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W. Virginia’s scandal-ridden Bishop Bransfield must make amends for ‘betrayal’

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 19:20

Wheeling, W.V., Nov 27, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- The disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield, former head of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, should apologize to his victims of sexual harassment, apologize to the diocese’s Catholic faithful, and repay nearly $800,000 to begin to make amends for his behavior, West Virginia’s new bishop has said.

Bishop Mark Brennan, head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston since last year, said Bransfield’s actions have caused “a deep and abiding sense of betrayal” among the faithful of the diocese, clergy and diocesan employees.

“I am grateful for the patience of the good people of this diocese, despite their justified eagerness for some sense of justice and closure to this very tragic chapter of this local Church,” Brennan said in a Nov. 26 letter to the Catholic faithful.

He said he has listened to Catholics’ “anger over the deeply troubling behavior and actions of the former bishop.” He has met with the diocese’s priests and victims of Bransfield’s sexual harassment.

Wheeling-Charleston is West Virginia’s only Roman Catholic diocese. About 1.8 million people live in the state, and about 110,000 of them are Catholic.

Bransfield headed the diocese from 2005-2018. Pope Francis accepted his resignation in September 2018, just after Bransfield turned 75, the mandatory age at which Catholic bishops must offer their resignation.

Pope Francis then ordered Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to investigate allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his time in West Virginia. Investigators established that the bishop had engaged in a pattern of sexual malfeasance and serious financial misconduct.

Bransfield is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his thirteen years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He was also found to have given large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.

Lori banned Bransfield from public ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Archdiocese of Baltimore in March. In July the Vatican imposed additional sanctions, including a ban on Bransfield living in his former diocese.

Brennan’s latest letter cited the Pope’s requirement that Bransfield make amends for some of the harm he has caused. While Pope Francis instructed Bransfield that the nature and extent of the personal amends are to be decided in consultation with Brennan, Bransfield “has consistently declined to do so,” Brennan said.

“Consequently, I have presented this plan to him,” said the bishop.

Bransfield must make apologies to the victims of sexual harassment for the “severe emotional and spiritual harm” he caused them. He must apologize for the “grievous harm” he has caused to the faithful of the diocese and to the reputation of the Catholic Church in West Virginia. He must apologize to diocesan employees for the “culture of intimidation and retribution” he created.

Bransfield spent nearly one million dollars on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as bishop of his former diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. He often stayed in luxury accommodations on both work trips and personal vacations.

He often travelled with young priests in their twenties. Bransfield was accused of sexual harassment by at least one of his travel companions.

The bishop spent thousands of dollars on jewelry and other clothing, including spending more than $60,000 of diocesan money at a boutique jeweler in Washington, DC during his time in office.

Bishop Brennan said the diocese believes a request for the $792,000 restitution from Bransfield constitutes “a fair and just amends” to the diocese for “what were clearly and solely personal expenses.” His letter detailed the results of the diocese’s financial reviews and consideration of his personal expenses and expenditures on his “luxurious lifestyle.” The proposed restitution does not include the $110,000 penalty Bransfield owes the IRS.

All proceeds would go to a special fund to provide counseling, care and support for sexual abuse victims, Brennan said.

Instead of receiving an ordinary bishop’s stipend, Bransfield must accept a stipend of only $736 per month, equal to the stipend of a retired priest who has served 13 years in the diocese. The diocese will still provide his Medicare supplemental health care coverage, but Bransfield must pay for his pharmacy benefit plan and must be personally responsible for long-term health care and disability policies.

Bransfield must either purchase or return the car he was provided upon his retirement. He may not be buried within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s diocesan cemetery upon his death.

“I wish to make clear that it is not my intention to impoverish the former bishop,” Brennan said.

“While not a dollar-for-dollar restitution for the former bishop’s excessive expenditure of diocesan funds, I believe that this amount reflects the spirit of Pope Francis’ requirement that Bishop Bransfield make ‘amends for some of the harm that he has caused’.”

If Bransfield accepts the proposed effort to make amends, it would be “an act of restorative justice” from him. The proposal “is also for his own spiritual good and his own healing as a man who professes to follow Christ,” Brennan said.

It is now up to Bransfield whether to accept these measures and “accept responsibility for his actions which have caused grave harm to this diocese he once led.”

“I have strongly encouraged the bishop to do so and put the well-being of this diocese ahead of his own personal considerations,” said Brennan, who prayed that God’s grace will allow the Catholics of West Virginia to move forward.

In his letter, Brennan noted that the liturgical season of Advent will soon begin. He described Advent as “a time of renewed hope and anticipation” that culminates in Christmas, “the assurance of a new beginning.”

Brennan’s letter drew a response from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who said it was “a step forward.”

Morrisey called on the diocese to release “all of its investigative reports on Bishop Bransfield,” to tighten its child protection measures, and to implement “concrete measures to provide assistance to the many victims of sexual abuse and pedophilia needing medical, social, or mental health services.”
“It is time for the diocese to truly come clean and begin to put this horrific scandal behind it,” said Morrisey, who suggested that the diocese needs prodding from his office.

“The subpoena from our Office is likely the only reason we have a list of diocese (sic) priests who are credibly accused of sexually abusing minors,” said Morrisey.

In a Nov. 27 response, Brennan said the attorney general is aware of the diocese’s “rigorous controls regarding the protection of young people consistent with our Safe Environment program and policy to protect children and young adults.”

The diocese began to review and compile its list of credibly accused clergy in July 2018, several months before the subpoena.

Brennan noted the Nov. 6 decision of the Circuit Court of Wood County, which tossed out Morrisey’s lawsuit against the diocese pending a state Supreme Court ruling on whether it violates protections of church-state separation. That lawsuit took the unusual step of citing consumer protection law in alleging the diocese under Bransfield covered up criminal behavior and employed admitted sexual abusers without adequate background checks.

This court decision was “obviously adverse” to the attorney general, said the bishop, who added “we can only assume this is why he continues to criticize the diocese and the Church.”

This October another allegation surfaced that Bransfield had inappropriately touched a nine-year-old girl during a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., in 2012. A police investigation is underway. Bransfield has denied the accusation.

At least four senior American prelates received financial gifts from Bransfield. These same churchmen also received complaints against him from the West Virginia faithful, the Washington Post reported in July 2019. Archbishop Lori is among the bishops who have said they would return the gifts. He said he would returned $7,500 in gifts he had received from Bransfield in 2012.

Before he was named bishop, Bransfield served as the first rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. He is a past treasurer of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Some of the bishop’s travels were connected to his work with the Papal Foundation, which supports projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See. Bransfield headed the foundation’s board until his retirement last year.

The disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who served as Archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, co-founded the Papal Foundation in 1988. He was credibly accused of sexual abuse in 2018 and later removed from the clerical state by Pope Francis.

Pennsylvania adopts three laws protecting child sex abuse victims

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 15:01

Harrisburg, Pa., Nov 27, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf signed into law Tuesday three bills on child sex abuse, which were recommended by the state’s 2018 grand jury report on allegations of clerical sexual abuse of minors.

“These bills will today become law, and victims of one of the most unimaginable forms of abuse will receive the support and rights they deserve,” Wolf said Nov. 26. “And while we celebrate the monumental victory of many survivors of childhood sexual abuse finally receiving their opportunity for justice, we must continue pushing forward until every survivor, of every age, has the chance to tell his or her story.”

The first law abolishes the state’s criminal statute of limitations on child sex abuse and extends the timeline victims have to file civil action against their abusers. It also extends the statutes of limitations for victims age 18-24, and provides funds for counseling services.

The second increases penalties for failure to report child abuse by a mandated reporter, and the third exempts conversations with law enforcement agents from non-disclosure agreements.

A redacted version of the grand jury report was released Aug. 14, 2018. It detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-rite dioceses, following an 18-month investigation into thousands of alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades.

The grand jury report was adopted and issued by the grand jury, but its text was drafted by the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

At the bills’ signing, Shapiro said, “These reforms fundamentally change our justice system and will protect generations of children who experience abuse from this day on. While we still must address justice for those survivors who made this day possible, seeing this progress gives me hope that bravery and activism will win over entrenched interests and powerful institutions.”

Due to laws regarding the statute of limitations, nearly every abuse allegation in the report cannot be criminally prosecuted.

Wolf also supports House Bill 963, which would amend the state constitution to create a two-year revival window in which victims can file civil charges in old cases. The bill must pass two consecutive legislative sessions before it can go on the ballot for voters to amend the constitution.

Phoenix bishop calls for 'humility and courage' to face difficult years ahead

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 14:00

Phoenix, Ariz., Nov 27, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Church must face the fallout of the abuse scandal with humility and courage, Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix has said, while predicting “very difficult” years ahead for the Church.

“We need a spirit of humility, but also courage and praise for the mercy of God who is always present and working within us,” said Olmstead in an interview published in the Catholic Sun Nov. 22 to mark the 50th anniversary of the diocese. 

“There’s a need for a sense of humility, especially with what we have had to face in the terrible scandal,” said Olmstead. “When those who are ordained to serve others are actually taking advantage of others, that’s a horrible scandal.” 

