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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Calif. Supreme Court weighs ballot measure to hasten death penalty

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 13:55

Sacramento, Calif., Jun 8, 2017 / 11:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A ballot measure intended to speed up the application of the death penalty is now being challenged before the California Supreme Court.

For its part, the California Catholic Conference has repeated its warning that a speedy death penalty risks further injustice.

“The last three Popes have said that the death penalty is no longer needed,” Steve Pehanich, director of communication and advocacy at the California Catholic Conference, told CNA. “We don’t think it’s needed any longer in California. We have supported the end of its use, and we continue to do so.”

The Catholic conference opposed Prop. 66, whose fate is now before the state’s Supreme Court. The court heard oral arguments over the ballot initiative's constitutionality June 6.

The ballot measure imposes time limits on death penalty reviews and requires death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims. It requires attorneys who are qualified for the most serious appeals in non-capital appeal cases to take appeals in death penalty cases.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit before the Supreme Court argue that some of the requirements for appeals, like the five-year limit, are simply impossible to meet. University of California-Berkeley School of Law professor Elizabeth Semel told Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio the proposition could violate the constitutional separation of powers by taking away court authority.

Backers of the measure argued against objections about its practicality, saying it should be given a chance to work.

The California Catholic Conference has not taken a position on the merits of the lawsuit. However, Pehanich said Prop. 66’s stated goal was “to speed up executions.”

“There are very good reasons why you have to take your time on this. You don’t want to be wrong. You don’t want to execute an innocent person,” he said. “Speeding them up just makes matters worse. It makes the likelihood of executing innocent people all the greater.”

The Catholic conference strongly backed a different amendment in the 2016 election: Proposition 62, which promised to end the death penalty and reduce death sentences to life in prison without parole. That measure was favored by only 46.8 percent of voters.

However, 50.9 percent of voters backed Prop. 66.

Pehanich said there was political strategy behind two competing ballot measures.

“Proposition 66 was really put on the ballot to confuse the situation,” he said. “It’s a very common technique in California ballot politics. If you don’t like the proposition, for a small amount of money you can get a different proposition. People look at the two and just scratch their heads. They don’t vote for either one.”

California’s Supreme Court has 90 days to issue a ruling on Prop. 66.

Can the Catholic Church help an addicted generation?

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 13:31

Greenwich, Connecticut, Jun 8, 2017 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Young Americans are dying at a rate not seen since the Vietnam War.

But they are not dying in combat - they’re dying of the effects of drug overdoses, alcoholism, mental illness and suicide, at a rate 200 percent higher than the 1980s in much of the United States. 

A recent report from the U.S. surgeon general estimates that more than 27 million Americans have problems with prescription drugs, illegal drugs or alcohol. But just a fraction of those people, only 10 percent, get meaningful help.

And it’s not just substance addictions that are on the rise. Process addictions, related to behaviors, have also seen recent spikes. Pornography addiction in particular has reached what some view as crisis levels.

A 2011 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information estimated that roughly 47 percent of all American adults struggle with at least one of the 11 most common forms of process or substance addictions.

The prevalence of all kinds of addiction likely mean that most people in the pews of a Catholic Church on any given Sunday have experienced addiction in themselves or in a loved one.

So what is the Church doing to address the problem?

Understanding addiction

Dr. Gregory Bottaro is a clinical psychologist and the founder and director of Catholic Psych Institute in Connecticut. He frequently sees clients who are dealing with either substance or process addictions.

Part of the problem of addiction is a widespread misunderstanding of addiction as a lack of intellectual or spiritual willpower, Dr. Bottaro said.

“You have to recognize that there is an actual brain disease in effect,” he told CNA.

“So as much as you can sit and talk through the issues, you’re dealing with real brain chemicals that are out of balance, and a real disease that has occurred in the brain, so approaching it from a number of different angles is very important.”

Behaviors or substance abuse have to reach certain diagnostic marks to be considered addictions, Dr. Bottaro said. Generally, an addiction is occurring when a person is compulsively dependent on a substance or behavior, and continues to do it despite negative consequences and a desire to stop.

And just like addicted individuals can build up tolerances to substances and require more to achieve the same effect, process addictions also show tolerance buildups, such as when a pornography addict requires more hardcore viewing to achieve the same release.  

Erik Vagenius is the founder of Substance Abuse Ministry Scripts, or SAM Scripts, a faith and scripture based ministry designed to help ease the process from recognition of addiction to seeking professional help.

Vagenius, who has been involved in addiction ministry for decades and is a recovered alcoholic himself, said that the first step to solving the problem is recognizing that there is one.

“I firmly believe so much for this (ministry) to be part of the church,” he told CNA. “(T)o have a church community that recognizes that they’re behind you, just as they would be if somebody had cancer, helps to destigmatize this thing.”

“Unfortunately the reactions I sometimes get are well, this isn’t really a Catholic problem. But I’ll bet everybody in the pew on any given day has had some relationship with the disease of addiction,” he added.  

What does faith have to do with it?

Faith has long been a tenet of many addiction recovery programs. One of the most popular, Alcoholics Anonymous has strong Christian roots because it’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, had a spiritual awakening after he was hospitalized for his drinking in 1934. He joined the Oxford Group, a nondenominational Christian movement popular in the U.S. and Europe at the time, and helped found AA in 1935.

The AA tenets of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects and restitution for harm done to others grew out of Oxford Group teachings.

Today, allegiance to a specific creed is not required for membership, though the group still considers itself a spiritual, albeit denominationally non-preferential group. Four of the 12 steps in the AA program mention God directly, and the 12th calls for a "spiritual awakening as a result of these steps."

Vagenius also considers addiction a spiritual battle.

“We’re dealing with a spiritual disease, and that’s why the Church needs to be involved with it,” he said.

The website for SAM Scripts recognizes that “addiction is a spiritual illness that disconnects a person: from self, loved ones, and God. SAM's mission is to help these individuals reconnect through education, prevention, referral, and family support.”

Dr. Bottaro said he also incorporates faith in his recovery programs for addicts.

He said he was especially inspired after hearing a talk by Catholic speaker Christopher West, who specializes in Theology of the Body.

“He said basically we have this desire, and our desires are insatiable. So God made us with this desire for more more more, and with that desire we can do one of three things...we can become a stoic, and addict or a mystic.”

A stoic ignores the desire or tries to repress it and pretend it doesn’t exist. An addict tries to fulfill their desires with the things of this world, and a mystic “directs their desires towards God, and that’s where we enter into that mysticism by transcending the finitude of this life,” he said.

That’s still an abstract way of looking at a very real disease, Dr. Bottaro said. However, there are several Catholic programs that offer concrete assistance to struggling addicts of all levels.

Catholic recovery programs

On the less intensive side, Dr. Bottaro has developed an 8-week online program that anyone can access from home called Catholic Mindfulness. It adds the Catholic understanding of abandonment to Divine Providence to a traditional mindfulness approach to healing.

“If you look into what mindfulness is, you’re basically training your brain to know that you’re safe, because the anxiety response is how God made us to react to danger,” he said. “The problem is we overuse that...we activate our anxiety response, but most of the time we’re not actually in danger. So mindfulness is basically paying attention to what’s actually real right now to convince your brain that you’re safe, and that corrects the brain chemistry.”

“The Catholic perspective as to why we’re safe is that we have a Father who loves us and who always keeps us in his hands, and we have a reason to trust that everything is going to be ok.”

Vagenius refers to those in his ministry as “SAM teams” who share their time and talent, typically through talks and meetings, to offering hope, healing and reconciliation to those touched by addiction. SAM teams provide a safe, confidential place for people to seek help and referral at the parish level.

Team members do not have to be in recovery but need to be acquainted with addiction, and must be approved by their pastor.  

The ministry’s exact format varies from parish to parish, depending on those involved and the needs of the faith community. Vagenius’ trainings provide a basic format, and the parish SAM team develops its own dynamic from that outline based on specific needs.

Depending on the person, more intensive work may be necessary, including outpatient psychotherapy and group counseling, or even residential programs.

St. Gregory Retreat Center is a Catholic residential program for adults struggling with substance abuse located in Adair, Iowa.

The program offers separate residential facilities for men and women and offers a “holistic approach that combines the very best research in psychology, health, social support, and other methodologies.”

The program targets addiction behavior in four different aspects of life: biological, psychological, social, and spiritual.

Besides counseling, social activities and physical exercise, daily Mass and regular access to the sacraments are part of the residents’ normal routine.

Natalie Cataldo, Director of Admissions at St. Gregory, told CNA that incorporating spirituality in the recovery process has proven to be very effective.

“Research shows that people are more successful in overcoming addiction when they have an active spirituality in their lives,” she told CNA in an e-mail interview.

“Most people who come to us have had not a great past. With the sacrament of reconciliation, our guests are able to ask for forgiveness... Allowing them to feel like they are getting rid of the past, making new good habits for the future that they can start using and making better choices.  It also allows for self reflection and self evaluation.”

For those in post-recovery, there are programs available to help ease people back into their normal routine.

Dr. Bottaro works at one such facility, Ender’s Island in Connecticut, a residential program for young men “with or without faith” who are recently out of recovery. The program provides a community in which to practice the 12 steps and support for a better transition into regular life, as well as daily Mass and regular access to the sacraments.

