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NM bishop prays for student victims of school shooting

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 18:00

Gallup, N.M., Dec 7, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two students at Aztec High School in Aztec, N.M., were killed in a shooting Thursday, and the local bishop has prayed for the victims and the community.

“St. Paul tells us in Romans 12:21 'Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.' In the coming days, many survivors and families will also be facing the fear and psychological effects that inevitably follow any tragedy. Please join me in offering prayers for the students and families,” Bishop James Wall of Gallup said Dec. 7.

“Please also join me in offering our support to the community of Aztec. We mourn the loss of life with you.”

The diocese is holding a prayer vigil at 4:30 this afternoon at St. Joseph parish in Aztec, about 120 miles northeast of Gallup.

The shooter is also dead. According to local outlet KRQE News 13, no other injuries have been reported, and the school has been evacuated.

Nearby schools, including those in Bloomfield, were put on lockdown as a precaution.

Please pray for the students, families, and community of Aztec.

— Diocese of Gallup (@DioceseofGallup) December 7, 2017

Hormonal birth control still increases breast cancer risk, study finds

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 17:21

Boston, Mass., Dec 7, 2017 / 03:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent Danish study shows that women on any kind of hormonal birth control are susceptible to an increased risk of breast cancer, upending the common belief that modern methods of hormonal birth control are safer than those of decades past.

The research published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine included a group of 1.8 million women between the ages of 15-49 over the course of more than ten years. Of the 1.8 million, there were 11,517 cases of breast cancer.

According to NPR, the leader of the study, Lina Morch, said it found “a roughly 20 percent increased risk [of breast cancer] among women who currently use some type of hormonal contraception” compared to those who used non-hormal contraceptives.

Additionally, the research found that for every 100,000 women on hormonal birth control, there are 68 cases of breast cancer every year, compared to 55 among those not using hormonal birth control.

The study highlights modern methods of birth control, including pills, intrauterine devices which release hormones, and other implants.

While the link to breast cancer from older methods of birth control was widely known, this study was able to provide evidence that even modern methods of hormonal birth control, such as hormone releasing IUDs, are still causing breast cancer in women.

“This is an important study because we had no idea how the modern day pills compared to the old-fashioned pills in terms of breast cancer risk, and we didn’t know anything about I.U.D.’s,” said Dr. Marisa Weiss, an oncologist, according to the New York Times.

“…if you add up all the millions of women taking the pill, it is a significant public health concern,” Weiss continued.

The study’s authors did note that factors such as physical activity, breast feeding, and alcohol consumption were not taken into account during the study, which could also be linked to the increase of breast cancer cases.

An epidemiologist also noted that the contraceptive pill is also linked to a reduced risk of ovarian, endometrial, and perhaps colorectal cancers.

The study, while providing crucial information on the increased risks of breast cancer with hormonal birth control usage, adds to the growing list of side effects common with even modern methods contraception.

A Swedish study released last spring found that birth control pills are linked with a decrease in women’s overall health and well-being. Last fall, another Danish study showed a strong connection between hormonal contraception and depression, particularly among teens.

Some women have opted for another form of birth control, without the hormonal side effects: metal coils. However, this form of contraception is not without its own set of risks, including chronic pain, nickel poisoning, exhaustion, and the risk of perforated organs.

While the Catholic Church upholds its long-taught beliefs that contraception is immoral because it divorces procreation from the sexual act, it does approve of Natural Family Planning, which allows couples to remain open to life.

More women are opting for NFP methods, or fertility awareness tracking, because of its hormone-free, health-conscious promise. Fertility awareness methods, such as the Creighton Model or Billings Method, are natural ways to achieve or delay pregnancy with an effectiveness rating competitive with the pill.

This priest is going to be on The Great American Baking Show

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 14:26

Cincinnati, Ohio, Dec 7, 2017 / 12:26 pm (CNA).- Many Catholics can name a priest who is renowned for his academic abilities, mission work, or inspiring homilies. But what about a priest who has received national attention for his baking skills?

Meet Father Kyle Schnippel, a pastor at two Cincinnati parishes who hopes his upcoming presence on The Great American Baking Show will offer non-Catholics insight into the human side of a priest’s life.

“My world is as much a foreign language to them as their world is to me. So what I wanted to do was just [be] a priest and [show] the joy,” Schnippel told CNA.

