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USCCB: Supreme Court has 'redefined' the meaning of 'sex'

Mon, 06/15/2020 - 19:43

CNA Staff, Jun 15, 2020 / 05:43 pm (CNA).- The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference on Monday lamented the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a case that considered whether federal civil rights law considers sexual identity and gender identity to be covered by laws prohibiting employment discrimination based upon sex.

“I am deeply concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively redefined the legal meaning of ‘sex’ in our nation’s civil rights law. This is an injustice that will have implications in many areas of life,” Archbishop Jose Gomez said in a June 15 statement.

The Supreme Court ruled June 15 that employers cannot fire workers because of their sexual orientation or self-determined gender identity, even while dissenting justices opined the Court was legislating from the bench.

The decision considered a trio of discrimination cases before the Court, two of which involved employees who said they were fired because of their sexual orientation in Bostock v. Clayton County and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda.

A third case, Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC, involved a man who lost his job at a Michigan funeral home after he had gender-transition surgery and returned to work dressed as a woman; the funeral home had sex-specific dress code policies for employees.

The question at issue was whether or not protections against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also applied to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Monday, the Court’s majority ruled that “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.

In November, the U.S. bishops’ conference had asked the Court not to extend Title VII protections to sexual orientation and gender identity, because to do so would “redefine a fundamental element of humanity.”

“Words matter,” the statement from leading U.S. bishops said. “‘Sex’ should not be redefined to include sexual inclinations or conduct, nor to promulgate the view that sexual identity is solely a social construct rather than a natural or biological fact.”

Gomez echoed that sentiment on Monday.

“By erasing the beautiful differences and complementary relationship between man and woman, we ignore the glory of God’s creation and harm the human family, the first building block of society. Our sex, whether we are male or female, is part of God’s plan for creation and for our lives. As Pope Francis has taught with such sensitivity, to live in the truth with God’s intended gifts in our lives requires that we receive our bodily and sexual identity with gratitude from our Creator. No one can find true happiness by pursuing a path that is contrary to God’s plan,” the archbishop said.

“Every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and, without exception, must be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect. Protecting our neighbors from unjust discrimination does not require redefining human nature.”

Critics of the Court’s decision have argued that, in addition to reinforcing the transgender ideology, they could undermine the religious liberty of religious employers and business owners.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the Court’s majority, acknowledged religious freedom concerns for employers in the Court’s decision. Religious organizations and employers do have certain protections from discrimination lawsuits under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), his decision said.

However, the religious freedom question would be a matter of future consideration since “none of the employers before us today represent in this Court that compliance with Title VII will infringe their own religious liberties in any way,” Gorsuch wrote.



Rockville Centre diocese faces bankruptcy amid abuse lawsuits

Mon, 06/15/2020 - 19:41

CNA Staff, Jun 15, 2020 / 05:41 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Rockville Centre has requested a pause in the proceedings of numerous sex abuse lawsuits it is facing, and said it may have to declare bankruptcy if it is not granted.

Two fellow New York dioceses, Buffalo and Rochester, have filed for bankruptcy within the last year. Each diocese had been named in hundreds of clergy sex abuse lawsuits following the opening of a window in the statute of limitations in the state in cases of sexual abuse under the Child Victims Act.

Sean Dolan, director of communications for the Rockville Centre diocese, said it had requested “a stay pending an appeal of the court’s denial of its motion to dismiss approximately 35 cases.” He said the request reflects the diocese’s “dedication to the fair and just treatment of all abuse victims, rather than continuing on a course that is marked by exhausting litigation expenses for the benefit of those racing to the courthouse ahead of others.”

Since the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program was established in 2017, he said, the diocese has given over $57 million to 320 victims of sexual abuse. It also has pending offers or is actively investigating another 50 claims, he added.

He said the diocese is expecting proceeds from its insurance policies to contribute to compensating victims. But the diocese has yet to be reimbursed for the large legal costs of lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act.

“Because of that, and the additional strain on its finances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Diocese does not have the resources to continue litigating the nearly 100 pending cases through to judgment. What is more, insurance will not, as a matter of law, cover punitive damages sought by 74 of these plaintiffs that, if awarded, would likely total in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.

“If these actions are not stayed pending appeal, the substantial sums that the Diocese will have to expend in continuing to litigate these actions will be unavailable to survivors.”

The Diocese of Rockville Centre said that while bankruptcy is a last resort, the diocese could pursue such action, noting that the request for a pause will help victims rather than shield predators. 

“The Diocese’s stay motion is not an attempt to turn its back on victims or shield predators from any punishment they deserve,” Dolan said in a May 29 statement.

“The Diocese may have to seek such protection to preserve value so as to enable it to carry out its mission of supporting the Catholic faith on Long Island, while ensuring that all survivors receive fair settlements,” he said.

Michael Dowd, a lawyer for alleged victims, called the prospect of bankruptcy “callous,” the New York Post reported.

The diocese serves over 1.4 million people in New York’s Nassau and Suffolk counties. Since the coronavirus quarantine closed Mass and other Church gatherings, the diocese said it has received far fewer tithes, including two weeks which had no donations at all.

According to the New York Post, the diocese said donations during Holy Week and Easter this year were down 60% from normal.

Because of the lack of the pandemic, the diocese is in an “ever-more serious financial situation,” which has continued to worsen under strenuous legal costs, the New York Post reported.

The state’s Child Victims Act, which provides a one-year window to file lawsuits against decade old cases of sexual abuse, was extended for five months by Gov. Andrew Cuomo because of court delays caused by the coronavirus.

In May, a New York judge rejected a suit filed by the Diocese of Rockville Centre that claimed the lawsuits are barred by the due process clause in the state constitution. It said the due process clause in the state constitution “allows the legislature to revive formerly time-barred claims only where they could not have been raised earlier,” which it adds “is not so here.”

"The court finds the Child Victims Act is a reasonable response to remedy the injustice of past child sexual abuse," Justice Steven Jaeger of the New York Supreme Court in Nassau County wrote in his May 13 decision. “Accordingly, it does not violate defendant diocese’s right to due process under the New York State Constitution.”

Trump admin to allow homeless shelters to serve on basis of biological sex

Mon, 06/15/2020 - 17:32

CNA Staff, Jun 15, 2020 / 03:32 pm (CNA).- The Department of Housing and Urban Development is set to roll back an Obama-era rule that requires single-sex homeless shelters to accommodate clients based on their gender identity.

The new rule will allow single-sex shelters to serve only those whose biological sex aligns with their residents, according to a report from the Washington Post.

According to the new rule, a shelter that denies access to a transgender client must recommend the client to another shelter. A shelter may still choose to serve transgender people, but if it does, the shelter must do so consistently.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kate Anderson said that the proposed HUD rule allows shelters to live out their religious principles, which may conflict with admitting transgender people into a same-sex shelter.

“There is no need to force shelters to violate their faith or impose a blanket federal policy that forces vulnerable women to share space with men who claim a female identity,” said Anderson. “Some of the faith-based organizations we’ve represented in court have faced hostility—and even the threat of closure—by government officials who disagree with their religious beliefs. That’s why we are glad HUD is proposing a rule that at least returns this issue to local control and otherwise lets shelters set their own admissions policies to carry out their mission.”

The rule retains the HUD 2012 “equal access” rule, which mandated that homeless shelters be “open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.”

The 2012 rule left room for single-sex shelters to deny housing to transgender clients. A 2016 study conducted by the Center for American Progress found that only 30% of female homeless shelters were willing to house biological males.

The ambiguity regarding the treatment of transgender and non-gender conforming clients prompted a 2016 rule, which required shelters to serve transgender people – even if their biological sex does not align with the rest of the shelter’s residents.

As evidence of unfair discrimination against transgender homeless people, the 2016 rule cited a report by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness which stated that many transgender people face “dangerous conditions” in shelters that align with their biological sex. The report said that given the choice between a single-sex shelter that serves their biological sex or the streets, “many transgender shelter-seekers would choose the streets.”

In light of the safety and discrimination concerns for transgender people in shelters that align with their biological sex, the 2016 rule mandated that “In no case may a provider's policies isolate or segregate transgender or gender nonconforming occupants.”

But the 2016 rule gave rise to concerns over communal bathrooms, showers, and sleeping areas, especially for women who have been abused.

Counsels for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said that the 2016 regulations “purport to protect health and safety,” yet “they fail to advance, and in fact positively undermine, these and other legitimate interests, including expectations of privacy.”

The newly proposed HUD rule states that there is “anecdotal evidence that some women may fear that non-transgender, biological men may exploit the process of self-identification under the current rule in order to gain access to women’s shelters.”

The rule cites a pending civil complaint from nine California women that an all-women's homeless shelter facilitated abuse by admitting a male who identified as a woman, according to the Washington Post report. 

“HUD does not believe it is beneficial to institute a national policy that may force homeless women to sleep alongside and interact with men in intimate settings,” the new rule says, “even though those women may have just been beaten, raped, and sexually assaulted by a man the day before.”

Maryland Catholic bishops: Fighting racism requires more than words

Mon, 06/15/2020 - 16:50

CNA Staff, Jun 15, 2020 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Church should be at the forefront of efforts to address racial inequality – not only through words, but through actions, said the bishops of Maryland on Monday.

In a June 15 letter, the Maryland bishops said “we must seek to know and understand one another and to work to break down barriers through listening, prayer and a commitment to change hearts and minds.”

“However, prayer and dialogue, alone, are not enough,” they added. “We must act to bring about true change.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference released the letter amid continuing protests around the country following the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody. Floyd, a black man, died after an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Protestors in the wake of Floyd’s death have called for justice for people of color who have been killed by the police, as well as efforts to recognize and address broader issues of racial inequality in society.

The Maryland bishops recognized that the racial injustice which has been part of society for centuries has also existed within the Church.

“With regret and humility, we must recognize that as Catholic leaders and as an institution we have, at times, not followed the Gospel to which we profess and have been too slow in correcting our shortcomings,” they said.

“For this reason, it is incumbent upon us to place ourselves at the forefront of efforts to remove the inequalities and discrimination that are still present in Maryland and our nation today.”

The bishops recognized efforts within the Church to fight racial inequality, such as desegregating Catholic schools and parishes in the archdiocese at a time when segregation was common and largely accepted. Still, they said, more work is needed to end the sin of racism.

“Although many people have acted in good faith in service and prayer to bring about just change, to acknowledge the dignity of each life, and to love one another, our current crisis causes us to reflect on how much we still must do together to make impactful progress,” the bishops said.

The ongoing protests and rallies, they said, “make it clear that the conscience of our nation is on trial as questions of race and equality confront each and every one of us.”

Each person, they said, should work prayerfully to identity and eliminated any hatred in their own heart.

