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US bishops: This Easter season, let yourself be filled with joy

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 22:31

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2017 / 08:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).-

Easter is a joyous reminder that Jesus’ Resurrection overcomes fear and doubt, the U.S. bishops said in their 2017 Easter message.

“Through Christ's passion, His burial in the tomb and His glorious resurrection, we come to realize the enormity of the Lord's sacrifice for us,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said April 17.

While we may feel unworthy of this love, he said, “Let us not be afraid. Let's allow ourselves to be taken – even seized – with Easter joy.”

Cardinal DiNardo, who heads the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, reflected on Mary Magdalene’s fear and doubt as she stood by the Tomb of Jesus Christ.

“There, it was Jesus who rescued Mary from her fears and darkness by calling her name,” the cardinal said. “Jesus calls out to each of us by name today as He did the very first Easter Sunday. His promise fulfilled. His word brings life, ‘I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine’.”

“Jesus waits for you and me, embracing us in our moments of greatest need and desire,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Welcome the love of God into your life. Share it those around you, especially the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers.”

Cardinal DiNardo’s message was recorded in a video posted to the Facebook page of the U.S. bishops’ conference.


Kansas project helps clients escape the predatory loan cycle

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 18:10

Salina, Kan., Apr 17, 2017 / 04:10 pm (The Register).- In 2015, Shannon found herself swimming in debt from a title loan. She faithfully made the $200 monthly payments. Unfortunately, the entire $200 went to interest.

“I kept paying the interest on it and wasn’t getting anywhere,” she said.

None of it went to pay down the original $900 loan.

“The first time I took a loan out, I was behind on rent,” Shannon said. “Then something else came up and it got out of control. I could never see getting myself out of the hole. I thought the loan would be a burden that would be over me forever.”

The Kansas Loan Pool Project, which began in 2013, has assisted 127 people get out of predatory debt. The program is a collaboration with Sunflower Bank in which the predatory debt is refinanced into a traditional loan. In all, more than $80,000 worth of debt has been refinanced through the program.

Shannon came to Catholic Charities of Northern Kansas because she heard about the predatory debt relief program via word of mouth.

Her loan ballooned from the original $900 title loan to nearly $1,300 from the interest and service charges.

It was April 2015 when Shannon first sat in the office of Claudette Humphrey, Director of Stabilization Services at Catholic Charities. Humphrey oversees the KLPP, which helps those like Shannon who are trapped in a cycle of payday lending.

“Most people who go to a predatory lender go to pay a necessity such as rent, mortgage, a car payment or to repair a vehicle so they can continue to work,” Humphrey said.

She said payday or title loans are marketed as a one time ‘quick fix’ for people facing a cash crunch. When the client cannot pay the loan back, they ‘re-loan’ with an additional service fee. Payday loans are balloon notes, with up to 391 percent APR. Title loans are secured with the vehicle’s title, with an average interest rate of 260 percent.

Once a client completes the appropriate paperwork and is approved to participate in the Kansas Loan Pool Project, the client begins monthly coaching with KLPP staff. Each office of Catholic Charities: Hays, Salina and Manhattan, has staff to assist with predatory debt relief. The first order of business is a budget.

“For people who live paycheck to paycheck, budgeting isn’t something they’ve used previously,” Humphrey said. “They often pay the bills they can. We look at a budget to see where exactly the money is going.”

Shannon said grasping her budget was difficult in the beginning.

“When we started, I couldn’t even go out to eat with a friend, my money was so messed up,” Shannon said.

“If she went out to eat, she’d have extreme guilt,” Humphrey added. “She knew she used the money she alloted for the water bill, and now there was no way to pay the utility bill.”

Shannon filled out paperwork, including a budget, as Humphrey assisted her in paying off her original loan. The monthly payment went from $200 per month, which covered only the interest, to $88 per month. The loan was paid off in 18 months.

The process hasn’t always been easy. Figuring out her household budget took some time.

“I would come in and could only account for some of my money,” Shannon said. “(The budget) made me more aware of how much I spent on pop at the quick shop.”

With guidance from Humphrey, Shannon said she learned how to adapt her spending habits.

“She asked if I could buy a 12-pack (of pop) and keep it at my house,” Shannon said. “Before, when I would go grocery shopping, I would try to stock up for the month. Now I go once a week, and I spend less overall on groceries.”

She’s also learned to decipher between a need and a want, especially in a social situation when friends are spending money.

“I’ve learned I can go out and enjoy myself and have a glass of water, not have to have a few beers,” Shannon said.

During their monthly meeting, Shannon and Humphrey review the budget, update her employment status, and also review future goals.

“I want to get a savings account started,” Shannon said. “I would never have thought about saving because I like to spend money.”

But the meetings with Humphrey have helped her to see how saving will help prevent returning to a predatory lender.

In addition to helping Shannon get out of her predatory loan, Catholic Charities has a pilot program that grants small loans up to $1,000.

“Rather than go to a payday loan to get a battery or alternator fixed, we have started to give loans to prior clients to prevent them from getting another predatory loan,” Humphrey said. “It’s the same terms as our other loans. This is to keep people from going (to get a payday loan) in the first place.”

Shanon is one of three people in the pilot program.

“You can’t go to the bank for a $130 loan,” she said.

Shannon said the $24 monthly payment to cover the cost of a new car battery is manageable, especially since she paid off the previous payday loan.

“Because she’d been a great client and had paid her loan payments on time, came to all of her meetings and did everything we asked, she was a perfect candidate for the pilot program,” Humphrey said.

Shannon hopes she can start saving the amount she pays for the loan.

“If I save it, when the battery goes out, I’ll have (the money I need),” she said. “The (KLPP) payment was $88; that’s $1,000 a year I’d have in a savings account. That’s a lot to have in case something happens.

“Before, I would think ‘I have this extra $88, I can go out to eat or get a new pair of pants.’ I’m now more conscious about wanting to have money saved up to do things.”

Shannon has her daughter and granddaughters living with her. She said the information she learned during her sessions with Humphrey are lessons she is passing along to her family.

“My daughter is now trying to look where she wants to spend her money and thinking about saving money,” Shannon said.

Humphrey said financial acumen is something that is often learned in one’s family.

“What we know is what we pass down,” she said. “I have two of the greatest parents in the world, but we were extremely poor. They didn’t mean to not teach us, but they were too busy trying to figure out how to keep the lights on. When we went into the world, we didn’t know how to manage money.”

Seeing Shannon improve her personal situation, and help her family, is rewarding.

“She has done a wonderful job,” Humphrey said. “With the program, Shannon has developed a different way of looking at money. It’s difficult to understand how to make money work for them instead of just working for the money.”

“I tell my clients, ‘You can’t do better until you know better.’ This program is about helping people know better.”


This article first appeared in The Register of the Catholic Diocese of Salina and is re-printed at CNA with permission.

Missouri reverses course, makes churches eligible for some state grants

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 18:01

St. Louis, Mo., Apr 17, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Missouri has announced that it will start allowing religious groups to be eligible for certain state grants, although the decision may not affect a religious freedom case before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

“We commend Governor Greitens for reversing a policy of discrimination against religious groups applying for neutral and widely-available grants to do important work for the state of Missouri,” said Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, on Friday.

She responded to an announcement from the state’s new governor, Eric Greitens, that religious groups will now be eligible for grants from the state’s department of natural resources.

It is unclear whether the decision will affect the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, which is scheduled for oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The case centers around a playground owned by a Missouri church and used by its preschool. The playground is used by both members and non-members of the church.

In order to make upgrades to the playground’s surface as a safety measure, the church applied for a grant through a state program that provides materials from used tires to resurface playgrounds.

However, the playground was ruled ineligible for the state grant because the church, which runs the preschool, is a religious group. The state’s constitution includes an amendment barring religious groups from receiving taxpayer funds.

“The safety of all children matters, whether they attend a religious school or a nonreligious school,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel David Cortman stated on Thursday. ADF is representing the church before the Court.

“The state of Missouri denied the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center’s access to a public program that would have made their playground safer – and did so on the basis of religious status, a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent,” Cortman said.

Opponents of Trinity Lutheran’s case insist that the state’s constitution bars churches from receiving taxpayer funds as a measure prohibiting the unconstitutional establishment of religion.

However, supporters of the church insist that the amendment was drafted during a time of anti-Catholicism and was meant as a measure to prevent Catholic schools from receiving the public benefits that the largely-Protestant public school system received.

Today, religious freedom advocates say the amendment is used by secularists to cut off all religious groups from state funding.

Then last week, Gov. Greitens said that churches and religious groups were now eligible for public grants from the state’s department of natural resources for purposes such as improving recreational facilities and field trips.

