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Wuerl knew McCarrick abuse allegations in 2004

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 19:13

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2019 / 05:13 pm (CNA).- An allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was reported to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in 2004, while the cardinal served as Bishop of Pittsburgh. Wuerl forwarded the report to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, DC, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Thursday.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington confirmed to CNA that an allegation against McCarrick was presented to Wuerl while he served as Bishop of Pittsburgh, as part of a complaint made by laicized priest Robert Ciolek.

In a statement, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said Jan. 10 that laicized priest Robert Ciolek appeared in November 2004 before its diocesan review board to discuss an allegation of abuse Ciolek had made against a Pittsburgh priest.

During that meeting, “Mr. Ciolek also spoke of his abuse by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This was the first time the Diocese of Pittsburgh learned of this allegation,” the statement said.

“A few days later, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl made a report of the allegation to the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States."

The disclosure is the first confirmation by Church authorities that Wuerl was aware of allegations against McCarrick before the Archdiocese of New York announced in June 2018 a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against McCarrick.

The news raises questions about 2018 statements from Wuerl that denied he had even heard “rumors” about his predecessor as Archbishop of Washington.

In 2004, Ciolek submitted a lengthy letter to Wuerl, alleging that he had been the victim of sexual abuse committed by a Pittsburgh priest while he was a student at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary.

Ed McFadden, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA that in 2004 Ciolek “asked that his complaint against McCarrick be forwarded to the [apostolic] nuncio. And it was,” McFadden told CNA.

“Wuerl forwarded the file and his complaint to the nunciature in 2004.”

“At that time Ciolek asked for complete confidentiality, and that his name never be mentioned.”

The statement from the Diocese of Pittsburgh confirmed that Ciolek had originally insisted on confidentiality, but also that he had recently authorized the diocese to speak about the matter.

“Mr. Ciolek asked that the allegation regarding then-Cardinal McCarrick be shared only with ecclesiastical – that is – Church authorities,” the statement said.

“In November 2018 Mr. Ciolek authorized the Diocese of Pittsburgh to respond to press inquiries about this matter.”

The diocese confirmed that Ciolek visited Pittsburgh recently to review files related to his complaint, and that diocesan officials were aware that he intended to discuss the matter with the press.

Ciolek reached a settlement agreement with three New Jersey dioceses in 2005 in connection with clerical sexual abuse allegations. The settlement awarded Ciolek some $80,000 in response to allegations that concerned both McCarrick and a Catholic school teacher.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh said it was not aware of the settlement until July 2018. Similarly, the Archdiocese of Washington said Wuerl was unaware of the 2005 settlement until that time.

Details of Ciolek’s settlement were first reported in September 2018. At that time, the Washington Post reported that the settlement agreement included references to Wuerl, and to the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Neither the Pittsburgh diocese or McFadden offered detail on the specific allegations made against McCarrick, but McFadden said they concerned behavior by McCarrick at his New Jersey beach house, where the archbishop is alleged to have shared beds with seminarians, and exchanged backrubs with them.

McFadden said Ciolek “never claimed direct sexual engagement with McCarrick” in his complaint to Wuerl.

The news that Wuerl received a formal complaint against McCarrick as early as 2004, and forwarded it to the apostolic nunciature in Washington raises serious questions about the intended meaning of Wuerl’s 2018 statements concerning McCarrick.

Wuerl wrote in a June 21 letter that he was “shocked and saddened” by allegations made against McCarrick.

In the same letter, Wuerl affirmed that “no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”  

In a Jan. 10 statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said that “Cardinal Wuerl has attempted to be accurate in addressing questions about Archbishop McCarrick.  His statements previously referred to claims of sexual abuse of a minor by Archbishop McCarrick, as well as rumors of such behavior. The Cardinal stands by those statements, which were not intended to be imprecise.”  

“Cardinal Wuerl has said that until the accusation of abuse of a minor by Cardinal McCarrick was made in New York, no one from this archdiocese has come forward with an accusation of abuse by Archbishop McCarrick during his time in Washington.”

“It is important to note that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was appointed to the Archdiocese of Washington in November 2000 and named a cardinal in February 2001, years before Mr. Ciolek made his claims. Then-Bishop Wuerl was not involved in the decision-making process resulting in the appointment and promotion.”

Wuerl’s resignation as Archbishop of Washington was accepted October 12, 2018. The cardinal was appointed by Pope Francis as apostolic administrator, or interim leader, of the archdiocese until a successor is appointed.

The cardinal fell under heavy criticism in the second half of last year, after a Pennsylvania grand jury report about clerical sexual abuse released in July raised questions about his leadership while he served as Bishop of Pittsburgh.

Despite earning a reputation as an early champion of “zero-tolerance” policies and the use of lay-led diocesan review boards to handle accusations of clerical sexual abuse, Wuerl faced questions about his handling of several cases during his time in Pittsburgh after he was named more than 200 times in the grand jury report.

The disclosure also raises further questions about how McCarrick was able to remain in office and in apparently unrestricted ministry during retirement. In July 2018, a priest named Fr. Boniface Ramsey told the New York Times that he expressed to Church authorities concerns about McCarrick’s conduct with seminarians as early as 2000, when McCarrick was appointed Archbishop of Washington.

Concerned by the appointment, Ramsey said that he contacted then-nuncio Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo Higuera to report allegations of McCarrick’s misconduct with seminarians in his beach house. Ramsey said that he had heard accounts of this misconduct from his own seminary students.
Ramsey said he put his concerns in writing at the request of Montalvo, who promised to forward them to Rome.

Ramsey subsequently released a letter from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, dated 2006 and signed by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, acknowledging his complaint of 2000, apparently confirming that Montalvo had sent Ramsey’s letter to Rome.

Montalvo was still in his position when Wuerl reportedly forwarded Ciolek’s complaint in 2004, and would remain in Washington until August 2006, when he died suddenly.

McFadden told CNA that while he could confirm Wuerl sent Ciolek’s complaint to the nuncio as requested, neither he nor Cardinal Wuerl were aware that any further action was taken on the matter.

“As far as we can tell, the nunciature never acted on that, but we don’t have any more information.”

Montalvo’s successor as nuncio in Washington was Archbishop Pietro Sambi. CNA has previously reported that in 2008, acting on explicit instructions from Pope Benedict XVI, Sambi ordered McCarrick to move out of the archdiocesan seminary in which he was living during his retirement.

That order, and other measures which may have been imposed on McCarrick during his retirement, were a central feature of the allegations of Sambi’s own successor, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

In his now-famous “testimony,” released in August last year, Vigano insisted that Wuerl had been aware of restrictions placed on McCarrick during his retirement for several years, and that they directly concerned his interactions with seminarians.

In response to Vigano’s claims, Wuerl denied “receiving documentation or information from the Holy See specific to Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior or any of the prohibitions on his life and ministry suggested by Archbishop Vigano.”


First African American bishop to lead US diocese in 20th century dies

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 17:21

Biloxi, Miss., Jan 10, 2019 / 03:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Joseph Lawson Howze, the first black bishop to lead a diocese in the United States in the 20th century, died Wednesday, January 9 at the age of 95 after a lengthy illness.

Howze was appointed as the first bishop of the Diocese of Biloxi in 1977, and served there for 24 years. He had previously served as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson, and as a priest for the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina.  

“While we are saddened by the death of Bishop Joseph Lawson Howze, we rejoice in his life,” Bishop Louis Kihneman III of the Diocese of Biloxi said in a statement.

“His was a life well lived in faithful service to Almighty God and to the people of Mississippi, both as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson and later as first bishop of Biloxi from 1977 to 2001.”

“Establishing a new diocese was hard work, but Bishop Howze was very proud of what he, with the help of devoted clergy, religious and laity, accomplished during his tenure as bishop of Biloxi and was forever grateful to the people of the diocese for their unfailing generosity of time, talent and treasure,” Kihneman said.

Howze was born in Daphne, Alabama on August 30, 1923. He was the oldest of four children born to Albert Otis Howze Sr. and Helen Lawson. When he was just five years old, his mother died, and from then on, he spent much of his time in the homes of his grandparents, aunts and uncles. His father would eventually remarry and have three more children.

A bright student, Howze graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in 1944, and went on to graduate with honors from Alabama State College in Montgomery, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in science and education.

For the next two years after college, Howze taught high school biology and chemistry at Central High School in Mobile, Alabama. It was there that he was inspired by one of his Catholic students, Marion Carroll, Jr., to convert from Methodism to Catholicism.  

