test, which he described as “out of control,” but that the Alabama case did not present the right fact pattern for doing so. 

“The notion that anything in the Constitution prevents States from passing laws prohibiting the dismembering of a living child is implausible,” wrote Thomas. 

“But under the ‘undue burden’ standard adopted by this Court, a restriction on abortion—even one limited to prohibiting gruesome methods—is unconstitutional if ‘the ‘purpose or effect’ of the provision ‘is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.’”

While agreeing that the case was “too risky” for the Court to consider, he wrote that “this case serves as a stark reminder that our abortion jurisprudence has spiraled out of control.” 

"None of these decisions is supported by the text of the Constitution. Although this case does not present the opportunity to address our demonstrably erroneous 'undue burden' standard, we cannot continue blinking the reality of what this court has wrought."

The national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List released a statment condemning the court's refusal to hear the case.

"Once again the Supreme Court has punted on abortion, this time refusing to take up Alabama’s humane law protecting unborn children from gruesome dismemberment abortions in which a child is torn apart, piece by piece," the statement said. 

"Unborn children and mothers will continue to be victimized by the abortion industry while the Court does nothing."

Among those cases accepted by the court were DHS v. Regents of the University of California, Trump v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and McAlleenan v. Vidal, which were consolidated into one case. 

All three cases concern President Trump’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. 

In 2017, Trump announced that the program would be ending, but federal courts have repeatedly blocked his decision and the program has remained.

DACA was created by an executive order issued by then-President Barack Obama. It provides work permits and protection from deportation for some people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. 

Trump has previously urged Congress agree a bipartisan compromise bill that would codify parts of DACA into law and strengthen border protections - including providing funding for a border wall, but no agreement has been reached. 

The Supreme Court’s next judicial session begins in October.

Richmond diocese to stop naming buildings after bishops

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 16:44

Richmond, Va., Jun 28, 2019 / 02:44 pm (CNA).- In the wake of recent sexual abuse scandals throughout the U.S., the Diocese of Richmond has announced that it will no longer name buildings and institutions after clergymen and religious founders.

The new policy went into effect on Thursday, as six names were added to the diocese’s list of clergy with credible sexual abuse accusations against them. The diocese said the additional names reflect new information recently brought forward.

“Overcoming the tragedy of abuse is not just about holding accountable those who have committed abuses, it is also about seriously examining the role and complex legacies of individuals who should have done more to address the crisis in real time,” said Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond.

“The continued honorific recognition of those individuals provides a barrier to healing for our survivors, and we want survivors to know that we welcome and support them in our diocese,” he said in a June 27 statement form the Diocese of Richmond.

Schools, institutions, and parish buildings will from now on only be named after saints, titles of Jesus and Mary, mysteries of the faith, and the locations where the ministries were founded.

Buildings and institutions may no longer be named after bishops, pastors, or the founders of organizations. Rooms and parts of buildings that are already named are exempt from the policy. The archdiocese clarified that the new rules do not prohibit the placement of plaques which recognize historical figures or donors.

The only building that will require a name changes is Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach, which will return to its former name: Catholic High School.

“While the name of the school is changing, our mission remains the same, based firmly on Catholic teaching,” said Kelly Lazarra, superintendent of the Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools. “Catholic High School is dedicated to nurturing intellect, shaping character and forming Christian values.”

This move follows a nearly 10-year campaign by resident Thomas Lee, who says he was abused by a priest in the diocese and that Bishop Walter Sullivan covered up the abuse and allowed the priest to continue in ministry.

“This will go a long way in the healing process,” said Lee, according to WTKR.

Bishop Knestout issued a renewed apology to all those affected by clerical sexual abuse.

“It is my hope and prayer that the policy change is another way to continue to assist survivors of abuse in their healing, especially those who have, in any way, experienced the failure of Church leadership to adequately address their needs and concerns,” he said.

Second US Democratic debate discussed abortion, 'religious hypocrisy'

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 13:40

Miami, Fla., Jun 28, 2019 / 11:40 am (CNA).- Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, the second in a series of debates that will continue until the 2020 primaries, featured discussion of religious hypocrisy and abortion among other matters.

Candidates were asked questions by NBC debate moderators June 27 on topics ranging from health care, immigration, and foreign policy, to race relations, climate change, and taxes.

However, candidates on Thursday barely discussed taxpayer funding of abortion, as opposed to Wednesday night’s debate when candidate Julian Castro said he supported taxpayer funding of abortion as a matter of “reproductive justice.” As president, he continued, he would ensure that all women and “trans-females” – men identifying as women – would have access to abortion and abortion coverage.

Castro later said he misspoke and meant to say that “trans-males,” or females identifying as a male who still possess a uterus, would be able to receive abortion coverage under his presidency.

Candidates discussed abortion in a brief segment where Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) said that a “woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right,” and promised to not appoint any judge to the Supreme Court who was not “100 percent” committed to upholding Roe v. Wade.

“‘Medicare for All’ guarantees every women in this country the right to have an abortion if she wants it,” Sanders said of his health care policy.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) followed up by touting her own pro-abortion credentials. “I had to fight like heck” to protect contraceptive coverage and abortion services while the Affordable Care Act was being considered in Congress, she said, adding that as president, “I will guarantee women’s reproductive rights no matter what.”

Gillibrand criticized “compromise” on the issue which has brought about policies like the Hyde Amendment, an over-40-year-old bipartisan policy that bars federal Medicaid funding of most elective abortions.

After the Democratic National Committee platform in 2016 called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, that policy has come under fire by Democratic presidential candidates including by frontrunner Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) who recently reversed his long-standing support for the policy.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List criticized the lack of questions about candidates’ public opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion, despite polls showing that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions.