The third season of ABC’s American baking series will premiere on Dec. 7 at 9 p.m. EST. Throughout six episodes, the bakers will travel around the U.S. competing in holiday-themed challenges.

Schnippel is the pastor at Corpus Christi and St. John Neumann parishes in Cincinnati. Although baking had a large presence in his childhood home, his doughy adventures seriously took off about three years ago, when he decided to prepare the baked goods for his first parish festival.

As time went on, he began to bake more often, and found that he enjoyed sharing his gifts with others.

“It’s so much different than what we normally get to do as priests. We don’t normally get to see the results of what we do. With baking we get to see those results, smell those results,” and see the joy it can bring to people, he said.

Father Schnippel received a link to the show’s online application from a friend on Facebook. After providing detailed information on his baking experience and knowledge, the priest received a call a few months later, followed by a Skype interview.

He was then flown out to New Jersey, where he participated in a mock trail of the series’ competitions and presented his baked goods for the judges. Shortly after that, he received a call that he had been selected for the show.

At one point on the show, Father Schnippel said he was asked to prepare a recipe in advance that had a strong personal connection and coincided with the holiday season. Looking back on past Christmases, he decided to use his mother’s cinnamon roll recipe.  

“Instead of cutting into individual cinnamon rolls, I rolled up the dough and cut it lengthwise to have all these pleats and braided that…It’s the same flavor, but I decorated it up, putting it together in a new way.”

Father Schnippel was not permitted to talk about the competition, but he had to explain his several-weeks absence to parishioners.  

According to the Catholic Digest, he told them that he was going to be gone for an evangelization project – which wasn’t a lie.

“I made it a requirement that I be allowed to wear clerics on the show because it’s a reflection of who I am,” he told the Catholic Digest.

“After filming, one of the other contestants said something along the lines of, ‘Thank you so much for being such a joyful witness of your faith and the priesthood. Even though I am not Catholic, I got a sense of the joy that you have in who you are and what you do. Thank you for sharing that with us.’”

Father Schnippel told CNA that being on a baking show could also help break down stereotypes that some people have of Catholic priests, seeing them only as an austere religious figure.

“There is this impression in our world that priests are always serious, they only do religion. I wanted to break down that [perception], and say ‘hey, we are still real men. We still have interests and excitement in a lot of other ways’,” he said.

“You can take the priesthood very seriously, but also still have a lot of fun.”

When asked about his favorite moments from the show, he said that he enjoyed the positive feedback offered by the judges and the baking comradery that developed between the contestants.

Even during the competition, there were acts of encouragement and support, he said, pointing to moments when he was able to help other contestants remove food from the oven or stack items when they needed an extra hand.

“That came back to me later, just those memories of encouraging each other and supporting each other makes this particular show very positive for Christmas.”

And while he was not allowed to talk about the outcome of the competition, Fr. Schnippel expressed hope that his participation in the show would inspire people to face daunting challenges in their own lives.

“I hope that what people will take from the show is accepting a challenge where they may not think that they can do it. I never thought I would be able to get on this show. So taking the risk and doing something extraordinary, you never know what’s going to happen.”


Commentary: Tolerance, wedding cakes, and a free society

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 13:11

Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2017 / 11:11 am (CNA).- This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The result of the case, which is expected to be delivered this summer, is likely to have considerable impact on the future of free speech, religious liberty, and free enterprise in the United States.

The case concerns a Christian baker, living and working in Colorado, who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple who planned to marry in Massachusetts. He offered them any other service his bakery provided, but would not make a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage. He says that to custom create and bake their cake, a kind of creative expression, would be participation in something he finds morally objectionable.

The state of Colorado prohibits discrimination or denial of service based on sexual orientation, even though, at the time, gay marriage was not legal there.

The legal arguments of the case seem to hinge on whether cake-baking is a sufficiently artistic activity to qualify as protected speech. Nevertheless, the basic point which the Supreme Court will settle, one way or another, is whether “I can” also means “you must”  

If, as we so often tell ourselves, we live in a tolerant and pluralistic society, it goes without saying that there will always be people whose ideas or actions we are obliged to tolerate, even as we are unwilling to celebrate them. Justice Kennedy acknowledged this in the decision of Obergefell vs. Hodges.

In this case, the bakery was not refusing to tolerate the couple’s wedding, it simply did not wish to participate. The baker did not try to stop the wedding from happening, or condemn it, he just declined to lend his talents to the celebration.