They highlighted the enriching presence of black Catholics in Maryland, pointing to the National Black Catholic Congress and the Josephite priests, who serve the local black community. They also praised the witness of Mother Mary Lange, who in the 1800s founded the first Catholic school for black children in the U.S., as well as the first religious order for black women. Lange’s sainthood cause is currently open, and she is recognized as a Servant of God.

“Over the years, the Catholic Bishops of Maryland have stood firmly in our support of laws that sought to bring about justice and an end to unequal treatment based on race,” the bishops said in their letter, renewing their commitment to such efforts, including prison reform, educational opportunities, health and maternal care, fighting discrimination in housing and the use of the death penalty, and restorative justice plans.

“United, we seek healing, harmony and solutions that recognize that every person has been created in the image of God and that every person possesses human dignity,” they said.

The bishops prayed for the Holy Spirit’s guidance for religious and political leaders as they work to oppose discrimination, promote racial equality, and heal wounds from past injustices.

“We commend the efforts of our state lawmakers to convene working groups to discuss legislative initiatives that are needed for reform, transparency, and racial equality,” they said.

“We look forward to playing an active part in these conversations on both a state and national level, and to lending our voices to those whose own have been stifled or altogether silenced by those who seek to quiet them.”


Supreme Court: Sexual orientation and gender identity covered under federal discrimination law

Mon, 06/15/2020 - 11:00

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that employers cannot fire workers because of their sexual orientation or self-determined gender identity, while dissenting justices opined the Court was legislating from the bench.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion for the Court in a 6-3 decision, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh all dissented from the majority opinion.

The decision considered a trio of discrimination cases before the Court, two of which involved employees who said they were fired because of their sexual orientation in Bostock v. Clayton County and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda.

A third case, Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC, involved a man who lost his job at a Michigan funeral home after he had gender-transition surgery and returned to work dressed as a woman; the funeral home had sex-specific dress code policies for employees.

The question at issue was whether or not protections against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also applied to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Monday, the Court’s majority ruled that “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November had asked the Court not to extend Title VII protections to sexual orientation and gender identity, because to do so would “redefine a fundamental element of humanity.”

“Words matter,” the statement from leading U.S. bishops said. “‘Sex’ should not be redefined to include sexual inclinations or conduct, nor to promulgate the view that sexual identity is solely a social construct rather than a natural or biological fact.”

On Monday morning, the religious freedom legal group Alliance Defending Freedom stated on Twitter that “[r]edefining ‘sex’ to mean ‘gender identity’ will create chaos and enormous unfairness for women and girls in athletics, women’s shelters, and many other contexts.”

“Civil rights laws that use the word ‘sex’ were put in place to protect equal opportunities for women,” ADF stated, adding that for a court “to redefine a term with such a clear and important meaning undermines those very opportunities—the ones the law was designed to protect.”

ADF is currently representing three female high school track athletes who sued the state of Connecticut’s high school athletic conference for allowing biological males identifying as female to compete in female track.

The Court’s majority noted Monday that Congress may not have anticipated Title VII protections being considered for sexual orientation and gender identity cases at the time of the law’s enactment, “[b]ut the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”

“Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit,” Gorsuch wrote.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote one dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Thomas.

“There is only one word for what the Court has done today: legislation,” Alito wrote. The law does not mention “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” he said, and Congress for decades has considered legislation to add that language to Title VII but has not yet done so.

“But the Court is not deterred by these constitutional niceties,” he wrote. “Usurping the constitutional authority of the other branches, the Court has essentially taken H.R.5’s provision on employment discrimination and issued it under the guise of statutory interpretation. A more brazen abuse of our authority to interpret statutes is hard to recall.”

Justice Kavanaugh, writing his own dissent, stated that “[u]nder the Constitution’s separation of powers, the responsibility to amend Title VII belongs to Congress and the President in the legislative process, not to this Court.”

Gorsuch, writing for the Court’s majority, acknowledged religious freedom concerns for employers in the Court’s decision. Religious organizations and employers do have certain protections from discrimination lawsuits under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), he wrote.

However, the religious freedom question would be a matter of future consideration since “none of the employers before us today represent in this Court that compliance with Title VII will infringe their own religious liberties in any way,” he wrote.


Catholic composer David Haas accused of 'sexual battery' and 'spiritual manipulation'

Sun, 06/14/2020 - 20:43

Denver Newsroom, Jun 14, 2020 / 06:43 pm (CNA).- The composer of several well-known songs used in Catholic liturgies has been dropped by a prominent hymnal publisher, amid accusations of serial spiritual manipulation and sexual misconduct.

“Early this year we became aware of allegations of sexual misconduct by David Haas, and we learned the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was considering a decision not to provide him a letter of suitability,” GIA Publications said in a June 13 Facebook post.

“In response, we suspended our sponsorship and publishing relationship with Mr. Haas, and have not sponsored his work since late January,” the publisher added.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has also received multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the composer, a spokesman told CNA, adding that in 2018 the archdiocese declined to provide Haas with a requested letter of reccomendation.

Haas, 63, is the composer of several songs included in the “Gather” hymnal published by GIA, which is among the best-selling and most used hymnals in American Catholic parishes.

The composer, a layman, is a central figure in the “contemporary liturgical music” movement that began in the 1970s, along with composers Marty Haugen, Fr. Michael Joncas, Dan Schutte, and the “St. Louis Jesuits” group.

Among Haas’ songs are some contemporary standards: “Glory to God,” “You are Mine,” “We are Called,” and “Blest are They,” among others.

A group called Into Account, which says it “provides advocacy and the most up-to-date resources to survivors seeking accountability,” sent last week a letter to some Catholic organizations and media outlets, addressing allegations against Haas.

The letter, obtained by CNA June 14, said the group had “received reports from multiple individuals reporting sexually predatory actions from the composer David Haas.”

“These individuals are in positions of professional and/or personal vulnerability that make it difficult for them to identify themselves publicly. They are almost all fearful of Haas’s retaliation, and based on what they have reported, we believe those fears to be well-founded.”

“The pattern that emerges from the reports we’ve received on Haas’s behavior constitutes a repeated, unethical abuse of the professional and spiritual power he has had in church music circles. Haas has allegedly targeted multiple women using techniques that abuse prevention experts identify as grooming, to create conditions in which women felt obligated to perform sexual favors in exchange for professional opportunities. His generosity, we are told, often came with a sexual price tag,” Into Account said.

“The allegations we’ve received also contain a disturbing component of spiritual manipulation. Haas reportedly focuses attention on women with past histories of abuse, then uses the vulnerabilities created by trauma to create intimacy. Multiple women have reported to us that Haas is skilled at making his targets feel spiritually affirmed, seen, and loved, with a keen understanding of how that spiritual intimacy can then be exploited sexually,” the letter added.

“Some women have described romantic relationships with Haas that felt consensual in the beginning, but were then marked by sudden, overwhelming sexual aggression from Haas, in which any resistance was met with extreme anger. Other women have described incidents that we would interpret as outright sexual battery, involving groping, forcible kissing, and aggressive, lewd propositions. The youngest victim reported to us was 19 years old at the time of the alleged sexual battery, while Haas was over 50.”

“We have no knowledge of Haas perpetrating any sexual offenses against minors, and we have no knowledge of any behavior from Haas that has led to criminal charges,” the group said.

Stephanie Krehbiel, Into Account’s executive director, told CNA June 14 that the group has heard from nearly a dozen alleged victims of Haas.

Krehbiel said the group first heard from an alleged victim of Haas through a confidential form on its website in early 2020. That contact let to reports from other alleged victims, and from people active in liturgical music circles, who had observations or concerns about Haas.

One alleged victim reportedly told Into Account that Haas had made unwanted sexual advances and forcibly kissed her during a religious education congress in Los Angeles.

According to Krehbiel, another said she met Haas as a student participant in Music Ministry Alive, a musical formation program for teenagers founded by the composer, who allegedly made inappropriate advances a few years later, when the former student was 19.

Krehbiel told CNA that her group aims to assist victims of sexual misconduct, assault, or battery. She added that because the allegations against Haas involve only adults, contacting law enforcement is “up to the discretion of the survivor.”

Into Account shared the information it had received, Krehbiel told CNA, because alleged victims hope their stories will prevent future misconduct. They hope “to take away his access to vulnerable people,” and ensure that “he is not able to continue to do this.”

Haas told CNA Sunday that he is preparing to release a statement this week, but declined to answer specific questions. As of Saturday, Haas’ page was no longer available on Facebook. 

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, in which Haas lives, told CNA June 14 that it too received reports about the composer.

“In November of 2018, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis received two reports that Mr. Haas acted inappropriately with two adult women at a recent event in another state. Both women complained that Mr. Haas’ conduct that evening made them feel uncomfortable. Mr. Haas denied misconduct. In 1987, the Archdiocese had received a complaint alleging that David Haas had made an unwelcomed sexual advance toward a young adult woman, which he also denied,” archdiocesan spokesman Tom Halden told CNA.

“Following the 2018 complaints, the Archdiocese informed Mr. Haas that the Archdiocese would not provide him with a letter of recommendation that he had requested.”

“Furthermore, the Archdiocese advised Mr. Haas that he was not allowed to provide services at Catholic institutions in the Archdiocese without disclosure of the complaints made against him,” Halden added.  

GIA’s June 13 statement added that “new allegations of sexually abusive conduct by Mr. Haas continue to be reported. We take these reports seriously. GIA Publications supports and stands with victims. We must join together to address and prevent sexual abuse.”


Catholic summer camps take campfires virtual

Sun, 06/14/2020 - 14:00

Minneapolis, Minn., Jun 14, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- When it’s time for camp this summer, Catholic youth around the country will listen to inspirational talks, make friends in small groups, and sing praise and worship music around a bonfire– all in their very own living room and backyard.

In light of COVID-19 restrictions, many Catholic summer camps have had to close their doors this summer. But some of those camps aim to provide a camp experience to kids this summer, albeit virtually, and to keep themselves afloat while they do it.

“The Lord saw our hunger to reach the young people and he said, listen, I’m going to overcome this barrier,” said Dan DeMatte, founder and executive director of Catholic Youth Summer Camp (CYSC). The camp, based in Centerburg, OH, plans to offer both an in-person and a virtual camp experience this year.

Camp Wojtyla, based in Colorado, will offer a virtual program for kids and their families to engage in daily activities such as challenges, videos, and prayer. But as a wilderness camp, the idea of adapting Camp Wojtyla to an online format initially seemed odd.

“It is a little outside of our wheelhouse,” Eby told CNA. “We really do try to minimize screens. There's not too much technology, or I guess modern technology, at our wilderness camp.”

Totus Tuus is a week-long catechetical day camp program run in dioceses around the country.

Cassie Zimmer, a 20 year old Totus Tuus missionary in the diocese of Marquette, will lead a team of six missionaries to deliver a completely virtual summer program. This summer marks her 3rd year teaching the program.

