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Pence meets with Iraqi archbishop ahead of Middle East trip

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 19:16

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2017 / 05:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil on Monday for a “substantial discussion” on the needs of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.

“I updated him on the situation facing our people and expressed our hope that peace would soon come to Nineveh,” Warda said in a statement about the Dec. 4 meeting.

Since 2014, the Islamic State has forced thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee their homes after telling them they must convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant tax, or be killed. Many of these Christians have resettled in or around Erbil.

Warda has often spoken out on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and was in the United States for “Solidarity in Suffering,” a Week of Awareness for Persecuted Christians, an event that began on Nov. 26 and was co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a tweet, Pence said his meeting with Warda was an “(i)mportant dialogue...about (President Trump’s) commitment to directly assist persecuted Christians & religious minorities in Iraq. I’m heading to the Middle East this month to discuss U.S. plans to accelerate funding those impacted in the region.”

Warda said that “On behalf of our people, I expressed our gratitude for his promise of swift assistance to our communities who suffered genocide at the hands of ISIS.”

“I also mentioned to the Vice President the importance of the aid and support we have received from the Knights of Columbus in the United States, and Aid to the Church in Need in Europe,” he added.

Pence’s coming trip to the Middle East is part of a series of conferences he has attended regarding the plight of Christians in the region. In October, Pence addressed In Defense of Christians’ annual Solidarity Dinner for Christians in the Middle East. The vice president said groups such as the Islamic State have singled out Christians for persecution and noted that Christianity could disappear from some parts of the Middle East.

“Let me assure you tonight, President Trump and I see these crimes for what they are – vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the Gospel of Christ,” Pence said at the time.

Warda said that during their meeting, he gave Pence a crucifix from Karemlesh, a town near Mosul which was “targeted and badly damaged when ISIS invaded.”

“I also assured him of our prayers and told him that if he ever visits Iraq, he is most welcome in Erbil.” 

Bishops: Congress can still address "fundamental flaws" in tax law

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Dec 4, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Senate tax reform bill passed Dec. 2, like its counterpart passed earlier by the House of Representatives, has “fundamental flaws,” according to a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

The bill-reconciliation process, begun in Washington today, offers an opportunity for legislators to address the bills’ shortfalls, the bishops say.
“Congress must act now to fix the fundamental flaws found in both bills, and choose the policy approaches that help individuals and families struggling within our society,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a statement released Saturday.

Dewane added that the bishops are reviewing the Senate’s final version of tax reform legislation. They will provide analysis and comments on key improvements they think are necessary to include in the bill’s final version.

Two separate versions of the tax reform bill were passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. The versions differ on the specifics of some deductions and credits, and these differences will need to be reconciled before the legislature approves a final bill.

The bishops cautioned that the reconciled version should prioritize poor and struggling families and individuals.  “For the sake of all people—but especially those we ought, in justice, to prioritize—Congress should advance a final tax reform bill only if it meets the key moral considerations outlined in our previous letters,”  Dewane stated.

One proposed provision intended to aid struggling families was Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) amendment expanding child tax credit, which did not receive enough support in the Senate to pass.

While the Senate version of the bill raised the child tax credit from the $1,600 proposed by the House to $2,000 for qualifying families, Rubio’s proposal would have expanded the tax credit to payroll taxes, meaning that even the poorest families would benefit from the provision. The plan proposed offsetting the costs of the expanded credit by reducing the typical corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 22 percent, instead of 20 percent, as the bill called originally called for.

David Cloutier, Associate Professor of Moral Theology and Ethics at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that proposals like Rubio’s tax credit highlight the moral issues at play in the tax bill.  Tax relief for families is intended to recognize “that families do important work for the common good, and so government should help them do that work,” he said.

While a high corporate tax rate can have “detrimental effects on the common good because it drives businesses out of the United States,” Cloutier said, Catholics need to carefully consider the needs of those who are struggling the most when making judgements on how to serve the common good.

He said that, in his opinion, “there's a really strong argument” for extending a $2,000 credit to parents in the most pressing financial situations. “It can go a long way.”

Cloutier said that while “some kind of corporate tax cut,” might also benefit the common good, that “quibbling over 2 percent” is a much harder argument when the child tax credit, or similar proposals aimed at promoting the common good and helping those who are struggling most in society, hang in the balance.

In a Nov. 22 letter, the US bishops emphasized the principles of just tax reform. “A change in the tax code should not place families in a worse situation because they have welcomed the gift of life,” they said.

“Congress must take adequate time to analyze the complexities of these proposed reforms, and make certain that the nation does not further enshrine indifference toward the poor into law,” the bishops added.

Pro-life student assaulted outside Planned Parenthood

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 15:53

Roanoke, Va., Dec 4, 2017 / 01:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A 15-year-old student was taken to the hospital after a woman punched her in the face outside of a Planned Parenthood in Roanoke, Virginia on Saturday morning.

The student, Purity Thomas, is a high school leader with Students for Life of America and was “peacefully sidewalk counseling” with a small group of other leaders outside of Planned Parenthood on Saturday morning when a woman sparked the altercation, the group said in a statement.

During sidewalk counseling, Students for Life leaders offer women support, encouragement and resources for pregnancy care instead of abortion.

On Saturday, the students had congregated in a grassy area outside of the abortion clinic where volunteers typically meet. Because that Planned Parenthood location performs abortions on Saturday, pro-life leaders usually offer counseling, prayer and peaceful protest outside of that location on a weekly basis.

The group of student leaders were standing away from the entrance of the Planned Parenthood when a woman reportedly threatened the group and said she would beat them up and “[expletive] them up,” the group said.

The woman reportedly approached the students and stole a sign that read “All people are made in the image of God.” At this point one of the students began filming, and the woman approached the group a second time, attempting to steal another sign before punching Thomas in the face.

The incident was caught on video.

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“This act of violence against a group of peaceful pro-life students who were outside a Planned Parenthood offering love and support to pregnant women serves as a sad reflection on the state of debate today,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement.

“It’s horrific that a minor expressing love for pregnant women was targeted for violence.”

After the incident, one of the student leaders called the police, and Thomas was taken to the hospital for her injuries. She was examined and released Saturday.

Hawkins added that this ”is not an isolated incident. Across the country we are witnessing a rise in the number of incidents of vandalism and violence against peaceful pro-life speech,” she said. “We pray that the assailant from today’s attack is brought to justice swiftly. But we also pray for the protection of those who volunteer their time to speak for the innocent, preborn infants and their mothers.”