The biggest barriers to seeking help for addiction can be denial on the part of the individual and a perceived stigma in seeking help. Increased education and understanding from everyone in the Church can help break these barriers, Dr. Bottaro said.

“It’s important to have support and understanding that there are other ways to fight these battles than just prayer, or just kind of sucking it up and hanging in there and seeing how far you can go before you get help,” he said.

“Once you’re looking for help, there’s a wide spectrum.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Dec. 16, 2016.

Delaware legislature votes to drop restrictions on abortion

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 02:08

Dover, Del., Jun 8, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In Delaware, lawmakers’ vote to pass a bill that would strike down almost all remaining abortion restrictions drew strong criticism from pro-life advocates, who warned it would provide safe harbor for Kermit Gosnell-style abortionists.

“Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are using Delaware as a testing ground for their extreme legislation to ensure abortionists can carry out abortions without limit – even on healthy children hours from birth,” charged Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

Under Delaware’s current law, which was rendered inactive by federal laws and court decisions, abortion is allowed only in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, if there is a substantial risk the unborn child would be born with serious disabilities, or if the child was conceived in rape or incest, the Associated Press reports.

Current law also bars abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy. It requires parental consent for girls under 18, and written consent and a 24-hour waiting period for a woman seeking abortion. Women seeking abortion must also receive a full explanation of fetal development, the abortion procedure and its effects, and reasonable alternatives to abortion.

These measures are stripped under the bill. Instead, the bill would allow abortion without restriction before viability, and would allow abortion after viability if a doctor determines it is necessary to protect a woman’s life or health, or that the baby is not likely to survive without extraordinary measures.

The Susan B. Anthony List and other critics charged that the bill would make abortion legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

The bill passed the Senate by one vote in May. It passed the House June 6 by a vote of 22-16.

Democratic Gov. John Carney will sign the bill, a spokesman said.

Ellen Barrosse, a pro-life leader in Delaware and a Republican National Committeewoman, invoked the crimes of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist convicted of murdering three infants who had survived abortion at a legal abortion clinic that went without a health inspection for 17 years. Gosnell would also work in Delaware, but did not face legal charges there.

“This bill would open the floodgates to Gosnell-style ‘houses of horrors’ abortion clinics in Delaware,” Barrosse said.

She charged that Delaware women have “suffered at the hands of unscrupulous abortionists.”

The Susan B. Anthony List cited other abortionists who have faced disciplinary action in the state as well as a 2013 report from ABC Philadelphia that two nurses at the Planned Parenthood of Delaware abortion clinic quit their jobs and alleged unsafe, unsanitary conditions and “a meat-market style of assembly-line abortions” at the facility.

Barrosse cited a trend favoring abortion restrictions in 20 U.S. states, saying: “Delaware is headed backwards.”

Dannenfelser, who chaired the Donald Trump presidential campaign’s pro-life coalition and its Catholic advisory board, contended that abortion advocates are “running scared” given the presence of “a pro-life president in the White House and already one pro-life [Supreme Court] justice nominated and confirmed.”

On June 6, the Susan B. Anthony List announced details of a nearly six-figure campaign to urge legislators in the Delaware House of Representatives to oppose the bill, which passed the House the same day. The campaign included a radio ad, digital campaign, direct mail, constituent phone calls, and a rally.

Why this bill could be crucial for Iraq's beleaguered Christians

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 18:55

Washington D.C., Jun 7, 2017 / 04:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a myriad of reports of United States humanitarian aid not reaching Christian genocide survivors in Iraq, their advocates in the U.S. are hoping that will change very soon.

“There is an emergency here,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House panel on global human rights, stated at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday regarding emergency relief for Iraq and Syria genocide victims.

“We’re not asking for new money,” he said June 7. “We’re asking to make sure the money that’s in the pot is provided to those who have been left out and left behind for about three years.”
 
After forces of the Islamic State swept through Syria and Iraq in 2014, the U.S. has sent humanitarian aid for the victims of the caliphate, who were driven from their homes by the hundreds of thousands. Many fled to refugee camps or have been living in temporary shelters, at risk of disease and malnutrition or starvation.

However, many Christians reportedly avoided refugee camps because of the security situation, and U.S. aid that was sent to the central government of Iraq or local governments has not reached Christians. There has been an “appalling lack of equitable distribution of U.S. humanitarian assistance when it came to the Christians and the Yazidis,” Smith said.

Thus, Christian genocide survivors in Iraq are almost completely dependent on NGOs and aid groups. The Knights of Columbus alone has sent over $12 million for their aid.

That money has been “squeezed to get every ounce of efficacy out of it to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide shelter, and of course to provide medicines,” Smith said.

However, the money from the private sector is “not enough,” he insisted, saying that Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil has warned of “severe food shortages” if nothing is done.

Before Christmas, Smith toured the region around Erbil where many Christian families are living after they fled from the Islamic State.

“When I went to Erbil with my staff and a few other individuals, I can tell you I was shocked that we were not supplying the kind of assistance to these women, children, and men families,” he explained on Wednesday. He was told by the consulate that a camp for displaced persons a 10-minute drive away was unsafe to tour.

“It was not dangerous. It was filled with little kids and young families,” he said. “They had not even been there to do an assessment.”

So, Reps. Smith and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) co-sponsored a bill that passed the U.S. House Tuesday evening and is set to move on to the Senate, which would help ensure that the U.S. aid can go to churches and their auxiliaries that serve Christian refugees.

The Trump administration has reportedly signaled its support for the bill, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act.

“The State Department would not allow any U.S. dollars to flow to church organizations. And this legislation allows for that,” Eshoo explained on Wednesday. “It is so essential to work with those that are on the ground who know exactly where the dollars should go.”

The money is there, Smith insisted, noting that Congress set aside a “huge pot of money” for beleaguered minorities in the recent omnibus bill. However, it has to reach the churches that are on the ground helping Christians.

A 2012 GAO report found that USAID had failed to show how it was fulfilling a 2008 mandate that funds be “provided” for aid to religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq during the war.

“I am still trying to track, through the GAO, dollars that the Congress appropriated many years ago at the height of the Iraq War,” Eshoo said. “And that all went through the State Department and their agencies, and we’re still trying to figure out where that money went.”

It is vital that more aid reaches Christians and other minorities in Iraq to ensure that they remain there, advocates insist.

Christians are examples of forgiveness and can help with the reconciliation process between different ethnic and religious parts of the region, and the preservation of minorities can help ensure “pluralism and stability” in Iraq, the Religious Freedom Institute explained.

Texas bishops decry state's new immigration law

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 18:40

Brownsville, Texas, Jun 7, 2017 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two Texas bishops have defended from charges of fear mongering the opponents of a new law which targets sanctuary cities for immigrants, explaining that the bill draws little distinction between criminals and undocumented immigrants.

The law in question, Senate Bill 4, was signed into law May 7. It will take effect in September, and requires local government and law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. Cities which do not comply face fines and the withholding of state funding.

The law also allows law enforcement to question the immigration status of those they detain, as well as the victims and witnesses of crimes. This provision had led to fears that undocumented immigrants will be less likely to report crimes.

“The public debate often makes it sound as if all immigrants are criminals because they are here without proper documentation. Overstaying a visa is not a criminal offense; it is a civil offense against a federal statute,” Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio and Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville wrote in a June 4 column.

“Yes, immigrants without valid documents have infracted federal statutes; but they are not justly lumped together with human traffickers, drug dealers and murderers,” they maintained.

The column, which appeared in the McAllen-based daily The Monitor, is a response to a previous column by Governor Greg Abbott (R) which appeared in the San Antonio Express-News and in The Monitor.

The governor had charged that “Whether driven by misunderstanding or by purposeful fear mongering, those who are inflaming unrest place all who live in Texas at greater risk.”

The bishops said there is more to the unrest than misunderstanding, and that it is SB 4 which is causing fear among immigrant communities.

“This new Texas state law encourages the notion that the immigrant community is defined by the criminals in our midst – instead of defined by the fact that most immigrants are working families with children. These things generate fear in the immigrant community.”

Archbishop García-Siller and Bishop Flores are worried that the option for law enforcement to question immigration status will lead to aggressive interpretations, and that “pretexts will be invented so that [people] can be stopped and asked about their immigration status.”

Noting that while the law “prohibits discrimination and profiling,” the bishops said that “the immigrant poor are not likely to have the resources or the counsel needed to defend themselves.”

“People get stopped, and they are desperately afraid. They immediately wonder about their children, and about their own safety if deported. It is this uncertainty and potential panic at the moment of questioning that breeds fear and that hurts the community fabric.”

Any law enforcement agencies that are more aggressive in questioning immigration status will undermine trust in all law enforcement persons, the bishops noted.

“And does not such uncertainty make it less likely that crimes will be reported?”

Archbishop García-Siller and Bishop Flores noted that “We are a nation of laws, as the governor says; unfortunately, not all our laws are good laws. Bad laws have bad effects.”

They stated, “we will step up our efforts to inform persons of their rights, including the right to remain silent, and to make available the best advice about what to do if you are stopped and are without valid documentation.”