“The strong majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, yet no Democratic contender including Joe Biden had to answer a single hard question about their extreme stance last night,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“Democratic contenders have embraced an agenda of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand and even infanticide that is deeply unpopular with Independents and more than a third of Democrats – the voters they desperately need to win,” Dannenfelser said.

Elsewhere in the debate, during the discussion of immigration, the topic surfaced of the criminalization of immigrants crossing into the U.S. border illegally.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said she would issue an executive order to “reinstate” DACA protections for eligible persons and defer deportation for their parents and for veterans. She added that she would stop the practices of detaining immigrant children in cages and end private detention facilities.

Biden said he would unite immigrant families and send “billions of dollars worth of help to the region immediately,” regarding the surge of women and child migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.

When pressed on the deportation of “over 3 million Americans” by the Obama administration, Biden said those with “major” criminal records, but not ordinary undocumented immigrants, should be deported. He added that “we should not be locking people up”, rather harboring asylum seekers until their hearing, and should address the root causes of migration.

Sanders said that the next president should “rescind every damn thing on this issue that Trump has done” and that the “root causes” of migration should be examined.

Almost all candidates supported decriminalizing border crossings without documentation, making it a civil offense.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg said this criminalization, as opposed to civil penalties, leads to practices such as the separation of families at the border. He used that issue to condemn what he called the religious hypocrisy of the Republican Party.

“The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion,” he said, noting that Democrats have staked out a different position because they “are committed to the separation of Church and state” and support everyone whether religious believers or not.

“We should call out hypocrisy when we see it, and for a party that associates itself with Christianity,” he said, “to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, to suggest that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

On the topic of race relations, Harris attacked Sen. Joe Biden’s (D-Del.) previous opposition to federally-mandated busing in school districts in the 1970s, as part of desegregation.

Harris interjected and said that the issue of race is not discussed enough “truthfully or honestly.”

“I do not believe you are a racist,” she said turning to Biden, but added that it was “hurtful” to hear him talk about working with segregationists and noted his opposition to federal busing for desegregation.

Biden retorted that her comments were a “mischaracterization” of his position, saying, “I did not praise racists” and “I did not oppose busing in America.” He said that he supported “breaking down these lines” on race and that he “ran [for Senate] because of civil rights,” and that civil rights – including the rights of the “LGBT community” – need to be protected today.

Harris, however, said that federal intervention on busing was required because states were obstructing civil rights. “That’s where the federal government must step in,” she said, advocating for the need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and pass the Equality Act.

Religion in China: 'It’s never been worse than it is right now,' Congress hears

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 09:15

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2019 / 07:15 am (CNA).- At a congressional hearing on the worldwide persecution of Christians, religious freedom advocates warned Thursday of the plight of Christians in Asia and particularly in China, where the government is acting forcibly bring religion under Communist Party control.

“I have been in Congress since 1981, I have worked on human rights in China since 1981,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, told the commission’s hearing on June 27. 

Referring to China’s campaign to “sinicize” religion, Smith said it was proceeding with brutal efficiency. “Under ‘sinicization,’ all religions and believers must comport with and aggressively promote communist ideology -- or else,” Smith said.

“It’s never been worse than it is right now.”

“Religious believers of every persuasion are harassed, arrested, jailed, or tortured. Only the compliant are left relatively unscathed. Bibles are burned, churches are destroyed, crosses set ablaze atop church steeples,” Smith said.

In addition to the mass internment of Uyghur Muslims in what are effectively “concentration camps” that “are up and running to commit genocide,” Smith said that the government has instituted requirements for facial-recognition cameras, restricted religious expression online, and people under age 18 have been prohibited from attending religious services. Officials have also engaged in campaigns to rewrite the Bible.

Thursday’s hearing focused on “Violations of the International Right to Freedom of Religion” of Christians. Sam Brownback, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, also testified, along with the Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and others.

Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world, facing violence and harassment in 144 countries, Brownback told the Commission, citing a recent Pew study.

“Religious persecution is a defining challenge of the 21st century, and the United States will proudly lead the charge to protect religious freedom wherever it is under attack,” Ambassador Brownback stated on Thursday.

In his testimony before the Commission, Brownback pointed to the Middle East where “Christian communities are dwindling due to harsh persecution, unjust imprisonments and religiously motivated violence,” including in Iran where Christians are are in jail facing charges brought by the Iran Revolutionary Court of “enmity against God,” “corruption on Earth,” and “disturbing national security.”

Dr. David Curry, President of the group Open Doors USA, which monitors Christian persecution and advocates for religious freedom, stated that according to the group’s most recent “World Watch List,” 4,146 Christians were killed for their faith in 2018, along with 2,625 detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned. Over 1,266 churches were attacked in 2018. 

Curry also noted a “dramatic rise” in violence against Christians, which he attributed to several causes, including radical Islamic jihadist ideology, a surge in religious nationalism in countries like India, and the rise of communist or post-communist political systems.

The Easter bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed over 250 people were also a topic of discussion at the hearing.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) relayed concerns from Christians in Sri Lanka of the government shutting down churches for “security” purposes in the wake of the bombings. Some members of the military guarding the churches also tortured Catholics in the country’s recent civil war, she said, adding that “many” Christians there “are understandably nervous about the Sri Lankan government’s intentions.”

Brownback answered that the State Department has been pushing for the government to uphold the rights of religious minorities while maintaining security.

There are “deep wounds within the society that need to be addressed,” Brownback said. “There needs to be some major reconciliation.” He praised Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith for an “outstanding job” in calling for no retribution for the Easter attacks.

In addition, Brownback noted that a result of last year’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by the State Department, was the creation of a fund for victims of religious violence, and that fund had been made availibe to victims of the Sri Lanka bombings.