What does it really mean to observe Advent?

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 05:04

Denver, Colo., Dec 4, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA).- With the first Sunday of Advent behind us, the liturgical season of preparing for Christmas is well underway.    But what does it actually mean to “observe Advent?” The observation of other liturgical seasons may be more readily apparent – Lent is clearly a time for prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving, while Christmas and Easter are clearly times for celebration.    Search Pinterest for “how to celebrate Advent” and everything from ideas for a do-it-yourself Jesse Tree, to instructions for a handmade Advent calendar bunting, to a tutorial on “how to make your own wreath from foraged materials” appears.   The penitential time of preparation before Christmas seems to have taken on a crafty life of its own over the last few years, thanks to websites such as Pinterest and Instructables. Add in a few glowing shots of your friend’s handcrafted nativity set on her Instagram feed and you’ve got a recipe for some serious Advent-envy. 
While all of these crafts and activities can help one better celebrate Christmas, it’s important not to let them distract from the true purpose of the season: preparation for the Incarnation, said Fr. Mike Schmitz, chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.   Fr. Schmitz told CNA that one of the things that gets easily overlooked about Advent is “that it’s actually a season of penance” and as such, the Church asks us to practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.    “That’s kind of like the buzzkill of Advent because it’s like, ‘OK, don’t have too much fun because, remember, this is a penitential season’,” he said.    However, just because it’s a season of penance doesn’t mean we need to be somber.    “I think there’s some great ways that a person or a family can make that – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – a part of the celebration of preparation for Christmas. It doesn’t have to be a dour kind of experience,” he said.   The simplest way Catholics can prepare for Christmas, Fr. Schmitz suggested, is by going to confession during Advent.    “During Advent the faithful are asked not only to prepare themselves to celebrate Christmas, but we’re called to prepare ourselves to meet Jesus at the end of time,” he said.    “There’s a lot of good ways to do that, but I think one of the best ways a person could possibly do that is to go to confession.”   For Kathryn Whitaker of the blog, “Team Whitaker,” observing Advent is all about knowing what works best for your family.    “There are lots and lots of beautiful ideas on Pinterest and other places, but I think you have to find what suits your family and then not apologize or feel badly because someone else is doing it differently,” she said.    In an attempt to dial back the frenzy of Christmas morning, she said her family began look for ways to serve others and be grateful for what they already have in the weeks leading up to it.   “I think for us, it’s just been about pouring a little bit more love, particularly in these next four weeks, in everything that we do.”   The Whitakers pick a local family in need to “adopt” each year by providing gifts and food, or they donate presents to Brown Santa – a tradition named for the brown uniforms members of the Travis County, Texas Sheriff’s Office wear that provides assistance to underprivileged residents, particularly during the Christmas season.   That, plus “lighting” her kindergartner’s Advent wreath – made from tissue paper and toilet paper rolls – and having a Jesse Tree, an ancient tradition of decorating a tree with ornaments that represent the story of salvation, will make up their Advent, which also includes Mass and confession.    Over the years, Whitaker and her family have adapted their Advent season to their “family season.” The year that she and her husband brought their premature son home from the hospital, for example, all they could do was put up the Christmas tree with some ornaments.   “And that was OK,” she said. “And then knowing next Advent, or the next liturgical season that comes up, you can do more. Or you can do less.”   Much like Whitaker, Bonnie Engstrom of the blog “A Knotted Life” said that the best way for a family to observe Advent is by “looking through the options and seeing what will work for them, what will help them create meaningful lessons and memories during that season of their family's life.”   “Then you just gotta walk away from the rest, appreciating that it works for some but confident that you're doing a good job.”   In recent years, the Engstroms have “scaled back our Advent activities by a ton” by just focusing on the Advent wreath and a few saints’ feast days. Festivities that many Americans typically do in the time before Christmas – such as looking at light displays, drinking cocoa and watching Christmas movies – are all saved for the actual Christmas season.    “It has greatly bolstered Christmas beyond December 25th and has brought a lot more peace and joy to our home, while greatly reducing the stress,” she said, which is a definite “win-win.”   Gradually filling the nativity scene, adding ornaments to their Jesse Tree and celebrating St. Nicholas’ feast day with her kids are all fun ways that Engstrom said she can “trick them into learning about her faith.”   While engaging her kids in celebrating Advent is important, she said observing this season has also helped her grow in her relationship with God.   “The silence, the simple beauty, the focus on preparation,” she said, “those things have really helped me create the still in my interior and exterior life for God to speak to me.”    Essentially, there’s not just one way to do Advent, and that’s fine.

This article was originally published on CNA Dec. 5, 2015.  

Taxpayer-funded abortion law met with Illinois lawsuit

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 15:00

Springfield, Ill., Dec 2, 2017 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new Illinois law requiring public funding of elective abortions is opposed by pro-life groups and taxpayers who have sued the state, calling the measure illegal.

“The people of Illinois totally reject taxpayer-funded abortions,” said Peter Breen, Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society, a non-profit legal group in Chicago, in a statement released Thursday..

“Even apart from the sincere moral objections that many folks have to paying for abortions, there is no money in this year’s Illinois state budget to pay for them,” Breen continued.

House Bill 40 was signed into law by Illinois governor Bruce Rauner in late September.  Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago criticized the governor, saying that he was disappointed Rauner had broken promises to veto the bill, according to the Chicago Tribune.

If it takes effect, the new law will allow taxpayer dollars to fund free abortions for individuals with Medicaid coverage, and for state employees with health insurance, throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

There would be no limit on the number of abortions covered by Medicaid and no limit on the amount of money spent on abortions. According to the Thomas More Society, this could mean that state would pay between $15-$30 million for abortions, funding as many as 30,000 abortions annually.

The taxpayer lawsuit, which was filed in the Sangamon County Circuit Court and drafted by Breen, charges that the law is illegal, because there are not adequate funds to pay for elective abortions while still fulfilling the balanced budget requirements of the Illinois Constitution.

Among the groups supporting the complain are the Diocese of Springfield, legislators, and pro-life groups, including the Pro-Life Action League, the Illinois Right to Life Action, Illinois Federation for Right to Life, and a handful of local pro-life organizations.

“Regardless of your feelings about abortion, it is incredibly fiscally irresponsible to enact a law designed to spend millions of dollars that Illinois does not have,” Breen said.