“We will also work to repeal SB 4, or correct the most injurious aspects of this law. And we encourage all who oppose this law to work together in strenuous and peaceful ways toward this same end.”

 

Increasing homelessness a worrisome trend for Archbishop Gomez

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 13:33

Los Angeles, Calif., Jun 7, 2017 / 11:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of Los Angeles has urged a prayerful and prudent response to a housing crisis in his city, relating the problem to the link between human and environmental ecology.

“The housing crisis is a reminder that in God’s creation, there is an ecology of the human person and an ecology of the natural environment. We cannot think about the one without the other,”Archbishop José Gomez said in a June 6 column for the Angelus.

His column follows outcry from fellow bishops and Catholic leaders who have criticized the Trump administration for withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement. The 2015 accord was signed by 191 countries dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Last Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that the US would exit the deal, calling the agreement destructive to workers and business interests in the nation.

Archbishop Gomez said the effects of climate change not only have a negative effect on the environment, but also the people who live in it.

He cited a report by the Los Angeles Times which stated the city has seen a 23 percent increase in homelessness since last year.

The archbishop is concerned that the growing number represents a widening gap “between those who have what they need for a dignified life and those who do not.”

“I worry that we are getting accustomed to these sights in our city. We cannot allow ourselves to accept a Los Angeles where sidewalks become permanent residences for our neighbors.”

He said that “the lack of affordable housing is directly related to ‘the human ecology.’ This is true in the poorest nations of the world, but sadly it is also true here in the wealthiest.”

He continued to explain that “human life and human nature must be protected and cared for” and this means defending the environment as well by not participating in a “throw away culture”.

“The natural environment must also be protected and cared for. We are not put here to consume what we need and throw away what we do not, with no regard for the health of our communities or the needs of future generations.”

“God made this earth, not for its own sake, but to be a home for the human family. The good things of creation are meant to be shared, developed and used for the good of all of his children.”

Archbishop Gomez ended the column by asking the Holy Spirit to “inspire us to do what is right and guide us to find creative pathways to renew the face of the earth.”

Nun urges Catholic prayer breakfast attendees to keep the faith

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 12:43

Washington D.C., Jun 7, 2017 / 10:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- To preserve their future and reveal the life found within the Church, Catholics in the United States must not forget their faith, but should find hope within it.

These were the words of an Iraqi-born nun to hundreds of political and religious leaders gathered for the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday. The annual event was begun in 2004 as a response to St. John Paul II's call for a “new evangelization.”

“I believe in the future of our country and our Church as long as we keep our roots grounded in the soil of Grace that comes from God,” said Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart at a June 6 speech in Washington, D.C.

Originally from Iraq, Mother Olga is now an American citizen and lives in Boston, where she founded the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth in 2011. She was raised in the Assyrian Church of the East, and was received into the Catholic Church in 2005.

Mother Olga warned the several hundred Catholics gathered not to forget their religious identity, but to embrace it.

“A tree with no roots does not blossom. When we forget where we came from, and where we have been planted and what we have to do to in order to flourish, we can lose hope,” she said.  “However, when we are living in hope, we find the strength and courage to journey forward, helped by the Lord and with others.”

Fellow keynote speakers at the prayer breakfast were Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA, and Vice President Mike Pence, who was raised Catholic.

At the breakfast, Mother Olga spoke of her time ministering to prisoners in Iraqi prisons, many of whom were kept in cells underground and whose family members rarely visited. Many of the prisoners Mother Olga met asked why she visited, and why she did other acts of charity during the four wars she experienced growing up, such as gathering the bodies of the dead to give them a proper burial.

“My answer to them was always the same,” she said: “my love for God and my love for his children.”

Mother Olga recounted her experience moving to the United States and learning about the religious background of the pilgrims and other colonists who founded the country – particularly of their search for religious freedom.  

“The true democracy and the strength of our democracy should not only be seen as an expression of the political minds of the people, but also in our embrace of our own identity as Americans and appreciation of the religious roots of our foundation of a nation,” she commented.

However, Mother Olga commented that she is concerned by trends within her new country that belie "a hesitation to speak about God, even in the simplest ways, such as saying 'God bless you' when somebody sneezes.”

She urged the Catholics gathered to look at the examples of the American Saints, Blesseds, Venerables, and Servants of God, as well as the example of holy men and women alive today who are “serving in an ordinary, hidden way.”

“They are the true expressions and finest fruit of the American religious expression.”

“May our gathering today as people who love God and this country be a renewed commitment to renew the spirit of cooperation which has accomplished so much good through the history of our nation," Mother Olga prayed.

"May the fruit of today's prayer for our nation be a grace for our people to experience a new birth of freedom, freedom planted with faith, grounded in hope, nourished by love in the soil of truth."

Archbishop Broglio’s address also highlighted to the importance of the Catholic faith for Americans. To do so, he recounted the story of  Father Joseph Lafleur, a military chaplain who died while helping others escape from a damaged prison ship during World War II.

"If we were to survey the history of the Church, and look at the lives of the saints, we would discover men and women who built on their virtues, to reflect the authenticity of their faith. The same thing has an impact on the nation," he said.

The archbishop expounded on the importance of the virtues, and how they strengthen and form the foundation of Christian life.

Quoting Cardinal James Hickey, who was Archbishop of Washington from 1980 to 2000, the archbishop said that “a good Catholic is a good American because the practice of virtue also leads to good citizenship and there is no dichotomy between faith and life if we cultivate and practice virtue.”

“Each of us has the potential to rebuild our society and our world if we cultivate authentic virtue,” he added.  “Our virtue will give us strength and wisdom if we are open to it.”

Pence's keynote address encouraged those attending to be a “voice for the voiceless”, after proclaiming that “life is winning” in the United States through a variety of pro-life initiatives.

Also speaking at the event was Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, who gave the opening invocation for the event. The bishop began by reading a letter from Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who was unable to attend.

"Let us also be mindful of so many of our brothers and sisters around the world who continue to face persecution and suffering on account of their faith," read Cardinal Wuerl's message, speaking to the persecution Christians face in the Middle East and elsewhere. "As our Holy Father, Pope Francis said, 'We must not resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians who for 2,000 years have confessed the name of Jesus and have been fully integrated as citizens into the social cultural and religious life of the nations to which they belong.'"

Bishop Dorsonville also gave a benediction asking for the strength of the Holy Spirit and the visibility of Catholics’ faith and prayer for all persons, including the immigrants, homeless, and refugees.

“As we proclaim the good news of the Gospel: love, hope and faith,” the bishop prayed. “We continue to build up this world, not just so that we are right in this life, but that we are right in the other.”

Mythologizing the devil won't end well, Archbishop Chaput warns

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 02:04

Philadelphia, Pa., Jun 7, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A society that relies on reason and technology, without faith, risks forgetting God and making a deal with the devil, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia has warned.

“We’re in a struggle for souls. Our adversary is the devil. And while Satan is not God’s equal and doomed to final defeat, he can do bitter harm in human affairs,” Archbishop Chaput said. “The first Christians knew this. We find their awareness written on nearly every page of the New Testament.”

Writing in his June 5 column for Catholic Philly, titled “Sympathy for the Devil”, he said: “The modern world makes it hard to believe in the devil. But it treats Jesus Christ the same way. And that’s the point.”

The archbishop noted a medieval Christian saying, “no devil, no Redeemer.” When the devil is denied, it is difficult to explain why Christ came to suffer and die for humankind.

“The devil, more than anyone, appreciates this irony, i.e., that we can’t fully understand the mission of Jesus without him,” he said. “And he exploits this to his full advantage. He knows that consigning him to myth inevitably sets in motion our same treatment of God.”

The archbishop’s column drew on the life of Leszek Kolakowski, a onetime critic of the Catholic Church who was a leading Marxist in communist-ruled Poland before being exiled. He later became an admirer of St. John Paul II.

In 1987, Kolakowski delivered a lecture at Harvard, saying, “when a culture loses its sacred sense, it loses all sense.”

“Evil is continuous throughout human experience,” the scholar said. “The point is not how to make one immune to it, but under what conditions one may identify and restrain the devil.”

Continuing this theme, Archbishop Chaput reflected on the story of Faust, the intellectual and scholar who sells his soul to the devil to learn the secrets of the universe.

“Faust doesn’t come to God’s creation as a seeker after truth, beauty, and meaning,” the archbishop said. “He comes impatient to know, the better to control and dominate, with a delusion of his own entitlement, as if such knowledge should be his birthright. A prisoner of his own vanity, Faust would rather barter away his soul than humble himself before God.”

“Without faith there can be no understanding, no knowledge, no wisdom,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We need both faith and reason to penetrate the mysteries of creation and the mysteries of our own lives.”

A society that relies on mastery of reason and its products like science and technology, but does not have faith, “has made a Faustian bargain with the (very real) devil that can only lead to despair and self-destruction.”

“Such a culture has gained the world with its wealth, power and material success. But it has forfeited its soul,” Archbishop Chaput warned.