Nadine Maenza, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, noted that in Pakistan, “state security forces in last year have disappeared dozens of young Christian” in the city of Karachi. Although many have been released, Christians are fearful of an escalation, she said.

In Burma, although the plight of the Rohingya Muslims has garnered international attention, “less known is the plight of the Christians,” she said.

Due to conflict between the country’s military and ethnic armed organizations, thousands of Christians have been displaced, and the government has used the conflict as a pretext to crack down on Christian leaders, “accusing them of working with ethnic armed organizations.”

“The Burmese government has created a culture of fear and violence for Christians that fundamentally undermines their ability to practice their faith,” she said, calling for U.S. sanctions on Burmese Senior General Min Aung Hlaing “for his direct role in perpetrating atrocities against Rohingya and ethnic minorities in Burma including Christians and Rohingya Muslims.”

People not politics: Pro-life groups unite to send aid to the border

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 05:02

Brownsville, Texas, Jun 28, 2019 / 03:02 am (CNA).- Reports of children with matted hair, inadequate sleep and no access to showers or clean clothes. A published photo of a father and his toddler daughter who drowned trying to reach the United States. Media reports in the last week painted a bleak picture of the unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, worsened by overcrowding and underfunding.

The crisis spurred New Wave Feminists, a secular pro-life group, to take action in collaboration with And Then There Were None (ATTWN), a support group for former abortion clinic workers.

In just three days, New Wave Feminists has collected more than $16,900 in monetary donations, while ATTWN has collected more than $12,800 worth of donated goods through a wish list registry on Amazon - so many toiletries, diapers, and other basic items that the group is renting a U-Haul truck to deliver their donations.

“The thing we keep hearing is, ‘Oh, pro-lifers don’t care about life outside the womb. Where are they at the border?’” Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, told CNA.

The sentiment is inaccurate, she said, citing a border donation drive by New Wave Feminists last year, to which pro-life people from various groups throughout the country donated.

This year, they are listing those groups as sponsors. More than 40 different pro-life groups have supported the border drive already this week. So many groups joined so quickly that Herndon-De La Rosa had to redesign a flyer that listed the sponsors. Some of those sponsors include Loyola Catholic, Libertarian Light, FemCatholic, Latinos for Life, and Mercy Missions, among many others.

“It’s been amazing to see how many other groups are getting involved and how those donations have multiplied because it isn’t just one pro-life group, it’s truly the pro-life movement that is getting behind this effort,” she said.

The success of the campaign and the broad list of sponsors from throughout the pro-life movement makes the pro-life message all the more authentic, Herndon-De La Rosa said, because it shows that the pro-life issue does not belong to one political party or religion, and that it cares about all human life.

“It’s not a political issue, it’s a people issue. And so if we care about the human dignity of the child in the womb, then we also care about the human dignity of the migrant. We care about the human dignity of all people, and that’s because we subscribe to the consistent life ethic,” she said.

One of the focuses of the New Wave Feminist group are the systemic issues that make people believe abortion is their only option, Herndon-De La Rosa noted, “and obviously poverty and instability are some of those, and access to healthcare and basic living necessities.”

Abby Johnson, founder and CEO of ATTWN, said in a Facebook post about the campaign, "Let’s be a movement that reaches out to those who need our physical and emotional assistance...whether those people are walking into an abortion clinic, at the border, or are homeless.”

On Thursday, a group of attorneys who interviewed migrant children about the detention center conditions asked a federal judge to issue an emergency order that the centers be inspected immediately and that the conditions be improved, the Washington Post reported. Late Thursday, the House passed a Senate-approved emergency relief bill that would give $4.6 billion in aid for the humanitarian crisis on the border. The bill now goes to President Donald Trump.

One of the biggest needs on the border is legal aid to help children reunite with their families, Herndon-De La Rosa said. That is why part of the donations from the drive will go to Immigrant Families Together, a legal group dedicated to reuniting families.

One of the challenges for pro-life people who want to help with the border crisis, Herndon-De La Rosa added, is that some of the larger corporations doing good work at the border also have ties to abortion funding. The groups that New Wave Feminists chose for their donations, including the legal group as well as two humanitarian respite centers, were vetted accordingly. One of the chosen respite centers - which is where families are reunited after detainment - is run by Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

“We should be able to stand with the vulnerable wherever they are,” Herndon-De La Rosa said, “and that extends beyond the womb.”

New Wave Feminists is collecting donations, 100% of which will be used for border aid, through July 13 on their website. A few items also remain to be purchased on the Amazon border aid registry.

Fulton Sheen's remains arrive in Peoria; sainthood cause resumes

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 18:20

Peoria, Ill., Jun 27, 2019 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s remains have been transferred from the Archdiocese of New York to Peoria, Illinois, after three years of litigation, clearing the way for the former archbishop’s sainthood cause to go forward.

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria announced today that Sheen’s remains had been transferred from St. Patrick Cathedral, New York, to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria.

“Church law requires that the transfer of the remains of one considered for beatification done without any solemnity,” a June 27 release from the diocese explained.

“As a result, the transfer could not be publicized in advance. Also, no liturgical ceremony or public gathering could be held during the transfer. Therefore, the transfer of the remains was done without prior public notice.”

According to the diocese, Joan Sheen Cunningham—Venerable Sheen’s niece and closest living relative— and Patricia Gibson, chancellor and attorney for the Diocese of Peoria, along with funeral home and cemetery personnel, gathered early in the morning June 27 at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York, where Sheen’s remains were taken out of the cathedral to LaGuardia airport and flown to Chicago O’Hare.

The diocese also announced that Sheen’s Cause for Beatification, the next step on the road to sainthood, had resumed.