“The state legislative process has steps have must be correctly followed in order to prevent budget-busting laws like this from being ramrodded through. It is part of our civic process of checks and balances.”

The lawsuit will be heard by Associate Judge Brian T. Otwell on Dec. 7 at the Sangamon County Courthouse.

Near Texas-Mexico border, Catholics plan a community of encounter

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 06:05

Brownsville, Texas, Dec 2, 2017 / 04:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A partnership among the Diocese of Brownsville, businesses, and other community partners aims to create a self-sustaining space where area residents can learn, play, find services, and meet others from different backgrounds.

“My intention is that this be a place where you can encounter and enjoy knowing other people,” Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville said at a Nov. 29 dedication ceremony at the project site. “My hope, especially for the families that are here, is that this land will continue to be a land that bears fruit - fruit of hope, of joy, of laughter and learning, especially for our young people.”

The project, called Plaza Amistad, will include a health care clinic and education center, retail stores, a farming field school, a farmer’s market, a community garden, and a café.

There will also be venues for soccer, volleyball and other sports, as well as a perimeter trail, the Rio Grande Guardian reports. It takes its name from the Spanish word for friendship.

The project’s first phase, developed over a six-month period, will use 14 acres outside Donna, Texas, which is located 50 miles northwest of Brownsville, and just eight miles from the US-Mexico border.

The land was donated by the Bonham family, non-Catholics who are prominent citrus growers in the Rio Grande Valley.

It is modeled on public-private partnerships to gather support and expertise from various community partners.

“For me it is a perfect partnership and I am grateful that God opened the doors,” Bishop Flores said. “We have to take a few risks because we haven’t done this before. This is all kind of new – the church, businesses, local community organizations, the more the merrier, working together as a community of communities.”

“We want a community that helps the community,” the bishop continued. “To me that is part of the Catholic vision of life. We were not put on this earth to only help Catholics, we were put on this earth to help everyone because we are Catholics, and that means, for example through Catholic Charities, we don’t ask people what religion they are, we don’t ask them if they have papers; we ask them, 'are you hungry, are you thirsty, do you need a place to stay?'.”

For Patti Sunday, a consultant who has worked on the project, Plaza Amistad is “one of the first steps at solving our own problems,” she told CNA Nov. 30.

The project aims to host enough profitable services that it can fund vital services like health care at an “extremely affordable rate” for people who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

The effort aimed to combine both making a profit and good stewardship, taking a new path in a field that often involves the same people competing for limited grants and government funding.

The Brownsville region has developed a border culture of its own where U.S. and Mexico territory meet. Beneficiaries of the project might or might not be undocumented.

The Plaza Amistad model focuses on the “working poor,” people who take in about $40,000 per year per family of four. It is believed they have enough income to support such a community, while also benefitting from affordable community services.

The plaza is located next to entry-level housing, while the project’s farmer’s market will also bring people together across class lines. Population growth projections suggest the area near Plaza Amistad will grow.

“It’s a different vision, and I think it is something God will bless,” said the bishop. “With the hard work of a lot of people, I think it could be a model for the whole country.”

Miguel Santos, director of strategic planning for the Brownsville diocese, said Plaza Amistad is based on “the premise of human dignity, of both solidarity and subsidiarity, of not just giving them a handout but a hand up.”

There could be a Catholic church and parish in the future, second phase of the project.

“We will have a chapel,” Bishop Flores said. “It will be a place to let the Church do what I think the Church does best, which is gather people in the knowledge of the love of God, and in the love of neighbor.”

For the bishop, it is natural that the Church gathers her people and then “opens up the doors, as the Holy Father Pope Francis says, so that we can welcome.”

“For the beauty of what it is to be human is that we were meant to live in community and not isolated,” Flores added.

The diocese is the leading agent in the public-private partnership.

Santos said that while the diocese has provided an initial outlay of funding, “the idea is to partner with different entities that can bring to the table their particular expertise.”

“Our interest is to partner with different institutions who can each be responsible for the operations of their specific part of the project,” he said.

Fifteen college sophomores are helping design commercial and medical architectural portions of the plaza, according to Jim Glusing, a civil and architectural engineering professor and director of the Institute for Architectural Engineering Heritage at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Parts of their proposals could be considered for inclusion in the final design.

Kyndel Bennett, a member of the traditionally Methodist Bonham family, said he thought the project was “a win-win for all involved.”

“It is a project we are all excited about,” Bennett said.

Go to Mass on Sunday and on Christmas, bishops say

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 19:00

Denver, Colo., Dec 1, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a newsletter issued earlier this year, the U.S. Catholic bishops addressed questions regarding whether Sunday and Holy Day Mass obligations can be fulfilled with a “two-for-one” Mass attendance at Christmas this year.

In a “relatively rare” situation which last occurred in 2006, Christmas Day this year falls on a Monday.

Because Catholics are obliged to attend Mass for Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, some have asked whether a Sunday evening Mass on Christmas Eve would fulfill both the obligation for a Sunday Mass and the obligation for a Christmas Day Mass.

The U.S. Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship has said the faithful should attend two Masses to fulfill their Sunday and Christmas Mass obligations.

Since the mid-twentieth century, the Church has allowed for Catholics to attend vigil, or anticipated, Masses for Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation as “a convenience for many of the faithful.”

“Most canon lawyers defer to Venerable Pope Pius XII’s Apostolic Constitution Christus Dominus (January 6, 1953), which gave 4:00 p.m. as the earliest time when anticipated Masses may be scheduled,” the bishops said in their 2017 letter.

This means that the Sunday obligation for Dec. 24 can be fulfilled on Sunday, or anytime after 4 p.m. on Dec. 23, and the Christmas Mass obligation can be fulfilled on Monday, anytime after 4 p.m. on Dec. 24.  

In the case of two consecutive days of obligation, as at Christmas this year, the “prevailing view of many canon lawyers is that each obligation must be fulfilled with a separate Mass,” the bishops said.

“Thus, when consecutive obligations occur on Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday, the faithful must attend Mass twice to fulfill two separate obligations.”

According to the bishops, the question of whether such obligations could be fulfilled in one Mass has been raised before by bishops in what is called a “dubium”, which was “answered in the negative by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy and approved by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1970.”

“The Church’s intention in extending the possibility of meeting Mass obligations through vigil Masses, while intended to make it easier to fulfill obligations, was never envisioned as a legal loophole, and, hence, separate obligations remain,” the bishops said.