During Tuesday’s arguments, Justice Sotomayor raised a line of thought that would be disastrous to the idea of a mutually tolerant society, if it were to become the basis for the Court’s decision.

She observed that many US military bases are in relatively isolated parts of the country, many of which are predominantly Christian. This, she said, could mean that homosexual servicemen and women might be subjected to real hardship if they wish to get married and no local bakeries are willing serve their needs. Such an argument reveals the potential implications of a verdict against Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Suppose that rather, than a gay wedding, a servicewoman wants an abortion and there are only Christian doctors in the area. Could a doctor be coerced into aborting the child? Could a doctor be compelled to end a patient’s life if voluntary euthanasia becomes a legal right?  Could Christian doctors be compelled to act against their conscience, and barred from practice if they refuse?

Chief Justice Roberts asked if, should the court find against Masterpiece Cakeshop, Catholic adoption agencies could be compelled to place children with same-sex couples. That question was answered in the affirmative ten years ago in the UK;  every Catholic adoption agency in the country closed as a result.

The fact that the baker’s case is being heard at all, and that the bakery was sanctioned in the first place, demonstrates the extent to which some civil authorities are prepared employ the coercive power of the state to force a social consensus where none exists, or even needs to exist.

On Tuesday, Justice Sotomayor observed that while “we can’t legislate civility and rudeness,” we can legislate behavior. This seems to bespeak a view of the law in which ordinary social interaction is fair game for policing.

The argument that the state can, or even should, force individuals to act against conscience so as not to offend the “dignity” of others reflects a sad social outlook. It presupposes that two people with conflicting views cannot possibly coexist, that one must be subjugated to the other, and that it is the state’s function to pick the winner.

The state compelling an unwilling baker to make a wedding cake is akin to an adult forcing two children to play together. It is the very essence of overreaching state paternalism.

A free society presumes that people will disagree. But a community thrives when its members learn to freely accommodate each other, and to progress towards true consensus, ideally reflecting truth. Forcing a consensus where none exists only entrenches divisions, and it makes all of us answerable to the state, not each other, for the simple human task of getting along.

Ed Condon is a canon lawyer and legal commentator working in the UK and the United States. On Twitter he is @canonlawyered. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Catholic News Agency.

LA convent sale controversy ends in favor of archdiocese, Katy Perry

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 14:51

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 6, 2017 / 12:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This week, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and singer Katy Perry were awarded a joint $10 million sum for punitive damages over a church-owned hilltop property which was illegally sold to a developer in 2015 after the archdiocese had accepted an initial offer from Perry.

The property, a former convent belonging to the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters, is a church-owned estate under the care of Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. The archdiocese also has a current lease on one of the buildings on the property, which is used as a priests’ house of prayer. This lease has an additional 77 years left.

“I would like to reiterate my continued commitment to all of the Immaculate Heart sisters that the archdiocese will take care of them and ensure their well-being now and in the future,” said Archbishop Gomez when the controversy began in 2015.

Two of the nuns who previously lived on the property, Sister Rita Callanan and Sister Catherine Rose Holzman, made the invalid transaction with Dana Hollister, a restaurateur and developer who had plans to turn the property into a boutique hotel.

However, Hollister’s offer came after an initial $14.5 million offer from singer Katy Perry, which the archdiocese had accepted. Their deal additionally protected the house of prayer on the property, which was to be owned by the sisters.

After the sale to Hollister, of which the sisters received $44,000 and were promised an additional $9.9 million after three years, Hollister took possession of the property.

The archdiocese officially took action against the transaction June 19, 2015 with the claim that the sisters were not authorized to act as sellers of the property, since it is under the care of Archbishop Gomez. Additionally, any church sale of more than $7.5 million would require approval from the Vatican.

A jury found Hollister guilty last month of intentionally interfering with Perry’s first offer.

On Monday, the court sided with the local Church and with Perry, ordering Hollister to pay $3.47 million to the archdiocese and an additional $1.57 million to Perry for legal fees. Hollister was also charged with paying $10 million in punitive damages, which will be split between Archbishop Gomez and Perry.

Hollister has around $4 million in assets and will not be able to pay the fees in full, although her lawyer Michael Geibelson said Hollister could appeal the ruling.

Perry intends to move forward with the initial agreement of sale with the archdiocese.