“We have to just kind of learn how to be good at doing videos,” said Zimmer. “I don't even know if this is a Totus Tuus program, per say, it’s more of a Totus Tuus TV program.”

Adapting a Catholic summer camp to a screen requires immense creative genius.

The virtual program from CYSC will employ a box of materials delivered to each virtual camper’s door, which will contain materials for activities and games.

“Imagine your son or daughter pitching a tent in their bedroom or their backyard or their basement, and having all the aspects of catholic youth summer camp brought to them on a daily basis through the whole course of the week,” DeMatte said in a video promoting the camp to parents.

The kids at CYSC will even have a virtual cabin leader, who will remotely guide his or her small group through the same kind of activities a kid would expect at summer camp.

At Camp Wojtyla, campers will be encouraged to build a chapel out of materials they find outside, like flowers, rocks, and sticks. Every morning, they will be encouraged to pray there before plugging into the camp’s introductory video, called “gritty masters,” over breakfast. The video will explain the day’s activities, and will subtly encourage campers to do their dishes.

Campers will have the opportunity to join in a summer camp bonfire at the end of the week, though with some social-distancing modifications.

Virtual campers will be invited to build their own fire and join in livestreamed songs and chants– all the things that ought to culminate a summer camp experience.

“We try to take as much of our typical day to day program that is at camp and help people to live that out in their own home, with a virtual platform, that will allow for real experiences,” Eby told CNA.

Although the Totus Tuus program differs vastly in each diocese, Totus Tuus staff in the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, will offer a weekly “data drop” to those who sign up for the program. The staff will be busy all summer recording and editing videos, employing everything from saint costumes to gorilla suits to keep campers engaged.

At first, 19 year old Ethan Wilcox, a seminarian who will teach the virtual program this year, doubted the viability of a virtual Totus Tuus program.

“I thought, there’s no way, how is this going to work?” said Wilcox.

But In spite of the limitations, many camp organizers are confident that virtual platforms, such as Zoom, will have a meaningful impact on kid’s lives.

“Kids are having encounters with Jesus. We’re had kids filled with the Holy Spirit and transformed over the Zoom platform,” DeMatte told CNA.

“If we buy into a lie that God can't work powerfully over an online version of camp, then He’s not going to be able to work powerfully over an online version of camp.”

DeMatte compared those who lack faith that God will work over a virtual platform to the people of towns in the Gospels that lacked faith in Christ. Jesus never worked a miracle in those towns, DeMatte noted.

“The level of our faith we have determines the degree to which God’s power can be activated in people’s lives,” said DeMatte.

“With the new evangelization, technology is really something that the Church needs to look into,” said Wilcox. While he was quarantined at home due to the coronavirus, Wilcox broadcast videos of himself singing praise and worship music over Facebook Live and was overwhelmed by the response.

He sees technology as “a tool for the Church.”

“The Catholic Church has stepped up to meet people in the digital age,” said Grace Theoret, an 18 year old Totus Tuus missionary in the Diocese of Marquette. She described a plethora of digital Catholic conferences that were made available this spring.

The digital platform will allow many summer camps to reach a much wider audience than ever before.

In just eight weeks of virtual ministry this spring, DeMatte said that Damascus Catholic Mission Campus, the organization overarching CYSC, reached over 150,000 people. At Camp Wojtyla, Eby said she has seen a lot of families sign up for the virtual camp who had initially been waitlisted.

Emma Kate Callahan, a 21-year-old Totus Tuus missionary in the Diocese of Pueblo, CO, said that Totus Tuus is now able to virtually minister to four more parishes than it had originally planned for this summer.

Despite the potential for a wider reach of their ministry, some worry that the camps’ reliance on technology will compromise their potential for meaningful relationships.

“You don't really have the same interactions online,” said Callahan. “You just can't beat being face to face with a child and looking into their eyes and seeing the face of Jesus.”

This concern is shared by many parents, who wonder if online Catholic summer camp is a worthy investment.

“It's hard to replace being in person with people, no matter how creative we are with content,” said Anna Witham, an early-childhood educator in Minnesota. “As an educator and a parent and a Catholic, it's important for me to give my kids real experiences.”

“I’m a hard no on virtual summer camp,” Mary Walker, a youth minister in the Diocese of Arlington, VA, told CNA.

“Me and a few of my friends have decided that because we’re probably going back to virtual learning in the fall, that we need to have as few screens as possible during summer as possible to kind of reset and reboot,” she said.

“I’ve always been a parent who tries to limit screen time,” said Witham. “I hadn't even thought to sign my kids up for anything like that because I feel like they needed a break from structured activities delivered via screen.”

Walker described how gross-motor skills, such as climbing a jungle gym or playing outside, facilitate learning fine motor skills, such as holding a pencil. Both she and Witham said that their kids’ summers will be full of bike-riding, hiking, playing outside, and imaginative play.

But Walker said that there’s a reason beyond spurning technology to opt out of Catholic summer camps.

“Parents are the primary educators of their children in matters of faith,” she told CNA. “And I think it’s prime time for parents to stand up and take ownership of that.”

In fact, many Catholic summer camps are embracing the fact that parents will be able to engage in the material alongside their children.

DeMatte said that Catholic Youth Summer Camp’s goal is “not to do the ministry for parents, but to facilitate the ministry for parents.”

“We were getting messages from families saying, this is the first time we’ve ever played together, or, this is the first time that dad has ever goofed off with the kids,” DeMatte told CNA. “And that’s revolutionary in a family.”

“What do we have? Families,” said Zimmer, who leads her six-person Totus Tuus team. “We can build up the family unit. We are gearing this towards hopefully being able to help the parents teach the kids.”

“There's opportunity there to have the parents involved in the mission just as much as the kids are,” said 22 year old Ben Gregory, who is part of Zimmer’s team. “(It’s) likely there will be conversations happening amongst the families.”

By engaging the whole family, moreover, Catholic summer camps hope to simply stay afloat themselves. One summer without camp could threaten the existence of many programs.

“The summer camp industry, as a whole, is really in danger right now,” said DeMatte. “I think you’ll see a lot of camps close.” He described that 60%-75% or more of a summer camp’s revenue is generated over the summer. One summer’s campers, moreover, fuel the next year’s admissions.

“I hope that being in this environment with other Catholics, that for our campers and our families and all who are part of our mission, we can come together and say, ‘this isn't going to be forever,’” said Eby. “We’ve got to keep the hunger, the desire, the flame.”

Regardless of how their camp is delivered, many Catholic summer camps share the determination to remain steadfast to their mission of sharing Christ.

“We don't exist to run summer camps, we exist to proclaim the name of Jesus,” said DeMatte. “If we think of this from heaven’s perspective, God is like, ‘are you kidding me, you don’t think I can’t change kids’ lives through an online platform?’”


A new baby needs 12 diapers a day. Students for Life aims to help

Sat, 06/13/2020 - 14:00

Denver Newsroom, Jun 13, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The organizers of diaper drives aim to help the parents of young children meet a need that can get costly: diapers.

With the arrival of the new coronavirus and mass unemployment, that need is even greater.

“Since the outbreak, local diaper banks are reporting that diaper distribution to families in need of support has as much as quadrupled,” Troy Moore, chief of external affairs for the National Diaper Bank Network, told CNA. “The federal programs that low-income families rely on to help them pay for groceries – SNAP and WIC – do not cover diapers. In most of the country, diaper banks are the only option for families struggling with diaper need.”
“Many diaper bank programs throughout the country are adjusting their distribution models and now hosting drive-thru diaper distributions, and handing out 15,000 - 25,000 diapers within hours,” Moore said. “The demand for diapers is unprecedented, and more support is needed.”
Even before the arrival of the new coronavirus, 1 in 3 American families faced shortfalls in the number of diapers needed, and some 5 million children age 3 or younger lived in poor or low-income families, according to the diaper bank network.
The National Diaper Bank Network, whose founding sponsor is the diaper company Huggies, supports the development and expansion of diaper banks. Its members number over 200 diaper banks, diaper pantries and food banks in 49 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. At least ten of these members are Catholic institutions, including the Bottom Line Diaper Bank of Catholic Charities, Denver; Archdiocese of New York diaper distribution program; and Kentucky Catholic Charities.

In 2019, the network’s members distributed almost 85 million diapers, helping over 187,000 children each month.
Disposable diapers can cost up to $70 to $80 for each baby. An infant requires up to 12 diapers a day, while toddlers require about 8. Families with poor transportation often pay a premium for diapers at convenience stores. For many working families, there is another reason diapers are a must-have: daycares often require parents to provide a daily supply of diapers.

Under such pressures, parents might risk reusing disposable diapers, causing health risks to the child and stress to both children and parents alike.

The coronavirus has already limited diaper donations. Many diaper banks can no longer accept open packages of diapers due to perceived risks of spreading Covid-19.

“Diaper drives are always welcome, but because of Covid-19, many programs have suspended diaper drives until such time it is safe to resume them,” Moore said.

One such drive took place in fall 2019 at Regis Jesuit High School in suburban Denver. The approximately 20-member Regis Jesuit Students for Life Club gathered 46,700 diapers—a figure that Students for Life of America says is a national high school record.

“The response was pretty incredible. We really bonded over the common ground that we would help parents to choose life and help support these babies,” Jack Brustkern, a recent Regis Jesuit graduate and member of the club, told CNA.

“Our Students for Life club noticed that one of the reasons for mothers to decide to get an abortion was because they were not able to support their baby financially, and so we decided to enlist our school community to bring in as many diapers as possible to support these moms who were struggling,” he added. “We wanted to make it easier for them to decide to choose life for their child.”

Brustkern credited success to “the power of numbers.” The drive was a group effort from club members, other students and teachers at the school. The club created posters, set up decorated tables, publicized the diaper drive in school-wide announcements, and arranged competitions between grades judged by which grade brought in the most diapers. The winning class received cupcakes as a prize.

“I think it is important to collect diapers instead of just giving money because it helps us all to really see the impact that this contribution will have on a family,” he said. “It’s a tangible expression of our support of these women financially and in our prayers as well.”