After his conversion and confirmation into the Catholic Church at the age of 25, Howze’s curiosity about becoming a priest grew, and after a few years he officially began studying for the priesthood, in spite of also having had dreams of joining the medical field.  

On May 7, 1959, at the age of 35, Howze was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. He became known for his ability to integrate his parishes despite racial differences, and was known for emphasizing the unity that the body of Christ had in God.

After serving as a priest for 13 years, Howze was appointed as auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Natchez-Jackson by Pope Paul VI, and was ordained a bishop on Jan. 28, 1973 in Jackson, Mississippi.

On March 8, 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed Howze as the founding bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Biloxi, along the Mississippi coast, where he would serve 42 parishes, 28 Catholic schools and some 48,000 Catholics.

Howze was the first black Catholic bishop appointed to lead a U.S. diocese in the 20th century. The first black Catholic bishop ever appointed to lead a U.S. diocese was Bishop James Augustine Healy, who was of mixed African and Irish descent. He was appointed to lead the Diocese of Portland, Maine by Pope Pius IX in 1875.

When Pope John Paul II visited New Orleans in 1987, Howze shared with him the concerns of many black Catholics about racism in the Church, and about the difficulty some black Catholics had in reconciling their faith with their race and culture, the Sun Herald reported.

Dr. Todd Coulter, a former student of Howze who is now an internal medicine doctor, said his example as a black Catholic leader was inspiring.

“We looked up to him,” Coulter told the Sun Herald. “He was a trailblazer for us, a hero — period. Especially for those of us who were considering the possibility of becoming a priest.”

Throughout his time as auxiliary bishop and as bishop of Biloxi, Howze served in numerous leadership positions, including as president of the National Black Catholic Clergy, a member of the World Peace Committee of the United States Catholic Conference (USCC), the Mississippi Health Care Commission, the NCCB Liaison Committee to the National Office for Black Catholics, and the NCCB Interreligious and Ecumenical Affairs Committee, among several others.

He was a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Peter Claver, and a Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.

Kihneman said in his statement that he was honored to have had Howze present for his own installation as the fourth bishop of Biloxi, and that every time he visited him, Howze’s “first concern” was for the people of the Diocese of Biloxi.

“He loved the Diocese of Biloxi and prayed unceasingly for its continued success. He had a genuine concern for the salvation of souls,” Kihneman said.

“Now, we pray that God, who called Bishop Howze to priesthood and the episcopate, will now welcome him to his heavenly home where he will continue to intercede for us. May he rest in peace.” ​

The funeral Mass for Bishop Howze will be held at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Biloxi on Wednesday, January 16.


How cutting FEMA aid could impact California families

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 19:23

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2019 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump has threatened to stop sending federal money to the state of California for wildfire recovery, a move that Catholic aid workers say could dramatically impact thousands of California families trying to rebuild their lives.

“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen,” Trump wrote in a tweet Wednesday.

“Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to send no more money.”

The fire season in California in 2018 was the state’s worst on record, with thousands of structures destroyed and nearly 90 lives lost. An unusually dry autumn contributed to the severity of the fire season.

About 6,650 people in California have successfully applied for FEMA assistance to the tune of nearly $50 million in aid, according to the latest available numbers from FEMA. That assistance can be used for essential home repairs and other necessities not covered by insurance.

It’s not yet clear whether Trump has the legal authority to order FEMA directly to cut funding for California, but the Sacramento Bee reports that the president does have to power to refuse to declare a state of disaster in California during or after future fires.

The Washington Post reportedly reached out to FEMA for comment, but received only an automated reply saying the agency is unable to respond to general press inquiries due to the partial government shutdown. The agency has said that individuals can still apply for aid while the government is shut down.

California’s newly-elected governor has called on the Trump administration to double federal funding to manage the state’s forests.

Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the Diocese of Sacramento, told CNA that though he suspects the president's words were a political message directed at California's new governor, the impact of defunding FEMA completely could be devastating.

"It's sad that whatever politics are involved here are being directed at these families that really need our care, concern, and our help in order to rebuild," Eckery told CNA.  

"You take an emergency that affects thousands and thousands of families in northern California, billions of dollars in property damage, that began on federal land with the possible involvement of a public utility, and then try and say, 'No, this is all about California forest management processes’...I'm kind of dumbfounded," he said.

"In terms of toying with people's livelihoods and their concern about rebuilding, it becomes even more strange when you realize that this is a community that is probably one of the few places in California where a majority of voters supported President Trump."

Eckery explained that in the case of a natural disaster, for the most part the state has the primary responsibility for operations along with their partners in local government. FEMA can then underwrite grants and low-interest loans to help provide aid from outside the state; for example, if a state needs large amounts of concrete for levies, not all of which can be sourced in-state.

If Trump were actually to carry out his threat to defund FEMA, thousands of families trying to rebuild that would be affected, he warned.  

The Sacramento diocese is making schooling available for free for 30-40 students affected by the fire, Eckery said, and Catholic Charities is engaged in case management to match families with resources so they can do their own rebuilding.

"We've moved from the emergency stage to the recovery stage," he said.  

"People need to understand that even though the Camp Fire is out of the day-to-day headlines, it still burned down a community of 35,000 people. And so that is a lot of hurt, and those people need and deserve our help."

Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa, whose district includes much of northeastern California, wrote in a press release that he expects the president to keep his promise to help victims of the fires.

“Although I share the President’s great frustration with California’s choking regulations from the stranglehold environmental groups have on the state, as well as the inaction on federal lands up until this Administration...threats to FEMA funding are not helpful and will not solve the longer term forest management regulatory problems,” he wrote.
“These are American citizens who require our help.”


Catholics in US express frustration over border security stalemate

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday evening, US President Donald Trump highlighted humanitarian problems present along the US-Mexico border and issued a call for increased security, including the construction of additional barriers on the border. His remarks were met with mixed reactions and frustration from Catholics across the United States.

Among the points raised by Trump in his Jan. 8 address is that approximately 90 percent of the heroin supply in the United States enters the country through the border with Mexico. “More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War,” said Trump.

Trump also highlighted the dangers of the journey from Central America to the United States, saying he feared children were being used as “pawns” by “vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs.”

Isaac Cuevas, the director of immigration and public affairs for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told CNA that while he agrees with Trump’s assessment that there is a humanitarian crisis at the border, he did not believe either Trump’s address, or the response by Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), were signs that progress will be made.

“Both sides agree that immigration is an issue that can no longer be ignored, but they also need to agree on where change has to start,” Cuevas said.

“These challenges in migration will not go away with the implementation of barriers, but we all agree that the system, especially from a legal standpoint, is broken and needs help.”

Cuevas told CNA he thinks that it would be a “common-sense solution” for both parties to work together and create a plan that would both strengthen security at the border and create a way for people who are already here to obtain legal status: “A pathway to citizenship, for good people making positive contributions in our communities and to our way of life in this country,” he said.

Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, which is located along the southern border, tweeted Jan. 9: “Mothers and children are fleeing the very criminal elements that we ourselves recognize represent a mortal danger. Are we not capable of sustaining a response that both protects the vulnerable and restrains the menace?”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said Jan. 9 of "Tuesday's immigration speeches" that he was deeply disappointed by "the dehumanizing words used to describe our immigrant sisters and brothers. These men, women and children are neither numbers, nor criminal statistics, but flesh and blood people with their own stories and histories. Most are fleeing human misery and brutal violence that threatens their lives. False and fear-filled caricatures seek to provoke a sort of amnesia that would have this great nation deny our roots in immigrants and refugees."

The cardinal quoted Pope Francis, and then said, "Those coming to our borders seeking asylum or escaping crushing poverty are not pawns in a political debate, but rather the strangers and aliens our Scriptures constantly instruct us to welcome ... I beg all our legislative leaders to come together for the common good."

The stalemate over the border wall continues amid the USCCB's National Migration Week, taking place Jan. 6-12. The week's theme this year is “Building Communities of Welcome”.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration, said Jan. 4 that “In this moment, it is particularly important for the Church to highlight the spirit of welcome that we are all called to embody in response to immigrant and refugee populations who are in our midst sharing our Church and our communities.”

Congresswoman blasts ‘religious bigotry’ against Knights of Columbus, Catholic nominees

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 14:30

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Democratic lawmakers are divided over questions some see as a religious litmus test applied to candidates for the federal bench. The debate has turned into a war of words between members of Hawaii’s Congressional delegation

“We cannot and will not tolerate prejudicial treatment of those with whom we disagree, any more than we would tolerate such treatment of those with whom we agree,” Rep Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) wrote in a Jan. 8 op-ed for The Hill.