“Before we came into office, government bureaucrats were under orders to deny grants to people of faith who wanted to do things like make community playgrounds for kids,” Gov. Greitens stated, adding “that’s just wrong.”

“We have hundreds of outstanding religious organizations all over the state of Missouri who are doing great work on behalf of kids and families every single day. We should be encouraging that work. So, today we are changing that prejudiced policy,” he continued.

The state’s Catholic Conference praised the announcement.

“We applaud the Governor’s move to make sure these non-sectarian DNR grants and programs are available to all children without religious discrimination,” Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, stated.

The announcement is “an important step for the state of Missouri away from anti-religious Blaine Amendments,” McGuire insisted.

However, the statement did not officially mean that Trinity Lutheran was retroactively eligible for grants for its playground.

“Just as today’s announcement from the governor states, his new directive doesn’t resolve the discriminatory actions that were taken against Trinity Lutheran’s preschool and the attempt to deny Trinity Lutheran its constitutionally protected freedom to participate equally in society,” Cortman stated.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for this week, although the Supreme Court last Friday reacted to Gov. Greitens’ announcement by ordering the church and the state to determine whether or not his new policy would affect Trinity Lutheran’s eligibility for the playground grants.

The deadline for both parties to submit their letters to the Court is by noon on Tuesday, April 18.

“As people across the nation celebrate Holy Week and Passover, Alliance Defending Freedom looks forward to advocating for the equal treatment of all Americans of faith at the Supreme Court,” Cortman said.


Catholics heartened by stay on flurry of planned executions in Arkansas

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 16:49

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 17, 2017 / 02:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As judges halted the planned executions of eight inmates in 10 days in Arkansas, Catholics around the country pointed to messages of mercy and life in the Easter Triduum.

“After the darkness of Good Friday has come a great light,” Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, which works to end the death penalty, stated.

After the executions were halted, Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock said, “I would like to thank everyone who has prayed and worked so hard to prevent these scheduled executions from taking place. Let us continue to pray and work for the abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas and throughout the country.”

After not executing anyone since 2005, Arkansas had scheduled eight executions in 10 days, starting April 17, Easter Monday. The state’s supply of the drug midazolam, a sedative used in the lethal injection process, will expire at the end of April.

However, on the evening of April 14, a state circuit court judge halted the planned executions with a temporary restraining order. Federal judge Kristine G. Baker followed up on April 15 with a preliminary stay of executions. The state is appealing her ruling.

The state supreme court also halted the execution of one of the inmates, Bruce Ward. His lawyers claim he is mentally disabled and unfit for the death penalty.

Opponents of the death penalty insisted that Arkansas was unjustly rushing its execution process and clamored for a halt to the executions.

“A drug’s expiration date should not be the contingent factor for the expedited execution of these 8 men,” Catholic Mobilizing Network had stated. “There is no way this unprecedented number of executions can be carried out without complications.”

Bishop Taylor and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, have both spoken out against the planned executions.

The Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Ark. planned a novena from April 9 to April 17 for those set to be executed, and for clemency to be granted in their cases.

Before the executions were halted, Bishop Dewane had contrasted the practice with the message of the Easter Triduum, the holiest time of the Church’s liturgical calendar.

“On Good Friday, Christians around the world recall the agony of Our Lord’s Passion, as He became the ‘spotless victim’ for us, taking upon Himself all our sins and bearing their weight on the cross. On Holy Saturday, we remember how Jesus descended into Hell to set prisoners free,” Bishop Dewane stated April 13.

“And, through the liturgy of Easter Sunday, we join the Lord in His triumphant Resurrection by which He conquered sin and death for all peoples and for all time,” he continued.

“So often, the images of Christ’s saving action stand in contrast with the activities of the world. Beginning on Easter Monday, the state of Arkansas is prepared to give us a striking and distressing example.”

“The schedule of executions was not set by the demands of justice, but by the arbitrary politics of punishment,” he said.

Catholic Mobilizing Network said it gathered more than 157,000 signatures calling for the executions to be stopped. Clifton said the network “is grateful for everyone who used their voice to stand for life this Lent.”

A rally, at which Bishop Taylor was present, was held outside the state capitol April 14 calling for the executions to be stopped.

Arkansas’ schedule of executions was unprecedented in recent history, the Death Penalty Information Center noted.

Since states resumed executions in 1976 after the Supreme Court suspended use of the death penalty in 1972 and then reinstated its use four years later, only twice have eight inmates been executed within a single month. Arkansas planned to complete the executions in 10 days.

The state would use a three-drug lethal injection protocol. First, midazolam, a sedative, would be given to render an inmate unconscious. Then vecuronium bromide would be given to paralyze them. Finally, potassium chloride would be administered to stop the inmate’s heart.

Arkansas had run out of its supply of potassium chloride in January, but Governor Asa Hutchinson said they would be able to procure a supply for the executions.

However, Pulaski County circuit Judge Wendell Griffin ruled April 14 that the second drug, vecuronium bromide, could not be used in the process.

The drug supplier, McKesson Corporation, had stated that the drug manufacturer prohibited vecuronium for use in executions, and that Arkansas had purchased it under false pretenses.

McKesson said the Arkansas Department of Corrections “purchased the products on an account that was opened under the valid medical license of an Arkansas physician, implicitly representing that the products would only be used for a legitimate medical purpose.”

According to its complaint filed with the Pulaski County court, McKesson discovered that the drug was to be used for executions and demanded the state return the drug, promising a refund. The supplier said it refunded the state, which never returned the drug.

Mckesson has said it will continue its “efforts to facilitate the return of our product and ensure that it is used in line with our supplier agreement.”

As for the first drug, midazolam, it has been used in botched executions in the past. Some medical experts have claimed it is not proven to be effective as an anesthetic, thus exposing an inmate to the risk of severe pain as the other drugs are administered.

“This Easter season it is clear the Spirit is calling all to respond with mercy and justice to the egregious attacks on life like those in Arkansas and throughout our country,” Clifton stated.

She pointed to the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty, an initiative of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, as something that “allows all people of good will to better educate, advocate, and pray for an end to the use of the death penalty.”

Study finds religious persecution spread to more countries in 2015

Sat, 04/15/2017 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Global religious persecution spiked from 2014 to 2015, the Pew Research Center noted in a new report released this week.

“Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years,” the latest annual Pew Research Center report on “Global Restrictions on Religion” began.

In 2015, there were “very high” or “high” levels of animosity shown towards religious groups in 40 percent of countries, the report noted, either through restrictive government laws targeting religious groups or violence or harassment toward adherents of specific religions by other members of society.

The 2015 percentage was up six points from 2014, when 34 percent of countries reported such levels of hostility to religious groups.

Pew's report drew from various sources on global religious freedom, both from the U.S. government (annual international religious freedom reports of the State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom), the European Union and United Nations, and other non-governmental organizations.

The report was part of the “Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project,” funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.

Certain countries and regions of the world showed especially high hostility towards religious groups. Russia, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and Nigeria all showed both government harassment of and social animus toward certain religious groups.

Some of the most common instances of hostility included “mob violence” waged against people for their religious beliefs or violence conducted in the name of religion, and also “government harassment and use of force against religious groups” Pew explained.

Certain regions fared worse than others on religious tolerance. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa featured the highest median levels by far of both “government restrictions on religion” and “social hostilities involving religion,” Pew reported.

However countries in sub-Saharan Africa showed the “largest increase” in the median levels of government restrictions in 2015, Pew noted, and both Europe and sub-Saharan Africa showed marked increases in “social hostilities involving religion.”

In Europe, there were many reports of harassment or violence against Muslims and Jews, continuing a pattern of both anti-Semitism on the continent and verbal or legal harassment of Muslims as the European Union deals with an influx of refugees from Muslim-majority counties like Syria and Iraq.

For instance, Switzerland showed an increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, including the desecration of a Muslim cemetery and an assault of an Orthodox Jew where one perpetrator shouted “Heil Hitler!”

Mosques and Muslims were targeted for vandalism or violence in the wake of the January, 2015 terror attacks on the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo and on a kosher market in Paris.

“France's Interior Ministry reported that anti-Muslim incidents more than tripled in 2015, including cases of hate speech, vandalism and violence against individuals,” the report noted.

Thirty-two countries in the continent showed “social hostilities toward Muslims” in 2015, more than the 26 countries reported in 2014. Meanwhile, the number of European countries where there were social hostilities shown towards Jews remained high.

“The widespread harassment of Jews is notable because about eight-in-ten of the world's Jews live in just two countries – the United States and Israel – but Jews continue to be harassed in a relatively large number of nations (74 in 2015),” Pew stated.