Olmstead said that humility in the face of failures was essential in seeking God’s forgiveness and mercy. 

“The Lord works well in a humble heart. It’s fertile soil for Him to work,” he said. 

In addition to humility, Olmstead said, the Church today must also be courageous, and look to the Bible for guidance on how to persevere through challenging periods.

“It is especially at times when we looked weakest or when things seemed hopeless, like Good Friday, when the biggest explosions of grace and wonder occur,” he said. “That’s true for us now.”

When people surrender their will to God, the bishop explained, “we find He does things we never expected.” These unexpected answers of God “give us courage to trust Him in whatever comes along next.” 

Olmstead has led Phoenix for 16 years--nearly a third of the diocese’s history. He said he had no previous experience of the area upon arriving in Arizona, and was very unsure as to what it would be like to lead the diocese. Despite this, he explained that he feels “very much like the spiritual father” to the Catholic of Phoenix, and that he is “deeply moved by being here.” 

Phoenix is the fastest-growing city in the country, something that Olmstead said has caused him to rely more on his trust in the Lord that things will work out.

“We are growing very, very fast, and if the Lord asks us to live at this time in history, we trust that He gives us the grace to respond at this time in history,” he said. 

The new people arriving to the area are from all over the country and the world, “bringing gifts themselves that are going to be good for us as a community.” It is important that everyone, regardless of origin, seek to learn from each other. Olmstead said that he believed the influx of new people to the diocese has “brought us a broader sense of being Catholic.”

Catholics “are called to go out to all the world,” he said. “In many ways, a lot of the world is coming to us. The one thing that unites us is Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith, and the Catholic faith moves us beyond where we are.” 

Noting that Jesus had ordered people to teach all the nations, Olmstead said that in Phoenix’s case, “a lot of that is to welcome those who are coming here. We go out to those who have come to us, and we welcome them.” 

While Phoenix is growing as a diocese, the bishop’s view of the Church in the coming years is decidedly cloudy.

“I think the years immediately ahead are going to be very difficult,” he said. “We continue to struggle with a large part of society that doesn’t believe in God any longer. So, I think that challenge is there.”

To combat this mentality, Olmstead said that the Church has to be one with “an even deeper rootedness in Christ.” 

“But you know, the light is most brilliant and most wonderful when there’s darkness. We need to expect that the Lord will ask us to have a real, living faith,” he said.

US justice department supports Christian school banned from voucher program

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 13:30

Baltimore, Md., Nov 27, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The United States Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a statement of interest in support of a Christian school in Maryland that says it was banned from a voucher program due to its religious beliefs.

The DOJ said it found no evidence that the school had discriminated against students or violated the rules for religious schools set forth by the voucher program.

Bethel Ministries, an ecclesial community that runs Bethel Christian Academy, filed a lawsuit in June against the Maryland Department of Education, after the department disqualified the academy from participating in the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) voucher program, which benefits low-income students.

The school claims it was disqualified from the program on account of its religious beliefs in Christian marriage and sexuality, stated in its handbook. The handbook was reviewed by the state’s department of education before the school was banned from the program.

Bethel is a kindergarten through eighth-grade academy with a diverse student population of 85% non-white students, according to the DOJ. It had participated in the BOOST program since the 2016-2017 school year. 

Earlier this month, a federal district court judge denied Maryland's motion to dismiss the school’s lawsuit.

In its Nov. 26 statement, the DOJ said, “The United States is resolutely committed to protecting the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. The First Amendment enshrines both the right to ‘the free exercise’ of religion and ‘the freedom of speech’ at the bedrock of the Nation’s constitutional system. These freedoms lie at the heart of a free society and are the ‘effectual guardian of every other right.’”

The DOJ also noted that it has an interest in enforcing Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “which allows the Attorney General to file suit when a school board deprives children of equal protection of the law, or when a public college excludes persons based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The department stated that it found Bethel Christian Academy does not discriminate against its students and that the school’s lawsuit was likely to succeed on the grounds of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

“Bethel has introduced a declaration, made under penalty of perjury, stating that it ‘does not ask about, or consider’ sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression ‘in its student admission decisions,’” the DOJ stated.

“And Bethel has represented to the Court that it ‘has not, and will not, discriminate against any student based on sexual orientation, either in admissions or beyond,’ that ‘Bethel discriminates against no one,’ and that its ‘conduct policies apply equally to every student and only when at school.’”

The school requires all of its students to use facilities according to their biological sex and to refrain from discussions of a sexual nature or from public displays of affection. Its uniform policy has a unisex option with slacks, and an option with dresses or jumpers for girls, if they so choose.

According to the DOJ, beginning in 2019, the BOOST program has prohibited discrimination on the basis of “gender identity or expression,” as well as in “student admissions, retention, or expulsion or otherwise.” “The BOOST program’s nondiscrimination requirement states, however, that it does not ‘require any school or institution to adopt any rule, regulation, or policy that conflicts with its religious or moral teachings,’” the DOJ noted.  The DOJ said that the statement of the school’s beliefs in a Christian view of marriage and sexuality in its handbook does not constitute discrimination, and that the program’s banning of the school constitutes “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

“Although the government may prohibit discriminatory conduct, even when the discriminatory conduct involves some ancillary speech, Defendants have introduced no evidence of discriminatory conduct. Further, Bethel has repeatedly affirmed that it does not, and will not, discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and has squarely represented to the Court that it ‘discriminates against no one,’” the DOJ stated. “Supreme Court and lower court precedent make clear that penalizing Bethel for its beliefs goes beyond regulating conduct to regulating expression in violation of the Free Speech Clause, and coercing Bethel to renounce its religious character in violation of the Free Exercise Clause,” the statement added.

Furthermore, the defendants are violating the school’s right to free speech “by predicating government funds on the nature and expression of Bethel’s beliefs,” the DOJ noted. “For the foregoing reasons, the Court should hold that Bethel has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of its free speech and free exercise claims for purposes of its motion for a preliminary injunction,” the DOJ concluded.

The statement was submitted by Reed D. Rubinstein, Principal Deputy General Counsel  for the DOJ, Riddhi Dasgupta and Christine Pratt, attorney advisors for the U.S. Department of Education, Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General, Elliott M. Davis, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Eric W. Treene, Special Counsel for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.

Detroit priest faces lawsuit over homily at suicide victim’s funeral

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 06:00

Detroit, Mich., Nov 27, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit is facing a lawsuit filed by the parents of a teenager who committed suicide last year.

The parents say Father Don LaCuesta homily at their son’s funeral Mass —during which the priest said multiple times that their son died by suicide, and urged prayers for his soul— caused them “irreparable harm and pain.”

Eighteen-year-old Maison Hullibarger committed suicide Dec. 4, 2018.

On Dec. 8, 2018, LaCuesta celebrated Hullibarger’s funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Temperance, Michigan.

Maison’s parents, Jeff and Linda Hullibarger, last week filed a lawsuit against LaCuesta, as well as against the Archdiocese of Detroit and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, seeking $25,000 in damages.

“No parent, no sibling, no family member should ever, ever have to sit through what we sat through,” the mother said in a Nov. 14 statement released by the family’s attorneys. 

In his homily, which the archdiocese released in full, the priest said that suicide is an act against God’s will, but he also emphasized the mercy of God in the face of suicide.

“Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth—that taking your own life  is  against  God  who  made  us  and  against  everyone  who  loves  us,” the priest’s homily text said.

“Our lives are not our own.  They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits.”

The homily continued: “On most people's mind, however, especially [those] of us who call ourselves Christians, on our minds as we sit in this place is: Can God forgive and heal this? Yes, God CAN forgive even the taking of one's own life. In fact, God awaits us with his mercy, with ever open arms.”

“God wants nothing but our salvation but will never force himself on us, he will not save us without us. That's how much he loves us. Because of the all embracing sacrifice of Christ on the cross God can have mercy on any sin. Yes, because of his mercy, God can forgive suicide and heal what has been broken.”

According to the lawsuit, the Hullibargers met with LaCuesta before the funeral Mass to discuss the service.

The couple says they told him that they wanted the funeral to be a celebration of their son’s life and his kindness, and that they did not tell the priest, or the general public, that their son had committed suicide.

Maison’s father, Jeff, says he approached the pulpit during the homily and asked LaCuesta to “please stop” talking about suicide, according to the lawsuit, but LaCuesta continued his homily.

Monsignor Robert Dempsey, a pastor in Lake Forest, IL and visiting professor of liturgical law at the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary, told CNA that determining the content of the homily for a funeral Mass is the sole responsibility of the homilist, who must always be a bishop, priest, or deacon.

“Although the homilist is solely responsible for the content of his homily, he is obliged to follow the liturgical norms,” Dempsey told CNA in an email.

The Order of Christian Funerals, the Church’s liturgical norms for funerals, states that the homilist at a funeral Mass ought to be “attentive to the grief of those present.” 

“The homilist should dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord, as proclaimed in the Scripture readings. The homilist should also help the members of the assembly to understand that the mystery of God’s love and the mystery of Jesus’ victorious death and resurrection were present in the life and death of the deceased and that those mysteries are active in their own lives as well,” the General Introduction to the norms reads. 