The bishops emphasized that they hoped that Catholics “foster a love for the Sacred Liturgy and hold a desire to celebrate the holy days as fully as is reasonably possible.”

They also noted that pastors may grant dispensations to individuals or families “for a just cause and subject to any regulations laid down by the diocesan bishop.”

“At the same time, diocesan bishops may examine their regional circumstances and grant general dispensations or commutations, while permitting their pastors to make judgments in individual cases.”

What big companies oppose a small business' case for religious freedom?

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 17:00

Denver, Colo., Dec 1, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A small Colorado bakery’s religious freedom lawsuit has drawn opposition from 37 large companies, including Apple, Amazon, and Citigroup, a development which the bakery’s attorney says should be a cause of concern for all Americans.

“There’s an incredible amount of power, economic and political and cultural power, opposed to the exercise of these kind of freedoms,” Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA Nov. 30.

Tedesco’s legal group is representing the Lakewood, Colo. bakery Masterpiece Cakes, owned by Jack Phillips. In July 2012, Phillips declined to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding on the grounds to do so would contradict his Christian beliefs. After the couple filed a legal complaint, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered him to serve same-sex weddings and undergo anti-discrimination training.

The bakery has appealed the ruling up through the U.S. Supreme Court, contending that its artistic expression is protected free speech. Oral arguments are set to begin Dec. 5.

Among the companies signing a 20-page brief opposing the bakery’s claim were Airbnb, Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, Cisco Systems, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Intel, Levi Strauss & Co., Lyft, Marriott, MassMutual, Paypal, Pfizer, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Prudential, Uber, WeddingWire and Yelp.

“Smooth, predictable, and efficient business transactions may be disrupted if businesses decline to serve amici’s employees on either speech or religious grounds,” said the brief, whose co-signers are known by the Latin word for friends, “amici.”

The LGBT activist organization The Human Rights Campaign takes credit for the brief, which was authored by the international law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

Tedesco thought the brief represented a mindset that is common among corporations.

“I think they have every right to advocate these points of view,” he said. “I just think people ought to understand, unfortunately, that these powerful corporations are largely in lockstep on this.”

“We see them exercising their influence across the board in these cases and issues,” he said of the companies. “People should be concerned because they carry a lot of weight. We need others to be an antidote to the cultural and political power that they can flex in these kinds of situations.”

The brief claimed that allowing speech or religious-based exemptions to non-discrimination laws would “substantially weaken” such laws and make the companies’ own employees more vulnerable to discrimination, both in their communities and while performing their jobs, thus interfering with business.

Tedesco said such claims are “simply not true.”

“Jack Phillips’ case deals with public accommodations law, not an employment non-discrimination law. And it deals with it under very narrow circumstances, where that public accommodations law is being used to force an artist to create art that violates his beliefs.”

“If Jack Phillips wins his case, all it does, rightly so, is affirm the constitutional rights of artists and other creative pros to create expression and promote ideas that are consistent with their beliefs, and decline to promote ideas that violate their beliefs,” said Tedesco.

While critics of Phillips’ case predict horrible consequences should he prevail, Tedesco said that victory for critics of religious freedom would have a far-reaching impact.

“This is a freedom that impacts everyone. We all have a stake in the outcome of the case,” he said. “Their view is that if you open a business and create expression as part of your business, you can be forced to create anything that violates your beliefs.”

Tedesco suggested a hypothetical case of a religious group asking an atheist painter to paint “God Exists” signs or murals. The religious group “doesn’t have the right to force him to do that under the threat of applying laws against him,” said the attorney.

The companies’ brief said they believe that non-discrimination laws “ensure all Americans are treated with dignity and respect.” They said such laws improve profitability, productivity and creativity in the workplace. Arguing that the lawsuit’s exemption claims are “broad and ill-defined,” they said such claims will “create uncertainty and impose unnecessary costs and administrative complexities on employers”

The brief outlined a particular view of business, saying “The only prerequisite to conducting business is, and should continue to be, whether the customer can meet the business’ requirements for purchase.”

For Tedesco, however, the Colorado civil rights commission’s ruling against Phillips in effect imposed a “religious test on being in the wedding industry.” Its impact could mean a different future.

“If you have a sincere religious conviction, whether you’re Muslim or Jewish or Christian, and you can’t promote that idea in the art that you create, you can’t be in that industry,” he said. “That does far more damage to the principles of a free society than anything the other side tries to claim.”

Supporters of Masterpiece Cakes, among them the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Colorado Catholic Conference, the Catholic Medical Association and other Catholic nonprofits, have also submitted amici curiae briefs.

Those briefs emphasized that religious freedom and the free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantee individuals the right to seek the truth in religious matters “and then adhere to that truth through private and public action.”

Some of the companies siding against the bakery have previously made similar First Amendment arguments on their own behalf.

In April 2016, Apple opposed a proposed religious freedom law in the state of Georgia. At the same time, it argued against a court order requiring it to create a backdoor to its software encryption, after the FBI said the company was blocking access to information on the iPhone of a suspect involved in the San Bernardino mass shootings.

The company argued that computer code is protected speech and the court order “amounts to compelled speech and viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.”

Some nonprofits also aim to restrict religious freedom protections, including a multi-million dollar effort being organized through groups like the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative launched by the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund.

Pittsburgh priest rescinds dispensation from Advent Mass obligation

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 14:15

Pittsburgh, Pa., Dec 1, 2017 / 12:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A parish priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has rescinded a dispensation he claimed would excuse his parishioners from the Sunday Mass obligation on the weekend of Christmas this year, the diocese has confirmed.

Because Christmas falls on a Monday, Catholics are obligated to attend Mass on two consecutive days - one for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and one for Christmas.

In October, the Diocese of Pittsburgh sent out an e-mail to all of its priests, reminding them of this obligation and reiterating the importance of keeping the Mass schedules in accordance with guidance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

However, in a parish bulletin announcement on Sunday, Nov. 26, Fr. Lou Vallone, pastor of St. Catherine’s parish in Crescent, Pa. attempted to offer a dispensation from Mass obligations to his parishioners.

Vallone wrote that he would dispense anyone of the Sunday Mass obligation if they met the following three requirements: They read the dispensation announcement in the parish bulletin, they were a parishioner of the parish either by “geography or registration,” and finally, that all giving envelopes for both celebrations be placed in the collection basket of the Mass of their choosing that weekend.