Gabbard accused senators screening judicial candidates of “religious bigotry” and warned against legislators “weaponizing” questions of personal faith.


At least two judicial candidates in recent months have faced questions about their Catholic faith during the federal confirmation process. Legislators from both parties have said some of those questions have gone too far.


Gabbard’s op-ed referenced the 2017 confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who, the the congresswoman wrote, was treated inappropriately by members of the Senate Judicial Committee.


“No American should be told that his or her public service is unwelcome because ‘the dogma lives loudly within you’ as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said to Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings.”


Article 6 of the Constitution states that “there shall be no religious test” for any candidate seeking public office.


In December, CNA reported that Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised concerns about a judicial nominee’s Catholic faith and membership of the Knights of Columbus. The issues were raised in questions put to Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.


In her questions, Hirono said that “the Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions” by supporting basic Catholic beliefs regarding abortion and marriage.


The Knights of Columbus has nearly 2 million members. Last year they carried out more than 75 million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $185 million for charitable purposes.


Harris described the Knights as “an all-male society” which is “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and against “marriage equality.” In the light of his Catholic faith and membership of the Knights, both senators questioned Buescher’s ability to apply the law fairly and objectively as judge.


Referring to Hirono and Harris’s questions to Buescher, Gabbard wrote that while she personally opposed his candidacy for a judgeship, she “stands strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus.”


“While I absolutely believe in the separation of church and state as a necessity to the health of our nation, no American should be asked to renounce his or her faith or membership in a faith-based, service organization in order to hold public office,” Gabbard wrote.


“The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today.”


Hirono hit back Tuesday at her fellow Hawaiian Democrat’s comments. A spokesman for the senator said Gabbard “based her misguided opinion on the far-right wing manipulation of these straightforward questions.”


Last month, a spokesperson for the Knights of Columbus said the senators’ conduct recalled past periods of anti-Catholic discrimination.


“Our country’s sad history of anti-Catholic bigotry contributed to the founding of the Knights of Columbus, and we are proud of the many Catholics who overcame this hurdle to contribute so greatly to our country,” Kathleen Blomquist told CNA.


“We were extremely disappointed to see that one’s commitment to Catholic principles through membership in the Knights of Columbus—a charitable organization that adheres to and promotes Catholic teachings—would be viewed as a disqualifier from public service in this day and age.”

New York Governor calls for abortion in state constitution

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 13:00

New York City, N.Y., Jan 9, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for a change to the state’s constitution to enshrine abortion rights. Leading pro-life leaders called his statements "abhorrent" and "out of step" of mainstream politics.


Speaking Monday at an event in Manhattan, Cuomo said that he hopes to pass an amendment that “writes into the constitution a provision protecting a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health.” He was joined at the event, hosted at Barnard College, by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.


Pro-life activists decried Cuomo’s wish for a constitutional amendment protecting abortion and the imminent law as extremist politics at work.


"Gov. Cuomo's extremist push to conflate abortion with healthcare is a tragic example of politics and ideology triumphing over medicine and the science of embryology,” Americans United For Life CEO Catherine Glenn Foster told CNA.


In New York, changing the state constitution requires the state legislature to approve the amendment in addition to passage in a statewide voter referendum. The earliest such an amendment could be passed is 2021.


In the near term, the New York state legislature is likely to pass the Reproductive Health Act later this month. The legislation would codify the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade and that permit abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The bill was first introduced in 2007.


The New York state senate recently returned to Democrat-majority control for the first time since 2010, and the bill is widely expected to become law.


Foster said that the Reproductive Health Act has “nothing to do with women’s rights or enhancing women’s health,” and instead, it would simply make abortion more dangerous by stripping away health and safety regulations on abortionists.


“Under Gov. Cuomo's leadership, New York nail salons will be more regulated than abortion facilities,” Foster added.


Foster’s comments were echoed by Tom McCluskey, March for Life vice president of government affairs.


McCluskey told CNA that it was “abhorrent” that Cuomo would prioritize abortion legislation during this time, and that this move was “out of step with the mainstream.”


“The American consensus has consistently supported limiting abortion to, at most, the first trimester,” McCluskey said, pointing out that only six countries allow abortion to occur after the 20th week of pregnancy.


“[The proposed amendment] is just another example of Democratic extremism that benefits none and hurts our most vulnerable.”

President Trump signs anti-human trafficking bill into law

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 09:45

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2019 / 07:45 am (CNA).- President Donald Trump signed the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act on Tuesday.


The law, which was authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), authorizes $430 million to be spent over the next four years to help combat sex and labor trafficking both in the United States and abroad. This is Smith’s fifth anti-trafficking bill to become law.


“In the fight to end modern day slavery, my law honors the extraordinary legacy of one of the greatest Americans who ever lived,” Smith said of Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became a prominent abolitionist after being freed.


The law provides resources for trafficking prevention education for children; shelter, therapies, and reintegration assistance for trafficking survivors; the facilitation of trafficking-free supply chains in the United States; training of government officials as well as airline industry employees to identify trafficking cases; and oversight to ensure that government purchases are not employing traffickers.


The bulk of the allocations will go to the State Department to fund their educational and diplomatic efforts against trafficking.


The new legislation provides funding to the International Megan’s Law, which was also authored by Smith.


The International Megan’s Law, which was named in memory of Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old who was murdered in 1994 by a convicted pedophile, establishes country-to-country notification about convicted pedophiles who may be traveling to an area for the purposes of sex trafficking or child exploitation.


Since the International Megan’s Law was enacted in February 2016, nearly 3,500 convicted pedophiles have been denied entry to a country. This new bill allocates $18 million in funding to the Department of Justice, Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security spread over three years.


A recent United Nation Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report found that there has been an increase in the number of trafficking victims, particularly girls, over the last decade. The total number of people detected as victims of trafficking has increased 40 percent since 2011, but the UN says that this could be due to improvements in detection.


In 2016, the most recent year statistics were available, 23 percent of all detected trafficking victims around the world were girls under the age of 18. In 2004, the first year statistics were made available, only 10 percent of trafficking victims were girls. Boys under the age of 18 accounted for eight percent of detected trafficking victims.


The UNODC found that 94 percent of sex trafficking victims were female. Males accounted for 65 percent of labor trafficking victims. Vulnerable populations, such as Syrian and Rohingya refugees, are at an increased risk of being preyed upon by human traffickers.

What is Opus Dei? A CNA Explainer

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Opus Dei confirmed this week that in 2005 it reached a $977,000 settlement with a Washington, DC woman who alleged that Opus Dei priest Fr. C. John McCloskey sexually assaulted her in the context of pastoral counseling.

The story has made headlines because of McCloskey’s connection to political and media circles in Washington, DC. But it has also gained attention because of the place Opus Dei has occupied in popular culture, especially after the publication of the 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code,” which offered a portrayal of Opus Dei many critics dismissed as fantastical.

But what is Opus Dei?

Founded in 1928 by Spanish priest Fr. Josemaria Escriva, the movement was borne of Escriva’s vision to help lay Catholics in Madrid understand the baptismal calls to holiness and evangelization. He called the movement Opus Dei to emphasize his believe that its foundation was a “work of God,”- or, in Latin, “Opus Dei.” The movement began as a program of Catholic spiritual and intellectual formation for laymen, and began admitting women to its programs of formation two years after its foundation.

Technically, Opus Dei is a “personal prelature,” which is a Church structure comprised of priests and deacons joined together to “accomplish particular pastoral or missionary works,” according to canon law. The priests and deacons of the prelature are not members of a religious order, like the Jesuits or Benedictines, and therefore, they do not make public vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, as religious priests and brothers do. Instead, they are secular clerics, as are diocesan priests, which means that like diocesan priests, they are obliged to celibacy and to obedience, but they are not bound to poverty, or to other aspects of monastic, or religious life.

Because Opus Dei is a “personal prelature,” its members are the priests and deacons incardinated into its structure. However, Opus Dei also involves lay Catholics, who associate themselves to the mission of the prelature by means of individual agreements.

Association comes at different levels: some unmarried Catholics collaborate with Opus Dei as “numeraries,” who dedicate much of the life and time to Opus Dei and its mission; “supernumeraries” are typically married, and share in Opus Dei’s work and mission in the context of their families; “cooperators” may be married or unmarried laity who collaborate with or support Opus Dei at a less committed level. There are also diocesan priests and bishops associated with Opus Dei through an organization called the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.

Though commonly referred to as “members,” numeraries, supernumeraries, and cooperators are not formally members of Opus Dei, and remain subject to the jurisdiction of their own diocesan bishops and pastors. In 2016, there were more than 2,000 priest members of the prelature, and more than 90,000 lay people were connected to the organization by means of agreements.