Camille Cisneros, the coordinator of Students for Life of America’s Pregnant on Campus initiative, said efforts to help pregnant women and new mothers continue despite the novel coronavirus epidemic.
“With all of the changes that are happening around us, including losses in employment, it is essential that we continue to support women through these item drives,” she said. “Since we couldn’t host these drives in person after March, Students for Life of America also held a national online item drive, collecting over $15,000 in donations for pregnancy help centers.”
Student service extends beyond these actions, Cisneros said.
“During this school year, our groups held 20 fundraisers to collect money for scholarships that the groups award to pregnant and parenting students on their campuses. We also have numerous groups, like the Texas A&M Aggies for Life, who have babysitting services available to student parents,” she said.
Her advice on how to help?
“Reach out to your local pregnancy help centers to find out what they need whether that is volunteers, donations, or financial support,” she said, recommending the directory at “When you meet a young family, single mother or father, or student parent offer your time to babysit or offer to cook a home cooked meal. It’s these small gestures that show women they have the support of their community to choose life and continue to pursue their goals.”
Joanne Goldblum, founder and chief executive officer of the National Diaper Bank Network, said many of the recently unemployed are low-wage workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck.
“That puts them at greater need,” she said.
“The demand for diapers is unprecedented. More support is absolutely needed, both from the philanthropic sector but also from the government,” she told CNA. “We believe strongly, and know, that this is not a problem that can be solved with charitable dollars alone.”
At the same time, she had advice specific to helping low-wage workers, like paying housecleaners or babysitters even if they can’t work or giving generous tips to delivery people.
“Always take a moment and think that the person helping you in a pandemic is taking a risk,” she said.
She referred people to the National Diaper Bank Network’s website for a directory of diaper bank members.
“All of them need donations, either diapers or money,” she said.
Diaper banks can buy more than the average person due to bulk discounts and other arrangements.
“All things being equal, more diapers get to babies by giving diaper banks cash,” Goldblum said.
Advice for running a diaper drive is available at the respective websites of Students for Life of America and the National Diaper Bank Network.


In trying times, how can Catholics stay hopeful?

Sat, 06/13/2020 - 05:37

Denver Newsroom, Jun 13, 2020 / 03:37 am (CNA).- Amid the worldwide panic surrounding coronavirus and lockdowns, as well as protests and unrest in many parts of the country in recent weeks, it can be easy for people of any faith to ask: Where is God?

Father Phillip Bochanski, director of the Courage International apostolate which ministers to people with same-sex attraction, wrote a book last year on The Virtue of Hope: How confidence in God can lead you to Heaven.

Catholics hope that they will someday be welcomed into eternal life in heaven. Additionally, Bochanski said, we can have hope in this life that the world is unfolding according to God’s divine plan.

“If we forget that we're passing through this world, and that our goal is actually the next changes our whole moral outlook on things. So hope keeps us mindful of that reality that we're on the way, we haven't reached our destination,” Bochanski told CNA.

“That makes all the difference in how we go about our daily responsibilities, but also big-picture questions, like what we're going through right now.”

He told CNA that there is a difference between being hopeful, in a Catholic sense, and being simply optimistic, sanguine, or naive.

In his book, Bochanski notes that the classic Catholic definition of virtue, which comes from St. Thomas Aquinas, is of a “good habit”— something we repeat over and over, until it becomes second nature.

Some people may be more disposed to be hopeful because of their personality, Bochanski said, but the idea of hope as a virtue means it must be practiced, exercised, and sought.

Hope is one of three “theological virtues,” along with faith and love. Bochanski explained that even though these theological virtues come from God, we still have to work at them by putting them into practice, and exercising them.

“We grow in hope by striving to be hopeful, by letting it shape our actions, and the more we can live with hope, the easier it becomes to be hopeful,” he said.

For Catholics, hope starts with recognizing that God is in charge.

“Hope, for us, means trusting that God has a plan, and that he's working out his plan even if we can't see how it's going to work or if we would prefer a different timing,” Bochanski said.

Jesus models the virtues for Christians, he said, and the fact that Jesus never doubted God's saving mission is a model of hope for us.

“He didn't need to be hopeful in the sense of having any doubts, or not knowing what was going to happen, but he models hope for us in the way that he calmly, perseveringly, carries out his mission,” he said.

In the biblical episode of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, for example, the devil offers Jesus various “shortcuts” around the Father's plan. Jesus, because He knows the Father's plan, rebuffs the devil’s temptations and resolutely carries out what the Father has set before Him.

“That gives us hope when we're faced with our own part of God's plan, but without the omnipotence and omniscience of the Lord,” he said.

“When we're going through personal difficulties, or community difficulties, or things that are scary and violent, the question that naturally comes to mind is where is God?”

What seems like God's absence or silence is actually God working in ways that we can't yet see or perceive, he said.

“Hope brings us back to that reality that He's never absent. And although I can't see Him at the moment, I trust him enough to wait for Him to show me and to do what I can moment by moment...If we do our part, God will also do his part and carry out his plan for our lives.”

In the midst of crises, it can be easy to take on the same emotional level as the voices we hear on the news, he said.

Being hopeful in the world today has a lot to do with remaining calm— not indifferent or lax, but keeping one's situation in perspective.

“I'm not called to save the whole world. I may not be able to do a lot in the grand scheme of things, but in my vocation, in my family, in my work, in my circle of friends, my job is to keep doing the task that God has given me to do and not to panic,” Bochanski said.

The devil likes to emphasize our apparent powerlessness, he said, or distract us from the smaller, daily tasks and acts of love we've been given to do.

This can sometimes lead to the spiritual state of acedia— a kind of sadness about things that are spiritual goods, or a “disgust with activity.”

There's a certain amount of justice we can achieve in a fallen world, Bochanski said, but ultimate justice will not be realized until the Last Day.

“Hope keeps us focused on this step of the journey. One step at a time, one task at a time, one  responsibility at a time, instead of letting us get panicked or overly anxious about having to do something huge. It helps us to keep our eyes on the small things in front of us and keep the world in perspective,” he said.

Bochanski said he heard from many people feeling anxious, restless, and afraid in the first days of the coronavirus lockdown— all reasonable reactions, but hope helps Christians avoid being swayed off course by the emotions of the moment, he said.

If someone is weighed down or anxious about something, modeling hope for them not only will help remind them that the present situation is not the final word, but it also can help to keep that person's reaction in perspective, he said.

This does not mean simply telling people who are worried not to worry, but instead modeling a hopeful attitude for them.

“Our hope is always in someone or something...when our hope is in God, it's the most real thing there is. It can't be a false hope, because it's based on our understanding of who God is.”

“If you have a friend who is omnipotent, and he offers to help you, you should let him. God, who is omnipotent and omniscient, has offered to help me, and I know that that is true” because God asks of Christians things that are beyond anyone's natural ability, he said.

Bochanski recommended reading, as well as his book, the 2007 encyclical on hope by Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi.

The paradox of discipleship is freedom through surrender to God, but pride makes us think that we can handle everything ourselves. To reduce the sense of powerlessness, take time to pray and assess what God is asking you to do, Bochanski advised. 

“God, because of who He is, is going to do all the heavy lifting,” Bochanski said.


No sex abuse charges for former Wyoming bishop, but successor praises 'courageous' victims

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 20:15

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 06:15 pm (CNA).- While Wyoming prosecutors have declined to press criminal sexual abuse charges against Bishop emeritus Joseph Hart, Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne has repeated that the diocese considers allegations against Hart to be credible. He commended alleged victims who have come forward, emphasizing the need for justice.
“This decision not to pursue a criminal case does not mean that the victims are not credible. Once again, I commend the victims who have spoken courageously about their abuse,” Bishop Biegler said in a June 11 statement. “I also stand behind the determination made by the Diocese of Cheyenne that allegations of sexual abuse against former Bishop Hart are credible.”
The Natrona County District Attorney’s Office has told an alleged victim that there was “insufficient evidence” to support a charge against Hart. The allegation concerned sexual abuse in the 1970s, the Casper Star-Tribune reported June 9.
The alleged victim described his reaction: “On one hand there was disbelief, but on the other hand was just like, ‘Well, yeah.’”
“In the back of my mind, that was always an outcome. I never thought it was a slam dunk. But there’s a certain bitter resignation that comes with saying, ‘OK, there it goes, that’s just how it is.’ I can’t believe it,” he told the Star-Tribune.
Bishop Biegler said that the diocese hopes the district attorney’s office will offer an adequate account of its decision not to seek criminal charges.
“The Diocese of Cheyenne has fully cooperated with law enforcement during the past two years that they have been investigating this case,” Biegler said. “The diocese understands and appreciates that the decision to pursue a criminal case rests solely with the district attorney’s office. Proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard of proof. The diocese also understands that a criminal case requires a unanimous jury verdict in order to convict.”
More than 12 men have accused Hart of sexual abuse, with the first accusers coming forward in 1989. The alleged abuse took place from when he was a priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph through his time as a bishop. Wyoming has no statute of limitations on criminal charges for sexual abuse.
Hart, 88, denies any misconduct.
Bishop Hart was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City in 1956, where he served until he was named an auxiliary bishop in Cheyenne in 1976. He was appointed to lead the diocese two years later. He served as Bishop of Cheyenne until his resignation in 2001 at the age of 70.
“The Diocese of Cheyenne is adamant in a sincere quest for justice for everyone,” Bishop Biegler said. “A just resolution is essential for the victims and their family members, but also for the clergy and laity in the Diocese of Cheyenne and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s.”
He added that a Church investigation is still pending.
“It is important to differentiate between criminal charges and the canonical crimes being investigated by Church authorities,” the bishop added. “That process continues under the oversight of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith at the Vatican, and the Diocese of Cheyenne has not received new information on the status of the case.”
The victim in the developing case came forward in 2002 when a Natrona County prosecutor closed a two-month investigation due to a lack of evidence. The victim has said he stopped participating in that inquiry because he felt attacked and cross-examined by a Cheyenne police lieutenant.
In July 2018, the Cheyenne diocese questioned the conclusion of the prosecutor in closing the case.
The Cheyenne Police Department investigated and recommended charges in August 2019.
When the case was referred to prosecutors, Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Ann Manlove recused herself and sent the case to Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen to serve as special prosecutor.
The victim told the Star-Tribune he was not contacted by anyone in Itzen’s office until the night of Friday June 5 when a victim’s advocate left a voicemail. The advocate told him the following Monday that no charges were being filed.
The victim objected that the special prosecutor should have contacted him. He said he participated in the latest investigation only because Bishop Biegler flew out to meet him, apologized, and told him he believed his story.
“I’m trying to get the people like Bishop Biegler empowered and supported and recognized that these are the guys who are future of the church, if the church is to have a future, which I personally don’t care about,” the victim told the Star-Tribune. “I don’t care if the church has a future. But what I care about is making sure that this institution ceases to protect like it has.”
In 2010, then-Bishop of Cheyenne Paul Etienne asked for a Vatican investigation into Hart, though the outcome of that investigation is unclear. In 2015, before moving to a different diocese, Etienne restricted Hart’s ability to say Mass.
Hart was previously investigated by Wyoming prosecutors and not charged regarding a different allegation.
In December 2017, Bishop Biegler retained an outside investigator who obtained “substantial new evidence” and who concluded the district attorney’s 2002 investigation was flawed. The investigator concluded that Bishop Hart had sexually abused two boys in Wyoming.
The victim has said that he wants Hart dismissed from the clerical state so he will not have funeral honors for a bishop or priest. He also wants him removed from diocesan housing.
“Me and all the other boys who were abused were ashamed our whole lives about it,” the victim said. “Now he needs to be ashamed.”