However, government officials also showed hostility to religious groups either through restrictive laws or rhetoric.

France and Russia in particular showed a spike, with over 200 “cases of government force against religious groups,” the report noted. These were mostly due to laws aimed at specific religious groups targeting the public exercise of religion, from France’s burqa ban to Russia’s treatment of some Muslims and groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremists, jailing them without due process.

Some governments have been particularly restrictive of religious freedom for years, like those of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and Uzbekistan, the report noted. Others have more recently shown greater hostility, like Iraq, Eritrea, Vietnam, and Singapore in 2015.

Some of the government restrictions on religion were supposedly in reaction to terrorism. For instance, Muslim women in Cameroon and Niger were barred from wearing full-face veils after militants wore those veils to conceal bombs.

Both Christians and Muslims saw a sizable increase in the number of countries where they experienced harassment in 2015. Christians “were targeted by the highest number of governments in the Asia-Pacific region, where 33 countries harassed Christians in 2015,” the report said.

Nebraska prays for pro-lifers injured in vehicle accident

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 17:51

Lincoln, Neb., Apr 14, 2017 / 03:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Lincoln is praying for several pro-life witnesses who were struck, unintentionally, by a vehicle as they were praying outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city on Friday afternoon.

“Please join the Diocese of Lincoln, Bishop Conley, and those involved in praying for those who were injured, and for the driver of the vehicle,” the Lincoln diocese said in an April 14 statement. “And please join us in praying for a culture of life, an end to abortion, in union with those who were injured today.”

The driver of a white pickup “veered to the right when he tried to stop for a vehicle slowing in front of him,” the Lincoln Journal Star reports.


LPD says hit was unintentional. A car was slowing down in front of him, so he veered and didn't see the group of people outside #LNK

— Nichole Manna (@LJSNicholeManna) April 14, 2017  

Three or four persons were struck by the pickup.

According to the diocese “the roads were quite slick in that area, and traffic was heavy. There is nothing to suggest the accident was intentional. Those who were hit are receiving medical attention now. The injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.”

“Bishop Conley, along with other priests who were present, were able to pray with those who were injured.” As many as 200 were present at the prayer vigil.

It's the law: once again, states can stop funding Planned Parenthood

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 16:03

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2017 / 02:03 pm (CNA).- Pro-life leaders applauded President Donald Trump for signing a repeal of what they called President Obama’s “parting gift to the abortion industry.”

“Today we thank President Donald Trump for restoring states' freedom to direct taxpayer dollars away from abortion providers in favor of supporting community health centers that deliver comprehensive women’s care, and already outnumber abortion providers 20 to 1,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said Thursday.

In December, President Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that states could not deny federal funds to health clinics simply on the grounds that they provided abortions.

The funding program, Title X, consists of “family planning” grants for services like contraception, pregnancy testing, and infertility treatments.

Those federal grants, dispersed by the states, had to go to clinics that provided the “family planning” services, HHS said, and could not be denied to any clinic that provided those services.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced H.J. Res. 43 to the U.S. House of Representatives, which nullified the HHS rule. The measure passed the House easily and then passed the Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence as the tie-breaking vote.

President Trump signed the resolution into law April 13.

Susan B. Anthony List thanked Rep. Black and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), saying they “led this effort in Congress.” When the measure was introduced, Rep. Black had said that her state of Tennessee had tried to stop giving Title X grants to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in order to redirect those grants to other health providers.

The HHS had explained that the rule was created in reaction to states that tried to stop funding abortion providers.

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser added that “prioritizing funding away from Planned Parenthood to comprehensive health care alternatives is a winning issue.”

She pushed for Congress to take up more legislation to strip Planned Parenthood and abortion providers of other federal funds like Medicaid reimbursements. She said they should “redirect” federal funds to other health providers that do not perform abortions.

“The resolution signed today simply ensures that states are not forced to fund an abortion business with taxpayer dollars,” Dannenfelser said ahead of the signing of the bill.

“Rather, states have the option to spend Title X money on comprehensive health care clinics that better serve women and girls,” she said.

Bishop Conley: Eucharistic adoration can transform our Church

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 08:59

Lincoln, Neb., Apr 13, 2017 / 06:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Eucharistic adoration offers a powerful chance to encounter Christ’s love in silence and humility, and that experience can transform our hearts, both individually and as a Church, said Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb. in a new pastoral letter.

“Love is selfless sacrifice, and sacrifice is the language of love. Love is the gift of ourselves to our beloved. And Christ made a gift of himself – he gave us his body and blood – poured himself out for our salvation, when he conquered death by dying and rising again,” Bishop Conley said. “Christ gave us his body and blood, as an act of love, so that we could know the love of God.”

“Before he conquered death forever, in a sacrifice of love, Jesus gave himself to the Church in the gift of the Eucharist,” the bishop reflected.

His pastoral letter “Love Made Visible” was released for Holy Thursday, when the Catholic liturgy marks the Last Supper. The letter reflects upon the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and draws on the writings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the Eucharist.

“In the Eucharist, the apostles received a share in Christ’s own identity: they became a part of his passion and death, and they became a part of his Resurrection,” Bishop Conley said. “The Eucharist unified the apostles to Jesus Christ in the bonds of his sacrificial love.”

Bishop Conley cited Pope Benedict XVI: when Jesus Christ changes the bread and wine into his body and blood, “he anticipates his death, he accepts it into his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love.”

Receiving Jesus Christ’s body and blood allows his disciples in the Church to “be unified to him in love.”

“In the Eucharist, we are made sharers in Christ’s mission of love,” Bishop Conley continued. “In the Eucharist, we are called to make disciples of all nations, so that all people will know the freedom of life in the love of the Lord.”

This mission must be renewed daily through a deepening of love for God, and the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of this renewal, he said.

“The Eucharist is at the center of every good work that the Church undertakes,” the bishop said. In the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus has given himself to us “so that as we follow him, we can be unified to his life, and he can be present, with us, at all times, until the end of the world.”

Bishop Conley praised Eucharistic adoration as “a particularly powerful encounter with the Lord.” The silence of adoration teaches true humility.

“As we kneel before our Creator-God, we are confronted with the power and the mystery of God’s love,” he continued. “And it is from this silence and humility that we experience a deep communion and friendship with God.”

On June 18, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Bishop Conley will re-dedicate the Bishops’ Chapel at Lincoln’s Cathedral of the Risen Christ as a perpetual adoration chapel. He prayed that the chapel would become “a source of renewal in the hearts of all Catholics, and in our families, and in the world.”

He also encouraged pastors and Catholic schools to provide more opportunity for Eucharistic adoration.

In Bishop Conley’s words: “Kneeling before Christ in the Eucharist, the hopeless find hope. The weak find strength. Captives find freedom. The afflicted find comfort. The mourning find consolation. The lonely find friendship. Sinners find mercy.”

“Kneeling before Christ in the Eucharist, all of us find love. And love is what we are longing for,” he said. “Before Christ in Eucharist – love made visible – each one of us discovers that the enduring, satisfying, life-giving answer to the questions of our lives is Love: love poured out from Jesus, and love poured out from us into the world, as missionaries of Christ’s salvation.”

He praised the longtime practice of Eucharistic adoration in the Lincoln diocese.

“We are blessed with priests and religious who love and promote Eucharistic adoration, with college students who make holy hours in the middle of the night, and with families who kneel before the Eucharist together – with mothers and fathers who teach their children to pray before Jesus.”

Bishop Conley said he wrote the pastoral letter “because God has been impressing upon me lately how important our lives of prayer are, and especially prayer in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”

He said in a statement: “increasing our devotion to Eucharistic adoration could be transformative in our Church – there is just no telling how much God can do.”

Eucharistic devotion is especially important in a time when technology can distract, he said. “Sitting in silence with the Lord is refreshing, life-changing, and heart-changing.”

“The truth is that sitting in silence with the Lord is necessary for a fruitful Catholic life. I want all Catholics to know that we don’t need to be afraid to spend time in silence with Jesus – that He’s waiting to love us and transform our hearts and lives.”


US bishops back religious freedom for adoption, foster care providers

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 16:33

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2017 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Three chairmen of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference have voiced strong support for a measure that would restore certain religious freedoms to child welfare providers.

The recently introduced Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017 would prevent the federal government, and any state receiving federal funds for child welfare services, from taking adverse action against a provider that, for religious or moral reasons, declines to provide a child welfare social service.

Under the previous administration, several faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services because of beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

In the case of Illinois, more than 3,000 children were displaced after religiously affiliated adoption and foster care services had to close their doors. Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois decided to cut ties from their affiliated Catholic diocese and operate as a separate Christian non-profit in order to maintain consistent services for the children.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln expressed their support for the Inclusion Act in letters to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) in the U.S. Senate, who introduced the bill.