In LA, massive Marian procession ahead of Guadalupe feast

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 23:06

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 5, 2017 / 09:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- About 30,000 Catholic faithful walked the streets of Los Angeles in a Sunday Morning procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe nine days ahead of her Dec. 12 feast day.

“We give our hearts to the Virgin of Guadalupe and we ask her to always intercede for us, to hear us and pray for us,” Archbishop José H. Gomez said in his homily at the Dec. 3 Mass concluding the procession.

He said the Virgin Mary leads the faithful to the purpose of their journey on earth: “the encounter with her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

“To find God, to find Jesus! This is the beautiful role that Our Mother plays,” Gomez said.

The procession is the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles. It was established 86 years ago by Mexican Catholics who fled persecution by the Mexican government during the Cristero war.

This year’s mile-long procession began at the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Ford Street in East Los Angeles. It featured colorful floats, equestrian groups, mariachi performers and indigenous dancers. Floats were judged and awarded prizes for depicting the procession’s theme, “Our Lady of Guadalupe: Encounter with Jesus.”

Catholic school students escorted an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe – an exact digital production of the original image that now hangs in Mexico’s basilica. The reproduction has been blessed and touched to the original image.

Among the participants was Rolando Portillo, a parishioner at Our Lady of Solitude Church in east Los Angeles.

Portillo was given special recognition at the celebration for his support of the community and of an orphanage in Mexico, the archdiocese reports.

“I thank her every day for watching over us, she is the True Mother, a real protector,” he said. “She brought me back to Jesus Christ when I was an addict running the streets 30 years ago.”

The procession ended at East Los Angeles College stadium, where Archbishop Gomez celebrated Mass.

He said in his homily that Our Lady of Guadalupe “guides us always into the presence of her Son, into the new encounter with Jesus Christ.

“So, today we profess our love for Our Mother. We thank her for her tender love for us – for our children and our families,” Gomez said.

Lectors at Mass included a survivor of the October Las Vegas shooting and a person who had received protected status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Before the Mass, actors re-enacted the miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary to the indigenous Mexican St. Juan Diego in 1531. The Virgin Mary left her image on his cloak, known as a tilma, and asked him to build a church on a hilltop.

Many parish communities worked together for the procession. Many participants in the procession wore red and green attire – the colors of Mexico’s flag.

As a preparation for the procession, the images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego visited 20 parishes in the Los Angeles archdiocese and the dioceses of Orange and San Bernardino. They visited five detention facilities in the Los Angeles archdiocese and were present for veneration at Santa Clara Cemetery in Oxnard during the Day of the Dead celebrations.

Faith, Intellect, Renewal: Thomas More College launches center to restore culture

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 18:11

Manchester, N.H., Dec 5, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Seeking the renewal of culture and faith in New England, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts has launched a center that addresses crucial questions for Christians and aims to be a “vigorous public witness to the faith.”

“Its mission is a revival of Christian culture in New England: a region that has always been a seedbed of new ideas and ideals – a region whose the original European settlers first sought to build ‘a shining city on a hill’,” the New Hampshire college said Dec. 5.

The Thomas More Center for the Restoration of Christian Culture aims to support active involvement in the arts, in politics, in literature, in education, and especially in the life of faith.

The center aims to address “the crisis of a civilization that has drifted from the principles on which it was founded.” It will consider “the crucial questions of how mature Christians can live in freedom, and how people of faith can give new hope to a secularized society,” Thomas More College said.

The center will invite speakers, host seminars and organize conferences. It will encourage both intellectuals and civic leaders to participate in discussions and explore how to apply ideas.

Its statement of purpose says it will follow the example of St. Thomas More by protecting and encouraging healthy family life and by educating young people in the liberal arts. It will promote the active involvement of Christians in civic life, the preservation and enrichment of cultural heritage, and loyal defense of Catholic teaching.

The center aims “not to mourn the decline in society, but to build an outpost of civility: a community in which reasoned discussion, animated by Christian faith, can work toward a revival.”

Founding fellows at the center are Thomas More College president Dr. William Fahey; Dr. Anthony Esolen, a translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy and author of several books; and Catholic journalist and author Philip Lawler.

Esolen said culture is “disappearing from the West – certainly from the United States and Canada.”

“We are in the midst of massive culture amnesia,” he charged.

Lawler said he believes that New England could be a place for the emergence of “a new, positive and distinctively Christian vision of America.”