Speak up for the voiceless, Pence encourages Catholic prayer breakfast

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 14:13

Washington D.C., Jun 6, 2017 / 12:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- United States Vice President Mike Pence exhorted those in attendance at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday to continue to be a “voice for the voiceless”, after proclaiming that “life is winning” in the nation.

“Life is winning in America. Life is winning through the steady advance of science that continues to illuminate more and more when life begins,”  Pence told the audience in Washington, D.C., June 6.

He added that the pro-life cause is advancing also “through the generosity of millions of adoptive families” and “through the compassion of caregivers and volunteers at crisis pregnancy centers and faith-based organizations.”

Pence addressed an estimated crowd of 1,300 at the 13th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast attended by many Catholic leaders including Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A., and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington.

The vice president stated: “I believe we’ve come to a pivotal moment in the life of our nation, and indeed, the life of the world. The Catholic community in America has made an enormous difference in the life of this nation.”

“And at this moment, I urge you to continue to stand up, to speak out, to continue to be that voice for the voiceless that the Church has been throughout its history, continue to be the hands and feet of our Savior, reaching in with love and compassion, embracing the dignity of all people of every background and every experience.”

Pence also reflected on the importance of daily prayer, saying that “in these challenging times I encourage you to take time every day to pray” with confidence, insisting that there is “so much need for healing” today.

The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast has taken place each year since 2004 as a response to St. John Paul II’s call for a “new evangelization.” Political leaders are invited to attend and speak, but the event is non-partisan.

Past keynote speakers have included Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship; House Speaker Paul Ryan; the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; and former US President George W. Bush.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Archbishop Broglio and Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, founder of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, addressed the audience.

Archbishop Broglio told those present to remember the virtues as the key to living heroic lives and being good citizens.

“The practice of virtue also leads to good citizenship,” he said, noting that there is “no dichotomy between faith and life if we practice good virtue.”

“Each of us has the potential to rebuild our society and our world if we cultivate authentic virtue,” he continued.

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, introduced Pence by saying that the U.S. needs a “new national political consensus” built on faith.

He added that “the times require men and women of prayer and humility, courage and conviction, leaders who can help bring healing to our nation.”

Pence began his keynote address by expressing his sorrow on behalf of the administration at the recent terror attacks in London that killed seven and injured 48, after attackers drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge, disembarked from the vehicle, and stabbed other persons in the vicinity on Saturday.

Pence also mentioned Monday’s hostage situation in Melbourne, Aus., in which a gunman was killed in a shootout with police and several officers were injured, according to the BBC.

“Our hearts break for the families and the victims,” Pence said. “They have our prayers. They have our unwavering resolve.”

Pence, one of six children, was baptized and raised Catholic, but said in October’s vice presidential debate that “my Christian faith became real for me when I made a personal decision for Christ when I was a freshman in college.”

He referred to himself as a “born-again Evangelical-Catholic” in a 1994 interview, and began attending an Evangelical megachurch with his family in the 1990s. He now says in public that he is a Christian.

Pence recalled on Tuesday that he received the Sacrament of Confirmation as a youth, with the name “Michael Richard Christopher Pence.” He also noted how “my Catholic faith poured an eternal foundation in my life” during his childhood in Indiana, and joked that he spent “eight years of hard time in a Catholic school,” the “beneficiary of an extraordinary Catholic education.”

“My own faith journey has taken me and my family in a different direction,” he said on Tuesday. Pence has not revealed which church he regularly attends. He stated Tuesday that he had “just attended Mass this weekend with my mom in Chicago.”

“My mom would be so proud,” he said of his speaking at the Catholic prayer breakfast, adding that “this honestly feels like coming home to me.”

He focused some of his speech on persecuted Christians worldwide, maintaining that the Trump administration is committed to promoting and protecting the freedom of religion. He said the administration “stands with those who are persecuted for their faith around the world” and “stands with the most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, and the unborn.”

Pence also cited President Donald Trump’s executive order on religious freedom, issued last month, as an “action to protect men and women of faith in the public square.”

The order, which granted “regulatory relief” to religious organizations fighting the previous administration’s contraception mandate, was nonetheless criticized by certain religious freedom advocates as being not broad enough. One chief criticism was that it failed to protect persons and institutions sued for discrimination for not supporting same-sex marriage.

Pence also mentioned Trump’s May 24 meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, saying the president and the Pope had a “lengthy and meaningful discussion about issues facing our world, about how our nation and the Church can work together.”

In particular, one area of collaboration could be to counter “the persecution of people of faith across the wider world,” he said on Tuesday, noting recent violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt as well as the genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria. “I believe that ISIS is guilty of nothing short of genocide,” he said of the terror group the Islamic State.

“Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of this admin,” he insisted.

However, the administration has yet to appoint an international religious freedom ambassador, a key position in the State Department charged with promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. diplomacy.

Bishop Choby of Nashville remembered for his pastoral care

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 13:39

Nashville, Tenn., Jun 6, 2017 / 11:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop David Choby of Nashville died at age 70 Saturday night after complications arose from a recent fall; he was a man known for his dear friendship and his commitment to promoting priestly vocations.

After a fall in his home early in February damaged his spine, Bishop Choby developed a reoccurring blood infection, which ultimately led to his death June 3 at about 10 pm.

“His engaging style, his keen intellect, especially in matters related to canon law, and most of all his warm personality will be greatly missed. Bishop Choby was a thoroughly gracious gentleman and churchman,” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville said June 4.

He added that Bishop Choby “leaves a legacy of true pastoral care for all.”

Bishop Choby was noted for his understanding of canon law and commitment to the formation of priests. Instead of flowers, his family has asked for donations to be made to a memorial fund for the Nashville diocese's Seminarian Education Fund.

A native to Nashville, he was born to Raymond and Rita Choby in January 1947. He was baptized at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, where he was later ordained a bishop. Attending seminary at Saint Ambrose College in Iowa and the Catholic University of America, he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Nashville in 1974 by Bishop Joseph Durick.

Before receiving his canon law degree from the University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, he was an associate pastor at St Joseph Parish and administrator for St Ann Parish. He also spent time working for the diocese’s tribunal while at Christ the King Parish – which he did for most of his priesthood until he was appointed bishop.

After receiving his degree in canon law, Bishop Choby joined the faculty of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio for five years. He was also the president for the seminary’s board of trustees.

Starting in 1989, and until he was appointment bishop in 2005, he worked as the pastor for St John Vianney Parish in Gallatin, Tennessee. He served two five-year terms with the diocese’s presbyteral council and college of consultors – a local ordinance governing the diocese’s pastoral welfare. He was then elected the diocesan administrator in 2004.

He was appointed Bishop of Nashville in 2005, and consecrated in February 2006. He continued to serve as Nashville's bishop until his death.

Visitations of Bishop Choby's body will be held at the Nashville Cathedral June 8, concluding with the Office of the Dead; and June 9 at St. John Vianney in Gallatin, followed by the rosary and a dinner.

The bishop's funeral Mass will be said June 10 at the Diocese of Nashville's chancery, and his body will be buried at Calvary Cemetery.

“Please pray for the repose of the soul of Bishop Choby, for his family and friends, and for the people of the Diocese of Nashville,” the diocese asked in a statement.

Insurance denied her chemo treatment. But it covered drugs for suicide.

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 04:49

Orange, Calif., Jun 6, 2017 / 02:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Stephanie Packer cherishes every moment with her husband and four children. Living with a terminal illness in Orange, California, her goal is “to do everything I can to have one more second with my kids.”

When assisted suicide legislation was officially passed in California in 2016, Packer experienced the ultimate slap in the face: her insurance company denied the coverage of critical chemotherapy treatment that her doctors recommended for her condition.

Her insurance would, however, cover end-of-life drugs for just $1.20.

“It was like someone had just hit me in the gut,” said Packer, who shared her story in the documentary, Compassion and Choice Denied.

Produced by the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, the documentary details Packer’s experience of living with a terminal illness in an age where assisted suicide is cheaper than the fight for life.

Particularly concerning: the insurance company had initially suggested that they would cover the chemotherapy drugs. It was one week after assisted suicide was legalized that they sent Packer a letter saying they were denying coverage. Despite multiple appeals, they continued to refuse.

“As soon as this law was passed, patients fighting for a longer life end up getting denied treatment, because this will always be the cheapest option… it’s hard to financially fight,” Packer said in the documentary.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in a handful of states, gaining momentum ever since the high profile suicide of cancer patient Brittany Maynard in 2014.

Many prominent Catholic leaders, such as Pope Francis, have spoken out against assisted suicide, calling it “false compassion.” Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez has said that assisted suicide “represents a failure of solidarity” and abandons the most vulnerable in society.

“We are called as people to support each other, to hold each other’s hand and walk through this journey,” Packer said, adding, “I want my kids to see that dying is a part of life, and the end of your life can be an opportunity to appreciate the things you didn’t appreciate before.”

Packer leads support groups for individuals with terminal and chronic illnesses. She said there was a clear morale change in many of the group members when physician-assisted suicide became legalized in her state.

“Normally, we would talk about support and love, and we would be there for each other, and just encourage them that, you know, today is a bad day, tomorrow doesn’t have to be,” she said.

But when assisted suicide was legalized, individuals became more depressed, with some saying that they wanted to end their lives.