"The Inclusion Act would remedy this unjust discrimination by enabling all providers to serve the needs of parents and children in a manner consistent with the providers' religious beliefs and moral convictions," the bishops said.

“Our first and most cherished freedom, religious liberty, is to be enjoyed by all Americans, including child welfare providers who serve the needs of children. The Inclusion Act protects the freedom of all child welfare providers by ensuring they will not be discriminated against by the government because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions,” they wrote.

The Bishops also stressed that the Inclusion Act respects the religious freedom of parents who are looking to place their children into adoption or foster care services.

“Women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose an agency that shares the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions. The Inclusion Act recognizes and respects this parental choice.”

Pope Francis dismisses from clerical state priest who stole $300k

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 06:05

Manchester, N.H., Apr 12, 2017 / 04:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has dismissed a New Hampshire priest from the clerical state, after the priest was convicted of stealing some $300,000 from the local diocese, a hospital and a deceased priest's estate.

“On February 28, 2017, Pope Francis decreed Edward J. Arsenault dismissed from the clerical state, and dispensed him from all obligations subsequent to sacred ordination, including that of celibacy,” the Diocese of Manchester said in a statement last week.

“By virtue of this decree, Edward J. Arsenault has no faculties to act, function, or present himself as a priest.”

In 2014, Arsenault was sentenced to four years in prison. He was ordered to repay $300,000 in restitution, according to local media reports.

Arsenault was convicted of writing checks from the dead priest’s estate to himself and of billing a hospital for consulting work he never did, according to the Associated Press.

He admitted to spending the money on travel and expensive restaurants for himself and a male partner. He pleaded guilty to three charges of theft in 2014.

Last week, Arsenault was moved to house arrest. He is up for parole in February next year, the Associated Press reported.

As a priest, Arsenault had previously worked for the Manchester diocese. He helped to handle a clergy sex abuse scandal in the state and to implement new child protection policies.


With united voice, thousands of Catholics visit Texas capitol

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 18:58

Austin, Texas, Apr 10, 2017 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Over 4,000 Catholics visited Texas’ capitol in Austin, including  bishops from the state's 15 dioceses, to meet with legislators and discuss legislation under consideration.

“It's important that we present a united voice,” Helen Osman, communications consultant for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, told CNA April 10.

“It took many hours of coordination, but the Texas legislators knew that the Church was present in the Capitol on April 4 – and we were there not in self-interest, but for the good of all citizens in the state of Texas,” she added.

“Our motivation – to speak on behalf of the vulnerable and the poor, for human life and dignity – gives our voice a gravitas that many special interest groups lack.”

For Catholic Advocacy Day, each of Texas' 181 legislators received a visit from a team of “Catholic advocates” who live in his or her district.

They focused on issues grouped under the topics of protecting human life; children and families; health and human services; justice for immigrants; protecting the poor and vulnerable; and criminal justice.

“The team had a list of bills that were prioritized by the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops since they were relevant to the bishops’ agenda, had been reviewed by the Catholic conference, and were active in the legislative process,” Osman said.

“We also held a rally outside the Capitol, where the bishops addressed all participants,” she added.

Osman said the group was among the more favorably received groups of capitol visitors.

“We bring a spirit of joy and generosity to our conversations, and the legislators appreciate that!” she said.

“These events can persuade a legislator to consider changing his or her position on important legislation. Catholics can effectively exercise their call to be faithful citizens by working with their bishops through their state Catholic conferences. “

Pro-life bills under consideration address partial-birth abortion, “wrongful birth” lawsuits, mandatory reporting for abortion complications, and efforts to increase penalties for abortions coerced by human traffickers. There is a bill concerning parental choice in education and several bills concerning foster care. The Texas bishops oppose a bill that targets sanctuary cities for immigrants, while they support a “targeted, proportional and humane” bill that would increase punishment for unlawful immigrants who commit violent crimes and also guarantee their deportation by authorities.

Some criminal justice bills concern accurate instructions to jurors in death penalty cases and the establishment of a special anti-human trafficking unit in the state’s Department of Public Safety. The Texas Catholic conference backs a bill that would provide better access to mental heath and substance abuse treatment, as well as a bill to establish a state grant to match donations to organizations that provide mental health programs.

On environmental issues, the conference opposes a bill that would limit a local community’s ability to control the export of its groundwater, on the grounds it violates subsidiarity. It also opposes a bill that would repeal the contested case process for environmental quality permits, on the grounds that it “limits the community's ability to protect health considering potential environmental hazards.”

Osman encouraged Catholics to look to their bishops for guidance.

“The bishops use their state Catholic conferences to research and monitor active legislation, and to convey the Church’s moral guidance.”

Ahead of the event, Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Dallas said it was an exciting opportunity to visit legislators.

“We are able to stand in solidarity as people of faith to meet with our local legislative leaders in order to work together for the common good,” he said, according to the Dallas diocese’s website.

Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said the event was an “exciting opportunity” for Catholic constituents.

“They are able to stand in solidarity with their bishops, and meet their local legislators who are interested in hearing their point of view on these important issues,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Proposed Texas budget would defund abortion providers

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 18:42

Austin, Texas, Apr 10, 2017 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Texas House passed a budget on Friday that strips Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers of funding through any state program.

“Rather than chasing, kind of reactively, after Planned Parenthood, this is a comprehensive budget policy and ethic that pro-life Texans don’t want to subsidize abortion providers,” Emily Horne, legislative associate with Texas Right to Life, explained to CNA.

The budget proposal, passed by the Texas House and Senate, now moves to a joint conference committee which will be made up of members of both chambers. They will then finalize the budget.

Texas Right to Life has warned that although the budget has passed both chambers with pro-life provisions, those provisions could be removed by the committee, and so they will be fighting to ensure the provisions stay intact.

Although past efforts were successful to block funding of abortion providers in certain state health programs, there were still funds going to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers through community assistance and HIV screening programs, Horne said.

She compared the funding to a “whack-a-mole game” where if abortion providers were defunded in one state program, another source of funding would be intact. So the wording in the budget is broad, to “apply this logic and ethic to the whole budget,” she said.

The budget proposal also increases funding for the “Alternatives to Abortion” program by $20 million – a “huge increasing in funding” that was “very needed,” Horne said.

The program provides resources, hotlines, and referrals to pregnancy centers for expectant mothers, but also funds adoption agencies and maternal health providers – basically “funding all the alternatives” to abortion, Horne said.

There are also parenting classes offered under the program, and 10 hours of these classes would be required for mothers to receive certain assistance like diapers and formula, Horne said. The program also provides career development for working mothers, such as interview prep and resume-building classes.

It’s the “social side of trying to support women,” she said.

The U.S. Congress has also worked to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding – mostly from Medicaid reimbursements and Title X family planning grants.

The U.S. House has voted to defund Planned Parenthood, after undercover videos surfaced in 2015 showing doctors and officials discussing prices for fetal tissue from aborted babies with actors posing as prospective tissue harvesters. The House has also voted to let states choose not to fund Planned Parenthood through disbursement of Title X funds.

Defunding of Planned Parenthood was also included in the American Health Care Act, the recent health care bill that failed to make it to the House floor for a vote.

San Bernardino bishop prays for school community after deadly shooting

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 17:16

San Bernardino, Calif., Apr 10, 2017 / 03:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After two people were killed in a shooting at a classroom in a San Bernardino elementary school on Monday, the city's bishop is praying for the victims and the school community.

“I'm praying for the victims&entire school community after today's tragic shooting@NorthPark Elem.May God console us in this time of sorrow,” Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino tweeted April 10.

A gunman opened fire this morning in a classroom of North Park Elementary School. Police have said the two victims are adults, a woman and the suspected shooter, and that two students are in critical condition.

The police chief Jarrod Burguan said the incident is suspected to be a “murder-suicide” attempt, the BBC reports.

There have been several shootings at schools in the United States in recent years.

In December 2013 an individual opened fire at Arapahoe High School in the Denver suburb of Centennial, and in December 2012 a gunman killed 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as well as his mother and himself.

San Bernardino is also the site of a December 2015 mass shooting in which a couple killed 14 and wounded 21 others at a social services facility.

Why married priests won't really fix the shortage

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 18:02

Denver, Colo., Apr 9, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 1970, there was one priest for every 800 Catholics in the United States.

Today, that number has more than doubled, with one priest for every 1,800 Catholics.