Detroit archdiocese criticizes ‘racist and derogatory language’ from Church Militant

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 19:50

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 05:50 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Detroit responded Thursday to a video produced by a website operating in the Detroit archdiocese, which it said used “racist and derogatory language” to describe the African-American Archbishop of Washington D.C.

The Church Militant website, which produces Catholic-themed articles and opinion videos, released a video June 11 entitled “AFRICAN QUEEN BUSTED LYING.”

The video consists of commentary from Church Militant founder Michael Voris about recent events concerning, in his words, the “accused homosexual, Marxist bishop” of Washington D.C., Wilton Gregory.

In the video, Voris characterized Gregory as a “liar” and repeated a claim Church Militant has made in other videos, articles, and on social media, that Gregory is an “active homosexual” and has promoted active homosexual clergy to a “gay cabal” in the dioceses he has led.

On June 11, the archdiocese released a statement in response.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit has been made aware that an organization located in southeast Michigan has published racist and derogatory language in reference to Archbishop of Washington D.C. Wilton D. Gregory. The organization in question is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Archdiocese of Detroit,” the statement said.

“Racist and derogatory speech wrongfully diminishes the God-given dignity of others. It is not in accord with the teachings of Christ,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron added to that statement.

“As our nation continues its important conversation on racism, it is my hope that the faithful will turn from this and all other acts or attitudes which deny the inherent dignity shared by all people."

In remarks to CNA, an archdiocesan spokesperson issued a warning about the group.

The archdiocese “unequivocally condemns the offensive language used in reference to Archbishop Gregory and advises the faithful that Church Militant is not affiliated with, endorsed, or recommended by the Archdiocese of Detroit,” archdiocesan communications director Holly Fornier told CNA June 12.

Fornier declined to comment on whether Vigneron has any further recourse to ecclesiastical penalties against Church Militant in light of the June 11 video, and whether he was considering taking any further action beyond the archdiocesan statement.

Archbishop Gregory has faced questions in recent days about his denunciation of President Donald Trump’s June 2 visit to the John Paul II Shrine, which Gregory described as “baffling and reprehensible” given the current climate of political protest.

CNA reported June 8 that Gregory had, the week prior to the visit, declined an invitation to the president's event at the shrine.

Voris characterized Gregory as a “liar” for speaking out on the day of Trump’s visit rather than on the day he declined the invitation.

He also claimed that “various priests who have been in his presence for more than three seconds” call Gregory “African Queen.”

Church Militant did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

Christine Niles, senior producer at Church Militant, in a June 12 tweet repeated Voris’ claim that the nickname is used by clergy and seminarians— none of whom Church Militant has named— behind Gregory’s back.

“‘African’ is his race. ‘Queen’ is a common term used by homosexuals to refer to other homosexuals. Thus, ‘African Queen.’ It's the name bandied about by clergy and seminarians about Abp. Gregory for years,” Niles wrote.

In another tweet, she claimed “famed sex abuse expert and former priest Richard Sipe said [Gregory] is indeed homosexual.”

Church Militant had on June 5 published a report claiming that Sipe had deemed Gregory an “active homosexual.” This appears to be a reference to a 2006 document from Sipe in which he presented “A Preliminary Review of Sexual Orientation of Some American Bishops,” and in which he noted that the list implied “no accusation of sexual activity on the part of anyone named.”

Separately, Niles on June 12 defended the moniker “African Queen” as a “movie reference” to the 1951 film “The African Queen.”

She dismissed myriad calls online from fellow Catholics to remove the video, many of whom urged Voris and the rest of the Church Militant staff to “go to confession.”

“We're Catholics in good standing,” Niles tweeted June 12.

In the same tweet, Niles said the archdiocese “has a habit of lying, and accused it of falsifying an allegation of rape against a priest, adding that “we don't really care what their opinion is about us. It's irrelevant,” Niles said.

The priest in question is Father Eduard Perrone, who the archdiocese temporarily removed from ministry in July 2019 and brought under a canonical investigation for an allegation of groping a former altar boy. The priest denies the allegations.

Church Militant has frequently accused the archdiocese of fabricating a rape charge against Perrone. The Archdiocese of Detroit has not responded directly to those allegations. Several staff members of Church Militant, including Voris, have said or posted online that they attend the parish Perrone led.

The conflict is not the first clash the group has had with American bishops.

In 2011, the Archdiocese of Detroit said that Church Militant, which was founded as “RealCatholicTV,” should not use the word “Catholic” from its name. The group made a name change, while maintaining that the archdiocese did not have authority to require it, because the site was owned and headquartered elsewhere.

In 2015, then-Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said Church Militant “sow division wherever they tread,” while the Philadelphia archdiocese said the “sole desire” of Church Militant “is to create division, confusion, and conflict within the Church. Actions of that nature run contrary to Christian tradition. Their reports are not to be taken seriously.”



Austin to fund secret abortions for minors, despite Texas law

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 19:20

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- The Austin City Council on Thursday voted to provide funding to an abortion organization that helps minors procure abortion without their parents’ consent.

The city council chose unanimously June 11 to provide up to $150,000 in funding to Jane’s Due Process.

Texas Values, a pro-life group, testified against the measure.

“Today, the Austin City Council engaged in political posturing to see how far they can go before violating SB 22,” said Mary Elizabeth Castle, Policy Advisor for Texas Values.

In 2019 Texas adopted SB 22, banning local governments from financially supporting abortion providers. The state law was in reaction to Austin's decision to lease a building to Planned Parenthood for $1 a year.

Castle stated that “the City of Austin should not be spending taxpayer dollars to help end the lives of unborn children.”

The Austin city council also voted in September 2019 to provide $150,000 for transportation, childcare, or lodging for Austin residents who are seeking an abortion. Councilman Don Zimmerman has challenged the council's decision in court.

“I am saddened by the recent news that members of the Austin City Council are working on a proposal to increase financial support for access to abortion in the community,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin had said Aug. 21, 2019.

“I, along with the Catholic Church, continue to affirm the intrinsic value of human life and the dignity of every person in a way that transforms culture,” he stated.

In January, the Trump administration approved a Texas women’s health program that bars funding for health care providers that perform abortions. The Department of Health and Human Services approved the Medicaid waiver for the Healthy Texas Women program, which helps provide health care and family planning services to tens of thousands of women.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott welcomed the waiver, saying, “The Lone Star State is once again in partnership with the federal government to provide meaningful family planning and health services while fostering a culture of life.”

“This collaboration is a symbol of our commitment to championing the lives of Texas women. I am grateful to President Trump and his administration for approving this waiver, and for his commitment to protecting the unborn while providing much-needed health resources to Texas women,” Abbott said Jan. 22.

HHS protects doctors who object to abortion, transgender surgery

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Jun 12, 2020 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- On Friday, the Trump administration finalized a new rule to protect doctors’ right to object to abortion and “gender reassignment” operations. The rule clarifies that bans on sex-based discrimination do not include gender identity or abortion.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that its final rule eliminates portions of a 2016 regulation that had inappropriately expanded the definition of sex discrimination. The department said certain language in the 2016 rule “exceeded the scope of the authority delegated by Congress.”

“HHS will enforce Section 1557 by returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology,” the announcement said.

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act forbids federally funded healthcare programs from discrimination on the basis of sex. Under guidelines issued under President Barack Obama in May 2016, “sex” was defined as including “gender identity,” meaning that doctors who refuse to recognize sex-change operations as appropriate medical care could face prosecution for sex discrimination. The rules were also interpreted to include protections for abortion.

In May 2019, the Trump administration announced it was considering changing regulations related to section 1557, removing the expansive definition of “sex” and requiring that non-discrimination protections be interpreted in line with First Amendment freedoms.

At the time of the announcement, the USCCB pro-life committee, led by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, issued a statement “applauding” the proposed changes and saying the bishops were “grateful” the administration was taking the “important step.”

“These modifications follow the legislative intent of the Affordable Care Act to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in health care,” the statement said.

“The proposed regulations would help restore the rights of health care providers – as well as insurers and employers – who decline to perform or cover abortions or ‘gender transition’ procedures due to ethical or professional objections. Catholic health care providers serve everyone who comes to them, regardless of characteristics or background. However, there are ethical considerations when it comes to procedures.”

Eight states and multiple healthcare providers challenged the Obama-era regulations in federal district court in the case Franciscan Alliance v Burwell, filed in December 2016. That case resulted in Judge Reed O’Connor issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the regulations, finding that the expanded definition of sex discrimination likely encroached on religious freedom. The federal government did not appeal the injunction.

The USCCB’s Office of the General Counsel submitted its own comments in August 2019, calling the Obama-era interpretation of section 1557 “erroneous” and arguing that it violated key civil liberty protections, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Commendably—and appropriately, given the nationwide injunction and the government’s confession of error—the proposed regulations correct this earlier misinterpretation,” the general counsel wrote on behalf of the bishops.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor for The Catholic Association, applauded the June 12 rule change.

“Preventing ‘discrimination on the basis of sex’ was intended to ensure that women are treated on a par with men,” she said in a statement.

“Changing the definition of sex to mean ‘gender identity’ and to include unfettered access to abortion would not have protected the vulnerable,” she said. Rather, it would have hindered doctors from declining to perform procedures they objected to for ethical or medical reasons, such as late-term abortions and operations on minors with gender dysphoria, she warned.

“Getting the government out of the business of social engineering, and out of the way of sound medical ethics and patient care is a step forward,” she said.

NH lawmaker says education choice is only for 'well-educated' parents

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 17:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 12, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A state senator in New Hampshire has drawn criticism for saying that working-class parents should not have the same freedom to make educational choices for their children as college-educated parents. 

“This idea of parental choice, that’s great if the parent is well-educated. There are some families that’s perfect for. But to make it available to everyone? No. I think you’re asking for a huge amount of trouble,” said Sen. Jeanne Dietsch (D-Peterborough) on Tuesday, June 9. Her comments were reported by InsideSources

Dietsch was speaking at an education committee hearing in favor of a bill that would repeal a statewide alternative schooling program, called Learn Everywhere. 

Learn Everywhere is a program that permits students to earn course credit “through hands-on, real-world experience” including jobs and apprenticeships outside of a classroom. 

The bill SB 514, which is sponsored by Dietsch, would require the state’s board of education “to establish a process for the approval of vendors offering alternative, extended learning, and work-based programs which may be accepted for credit by a local school board.”

Dietsch explained that as her father had not graduated from high school, it was important to him that she attend college, and that he would not have been helpful in picking out coursework. 

‘When it gets into the details, would my father have known what courses I should be taking? I don’t think so,” she said. 

Dietsch explained that she did not think some parents were qualified to make decisions for their children that extended beyond their own level of attainment. 