In the United States, Opus Dei supports Catholic schools, generally segregated by sex, in several cities. The organization offers formation through spiritual direction, retreats, “evenings of recollection,” at which priests offer spiritual guidance and confession, and through “circles,” small group meetings of spiritual formation. In Washington, DC, Opus Dei operates the Catholic Information Center, a centrally-located bookstore offering weekday Mass and frequent evening programs.

Opus Dei has been criticized by some observers, who say the organization in inconsistent in its practices in different regions, promotes secrecy about its practices and governance, and focuses its recruiting on persons of wealth or influence.
Opus Dei’s spirituality, rooted in the writings and thought of Fr. Josemaria Escriva, who was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002. Escriva’s work focused on becoming holy in ordinary life, by means of a deep prayer life, offering to God sacrifices and challenges, and the cultivation of virtue.


Hawaii's assisted suicide law comes into effect, but few physicians cooperate

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 16:01

Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan 8, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Hawaii's law legalizing assisted suicide went into effect last week, but many physicians and pharmacists are choosing not to prescribe or dispense the needed medication.

The Our Care, Our Choice Act was signed into law in April 2018, and took effect Jan. 1.

“A minority of physicians feel prepared to actually participate in terms of writing a prescription," Dr. Daniel Fischberg, medical director of the The Queen's Medical Center palliative care department told the AP.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, The Queen's Medical Center and Hawaii Pacific Health have both said their pharmacies will not fill prescriptions for assisted suicide, and patients may not administer the medication at their locations.

CVS has said that their pharmacists can choose whether to fill prescriptions for assisted suicide drugs.

The law allows a terminally ill adult Hawaii resident to receive a prescription for a lethal medication if two doctors find that the person has fewer than six months to live and is mentally competent. The patient must undergo a mental health evaluation to determine that they are not “suffering from conditions that may interfere with decision-making, such as a lack of treatment of depression,” according to the AP.

The patient must make two requests for the life-ending medication, with a 20-day waiting period between requests, and sign a written request witnessed by two people, one of whom cannot be related to the patient.

A doctor may dispense the medication, but it must be self-administered.

The law includes criminal penalties for tampering with a request for lethal medication or coercing such a prescription.

Health care providers and facilities are free not to cooperate with assisted suicide under the law.

The Hawaii health department expects 40-70 requests for assisted suicide in 2019.

While the Our Care, Our Choice Act was being considered, Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu wrote that his wonder at the bill “is compounded when I think of how, until now, we have prided ourselves on helping people not take their own lives. We have suicide prevention programs and hotlines, and have always considered suicide a tragedy that wreaks havoc on so many survivors who feel grief and frustration that they were not able to prevent this 'autonomous' decision from being made.”

Bishop Silva pointed out that under the law, the death certificate of one who commits assisted suicide will list as the immediate cause of death their terminal disease.

“In other words, it will lie about the real immediate cause of death, which is freely and deliberately ingesting a poison into one’s system,” he wrote. “If we call it another name besides suicide, then it may become respectable. Under no circumstances should we call it what it is, since certain insurance benefits may not be available to one’s estate if one commits suicide. So let’s also lie to the insurance company by calling it 'death with dignity' or some other title that will make it sound more respectable.”

In addition to Hawaii, assisted suicide is legal by law in the District of Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, and Colorado; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.

New Mexico bishop opposes abortion legalization bill

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 14:50

Gallup, N.M., Jan 8, 2019 / 12:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Proposed legislation in New Mexico would repeal the state’s laws criminalizing abortion, which date to the 1960s but have not been enforced since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup has expressed strong opposition to House Bill 51.

“While the law is currently not enforced due to federal legalization of abortion through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, I nevertheless urge opposition to any bills that would loosen abortion restrictions,” Wall wrote in a Jan. 7 statement.

New Mexico law currently states it is a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion, with exceptions for rape, birth defects, and to preserve the health of the mother.

Under the current law, abortion would be banned completely if Roe v. Wade were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The effort to decriminalize abortion is part of a broader push in states that have laws banning the procedure, such as Massachusetts, which repealed its law in July 2018. Those who are in favor of abortion rights are moving to remove laws that would go into effect if abortion were once again left to the states to decide.

“Should Roe v. Wade ever be overturned...I am in agreement that criminalization of abortion should not target women, many of whom find themselves in personally or financially dire circumstances,” Wall clarified.

“But abortion also targets and victimizes another deeply vulnerable population: unborn children and future generations. Our state must strive to protect and uphold the dignity of all peoples, from conception to natural death, and any effort to permit the killing of unborn children violates the sanctity of every human person, mother and child.”

Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D-Las Cruces) introduced the bill, along with Georgene Louis (D-Acoma). The proposed bill is supported by the state’s new Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, as well as the state’s House Speaker and Senate majority leader. The legislative leaders have tabbed the bill as a “high priority” for the current legislative session, and Lujan Grisham has pledged to sign the bill into law if it passes the legislature.

Wall encouraged New Mexico’s lawmakers to focus on policies and legislation to “promote the prosperity of human life at all stages of development” rather than promoting abortion.

“New Mexico consistently ranks low or last among other states in education results, economic opportunities, poverty, and childhood health. An abortion will not fix the obstacles many women and families face, such as economic instability, access to education, and a higher standard of living,” Wall wrote.  

He also expressed opposition to any potential measures or clauses that might force doctors to participate in abortion procedures in violation of their beliefs.

Nine states including New Mexico currently have laws that would ban abortion. Four additional states – Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota – have what are known as “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if the Roe decision were overturned.

Efforts are underway to expand access to abortion in several states, including New York, where a bill to decriminalize abortion has strong support from a newly installed Democratic majority in its legislature.


Lawmakers from both parties to address 2019 March for Life

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 14:45

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2019 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- The March for Life has announced a bipartisan group of legislators who will address the upcoming March for Life at a rally immediately before the event, being held in 10 days time.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), and Chris Smith (R-NJ) will be joined by Louisiana State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D). This will be Daines’ first time addressing the March for Life.

“We are delighted to have these four pro-life champions speak at the March for Life rally. The right to life is a non-partisan issue and, regardless of politics, we should all unite for life and stand against abortion, the greatest human rights abuse of our time,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said in a statement to the press.

Headlining the March for Life Rally is conservative commentator and author Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire. Also speaking will be pro-life activist Abby Johnson, Dr. Alveda King, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the chairman of the USCCB’s Pro-life Activities committee, and many others.

Last year, President Donald Trump addressed the March for Life via a video feed, becoming the first president to do so. Previous presidents have addressed the March for Life by phone call. The president’s involvement at the rally prompted Lipinski, who at the time was a vulnerable incumbent in a heated primary battle against a pro-abortion candidate, to withdraw from speaking.

In 2017, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the March for Life in person. He was the first vice president and the the highest-ranking government official to do so.

The 46th-annual March for Life will be held on January 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. It is the largest anti-abortion demonstration in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to march. It is held each year around the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that established a legal right to abortion in the United States.

Opus Dei US head confirms misconduct settlement against popular DC priest

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 11:00

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Opus Dei announced Monday that it had paid a settlement following accusations of misconduct against a priest of the society made in 2002.


Fr. C. John McCloskey was the subject of a complaint by a married woman to whom he had been giving spiritual counsel. As a result of the complaint, Opus Dei paid a reported settlement of $977,000 to the woman in 2005.


At the time of the complaint, McCloskey was serving as the director of the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The center is a popular venue among Washington  Catholics, offering daily Mass during the working week and a program of Catholic events in the evenings.


McCloskey had a high public profile during his time in Washington, preparing several senior politicians for reception into the Catholic Church, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and serving U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.


In a statement released by Msgr. Thomas Bohlin, Vicar of Opus Dei in the United States, the prelature expressed its sorrow and called any case of harassment or abuse “abhorrent.”


“What happened was deeply painful for the woman, and we are very sorry for all she suffered,” Bohlin wrote. “I am very sorry for any suffering caused to any woman by Father McCloskey’s actions and pray that God may bring healing to her.”


“I am painfully aware of all that the Church is suffering, and I am very sorry that we in Opus Dei have added to it. Let us ask God to show mercy on all of us in the Church at this difficult time.”


The Washington Post reported that McCloskey groped the woman on several occasions while giving her spiritual direction. According to that report, the woman was left with feelings of guilt and shame, and struggled with depression. The Post also reported that the woman took her concerns to McCloskey in the confessional, where he absolved her.