Dempsey pointed out that the celebrant, "whenever possible...should involve the family in planning the funeral rites" (Order of Christian Funerals, 17), but the content of the homily is ultimately his responsibility, he said.

“Reasonable requests from a family for privacy and sensitivity should be honored; requests that are contrary to the Church's belief or liturgical discipline should not,” Dempsey said, adding that “no one has a right to hear only those aspects of God's word they agree with or to receive the sacraments according to their own preference or understanding.”

However, Dempsey said that compassion is important for a preacher.

“In the [Detroit] case, a modicum of common sense and human compassion could have avoided a multitude of woes for all concerned. Weddings are not the appropriate time to preach on the immorality of the contraceptive pill; funerals are not a suitable occasion for preaching about the objective immorality of suicide or uncertainty about final perseverance,” Dempsey said.

The Order of Christian Funerals reads in paragraph 16: “In planning and carrying out the funeral rites the pastor and all other ministers should keep in mind the life of the deceased and the circumstances of death.”

“They should also take into consideration the spiritual and psychological needs of the family and friends of the deceased to express grief and their sense of loss, to accept the reality of death, and to comfort one another.”

Dempsey emphasized that the Church’s norms direct the priest to confer with the family in planning a funeral Mass, and “gives specific indications about the nature of the homily to be preached.”

“Moreover, natural justice and pastoral charity suggest that the priest should respect the family's wishes for confidentiality about specific facts regarding the deceased's life and manner [of] death. In cases of suicide, overdose, addiction, the less said the better— even if the family doesn't specifically request confidentiality,” Dempsey said.

Father Pius Pietrzyk, OP, chair of pastoral studies at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California, told CNA that in his view, the immorality of suicide is not preached about enough at funeral Masses.

"I tend to be one who thinks, contrary to the current of public thought, that we don't preach enough about the immorality of suicide,” he told CNA.

“It is not merciful to tell someone that it's okay to commit suicide. It's never merciful to do that. And yet, I think we indirectly do that when we don't preach strong enough, we don't make clear enough, the grave immorality of suicide, and the culpability that can be associated with it."

Father Pietrzyk stressed that we cannot know for certain the state of any deceased person's soul.

"A priest at a funeral is not preaching to the dead. He's preaching to the living. And while one ought not in a sermon condemn the soul of the person being buried— no one wants that— a priest shouldn't dance around the immorality of the issue at stake."

Father Pietrzyk acknowledged the complicating factor that the manner of the young man's death was, according to the couple, not widely known before the funeral.

"If this were not widely known in the community, and the couple wanted to keep the details of this less public, I do think a priest should respect that," he said.

"But if this was widely known in the community that he committed suicide, I think the priest has a moral obligation to touch on the subject. So it just depends on the circumstances of how widely known it was."

He said he always teaches his students that when preaching a funeral, the priest ought to respect the wishes of the family as much as possible.

The family of a deceased person has no strict civil or canonical rights to compel a priest to preach on a certain topic or not to preach on others, he stressed.

"One doesn't preach the truth that the family gives; one preaches the truth of the Church," he said.

"That can involve taking into account the desires and wishes of the family, but it always requires taking on, first and foremost, the mind of Christ and the teachings of the Church."

Father Pietrzyk said he observes many priests, and even some bishops, fostering a sense of the laity having the right to "control" the liturgy, especially in the context of wedding and funeral Masses. But, he said, the Mass does not belong to "the people," but to the Church.

"It's the Church's expression of prayer and grief for the couple," he said.

"It doesn't mean that one ignores the should listen to them attentively. But the wishes of the family cannot supersede the mind of the Church with regards to these matters."

The Archdiocese of Detroit released a statement on the matter Dec. 17, 2018.

“Our hope is always to bring comfort to situations of great pain, through funeral services centered on the love and healing power of Christ. Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case. We understand that an unbearable situation was made even more difficult, and we are sorry,” the statement read.

“We...know the family was hurt further by Father’s choice to share Church teaching on suicide, when the emphasis should have been placed more on God’s closeness to those who mourn.”

The archdiocese also announced that for the “foreseeable future,” LaCuesta will not be preaching at funerals and he will have all other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor. In addition, the archdiocese said, he has agreed to “pursue the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations.”

The Hullibarger family has said that LaCuesta tried to keep Maison's parents from giving a eulogy for their son during the Mass, even though “that had been agreed on well in advance,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

The archdiocese has not commented on the allegation that LaCuesta agreed to allow the Hullibargers to eulogize their son, and then changed his mind.

The Church’s norms officially prohibit the practice of giving eulogies during a funeral Mass, but Monsignor Dempsey said the Church’s liturgical norms offer the possibility of a member or a friend of the family to speak in remembrance of the deceased following the prayer after communion and before the final commendation begins.

He said the possibility of offering a “remembrance” is often determined by diocesan statute.

“The Catholic funeral is not a ‘celebration of life’ of the deceased, but a celebration of the baptized believer's participation in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Dempsey explained.

“The words of ‘remembrance’ should be brief and should focus on how the deceased bore witness in his [or] her life to what we profess in the paschal mystery.”

The funeral norms for the Archdiocese of Detroit acknowledge the possibility of a ‘remembrance’ at Mass in keeping with the OCF norms, but emphasizes that “those words should not be a eulogy.” The Detroit norms also state that the Vigil for the Deceased, or the memorial luncheon or reception that often follows the funeral, is an appropriate place for family and friends to offer their own words or stories.

Whether or not it was a ‘remembrance’ at the Mass that LaCuesta promised the family rather than a eulogy, and whether or not LaCuesta later tried to prevent them from doing so, remains unclear.

Following the funeral, the Hullibargers had complained to the Archdiocese of Detroit, asking that LaCuesta be removed.

The Hullibargers said in the lawsuit that they were granted a meeting with Archbishop Allen Vigneron after the funeral, but claim that the archbishop cut the meeting short when the mother began discussing Father LaCuesta.

Father Pietrzyk also said that in his view, the civil lawsuit should is not likely to succeed because “no court, not in Michigan, not in federal court, and certainly not the Supreme Court, is going to sustain this kind of tort action, and they're certainly never going to require the Church to remove a particular priest.”

"The couple might have legitimate disagreements with the homily and the way the funeral was treated, but the idea that this is a legal matter, the idea that the courts should be getting involved in this, is just contrary to all of the Constitutional precedence of the US. It's not going to go anywhere, and nor should it," he commented.

"Even if one is sympathetic to [the couple's] plight, as one should be sympathetic to the plight of any parent who's lost a child, the question of the civil, legal rights is another matter. So I do think one can and must criticize the civil lawsuit, even if one has a great deal of sorrow and sympathy for the couple."

Father LaCuesta declined to comment to CNA on the ongoing case, referring questions to the archdiocese.


In Mexico, thousands renew consecration to Christ the King

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 02:05

Guanajuato, Mexico, Nov 27, 2019 / 12:05 am (CNA).- More than 10,000 lay Catholics in Mexico renewed their consecration to Christ the King at a special Mass and ceremony over the weekend.

The event was held at the foot of the Christ the King monument in Bicentennial Park, located in Silao, Guanajuato state. It was held on November 23, the eve of the Solemnity of Christ the King as part of the “Day of Laity” celebrations that also honored Blessed Anacleto González Flores, a martyr of the Cristero War, whom the bishops have chosen as the patron of the laity.

Archbishop Franco Coppola, apostolic nuncio in Mexico, presided over a Mass for the event, which was concelebrated by Archbishop Alfonso Cortés of León, Bishop Gerardo Díaz Vázquez, who serves as president of the president of FAJULAVI (Commission on Family, Young People, Adolescents and Life), and Bishop Víctor Alejandro Aguilar Ledesma, president of the bishops’ ministry to the laity, as well as a large group of priests.

The event also included a concert, theatrical performance, testimonies, and various presentations.

Organizers explained that the consecration to Christ as King was particularly meaningful given the “terrible culture of death” facing the Mexican people, manifested through “a powerful threat to life, the family, fundamental freedoms, the death of so many innocent people at the hands of organized crime, and the ever-growing rate of abortions in our country.”

“Along with all of that, we have also suffered the terrible pain of receiving the news of the death of our brother priests and desecrations and sacrileges in our churches, for which this very day we also make an act of reparation to Jesus in the Eucharist,” they said.

Violence against priests has been denounced as a major problem in Mexico. Some two dozen priests have been killed in the country since 2012, according to reports.

Other Christ the King events were also held throughout Mexico, including in San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, Yucatán, and Mexico City.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Papal honors for Courage director point to clear Catholic witness

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 20:01

Bridgeport, Conn., Nov 26, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Papal honors for Father Phillip Bochanski have been announced, and the priest says they are a recognition of the Courage apostolate’s ministry for people with same-sex attraction at a time when the world and even parts of the Catholic Church are unsupportive, confusing, or hostile to their desire to live the Catholic faith in its fullness.