“Patients are going to die because of this,” Packer said. “Patients need to know what this means, and the public needs to know that it’s going to kill these patients because they aren’t going to get the treatment they need to extend their life.”

She also said that assisted suicide proponents have twisted the meaning of suicide to make it sound “sweet and pretty,” and have also redefined what it means to live with a terminal illness.

“It makes terminally ill patients feel ‘less than,’ that they are not worthy of that fight, that they're not worth it,” she said.

Packer believes that end-of-life drugs should never “be supported by physicians or run by the government. That’s not okay... because it affects me negatively and affects my fight and my ability to stay here longer with my children.”

Packer pointed to other resources, saying that there is a whole treasury of support for terminal patients – financially, psychologically, physically, and even if patients just need someone to talk to.

While life-affirming palliative care remains an expensive medical cost, Packer recommended that more energy and resources fund hospice care, instead of making death the cheaper option.

“We can start to fix our broken health care system, and people will start to live instead of feeling like they have to choose to die.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 19, 2016.

 

Fix health care bill's major defects, bishops ask US Senate

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 02:08

Washington D.C., Jun 6, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite its pro-life actions, the latest health care reform bill has “many serious flaws,” the U.S. bishops have said.

People without a strong voice in the political process “must not bear the brunt of attempts to cut costs,” several leaders with the U.S. bishops' conference told U.S. Senators in a June 1 letter. They said lawmakers have “grave obligations” related to health care legislation and need to reject the “grave deficiencies” of the American Health Care Act.

The U.S. bishops’ letter to senators stressed the principles of universal health care access, respect for life, truly affordable health care, conscience protections, and the need for health care that is comprehensive and of high quality.

They asked the Senate to reject major changes to Medicaid, to retain protections for human life, to increase tax assistance for those with low-income and the elderly, to retain a cap on health care plan costs for the elderly, to protect immigrants, and to add health care protections.

On May 2 the House of Representatives narrowly voted (217 to 213) to pass a bill to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act and to replace it with the American Health Care Act.

The latest bill would replace the 2010 legislation’s individual insurance mandate with a 30 percent premium fine for having a significant gap in coverage. More tax credits would be offered, and the allowable contributions to health savings accounts would also be expanded.

The bill would cap the expansion of Medicaid and would allow states to determine which “essential health benefits” to recognize as mandatory for health plans. Under the 2010 legislation, this included hospitalizations and maternity care. The new bill would allow states to charge persons more based upon their health history, provided the states set up pre-existing pools. Under current law, this is forbidden.

The bill bars funding for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood for one year, instead directing $422 million in these funds to health care providers that do not perform abortions.

However, the new legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

The bishops said that the Catholic Church “remains committed to ensuring the fundamental right to medical care, a right which is in keeping with the God-given dignity of every person, and the corresponding obligation as a country to provide for this right.”

The U.S. bishops’ conference leaders who signed the letter were Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, who chairs the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, who heads the Committee on Migration.

US bishops say draft religious freedom rule 'long overdue'

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 16:23

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2017 / 02:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A draft federal rule from the Trump administration regarding the contraception mandate is “encouraging news” that could help return federal health care policy to a better approach toward matters of conscience, the U.S. bishops have said.

“Regulations like these reflect common sense, and what had been the consistent practice of the federal government for decades to provide strong conscience protection in the area of health care,” Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said June 1.

The bishops voiced hope that the final version of the regulations would remain strong. The bishops’ conference will analyze the final version in a more careful manner for more formal comment.

“Throughout, our goal will remain to protect both the conscience of individuals and our mission of sharing the Gospel and serving the poor and vulnerable through our ministries,” the bishops said.

Their comments responded to a 125-page draft memo of a religious liberty rule reportedly under consideration at the Department of Health and Human Services. The memo, dated May 23, was leaked and posted to the Vox news and opinion site.

The rule would add to, not replace, an Obama-era HHS rule, announced in late 2011, that required employers’ health plans to include coverage of sterilization and contraception. The mandate included some contraceptives that can cause abortion.

The initial rule’s religious exemption was so narrow it only exempted houses of worship, drawing widespread objections and lawsuits from more than 300 plaintiffs. Among those suing over the mandate is EWTN Global Catholic Network. CNA is part of the EWTN family.

Subsequent revisions allowed changes to the mandate for some religious entities. However, groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor objected that the rule still required their complicity in providing such coverage, which violates their religious and moral ethics. Refusal to comply with the current rule would result in heavy fines.

While the U.S. bishops noted the rule is still not approved, they said it is “long overdue.”

“If issued, these regulations would appropriately broaden the existing exemption to a wider range of stakeholders with religious or moral objections to the mandated coverage – not just houses of worship,” said Archbishop Lori, speaking on behalf of the U.S. bishops.

“This not only would eliminate an unwarranted governmental division of our religious community ‘between our houses of worship and our great ministries of service to our neighbors,’ but would also lift the government-imposed burden on our ministries ‘to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions’.” they said, citing the bishops’ 2012 statement “United for Religious Freedom.”

Other support for the draft rule came from Mark L. Rienzi, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the legal group that represents the Little Sisters of the Poor.

He told a May 31 press call that the draft rule acknowledges that, given how widely available the mandated products are, “there is simply no need for the government to force unwilling religious groups who serve the poor to provide them or to pay massive fines that would shut down these types of ministries.”

In 2014, the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision ruled that the mandate violated the religious freedom of closely-held private companies; but this did not apply to the Little Sisters’ case, as their organization is a non-profit.

In May 2016, the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to re-hear the nuns’ case, a decision considered a technical win for the Little Sisters.

How a Supreme Court decision about pension plans affects religious hospitals

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 16:08

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2017 / 02:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Supreme Court of the United States, in an 8-0 decision on Monday, ruled that the pension plans of religious hospitals meet religious exemptions from costly regulations.

“The Supreme Court got it right,” Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket, a legal firm which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Catholic health care networks, stated June 5. “Churches – not government bureaucrats and certainly not ambulance chasers – should decide whether hospitals are part of the church.”

Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, a consolidation of three cases involving religious hospitals like St. Peter’s HealthCare System in New Jersey and Advocate Health Care Network. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a concurring opinion.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, the newest member of the Court, did not join in the ruling as he had not yet been confirmed to the Court when oral arguments in the case took place March 27.

Employees of the health care networks had sued when the institutions tried to have their pension plans, which were regulated for years like the plans of for-profit corporations, re-classified under the religious exemption allowed by federal law, the Earned Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

This “church plan” exemption meant that the plans would not have to be subject to regulations of the plans of for-profit corporations. One such requirement was that employers have a pension reserve fund of a certain amount.

Requirements like this one, however, would take away resources from religious non-profits that could be spent elsewhere, like helping further the mission of the religious institutions, Becket argued.

Furthermore, it is important to see these religious institutions, which further the mission of churches, as part of churches, Rassbach said.

“It is simple common sense that nuns, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, seminaries, nursing homes, and orphanages are a core part of the church and not an afterthought,” he said.

One of the hospitals, St. Peter’s, is sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen. Mass is offered at the hospital daily, Catholic devotionals are provided, and some board members are appointed by the local bishop.

Justice Kagan, in the Court’s opinion, explained that under ERISA, not only “church plans,” but also the pension plans of “church-affiliated nonprofits,” were considered to be religiously exempt, “even though not actually administered by a church.”

“The question presented here,” the opinion continued, “is whether a church must have originally established such a plan for it to so qualify. ERISA, we hold, does not impose that requirement.”

This meant that even though churches did not directly set up pension plans of Catholic or Christian hospitals, they could be considered “church plans” if they were maintained by a “principal-purpose organization,” or a religious non-profit.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops insisted, in a previous amicus brief submitted on behalf of the religious hospitals, that the ministries of the religious hospitals should ensure that they are considered part of churches.

“Indeed, charity has always been a core component of the Catholic Church’s activities, ‘as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel’,” the USCCB said, quoting Benedict XVI’s 2005 encyclical Deus caritas est.

This charity is lived out “through myriad Catholic ministries” like health care providers, they added, which should be treated as part of the Church.

The need for a Catholic ministry to transgendered persons

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 05:12

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2017 / 03:12 am (CNA).- Walt Heyer remembers the moment when he started desiring to be a girl.

When he was just 4 years old, Heyer’s grandmother would crossdress him while she was babysitting. She loved seeing Heyer in dresses, and even made him his own purple chiffon dress.

But it was their secret, grandma said - don’t tell mom and dad.

At age 7, Heyer brought the purple chiffon dress home with him, and hid it in his bottom dresser drawer.

Heyer’s mom soon found the dress, and confronted him about it. That’s when he told his parents that grandma had been dressing him like a girl for years.

“You could have set off an atomic bomb in the house for the conflict between my dad and my mom, and my mom and her mom, my dad and his mother in law,” he said.

Heyer’s parents didn’t have the vocabulary or the resources to know how to handle the situation. His dad reacted out of fear, and implemented very stern disciplinary measures. An uncle of Heyer’s found out about the story, and started teasing him about it. Eventually, he sexually abused Heyer.