Bohlin said that Opus Dei had acted swiftly when the complaint was first made, telling McCloskey to have no further contact with the woman and to offer spiritual direction to women only through a screen in a traditional confessional - something Bohlin noted was already a rule for Opus Dei priests.  


“After investigating the complaint in subsequent months, we found the complaint to be credible, and in December 2003, Father McCloskey was removed from his position at the CIC,” Bohlin said in the statement.


After leaving Washington, McCloskey was first sent to the United Kingdom before being assigned in different regions of the United States. McCloskey has since returned to the Washington area because of his declining health.


Bohlin stated that McCloskey’s ministry had been restricted since he left Washington, and his contact with women limited to the confessional. “Throughout the years, we were careful to ensure that he would not have any opportunities to engage in the kind of actions that led to the complaint.”


Opus Dei is personal prelature founded in Spain by St. Jose Maria Escriva in 1928 and first approved by the Vatican in 1950.


According to Opus Dei, McCloskey is currently suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease and is unable to say Mass, even privately, as he is “largely incapacitated.”


“I would also ask you to pray for Father McCloskey as his health continues to decline,” Bohlin said.


The prelature released details of the complaint at the request of the woman involved in the settlement in an effort to encourage any other potential victims to come forward.


Brian Finnerty, spokesman for Opus Dei, told CNA he was not aware of either the woman who brought the complaint or the society had contacted the police.


Opus Dei said it believes there could be at least two other women similarly abused by McCloskey in Washington, and that the group has attempted to make contact with one of them. In his statement, Bohlin said the prelature had received no complaints about McCloskey concerning his time in ministry either before or after his term as director of the CIC.


According to the statement from Msgr. Bohlin, the woman who raised the original complaint remains in contact with Opus Dei’s ministry in Washington. She told the Washington Post this week she is “very happy with how it’s being handled right now. They listened.”

New Mexico bill could allow 'suicide tourism,' critics warn

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 04:53

Santa Fe, N.M., Jan 8, 2019 / 02:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Proposed legislation in New Mexico could legalize assisted suicide in the state, and may even allow for the prescription of deadly drugs outside the state via telemedicine, and by healthcare professionals other than physicians.

Deacon Steve Rangel, associate director for the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bill was disheartening to read.

“In our Catholic faith, we know the dignity of life from conception to natural death,” he told CNA.

“Here we have an attack on [life]. It's really disheartening that we even have to be put in this type of position...Our driving force has always been to prevent harm and loss of life.”

Rangel cited several particularly objectionable points in House Bill 90, known as the “Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act,” including a provision that medical practitioners other than doctors can administer the drugs, without ever having examined the patient in person.

He also pointed out that the bill reduces the waiting period for assisted suicide from 15 days to 48 hours.

“We all get down. We're human beings,” he said. “But at [a patient’s] most vulnerable point, are we going to let them make a life decision like that?”

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, an international organization with a headquarters in Ontario, told CNA that this assisted suicide bill jumped out at him as particularly expansive and vague.

“This bill allows nurses and physician assistants to be involved also. So you have this wider group of people who can be involved in the act itself of prescribing,” he told CNA.  

The current bill allows for the prescription of assisted suicide drugs after a healthcare professional examines a patient via telemedicine.

“A doctor could assess you, or even a nurse, by telemedicine. So you have a terminal condition, supposedly, and this is going to be approved that you can die by assisted suicide but your interview for this process is done over a screen,” Schadenberg said.

“To me, this is a crazy thing because we're talking about life and death.”

The bill includes a provision that makes assisted suicide acceptable if it can be determined that a terminal condition will cause a patient's death “in the foreseeable future.”

“'Foreseeable future' is not defined,” Schadenberg noted. “So it's wide open...basically you can have your interview by telemedicine, and die two days later because your terminal condition that you supposedly have might cause your death in the 'foreseeable future.’”

The bill also removes conscience protections, he said, because although doctors are not required to prescribe the lethal medication, they are mandated to refer the patient to a medical professional who will.

“So if you think it's wrong to prescribe lethal drugs for a patient, knowing that they're going to die by assisted suicide, then it must be equally wrong for you to send them to a doctor who's willing to do that,” Schadenberg said.

In addition, the bill does not clearly define whether residents of states other than New Mexico might be allowed to avail themselves of assisted suicide. It was reported in some publications that the bill lacks a residency requirement completely, meaning patients coming from other states to seek the procedure, so-called “suicide tourism,” could become a reality.

Most assisted suicide laws, such as Oregon's, Schadenberg clarified, explicitly state that the patient must be a resident of the state in order to qualify for the procedure.

The New Mexico bill, however, only has an indirect residency requirement under the definition of the word “adult,” which is defined as a resident of the state. But the word “adult” is only mentioned once in the bill, under the proposed form that must be signed to be approved for assisted suicide, he said.

“But even under the wording of this bill, it still seems a very weak way of defining a resident. It's very awkward.”

Schadenberg said some advocates of assisted suicide are calling for a complete elimination of waiting periods for the procedure.

“We're talking about life and death,” he said. “Obviously you could be depressed today, and the purpose of the waiting period is not to be onerous and force suffering people to have to live 14 more days. It's that you might be depressed, and the way to ensure [assisted suicide] is your real will is to create a waiting period. You might be feeling better in two weeks.”

Schadenberg said about 20 states introduced assisted suicide bills in 2018, but only one state actually passed the measure.

“This is not what you'd call an inevitability,” he said. “The opposition to assisted suicide has been very successful, but the sad reality is that it only takes one state and things look bad...New Mexico I'm very concerned about. There's no question about it.”

Rangel echoed Schadenberg’s consternation at the bill’s current language, but reiterated that as Catholics the best approach to terminal illness is compassion.

“We align ourselves with our Lord's pain and suffering,” Rangel reflected. “I have a priest friend who has [Multiple Sclerosis,] and when he's feeling the most pain, that's when he offers it up for other people's intentions. I thought that was so powerful...We truly are compassionate for those who are suffering.”

He said his own daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, resulting in the loss of part of her brain which has left her cognitively impaired.

“Did she lose some things because of the injury? Absolutely,” he said. “But at the same time, [we gained] so many other blessings. So we look for the blessings in everything in life...she loves people, people respond to her, and so if you'd ask me, ‘Iis that quality of life?’ I would say absolutely.”

Assisted suicide has been illegal in New Mexico since the 1960s, but doctors have been protected from liability for removing life support from terminally ill patients since 1978.

The New Mexico Supreme Court previously ruled in June 2016 that assisted suicide was not a “fundamental or important right” under the state constitution, after a woman with terminal cancer expressed her wish for “a more peaceful death.” At that time the New Mexico Supreme Court suggested a  “robust debate in the legislative and the executive branches of government” to determine if the law needed to be changed.  

The states of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia, have already legalized assisted suicide.


Analysis: Their retreat accomplished, the U.S. bishops remain under siege

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 18:41

Chicago, Ill., Jan 7, 2019 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary is beautiful. Set on 600 leafy acres, its buildings merge the aesthetics of the American Colonial Revival with the motifs of great Roman edifices. Its library is expansive. Its chapel is a gem. Mundelein is the kind of place that is hard to leave.

When their seven-day retreat at Mundelein ends Jan. 8, some of the U.S. bishops may be reluctant to leave the seminary. But if they are not eager to go home, it will not be because of the setting.

When they depart, many bishops will find their retreat was not an end to the siege under which they find themselves.

Once home, they will face the same questions, the same investigations, the same demand for answers that they left behind. And they will face the same impatience from Catholics across the country.

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, for example, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, will likely face questions about his dealings with the Vatican in the lead-up to the bishops’ meeting: he will be asked whether he knew earlier than he let on that the conference would not be permitted to vote on a reform package of policies that he championed.

Back in Houston, DiNardo will also face questions from county prosecutors who have accused the archdiocese of withholding evidence during a police investigation.

DiNardo will not be the only U.S. cardinal with problems when the retreat comes to an end.

After losing an auxiliary bishop to allegations of sexual abuse, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York now faces questions about why his archdiocese misrepresented a priest under investigation.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston is investigating accusations of misconduct at the seminaries in his archdiocese. Cardinal Blase Cupich faces a diocesan investigation from Illinois’ attorney general.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s Archdiocese of Newark remains at the center of questions regarding long-time archbishop Theodore McCarrick. And Cardinal Donald Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor in Washington, faces continued scrutiny as he remains the archdiocesan interim leader until his successor is named.

Other bishops face allegations of misconduct or cover-up, among them Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston.

Like Dolan, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles must also address an auxiliary bishop accused of sexual abusing a minor. And dozens of other bishops are faced with state and federal investigations into the historical and current administration of their dioceses.