“In this apostolate I’ve met some of the most dedicated people I know. People who at great personal sacrifice are following Jesus with what I would say is heroic virtue,” Bochanski told CNA Nov. 26. “For me it’s been a real blessing to be able to a spiritual father to them.”

Since 2017, Bochanski has been executive director of the Bridgeport, Conn.-based Courage International. The Courage apostolate provides pastoral support, prayer support, and fellowship for people with same-sex attraction who want to live chaste lives according to Catholic teaching.

On Nov. 25, the Philadelphia archdiocese announced that Bochanski was among four people honored with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, an honor given to Catholics over age 45 with a history of long and distinguished service to the Church and to the office of the pope.

“The thought that the Holy Father is willing to extend the award, knowing that my nomination must have had a lot to do with my work at Courage, means a great deal to me,” Bochanski told CNA.

The Courage apostolate has grown since its founding in New York in 1980. It is currently present in more than 15 countries, with about 110 chapters in the U.S. alone. It also has an outreach to parents and spouses, called EnCourage.

Bochanski said the work of Courage includes pastoral care to people who have same-sex attraction and providing formation to clergy and others in ministry “to understand and appreciate the teachings of the Church... and to be able to explain them well.”

Bochanski reflected on the present-day difficulties in ministry related to sexual morality and same-sex attraction.

“There’s a significant amount of opposition that the Church’s teaching receives from the secular world, of course, but even in recent years it’s not always clear that everyone within the Church acknowledges and accepts the goodness and the truth of those teachings,” he said.

The priest, who was ordained in 1999 for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said he was nominated for the papal honors by his archbishop, Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. He received a letter from Chaput informing him of the honors.

“It caught me completely by surprise,” he said. “It meant a great deal to me of course to receive it.”

A Nov. 25 statement from the Philadelphia archdiocese said Bochanski “has worked tirelessly, with compassion and great sensitivity, to advance Church teaching on human sexuality, and gained national respect for the Courage apostolate in the process.”

Bochanski voiced gratitude both to Pope Francis and to Chaput, who will bestow the Cross on the priest on the pope’s behalf at a Dec. 9 Vespers at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia .

“To know that (Chaput) notices the work I’m doing here at Courage means a great deal to me,” said Bochanski, who added that Archbishop Chaput has “always been very supportive of my participation in the apostolate.”

The Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, Bochanski said, is a reminder that the Courage apostolate is living and teaching in harmony with the Church and with the Church’s expectations for pastoral care and ministry.

He hoped the honors will provide clarity, both for Courage members and for others who “may be confused by some of the ambiguities and the controversies in the world and in the Church with regard to those teachings.”

Bochanski said the main difficulty for the Catholics in Courage is is that the secular world and some parts of the Church “don’t value the sacrifices that our members are making in terms of living chaste lives and starting to pursue holiness according to the mind of the Church.”

“Some of our members, in coming back to the Church and embracing a chaste life, lost a lot of friends they had before,” he said. “People don’t understand why they would follow a Catholic teaching that requires so much sacrifice.” For many, this means choosing a celibate life that “certainly requires a new way of looking at themselves and relationships.”

“They’ve had that experience of being misunderstood or even pushed aside because of the commitments that they are making to the Church,” said Bochanski. Such attitudes can provide obstacles for those who “don’t feel support from people around them and sometimes from people in the hierarchy of the Church.”

Bochanski also praised the Christian witness of Courage members, whether in public or private.

”Many want to be private about their experience but an increasing number are willing to speak about how participating in Courage and living according to Church teaching have changed their lives,” he told CNA. “A number of them talk about how they feel much more free to be themselves, to have strong friendships, to live fully alive because they are embracing this invitation to chastity.”

Some members have reported that people who tried to affirm them in their attractions and desires only increased their unhappiness.

“The fact that people weren't giving them the truth about their identity and morality was making that much worse.” said Bochanski.

“When they hear the teaching of the Church that our identity is not in our sexual orientation but in our identity as sons and daughters of God, and that God’s plan for chaste relationships is meant to build this up and lead us to fulfillment, it’s a real liberation. They experience a great real freedom by embracing their Church’s teachings.”

Others can learn from Courage members, he said.

“Whether people themselves are experiencing same-sex attraction, just to see the witness of our members who are living in such a heroic way inspires all of us to take our own commitment to holiness more seriously and to be always growing in our ongoing conversion, our ongoing acceptance of God’s plan for each our lives,” said the priest.

“People who are living that in a radical way, which many of our Courage members are doing at real personal sacrifice, can become a real inspiration and encouragement to pursue our universal call to holiness,” he added.

Church teaching on sexual morality is “really coming from a great love and desire that people live an authentic, happy and holy life,” the priest explained. “That would be a counter-witness to people who would suggest that the Church teaching is harmful or hateful.”

After his ordination, Bochanski was a pastoral associate in several Philadelphia parishes and a chaplain for the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, the Catholic Medical Association’s Philadelphia guild, and the Courage apostolate’s Philadelphia chapter.

He joined Courage International in 2016 as associate director.

Courage and EnCourage will host its next Truth and Love Conference, intended for those in Catholic ministry, in Sterling, Va., April 27-29. The Courage and EnCourage annual conference will be held in Mundelein, Ill.,, July 23-26.

In 2020 the Courage apostolate will mark the 40th anniversary of its first meeting on Sept. 26, 1980 with an anniversary Mass at the Church of St. Joseph in New York. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is scheduled to celebrate the anniversary Mass, Bochanski told CNA.

Louisiana says abortion clinic is hiding criminal evidence

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 18:19

Baton Rouge, La., Nov 26, 2019 / 04:19 pm (CNA).- The Louisiana Department of Justice is asking an appeals court to unseal documents from abortion provider June Medical Services (Hope Medical Group) in order to report evidence of criminal and professional misconduct against a staff member of the group that the department says was hidden from the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the Louisiana Department of Justice filed the writ of mandamus with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Nov. 18, according to the department’s website. The staff member in question worked at a Shreveport abortion clinic.

Hope Medical Group filed three lawsuits against abortion restriction laws in Louisiana, including a pending suit before the Supreme Court challenging a law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.

"I am deeply concerned about the basic health and safety of Louisiana women. And Hope's continued efforts to hide this information from the Supreme Court and to block reporting to proper authorities casts serious doubt on Hope and its abortion providers' claims that it represents the interests of Louisiana women,” Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill said in a statement on the state’s DOJ website.

“As DOJ officers, if we learn of potentially criminal activity during litigation, we have a legal obligation to report it to criminal investigators and licensing authorities. We also have a basic legal duty to protect the public from dangerous behavior when we learn of it. Shockingly, Hope Medical Group is refusing to unseal this evidence and permit us to carry out our legal duties," Murrill added.

The Louisiana DOJ added in the statement that ordinarily, the evidence they uncovered against the staff member would have resulted in a criminal referral, but that referral has thus far been impeded by the sealing of documents by a federal judge in the case.

The law being challenged at the Supreme Court by Hope Medical Group in Gee v. June Medical Services, LLC is Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act.

When then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed the bill into law in 2014, it was promptly challenged in court by pro-choice groups and activists. Texas had passed similar regulations in the name of protecting women’s health, but the Texas law was eventually struck down in the Supreme Court’s 2016 Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

In Hellerstedt, the court ruled that the Texas law created an “undue burden” on abortion access in the state, as it had decided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that state abortion laws could not pose such an obstacle.

The court said in 2016 that for Texas abortion clinics, such a “working arrangement” was already in place with hospitals in the state, and that the provision forced the closure of around half the clinics in the state.

After Hellerstedt, a district court barred the Louisiana law from going into effect.

That decision was reversed by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court in June Medical Services, L.L.C. v. Gee, which ruled that the Louisiana case sufficiently differed from the Texas case so that the Supreme Court decision was not applicable on a like-for-like basis. The court in January denied a motion for a rehearing of the case.

The Circuit Court noted in its decision that the Louisiana law varied from the Texas law because of differing requirements between the states for doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges.

“Few Louisiana hospitals” required a doctor to see a minimum number of patients in order to have admitting privileges, unlike in Texas where “almost all” hospitals had such requirements, the court said. While most clinics in Texas closed because of its law, “only one doctor at one clinic is currently unable to obtain privileges” in Louisiana, the court noted, though this claim has been disputed by Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups.

In February, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked Louisiana’s law from going into effect, after a petition from abortion providers and activists. The Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case in early 2020.

Mary can renew the family and the parish, new USCCB evangelization chair says

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 12:00

Baltimore, Md., Nov 26, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Mary must be our key to the New Evangelization in the U.S., the incoming head of the U.S. bishops’ evangelization committee says.

“The greatest evangelization that ever happened in the history of the world was when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in what is now Mexico City, and converted seven million people within ten years,” Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, told CNA in an interview at the recent fall meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“So divine help is the ultimate goal,” he said.

Bishop Cozzens was elected as the chairman of the Committee on Evangelization of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at the recent fall assembly in Baltimore, from Nov. 11-13.

He will succeed Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, in the role. Barron has served as chairman of the committee since the fall of 2017.

During his tenure, Barron emphasized the challenge of evangelizing the “nones,” or Americans who do not affiliate with any religion. In a presentation to fellow bishops in June of 2019, Barron noted that for every convert to the Catholic Church, more than six people are leaving the church.