“Bishop Jenky has notified the Vatican indicating that civil litigation has ended and that Sheen’s remains have been transferred. The Vatican has confirmed that the Cause for Beatification has now resumed,” the release continues.

The next step will be for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome to present the alleged miracle attributed to Sheen’s intercession— the miraculous healing of an infant declared to be stillborn— to Pope Francis for his decree authenticating it.

Sheen’s remains will be encased into a marble monument inside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, located at the side altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help— on whose feast day, June 27, the archbishop’s disinterment took place.

Venerable Sheen was born in 1895 in Illinois and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966.

Sheen served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living”.

In addition to his pioneering radio and television shows, Archbishop Sheen authored many books, with proceeds supporting foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at one point in his life, and continued to be a leading figure in U.S. Catholicism until his death in 1979.

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002, after the Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. Jenky had suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese. A lengthy legal battle followed.

Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York’s Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.

However, Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria.

An initial court ruling had sided with Cunningham, but a state appeals court overturned that ruling, saying it had failed to give sufficient attention to a sworn statement from a colleague of Archbishop Sheen, Monsignor Hilary C. Franco, a witness for the New York archdiocese.

Msgr. Franco had said that Sheen told him he wanted to be buried in New York and that Cardinal Cooke had offered him a space in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The appeals court ordered “a full exploration” of the archbishop’s desires.

The Superior Court of New York ruled in June 2018 that Sheen’s remains be transferred to Peoria. The New York Court of Appeals unanimously agreed during March 2019.

The appeals court dismissed New York’s appeal of the decision in May 2019, and again earlier this month. The New York Archdiocese ultimately agreed to cooperate with the transfer after all its civil law options were exhausted.

“Although the date of Beatification is not known at this time, Bishop Jenky hopes and prays that these decrees from Rome will be issued in the coming weeks,” the release continued.

“Bishop Jenky continues to be hopeful that Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen will be Beatified during this 100th anniversary year of his ordination to the priesthood in Peoria.”

“Everyone is encouraged to continue offering prayers for the Beatification of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Bishop Jenky invites everyone to visit the new tomb [in Peoria],” the release concluded.

Democratic candidates tout abortion credentials in first debate

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Jun 27, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Taxpayer funding for abortions is a matter of “justice” for men and women Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro said during the first Democratic primary debate Wednesday. 

Castro’s comments were echoed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who said that she does not support any restrictions on abortion, and wants to see the Roe v. Wade decision codified into federal law. 

After acknowledging that every Democratic candidate on the debate stage June 26 was in favor of abortion rights, debate moderator Lester Holt asked Castro if, were he elected, abortion would be covered under a government-funded healthcare plan. 

“Yes, it would,” said the former Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary. 

Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow for The Catholic Association, an organization that promotes religious liberty, life, and the Church in the public square, was critical of Castro’s enthusiasm for taxpayer-funded abortion, and said it was a sign the party has been overrun by “abortion extremism.”

“By equating ‘reproductive justice’ with taxpayer funding of abortion, he reveals the party’s fundamental schism with Americans writ large on the issue,” said McGuire. 

“Americans overwhelmingly oppose the use of tax dollars to pay for abortions, and yet Democrats are actively and aggressively working to undo legal barriers like the Hyde Amendment.”

McGuire believes that this election will result in “a competition between the candidates as to who can be most extreme on abortion” and that “Castro was just the first one out of the gate.”

Castro has made his Catholic identity a hallmark of his campaign, initially announcing his presidential ambitions in front of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, her feast day. 

“I don't believe only in reproductive freedom, I believe in reproductive justice,” Castro said Wednesday night. He further elaborated that “just because a woman -- or let’s also not forget someone in the trans community, a trans female, is poor, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the right to exercise that right to choose. And so I absolutely would cover the right to have an abortion.” 

The comment caused some confusion among LGBT activists. A “trans female” is a man who identifies and presents himself as a woman, but cannot get pregnant as they do not possess a uterus. Castro later clarified on Twitter that he intended to refer to “trans males,” or women who identify and present themselves as men, who can and do bear children. 

"Last night I misspoke - it’s trans men, trans masculine, and non-binary folks who need full access to abortion and repro healthcare," he said.

Castro, who pointed out the Catholic church where he was baptized during the announcment of his presidential campaign, pledged that if he were elected, he would appoint federal judges who will “understand the precedent of Roe v. Wade and will respect it.”  

After this question, Holt then asked Warren if she would put any limits on abortion. Warren said she would not. 

“I would make certain that every woman has access to the full range of reproductive health care services, and that includes birth control, it includes abortion, it includes everything for a woman,” she said. 

Warren accused states of working to “undermine Roe” by passing restrictions on abortion, and that “it’s not enough to expect the courts to protect us.” 

“We now have an America where most people support Roe v. Wade,” said Warren. “We need to make that a federal law.” 

Massachusetts, which Warren represents in the Senate, passed the “Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women Act” or “NASTY Women” Act in 2018. The NASTY Women Act codified Roe v. Wade into law and overturned a dormant Massachusetts law that criminalized abortion. 

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, said after the deabte that “the abortion lobby has too much power within the Democratic Party and is successfully alienating Democratic voters with the pressure for all candidates to take an abortion extremisim approach.” 

Day told CNA that she hopes the issue of pro-life support is raised on Thursday, the second night of Democratic primary debates. That debate will feature Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has said that she does not believe there is a place for pro-life Democrats in the party. 

“Tonight, we would like to see one of the moderators ask, by show of hands, if anyone wants pro-life Democrats to vote for them,” said Day.

Day believes that the focus on abortion will end up harming the Democratic Party in their effort to win the presidency in 2020.