The region has “always been a nursery for new ideas and new movements.” He suggested the metaphorical pendulum of opinion has swung “so very far” in New England and prevailing opinion is “so far from the truths that are inscribed on the human heart” that a reaction is “inevitable.”

Fahey commented on the other fellows at the center: “Esolen is one of America’s foremost writers and a trenchant observer of our cultural malaise, and Lawler has had years of experience commenting on the ebb and flow of Catholic leadership within America and the wider world, always with a wise sense of how we should direct our attention and renew our conversation.”

Among the supporters of the center is Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute.

“The family needs defenders in all academic disciplines and from all walks of life,” Morse said. “May this Center become a focal point for a great renewal of all that is good and worthy in Christian civilization.”

Robert Royal, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Faith and Reason Institute, said the center is “one of the most promising new initiatives in decades.”

“Lots of people have written and spoken about what’s gone wrong with Catholic thought--as well as ways of life and community,” Royal added. “This is one of the few things I’ve seen that may actually do something about bringing them all together again in a faithful and viable whole.”

In Royal’s view, the regional approach of the center is important.

“Given the scope of problems we face, they can only be dealt with first at a more local level. I hope that this project not only grows rapidly, but that it is imitated and adapted to many other parts of the country, and the world,” he said.

Other backers of the project include Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute; Ignatius Press founder and editor Father Joseph Fessio, S.J.; author and former syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher; James Hitchcock, emeritus history professor at St. Louis University; Cardinal Newman Society president Patrick Reilly; Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family and Human Rights; and Notre Dame architecture professor Duncan Stroik.

Baker argues for cake and conscience at Supreme Court

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 17:35

Washington D.C., Dec 5, 2017 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Colorado baker’s right to express himself through artwork – edible artwork– lies at the center of today’s Supreme Court arguments, say lawyers for Masterpiece Cakeshop owner, Jack Phillips.

“The right of all creative professionals to speak and to live consistent with their beliefs is at stake,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who represented Phillips before the Supreme Court, told CNA.

The Court heard arguments today in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case which has garnered attention from LGBT-rights advocates and religious liberty proponents.

Waggoner said that the justices asked difficult questions of both sides, and explained that she and US Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued before the high court that forcing Phillips to “sketch, sculpt and to handpaint a message” about marriage that is contrary to his faith violates the Constitution’s protections for free speech.

“Whether you support same-sex marriage or you oppose it, you should be able to have the right to speak freely; to hold beliefs and to speak freely in the public square,” she said.

The case comes after five years of litigation involving Phillips and his Lakewood Colo. bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, which he opened in 1993. In 2012, Phillips found himself faced with a lawsuit filed by Charlie Craig of Colorado, after he declined to make a wedding cake for the same-sex wedding of Craig and David Mullins. Phillips offered to create another cake for the couple. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a state agency that represent Craig and Mullins during litigation, claimed that by declining to make the cake, the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The lawsuit was decided in favor of the plaintiffs in 2013, and a Colorado judge ordered Phillips to receive anti-discrimination training and to serve same-sex weddings or stop serving weddings altogether.

Phillips lost appeals at the state level, and the Colorado Supreme Court declined to take the case. In June, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

The couple was able to obtain a rainbow-themed cake from a bakery near Phillips’ cake shop.

Phillips declines to bake other kinds of cakes that promote ideas at odds with his beliefs, such as cakes that portray anti-American, atheist, or racist messages or disparage members of the LGBT community. Phillips also declines to create custom cakes for other events he is uncomfortable supporting, such as Halloween and bachelor parties.  “Though I serve everyone who comes into my shop, like many other creative professionals, I don’t create custom designs for events or messages that conflict with my conscience,” Phillips explained in a Dec. 5 press conference outside of the Supreme Court.

Since the litigation started, Phillips has said that he has lost over 40 percent of his business due to his inability to serve any weddings. As a result, he has lost nearly half of his employees, and now struggles “to pay our bills and keep the shop afloat.” In addition, Phillips has reported receiving “death threats” which resulted in police being called to the scene.

“It’s hard to believe that the government is forcing me to choose between providing for my family and employees and violating my relationship with God,” Phillips said. “That is not freedom. That is not tolerance.”

The ACLU argued before the Supreme Court, along with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, against Phillips. In statement released today, the advocacy group said that Phillips’ First Amendment rights do not allow his bakery to “choose their customers.”