The bishops did not formally discuss strategy or plans during the retreat: meals were taken in silence, recreation periods were few. But their leaders, DiNardo and Gomez, will go to Rome next month for a meeting with Pope Francis, and the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world. That summit, occasioned by the eruption last year of sexual abuse scandals in the United States, is scheduled to address the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults around the world.

Sources expect very little practical policy to come from the February summit. The meeting is expected to encourage bishops in the developing world to develop the baseline child protection protocols that U.S. bishops developed in 2002, and to engender in all participants a greater awareness of the profound harm that clerical sexual abuse can cause to victims.

As he did in his letter to the U.S. bishops at Mundelein, Pope Francis is likely to encourage the assembled bishops to greater personal conversion, and to emphasize, as he often has, the centrality of personal integrity in resolving allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct.

It is expected that a guilty verdict for Archbishop McCarrick will be announced before the February meeting, along with the likely penalty of laicization. But Vatican sources do not expect a report on the Vatican’s investigation into its own documents on McCarrick to be forthcoming.

Leadership and committees of the U.S. bishops’ conference continue to revise and discuss the policies they proposed in November, along with alternatives that emerged during their meeting. It is not likely that the February summit will substantially impact that work. Instead, it seems most likely that the bishops’ will work on their policies and proposals until a March meeting of the conference’s administrative committee, and then send them to Rome for review.

After DiNardo was accused of not giving the Vatican enough time to weigh in on proposals before the November meeting, the bishops will want to leave ample time for back and forth with Rome before they vote at their June meeting on whatever draft policies have received an initial approval from the Vatican.

The priorities for the U.S. bishops are said to be establishing a mechanism for credibly investigating allegations of abuse, negligence, or misconduct against bishops; investigating the possibility of expanding the Church’s definition of vulnerable adults to include seminarians and others under the authority of bishops, and creating protocols for bishops who are removed or resign from their posts amid scandal or allegations.

It seems likely they’ll be able to accomplish some portion of those goals by the conclusion of their June meeting.

The question, of course, is whether Catholics will wait.

Among the effects of the scandal has been a much broader sense of disillusionment and disenfranchisement from Catholics than was palpable in the aftermath of the 2002. It is not yet clear whether the scandals of 2018 have impacted Church attendance or diocesan financial support. And, of course, for many Catholics the anger of last summer has abated. But episcopal leadership is under a new level of scrutiny in the U.S., and voices from across the ecclesial spectrum have been unrelenting in calling for change.

Some of those voices are likely to intensify after the February meeting, at which the outcomes, and even the agenda, are not likely to meet public expectation.

Since June, the bishops seem to have been playing catch-up with a tornado. Their responses to new fronts of the crisis often seemed insincere or unconvincing. They have seemed often to have been owned by the events unfolding around them, and they frequently have been criticized for seeming to lack authenticity, contrition, and above all, leadership.

As a result, in addition to the legitimate questions bishops have faced from Catholics, and from the media, they now must also contend with a growing anticlerical populist backlash in the U.S. Church, one that seems to foster broad distrust for episcopal initiatives and the Church's governing structure, rather than on calling for or supporting reform efforts.

The retreat may well motivate bishops to address their problems with new vigor: it may have given them an opportunity to regroup, catch their breath, and emerge as the leaders that Catholics seem to have been looking for.

If they have any hope of restoring confidence in U.S. Catholic hierarchy, the opportunity afforded to them by their retreat is one the bishops ought not miss. 

Because any practical change is likely six months away, if there is to be change in the narrative of the last six months, or if the burgeoning anti-episcopal populist movements in the U.S. Church are to lose steam, it will only be because bishops emerge renewed from their retreat, and begin to address the Church with the kind of courageous, direct, transparent, and fatherly leadership Catholics have been calling for, even in the absence of new policies. Even then, it will be an uphill battle, and will become more difficult with each passing month in which leadership is seen to be lacking.

If their retreat has had its effect, the U.S. episcopate may now have more spiritual health and vigor with which to lead the Church than it has had since before the crisis began. Whether they will emerge ready to take the mantle of leadership, and begin to foster healing from the Church’s still-gaping wounds, remains to be seen.


Christian cake baker's second lawsuit can go forward, federal judge says

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 18:40

Denver, Colo., Jan 7, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Colorado baker who already won a U.S. Supreme Court case may proceed with a second lawsuit claiming the state of Colorado is again wrongly prosecuting him, this time for declining to bake a cake celebrating a “gender transition,” a federal court ruled Friday.

Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Denver suburb of Lakewood, was plaintiff in a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled he was wrongfully prosecuted for declining to bake a cake marking a same-sex wedding ceremony on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs.

While the state of Colorado has tried to argue that the federal courts should dismiss a second lawsuit against members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a federal judge did not agree.

Jim Campbell, senior counsel with the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, argued on behalf of Phillips before the U.S. District Court.

“The same agency that the Supreme Court rebuked as hostile to Jack Phillips has remained committed to treating him unequally and forcing him to express messages that violate his religious beliefs,” Campbell said Jan. 7.

“Colorado is acting in bad faith and with bias toward Jack,” Campbell continued. “We look forward to moving forward with this lawsuit to ensure that Jack isn’t forced to create custom cakes that express messages in conflict with his faith.”

Phillips, a Christian, also does not create cakes that demean those who identify as LGBT, express racism, celebrate Halloween, promote marijuana, or celebrate Satan, Alliance Defending Freedom said.

Autumn Scardina, a Colorado attorney celebrating the seventh anniversary of a “male-to-female gender transition” asked for a cake signifying this transition, pink on the inside and blue on the outside. Phillips declined to make the cake because doing so would violate his religious beliefs.

Scardina then filed a civil rights complaint when he declined, charging discrimination on the basis of gender identity, a protected status under Colorado anti-discrimination law.

The district court’s Jan. 4 ruling by Judge Wiley Y. Daniel said that there is evidence of unequal treatment against Phillip, given that the state of Colorado commission allows other cake artists to decline requests to create cakes that “express messages they deem objectionable and would not express for anyone.”

The commission’s “disparate treatment” for Phillips shows “hostility towards Phillips, which is sufficient to establish they are pursuing the discrimination charges against Phillips in bad faith,” motivated by his religion, the ruling said.

It added that Phillips “has adequately alleged his speech is being chilled by the credible threat of prosecution.”

The judge allowed departing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to be dropped from the suit because he is leaving office. Governor-elect Jared Polis will not be added to the suit.

Last month One Colorado, the largest LGBT advocacy organization in the state, contended that the lawsuit would legalize discrimination, the Denver Post reports.

“All people — including LGBTQ people — deserve to be served equally in public spaces, and no religious belief gives anyone the right to pick and choose whom they serve and what laws they want to follow,” said Daniel Ramos, One Colorado’s executive director.

He charged that Alliance Defending Freedom is trying “to undermine laws that protect Coloradans in the areas of public accommodations, employment, and housing.”

Campbell, however, said it was the message of the cake, not the identity of the customer, which prompted his refusal to make the cake.

“Jack serves all customers, and he is even happy to serve the attorney who lodged the complaint against him,” the attorney said. “But Jack doesn’t create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with his deeply held beliefs.”

Campbell said that the civil rights commission was unfair, saying, “A commissioner set to decide the state’s new case against Jack has publicly referred to him as a ‘hater’ on Twitter, one of several indications of the commission’s ongoing bad faith toward him and his beliefs.”

The first Masterpiece Cakeshop case dated back to July 2012, when owner Jack Phillips was asked by two men to bake a cake for their same-sex wedding ceremony.

He explained to the couple that he could not cater to same-sex weddings because to do so would have violated his Christian beliefs. The couple filed a complaint with the state civil rights commission, which ordered him to serve same-sex weddings and undergo anti-discrimination training.

On June 4, 2018 the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, backing Phillips’ claim that he could to refuse to create cakes celebrating same-sex weddings due to his religious beliefs.

The commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection,” the Supreme Court said.

Several commission members’ statements endorsed the view that “religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, implying that religious beliefs and persons are less than fully welcome in Colorado’s business community,” said the court.

The ruling said the law was inconsistently applied, citing cases in which some prospective customers at other bakeries requested cakes with anti-gay marriage messages, but were refused service.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop cases come after more than a decade of political and social change on religious freedom issues.

Opponents of broad religious freedom protections like the San Francisco-based Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund have spent over $500,000 on advocacy and public relations campaigns related to the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court decision, a CNA analysis of foundation grantmaking found.