Fr. Nick Vaskov, the executive director of communications for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, told CNA that the diocese was made aware of the broad dispensation and “saw a flaw in it, because while a pastor can dispense an individual, he can’t generally offer a dispensation for the individual to apply to himself.”

Canon law allows for individual dispensations from Mass obligations in the cases of a just cause, such as “in case of a natural disaster like a blizzard or something like that,” Fr. Vaskov said, but dispensations can not be given generally or without just cause.

“In light of this we followed up with (Vallone)...just reiterating the importance of educating the faithful as to the importance of the Advent season, the beauty of the liturgy in that sense and the anticipation of Christmas, and that the schedule for that weekend shouldn’t change,” Vaskov told CNA.

Vaskov confirmed to CNA that Vallone had rescinded his dispensation as of Thursday evening.


LA Archdiocese creates website to take action for DACA youth

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 19:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 30, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, CA has encouraged Catholics in the U.S. to advocate for an extension to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before the spring deadline.

“As you know, the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will expire on March 5, 2018 unless Congress acts to make the DACA protections permanent,” stated Archbishop Gomez.

“Now is the time for you to contact your Representative in the House… urge your representatives right now to tell the House Leadership – Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy – to do the right thing and make the DACA protections permanent,” Gomez continued.

In Sept. 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it would be phasing out the DACA program.

Showing its support for the DACA program, the Archdiocese of LA created a website to make it easier for individuals to contact their legislators, encouraging Congress to make the DACA protections permanent.

The website links users with their representatives, and prompts them to email or call with a message to make DACA protections permanent by the end of the year.

More than 800,000 people rely on the DACA program, a U.S. immigration policy that makes allowances for undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a work permit and deferred action from deportation.

Most of the people who are part of the DACA program have lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years and were brought into the country by their parents.

“These are the people that live next door. They go to work and we sit next to them at church on Sunday,” Gomez said.

There are 12 business days left for Congress to take action in 2017, but the official deadline is March 5, 2018.

“This is an urgent moment. If we do not reach out to our House members, nobody else is going to,” Gomez said.

“May God bless you for your concern for these DACA recipients and their families.

Archbishop says #staywoke this Christmas season

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 17:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 30, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In preparation for the first Sunday of Advent, the Archbishop of Los Angeles has said the season is a time to spiritually “stay woke,” shaking off apathy and becoming more aware of God’s presence.

“My prayer for us this year is that we will make this Advent a spiritual adventure of living with a new awareness of the presence of God,” said Archbishop José Gomez in a Nov. 28 column.

“Advent is the time for us to wake from our sleep! When we are ‘awake’ to who God is, then we are ‘awake’ to who we are – and how precious every life is.”

The archbishop explained that Advent is a time of waiting for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but it is also an opportunity for God to draw closer to his people in relationship, noting this desire of God to be close to creation is a unique aspect of Christianity.

“And we believe that our God comes to be with us, that he loves us so much that he makes himself one of us – sharing in the whole experience of our humanity, beginning as a little child in a mother’s womb.”

“This is the beautiful truth we anticipate in these short weeks that lead to Christmas,” he said.

Archbishop Gomez warned Christians of becoming “numb” to the presence of God. He referred to the examples in New Testament, citing the Apostles who fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane and servants who did not stay awake for the master’s return.

Reflecting on the social media #staywoke, the archbishop said that “remaining awake” means more than just awareness of social and political issues. Instead, he said that Advent is an opportunity to be “‘awake’ to who God is,” and “awake’ to who we are — and how precious every life is.”

“So, we can make a new effort during this holy season – to slow down a little in our lives; to turn down the volume a little; to take some time and make some room in our lives just to be quiet with God.”

This takes practice, he said and cited the example of the recently beatified Blessed Solanus Casey. The archbishop said that although many miracles have been attributed to the Capuchin priest, they weren’t what made him holy. Rather, it was his desire to serve God constantly, and to find God in the present.

“This is our purpose in life – to be faithful to the present moment. When we are ‘awake’ to God’s presence, our hearts are open to doing his will and living according to his loving plan for us. And he has created us to do great things,” he said.

Archbishop Gomez called on Catholics to pray to be made more aware of God’s unlimited love and to understand that the person is most alive in this love.

“We need to talk to God and tell him: ‘Lord, I know that you are near me. I know that, in your love, you come to walk with me.’”

Memorial Mass held in US for victims of Islamic State

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 21:26

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2017 / 07:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In observance of a week promoting awareness of Christians persecuted internationally, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil offered a Mass in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday for victims of the Islamic State, stating that suffering offer opportunities for kindness.

“Is there a blessing in being persecuted for the faith?” Archbishop Bashar Warda asked Nov. 28.

“The grace of being persecuted: God shows his love and care through the solidarity being shown by those outside. Also, the suffering gives a chance to people of a good will to show their love.”

Organized by Catholic agencies including Knights of Columbus and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Mass was held at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. A day of prayer was held on the previous Sunday for Islamic State victims, all part of “Solidarity in Suffering: a Week of Awareness for Persecuted Christians.”

Islamic State invaded Iraq in 2014, forcing a large majority of Christians to seek refuge in or near Erbil. There, Archbishop Warda has helped displaced Christians return to their homes and has overseen a humanitarian efforts to provide basic necessities for displaced communities.

Although it is not the positive will of God for his people to suffer, he said, it is an opportunity for Christians to learn how to love and to find their identity in God.

“When we give with love and receive with love, we learn to be the children of God who gives with love and delights in our prayers,” he said.

Archbishop Warda applauded a promise of US vice president Mike Pence to provide more aid to the people in Iraq, and thanked the humanitarian aid funded thus far by the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights of Columbus has committed more $17 million to aid minorities persecuted in the Middle East, including $2 million to help rebuild the predominantly Christian town of Karemlesh, located fewer than 20 miles southeast of Mosul.

What are banned from DC buses? Catholic Christmas ads.

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christmas-themed ads about the “perfect gift” of the Advent season have been wrongly barred from District of Columbia buses, the Archdiocese of Washington has said in a lawsuit challenging a policy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority against religious ads.

“Really the issue here isn’t so much our specific ad, or how we present it,” said Ed McFadden, the archdiocese’s secretary for communications. “It’s shutting down our ability to promote our faith or to share our faith in the public square, that is really what we’re talking about here.”

McFadden told CNA Nov. 28 that the ad policy removes “any respectable promotion of faith in the public square.”

“We believe that that’s just a violation of our First Amendment rights,” he said.