“These laws ensure that everyone, including gay people, have the freedom to walk into a business and know that they will be treated the same way,” stated David Cole, legal director of the ACLU, who argued before the Supreme Court. “As we argued in court today, the justices have an obligation to defend the principle of equal dignity under the law for all Americans — including Dave and Charlie.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Phillips, voiced their support for free expression and freedom of religion.

“We pray that the Court will continue to preserve the ability of people to live out their faith in daily life, regardless of their occupation,” said Archbishops Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville and  Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., of Philadelphia and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln in a joint statement.  The bishops chair the U.S. Bishops’ Committees on Religious Liberty; Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, respectively.

“Artists in particular deserve to have the freedom to express ideas—or to decline to create certain messages—in accordance with their deeply held beliefs, the bishops wrote.

Citing Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which noted that people can oppose same-sex marriage for “decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises,” the bishops asked that creative professionals be allowed to “use their artistic talents in line with these decent and honorable convictions.”

Religious freedom experts also highlighted the importance of free speech and religious freedom protections. Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who also filed a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of Masterpiece, pointed to the religious importance that weddings have carried for centuries.  

“The idea that the government can force someone to participate in events like weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, or even funerals—events that are so full of cultural and religious meaning—is deeply troubling,” he said in a statement.

“Of course creating a custom wedding cake is part and parcel of celebrating a wedding. Jack Phillips should not be forced to do that any more than someone should be forced to sing at a wedding, or serve as a wedding witness, or attend the wedding with a sufficiently large smile on their face,” Baxter continued.

“As a nation, we can live and let live without taking extreme offense at others’ choices or forcing them to participate in our own.”

The Supreme Court will likely deliver its decision in late spring or early summer 2018.


California wildfire forces evacuation at Thomas Aquinas College

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 14:33

Ventura, Calif., Dec 5, 2017 / 12:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The fast-spreading flames of a California wildfire reached the borders of the campus of Thomas Aquinas College early this week, but they did not cause serious damage and all students are safe.

“As a precaution, all students were evacuated, first to Sacred Heart Church in Ventura, then to homes of various friends, faculty, and alumni,” the college said on its website Dec. 5.

“Although flames at one point reached the campus perimeter, there has been no serious damage to any structures. Please continue to pray for all those affected and for all first responders.”

The college has canceled its Tuesday classes. The 400 students are enrolled at the Santa Paula, Calif. institution are among the thousands of people forced to evacuate.

The fire, known as the Thomas Fire, began Monday evening in Steckel Park, less than three miles from campus. It quickly burned about 45,000 acres in 13 hours and spread to several homes in the northern area of the city of Ventura, home to more than 100,000 people, CNN reports.

The fire caused an eerie orange glow in the hills.

About 150 buildings have been destroyed in the fire. Felled power lines at one point cut power from 260,000 homes, but power has been largely restored.

Strong winds, blowing 40-60 mph, have helped fan the flames. Known as the Santa Ana winds, they are strong, dry, and blow from east to west. The current winds are the strongest of the season.

Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said that the prospects for containment are “not good” and the success of firefighting efforts will be dependent on the weather, the Washington Post reports.


Catholic leadership conference in Chicago aims to ‘inspire and equip’

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 02:05

Chicago, Ill., Dec 5, 2017 / 12:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Thousands of Catholic leaders from all walks of life will ring in the new year at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) SLS Leadership Conference, which will offer five days of fellowship and evangelical instruction in the heart of Chicago, IL.

“Sometimes it can feel lonely trying to reach those in the world who seem too busy and distracted to realize God’s love for them,” said Paul DeBuff, a previous conference attendee.

“The FOCUS SLS Conference not only gave me practical tools to help me reach the world around me for Christ, but it also encouraged me that I was not alone in this effort to make disciples of all nations,” he told CNA.

SLS is a leadership conference for church leaders of all types, including religious education teachers, bishops, chaplains, missionaries, students, bible study leaders, lay ministers, and seminarians. While SLS was previously a private event, it is now open to the public to anyone who is pursing leadership in evangelization.

The organization’s website says the event hopes to allow attendees to “be inspired by world-class speakers, be renewed in the sacraments and adoration, and be ignited with zeal for the mission to make disciples of all nations.”