Globally, the situation is worse. The number of Catholics per priest increased from 1,895 in 1980 to 3,126 in 2012, according to a report from CARA at Georgetown University. The Catholic Church in many parts of the world is experiencing what is being called a “priest shortage” or a “priest crisis.”

Last month, Pope Francis answered a question about the priest shortage in a March 8 interview published in the German weekly Die Zeit. The part that made headlines, of course, was that about married priests.

“Pope Francis open to allowing married priests in Catholic Church” read a USA Today headline. “Pope signals he's open to married Catholic men becoming priests” said CNN.

But things are not as they might seem. Read a little deeper, and Pope Francis did not say that Fr. John Smith at the parish down the street can now ditch celibacy and go looking for a wife.

What the Holy Father did say is that he is open to exploring the possibility of proven men ('viri probati,' in Latin) who are married being ordained to the priesthood. Currently, such men, who are typically over the age of 35, are eligible for ordination to the permanent diaconate, but not the priesthood.

However, marriage was not the first solution to the priest shortage Pope Francis proposed. In fact, it was the last.

Initially, he didn't even mention marriage.

Pressed specifically about the married priesthood, the Pope said: “optional celibacy is discussed, above all where priests are needed. But optional celibacy is not the solution.”

While Pope Francis perhaps signals an iota more of openness to the possibility of married priests in particular situations, his hesitance to open wide the doors to a widespread married priesthood is in line with his recent predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the longstanding tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

So why is the Church in the West, even when facing a significant priest shortage, so reticent to get rid of a tradition of celibacy, if it is potentially keeping away additional candidates to the priesthood?

Why is celibacy the norm in the Western Church?

Fr. Gary Selin is a Roman Catholic priest and professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. His work Priestly Celibacy: Theological Foundations was published last year by CUA press.

While the debate about celibacy is often reduced to pragmatics – the difficulty of paying married priests more, the question of their full availability – this ignores the rich theological foundations of the celibate tradition, Fr. Selin told CNA.

One of the main reasons for this 2,000 year tradition is Christological, because it is based on the first celibate priest – Jesus.

“Jesus Christ himself never married, and there’s something about imitating the life our Lord in full that is very attractive,” Fr. Selin said.

“Interestingly, Jesus is never mentioned as a reason for celibacy. The next time you read about celibacy, try to see if they mention our Lord; oftentimes he is left out of the picture.”

Christ's life of celibacy, while compatible with his mission of evangelization, would not have been compatible with marriage, because “he left his home and family in Nazareth in order to live as an itinerant preacher, consciously renouncing a permanent dwelling: 'The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,'” Fr. Selin said, refering Matthew 8:20.

Several times throughout the New Testament, Christ praises the celibate state. In Matthew 19:11-12, he answers a question from his disciples about marriage, saying that those who are able by grace to renounce marriage and sexual relations for the kingdom of heaven ought to do so.

“Of the three manners in which one is incapable of sexual activity, the third alone is voluntary: ‘eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs [emphasis added].’ These people do so ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,’ that is, for the kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming and initiating,” Fr. Selin explained.

Nevertheless, it took a while for the “culture of celibacy” to catch on in the early Church, Fr. Selin said.

Christ came to earth amid a Jewish people and culture who were instructed since their first parents of Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28, 9:7) and were promised that their descendants would be “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). Being unmarried or barren was to be avoided for both practical and religious reasons, and was seen as a curse, or at least a lack of favor from God.

The apostles, too, were Jewish men who would have been a part of this culture. It is known that among them, at least St. Peter had been married at some time, because Scripture mentions his mother-in-law (Mt. 8:14-15).

St. John the Evangelist is thought by the Church fathers to be one of the only of the 12 apostles who was celibate, which is why Christ had a particular love for him, Fr. Selin said. Some of the other apostles likely were married, in keeping with Jewish customs, but it is thought that they practiced perpetual continence (chosen abstinence from sexual relations) once they became apostles for the rest of their lives. St. Paul the Apostle extols the celibate state, which he also kept, in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8.

Because marriage was such an integral part of Jewish culture, even for the apostles, early Church clergy were often, but not always, married. However, evidence suggests that these priests were asked to practice perfect continence once they had been ordained. Priests whose wives became pregnant after ordination could even be punished by suspension, Fr. Selin explained.

Early on in the Church, bishops were selected from the celibate priests, a tradition that stood before the mandatory celibate priesthood. Even today, Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, most of which allow for married priests, select their bishops from among celibate priests.

As the “culture of celibacy” became more established, it increasingly became the norm in the Church, until married men who applied for ordinations had to appeal to the Pope for special permission.

In the 11th century, St. Gregory VII issued a decree requiring all priests to be celibate and asked his bishops to enforce it. Celibacy has been the norm ever since in the Latin Rite, with special exceptions made for some Anglican and other Protestant pastors who convert to Catholicism.

A sign of the kingdom

Another reason the celibate priesthood is valued in the Church is because it bears witness to something greater than this world, Fr. Selin explained.

Benedict XVI once told priests that celibacy agitates the world so much because it is a sign of the kingdom to come.

“It is true that for the agnostic world, the world in which God does not enter, celibacy is a great scandal, because it shows exactly that God is considered and experienced as reality. With the eschatological dimension of celibacy, the future world of God enters into the reality of our time. And should this disappear?” Benedict XVI said in 2010.

Christ himself said that no one would be married or given in marriage in heaven, and therefore celibacy is a sign of the beatific vision (cf. Mt 22:30-32).  

“Married life will pass away when we behold God face to face and all of us become part of the bridal Church,” Fr. Selin said. “The celibate is more of a direct symbol of that.”

Another value of celibacy is that it allows priests a greater intimacy with Christ in more fully imitating him, Fr. Selin noted.

“The priest is ordained to be Jesus for others, so he’s able to dedicate his whole body and soul first of all to God himself, and from that unity with Jesus he is able to serve the church,” he said.

“We can’t get that backwards,” he emphasized. Often, celibacy is presented for practical reasons of money and time, which aren’t sufficient reasons to maintain the tradition.

“That’s not sufficient and that doesn’t fill the heart of a celibate, because he first wants intimacy with God. Celibacy first is a great, profound intimacy with Christ.”

A married priest's perspective: Don't change celibate priesthood

Father Douglas Grandon is one of those rare exceptions - a married Roman Catholic priest.

He was a married Episcopalian priest when he and his family decided to enter the Catholic Church 14 years ago, and received permission from Benedict XVI to become a Catholic priest.

Even though Fr. Grandon recognizes the priest shortage, he said opening the doors to the married priesthood would not solve the root issue of that shortage.

“In my opinion, the key to solving the priest shortage is more commitment to what George Weigel calls evangelical Catholicism,” Fr. Grandon told CNA.

“Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, vocations come from a very strong commitment to the basic commands of Jesus to preach the Gospel and make disciples. Wherever there’s this strong evangelical commitment, wherever priests are committed to deepening people’s faith and making them serious disciples, you have vocations. That is really the key.”

He also said that while he’s “ever so grateful” that St. John Paul II allowed for exceptions to the celibate priesthood in 1980 – allowing Protestant pastor converts like himself to become priests – he also sees the value of the celibate priesthood and does not advocate getting rid of it.

“...we really do believe the celibate vocation is a wonderful thing to be treasured, and we don’t want anything to undermine that special place of celibate priesthood,” he said.

“Jesus was celibate, Paul was celibate, some of the 12 were celibate, so that’s a special gift that God has given to the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Joshua J. Whitfield is another married priest, who resides in Dallas and is a columnist for The Dallas Morning News. He recently wrote about his experience as a married priest, but also said that he would not want the Church to change its celibacy norm.

“What we need is another Pentecost. That’s how the first 'shortage' was handled. The Twelve waited for the Holy Spirit, and he delivered,” Fr. Whitfield told CNA in e-mail comments.

“Seeing this crisis spiritually is what is practical. And it’s the only way we’re going to properly solve it…. I’m simply not convinced that the economics of (married priesthood) would result in either the growth of clergy or the Church.”

A glance at what the priest shortage looks like in the United States

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is the largest diocese in the United States, clocking in at a Catholic population of 4,029,336, according to the P.J. Kenedy and Sons Official Catholic Directory.

With 1,051 diocesan and religious priests combined, the archdiocese has one priest for every 3,833 Catholics – more than double the national rate.

Despite the large Catholic population, which presents both “a great blessing and a great challenge”, Fr. Samuel Ward, the archdiocese's associate sirector of vocations, told CNA he doesn’t hope for or anticipate any major changes to the practice of priestly celibacy.

“I believe in the great value of the celibate Roman Catholic priesthood,” he said.

He also sees great reason for hope. Recent upticks in the number of seminarians and young men considering the priesthood seems to be building positive momentum for vocations in future generations.