“You see people who have such disordered thinking (gender dysphoria) are hurting,” Heyer said.  “The problem is that we don’t know what to do with them.”  

The desire to be a woman - to be someone other than the abused and hurt little boy - stayed with Heyer into adulthood, even though he had married a woman and had two children. At age 42, he surgically transitioned to a woman and asked his friends to start calling him Laura.

“But it began as a fantasy and it continued as a fantasy, because surgery doesn’t change you to a female. It’s no more authentic than a counterfeit $20 is authentic. You can’t change a biological man into a biological woman.”

After less than 10 years, and a conversion experience, Heyer regretted his transition and desired to live as a man again. He now runs a website called sexchangeregret.com, where hundreds of people contact him every year, sharing their own experiences and regrets of sex change surgeries. Most of them follow the pattern of feeling affirmed by their sex change for a time, only to have underlying psychological problems come roaring back after about 10 years, Heyer said.

Heyer told his story in a talk earlier this year at a Courage conference in Phoenix, where dozens of clergy and those in ministry from throughout the country gathered to learn how to best serve those with same-sex attraction in the Church.

Just recently, the ministry has been including talks and resources not just on same-sex attraction, but also on the issue of transgenderism, as transgender advocates continue to garner attention in the public sphere.

How can the Church help transgendered people?

There are few Catholic ministries that exist today that minister particularly to those struggling with transgenderism and gender dysphoria. Other than a handful of local ministries, Courage - the Church’s outreach to people with same-sex attraction - is one of the few ministries addressing the issue of transgenderism on a national and international level.

“Until recently, pastoral care to individuals who struggle with their sexual identities as male or female has largely occurred at a local and personal level,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. Bishop’s Conference Office of Public Affairs.  

“As attention to and awareness of this experience has grown, we are seeing more efforts regionally and nationally to respond in a way faithful to the Catholic understanding of the human person and God’s care for everyone.”

Part of the problem is that the issue of transgenderism and its acceptance in popular culture is so new that mental health experts are still trying to catch up to the trend, said Dr. Gregory Bottaro, a Catholic psychologist with the group CatholicPsych.

“I think the mental health profession hasn’t really had time to really thoroughly catch up on it, besides those in the field who kind of just flow with the current of whatever is popular in the moment,” he said.

But mental health professionals who are willing to follow any current trend are only “furthering the divide” between Catholic and secular practitioners, he added.  

At the moment, the biggest concern regarding the popularising and normalizing of transgenderism is the effect it’s having on children, Dr. Bottaro said.

“With kids, it’s really important to recognize that their sexual development is so fragile, and the influence of what’s popular in the culture needs to be really, strongly filtered and studied and understood,” he said.

“The Catholic response is a return to true anthropology -  male and female he made them - to understand that our biology and our psychology are not separate things, and so to encourage the development of a curriculum of human nature that is consistent with a true anthropology,” he said.

And it’s not just the Catholic Church that is concerned with the effects of transgenderism on children.

In a paper entitled “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” The American College of Pediatricians lays out specific reasons that they are concerned about the popularising and normalising of transgenderism among kids.

“A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such. These children suffer from gender dysphoria,” the group said in its paper.

To encourage a child into thinking that “a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse,” they added.  

“So while there are biological abnormalities (children born with ambiguous genitalia or an extra chromosome), they’re certainly not circumstances to build philosophical systems on, so we see those as abnormalities and anomalies,” Dr. Bottaro explained.

Learning how to best serve transgendered persons

When asked, the U.S. Bishop’s Conference Office of Public Affairs referred back to Courage as an example of a ministry that was providing pastoral care and guidance on transgenderism at a national and international level.

Dioceses that have their own chapters of Courage to accompany those with same-sex attraction are also “in a good position to help people who have questions regarding their sexual identity as well,” the spokesperson said.

Father Philip Bochanski is the executive director of Courage International. He said the organization will continue to discern how best to serve transgendered persons and their families.

“There seem to be some similarities between the experience of confusion regarding one's sexual identity and the experience of same-sex attraction, but there are also many differences,” Fr. Bochanski said.

In the meantime, the ministry’s outreach for parents, called EnCourage, is already actively engaged with parents and families who have a transgendered loved one, Fr. Bochanski said.

The goal of EnCourage is to help parents and family members of those with same-sex attraction, or transgendered persons, to maintain strong family ties while also holding to their understanding and teaching of the faith.

“Our EnCourage members pursue these goals by striving to grow in their own prayer lives, to learn more about what the Church teaches and how to present it in a loving way, and to find ways to show love and support without either condemning their sons or daughters, nor condoning immoral decisions.”

“Like the experience of same-sex attraction, questions regarding sexual identity have a profound impact not just on the individual but on his or her whole family,” he said.

“I'm glad that our EnCourage members and their chaplains have the opportunity to share their experience of speaking the truth in love in their own families with other parents and spouses who are striving to understand and support their loved ones who identify as transgender.”

Heyer said first and foremost, the Church must gently but firmly challenge people, rather than affirm them in their gender dysphoria.

“If we affirm them in changing genders we’re actually being disobedient to Christ, because that’s not who they are. He made them man and woman,” Heyer said.

He also said that pastors and those in ministry in the Church need to be better informed about the long-term physical and emotional consequences of sex change surgery.

“Because we’re not talking about the consequences. We’re only talking about them transitioning, which all looks really good for 8-10 years,” he said, at which point many people desire to go back to their original gender.

“So if we can get a bigger set of glasses and look long term...then we can look and see the destruction that happens and begin to address the destruction.”

Pastors and psychologists, working together

Deacon Dr. Patrick Lappert, a permanent deacon and plastic surgeon, also addressed the clergy and ministry leaders at the recent Courage conference. In his talk, he addressed the medical background of transgender surgeries, as well as the terminology used when discussing the issue.

It’s important for those in ministry to be well versed in the issue, both from a catechetical standpoint and from a medical and secular standpoint, Dr. Lappert told CNA.

“One of the dangers in the subject is that ignorance causes people to respond in unhelpful ways - sometimes in anger, sometimes confusion, revulsion, all kinds of emotional things that do not serve anyone, and certainly do not serve the Church,” he said.

“Be so fluent in the issue (and the terminology) that nothing surprises you, so that you can serve the person justly with the truth and with love,” he advised.

It is also important for priests and Church leaders to have good working relationships with psychologists and psychiatrists who share a Christian anthropological view of the human person, and would not encourage people in their gender dysphoria, Dr. Lappert said.

Dr. Bottaro said he has seen an increase in good working relationships between pastors and psychologists who believe in a true Christian anthropology.

“I think priests are becoming more and more aware of the need for it, the more volatile the situation becomes, the more obvious and pressing the need is for mental health expertise from a Catholic perspective,” he said.  

He said that he thinks Courage is a good place to start as far as ministry goes, because they have the “experience and expertise to sort of bridge the gap.”

“It could become a whole separate ministry, but it’s definitely related to what Courage is already doing, so it could become a branch of it, or they could decide that there’s many more people suffering from the effect of transgenderism,” he said.

But the issue of transgenderism extends beyond just those struggling with gender dysphoria, he added. It’s a cultural issue even more so than a psychological one, and it needs to be addressed on the levels of education and improved family life and catechesis just as much as it needs to be addressed on an individual basis.

Throughout the process of discerning and pastoral care for both people with same-sex attraction and with gender dysphoria, the most important thing is to remember the foundation of everyone’s identity, Fr. Bochanski added: “That of being created in the image and likeness of God the Father, and of being called to share in God's grace as his sons and daughters.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 9, 2017.

 

How ISIS genocide victims still face discrimination in Kurdistan

Sun, 06/04/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Jun 4, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the Islamic State ravaged large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, religious minorities targeted for genocide fled into Kurdistan – but a new report alleges continued discrimination against them.

“We praise the Kurdistan Regional Government for sheltering and protecting these oppressed groups and urge it to continue to take steps to ensure that these communities realize their rights and fully participate in society,” said Fr. Thomas Reese, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

He made his remarks in the wake of the release of the commission's report on the situation for persecuted religious minorities in Kurdistan.

The report, “Wilting in the Kurdish Sun,” was prepared for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) between May and August of 2016 and released on June 1.

USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission charged with monitoring abuses of freedom of religion around the world and making policy recommendations to the State Department on international religious freedom.

In their new report, USCIRF explains how religious minorities in Northern Iraq – Yazidis, Christians, Shabak, and Turkmen – fled the ISIS onslaught in 2014 into Kurdistan. Christians, Yazidis, and Shi'a Muslims were labeled by the U.S. as genocide victims of ISIS, while other minorities were said to be victims of “crimes against humanity.” They took shelter in Kurdistan, including around 70,000 Christians in Erbil.

This has added to the ethnic and religious diversity of the region, which had already become more diverse since the U.S. invasion in 2003 resulted in minorities moving to Kurdistan, the report explained.

However, despite the freedom of religion of these minorities being “comparatively robust” in Kurdistan to other areas in the region, they still face discrimination, violence, and restrictions upon their movement there, the report alleged.

Furthermore, the region's “strained resources and security situation” threaten to contribute to future unrest and ethnic and religious conflict, the report warned.