The problem of religious disaffiliation is especially marked among young people. According to the Pew Research Center, more than four-in-ten Millennials are religiously unaffiliated.

Cozzens credited Barron with keeping the issue prominent as the bishops’ conference simultaneously responded to the renewed clergy sexual abuse crisis.

“I’d love to see us, as a bishops’ conference, take the problem head-on and come together in various ways,” Cozzens said, while stressing that evangelization at the parish level is the primary aim, together with strengthening families. He said that Marian devotion will be critical to any success.

“Teaching that Mary’s role in our faith and in the family can really help strengthen families” is essential, he told CNA.

As the Church responds to a rise in the “nones” and in Catholics leaving the church, a key question needs to be “how do we make our Catholics missionary disciples?” Cozzens asked.

This needs to be done at the “grassroots level,” he said, noting efforts which have been underway by groups like Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), St. Paul’s Outreach, the Neocatechumenal Way, and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

This involves “helping lead people to that encounter and that formation they need to be able to send forth people as evangelizers,” he said.

Another development during Barron’s tenure as evangelization chair was the V Encuentro, a national gathering of Hispanic Catholic leaders, held in September of 2018.

The future of the Church in the U.S. will largely be tied to the Hispanic community, but, in October, Pew reported that Catholics no longer constitute a majority among Hispanics in America.

“The whole basis of the Encuentro process was forming missionary disciples,” Cozzens said, “so that process, as it goes forward, is really intended to form leaders who would be able to help our young people, especially our Latino young people.”

“In some ways, I find it much easier to evangelize than your average American young person,” Cozzens said of the Hispanic Catholic community in the U.S. “They’re very open. But we have to do it.”

'Once the Church is persecuted, the faith becomes alive': a pastor's story

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 11:00

Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- As he helps his flock recover from the horrific bombing of their cathedral in Jolo, in the Philippines, earlier this year, Monsignor Romeo Saniel, OMI, said a miraculous event 17 years ago prepared him for his enormous task of the present.

On May 4, 2002, Saniel was on foot distributing Holy Communion to parishioners in downtown Jolo. He noticed two young men approaching him from behind before one of them drew out a pistol.

Saniel felt the gun against the back of his head and heard a loud click—the weapon had jammed. His security escort immediately jumped in to save him, and the assailants ran away.

It took Saniel several years to tell his mother about the near-death experience. What she said back to him changed his life.

At the date and time of his assassination attempt, his mother said she was immobilized with a fever. Feeling that “one of her children was in danger,” she knelt and prayed her rosary.

“I think that rosary, the prayer of my mother, saved me,” Saniel told CNA.

What happened next was a lengthy process of grief, healing, and preparation for a much greater burden to come.

“I was so afraid to go out,” he told CNA, “and I was really full of resentment and anger” toward the assailants. He received treatment for his post-traumatic stress, moving through the various stages of trauma from anger to denial and, ultimately, to forgiveness.

“With much prayer and maybe assistance from counselors, I was able to forgive my assailants, realizing that Jesus Himself was persecuted, forgave those who persecuted Him,” he said.

“With that wound, with that pain, I discovered God was calling me for another mission,” he said.

Monsignor Saniel spoke with CNA in Washington, D.C. last week before he delivered a presentation at a vespers service at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Nov. 23 on “A Night of Witness.”

The event was hosted by Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation that serves persecuted Catholics and the poor in 145 countries.

Nearly 17 years after his his brush with death, Saniel was appointed by Pope Francis as apostolic administrator to the Vicariate of Jolo—a territory not yet a diocese, and one which includes an archipelago at southern end of the Phillippines in a heavily-Muslim region.

One month after his appointment, on January 27, 2019, Islamic militants bombed the cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, killing 26 Mass-attendees and injuring 116. The regional ISIS-affiliated terror group Abu Sayyaf took credit for the attacks.

The ceiling and roof of the cathedral was destroyed; pews were scattered in the sanctuary and blood was everywhere, Saniel said. It was a horrific sight, so much so that the bodies of the dead could not be recognized.

Just one month into his assignment, Saniel was tasked with ministering to a flock reeling in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

A day after the bombing, Pope Francis sent him a message through the papal nuncio to the Philippines. He gave Monsignor Saniel three instructions.

“Number one, make sure that the victims do not feel abandoned by the Church,” Saniel said, and also “to take good care of the victims” and their families.

Finally, the pope told him to “make sure also that this bombing of your cathedral shall not destroy the good relationships between Muslims and Christians built throughout the years.”

The cathedral has been mostly rebuilt, thanks to donations from the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need, and local bishops, among others. On July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, it reopened.

Now, however, the task remains of “rebuilding of the lives of those who have died,” Saniel said—initiating trauma healing sessions for survivors, prioritizing housing facilities for the homeless, and granting educational scholarships for children who lost their parents in the bombing.

“Sometimes people ask ‘where was God during this attack?’” he said. “I think gradually we will be able to discover the purpose and the reason.”

Even in the midst of death and destruction, survivors saw miracles. The cathedral choir was supposed to sing from the loft at the Sunday Mass the day of the attacks—directly above the bomb. At the last minute, the choir moved downstairs and in front of the congregation because the microphone in the loft couldn’t be found.

“People will say, ‘of course it was Bishop Ben who took the microphone,” Saniel said of Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, the former bishop in the area who was assassinated in 1997 in front of the cathedral and whose cause for canonization has been requested by local Catholics. The bishop’s picture was hanging on the wall of the church, never touched by the bomb’s explosion, Saniel said.

And outside the cathedral now sits a statue of the Blessed Mother.

“I believe the Muslims won’t destroy anything when there is an image of Mary, because in the Quran, there are more passages about Mary than the Bible,” he said. “Even fanatics will not destroy the church, because they are afraid.”

Saniel’s third instruction from Pope Francis was to ensure the integrity of Catholic-Muslim relations in the region.

Although the Phillippines is around 85% Christian, only around three percent of the population of Jolo is Catholic, Saniel said, with Muslims comprising the vast majority of the population.

Yet there is much interreligious dialogue and respect between Catholics and Muslims in the area, Saniel said, and they appear determined not to let Abu Sayyaf terrorists drive a wedge in between neighbors. The tragedy brought about solidarity in suffering.

In the wake of the bombing, relations between the communities are even “stronger and greater” than before. At the funerals of Christian bombing victims, over half of the attendees were Muslims, he said, crying and mourning the “death of their friends in the neighborhood.”

“When we are in pain, we begin to set aside our differences, and the pain unites all of us even beyond religion,” he said. “We were in pain because of the bombing, but the Muslims have suffered a lot for the past 40 years.” A 40 year-long Moro separatist conflict in the area, in which Abu Sayyaf is a key player, has claimed more than 120,000 lives and displaced millions of people.

“Once the Church is persecuted, the faith of Christians becomes alive,” he said. “In the First World today, churches are empty, no vocations,” he said. “Their faith is not challenged and tested.”

In Jolo, where only three percent of the population is Christian, “every day, our faith is tested. It becomes real,” he said.

Pope Francis appoints new bishop of Gary, Indiana

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 09:10

Gary, Ind., Nov 26, 2019 / 07:10 am (CNA).- Msgr. Robert J. McClory has been appointed as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, the Vatican announced on Tuesday, Nov. 26. 

The Diocese of Gary, in northwestern Indiana, is part of the metropolitan province of Indianapolis. The diocese is home to 170,203 Catholics and has been sede vacante since April 25, when Bishop Donald J. Hying was named the new bishop of the Diocese of Madison. McClory will be consecrated and installed as the new bishop of Gary on Feb. 11, 2020. 

McClory was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit on May 22, 1999, and was given the honorific title “monsignor” in 2005. He has been the pastor of the parish of the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, MI, since July 2017. McClory celebrated his first Mass at the shrine in 1999. 

“I am honored and humbled that the Holy Father has appointed me as the bishop of Gary. During this week in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, my heart is full of gratitude that he has entrusted me to serve the people of northwest Indiana,” Bishop-elect McClory said in a statement published by the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

“I look forward to getting to know the needs of our local church and, together, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ,” he added. 

A native of Detroit, McClory has a Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School and worked as a civil lawyer from 1991 until 1994, when he entered seminary. He received a bachelor's degree in sacred theology in 1998 from Gregorian University in Rome, and received a canon law license from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome in 2000. 

Since his ordination, McClory has been assigned to parishes throughout the archdiocese of Detroit. Since 2001, he has been a judge of the Detroit Metropolitan Tribunal, and he has taught canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary since 2002. 

From 2009 until 2018, MCClory served as the Moderator of the Curia and Vicar General in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He has also acted as a consultant for the Catholic Leadership Institute, and served as a priest-observer for Region VI for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit released a statement early Tuesday morning congratulating McClory for his appointment. USCCB Vice President Archbishop Allen Vigneron praised McClory as a “zealous priest who generously devotes all the talents God has blessed him with to the ministry of spreading the Gospel.” 