“An abortion extremist cannot defeat President Trump, because the independents and Democrats who oppose abortion will simply stay home or vote third party,” she said. 

New Ulm diocese reaches $34m settlement with victims of clergy sex abuse

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 16:01

New Ulm, Minn., Jun 27, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of New Ulm announced Wednesday it has reached a $34 million settlement with victims of clerical sexual abuse.

“The settlement represents our commitment to finding a fair resolution for victims and survivors of sexual abuse while continuing our ministry for those we serve throughout south and west central Minnesota,” Bishop John LeVoir stated June 26.

According to the AP, there are 93 victims party to the settlement.

Jeff Anderson, the attroney representing many of the survivors, said that $8 million of the settlement comes from the diocese and its parishes, while the remaining $26 million is from insurance coverage.

The New Ulm diocese had filed for bankruptcy in March 2017 in the face of 101 lawsuits regarding sex abuse claims dating back to the 1950s.

Most of the lawsuits concern incidents that allegedly took place from the 1950s through the 1970s. The suits were filed under a 2013 Minnesota law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for cases of sexual abuse of children.

Approval of the settlement will resolve the diocese's bankruptcy.

The diocese will file the reorganization plan to the bankruptcy court, which will be reviewed by a judge. The settlement plan must then be voted on for approval by the claimants, and a trust from which payments will be made will be established. The diocese said this should be completed by the end of the year.

Bishop LeVoir said the diocese “remains committed to preventing sexual abuse, holding accountable those clergy who are credibly accused of abuse and helping victims and survivors find healing.”

“For more than 15 years, all priests and deacons, diocesan staff, parish and Catholic school employees, as well as volunteers having regular or unsupervised interaction with minors have been required to meet safe environment requirements,” which include adherence to a code of conduct, undergoing a background check, and participation in sexual abuse awareness and prevention training, he said.

The bishop added that “the diocese has committed to disclosing the names of all clergy with credible claims of abuse made against them” and that it “follows strict standards for determining suitability of clergy serving in the diocese, starting during the seminary formation process and including verifying the credentials of priests visiting from other dioceses or from religious orders.”

He said the diocese “promptly contacts law enforcement to report any allegations it receives regarding sexual misconduct by clergy or others involved in ministry within the geographic area the diocese serves.”

Bishop LeVoir also invited victims to contact the diocese for counseling or other assistance in healing, and invited them to meet with him as part of their healing process if they wish.

“I again extend my deepest apologies on behalf of the Diocese of New Ulm to victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse,” he concluded. “Victims and survivors have courageously worked to raise awareness about the tragedy of childhood sexual abuse and how we must address it. I hope and pray that today’s settlement helps victims and survivors on their healing journey.”

Several more Minnesota dioceses filed bankruptcy over sex abuse claims, including Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Duluth, and Winona-Rochester. The Diocese of Saint Cloud has said it will do so.

Iraqi Christians face uncertain future, U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom says

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Jun 27, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The security of Christians in Northern Iraq remains “tenuous” and will require close attention in the future, the State Department’s religious freedom ambassador told members of Congress on Thursday.

While the situation is “far better in Northern Iraq right now” for Yazidis and Christians, who in 2016 were recognized by the State Department as genocide victims of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, there is still a lack of “true security in the area,” Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said.

Ambassador Brownback testified on June 27 at the hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), on “Violations of the International Right to Freedom of Religion” of Christians.

The hearing was held two months after bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday killed more than 250 people, targeting churches and hotels.

A recent Pew Center study showed that Christians are persecuted in more countries around the world than any other religious group, in 144 countries.

“We stand for human dignity and respect for life of whomever is oppressed, and this Commission has and will continue to highlight the suffering of religious minorities around the globe, be they Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Ba’hai in Iran, Buddhists in occupied Tibet, Yazidis in Iraq or the Muslim Rohingya people in Burma,” Rep. Smith stated.

“Christians, however, remain the most persecuted religious group the world over, and thus deserve the special attention that today’s hearing will give them,” Smith said.

Smith noted that “sometimes there is an oversensitivity” in Western countries, and a hesitation to draw attention to the persecution of Christians elsewhere because of their own Christian majorities or large Christian populations. This is a “major, major mistake,” he said on Thursday.

Security for Christians in Iraq is “still tenuous” right now, Brownback said on Thursday, and if another group like ISIS emerges to attack Christians and other religious minorities there they “need outside support to be there,” he said.

Uncertainty among displaced Christians, and a lack of reliable support is leading to a “timidity” of genocide survivors to return home, he said, and the “longer that goes on,” the greater the threat of Christians leaving the region for good.

Brownback also noted the efforts of countries like Poland and Hungary to work directly with local groups to assist Christians in the region.

Recovery of Christians in Sri Lanka from the deadly Easter bombings was another matter discussed at the hearing.

Asked by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) about concerns by Catholics in Sri Lanka that the government is shutting down churches in the name of “security” after the bombings, Brownback said that the State Department has been pushing for Sri Lanka to protect the rights of religious minorities while recognizing security concerns.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has done an “outstanding job” calling for peace and against retribution by Christians following the attacks, he said.

Brownback also previewed the State Department’s upcoming Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July, which he said he wished “to launch a grassroots movement globally” to promote religious freedom. He noted that a similar effort has been advanced to fight human trafficking for the last 20 years, and said it provided a template for success which could be followed.

Suicide rate in prisons raises alarm, calls for change

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 13:04

Washington D.C., Jun 27, 2019 / 11:04 am (CNA).- With suicide rates remaining high in the United States’ prison system, civil advocates are raising concerns regarding the treatment of inmates.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in prison. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 372 suicides occurred in 3,000 federal prisons in 2014. This number is 2.5 times higher than suicide rates in state prisons and 3.5 times higher than in general society.