The trend is a national one as well – CARA reports that about 100 more men were ordained to the priesthood in 2016 than in 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, there was a difference of only 4.

In the Archdiocese of New York, the second largest diocese in the United States, there is a Catholic population of 2,642,740 and 1,198 diocesan and religious priests, meaning there is one priest for every 2,205 Catholics.

“I think we’re probably like most every other diocese in the country, in that over the past 40-50 years, the number of ordinations have not in any way kept pace with the number of priests who are retiring or dying,” said Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese.

It’s part of the reason why they recently underwent an extensive reorganization process, which included the closing and re-consolidation of numerous parishes, many of which had found themselves without a pastor in recent years.

“Rather than wait for it to hit crisis mode we wanted to be prudent and plan for what the future would look like here in the Archdiocese of New York,” Zwilling said.

Monsignor Peter Finn has been a priest in New York for 52 years, and as rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary for six years in the early 2000s, he has had several years’ experience forming priests. While he admits there is a shortage, he’s not convinced that doing away with celibacy would solve anything.

“After 52 years of priesthood I’m not really sure it would make any big difference,” he told CNA.

That’s because the crisis is not unique to the vocation of the priesthood, he said. The broader issue is a lack of commitment – not just to the priesthood, but to marriage and other vocations of consecrated life.

Fr. Selin echoed those sentiments.

“It goes deeper, it goes to a deep crisis of faith, a rampant materialism, and also at times a difficulty with making choices,” he said.

So if marriage won’t solve the problem, what will?

Schools, seminaries, and a culture of vocations

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, on the other hand, has not experienced such a drastic shortage. When compared with other larger dioceses in the country (those with 300,000 or more Catholics), the St. Louis Archdiocese has the most priests per capita: only 959 Catholics per priests, in 2014.

John Schwob, director of pastoral planning for the archdiocese, said this could be attributed to a number of things – large and active Catholic schools, a local diocesan seminary, and archbishops who have made vocations a pastoral priority.

“...going back to the beginning of our diocese in 1826, the early bishops made repeated trips to Europe to bring back religious and secular priests and religious men and women who built up strong Catholic parishes and schools,” he told CNA. “That has created momentum that has continued for nearly 200 years.”

These three things also ring true for the Diocese of Lincoln, which has a smaller population and a high priest-to-Catholic ratio: one priest for every 577 Catholics, which is less than one third of the national ratio.

As in St. Louis, Lincoln's vocations director Fr. Robert Matya credits many of the diocese's vocations to Catholic schools with priests and religious sisters.

“The vast majority of our vocations come from the kids in our Catholic school system,” Fr. Matya said.

“The unique thing about Lincoln is that the religion classes in all of our Catholic high schools are taught by priests or sisters, and that is not usually the case … the students just have greater exposure to priests and sisters than a kid who goes to high school somewhere else who doesn’t have a priest teach them or doesn’t have that interaction with a priest or a religious sister.”

The diocese also has two orders of women religious – the Holy Spirit Adoration sisters (or the Pink Sisters) and discalced, cloistered Carmelites – who pray particularly for priests and vocations.

Msgr. Timothy Thorburn, vicar general of the Lincoln diocese, said that when the Carmelite sisters moved to the diocese in the late '90s, two local seminaries sprang up “almost overnight” - a diocesan minor seminary and a seminary for the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.

“Wherever priests are being formed the devil is going to be at work, and cloistered religious are what we would consider the marines in the fight with the powers of darkness, they’re the ones on the frontlines,” Msgr. Thorburn told CNA.

“So right in the midst of the establishment of these two seminaries, the Carmelite sisters... asked if they could look at building a monastery in our diocese.”

A commitment to authentic and orthodox Catholic teaching is also important for vocations, Msgr. Thorburn noted.

“I grew up in the '60s and '70s and '80s, and many in the Church thought if we just became more hip, young people would be attracted to the priesthood and religious life … and the opposite occurred. Young people were repelled by that,” he said.

“They wanted to make a commitment, they wanted authentic Catholic teaching, the authentic Catholic faith, they didn’t want some half-baked, watered down version of the faith; that wasn’t attractive to them at all. And I’d say the same is true now. The priesthood will not become more attractive if somehow the Church says married men can be ordained.”

Pope Francis' solutions: Prayer, fostering vocations, and the birth rate

Pope Francis, too, does not believe that the married priesthood is the solution to the priest shortage. Before he even mentioned the married priesthood to Die Zeit, the Pope talked about prayer.

“The first [response] – because I speak as a believer – the Lord told us to pray. Prayer, prayer is missing,” he told the paper.

Rose Sullivan, director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, and the mother of a seminarian who is about to be ordained, agrees with the Pope.

“We would not refer to it as a ‘priest shortage’ or a ‘vocation crisis.’ We would refer to it as a prayer crisis. God has not stopped calling people to their vocation, we’ve stopped listening; the noise of culture has gotten in the way,” she said.

“Scripture says: ‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening.’ So the question would be, are we listening? And I would say we could do a much better job at listening.”

Another solution proposed by Pope Francis: increasing the birth rate, which has plummeted in many parts of the Church, particularly in the west.

In some European countries, once the most Catholic region of the world, the birth rate has dipped so low that governments are coming up with unique ways to incentivize child-bearing.

“If there are no young men there can be no priests,” the Pope said.

The vocations of marriage and priesthood are therefore inter-related, said Fr. Ward.

“They compliment each other, and are dependent upon one another. If we don’t have families, we don’t have anything to do as priests, and families need priests for preaching and the sacraments.”

The third solution proposed by Pope Francis was working with young people and talking to them directly about vocations.

Many priests are able to trace their vocation back to a personal invitation, often made by one priest, as well as the witness of good and holy priests that were a significant part of their lives.

“A former vocation director took an informal poll, and he asked men, ‘What really got you thinking about the priesthood?’ And almost all of them said 'because my pastor approached me',” Fr. Selin related.

“It was the same thing with me. When a priest lives his priesthood with great joy and fidelity, he’s the most effective promoter of vocations, because a young man can see himself in him.”

Msgr. Thorburn added: “There is no shortage of vocations.”

“God is calling a sufficient number of men in the Western Church, who by our tradition he gives the gift of celibacy with the vocation. We just have to make a place for those seeds to fall on fertile ground.” 

As wave of executions draws near, Catholics in Arkansas pray for an alternative

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 08:01

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 9, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Even though legal options have run out, Catholics in Arkansas are still pushing back against a wave of eight executions set to start on Easter Monday, April 17.

“Though guilty of heinous crimes, these men nevertheless retain the God-given dignity of any human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to natural death,” wrote Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock in a March 1 letter to Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson against the execution of the eight men scheduled to be killed in April.

Beginning April 17 the state of Arkansas will execute eight men in the span of 10 days.

Their names and scheduled execution dates are Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward (April 17), Ledelle Lee and Stacey Johnson (April 20), Marcel Williams and Jack Jones, Jr. (April 24), Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams (April 27).

No death row inmate has been executed in Arkansas since 2005. There are 34 death row inmates in the state.

The executions were originally scheduled in October 2015 after the state legislature passed a law legalizing the anonymity of the sources of a three-drug cocktail of lethal injections that sedates, paralyzes, and stops the heart of the person upon whom it is used. The men’s attorney filed a lawsuit alleging that concealing the drugs’ sources could obfuscate whether or not the inmates had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. After a stay was granted and a county court ruled the law unconstitutional, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the law. The United States Supreme Court opted not to hear the case.

Hutchinson then rescheduled the executions. According to the Arkansas Catholic, the state has spent $24,226.40 on the drugs used in the scheduled executions.

The eight executions are taking place before the state’s supply of midazolam, a sedative used in the execution process, expires.

The state’s supply of potassium chloride, used to stop the heart, expired Jan. 1, 2017. However, Hutchinson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a Feb. 28 article that he was confident the state could procure more potassium chloride in time for the executions.

The state also permits the use of a single-drug method of execution.

Catholic teaching has long permitted the state’s use of capital punishment as an act of justice and to keep a community safe from a dangerous wrongdoer, given that the gravity of the crime merits such a harsh response and that the guilt of the inmate is certain.

While this teaching has not changed, writings by St. John Paul II and his successors have critiqued the practice’s use in the modern era. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II wrote that “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means.”

Bishop Taylor referenced these papal critiques of the death penalty in his plea that the state of Arkansas halt the executions.

“Since the penal system of our state is well equipped to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life (and thus protect society), we should limit ourselves to non-lethal means – hence this appeal to you,” the bishop argued.