Since 2014 at least $9.9 million in grants from multiple sources have been earmarked to oppose broad religious freedom protections. The grants generally come from backers of LGBT political causes, legal abortion and mandatory contraception coverage. Grantees tend to argue that abortion rights and anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT status are equally important as or more important than religious freedom.

The Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative is one major node in this funding network, as is the New York-based Arcus Foundation.


Be missionaries, trust Providence, save souls, SEEK conference told

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 18:00

Indianapolis, Ind., Jan 7, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- At the closing Mass of the SEEK 2019 conference, Fr. Doug Grandon offered advice to the 17,000 attendees on how to become effective missionary disciples. Grandon is a national chaplain with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), meeting in Indianapolis this week for their annual conference.


Grandon centered his homily on Monday’s reading from the gospel of Matthew, which recounts Jesus’s arrival in Capernaum to preach perform miracles in the region. He related this story to his own personal experience of a missionary disciple: his friend Dan, who helped to bring him to Christ.


“What Dan did for me, each of us can do for someone else in our circle of influence,” he said.


“Our ‘yes’ to becoming missionary disciples will make an eternal difference for more souls than we will ever realize.”


Grandon then provided three pieces of advice to the congregation on being an effective and productive missionary disciple in their own communities: a commitment to learning and spiritual growth, planning, and reading signs in their own lives.


“Missionary disciples commit to life-long learning and ongoing spiritual growth,” said Grandon. With Jesus, the Bible only tells a few stories about his childhood and training, but instead there are many stories of Christ beginning his messianic ministry, he pointed out.


The move to Capernaum to begin this ministry was significant, Grandon explained, as Capernaum was more centrally located than Nazareth.


In terms of his own spiritual growth, Grandon spoke of Dan and his Protestant pastor, who led him to embrace a life of Christian ministry. They “taught me to serve, even though I didn’t like that very much,” he explained. At the time, Grandon was a Protestant. He would eventually be received into the Catholic Church in 2002, and was given a special dispensation by the Vatican to become a married priest.


In addition to a commitment to growth and learning, Grandon said that missionary disciples “must engage in careful strategic planning,” and remain “attentive to providential signs,” much like Jesus did in Monday’s gospel.


He shared a story of a young woman who came to Denver to follow what she thought was God’s will, yet did not properly plan and quickly ran out of money. Failure to properly plan will make one an ineffective missionary disciple, he said.


Grandon told the hall that a recognition of signs and trusting in God’s providence were also important, noting that the places in today’s Gospel reading where Jesus preached were “overshadowed by death” in past generations, and were often the first to be invaded and occupied. Jesus arrived and changed this, he said, and these cities were the first to witness the “blazing light” of the Gospel and of Christ’s teachings.


“Isaiah's prophecy was a providential sign” of Christ’s eventual mission, he said.


Grandon shared a story of his own reliance on providence, when he thought he would have to cancel a mission trip due to a lack of funds. He went to preach at a small church, and, miraculously, that church donated exactly the amount that was needed for the trip to happen. This encounter left him “astounded at God’s miraculous providence.”


Referring back to his friend Dan, Grandon said his friend eventually visited him in Denver to see him celebrate Mass. The parish, being familiar with his vocation story and Dan’s role in bringing him to God, gave him a standing ovation once they learned he was present.


“Where would I be today if it wasn’t for Dan?” Grandon asked.


“Let’s go home. And change the world.”

Critics slam 'Shout Your Abortion' kids' video as sad, disturbing

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Jan 6, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Founder of the pro-abortion campaign “Shout Your Abortion”, Amelia Bonow was featured in a recent kids’ YouTube video to talk abortion with adolescents, telling them that life begins when they decide it does and that abortion is “part of God’s plan.”

The video, entitled “Kids Meet Someone Who’s Had an Abortion,” was published by Seattle-based company HiHo kids, and is a part of a series of videos called “Kids Meet.” Other videos in the series include kids meeting a ventriloquist, a deaf person, a Holocaust survivor, a gender non-conforming person, and a gynecologist, among others.

“Shout Your Abortion” (SYA), the organization founded by Bonow, has as its mission the normalization and celebration of abortion as an act of female empowerment.

“We’re in a fight for our lives, and it’s time to tell the truth. Every single day, all sorts of people have abortions, for every reason you can imagine. We are your siblings, your coworkers, your spouses and your friends. Abortion helps people live their best lives. We are the proof. And we’re only going to get louder,” the organization’s website states.

In the “Kids Meet” video featuring Bonow, she answers the questions of the kids, who appear to be middle-school aged, about the abortion she procured, which spurred her to found SYA. She also questions the kids about their own views - about what they think abortion is, their opinion on abortion, and even their religious and moral views.

“Do you think that sometimes it’s not ok to have an abortion?” Bonow asked one of the boys in the video.

“I want to say if you’re being reckless, if there’s nothing wrong going on…” he replied.

“I don’t know, I just don’t agree,” Bonow said. “Do we want people to just have all those babies?”

When the boy responds that unwanted babies could be put up for adoption, Bonow argues that that would still be forcing women to “create life.”

“I feel like if I am forced to create life, I have lost the right to my own life,” she said. “I should be the one to decide if my body creates life. Even if you give a kid up for adoption, you still like have a kid out there somewhere, you know?”

Bonow also questions several of the kids in the video about their religious views. When one girl identifies as Catholic, Bonow questions her whether she knows what the Catholic Church teaches about abortion.

“I don’t think the Church liked it. Because they see it as like, killing the baby,” the girl responds.

Bonow then asks her and another girl what their personal opinions are.

“I think it’s up to you,” one of the girls responds. “Same,” says the girl who identified as Catholic.

“I feel supported by that,” Bonow replies, smiling.

Bonow then asks a boy in the video whether he believes in God. When he says he does, she asks him what he thinks God would think about abortion.

“If I were to say, I think he’s ok with it because there’s still babies being born,” he answers hesitantly. “What do you think God thinks about abortion?”

“I think it’s all part of God’s plan,” Bonow responds. “I really was just thinking about Drake when I said that,” she adds.

A few of the kids in the video asked Bonow why she had the abortion, and whether she and her partner had used a condom or contraception to try to prevent pregnancy.

“He wasn’t wearing a condom,” Bonow said, because it seemed “easier at the time.”

When asked what the abortion was like, Bonow compared it to “a crappy dentist appointment or something.”

“You go to the doctor and they put this little straw inside of your cervix and inside of your uterus. And then they just suck the pregnancy out,” she said. “It was like a body thing that’s kind of uncomfortable, but then it was over and I felt really just grateful that I wasn’t pregnant anymore.”

The content of the video, released Dec. 28, garnered so much negative attention that the comments for the video on YouTube have been disabled.

As of Jan. 4, the original video had more than 250,000 views, with 5,900 “thumbs up” ratings and 6,700 “thumbs down” ratings on YouTube.

Thousands of concerned parents and critics in social media comments called the video “disgusting”, “disturbing” and “irresponsible.”

Kristi Hamrick, a spokesperson for pro-life group Students for Life of America, told CNA that the video lies to children about the weight of the decision of having an abortion.

“It’s clear that when an abortion takes place, there’s a tragedy that affects both woman and child,” she said.

“And to pretend otherwise, and to tell children that it’s an irrelevant, insignificant choice is the largest lie of abortion, because so many people understand that no matter how you feel about it, it is an unchangeable thing that you have done,” she said.

Hamrick added that she thought it was unfortunate that the video expended effort on justifying abortion to children, rather than trying to teach them how to make good choices.

“To go to kids and say I want to help you feel comfortable with what is an unchangeable and terrible choice, why would we do that?” Hamrick said. “Why wouldn’t we talk about children what is best, what is aspirational, about their hope and future?”

Georgette Forney is an Anglican deacon, the president of Anglicans for Life, and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, whose mission is to give a voice and platform to women who regret their abortions.

Forney told CNA in e-mail comments that she thought the video should be called “Kids Meet Abortion Propaganda.”

“...when I looked into the organization producing the series – I realized it was indeed an organization pumping out ‘content’ for kids that features a liberal agenda,” she said.

She said the video with Bowon is “disingenuous and not representational of women who have abortions,” many of whom have deep regrets.

She said she attempted to reach out to the group to suggest that they make an alternative video, where kids talk with women who regret their abortions, but could not find any contact information.

“Guess they don’t want to hear from people but do want to decide what kids should hear!” she said.

Mallory Quigley, a spokesperson for pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, which advocates for pro-life politicians, told CNA that she thought it was sad that Bowon felt the need to use children to justify her decision.