Laws in Kurdistan are on the surface “favorable to religious freedom,” USCIRF said, and “senior religious leaders are frequently consulted by ministers and government officials.” Minorities are represented in the regional parliament as mandated by law.

However, “many religious groups complained to researchers that they remain second-class citizens compared with Sunni Kurds,” the report said. And while laws may be friendly to religious minorities, they may not experience such support from their neighbors in their communities.

Some Assyrian Christian lands have been seized or built upon by Kurds in the northern part of the region. In one case “involving Erbil International Airport,” Christian leaders claimed that “land owned by the Chaldean Catholic Church (and others) was built on by developers without permission.”

Although authorities have spoken out against the land appropriations, “Christians, however, are frustrated by a perceived lack of action by the authorities and a lack of recourse in the courts,” the report said. “They believe that encroachments are increasing.”

Christians who tried to demonstrate against the appropriations were prevented from doing so by Kurdish security forces in one instance in 2016.

Additionally, Yazidis have reported pressure that they be identified as ethnic Kurds, contrary to the opinions of some Yazidis that they are separate ethnically.

NGOs have also reported that, in the Sinjar region, there are “economic blockades” and “restrictions on freedom of movement and return, and the prevention of goods and supplies being distributed.”

Other countries surrounding Kurdistan feature abuses of freedom of religion, USCIRF reports.

USCIRF rates countries on how much they respect religious freedom in a tier system. Tier 1 Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) are those with the worst situations for religious freedom, with “severe” abuses of freedom of religion that are “systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”

The State Department has followed USCIRF's recommendations and has listed Iran as a CPC. USCIRF has also recommended that Syria be designated as a CPC.

Tier 2 countries represent the next level where the religious freedom situations are not as serious, but are still concerning. Iraq is a Tier 2 level country, according to USCIRF’s latest recommendation.

“Until 2017, it was also recommended that Iraq be included in the list of CPCs, but improvements in the country have led to USCIRF revising its assessment,” the commission explained. USCIRF has also listed Turkey as a Tier 2 country.

Yet despite its security for religious minorities that is comparatively better than surrounding areas, Kurdistan on its own “might well be considered a so-called ‘tier 2’ country, requiring close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by its authorities,” USCIRF stated.

This is concerning, the report said, because there is already a push for Kurdistan to be an independent country, and the pressure for such a state of affairs may only increase in the future.

“By strengthening institutions and encouraging reforms to promote and protect religious freedoms and minority rights now, (Kurdistan) and its population will ensure that these rights and freedoms are deeply ingrained in the makeup of any new nation and its social contract,” USCIRF said.

“On the other hand, allowing rights and freedoms to be eroded now risks setting a trend that will likely continue after independence.”

A Catholic ecologist’s take on climate change, the Paris agreement

Sat, 06/03/2017 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Jun 3, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Catholics should know that the effects of climate change are already being felt in the U.S., said one Catholic ecologist after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of an international climate agreement.

Communities in the U.S. are already “dealing with climate change now,” said William Patenaude, a Catholic ecologist, 28-year employee of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management, and author at CatholicEcology.net.

“For lots of us, this is not theoretical. This is reality,” he added of climate change.

On Thursday, President Trump announced that the U.S. would be pulling out of the international Paris climate agreement.

Of all the countries that signed the agreement to cut down on carbon emissions and stem the rise in global average temperatures, the U.S. was considered a world leader and thus a key signer of the accord. Representatives of the Vatican were present at the 2015 UN climate conference in Paris where the agreement was reached.  Countries pledged various efforts to curb pollution and contribute to the Green Climate Fund, which was also funded by the private sector.

However, Trump said on Thursday that the deal was toxic for U.S. business interests and U.S. workers, particularly those in the fossil fuel industries. He said the agreement put “no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters” like China.

Thus, the U.S. would pull out of the agreement but work to “re-negotiate” a deal “on terms that are fair to the United States,” he said.

House Republican Conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said the agreement was entered into “without the approval of the American people or their elected representatives through a ratified treaty.”

However, for Patenaude, a thriving economy and stronger environmental regulations can go hand-in-hand, and jobs don’t have to suffer as a result of a nationwide move to clean energy.

The urgency of climate change should impel all Catholics to take a closer look at the environment and human causes of climate change, he insisted. His experience in Rhode Island forced him to consider the effects of climate change on his state and nearby communities.

“I was not always on the bandwagon for climate change,” he admitted to CNA, but in his environmental work in Rhode Island, over time he began to notice substantial changes in precipitation and flooding “where we never really saw it before,” which “culminated in some massive flooding in 2010.”

The causes of this were clear, he said. Once the atmosphere warms due to increased amounts of greenhouse gases, it “can hold more moisture.” This leads to heavier rainfall and flooding, which means that stormwater and wastewater infrastructure must be updated. Patenaude said he saw this firsthand as he examined 19 wastewater facilities in Rhode Island. Coastal towns will also have to take into account the possibility of rising sea levels and greater coastal flooding in the future.

“Climate change is an issue which is going to harm American citizens more and more, if we don’t get our arms around it,” he said.

Yet there’s a “polarization” in American society on the issue that is troubling, he insisted, and environmentalists must learn to dialogue when they disagree.

President Trump, in his explanation of why the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, said that American jobs are at stake. According to one estimate he cited, under the agreement, production in the coal industry would be reduced by 86 percent by 2040 and natural gas by 31 percent, and 6.5 million industrial jobs would be lost.

The president is speaking to many Americans who are justifiably concerned that their livelihoods will disappear and their jobs will move overseas if the U.S. cuts carbon emissions and moves away from fossil fuels, Patenaude acknowledged, adding that “the environmental movement needs to begin to understand how to talk to those people.”

Catholics must enter into dialogue with others about the environment and the economy, “that dialogue that Pope Francis talks about in Laudato Si, in a really meaningful way,” he insisted.

For instance, he claimed that a successful attempt at dialogue was the Catholic Climate Covenant hosting a recent webinar on “just transitions” from older energy jobs to a new economy.

“What we need to do is, we need to let them know all of the things – all of the impacts that climate change will have on them, but also, the new economy is a bright future for us,” he said.

“We can either continue that division,” he said of today’s divide, “or we can find new ways, better ways, truthful ways of being honest about the urgency of this issue and the hope, the promise that we can bring about from an economic and moral point of view by moving forward with a better, cleaner economy.”

Cardinal Turkson: Put your faith before your nationality

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 13:02

Washington D.C., Jun 2, 2017 / 11:02 am (CNA).- Vatican experts on human development and social issues challenged Catholics around the world this week to respond with openness and a willingness to confront global issues in a truly Catholic manner.

In a meeting with reporters at Georgetown University, Cardinal Peter Turkson warned that when Catholics focus on national or regional identities first “and make that qualify Catholicism or Catholic teaching, there’s a mighty good chance that we may be going in parallel lines and never meet.”

The cardinal warned that Catholics from various regions of the world might lose sight of what’s more important when placing these identities at the forefront, rather than the faith. “The thing that binds us, that makes us common is the fact of belonging to the Catholic faith,” he stressed.

Cardinal Turkson, who serves as prefect for the Dicastery of Integral Human Development, was joined by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, former Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, in the May 31 meeting. There at Georgetown, they spoke with reporters about a range of challenges facing the Church and the West today, including climate change, migration, education, development and social cohesion.

The two prelates came to the university as part of a national convention of Catholic university centers studying Catholic Social Teaching.

Archbishop Tomasi, who also has experience working with refugee and migration issues, warned that recent trends in the West promote what he called a “self-centered” and inward-focused politics that can distract these nations from helping to find solutions to global problems. “If you look around the world, one of the situations we see in Europe, for example, even in Africa; there is a tendency in a part of the population to close in on itself.”

“It’s a global issue and if you limit yourself to the needs of your own country,” Archbishop Tomasi said, “you are not going to solve the problem.”

To truly create solutions to social problems, however, the Church believes that care must be taken for the good of the human person, Cardinal Turkson said. “Development,” he stressed, “is ultimately about the human person.”

“The human person requires certain conditions to flourish. Some of those conditions are moral conditions. Some of them are physical,” he continued. “Human ecology from the point of view of the Church would require…legislation, policies that enable a human person to flourish and realize its dignity.”  

Development efforts that fail to recognize both the bodily and spiritual needs of persons, the cardinal warned, are “kind of flawed - it’s not quite complete.”

Similarly, efforts that promote “norms which negatively affect human growth and development,” Cardinal Turkson told CNA, pose the risk of “ideological colonization” and the pushing of harmful ideas as contingencies for development to happen in the first place.

Despite the risks of shortcomings, and collaboration in facing global struggles is a necessity – and a reason why Cardinal Turkson was disappointed to hear the United States would be re-evaluating its relationship with the Paris climate agreement. Cardinal Turkson played a major role in helping to broker the 2015 Paris climate agreement. “The truth is that climate is a global public good and not limited to any country, not limited to any nation,” he said, advocating for the acceptance of “global responsibility” for the health of the environment.

Yet, while these issues are global, response to them – both in policy and in politics – have local sources to first consult. Cardinal Turkson granted that it was understandable for a leader to reconsider the deal’s economic burdens or the weight of participation in the agreement on a given nation’s citizens. He cautioned, though, that complete abandonment should not be done without consulting other nations party to the agreement and also those threatened by climate change.