The bishop also pointed out some practical arguments against the death penalty’s use in the state, including that the punishment is frequently applied inconsistently, even among similar crimes; that the death penalty is more costly than other sentences; and that more than 139 death row inmates from 36 states have been exonerated since 1973, after evidence showed their innocence.

He also pointed out that in an overwhelming majority of death row cases, no DNA evidence exists to ensure the inmate’s guilt, and the inmates are too poor to afford their own attorney.

Bishop Taylor recognized Hutchinson’s duty to execute the state’s laws, including that of the death penalty, but also reminded him that he is also subject to a “higher law, the divine law.”

“As governor you have the power to commute these sentences to life without possibility of parole and so I appeal to you to do so – and not only out of concern for these eight men, but also out of concern for the damage that the death penalty does to all of us as a society,” the bishop wrote.

While the bishop’s letter has not stopped the upcoming executions, Catholics in the state are not halting their protests or prayers.

The Benedictine Sisters of the St. Scholastica Monastery will hold a novena for the prisoners who will be executed and their clemency, and are inviting Catholics to join them by coming to pray daily April 9-17 at the monastery’s cemetery.

In addition, on Good Friday, a non-partisan ecumenical group, the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, will host a rally in front of the state capitol against the mass executions.


Don't send a mother who fled drug cartels back to Mexico, archdiocese pleads

Sat, 04/08/2017 - 07:32

Cincinnati, Ohio, Apr 8, 2017 / 05:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. immigration authorities should show mercy on a detained Catholic mother with a special needs child, who fled Mexico when drug cartels began to persecute her family, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati said this week.

The archdiocese emphasized that Maribel Trujillo-Diaz has a pending asylum case, has no criminal record in the U.S., and is caring for her four children, one of whom has seizure-causing disabilities and requires special care.

“We urge that our elected and administrative officials exercise mercy for Maribel,” the archdiocese said April 6.

A parishioner and lector at St. Julie Billiart Parish in Hamilton, Trujillo-Diaz fled Mexico in 2002. She entered the U.S. illegally, but has a pending asylum case based on the fact that her family is being targeted by Mexican drug cartels.

Trujillo-Diaz and her family refused to work for a local Mexican drug cartel. Her father was kidnapped by the cartel last year, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

“We fully respect the Department of Homeland Security’s duty to enforce our immigration laws, and we recognize that this is not an easy task,” said the archdiocese. “At the same time, it is clear that the common good cannot be served at this stage by separating this wife and mother from her family.”

Trujillo-Diaz regularly reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. At her Monday April 3 appointment, the archdiocese said, she was told she could remain at home as her case was further reviewed.

On April 5, ICE officials arrived at her brother’s house as she was preparing for work and took her into custody for imminent deportation.

The Cincinnati archdiocese called her detention “cruel and unacceptable,” praising Trujillo-Diaz as “a devoted wife and mother and outstanding member of her church and community.”

“Maribel has made a life in Ohio based on positive contributions to her church and her community. She has no criminal history,” the Cincinnati archdiocese said. “She is a lay leader at her parish, whose members are surrounding her with prayers that she be permitted to remain with them and her family.”

“Maribel’s children, ages 14, 12, 10 and 3, are all U.S. citizens,” the archdiocese said. “Her 3-year-old daughter has recurring seizures and requires the attention and care of her mother.”

Kathleen Kersh, Trujillo-Diaz’s lawyer, said she is the only person who can care for her 3-year-old, having received medical training to detect and treat seizures. Another child suffers from early-onset diabetes.

An ICE spokesperson said the woman’s appeal efforts had been exhausted.

“Maribel Trujillo’s immigration case has undergone review at multiple levels of our nation’s legal system and the courts have uniformly held that she has no legal basis to remain in the United States,” the spokesperson said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Trujillo-Diaz became subject to deportation in 2014 when the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed her appeals. Last year her lawyer filed an effort to re-hear her case, citing her father’s kidnapping.

She was close to deportation in previous years. Thousands of area Catholics and other supporters rallied then to ask authorities to allow her to stay.

Last year, immigration officials, acting under prosecutorial discretion, decided she was low priority and no threat to public safety.

Her lawyer said at her March 6 check-in, officials implied they would seek her deportation.

“They told her, and this is exactly what they said: ‘We have a new president now. I don’t know if you are aware’,” Kersh said.

“I think the Trump administration is only looking at numbers and not looking for those people who are criminals or are a threat to public safety,” Kersh continued.

In a February letter, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati had spoken on behalf of Trujillo-Lopez.

“Our church and our community gain nothing by being left with a single-parent household when such a responsible and well-respected family can be kept together,” he said, citing Catholic teaching’s emphasis on the family as “the highest organization of human society.”

The archdiocese is asking Ohioans to contact U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Gov. John Kasich to encourage them to ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop Trujillo’s deportation.



Philly priest charged with stealing $500k for concerts, dinners, casinos

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 18:07

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 7, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- A Philadelphia monsignor is being charged with embezzling more than half a million dollars from the priests’ home where he served as rector, and using that money on lavish dinners, casino visits and Philadelphia Pops concerts.

Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania have charged Msgr. William A. Dombrow, 77, with four counts of wire fraud.

Over the course of nine years, he allegedly siphoned off some $535,000 from the Villa St. Joseph, a church-owned retirement home for elderly priests and those who have been stripped of ministerial faculties after being found credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.

Prosecutors say he had sole access to the account for the facility in Delaware County, “which was funded by gifts from wills and life insurance proceeds that were intended for the archdiocese.”

Last summer, the archdiocese was alerted by Sharon Savings Bank to irregular activity taking place in the Villa account.

Archdiocese officials said the account was immediately frozen, and Msgr. Dombrow’s faculties and responsibilities were restricted.

Msgr. Dombrow’s lawyer, Coley Reynolds, said in a statement that the priest is “deeply and sincerely remorseful…of his conduct.” According to CBS, Reynolds emphasized that Msgr. Dombrow is cooperating with the investigation and “hopes to someday redeem himself.”

The priest is charged in a manner that indicates he is cooperating.

He is expected to plead guilty and could face a sentence of up to 80 years in prison, in addition to fines.

What Catholic leaders had to say about US missile strikes in Syria

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 17:20

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2017 / 03:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo expressed regret and disappointment at Thursday’s U.S. missile strikes in Syria, saying he hoped for “a political solution.”

“We were very sorry,” Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo responded to Thursday’s night’s missile strike by the United States on a Syrian government airbase near Homs, in retaliation for what the U.S. said was a chemical attack conducted by government forces on civilians.

The archbishop had hoped the U.S. “would have done something toward peace and reconciliation and a political solution” in Syria, and would first have investigated to prove that forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were indeed responsible for the use of chemical weapons.

The U.S. launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Syrian airbase near Homs on Friday morning (local time), destroying several warplanes and killing six. Several civilians were injured, but all of those killed and seriously injured were soldiers. The missiles were launched from two destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea.

President Trump said the attack was in response to the deaths of dozens of Syrians from poison gas on Tuesday following a bombing in the Idlib province by Syrian government forces.

About 98 have died so far from the gas and over 5,000 are injured, a doctor on the ground in the area, Dr. Ahmad Dbais from the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, told CNA. They showed symptoms of exposure to sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent, and not chlorine, he said.

Trump blamed Assad and his forces for conducting a chemical weapons attack – a violation of international law and a war crime. Assad for his part has denied the culpability of Syrian forces in the deaths, and his Russian allies said that Syrian bombs had hit buildings where Syrian rebels were manufacturing chemical weapons, spreading the gasses.

The Syrian airbase used for Tuesday’s bombing was targeted on Thursday by U.S. forces, President Trump noted.

“Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children,” the President stated from Mar-a-Lago, Fla. on Thursday night. “Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.”

Russia's military was informed of the strike in advance, the Pentagon has said.

Leading U.S. bishops called Friday for a political solution to the conflict in Syria. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and the head of the International Justice and Peace Committee, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, issued the joint statement.

“The use of internationally banned indiscriminate weapons is morally reprehensible,” they stated of the chemical attacks. “At the same time, our Conference affirmed the call of Pope Francis to attain peace in Syria 'through dialogue and reconciliation.'”

“The longstanding position of our Conference of Bishops is that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution. We ask the United States to work tirelessly with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial humanitarian assistance, and encourage efforts to build an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities.”

In late 2012 and throughout 2013, several reports came out of Syria alleging the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the Syrian people. In September 2013, UN chemical weapons inspectors confirmed that sarin was used in one of the attacks taking place Aug. 21, 2013. Estimated death tolls from these attacks range from at least 300 to as many as 1,500 killed. Over 3,600 people were wounded in the attacks.