The conference, titled “SLS18: Inspire & Equip,” will take place from Jan. 2-6 and will host speakers including Bishop Robert Barron, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Sr. Bethany Madonna, Dr. Edward Sri, and Curtis Martin, among others.

SLS will also offer three different tracks to specifically minister to each group of church leaders: a collegiate track, a lifelong mission track, and a campus ministry track.

Adoration, the sacraments, evening concerts, entertainment, educational sessions and other resources will also be available. More than 100 priests concelebrated Masses at the last SLS conference, and more than 1,000 confessions were heard.

The main goal of SLS is to equip current and aspiring church leaders of all levels to gain confidence in leading bible studies and prayer, inviting others into discipleship, and teaching the truths of the Catholic faith to others.

“At SLS, I was able to learn a concept, such as Ignatian prayer, in the morning during Training Sessions, then solidify it in my mind by teaching it to my peers in the afternoon power sessions,” recalled a previous SLS attendee, Adam Sanchez, in a statement on the SLS website.

“It inspired me to see the vibrancy of the Church among my peers and grow in hope for our future,” Sanchez continued.

Since FOCUS first held its inaugural National Conference in 1999, more than 53,000 people have attended FOCUS events over the years. The last SLS conference was held in 2016 in Dallas, TX and hosted more than 3,400 people. The SLS conference is held every other year, alternating with the SEEK conference, which is aimed at college students.

Registration is still open, with commuter and day passes available:


Archbishop to UN: Christians are critical to Iraq’s future

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 22:01

New York City, N.Y., Dec 4, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A UN panel met last week to discuss the aftermath of the Islamic State’s occupation in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, saying that the region’s future depends upon the preservation of the practices of pluralism and diversity.

“During ISIS’ occupation of Nineveh, even as it sought to eliminate the religious minorities completely, many from the majority population were also victimized as their rights evaporated,” stated Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus at the event.

“Without minorities, rights often vanish for everyone,” Anderson continued, according to a press release.

The panel was hosted in a joint effort by the Holy See’s Mission to the United Nations and the Knights of Columbus, as well as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The event took place at UN headquarters on Nov. 30 and was titled “Preserving Pluralism and Diversity in the Nineveh Region.” It was also part of the USCCB’s overarching initiative called “Solidarity in Suffering: A Week of Awareness and Education for Persecuted Christians.”

Some of the panelists included Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, Edward Clancy, the director of outreach and evangelization for Aid to the Church in Need, USA, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN, and Fr. Salar Kajo, a parish priest from the Nineveh region.

The panelists emphasized that pluralism and the flourishing of diversity are crucial players for the successful future of Iraq, with a particular emphasis on the local minorities.

Archbishop Warda noted that Christians in particular are a “key partner for the future of pluralism in Iraq,” and should be considered “part of the solution, not part of the problem, in terms of bringing peace and humans rights” to the country.

The Nineveh Plain, a territory between the city of Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan, was overtaken by the Islamic State in 2014, forcing tens of thousands of people into exile and displacement. Two years later, Iraqi forces liberated the region, which was known to have a large Christian population.

The situation in the Nineveh Plain still remains uncertain, as many families, religious groups and minorities are questioning the return to their homes. During this delicate time, the UN panel voiced that respect and collaboration with minorities is critically important.

To that end, the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee has been created, in which the region’s three major Christian communities are collaborating to work more effectively. These communities include the Chaldean Catholic, Syrian Catholic and Syrian Orthodox churches.

Archbishop Auza noted that the Holy See would put forth committed efforts to make sure that Christians “can return to their places of origin and live in dignity and safety with the basic social, political and economic frameworks necessary to ensure community cohesion.”

“Daesh sought to eliminate pluralism and diversity from the Nineveh Plain,” Auza said.

“Therefore, the only way to make sure Daesh cannot claim victory is to restore, and restore urgently, pluralism and diversity to the region.”

Pence meets with Iraqi archbishop ahead of Middle East trip

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 19:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 18:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro-life student assaulted outside Planned Parenthood

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 15:53

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

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

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

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

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

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

The incident was caught on video.

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

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

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

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


What does it really mean to observe Advent?

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 05:04

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

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

Taxpayer-funded abortion law met with Illinois lawsuit

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 15:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 06:05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go to Mass on Sunday and on Christmas, bishops say

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 19:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 17:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tedesco said such claims are “simply not true.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pittsburgh priest rescinds dispensation from Advent Mass obligation

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 14:15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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