“If the dad’s a carpenter, and you want to become a carpenter,” she said “then yes — listen to your dad.”

“In a democracy, and particularly in the United States, public education has been the means for people to move up to greater opportunities, for each generation to be able to succeed more than their parents have,” said Dietsch. 

George D’Orazio, a senior board member of Catholics United For Home Education-New Hampshire, told CNA that the educational status of a parent does not factor when making medical or financial decisions for a child, and it should not matter in educational decisions either.

“CUHE utterly rejects the concept that only certain parents should have choice in education,” said D’Orazio. 

D’Orazio said that he believed Dietsch’s party affiliation shaped her comments on Tuesday, and that New Hampshire as a whole has typically been very friendly to homeschooling and alternative schooling choices.

“The current governor, who is a Republican, has worked hard to try to increase educational choices available to parents,” he said. “The current education commissioner (in the state of New Hampshire) has worked very hard to increase parental choice in education,” he said. 

“And they’re being criticized, thoroughly criticized (...) by the leaders of the Democratic Party for this.” 

Other experts and commentators in favor of school choice and parental rights were similarly critical of the senator’s comments. 

“Parents have the right, and duty, to make decisions about their child's education - simply because they are parents,” Mary Rice Hasson, director of the Catholic Women’s Forum, told CNA. 

“The Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children-- regardless of the parents' education level. There's no asterisk that says a college degree or PhD is required. Parents fulfill this responsibility out of love, with an eye towards the deepest needs of the child, spiritual as well as intellectual formation,” she added. 

“Opposition to educational freedom is often rooted in the paternalistic belief that disadvantaged families aren’t capable of making good choices for their own children,” Corey DeAngelis, the director of school choice at Reason Foundation, told CNA. 

“But that’s wrong--families are more likely to know what’s best for their own children than bureaucrats,” he added. 

Dietsch’s chosen example of carpenters as professionals unable to make informed choices for their children’s education also drew a backlash from local business owners. 

“With all due respect to the senator, I am a carpenter, and the idea that she, or any other government official, knows what’s best for me or any member of my family is preposterous,” Tim Hawes, owner of Perfection In Restoration in Candia, New Hampshire told NHJournal. 

“I may not have a degree, but I can guarantee that when it comes to decisions regarding my family’s interest I am far more educated and capable than any government official will ever be,” Hawes said.

Judge rejects Catholic dioceses' suit to access coronavirus relief

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 16:00

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A federal judge on Wednesday denied attempts by the Catholic dioceses of Buffalo and Rochester to obtain emergency small business loans.

In April, the dioceses had sued the Small Business Administration (SBA) after they were blocked from emergency small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) because of their bankruptcy debtor status.

Congress had initially allocated $349 billion in short-term relief for small businesses and eligible non-profits in March, to help them keep employees on payroll during the pandemic.

As part of the conditions for loan applications, entities could not be undergoing the bankruptcy process. The Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy in September of 2019 and the Buffalo diocese followed suit in February. Each diocese had been named in hundreds of clergy sex abuse lawsuits following the openning of a window in the statute of limitations in the state in cases of sexual abuse.

In their lawsuit, the dioceses claimed they were unlawfully denied access to the PPP loans because of their bankruptcy status.

They asked the court to block the SBA from denying them a PPP loan, and from denying them more than $2.8 million total that they requested in their applications.

On Wednesday, however, Judge Elizabeth Wolford of the Western District Court of New York said that the SBA did not act outside the bounds of the law with the bankruptcy exclusion.

While the dioceses of Buffalo and Rochester sued the government to get access to the PPP loans, other bankrupt Catholic dioceses took different approaches.

The Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, had not started the bankruptcy process before applying for a PPP loan. The Diocese of Winona-Rochester did not apply because of their bankruptcy status. The Diocese of Harrisburg did not itself apply for a loan, but parishes, schools, and charities applied for and received PPP loans as separate entities from the diocese.

Both the Buffalo and Rochester dioceses faced hundreds of lawsuits after a one-year window began in August, 2019, for old clergy abuse lawsuits to be filed. The one-year window applies to abuse cases where the state’s statute of limitations had expired.

In their initial complaint in court, the dioceses said they “will be forced to lay off or furlough essential employees” without a PPP loan, which could also affect their bankruptcy estates.

In April, as part of its bankruptcy proceedings the Diocese of Buffalo announced it would cut off its financial support and health benefits for almost two dozen priests who had been removed from ministry because of “substantiated allegations of sexual abuse.” The diocese told CNA that it was aware of “certain canonical obligations to ensure that these individuals are not left destitute and is addressing this.”

Scranton diocese: ‘No credible evidence’ against Msgr. Walter Rossi

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 14:36

Washington D.C., Jun 12, 2020 / 12:36 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Scranton released a statement Friday regarding Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The statement said that after an exhaustive investigation, investigators found no credible evidence to support allegations of misconduct against Rossi.

“The investigation of allegations of personal misconduct was led by outside counsel assisted by a retired FBI agent with over thirty years of investigative experience. The investigation included interviews with numerous witnesses who have known Monsignor Rossi throughout his years in ministry,” the statement, released June 12, said.

“These witnesses included current and former Basilica employees, former CUA students, and current and former members of the clergy who were assigned to the Basilica or who worked with Monsignor Rossi.”

The statement said that “several witnesses were critical of Monsignor Rossi, including his managerial style at the Basilica, but none were aware of or could provide first-hand knowledge of sexual impropriety.”

The diocese also said that some of the witnesses “merely re-stated unsupported and unsubstantiated  rumors that  previously appeared in certain publications.” 

“The investigator attempted unsuccessfully to interview many additional witnesses and searched diligently for witnesses who could possibly support the rumors against Monsignor Rossi, but found none. The investigator also tried to locate the unnamed ‘sources’ for the critical articles, but could not.”

“The purpose of the Diocese’s investigation was to seek out credible  evidence of sexual impropriety and, if found, to determine an appropriate response,” said the statement. “At the conclusion of its comprehensive investigation, the Diocese of Scranton found no such credible evidence.”

The investigation into Rossi began nearly nine months ago.

Rossi had been variously accused of directing young men to a priest friend who was accused of harassing them by phone and text message, and, in accusations made by former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, of sexual contact with male students at the nearby Catholic University of America.

The priest's financial administration of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was also investigated, amid suspicion of mismanagement.

A second statement, released Friday Archbishop Wilton Gregory, chairman of the national shrine's board, said that an investigation into shrine finances “found no improprieties and confirmed sound fiscal management of the Basilica.”

“During the course of investigation, numerous individuals were interviewed, including those responsible for fiscal administration at the Basilica. Additionally, the accounting experts performed an in-depth review of expenditures, general ledgers, credit card statements, receipts, invoices, capital budgets, bank and investment account statements as well as certain investment account reconciliations and other financial worksheets,” the shrine said.

That investigation “found no unreasonable or inappropriate expenditures or significant issues in the financial administration of the Basilica. The investigations did assist in suggesting certain improvements in management and policy enhancements that will benefit the Basilica and will be implemented.”

Rossi was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1987, and remains incarnated in that diocese. He has lived in Washington since 1997, where he served first as the national shrine’s associate rector and director of pilgrimages, before being promoted to rector of the basilica and made a monsignor in 2005.

The investigation was opened in August 2019, after concerns were raised about Rossi to Archbishop Wilton Gregory Aug. 13, during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington.

A participant at the August event told Gregory that Rossi has been accused of directing young men to Fr. Matthew Reidlinger, a priest friend of Rossi’s who is alleged to have sexually harassed them in phone calls and text messages. That accusation was first made in 2013.

Gregory said he was unfamiliar with that allegation and called for an independent, forensic investigation. The following day, on Aug. 14, Rossi’s home diocese of Scranton told CNA that Bishop Joseph Bambera had “commenced the process of launching a full forensic investigation” and that it would work “jointly and cooperatively” with the Archdiocese of Washington on a “comprehensive investigation.”

Beyond the allegations mentioned at the Aug. 13 Theology on Tap, additional accusations had also been leveled against Rossi.

In an interview in June 2019, Archbishop Vigano alleged that the nunciature in Washington had received “documentation that states that Msgr. Rossi had sexually molested male students at the Catholic University of America.”

Vigano also said that both the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and former Washington archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl were “well aware of the situation,” and that Rossi had previously been proposed for promotion to bishop and been blocked.

In September 2019, The Catholic University of America announced that Rossi had taken a leave of absence from the university’s board of trustees, of which he was a member by virtue of his role at the basilica.



Churches have the same rights as protests, DOJ tells Maryland county

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 13:00

CNA Staff, Jun 12, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Justice Department (DOJ) praised a Maryland county council on Wednesday for protecting the First Amendment rights of protesters and said it now expects them to extend the same protections to religious gatherings.

In a June 10 letter to the Montgomery County Council, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division praised the county’s permitting of public anti-racism protests in spite of its current restrictions on public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. He added that the county should give religious gatherings the same recognition.

“Your support for peaceful assembly and speech follows the best of our nation’s traditions,” Dreiband told Montgomery County, which borders Washington, D.C.  

Protesters took to the streets in recent weeks in the Washington suburbs of Germantown, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, and other parts of the county, despite public health orders against “social, community, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people.” 

“Of no less importance, of course, is the First Amendment’s protection for religious exercise,” Dreiband said of the protests. He added that “we anticipate” that the council would amend the executive order to allow for religious gatherings as part of “the full range of rights protected by the First Amendment.”

The county council issued a public statement of support for the protests against racism on June 1, the same day that a county executive order continued restrictions on in-person religious gatherings because of the threat of their spreading the pandemic.

Montgomery County is still restricting religious services to just drive-in or remote services, according to the June 1 Executive Order No. 070-20.

Churches in the county will be allowed to have indoor and outdoor services with more than 10 people starting in “Phase 2” of the county’s reopening plan; in that scenario, one congregant or family would be allowed for every 200 square feet of service space.

The county says it will likely move to phase 2 of reopening next week “if data trends continue,” county executive Marc Elrich said on Wednesday as reported by WUSA 9. "We expect to allow modified indoor retail shopping and indoor religious services, lap swimming, and more,” he said.

In its letter, the DOJ also cited a June 2 protest that reportedly took place inside Bethesda Library to argue that indoor religious services should be allowed as a constitutional requirement.

“We understand that protests are typically held outdoors—where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower—and that religious services are typically held indoors,” Dreiband’s letter said. Yet with the library protest attended by hundreds of people inside, he said, “to deny similar gatherings for religious exercise would raise grave concerns under the Constitution.”

However, according to video of the June 2 Bethesda Library protest, participants gathered outside the library. Bethesda Magazine also reported that the protest that day at the library was outdoors, not indoors. The Huffington Post reported on Thursday that the DOJ’s assertion was based upon a news report that had since been updated.