When looking towards the future, another issue the United States, Europe and other countries have to consider is the question of migration, Archbishop Tomasi stated. Pointing to special initiatives by the Holy See on migration and refugees, Archbishop Tomasi called for a global response and innovative solutions to the questions of migration.

“The fact that the Pope wants to show a special interest in migration is to emphasize the fact that that migration is not a European problem, it’s a global problem,” he said. “It touches the Americas, it touches Australia, it touches Asia, and in this sense, he wants to emphasize the need for governments to address this issue in a global way.”

An integrated, complete response to migration will require more than just readjustment of quotas or physical resettlement of migrants, the archbishop said, but considering how immigrants and refugees already fit into receiving societies. “It is in the self-interest of the United States, as it is in the self-interest of Europe, to look at immigration in a more constructive and positive way, and look at integration, rather than just debate how many we can take in.” He pointed to many industries in Western nations that rely upon immigrant labor or support.

Yet, he granted, there are serious challenges to consider, such as the integration of new immigrants into existing communities. These issues, he challenged “are very fundamental issues.”

Still, Archbishop Tomasi said, in all of these issues, Catholics who live in the United States can have a global impact. “The presence of the Catholic community in the United States plays a role in influencing the government or creating public culture.”

“It has an impact outside the United States,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “In that sense, given the political preeminence of our country, if the Catholic community succeeded in promoting certain aspects of life and culture that are acceptable in the American context, they would have an impact outside.”

 

Everything you need to know about Pentecost

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 04:52

Denver, Colo., Jun 2, 2017 / 02:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- This weekend, the Church celebrates Pentecost, one of the most important feast days of the year that concludes the Easter season and celebrates the beginning of the Church.  

Here’s what you need to know about the feast day:

The timing and origins of Pentecost

Pentecost always occurs 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and ten days after his ascension into heaven. Because Easter is a moveable feast without a fixed date, and Pentecost depends on the timing of Easter, Pentecost can fall anywhere between May 10 and June 13.

The timing of these feasts is also where Catholics get the concept of the Novena - nine days of prayer - because in Acts 1, Mary and the Apostles prayed together “continuously” for nine days after the Ascension leading up to Pentecost. Traditionally, the Church prays the Novena to the Holy Spirit in the days before Pentecost.

The name of the day itself is derived from the Greek word pentecoste, meaning 50th.

The reason Pentecost falls 50 days after Easter comes from a parallel Jewish holiday, Shavu`ot, which falls 50 days after Passover. Shavu’ot is sometimes called the festival of weeks, referring to the seven weeks since Passover.

Originally a harvest feast, Shavu`ot now commemorates the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai, when the Lord revealed the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Every year, the Jewish people renew their acceptance of the gift of the Torah on this feast.  

What happens at Pentecost?

In the Christian tradition, Pentecost is the celebration of the person of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles, Mary, and the first followers of Jesus, who were gathered together in the Upper Room.

A “strong, driving” wind filled the room where they were gathered, and tongues of fire came to rest on their heads, allowing them to speak in different languages so that they could understand each other. It was such a strange phenomenon that some people thought the Christians were just drunk - but Peter pointed out that it was only the morning, and that the phenomenon was caused by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit also gave the apostles the other gifts and fruits necessary to fulfill the great commission - to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. It fulfills the New Testament promise from Christ (Luke 24:46-49) that the Apostles would be “clothed with power” before they would be sent out to spread the Gospel.

Where’s that in the bible?

The main event of Pentecost (the strong driving wind and tongues of fire) takes place in Acts 2:13, though the events immediately following (Peter’s homily, the baptism of thousands) continue through verse 41.

Happy Birthday, Church

It was right after Pentecost that Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preached his first homily to Jews and other non-believers, in which he opened the scriptures of the Old Testament, showing how the prophet Joel prophesied events and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

He also tells the people that the Jesus they crucified is the Lord and was raised from the dead, which “cuts them to the heart.” When they asked what they should do, Peter exhorts them to repent of their sins and to be baptised. According to the account in Acts, about 3,000 people were baptised following Peter’s sermon.

For this reason, Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church - Peter, the first Pope, preaches for the first time and converts thousands of new believers. The apostles and believers, for the first time, were united by a common language, and a common zeal and purpose to go and preach the Gospel.

Pentecost vestments and customs around the world

Typically, priests will wear red vestments on Pentecost, symbolic of the burning fire of God’s love and the tongues of fire that descended on the apostles.

However, in some parts of the world, Pentecost is also referred to as “WhitSunday”, or White Sunday, referring to the white vestments that are typically worn in Britain and Ireland. The white is symbolic of the dove of the Holy Spirit, and typical of the vestments that catechumens desiring baptism wear on that day.

An Italian Pentecost tradition is to scatter rose leaves from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues, and so in some places in Italy, Pentecost is sometimes called Pascha Rosatum (Easter roses).

In France, it is tradition to blow trumpets during Mass to recall the sound of the driving wind of the Holy Spirit.

In Asia, it is typical to have an extra service, called genuflexion, during which long poems and prayers are recited. In Russia, Mass goers often carry flowers or green branches during Pentecost services.

Illinois makes foster care workers support transgenderism

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 02:01

Chicago, Ill., Jun 2, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Earlier this month, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) issued new standards that require its employees and potential foster parents to accept and encourage children who wish to alter their gender.

The new policies state that the department “will not tolerate exposing LGBTQ children and youth to staff/providers who are not supportive of children and youths’ right to self-determination of sexual/gender identity,” The Federalist reported earlier this week.

According to the standards, all children have a “right to self-determination of gender and sexual orientation” and to choose their “sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression” which should be viewed as “developmental milestones, not problematic behavior.”  

The role of social workers and foster parents is to “facilitate exploration of any LGBTQ matters through an affirming approach…by being open, non-judgmental, and empathic.”

The standards were created with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has long championed extreme LGBT and transgender ideology, and targets any staff, volunteers or potential foster parents who are not sufficiently “LGBTQ-affirming.” Non-compliant adults face either “discipline” or “discharge.”

Mary Rice Hasson, director of the Catholic Women's Forum at The Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., criticized the new policies in an opinion piece in The Federalist last week, noting that the “fiat” to the new ideology now trumps biological facts.

"No matter that sexual difference is a scientific fact, or that billions of sane people across the world acknowledge it," she said.

The standards also state that the agency will not contract with any private agencies unless their policies are “at least as extensive” as the department’s LGBTQ policies.

“...the state’s child welfare agency is a closed shop, populated with closed minds, and intends to keep it that way. No believers in the binary need apply,” Hasson said.

She also noted that because parents relinquish all responsibility and authority over their children when they are wards of the state, parents could not request that their child not receive transgender procedures. They would simply be informed if or when their child has started hormone therapy or other treatments.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Meg Kilgannon, executive director of the Fairfax, Virginia-based Concerned Parents and Educators, criticized the policy, saying that it is ultimately an "erasure of the human person."

She noted that this policy illustrates deeper issues regarding transgenderism than the much-discussed “bathroom wars” that often make headlines.

"...when you really start to dig into this issue and you start to think about all of the ramifications that something like this means, you discover that gender identity compels speech" by coercing people to use compliant words and pronouns, she said.

"If a government entity is set to be the ultimate arbiter of someone's truth, being or existence, then at what point do parents get left out of the equation?" Kilgannon asked.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled against a similarly coersive transgender policy - the Obama administration’s mandate that health professionals must carry out gender reassignment surgeries, even if they have medical or religious objections.

“The regulation not only forces healthcare professionals to violate their medical judgment, it requires them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs,” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas said in a Dec. 31 decision granting a temporary injunction against the Obama administration.

“Tragically, the regulation would force them to violate those religious beliefs and perform harmful medical transition procedures or else suffer massive financial liability,” the judge added.

Many in the medical field have expressed serious concerns about encouraging transgenderism - particularly hormonal regimens and genital surgeries - in children.

In a paper entitled “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” , last updated in May 2017, The American College of Pediatricians said that to encourage a child into thinking that “a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse,” they added.  

Plastic surgeon Dr. Patrick Lappert said during a conference earlier this year that one of the biggest problems with transgender sex change surgeries is that they are permanent and irreversible in any meaningful way, Dr. Lappert said.

“...it's a permanent, irreversible mutilation of the human person. And there’s no other word for it,” he said.  

“It results in permanent sterility. It’s a permanent dissolution of the unitive and the procreative functions. And even the unitive aspect of the sexual embrace is radically hindered if not utterly destroyed,” he said.

This is not the first time that the Illinois DCFS has introduced controversial LGBTQ policies. In 2011, they became the first state to force the Catholic Church out of adoption and foster care services for their refusal to place children with same-sex couples.

Currently, the DCFS is also embroiled in another controversy regarding the death of Semaj Crosby, a foster child under their care. It was announced Wednesday that current DCFS director George Sheldon has resigned in the face of the ethics probe. In the last five years, the DCFS has gone through eight directors or acting directors amid various failures in leadership, the Chicago Tribune reports.

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