“The pastors and people of the Church of Gary will find themselves blessed by his service,” said Vigneron. “We, the priests, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit, send him on mission with our heartfelt prayers.”

Anchorage looks to eliminate homelessness with help of grant from Amazon CEO

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 05:01

Anchorage, Alaska, Nov 26, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- A multi-million dollar grant could help Catholic Social Services of Anchorage and its partners bring the homeless population of that city to “functional zero.”

“This grant will make an enormous impact on our community by expanding the work Catholic Social Services does every day to support families in homelessness to transition to permanent stability,” Lisa Aquino, executive director of CSS, said Nov. 22.

“We believe that this funding will propel us, together with our partners, to achieve functional zero in family homelessness in the Anchorage area.”

The $5 million dollar grant came from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Day 1 Families Fund, which awards one-time grants to organizations that are making an impact on homeless populations. This year, it awarded a total of $98.5 million in grants to 32 organizations working with the homeless population throughout the United States.

Anchorage is the most populous city in Alaska, with 294,356 people. Of that population, about 92 families are in the city’s homelessness system at a given time, Aquino told local news station KTUU.

“That number has pretty much stayed the same over the past years,” Aquino told KTUU, as some families have been rehoused while others have become homeless.

Currently, there’s room in the Anchorage rehousing system to serve about 60 families per year.

Jasmine Boyle, executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, told KTUU she thinks the grant could help CSS and its local partners to bring the homeless population to essentially zero.

“This, I believe, will allow us to either get darn close to, or solve family homelessness...In partnership with two other local initiatives that we have in our community,” she said.

“Clare House is our safe place; I’m very comfortable here,” Shanna, who stayed at Clare House, a CSS shelter and now is rehoused, said in the CSS statement about the grant. “I don’t know where we would be without the help of Catholic Social Services. I’m so grateful that they are here.”

Aquino told KTUU that while the grant is for CSS, it will serve the whole community because “we could never do this alone.”

Partners of CSS include the Coalition to End Homelessness, Salvation Army, United Way, and other service providers who serve the gamut of needs of the homeless.

“What I’ve seen firsthand is that the intent is for Catholic Social Services to take the lead in convening partners in the community so that we’re building systems to address family homelessness,” Boyle told KTUU.

The grant will also be used for a homelessness prevention program, which would provide families with rent assistance or other one-time needs that may prevent them from ending up on the streets, Boyle said.

Such “diversion programs”, as they are calle,d “help people seeking shelter identify immediate alternate housing arrangements, often on the phone or before they even enter shelter. These programs focus on eliminating the footprint in the system and keeping families who just need a little support right now, get it and not have to come to the shelter,” the CSS statement noted.

Because the Day 1 Families grant is a one-time donation, Aquino said she hopes that it will encourage more donations in the future, especially after state budget cuts threatened to dramatically decrease funding for CSS and other homeless service providers earlier this year.

“The more that we can demonstrate its success, and show partners in the community how much this helps, then I think that we'll be able to find other funding to support it in an ongoing way,” Aquino told KTUU.

Senators reportedly blocked Armenian genocide resolutions at White House request

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 20:01

Washington D.C., Nov 25, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Congressional resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide were reportedly blocked by Republican senators at the direction of the White House.

Axios reported Saturday that a resolution recognizing the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire that had overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives was recently blocked from moving forward in the Senate by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), after the White House requested he do so.

The House passed the resolution recognizing the genocide Oct. 29, just over two weeks before an official visit of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House. The resolution sponsored by Rep. Adan Schiff (D-Calif.) said it is U.S. policy to recognize and commemorate the Armenian genocide.

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians praised the resolution as “a clear condemnation of the Turkish government’s denial of the atrocities committed by their predecessor’s against Christians.”

The resolution was a controversial topic around Erdogan’s visit to the White House.

In a joint press conference with President Trump Nov. 13, Erdogan said the resolution was one of the “allegations” that “hurt deeply the Turkish nation.”

“The decision makers in an incident that took place about 104 years ago should not be politicians, but historians. We have nothing to hide, and we have a full self-esteem in that regard,” he said.

“I believe the Senate will take this -- take the United States out of this vicious cycle, which happened as a result of the resolution of the House of Representatives,” he said.

Many scholars have recognized the Armenian genocide of 1915-1923 by name; in that span, the Armenian minority—mostly Christians—in eastern Anatolia was systematically displaced and annihilated by the Ottoman Empire. The death toll of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs is estimated to be around 1.5 million.
Turkey has long denied that genocide took place, claiming the number of deaths is far less than estimated and that they were largely due to conflicts related to World War I.

On the centenary of the genocide in 2015, the Vatican published its archive of documents related to its work helping the genocide victims in the region. Pope Francis has also referred to the killings as genocide several times.

The House resolution would have established it as U.S. policy that the genocide took place. However, the White House reportedly did not want to let the resolution torpedo its efforts to get Turkey to reject an S-400 missile system from Russia.

Graham told Axios he was asked by the White House to block the resolution in the Senate; another resolution that was introduced in the Senate which recognized the genocide was also blocked by Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) reportedly at the request of the White House.

New US asylum rule is gambling with lives of migrants, Catholic leaders warn

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 18:20

Washington D.C., Nov 25, 2019 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- New asylum rules from the Trump administration put vulnerable people at risk and could further destabilize Central America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services have said.

The rules would allow U.S. officials to screen asylum applicants to determine if they are eligible to apply for asylum in certain Central American countries. If so, they can be deported to those countries without their asylum application being heard in the United States, Reuters reports.

“Vulnerable individuals seeking protection and safety in the United States should be welcomed and given the chance to access the protection that our laws provide. If implemented, we fear that the asylum cooperation agreements would leave many helpless people, including families and children, unable to attain safety and freedom from violence and persecution,” the organizations said in a joint statement.

The statement was signed by both Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration; and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ international relief agency.

Their statement responded to two notices published Nov. 18 in the Federal Register concerning the implementation of asylum cooperation agreements with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Dorsonville and Callahan objected that the rules would allow the U.S. government to send asylum seekers to these three countries without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum in the U.S. The rules require the three countries’ governments to judge asylum claims and attempt to provide protection.

“The governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras do not have the resources nor the capacity to safely accept, process, and integrate asylees,” Dorsonville and Callahan said, citing the globally high rates of homicide in the region.

The agreements with the three countries have been signed but not yet finalized. There are “numerous concerns” with these agreements’ implementation, said the U.S. Catholic leaders, who added that the Catholic Church in Guatemala is among those voicing concern.

These agreements “do not address the root causes of forced migration and could further endanger the lives of people fleeing a region that continues to have some of the highest homicide rates in the world,” Dorsonville and Callahan said.

They placed the new rules in the context other policies, like the Migration Protection Protocols which allow U.S. officials to return undocumented migrants to Mexico pending adjudication of their claims. There is also a continued hold on humanitarian and development assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

The combination of all these rules and other Trump administration decisions, Dorsonville and Callahan said, “undermines U.S. moral leadership in protecting vulnerable populations and risks further destabilizing the region.”

“To preserve and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, we cannot turn our back on families and individuals in desperate need of help,” they said. “In light of the Gospel, let us always remember we are invited to embrace the foreigner and to take care of this human person. Let us move ourselves from a culture of indifference to a Christian culture of solidarity. We can and must do more.”

Trump administration officials have previously argued that migrants who need asylum should seek protection in the first safe country where they can apply, given that many migrants pass through multiple countries before arriving at the U.S. border, Reuters reports. Critics argue that many of these countries are not truly safe and are not equipped to help migrants.

The new rules go even further - asylum seekers may be sent to any other countries where the U.S. has asylum agreements allowing this transportation, even if the asylum seekers did not first travel through the receiving country.

Migrants sent to a third country will have the chance to prove that they are “more likely than not” to be persecuted or tortured in the receiving country, but this could be a difficult task for many.

“If this rule fully goes into effect, virtually no one who arrived at the southern border would ever be allowed to ask for asylum in the United States,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, which supports migrants, told Reuters.

The Trump administration has created or tightened many restrictions for migrants and asylum seekers, but these have faced several legal challenges.

The so-called “Return to Mexico” policy has returned about 60,000 immigrants to Mexico while awaiting decisions on their asylum cases, CNN reports. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed this policy to proceed at present.

On Nov. 19 a federal judge in San Diego ruled that new restrictions on asylum did not apply to asylum-seeking migrants who were waiting the chance to make an official U.S. asylum request in Mexico border cities before mid-July, when the rules took effect.

In August of this year, the administration announced its intent to deny green cards and a path to citizenship to immigrants in the country legally who use public benefits.

The number of asylum claims has dramatically increased over the last decade, with very few prospective asylees being allowed to stay. In 2009, there were 35,811 people who applied for asylum in the United States, and 8,384 were granted. In 2018, that number had more than quadrupled to 162,060 claims, with 13,168 actually granted.

AMA supports federal ban on 'conversion therapy'

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 14:01

San Diego, Calif., Nov 25, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The American Medical Association announced last week that it had adopted a number of new policies, including advocacy for a federal ban on “so-called reparative or conversion therapy for sexual orientation or gender identity.”