The Associated Press conducted a recent investigation into suicide rates in prisons, finding that more than 300 suicides occurred in local prisons throughout nine states from 2015 to 2017.

Many lawsuits regarding prison mistreatment have to do with self-immolation and attempted suicide, according to the AP. Out of 400 lawsuits in the last five years, 40% involved an attempt of suicide.

As jails seek to curb prison drug abuse, inmates often lack access to medication for their pre-existing mental health conditions, the AP reported. About one-third of prison suicides occur after the prisoner requested prescription medication and was denied, it found.

According to the AP, prison experts believe these deaths are largely avoidable by either providing inmates with better suicide prevention or ensuring offenders are placed in psychiatric hospitals rather than prisons.

“The vast majority are foreseeable and preventable,” said Lori Rifkin, a prisoners’ rights attorney in California. “But they continue to happen because, overall, I think there is a cultural dismissiveness toward both the signs that help us predict suicide - and toward the steps necessary to prevent them.”

“We have decided that as a society let’s just warehouse the mentally ill in a jail ... which is neither equipped for, trained to handle or able to be most efficient and effective at solving the problem,” said Jonathan Thompson, head of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

“The failure here isn’t just what a deputy or an officer in a jail does or doesn’t do. The failure is that these people are being put in a criminal environment for mental illness.”

Some states have initiated suicide prevention and mental health awareness programs, including the Sandra Bland Act passed in Texas in 2017. The law requires law enforcement to undergo mental health training.

Numerous county jails have also stepped up suicide prevention methods. In Lake Country, California, the jail installed a better surveillance system to monitor at-risk prisoners. It also added a registered nurse and four additional hours of suicide prevention training. In Harris County, Texas, a suicide hotline has been made available to the inmates.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has expressed significant concern for the proper treatment of prisoners. On Holy Thursday this year, the Pope celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the prisoners in Velletri, about 30 miles from Rome.

In February, he challenged prison personnel to promote hope among inmates. He said prisons need to be humanized, preventing offenses against the human person, and inmates need to be treated with love.

“I have much closeness with prisoners and the people that work in prisons,” he said. “[I give] my affection and my prayer, so that you can contribute with your work to making the prison, a place of pain and suffering, also a workshop of humanity and hope,” he said.

“This attitude of closeness, which finds its root in the love of Christ, can foster in many prisoners the trust, the awareness, and the certainty of being loved.”

North Dakota abortion clinic files suit against state requirements 

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 02:11

Bismarck, N.D., Jun 27, 2019 / 12:11 am (CNA).- North Dakota’s sole abortion clinic, located in Fargo, is filing a lawsuit against two state laws that it claims force doctors to present false information, and is asking a judge to block the laws’ enforcement.

The complaint is from the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the American Medical Association, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, and the clinic’s medical director, Dr. Kathryn Eggleston.

The lawsuit alleges that two state laws, set to go into effect Aug. 1, force doctors to “lie”: one requires doctors to affirm that an unborn baby is a “unique, living human being,” and the other requires doctors to inform patients that reversals of medication abortions are possible.

Medication abortions have become an increasingly common method of abortion in the United States, making up 30-40 percent of all abortions.

North Dakota State Rep. Daniel Johnston said he sponsored the bill so that “women having second thoughts” about going through with a medication abortion know they have options, according to the Associated Press.

The AP reports that Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Utah have passed similar laws that require patients to be informed about medication abortion reversal.

The lawsuit asserts that there is no “credible, scientific evidence” that a medication abortion can be reversed.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills - the first pill, mifepristone (RU-486) blocks the progesterone hormone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the baby. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the baby. Some women, after taking the first pill (mifepristone), experience regret and do not want to follow through with the abortion by taking misoprostol.

A study published last year in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal affiliated with the pro-life organization Watson Bowes Research Institute, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68 percent with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64 percent with an injected progesterone protocol.

Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009, authored the study. Delgado sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and co-founded the Abortion Pill Rescue Network, a coalition of 800 medical providers across the country.

“When I learned about the work of Dr. George Delgado...I jumped right on that. I felt we needed to educate women that they had a choice,” Tammy Taylor, a nurse practitioner at Guiding Star, a women’s health care clinic in Tampa, told Pregnancy Help News this month.

Taylor’s Tampa clinic has provided 15 women so far with abortion pill reversals, some of whom have traveled up to two hours for the procedure, Pregnancy Help News reports.

The director of a women’s clinic in Denver told CNA in April 2018 that she has found the abortion pill reversal protocol to be safe and effective with her patients, and her clinic has successfully treated several women who come in seeking a reversal after taking the first pill.

“I think the fact that we have now over 300 successful reversals is evidence that it works,” nurse practitioner Dede Chism, co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, CO, told CNA at the time.

“This isn’t make-believe and it isn’t coincidental.”

Delgado told the Washington Post that he believed more research should be done on abortion pill reversal, but that he believes there should be nothing to stop doctors from using the progesterone protocol in the meantime.

“(T)he science is good enough that, since we have no alternative therapy and we know it's safe, we should go with it,” he said.

The pro-life group Heartbeat International has documented numerous cases of successful abortion pill reversals resulting in healthy babies being born. A recent report from Pregnancy Help News, a service of Heartbeat International, said 750 babies have been saved in this manner.

The AMA also took issue with a law that requires physicians to tell patients that abortion terminates “the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being,” a statement that the AMA deemed a “controversial, ideological, and non-medical message.”

North Dakota’s governor signed into law in April a bill that outlaws the common abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation,” also known as “dismemberment abortion.”