Requests to the county for comment on the DOJ letter were not answered by press time.

In its June 1 statement of support for the protests, the council noted “the hurt, anger, and fear” of community leaders and protesters “about the decades of institutional and structural racism throughout the United States once again made evident by the murder of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis.”

Starting on Monday, houses of worship in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland, can hold religious services indoors at 25% capacity or outdoors with 250 people or less, who are practicing social distancing.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C. houses of worship can only host gatherings with 10 or fewer people. 

The archdiocese also includes several Maryland counties, and beginning on May 25 it allowed for public Masses to be offered in jurisdictions where local authorities had begun lifting public health restrictions. For Catholic parishes in Prince George’s County, they will be able to offer public Masses once again on Monday at 25% capacity.

Other public officials have drawn criticism for their support of mass outdoor protests while restricting religious gatherings.

For justice and healing: Catholics explain why they marched

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 08:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 12, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- As thousands of protesters prepared to march against racism in Washington, D.C. last Saturday, Louis Brown helped organize a rosary procession on Capitol Hill.

Lay Catholics joined Dominican friars, nuns, and priests of the Washington archdiocese in prayer for justice and healing. As tens of thousands of Americans have been actively protesting racism and police brutality, Brown, who is an African-American and Catholic, told CNA he chose to focus on prayer.

The present moment demands both prayer and action against injustice, he told CNA. “It’s a both-and.”

“Ultimately this is a problem of the heart,” Brown said. “Our country desperately needs God and the love of God to heal these wounds.”

“We are not the ultimate protagonists of the story,” he added. “Jesus Christ is the ultimate protagonist.”

Brown spoke of acute pain within the African-American community, caused by the recent deaths of young African-Americans at the hands of police or fellow citizens—most notably George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor— which, he said, are just the latest in a centuries-long history.

“As an African-American, the pain of going back into that history is so painful, and is so gut-wrenching, and it’s so hard to deal with,” he said.

“Part of it is just the fear,” he said, of being pulled over in a “routine traffic stop” that could end in a tragedy—“or something could get pinned on me.”

“It’s an anger, it’s an anxiety, and it’s also a fear of it happening again, and a pain of seeing what others have gone through,” he said.

Video of George Floyd’s May 25 arrest in Minneapolis showed him calling out “I can’t breathe” and “mama” as police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. Floyd later died at a hospital, and Chauvin has since been fired and charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death.

“Whether you’re black or white, you can’t help but see that person as our brother and as a child of God,” Brown said of Floyd crying out.

Yet protests against injustice, he emphasized, must be rooted in “the right to life” for all and not be “hijacked” by the culture of death.

“The rioting, the looting, is only making it more likely that a black man like me will be a victim of police misconduct, or a victim of bias and stereotypes,” Brown said.

Other Catholics around the country told CNA that they attended recent protests against racism and police brutality in cities, suburbs, and towns—in California, New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Nebraska, West Virginia, and Tennessee.

Most who talked to CNA of their experiences were lay men and women, although both a priest and a religious sister—Fr. Brent Shelton of the diocese of Knoxville, and Sister Mumbi Kigutha CPPS, of the Sisters of the Precious Blood—said they too attended local protests against racism.

Some Catholics said it was their first protest; others said they had attended a pro-life march before, but now felt the need to march against racism. Some marched with fellow Catholics and Christians, others attended larger marches by themselves.

All involved all had one thing in common—they felt that they had to do something to stand against injustice.

“To me it's simple. People need help and we help them. That's all,” said Jenne O’Neill of Wahoo, Nebraska.

And many of those who talked to CNA said they prayed at the rallies and protests.

Peter Nixon, a parishioner at Saint Bonaventure Church in the Diocese of Oakland, said his pastor led a Eucharistic procession at the tail end of a march in Clayton, California.

“The presence of the Blessed Sacrament had a powerful impact on many at the demonstration,” Nixon said. “Some police and firefighters crossed themselves as we passed. Others genuflected when passing in front of the monstrance.”

On June 1, the evening before President Donald Trump visited Washington, D.C.’s St. John Paul II Shrine, the president stood outside St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. holding a Bible in front of cameras. The Washington Post reported that federal police shot gas canisters and grenades with rubber pellets to dispel protesters in the area shortly before the president arrived outside the church.

Protesting in Lafayette Square that night was Anna Fitzmaurice, a 2019 graduate of the Catholic University of America. Fitzmaurice prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet in the square, but left shortly before police dispersed the protesters. She attended a protest of the president’s visit to the shrine on the morning of June 2.

“As he [Trump] was going to visit my church, I felt a moral responsibility to tell him what we believe in terms of the dignity of the suffering and the oppressed. Instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner are both spiritual works of mercy,” she said.

Jenn Morson, a writer and parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church in Crofton, Maryland, said she prayed the rosary to herself “in between chants initiated by the organizer” at a local march with around 350 people.

Not all Catholics who talked to CNA marched in protests. Some have been conducting outreach in their communities, or trying to foster constructive conversations about race.

Kathy Redmond, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Castle Rock, Colorado, told CNA that she has organized around 450 people in her local “very white, affluent community” involved in community outreach.

Redmond said she saw injustice first-hand when a black family moved in four houses down from her and their cars were tagged immediately. “It was very unnerving for me,” she said. “It was in my face at that point.”

“As people of faith—as people of a Christian faith—we should be front and center on this,” Redmond said.

Catherine Perry, of Atlanta, Georgia, founder of the InwardBound Center for Non-Profit Leadership, has organized workshops of cross-race conversations on “Racism in America: What is Mine to Do?”

Her workshops are not shaming sessions, she said, but rather help participants to reflect, dialogue, and reconcile with each other, ending with them making a “uniquely personal to-do list” such as prayer, listening to voices they may not agree with, or talking to a boss about subtle discrimination in the workplace. A new workshop will be offered online beginning on June 25.

As Catholics, she said, “one of the great things about our institution is we talk about difficult things” such as abortion and the death penalty. “We understand this is mysterious stuff, and it’s emotional work, and it’s not easy sometimes,” she said.

“Well let’s take on race. Why not?” she asked. “We’ve been silent on race too long.”

‘God chose to call us’: The story of two brothers ordained Catholic priests on the same day

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 02:02

Denver Newsroom, Jun 12, 2020 / 12:02 am (CNA).- Peyton and Connor Plessala are brothers from Mobile, Alabama. They’re 18 months— one school grade— apart.

Despite the occasional competitiveness and squabbles that many brothers experience growing up, they’ve always been best buds.

“We're closer than best friends,” Connor, 25, told CNA.

As young men— in grade school, high school, college— much of their lives centered around the things you might expect: academics, excurriculars, friends, girlfriends, and sports.

There are many paths the two young men could have chosen for their lives, but ultimately, last month, they arrived at the same place— lying face down in front of the altar, giving their lives over in service to God and the Catholic Church.

The brothers were both ordained to the priesthood May 30 at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile— in a private Mass, because of the pandemic.

“For whatever reason, God chose to call us and he did. And we were just fortunate enough to have had the foundations from both our parents and our education to hear it and then to say yes,” Peyton told CNA.

Peyton, 27, says he is most excited to begin helping out with Catholic schools and education, and also to begin hearing confessions.

“You spend so much time in seminary preparing to be effective one day. You spend so much time in seminary talking about plans and dreams and hopes and stuff that you'll do one day in this hypothetical it's here. And so I can't wait to begin.”

‘Natural virtues’

In Southern Louisiana, where the Plessala brothers’ parents grew up, you're Catholic unless you declare otherwise, Peyton said.

Both Plessala parents are medical doctors. The family moved to Alabama when Connor and Peyton were very young.

Though the family was always Catholic - and raised Peyton, Connor, and their younger sister and brother in the faith - the brothers said they weren’t ever a “pray the rosary around the kitchen table” kind of family.

Apart from taking the family to Mass every Sunday, the Plessalas taught their children what Peyton calls “natural virtues”— how to be good, decent people; the importance of choosing their friends wisely; and the value of education.

The brothers’ consistent involvement in team sports, encouraged by their parents, also helped to school them in those natural virtues.

Playing soccer, basketball, football, and baseball over the years taught them the values of hard work, camaraderie, and setting an example for others.

“They taught us to remember that when you go and play sports, and you have the Plessala name on the back of your jersey, that represents a whole family,” Peyton said.

‘I could do this’

Peyton told CNA that despite going to Catholic schools and getting the “vocation talk” every year, neither of them had ever really considered the priesthood as an option for their lives.

That is, until early in 2011, when the brothers took a trip with their classmates to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life, the nation’s largest annual pro-life gathering in the U.S.

The chaperone for their group from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School was a new priest, fresh out of seminary, whose enthusiasm and joy made an impression on the brothers.

The witness of their chaperone, and of other priests they encountered on that trip, moved Connor to begin considering entering the seminary straight out of high school.

In the fall of 2012, Connor started his studies at St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana.

Peyton also felt the call to the priesthood on that trip, thanks to the example of their chaperone— but his path to the seminary was not quite as direct as his younger brother’s.

“I realized for the first time: ‘Man, I could do this. [This priest] is so at peace with himself and so joyful and having so much fun. I could do this. This is a life that I could actually do,’” he said.

Despite a tug toward the seminary, Peyton decided he would pursue his original plan to study pre-med at Louisiana State University. He would go on to spend three years there in total, dating a girl he met at LSU for two of those years.

His junior year of college, Peyton returned to his high school to chaperone that year’s trip to the March for Life— the same trip that had started the tug toward the priesthood several years earlier.

At one point in the trip, during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Peyton perceived God’s voice: “Do you really want to be a doctor?”

The answer, as it turned out, was no.

“And the moment I heard that, my heart felt more at peace than it had in... Maybe ever in my life. I just knew. In that moment, I was like, ‘I'm going to go to seminary,’” Peyton said.

“For a moment, I had a life's purpose. I had a direction and a goal. I just knew who I was.”

This newfound clarity came at a price, however— Peyton knew he would have to break up with his girlfriend. Which he did.

Connor remembers the phone call from Peyton, telling him he had decided to come to seminary.

“I was shocked. I was excited. I was extremely excited because we were going to be back together again,” Connor said.

In the fall of 2014, Peyton joined his younger brother at St. Joseph Seminary.

‘We can rely on each other’

Though Connor and Peyton had always been friends, their relationship changed— for the better— when Peyton joined Connor at the seminary.

For most of their life, Peyton had blazed a trail for Connor, encouraging him and giving him advice when he got to high school, after Peyton had been learning the ropes there for a year.

Now, for the first time, Connor felt in some ways like the “older brother”— being more experienced in seminary life.

At the same time, although the brothers were now pursuing the same path, they still approached seminary life in their own way, with their own ideas, and approaching challenges in different ways, he said.