During the AMA interim meeting held in San Diego, the group's policy-making body chose to “develop model state legislation” to ban health care providers from efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity,” the group said in a Nov. 19 statement.

“The support for legislative bans strengthens AMA’s long-standing opposition to this unscientific practice,” the medical association said.

Dr. William Kobler, an AMA board member, said that “conversion therapy has no foundation as scientifically valid medical care and lacks credible evidence to support its efficacy or safety” and that “it is clear to the AMA that the conversion therapy needs to end in the United States given the risk of deliberate harm to LGBTQ people.”

According to the group, conversion therapy for minors has been banned by 18 states and the District of Columbia.

One of the most recent states to have adopted such as ban is Massachusetts. Its law was signed in April.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference opposed the legislation, saying it “attempts to create a solution to a problem which does not exist,” adding that it will “deny the right of parents to engage therapists who could help their child who is experiencing gender dysphoria and is confused and uncomfortable with this experience.”

Massachusetts' law defines the banned activities as “any practice by a health care provider that attempts or purports to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including but not limited to efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

Under the law, health care professionals will be permitted to “provide acceptance, support, and understanding” of a minor’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, to “facilitate an individual’s coping, social support and identity exploration and development”, or seek “to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices”, as long as they “do not attempt or purport to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference said the law is unnecessary because “licensed clinical professionals are highly trained in their field and guided by ethical principles.”

It noted that minor who has “unwanted same sex attraction or gender identity, this law would prevent a licensed professional from counseling the minor towards a resolution to those unwanted urges … these professionals, with years of education and experience dealing with mental health issues, would be removed from the process of helping a young client struggling with these highly personal issues.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson told CNA the Massachusetts law “imposes an ideological ban because the state disagrees with the viewpoint of certain professionals. It’s not targeted at harmful practices, but at particular values.”

A 2009 American Psychiatric Association task force recommended that the appropriate response to those with same-sex attraction involves “therapist acceptance, support, and understanding of clients … without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome,” and that efforts to change orientation “involve some risk of harm.”

The APA considered homosexuality to be a mental disease until 1973. A former president of the APA said in a 2012 video interview that within the organization, political stances “override any scientific results.”

During its interim meeting, the AMA also adopted policies promoting “fully incluvise [electronic health records] for transgender patients” and encouraging “medical education accreditation bodies to both continue to encourage and periodically reassess education on health issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity in the basic science, clinical care, and cultural competency curricula.”

Bishop Caggiano picked to chair CRS board of directors

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 13:27

Baltimore, Md., Nov 25, 2019 / 11:27 am (CNA).- Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport has been appointed chairman of the board of directors for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the agency announced Monday.

Caggiano was appointed by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He assumes the role of chairman immediately, and his term will last until November 2022.

“It’s a great honor to lead an organization that is such a bright light for all of our brothers and sisters overseas who don’t have enough to eat or a place to sleep because of entrenched poverty,” Caggiano said in a statement.

“All of God’s children have the right to live in just and peaceful societies, and for more than 75 years CRS has worked toward making that a reality. I look forward to joining forces to build on all of the organization’s substantial achievements, and to tackling the challenges that affect so many members of God’s family.”

CRS was founded in 1943 and is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.

Present in more than 100 countries throughout the world, the agency responds to emergencies and natural disasters, works to fight poverty and disease, and promotes peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts.

“It is a privilege to have Bishop Caggiano serve as our new board chair,” said CRS’ president & CEO Sean Callahan. “He has been actively engaged and supportive of CRS in the Diocese of Bridgeport, and he has sent several of his priests on visits to CRS programs overseas.”

The position of chairman was previously held by Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn. He has been in the role since 2016.

Mansour said Caggiano will be “a hands-on leader who will roll up his sleeves and get to work while inspiring others to do the same. He speaks with clarity and is laser focused on renewing the Church and tending to its needs. His love and commitment to our Lord Jesus is truly remarkable.”

Caggiano’s episcopate has been marked by work with youth, Mansour noted. The Bridgeport bishop has frequently given talks and catechesis at World Youth Day events, and he was elected by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as one of five U.S. delegates for the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment in 2018.

He has also served on USCCB committees dealing with evangelization and catechesis; the catechism; and laity, marriage, family life, and youth.

“Young people want to see a Church that is very close to the poor and a Church that is doing works of justice,” Mansour said. “Bishop Caggiano understands these values and is committed to making sure that youth have a seat at the table in the Church’s outreach to the poor. That’s why he’s a perfect fit for CRS.”

Caggiano was born on March 29, 1959, the second of two children born to Italian immigrants. He graduated summa cum laude from Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception with a philosophy degree in 1981.

He then worked briefly as a sales representative for McGraw Hill Publishing Company before starting major seminary studies at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York.

Caggiano was ordained a priest in Queens on May 16, 1987. He served as parochial vicar at two parishes before going to Gregorian University in Rome, where he received a doctorate in sacred dogma in May 1996.

He then served in Brooklyn in parishes, directed formation for permanent deacons in the diocese, and taught theology at local colleges.

Caggiano was named Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn by Pope Benedict XVI on June 6, 2006. He was appointed Bishop of Bridgeport by Pope Francis on July 31, 2013.

At the 2018 Vatican synod on youth and vocational discernment, Caggiano spoke about the importance of discussing the Church sex abuse crisis openly if the Church is to regain the trust of the faithful. In his own diocese, the bishop has reconstituted a review board to oversee safe environment policies and has published annual financial statements and audits. Last year, the bishop commissioned an investigation in sexual abuse by clergy in the diocese. That report was released last month.

In 2014, Caggiano convoked a diocesan synod, aimed at evangelizing, engaging youth, building community, and fostering charitable works.

How Ashley Stricklin found the Catholic Church at her Baptish college

Sat, 11/23/2019 - 08:50

Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2019 / 06:50 am (CNA).- Ashley Stricklin says she had a typical Texan upbringing. She was raised a Southern Baptist in a town outside of Dallas, with a family who was active in her church. Her father was a deacon in their Baptist church, and she accepted Jesus into her heart when she was nine.

Although Stricklin lived near a Catholic church, she had never been inside it, nor did she really know any Catholics--that is, until she went off to Baylor University, one of the largest Baptist-affiliated universities in the world. There, she met faithful Catholics, and embarked on a long, and at times even secretive, journey into the Catholic Church.

The Catholics Stricklin met at Baylor were “always so joyful,” which prompted her to begin to wonder what exactly was so different between the Catholic faith and the faith she was raised in. Despite her faithful Baptist upbringing, Stricklin said that she always felt as though “something was missing,” in her life, but could not quite put her finger on it.

Her new Catholic friends invited her to Eucharistic adoration, which was the first time Stricklin had ever seen the Blessed Sacrament--and she began to see exactly what she had been missing.

After that, everything changed, and she says she “started her journey” toward Catholicism. Three years later, that journey would reach a milestone, when she was received into the Church on April 28, 2019--Divine Mercy Sunday.

Stricklin received her first communion and confirmation at St. Peter’s Student Center, which is a campus ministry of the Diocese of Austin for students of Baylor University and nearby colleges.

Like many new Catholics, there were significant hurdles that Stricklin had to overcome before being received into the Church--both in the doctrinal sense and in the personal. For Stricklin, it was easy for her to come to accept teachings she had previously believed were wrong, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary and Mary’s role as mediatrix of grace.

“I actually did a Marian consecration before I was confirmed,” said Stricklin. “And so it just went full circle for me.”

It was the reaction of her Baptist parents, however, that proved to be one of Stricklin’s biggest anxieties before entering the Church. Although Stricklin knew from early on in college that she wanted to become Catholic, she delayed entering the Church until her senior year, because she was afraid of how they would react.

“I definitely thought my parents were going to disown me,” Stricklin said. “That’s why I waited until I was a senior, because I didn’t think my parents would continue to pay for college.”

In the meantime, Stricklin read book after book about Catholicism, nearly exhausting the Baylor library’s section on Catholicism. She read everything from “Rome Sweet Home” to the “Summa Theologica,” eventually concentrating on conversion stories and books about the Eucharist.

Still, she kept all of her religious curiosity and plans a secret from her parents--for three years.

“I would hide my books,” she said. “I cleaned my (web) browsers, which was really not a good idea looking back now.”

Fearful still of her parents’ rejection, Stricklin waited until just two months before her First Communion and Confirmation to tell them what she was planning on doing. To her astonishment, while they were certainly taken aback, they neither abandoned her nor cut her off.

“I told my mom in February and she thought I was joking, like she just thought it was a joke,” she said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Oh no, mom, it's not a joke.’”

Despite her fears, Stricklin’s mother attended her First Communion, and her father is supportive of her religious journey, both of which were pleasant surprises. Her grandparents, however, still do not know she has converted.

Stricklin chose St. John Paul II as her confirmation saint, something that she was hesitant to do as she thought it would reveal that she was a convert. Eventually, she realized this was silly, and went with him anyways. She said she chose St. John Paul II due to both her interest in Eastern Europe, and because she found his papacy and writings to be “truly inspiring.”