The advertisement depicts the silhouette of shepherds against a night sky in which an apparent Star of Bethlehem is shining. The ad reads “Find the perfect gift,” adding the website and the hashtag “#PerfectGift.”

The website describes Christ as “the perfect gift” and exhorts the visitor to “Find the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas.” It invites visitors to Mass and hosts a video reflection from Fr. Conrad Murphy,  the archdiocese’s director of worship, about his favorite Christmas carol.

The site links to Christmas Mass times and Advent and Christmas traditions, as well as opportunities to give to families in need or volunteer to serve the homeless or others through Catholic Charities.

Metro spokeswoman Sherry Ly said that the agency’s advertising policy changed in 2015 to ban “issue-oriented advertising, including political, religious and advocacy advertising.”

“The ad in question was declined because it is prohibited by WMATA’s current advertising guidelines,” Ly said, according to the D.C.-based news radio station WTOP.

The transit agency in previous legal filings has said it rejected other ads, like those against trafficking wildlife, anti-prostitution ads, and Birthright Israel ads.

However, the archdiocese’s lawsuit noted that the agency has accepted ads for yoga and for the Salvation Army, a Protestant religious movement famous for its red kettle charitable campaigns ahead of Christmas.

According to McFadden, WMATA’s legal counsel had said the archdiocese’s ad “depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion.”

Kim Fiorentino, archdiocese chancellor and general counsel, said the archdiocese believes rejection of the ad is “a clear violation of fundamental free speech and a limitation on the exercise of our faith.”

“We look forward to presenting our case to affirm the right of all to express such viewpoints in the public square,” Fiorentino said in a statement.

The archdiocese has made a separate agreement to place similar ads on the District of Columbia’s bus shelters, whose advertising is operated by Clear Channel Outdoor.  These ads contain a Bible verse.

McFadden said the archdiocese has been using bus ads for major campaigns for close to ten years. City traffic creates a “captive audience” and the buses tend to go into areas that lack bus shelters.

“This is our best way to reach different communities where other forms of media aren’t necessarily available on the street,” he said. The campaign strategy promotes ads on multiple platforms to remind people about Christmas and perhaps encourage them to go to Christmas Mass or volunteer to help others.

In McFadden’s view, the proposed WMATA ad was “comparatively mild” in terms of promulgating religion.

“This ad campaign is really just as much about the joy of the holiday season, reminding people why we do what we do, but also giving them the option to help their neighbor through various volunteer efforts,” he said. “This wasn’t simply about going back to Mass, this was also about trying to be a positive voice in the community at the time when we probably need it.”

Susan Timoney, secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the archdiocese, was among those who helped develop the campaign.

“Our ad was designed to be placed on metro bus exteriors to reach the broadest audience and to invite everyone to experience the well-accepted joyful spirit of the season, or to share their many blessings with others less fortunate through service opportunities,” she said.

Timoney said the archdiocese wanted to encourage society to help care for “our most vulnerable neighbors,” to “share our blessings,” and to “welcome all who wish to hear the Good News.”


Activist group apologizes to priest after lawsuit dismissed

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 22:19

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 27, 2017 / 08:19 pm (CNA).- An advocacy group has issued an apology to a St. Louis priest for "any false or inaccurate statements" regarding allegations of abuse, after criminal charges against him were dropped and subsequent lawsuits were settled or dismissed.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis published the apology from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) on Monday.

“The SNAP defendants never want to see anyone falsely accused of a crime. Admittedly, false reports of clergy sexual abuse do occur. The SNAP defendants have no personal knowledge as to the complaints against Fr. Joseph Jiang and acknowledge that all matters and claims against Fr. Jiang have either been dismissed or adjudicated in favor of Fr. Jiang,” the group stated.

SNAP also apologized for the harm that false accusations can cause to the priest as well as to the Catholic Church as a whole.

“SNAP apologizes for any false or inaccurate statements related to the complaints against Fr. Joseph Jiang that it or its representatives made which in any way disparaged Fr. Joseph Jiang, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Monsignor Joseph D. Pins and the Archdiocese of St. Louis,” the group stated.

A statement from the Archdiocese of St. Louis said the apology was issued “as part of a settlement with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in a defamation lawsuit filed by Father Jiang in 2015.”

Criminal charges filed against Father Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang, after an allegation of abuse, were dismissed in 2015. Jiang had also passed a polygraph test, during which he denied that he had ever abused a minor, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  

Following the dismissal of the charges, Jiang filed a lawsuit against SNAP officials and against the parents of the minor, on the grounds that the false accusations had had a detrimental impact on his life.  

In 2016, a federal judge ruled that SNAP had made false statements against Fr. Jiang “negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth.” The first part of the lawsuit with SNAP and the parents of the minor was settled last month. A federal judge dismissed the second part of the case earlier this month, on the grounds that too much time had passed before Jiang decided to add the additional parties to the lawsuit.

Fr. Jiang had been previously accused of improper contact with a teenage girl who attended the Basilica of St. Louis, where he was associate pastor. Charges of child endangerment and witness tampering were dropped in 2013.

In January of this year, a former SNAP employee, Gretchen Rachel Hammond, filed suit against the organization, claiming that SNAP accepts “kickbacks” from plaintiffs’ attorneys to whom it refers alleged victims.  SNAP denied those claims, but SNAP president Barbara Blaine resigned from the organization shortly after the suit was filed.

“SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors – it exploits them,” Hammond said in the lawsuit.

US tax reform bill could repeal Johnson Amendment

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 16:38

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2017 / 02:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Johnson Amendment, a 1954 provision which prohibits churches and nonprofit groups from making public endorsements of political candidates, could be repealed through the tax reform bill currently in the US Senate.

The repeal was packaged into the bill which passed the House a few weeks ago, but has yet to be approved by the Senate. Congressional action is required to formally repeal the law.

As the Johnson Amendment currently stands, religious ministers, churches, and nonprofit charitable organizations are barred from engaging in political activity, including endorsing candidates, at the risk of losing their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

The Johnson Amendment was named after then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and his re-election campaign in 1954. He wrapped the amendment into the tax code overhaul in order to ban nonprofit groups from engaging in political campaigns.

The repeal would overthrow the 63-year old amendment, and churches could begin receiving as much as $1.7 billion from donors each year – money that traditional political committees would normally receive, according to the New York Times.

Some of the repeal’s critics believe that the shift would create sham churches and increase the amount of untraceable political spending.