'Sister Strike' nominated for Best Viral Sports Moment

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 19:01

Chicago, Ill., Jun 26, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Maybe it’s the signature bump of the baseball off her bicep before pitching the perfect curve ball. Maybe it’s that she does it all in a full black and white habit with a beaming smile on her face.

Whatever it is, the pitch of baseball whiz Sister Mary Jo Sobieck, OP, that captured the hearts of many over the past year inspired a baseball card, a bobble head, and now a nomination for a national sports award.

“Sister Strike,” as the DominIcan sister has been called, has been nominated for an ESPY award in the category “Best Viral Sports Moment.” The ESPYs (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) are an annual sports awards ceremony honoring memorable people and moments in sports. This year’s ceremony will be hosted by Tracy Morgan in Los Angeles July 10.

The moment for which Sister is nominated? It’s called “Don’t Sleep on Sister Mary Jo’s curveball”, and it’s the moment when she threw a curveball strike to Lucas Giolito at the ceremonial opening of a Chicago White Sox game in August 2018.

The fans went wild and the moment went viral, catching the attention of baseball fans and casual observers on social media and national media. Her strike also aired on ESPN’s Sportscenter highlight reel.

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum now sells a Sister Mary Joe bobblehead for $25. She stands in a pitching stance, wearing a baseball jersey pulled over her habit, and a baseball mitt. Her right hand is cocked back with a baseball, ready to strike.

In April, Topps announced that they would be premiering a Sister Mary Jo baseball card this summer.

Patrick O'Sullivan, Topps Associate Brand Manager, told CNA in April that Sister is a good reminder that: “Baseball is for everyone from every walk of life. That's what makes it so special and fun to be a fan.”

There’s a reason Sr. Mary Jo, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield and a teacher at Marian Catholic High School, seems so comfortable on the pitching mound. She played softball starting in elementary school and through college and has coached high school sports.

She told the Chicago Catholic in December that she wasn’t about to “get ripped” by past coaches and teammates for a lousy pitch, so she gave the White Sox throw her all. But then again, that’s how she lives her whole life.

“Before (the pitch), she was just kind of like that loud nun,” Jen Pasyk, a fellow Marian Catholic teacher, told the Chicago Catholic. “She’s kind of gregarious and outgoing. There’s this image that sisters are kind of quiet and reserved, and that was never her. She is very popular, because she makes it a point to meet the students wherever they are. She really goes out for those shy kids who just want to blend into the bricks. She will learn something about them, so someone knows something about them.”

Since the viral moment, Sr. Mary Jo has been invited to various sporting events and speaking engagements. She wants to use the attention to lead others to God, she told the Chicago Catholic.

“The best gift I can give now is to give a good example of what it means to be virtuous,” Sister Mary Jo said. “It’s transitioned to what happens on the field of life. I try my best and sometimes I fail miserably and I get back up and try again. You get up the next day and try again.”

‘Hear victims, treat the whole problem,’ human trafficking conference told

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Jun 26, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Human trafficking survivors shared their stories of abuse and oppression before an audience on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, kicking off a day of education and advocacy in the U.S. Congress.

Experts, members of Congress, and trafficking victims spoke at a Capitol Hill conference on human trafficking held on June 26. The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd co-hosted the event, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the DC Baptist Convention.

“I cannot talk about human trafficking without saying ‘modern-day slavery’. Because when I think about my situation, it was a form of modern-day slavery,” said Evelyn Chumbow, speaker with Survivors of Slavery and a survivor of labor trafficking. 

Chumbow emphasized the importance of not separating sex trafficking from labor trafficking when discussing the problems. “One thing I hate is separation. I hate to separate the issue of sex and labor [trafficking],” she said, because “if you’re going to address the issue, address the whole issue.”  

There are an estimated 40.3 million human trafficking victims worldwide, according to the International Labour Organization; the trafficking industry is estimated to be around $150 billion.

The lack of investigation and prosecution of labor trafficking in the United States is a significant problem, said Hilary Chester, PhD, Associate Director of the Anti-Trafficking Program for United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

While “we do have relatively robust laws” against trafficking, she said, pointing to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), “what’s missing right now is accountability.”

This creates a system of impunity where “there is no consequence for exploiting a worker,” whether it be in a small business, agriculture, or a hotel chain. “There really isn’t much risk for them,” Chester said.

Sister Winifred Doherty, RGS, the United Nations Representative for the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, said there is a common thread running through global systems of exploitation.

“Laudato Si, as I Iook on it and reflect on it, connects the dots,” she said, referencing Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical. Doherty said the Pope has frequently drawn attention to how economies built towards the pursuit of profit rather than respect for human dignity lead to a market culture based on exploitation.

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) also spoke at the conference about her service as a U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, during which time she helped to draft the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, and which first exposed her to human trafficking to Europe through the Balkans.

“Then I came home to my own suburban community in St. Louis County,” she said, seeing that trafficking was also “hiding in plain sight in the United States of America.”

In her testimony before trafficking experts and other audience members, Chumbow told of how she wanted to travel to America from Cameroon for opportunity, and at nine years old she came to the U.S. Unbeknownst to her, her uncle had sold her for $1,000 and she was taken to a family home in Maryland where other trafficking victims were put to work cooking and cleaning. 

Chumbow said was promised education and opportunities. “I thought I was coming to America to go to school, to be a lawyer.” “I remember my trafficker’s mother--my uncle was sitting right there--and the mother asked ‘is she old enough for the job?’ I’m thinking, ‘what job?’”

“She turned me around, she opened my mouth, she looked at me to see if I was strong enough to do whatever job I was coming to America to do. Obviously, to the mother, I passed the test,” said Chumbow. 

Her illegal entry into the U.S. and her exploitation were not coincidental, she explained. 