Stricklin is now a student at Creighton University School of Law, where will graduate in 2022. About seven months into her new journey as a fully-initiated Catholic, Stricklin remains intrigued and fulfilled by the Eucharist, and she continues to delve more into her faith.

After initially being intrigued by the Eucharist at her first-ever adoration, Stricklin says now that she considers the sacrament to be “such a joy” and that she eagerly looks forward to receiving it. And despite her initial troubles, fears, and everything else associated with the process of converting to Catholicism, she says things have been smooth sailing.

“It's been an interesting journey, and each day I just continue to strive for sainthood and just keep trying to increase and my relationships with God, so, yeah, it's been good,” she said. “It's been a cool journey so far.”

This story is part of a CNA series profiling new converts to the Catholic faith.

Proposed changes to US Commission on International Religious Freedom draw fire

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2019 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- With the current authorization for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expiring this year, proposed changes to the independent panel have sparked controversy.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. government commission established in 1998 under the International Religious Freedom Act. It works to monitor the state of religious freedom abroad and make recommendations to Congress, the president and the Secretary of State about policies to advance religious freedom.

USCRIF must be periodically reauthorized by Congress. Its current authorization expires this year.

A bill to reauthorize the commission for four years, with an additional $1 million for the group’s annual budget, was introduced in September. It proposed a single three-year term limit for commissioners, as well as requirements for the group to report regularly to Congress, a change that is described as working toward transparency and accountability.

However, the bill has been met with pushback from current commissioners, who say it would compromise their mission.

Last week, commissioner Kristina Arriaga announced her resignation. Arriaga had served since 2016 and was set to be on the commission until May 2020.

Arriaga told The Christian Post the proposed legislation “would gut USCIRF by changing its mission and burdening commissioners with the very kind of innovation-killing bureaucracy they were designed to fight.”

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, she voiced concern over what she saw as Congressional moves that would impede the group’s ability to function.

“Believing that a bureaucracy can’t be defeated by creating another bureaucracy, Congress ensured the nine USCIRF commissioners were unpaid, independent volunteer voices selected from both political parties,” she said, stressing the independent nature of the commission and its ability to take “direct action” as key factors enabling it to be successful in carrying out its work.

However, she warned, the new legislative proposal would alter the role of USCIRF to include monitoring the “abuse of religion to justify human rights violations.”

“This creates an opening for the commission to enter ideological fights over, for example, sex segregation at religious services, circumcision or same-sex relationships,” Arriaga said. “Part of the reason for USCIRF’s success is avoiding these divisive theological fights and focusing on clear-cut cases of religious freedom.”

She also criticized proposals to create new reporting requirements and to restrict the ways in which USCIRF commissioners use their title when speaking in a personal capacity.

The bill has been pulled amid the controversy, and lawmakers must now work to craft new legislation extending the mandate of USCIRF if the body is to remain in existence.

In a Nov. 15 tweet, Senator Marco Rubio defended the legislation, saying that if it were up to him, he would approve a simple extension of USCRIF’s mandate. But the changes are necessary as part of a compromise to win Democratic support, he said, noting that unless Congress acts to reauthorize the commission, it will disappear.

Commissioner Nadine Maenza stressed that the independent nature of the group over the years has allowed it the freedom to criticize policies enacted by all administrations, without devolving into partisan squabbles.

“We’ve lasted for 20 years because there’s no daylight between Republicans and Democrats on our mission and mandate,” Maenza said, according to the New York Times. “The minute there is, and one side can be pitted against the other side ... the loser will be religious freedom.”

Pa. Catholic conference: Gov. Wolf failed to protect 'humanity's most vulnerable lives' with Down syndrome abortion veto

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 18:00

Harrisburg, Pa., Nov 22, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf this week vetoed a bill that would have banned the abortion of children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. The state Catholic conference condemned the decision. 

“Gov. Wolf’s veto will prevent all children with Down’s syndrome from going on to live happy and fulfilled lives,” executive director Eric Failing said in a Nov. 21 statement.

“Had Gov. Wolf signed this legislation, he would’ve ensured the protection of humanity’s most vulnerable lives,” he said in Nov. 21 statement.

Wolf vetoed the bill on Thursday, stating that the legislation would have hindered the medical decisions between a woman and her doctor.

“This legislation is a restriction on women and medical professionals and interferes with women’s health care and the crucial decision-making between patients and their physicians,” Wolf said in an online statement.

“Physicians and their patients must be able to make choices about medical procedures based on best practices and standards of care,” he further added.

Under the current Pennsylvania law, abortion is permissible for any reason, besides gender selection, until the 24th week of pregnancy. If the bill passed this week had been signed into law, it would have prohibited abortions chosen after a diagnosis of Down syndrome, except in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergencies.

Even though the bill was vetoed, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference applauded the efforts of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who supported the effort.

The bill had passed through the Pennsylvania Senate, 27-22, on Wednesday. It passed through the state’s House of Representatives 117-76, in May.

“We thank all legislators who came together in a bi-partisan fashion to support this common-sense legislation, and PCC looks forward to working with them again to protect the sanctity of life,” Failing said.

Up to 75% of babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome in the U.S. have been aborted in recent decades, according to research conducted between 1995 and 2011.

Opponents of the bill have claimed the legislation would violate women's reproductive rights.

According to Penn Live, Sen. Maria Collett said the bill would not help people with disabilities. She said legislators should instead focus on laws that benefit the caregivers and those already born with disabilities.

“This bill does nothing to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome,” said Collett. “Instead, it uses them to advance a political agenda.”

Sen. Scott Martin disagreed, saying abortion of children diagnosed with Down syndrome is “not health care” but an act of “eugenics.”

“These are parents who actually want to have children, who are presented as if this child will actually be a burden, who cannot live a productive life. ... These children have the ability to live long, productive lives, even past the age of 60,” he said, during floor debate on the bill.


Catholic politician kicked out of UK party over religious beliefs

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 15:00

London, England, Nov 22, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A former member of parliament has spoken out after being deselected as a candidate for the U.K.’s Liberal Democrat Party because of his Catholic faith and views on same-sex marriage and abortion. 

Robert Flello sat as a Labour Party MP in the House of Commons for over a decade, representing Stoke-on-Trent from 2005 until 2017. In 2019, he switched parties to the Liberal Democrats and was selected as their candidate for his former constituency. Flello, a practicing Catholic, was informed on Nov. 12--just 36 hours after his selection as a candidate--that he had been de-selected and would not be permitted to represent the Lib Dems in the election. 

Flello is now calling for the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom to “start speaking out” and defend its social teaching, and for Catholics in the U.K. to question their local candidates about their thoughts on religious freedom. 

“However they try to dress it up, the simple fact is that you can’t be a practicing Catholic and a Lib Dem Candidate,” wrote Flello in an op-ed published on Nov. 20 in the Catholic Herald magazine. He said that “someone, somewhere” objected to him within the party and officials “got worried and pulled the plug.” 

“We need Catholics to start contacting political parties to challenge discrimination and anti-religious prejudice,” said Flello. “I’m not going to keep quiet on this and nor, I hope, will others.”

Flello said that he has always been transparent about his opposition to same-sex marriage and aborting children after a diagnosis with Down syndrome, and that this had previously not been an issue. 

“[During the candidate vetting progress] I made clear my views on same-sex marriage during the interview, in the part helpfully titled ‘Having the courage to make and defend unpopular decisions and seeking out opportunities to publicise and defend beliefs’,” said Flello, adding that “maybe I should have written instead about the Lib Dem opposition to state interference and closing down of free speech.”

Another issue the Lib Dems raised with Flello were his tweets critical of a “buffer zones” which local authorites and courts have placed around abortion clinics, preventing prayer vigils and pro-life demonstrations. 

Flello rejected the Lib Dems’ claim that they were unaware of his political views, noting his parliamentary voting record and had tweets about the issues. 

In 2013, Flello defied the Labour Party whip by voting against same-sex marriage. In that same vote, Flello noted, the Lib Dems did not instruct their candidates to vote either for or against the bill. 

“How times change,” he said. 

“The Lib Dems are, of course, claiming they have no issue with my religious views and very helpfully they have told me I am free to have some of my views,” said Flello. 

Flello said that, despite the de-selection, he was happy to place his religious beliefs above his political aspirations, citing St. Thomas More - a former MP who was martyred by King Henry VIII for refusing to break with the Catholic Church.

“To paraphrase one of my favorite quotations, I am politics’ good servant, but God’s first,” said Flello. 

Flello’s de-selection is the latest in a line of British politicians being penalized for their religious beliefs. 

MP Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian, was forced to step down as the leader of the Lib Dems in 2017, after coming under fire for his views against homosexulaity and sin. Farron said he was “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.” Farron had led the party for two years before his resignation. 

“A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment,” said Farron upon his resignation. He said he thought it was impossible to both lead a progressive political party and be faithful to the Bible. 

Conservative MP and practicing Catholic Jacob Rees-Mogg was appointed Leader of the House of Commons by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July of 2019. Prior to this, Rees-Mogg was criticized as a “thoroughly modern bigot” for holding views against same-sex marriage and abortion.