On September 7, 2013, Pope Francis held a vigil for peace in Syria and other conflicts around the world. “Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace,” Pope Francis said of the vigil.

After criticism of the attacks from the United States and the international community, U.S. and Russian delegations helped to strike an agreement in September 2013 requiring Syria to disclose its chemical weapons and facilities to the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The organization moved to shut down and dispose of the facilities and weapons, and by the end of 2014, Syria’s chemical weapons were declared destroyed, along with 24 of the 27 chemical weapons production facilities.

However, U.S. intelligence reports indicated that Syria had not disclosed the entirety of its program to inspectors. Furthermore, reports kept surfacing of continued use of chemical agents in attacks against civilian targets in 2014, 2015, and 2016. In 2015 and 2016, the OPCW and UN partners conducted a fact-finding investigation into some of these attacks.

The group concluded it had “sufficient evidence” that the Assad regime targeted civilians with chlorine gas – a chemical weapon that was not specifically required for destruction by the previous agreement, but which is nevertheless banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. The OPCW and UN panel also concluded that the Islamic State had used a “sulphur-mustard” chemical weapon in Syria in 2014 and 2015.

Archbishop Jeanbart expressed his wish that the U.S. had investigated first to ensure who were the perpetrators of Tuesday’s deaths by gas before taking military action.

“Of course, if the government in Syria has used the gas and chemical weapons, we agree that he shouldn’t do [this] and he must be punished,” he told CNA. “But I am afraid they didn’t have time to check and to make sure that he [Assad] did it himself.”

“What is making us unhappy and sad is that this strike has come too quickly,” he added. “They would have been able to do it any time later. They would have been able, in this situation, to ask Russia make pressure on the government to withdraw, and perhaps it could have been a reason to impose and oblige Bashar Assad to step out.”

“But I do not understand what happened, and it has been more destruction and more sadness and more terror coming to our people.”

By citing the responsibility borne by those in positions of political authority, Pope Francis “expects some kind of political response,” Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America, explained to CNA of Pope Francis’s appeal to the conscience of political leaders responsible for Tuesday’s atrocities.

Pope Francis was probably looking for the international community to “exert some pressure” on the perpetrators, he added, and this could include the proportional use of force.

Thursday night’s missile strike showed a “judicious use of force,” he said. Action was needed “to enforce international law and international treaties” on the use of chemical weapons.

While “one would prefer” that there be “international concerted action” instead of one world power – in this case, the U.S. – taking action, some variables could have prompted a unilateral action here, he explained.

First, the response to the use of chemical weapons – an attack on an airbase used to launch bombings in the region – needed to be swift and a surprise in order to be successful, he said, and an international action would have taken time to form – if it formed at all.

Also, he noted, the world was watching – in particular, North Korea and China. Amid North Korea’s ballistic missile test launch this past week, the Trump administration showed that it may act “in a more decisive manner” when international interests are at stake, Capizzi said.

With Chinese president Xi Jingping visiting the White House this week, Thursday’s attack could function as a message to China to hold North Korea in check.

However, there must be measures taken to prevent Thursday’s attack from morphing into a greater military struggle in the region, Capizzi acknowledged, especially as the situation in Syria has grown more complex in recent years with the involvement of Russia.

As history has shown, “small, limited uses of force on the international level can expand,” he reflected.

Pro-life, religious freedom leaders cheer confirmation of Neil Gorsuch

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 13:08

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2017 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life and religious freedom advocates cheered the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch on Friday to the U.S. Supreme Court, filling an almost 14 month-long vacancy.

“As Catholics, we welcome the confirmation of a judge whose record adheres to the Constitutional right to free exercise of religion without government bullying and whose scholarship affirms the inherent dignity in all people,” Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said on Friday.  

Judge Gorsuch of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was tapped by President Donald Trump on February 1 to fill a vacancy left on the bench by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

While President Barack Obama had nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the D.C. circuit court, to fill Scalia’s seat, the Republican-led Senate refused to vote on his confirmation, saying they would wait until after the presidential election to confirm a nominee from the new president.

Trump had promised on the campaign trail to nominate a pro-life judge. While refusing to directly answer if he supported the repeal of Roe v. Wade, he said in the final presidential debate in October “if that [repeal] would happen, because I am pro-life and I will be appointing pro-life justices…it [the legality of abortion] will go back to the individual states.”

Pro-life leaders praised the confirmation. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, stated that “the swift fulfillment of President Trump’s commitment to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices is a tremendous win for the pro-life movement.”

“November exit polls showed that 1 in 5 Americans prioritized the Supreme Court nomination when casting their vote, and with a majority of 57 percent of those voters casting a vote for Donald Trump, it is clear that the majority of American voters wanted a strict constructionist,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said on Friday.

The Senate voted 54-45 to confirm Judge Gorsuch on April 7 after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ditched the parliamentary rules of requiring a 60-vote majority to bring confirmations of Supreme Court judges to the floor for a vote.

Senate Democrats had initially gathered enough votes to filibuster the confirmation – which would have blocked a vote on Gorsuch from taking place – but McConnell chose the “nuclear option” of changing the rules to require only a simple majority of votes in the 100-seat chamber to end the filibuster, rather than the usual 60 votes.

His predecessor, former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, had broken precedent and used the “nuclear option” to confirm judges to the lower federal courts and executive branch nominees.

Advocates of religious liberty said Gorsuch will offer much-need support to freedom of religion, which is suffering from an “erosion.”

“A Supreme Court justice, like Judge Gorsuch, who understands and values our founding documents, and hews closely to their meaning will help ensure that all Americans can continue to prosper and that we, as Catholics, remain free in exercising our religious principles,” said Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor with The Catholic Association.

On the Supreme Court, the first religious liberty case Gorsuch will hear will be on April 19 with oral arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley. That case involves a church’s eligibility for a state reimbursement program as it looks to make safety upgrades to its playground which is used by members and nonmembers of the church.

Opponents say that according to a Missouri state law, churches cannot benefit from taxpayer funds in cases like this because doing so would be an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

However, Trinity Lutheran Church and its lawyers are arguing that the Constitution does not require religious entities to be penalized simply because they are religious. The playground in question is for the entire community, not just members of the church, they say.

Another case that the Supreme Court has not taken up yet is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the state’s civil rights commission ruled that a Lakewood, Colo. cake artist could not decline to serve a same-sex wedding on the grounds of his religious beliefs. The court could take up that case now that Gorsuch is confirmed.


With 20-week abortion ban, Iowa set to join national trend

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 12:27

Des Moines, Iowa, Apr 7, 2017 / 10:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With stronger abortion restrictions advancing in the state legislature, Iowa is close to becoming the 20th state to bar abortion after 20 weeks.

The Iowa House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks into pregnancy, require a three-day waiting period for abortion, and require an ultrasound for women considering an abortion.

Last month, the Iowa Senate approved the 20-week abortion ban, but it must now review and approve provisions the House added such as the three-day waiting period and other changes.

Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign the bill. At a pro-life rally, he pledged to be “a strong advocate for the unborn.”

The Iowa Catholic Conference, in an action alert on the Iowa Senate’s version of the bill, said the legislation would update state law to “reflect the advances made in saving the lives of infants over the past 40 years.”

“Unborn children at 20 weeks post-fertilization, once considered too young to survive, are now doing so at an increasing rate,” the conference said. “An abortion will no longer be performed at or beyond that point (under the legislation) unless there is a serious threat to the long-term health or life of the mother.”

State Rep. Shannon Lundgren, the bill’s floor manager, also spoke in favor of the bill.

“Today we make a stand for our unborn girls and boys who will become men and women,” she said. “This is the first of many bills that I hope we pass as legislators to defend our unborn children.”

Nineteen other states have bans on abortion after 20 weeks, the Associated Press reports.

The House bill, passed by a 55-41 vote, would also require a woman seeking an abortion to be given a chance to view the ultrasound and hear the baby’s heartbeat. She would also be given information about adoption.

All Democrats and one Republican voted against the bill. Opponents said the medical community was not consulted and said that the bill was unnecessary given declines in the abortion rate.

The Iowa Catholic Conference noted that most states that neighbor Iowa have a 20-week abortion ban in place. Another neighbor, the state of Missouri, will consider a ban this legislative session.

“We are concerned Iowa might become a destination for late-term abortion providers without this legislation,” the Catholic conference said on its website in an action alert about the Senate bill.

A coalition of Republican legislators tried to pass a six-week abortion ban, the period after which a heartbeat is detected. They lacked the votes to pass it.

The Iowa House has also approved a non-binding amendment stating the legislature’s interest in protecting all unborn life.