“You cannot talk about immigration without talking about trafficking,” she said, both “go hand in hand.” Chumbow was also sexually assaulted during her time of slavery. 

Then she escaped the home, and went to a Catholic church. She told the priest her story, and he asked her what she wanted to do. Chumbow answered that she wished to return home or go to school. However, she did not have the legal documents that she needed for employment or education. She was able to obtain fake documents to work at Taco Bell.

After spending time later in foster care, during which she says she was nearly recruited for sex trafficking but was able to recognize the threat, she eventually obtained her GED and Bachelor’s degree. She now works at the law firm Baker McKenzie. 

“Healing is a process. I’m 33 years old, I’m still struggling,” Chumbow said.

Abortion is key issue for 2020 voters, new poll says

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Jun 26, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A new poll has shown that abortion is a top consideration among a large section of voters, indicating the issue may be a crucial policy battleground in the upcoming 2020 elections. 

The study, conducted by Monmouth University, surveyed 751 people from June 12 to 17. It found that over a third of respondents rated abortion as either the “most important” or a “very important” issue for the presidential election. An additional 30% of respondents said that the issue was “somewhat important.” 

The poll found that Democrats were the most likely to rate abortion as the “most” or a “very” important issue for 2020, ahead of both Republicans or independents.

The 2016 Democratic Party platform included a call to roll back both the Hyde Amendment, which blocks the use of federal funds in most abortions, and the Mexico City Policy, which prevents U.S. overseas aid from going to organizations that provide or support abortion.

Abortion has played an increasing role in the Democratic presidential primary race, with Senator Bernie Sanders publicly backing unrestricted access to abortion up to birth, and Senator Joe Biden publicly reversing his decades of support for the Hyde Amendment.

Among Democrats most likely to weigh abortion rights in determining their vote, 28% said they support Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination, 21% prefered Elizabeth Warren, and 18% hoped Bernie Sanders is the nominee. 

The poll also found that while a plurality--32% --of respondents said they thought abortion should be “always legal,” a combined 55% were in favor of making the procedure “legal with limitations” or “illegal with exceptions,” such as in the cases of rape or incest. 

Ten percent of respondents were in favor of making abortion always illegal. 

Of that 10%, nearly two-thirds said that their pro-life stance will play a “very important role” in the 2020 election. Forty-three percent of the people who said they believe abortion should be legal all times said they consider abortion to be one of their key issues for the presidential election. 

Earlier this year, the Trump administration changed Title X regulations, prohibiting funding recipients from co-locating with abortion facilities, a move projected to cost Planned Parenthood approximately $60 million in federal funding. 

At the state level, several legislatures have moved to pass so-called “heartbeat bills” and other restrictive abortion laws, many of which are the subject of legal appeals. Other states, most notably New York and Vermont, have codified the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision into law, allowing virtually unrestricted access to abortion throughout pregnancy. 

Both Democrats and Republicans said that the other party as too focused on this issue.

Among Republicans, 58% said Democrats focused too much abortion but only 26% thought that their own party gave the matter too much attention at the federal level. 

Surveyed Democrats registered nearly identical numbers: only 23% thought federal-level Democrats were spending too much time on abortion, but 64% said Republicans were disproportionately focused on the issue.

House passes emergency border funding, Trump threatens veto

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Jun 26, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday night to provide emergency funding for the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The bill, HR 3401, provides $4.5 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to address the humanitarian crisis at the border, and to provide for security. It passed the House by a vote of 230 to 195, largely along party lines with the exception of four Democrats voting against the bill, and three Republicans voting for it.

President Trump has threatened to veto the measure, stating that the legislation “does not provide adequate funding to meet the current crisis” and “contains partisan provisions designed to hamstring the Administration’s border enforcement efforts.”

The appropriations would go to the U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services. According to ABC news reports, $934.5 million would go to funding processing facilities, food, water and personal items, and transportation and medical services.

Last-minute changes to the legislation included requirements that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issue new standards for the care of migrants and requiring HHS contractors to supply sufficient supplies and medical care for migrants in custody.

“We must meet our responsibility to ensure the humane treatment of children and families in U.S. custody, and this legislation further strengthens protections for those individuals and increases accountability,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) stated.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) criticized the legislation as partisan, noting that it included no funding for a border wall and would likely be vetoed by the president if it passed the Senate. Scalise called instead for the passage of legislation to support border personnel and reform immigration laws to address the root causes of the crisis.

Tuesday’s vote came after President Trump postponed nationwide raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that were planned to pick up thousands of migrant families with deportation orders for removal.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, stated on Saturday, before the raids were delayed, that “broad enforcement actions instigate panic in our communities and will not serve as an effective deterrent to irregular migration.”

“Instead,” he stated, “we should focus on the root causes in Central America that have compelled so many to leave their homes in search of safety and reform our immigration system with a view toward justice and the common good.”

The situation along the U.S. - Mexico border remains a highly emotive situation, with individual cases drawing comment and attention from civil and religious leaders. A recent photograph showing the bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, floating along the Rio Grande riverbank circulated across the world after they were discovered on June 24.

The image caused Pope Francis to speak of his “profound sadness” at the tragic loss of life and his prayers “for them and for all migrants who have lost their lives while seeking to flee war and misery.” 

On Wednesday, the USCCB released a statement from Vasquez and conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo calling the image “horrific” and the “unspeakable consequence of a failed immigration system.”

“This image silences politics,” DiNardo and Vasquez wrote. 

“Who can look on this picture and not see the results of the failures of all of us to find a humane and just solution to the immigration crisis? Sadly, this picture shows the daily plight of our brothers and sisters.  Not only does their cry reach heaven. It reaches us. And it must now reach our federal government.”