In addition, many religious groups, such as the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty are opposing the repeal, saying it could threaten the stability of the mission of religious groups.

However, other Christian groups have applauded the repeal, including the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, who believes the current law suppresses free speech.

“The law has a chilling effect on free speech,” said Michael Farris, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, according to the New York Times.

The Senate will be voting this week on its own version of the tax bill, which does not currently include the Johnson Amendment reform.

US, Mexican bishops call for 'people's voice' in NAFTA negotiations

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. and Mexican bishops’ conferences have issued a joint statement saying NAFTA renegotiations must respect the poor, alleviate the need for migration, protect laborers and intellectual property rights, and care for creation, indigenous people, and small farmers.

The statement, issued Nov. 21, urged leaders to remember the “human and moral dimensions” of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated many tariffs on trade and investment among the US, Mexico, and Canada.

In July 2017, President Donald Trump initiated talks to renegotiate the agreement, criticizing the impact of the agreement on the American labor market. Talks stalled this week after five rounds, as the Mexican and Canadian government have shown little interest in proposals for revision suggested by the Trump administration.

The joint statement from U.S. and Mexican bishops called for measures beyond NAFTA to “prevent the deepening of inequality between families and regions.”   The statement also called for negotiators to develop mechanisms respecting “participation rights” in the negotiation process, noting that “human dignity demands that people have a voice in decisions that touch their lives.”        

“The Church believes that trade must, first of all, benefit people, in addition to markets and economies. It is crucial that these complex and multifaceted agreements arise from a sound legal and moral framework that protects the common good and the most vulnerable,” the statement said.

“If adequate compensatory economic, political, and social policies are not adopted that mitigate and counteract the previously mentioned adverse effects, as has been the case thus far,” the bishops warned, “inequalities between regions, sectors, and various groups will deepen, as well as forced displacement and disordered, involuntary and unsafe migration, as well as violence, will continue to predominate.”

As ratifying NAFTA was considered by Congress in 1993, the US bishops wrote a letter to the Senate expressly declining to take a position on the proposed agreement, “given the many specific prudential judgments required, the lack of a clearly compelling case for or against this particular agreement and the absence of strong consensus among the bishops here or in Mexico.”

The 1993 letter called for any international trade agreement to be attentive to the poor, laborers, migration, small farmers, and others, expressing concerns similar to those raised by the 2017 joint statement.

Denver bishop to offer Christ the King Mass for immigrants and refugees

Sat, 11/25/2017 - 09:00

Denver, Colo., Nov 25, 2017 / 07:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver will celebrate a Spanish-language Mass for immigrants and refugees on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 26, at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

The Solemnity of Christ the King is a day historically significant to many Hispanics. In the 1920s, Catholic persecution in Mexico led to a 10-year conflict between the Catholic “Cristeros” and the government. Mexican Catholics, lay and clergy, were killed proclaiming “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” or “Long live Christ the King.”

The mass will be attended by Berenice Rendón Talavera, Consul General of Mexico, and Juan Fernando Valey, Consul de Guatemala.

Bishop Rodriguez has called for more support for migrants at the parish level in the Archdiocese of Denver, stating that the Gospels direct Catholics to lovingly welcome immigrants with generosity.

“Holy Scripture is very clear about the care and hospitality toward the immigrant,” Rodriguez said, according to a Nov. 21 press release.

“‘The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Lev. 19:34).”

The bishop acknowledged the difficult legal battles many immigrants face, and expressed hope that the Mass would bring consolation to those who face deportation, as well as their families.

“Many of our youth see their future dreams threatened. Siblings and friends, who came to work honestly, face deportation, and parents, couples and families have been torn apart,” Rodriguez said.

“We want to lift up the intentions of the immigrant community in this Mass,” the bishop said. “For the Psalmist says, ‘Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”

After the Mass, a reception will be held at a nearby Knights of Columbus Hall, where there will be a performance of Ballet Folklórico and brief remarks from Bishop Rodriguez.

Little Sisters face new lawsuit over their HHS mandate exemption

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 05:47

Washington D.C., Nov 24, 2017 / 03:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Little Sisters of the Poor are returning to court to defend their exemption from the federal contraception mandate, after two states filed lawsuits challenging the exemption.

“No one needs nuns in order to get contraceptives, and no one needs these guys reigniting the last administration's divisive and unnecessary culture war,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket Law and lead attorney for the Little Sisters.

The Little Sisters of Poor are religious sisters dedicated to living with and caring for the elderly poor. In recent years, they have been embroiled in a lawsuit challenging the federal contraception mandate, which requires them to offer an employee health plan covering contraception, sterilizations and some drugs that can cause early abortions. Catholic teaching holds contraception and abortion to be gravely immoral.  

Last month, the Trump administration announced changes to the mandate, including a broad religious exemption that offered protection from its demands to the Little Sisters and other objecting religious non-profits.

“The new rule should mean that their lawsuit against the federal government will soon end,” said Becket, the religious liberty law firm representing the sisters.

However, the states of California and Pennsylvania are now suing, challenging the Little Sisters’ religious exemption.

The HHS contraceptive mandate, issued under the Affordable Care Act, required that cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and some drugs that can cause abortions be included in employer health plans.

The original mandate had only a narrow exemption for houses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries. Following a wave of lawsuits on the grounds of religious liberty, the Obama administration released a “religious freedom accommodation” for faith-based non-profits that were not directly affiliated with a house of worship.

Under the accommodation, these groups could send a form to the government outlining their objection to the mandate, which would trigger a government directive to an insurer or third party administrator to provide the cost-free contraceptive coverage in employee health plans.

However, many groups argued that the accommodation still required them to participate in the provision of products that they believed to be immoral. Furthermore, they argued that, despite the government’s insistence that birth control products are free for insurers to provide, the cost of the objectionable products would ultimately be passed on to them in the form of higher premiums.

More than 300 plaintiffs filed lawsuits against the mandate. In 2014, Hobby Lobby, a craft supply retailer owned by a Christian family, won a case against the mandate in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.

In 2016, a bundle of cases challenging the mandate and its accommodation made its way to the Supreme Court – including the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, and other Christian colleges and universities.

After oral arguments in the case in March of 2016, the Supreme Court, in a rare move in the middle of a case, directed both the government and the plaintiffs to submit briefs explaining if, and how, a conclusion could be reached providing the contraceptive coverage while at the same time respecting the religious freedom of the non-profits.