The experience of taking on the challenge of becoming priests helped their relationship to mature.

“Peyton's always done his own thing because he was the first. He was the oldest. And so, he didn't have an example to go follow then, whereas I did,” Connor said.

“And so, the idea of breaking from: ‘We're going to be the same,’ was tougher for me, I think...But I think in that, in the growing pains of that, we were able to grow and really realize each other's gifts and each other's weaknesses and then rely on each other I know Peyton's gifts a lot better, and he knows my gifts, and so we can rely on each other.”

Because of the way his college credits transferred from LSU, Connor and Peyton ended up in the same ordination class, despite Connor’s two year “head start.”

‘Getting out of the way of the Holy Spirit’

Now that they’re ordained, Peyton said their parents are constantly bombarded with the question: "What did y'all do to have half of your children enter the priesthood?"

For Peyton, there were two key factors in their upbringing that helped him and his siblings grow up as committed Catholics.

First, he said, he and his siblings attended Catholic schools— schools with a strong faith identity.

But there was something within the Plessala’s family life that, for Peyton, was even more important.

“We ate dinner every single night as a family, regardless of the logistics required to make that work,” he said.

“Whether we had to eat at 4 p.m. because one of us had a game that night that we were all going to go, to or whether we had to eat at 9:30 p.m., because I was getting home from soccer practice late in high school, whatever it was. We always made it an effort to eat together, and we would pray before that meal.”

The experience of gathering every night as a family, praying and spending time together, helped the family cohere and support each member’s endeavors, the brothers said.

When the brothers told their parents that they were entering the seminary, their parents were extremely supportive— even if the brothers suspected their mother might be sad that she would likely end up having fewer grandchildren.

One thing Connor has heard his mother say several times when people ask what the parents did right is that she “got out of the way of the Holy Spirit.”

The brothers said they are extremely grateful that their parents always supported their vocations. Peyton said he and Connor occasionally encountered men at the seminary who ended up leaving because their parents did not support their decision to enter.

“Yeah, parents know best, but when it comes to your children's vocations, God's the one who knows, because God's the one calling,” Connor commented.

‘If you want to find an answer, you have to ask the question’

Neither Connor nor Peyton ever expected to become priests. Neither, they said, did their parents or siblings expect or predict that they might be called that way.

In their words, they were just “normal guys” who practiced their faith, dated throughout high school, and had a lot of varied interests.

Peyton said the fact that they both felt an initial tug to the priesthood is not all that surprising.

“I think every young guy who really practices their faith has probably thought about it at least once, just because they've known a priest and the priest probably said, ‘Hey, you should think about this,’” he said.

Many of Peyton’s devout Catholic friends are married now, and he’s asked them if they ever considered the priesthood at some point before discerning marriage. Almost all, he said, told him yes; they thought about it for a week or two, but it never stuck.

What was different for him and Connor was that the idea of the priesthood didn’t go away.

“It stuck with me and then it stayed with me for three years. And then finally God was like, ‘It's time, man. It's time to do it,’” he said.

“I would just encourage guys, if it really has been a while and it just sticks with you, the only way you'll ever figure that out is to actually go to seminary.”

Meeting and getting to know priests, and seeing how they lived and why, was helpful to both Peyton and Connor.

“The lives of priests are the most helpful things in getting other men to consider priesthood," Peyton said.

Connor agreed. For him, taking the plunge and going to seminary when he was still discerning was the best way for him to decide whether God was really calling him to be a priest.

“If you want to find an answer, you have to ask the question. And the only way to ask and answer that question of priesthood is to go to the seminary,” he said.

“Go to the seminary. You will not be worse off for it. I mean, you're starting to live a life of dedicating prayer, of formation, diving into yourself, learning who you are, learning your strengths and weaknesses, learning more about the faith. All those are good things.”

The seminary is not a permanent commitment. If a young man goes to seminary and realizes the priesthood is not for him, he won’t be worse off, Connor said.

“You've been formed into a better man, a better version of yourself, you've prayed a whole lot more than you would have if you were not in seminary.”

Like many people their age, Peyton and Connor’s paths to their ultimate vocation was a winding one.

“The great pain of millennials is sitting there and trying to think of what you want to do with your life for so long that your life just passes you by,” Peyton said.

“And so, one of the things I like to encourage young people to do if you're discerning, do something about it.”



Would-be Satanists again fail to make case against Missouri abortion law

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 21:00

CNA Staff, Jun 11, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A federal appellate court has dismissed a second lawsuit filed by a member of the Satanic Temple against Missouri’s informed consent abortion law, rejecting the argument that the law established Catholic religious belief by stating that life begins at conception.
“Any theory of when life begins necessarily aligns with some religious beliefs and not others,” said U.S. Circuit Judge David R. Stras in a June 9 decision from the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Under the plaintiff’s theory, the decision said, “Missouri’s only option would be to avoid legislating in this area altogether.”
State law requires abortion providers to distribute a booklet from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services which includes the statement: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
A woman going by the pseudonym Judy Doe filed suit against the law, claiming it violated her religious freedom as a member of the Satanic Temple. The group does not believe in a literal Satan. Its philosophical and religious beliefs are somewhat flexible, but it tends to reject supernatural belief and to promote rationalism, individual liberty, secularism and “Enlightenment values.” It claims to oppose tyranny and to identify with Satan’s putative outsider role.
Doe’s lawsuit also claimed that Missouri law violated her Satanist beliefs by requiring her to certify that she had received the informed consent booklet and that she had a chance to view an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the abortion. Her beliefs forbid her to comply with a law “serves no medical purpose or purports to protect the interests of her human tissue.” The plaintiff cited the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars excessive burdens on religious beliefs.
The appellate court said the lawsuit made no argument that the informed consent law is “anything other than ‘neutral’ and ‘generally applicable’.” The law in question must only pass a “rational-basis review,” with a defense showing it rationally related to a legitimate government interest.

The decision cited the generally pro-abortion rights Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which itself said that informed consent laws represent “the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”
Doe’s own description of the Satanic Temple said its membership includes both “politically aware Satanists” and “secularists and advocates for individual liberty.”
“Arguably, her own description raises the possibility that her beliefs about abortion may be political, not religious,” the court’s decision said. “Nevertheless, we assume, but do not decide, that she has done enough by alleging that her beliefs are ‘religious’ and that she is a member of an organization that includes ‘Satanists’.”
W. James MacNaughton, a New Jersey lawyer, represented Doe. He told Courthouse News Service the ruling was not a surprise, claiming the appellate court panel was “very conservative” and “ignored the issue as others have done.”
MacNaughton repeated claims that Catholicism influenced the law.
“It violates the establishment clause because it adopts the Catholic dogma that life begins at conception,” he said.
According to the Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey of 2014, 77% of Missouri residents identify as Christian, but only 16% are Catholic. Evangelical Protestants make up 36% of the Missouri populace.
“The state has no business telling people what to believe,” the attorney continued. “The state has no business telling us that life begins at conception. We can decide that for ourselves.”
Dennis Hudecki, a philosophy professor at Brescia University College in London, Ontario, told Courthouse News Service that there are “big arguments about when life begins,” and some can argue for the belief that life begins from conception without a religious basis.
“They go back all the way to Aristotle and that the essence of a human doesn’t change once it's formed from the beginning. It just gets older, but its essence doesn’t change,” said Hudecki, whose expertise includes abortion ethics. “I think the state’s view that life begins at conception is on a rational basis and while there is rational disagreement, just because there’s rational disagreement doesn’t mean each side isn’t being rational.”
MacNaughton could appeal for an en banc hearing before the full court, and has 14 days from Tuesday to do so.
Judy Doe’s lawsuit was rejected by a federal district judge last year.
A different self-professed Satanic Temple adherent in Missouri, who went by the name Mary Doe, had challenged the provisions under state law, including the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

MacNaughton also argued her case.
She cited Satanic Temple tenets professing a belief that a woman’s body is “inviolable and subject to her will alone” and a belief that health decisions are made “based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others.” The complaint said a pregnancy is “human tissue” and “part of her body and not a separate, unique, living human being.”
While the Missouri Court of Appeals thought the Mary Doe case raised “real and substantial constitutional claims,” the Missouri Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit in a 2019 decision.
Chief Justice Zell M. Fischer, writing in a concurring opinion, said that the U.S. Supreme Court “has made it clear that state speech is not religious speech solely because it ‘happens to coincide’ with a religious tenet.”
Controversy over the Satanic Temple has been ongoing for years, with critics arguing it is a political-cultural stunt. Temple founders have repeatedly asserted that it is a religion and not merely a hoax or performance, but the group’s history sometimes contradicts their claims.
The group held a January 2013 demonstration at the Florida state capitol appearing to support Republican Gov. Rick Scott from a Satanist position. Legislation backed by the then-governor would allow school districts to have policies allowing students to read “inspirational messages” of their choice at school assemblies and sports events.
The demonstration featured an actor in the role of a satanic high priest. Several would-be minions and spokesman Lucien Greaves were also at the rally, saying the law would allow students to distribute Satanic messages. In the same month, Greaves was the contact listed on a casting call for an apparent mockumentary “about the nicest Satanic Cult in the world.”
In a 2013 interview with Vice, Lucien Greaves revealed himself to be a man named Doug Mesner. He said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

Mesner has said the group planned to leverage the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby religious freedom decision, which cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to advance “a women’s rights initiative.”

While the group now backs pro-abortion rights causes under its latest public tenets about bodily inviolability, previous statements of belief lacked that tenet. According to a March 2013 cache of the Satanic Temple website, hosted at the Internet Archive, it previously claimed “all life is precious in the eyes of Satan” and “the Circle of Compassion should extend to all species, not just humans.”
It later crowdfunded expenses to help pay for a Missouri woman’s abortion. It has also crowdfunded its “reproductive rights” campaign, gathering over $45,000 by July 2015.
The group has collaborated with other Satanic and occultist groups, though some early collaborators have distanced themselves from the group and accused it of exploiting Satanism.
The Satanic Temple was behind a reputed attempt to hold a black mass on the campus of Harvard University in May 2014, but the event was moved and then cancelled after intense outcry from Catholics and others who saw it as a grave sin against God, deliberate provocation of Catholics, or a violation of basic norms of civility and respect.
The event was reported to be held under the aegis of the Cultural Studies Club of the Harvard Extension School. A spokesperson for the Satanic Temple initially told media outlets that a consecrated Host would be used, although the temple and the Cultural Studies Club both later denied this, insisting that only a plain piece of bread would be used.
An October 2017 story at Vox portrayed the Satanic Temple as “equal parts performance art group, leftist activist organization, and anti-religion religious movement.” It claimed that though it began as “internet trolling going mainstream,” the organization is becoming “more serious” and “more complicated” to outline.
In April 2019, the group said it received recognition as a church from the Internal Revenue Service.