Both parties submitted briefs, and in May of 2016, the Court voided the federal circuit court decisions involving the plaintiffs, and sent the cases back to their respective federal courts. The Court directed the lower courts to give all parties time to come to an agreement that satisfied their needs.

In October 2017, the Trump administration announced a modification of the mandate. While the original rule remains in place, a much broader exemption is granted to non-profits and some for-profit companies, if they can demonstrate a religiously-based objection to the mandate’s demands.

A moral exemption to the mandate is also permitted, although not for publicly-traded for-profit companies. The moral exemption would protect, for example, secular crisis pregnancy centers, which object to the mandate on moral rather than religious grounds.

The “accommodation” offered to non-profits by the Obama administration is now voluntary. Non-profits can have their insurer or third party administrator offer the coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause abortions, but they do not have to do so under law.


Commentary: Giving thanks for trials - and for providence

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 11:07

Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2017 / 09:07 am (CNA).- The best feast our family has ever had was in a hospital room, four years ago, on Christmas. Our daughter was being treated for leukemia, and my wife was living in the hospital with her. My son and I brought supplies for a makeshift picnic, and the four of us spent a long afternoon, with an acute sense of gratitude for the gift of one another's presence.

Our daughter spent almost a year in cancer treatment, most of it living with my wife in a hospital's oncology wing, an hour away. It was a difficult time, in which we faced the difficulty of our daughter's illness, and the difficulty of being often separated. 

And yet, we were aware then, as we are now, what a graced time that was for our family. We were aware of how much the Lord was doing for us. We were aware how much he was providing for us. We were aware, in short, how much we had to be thankful for.

When we find ourselves radically dependent on the Lord to get us through a time of trial or suffering, we become aware of how much love he pours out into our lives. When we can't ignore how much we need the Lord, we become all the more aware of what he's doing for us. This is why times of trial are also, so often, times of deep and sincere gratitude.

I'm often amazed when I talk with missionaries, living in very difficult circumstances, who seem also to live with a real sense of what God has given them, and real gratitude for how he has loved them. Their lives, which are often unpredictable and uncomfortable, seem to inculcate an understanding of what it means to depend on Divine Providence, and a gratitude for the small graces the Lord has given them.

It's much more difficult to really be thankful when we are comfortable enough to maintain illusions of self-sufficiency, or to focus on trivialities and our petty desires. It is often harder to see the ways the Lord is working in our lives when we have settled into a kind of pleasant complacency in ordinary living.

This is a reminder that disciples of Jesus should avoid the kind of comfortable complacency that the world often calls success or security. That the illusions of security and worldly success are inimical to the kinds of circumstances in which we grow in intimate unity, and sincerity gratitude, for the Lord.

In short, when our lives require sacrifice, or entail hardship, because we are stretched by the demands of love, we are far more likely to experience the power of God's goodness, and to be grateful for the ways in which he loves us.

If we want a deeper unity with God, we should consider the ways in which he invites us to deny ourselves for the sake of love, and we should pick up our crosses. If we want to experience the kind of gratitude that comes from real, and powerful, experiences of God's Providence, we need to give up the idea that our lives are our own, and offer them more fully and freely to the Lord.

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of bishops, priests, and Church leaders, at which we discussed some of the challenges the Church is facing in contemporary American culture. Most of those challenges are well known. It was important to discuss those challenges openly, but by the end of the day, many of us were feeling very discouraged.

After the meeting, I talked with a friend who said that we should be grateful for the challenges of our secular world. He said that it will likely become harder to be a faithful Catholic in our world in the years to come. And he said that the difficulties might invite more of us to intimate unity with God.

This Thanksgiving, we should give thanks for the crosses the Lord has already placed in our lives – the illnesses or struggles which are the occasions in which Christ reveals the depth and constancy of his love for us. We should ask the Lord the ways he is calling us to give ourselves over more concretely to love, and thank him for opportunities to grow in wonder and appreciation for his Providence. And we should thank the Lord for the challenges which may lie ahead us, which might deepen our faith and dependence on the grace of God. 

“In all circumstances,” writes St. Paul, “give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This Thanksgiving, no matter our circumstances, let us give thanks for the love, goodness, and generosity of Jesus Christ, our King.


Cardinal DiNardo: This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for immigrants and refugees

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 07:00

Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2017 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Thanksgiving message, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he is grateful for the gifts and contributions of immigrants and refugees in the United States.

"As we do every year, we will pause this coming Thursday to thank God for the many blessings we enjoy in the United States,” DiNardo said.

“My brother bishops and I, gathered last week in Baltimore, were attentive in a special way to those who are often excluded from this great abundance—the poor, the sick, the addicted, the unborn, the unemployed, and especially migrants and refugees.”

Following the lead of Pope Francis, as well as the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, the U.S. Bishops have been increasingly vocal about their concerns regarding immigration reform and policies, particularly those that harm families or endanger the safety of immigrants.

The U.S. bishops have expressed “a shared and ever-greater sense of alarm—and urgency to act—in the face of policies that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago,” DiNardo said.

These policies include the ending of DACA, which benefited hundreds of thousands of young people who entered the U.S. as migrants, as well as the ending of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for people of several Central American countries, who have sought refuge from violence and natural disasters in the United States.

Earlier this month, the U.S. bishops recommended that the government extend TPS status for tens of thousands of Haitians, who came to the United States after a 2010 earthquake devastated their country.

The bishops, who sent a delegation to assess Haiti’s capability to accept returned nationals, found that the country would not be capable of supporting tens of thousands of people who would be forced to return home. Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that TPS status would end for Haitians in the United States by July 2019.

“One common feature of all these developments is their tendency to tear apart the family, the fundamental building block of our, or any, society,” DiNardo said.

“These threats to so many vulnerable immigrant and refugee families must end now. My brothers have urged me to speak out on their behalf to urge the immediate passage—and signature—of legislation that would alleviate these immediate threats to these families,” he added.

These current issues are symptomatic of a broken immigration system that has long been in need of comprehensive reform, a process which will take years but to which the bishops are committed, in order to ensure that the United States is “welcoming the most vulnerable, ensuring due process and humane treatment, protecting national security, and respecting the rule of law,” DiNardo said.

“So this year, I give thanks for the gift and contributions of immigrants and refugees to our great nation,” he said.

“I also pray that next year, families now under threat will not be broken and dispersed, but instead will be united in joy around their tables, giving thanks for all the blessings our nation has to offer.”