“It’s sad that she felt the need to justify the choice to end a life, and to bully kids into supporting her decision,” she said. “People who are comfortable with their decisions don’t usually take that step.”

She added that she thought the video was an act of “desperation” on the part of the “abortion lobby.”

“They see that life is winning, that a majority of young people are pro-life,” she said. “This is sort of a desperate attempt to try out what’s really old and tired language at this point on the next generation. And I think that it reveals a lot of the flaws in their arguments and the subjectivity of it all.”

D. C. McAllister, writing for P.J. Media, wrote that the video was “creepy” and “targets children.”

“Notice how she dehumanizes the baby, the life inside of her. She also fails to tell the children about the physical risks to the mother. She ignores the pain women suffer and the long-term adverse effects. She skips over the emotional toll having an abortion takes on most women,” McAllister wrote.

“She doesn’t describe what happens to the baby - how it’s chemically burned, how it feels pain. How it is cut up into pieces. Little arms, legs, and torsos. Planned Parenthood has plenty of pictures she could have provided, but no, she tells these kids it’s a simple procedure - and you’ll be so grateful afterwards.”

Nathan Apodaca, writing for life advocacy group Human Defense, deconstructs the arguments made for abortion in the video, which he said “simply helps confirm many of the biases that people have against those who oppose abortion, through lazy dismissals, bad arguments, ad hominem insults, and snarky political posturing.”

“The ‘#SHOUTYOURABORTION’ movement may be holding the hearts of many at the moment through tearful and heart wrenching stories, but it is instead the desperate plea of a movement which has broken tens of millions of men and women and helped slaughter tens of millions of little children who never got to see the light of day or feel the warm embrace of those who loved them,” he wrote.

Bonow posted the video on her Twitter, and announced that her group was also working on a children’s book: “I let a bunch of kids grill me about my abortion and it was great. #ShoutYourAbortion will be releasing a children’s book about abortion in 2020!”

But the 2,200-plus comments on her post were overwhelmingly against the video.

“I notice not one child was filmed who rejected her position,” Twitter user MamaD said.

“I watched this. No information given such as facts of embryonic developmen [sic] & what abortion procedures at various trimesters actually entail. No, it's platitudes & emotional appeals; of course kids will tell you it's ok and sadly so will many adults. Abortion is a grave injustice,” Twitter user Jenny S. commented.

Several commenters on Twitter and Facebook recommended that the “Kids Meet” series also expose children to someone who has survived abortion, such as Gianna Jessen, a pro-life speaker and advocate who survived a late-term saline abortion at 7 months, and has cerebral palsy as a result.

Jessen herself responded to the video on Twitter: “as someone who was actually born in an abortion clinic, resulting in cerebral palsy, and being a woman-i would Love to give these kids another perspective. the baby’s perspective-what were my rights?”

Want to know the history behind the Feast of the Epiphany?

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 15:01

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While the hustle and bustle of Christmas ends for many people on Dec. 26, throughout Christian history Christmas lasts for twelve days – all the way until Jan. 6.

This feast marking the end of Christmas is called “Epiphany.”

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. It focuses primarily on this revelation to the Three Wise Men, but also in his baptism in the Jordan and at the wedding at Cana.

In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, Theophany – as Epiphany is known in the East – commemorates the manifestation of Jesus' divinity at his Baptism in the River Jordan.

While the traditional date for the feast is Jan. 6, in the United States the celebration of Epiphany is moved to the next Sunday, overlapping with the rest of the Western Church’s celebration of the Baptism of Christ.

However, the meaning of the feast goes deeper than just the bringing of presents or the end of Christmas, says Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, a Melkite Catholic priest and founding executive director of the Virginia-based Institute of Catholic Culture.

“You can't understand the Nativity without Theophany; or you can’t understand Nativity without Epiphany.” The revelation of Christ as the Son of God – both as an infant and at his baptism – illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas season, he said.

“Our human nature is blinded because of sin and we’re unable to see as God sees,” he told CNA. “God reveals to us the revelation of what’s going on.”

Origins of Epiphany

While the Western celebration of Epiphany (which comes from Greek, meaning “revelation from above”), and the Eastern celebration of Theophany (meaning “revelation of God”), have developed their own traditions and liturgical significances, these feasts share more than the same day.

“The Feast of Epiphany, or the Feast of Theophany, is a very, very early feast,” said Fr. Carnazzo. “It predates the celebration of Christmas on the 25th.”

In the early Church, Christians, particularly those in the East, celebrated the advent of Christ on Jan. 6 by commemorating Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. By the fourth century, both Christmas and Epiphany had been set as separate feasts in some dioceses. At the Council of Tours in 567, the Church set both Christmas day and Epiphany as feast days on the Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, respectively, and named the twelve days between the feasts as the Christmas season.

Over time, the Western Church separated the remaining feasts into their own celebrations, leaving the celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate primarily the Visitation of the Magi to see the newborn Christ on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, the Eastern Churches' celebration of Theophany celebrates Christ’s baptism and is one of the holiest feast days of the liturgical calendar.

Roman Traditions

The celebration of the visitation of the Magi – whom the Bible describes as learned wise men from the East – has developed its own distinct traditions throughout the Roman Church.

As part of the liturgy of the Epiphany, it is traditional to proclaim the date of Easter and other moveable feast days to the faithful – formally reminding the Church of the importance of Easter and the resurrection to both the liturgical year and to the faith.

Other cultural traditions have also arisen around the feast. Dr. Matthew Bunson, EWTN Senior Contributor, told CNA about the “rich cultural traditions” in Spain, France, Ireland and elsewhere that form an integral part of the Christmas season for those cultures.

In Italy, La Befana brings sweets and presents to children not on Christmas, but on Epiphany. Children in many parts of Latin America, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain also receive their presents on “Three Kings Day.”

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Catholics celebrate “Women's Christmas” – where women rest from housework and cleaning and celebrate together with a special meal. Epiphany in Poland is marked by taking chalk – along with gold, incense and amber – to be blessed at Mass. Back at home, families will inscribe the first part of the year, followed by the letters, “K+M+B+” and then the last numbers of the year on top of every door in the house.

The letters, Bunson explained, stand for the names traditionally given to the wise men – Casper, Melchior and Balthazar – as well as for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” or, “Christ, bless this house.”

In nearly every part of the world, Catholics celebrate Epiphany with a Kings Cake: a sweet cake that sometimes contains an object like a figurine or a lone nut. In some locations lucky recipient of this prize either gets special treatment for the day, or they must then hold a party at the close of the traditional Epiphany season on Feb. 2.

These celebrations, Bunson said, point to the family-centered nature of the feast day and of its original celebration with the Holy Family. The traditions also point to what is known – and what is still mysterious – about the Magi, who were the first gentiles to encounter Christ. While the Bible remains silent about the wise men’s actual names, as well as how many of them there were, we do know that they were clever, wealthy, and most importantly, brave.

“They were willing to take the risk in order to go searching for the truth, in what they discerned was a monumental event,” he said, adding that the Magi can still be a powerful example.

Lastly, Bunson pointed to the gifts the wise men brought – frankincense, myrrh and gold – as gifts that point not only to Christ’s divinity and his revelation to the Magi as the King of Kings, but also to his crucifixion. In giving herbs traditionally used for burial, these gifts, he said, bring a theological “shadow, a sense of anticipation of what is to come.”

Revelation of God

Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo explained to CNA the significance of the feast of the Theophany – and of Christ’s Baptism more broadly – within the Eastern Catholic churches.

“In our Christian understanding in the East, we are looking at creation through the eyes of God, not so much through the eyes of Man,” Fr. Carnazzo said.  

In the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, he continued, there is special divine significance.

With this feast day, the pastor explained, “God has come to reclaim us for himself.” Because of original sin, he continued, humanity has inherited “a human nature which has been dislocated from its source of life.”

Sin also effected parts of creation such as water have also been separated from their purpose and connection to God’s plan for life, Fr. Carrazzo said, because its original purpose is not just to sustain our bodies, but our souls as well.  

“With the fall, however, it has been dislocated from its source of life, it is under the dominion of death- it doesn’t have eternal life anymore. So God comes to take it to himself.”

“What Jesus did was to take our human nature and do with it what we could not do – which is, to walk it out of death, and that’s exactly what He did with His baptism.” As it is so linked to the destruction of death and reclaiming of life, the Feast of Theophany is also very closely linked to the Crucifixion – an attribute that is reflected in Eastern iconography of both events as well.

The feast of the Theophany celebrates not only Christ’s conquering of sin through baptism, but also God’s revelation of Christ as his Son and the beginning of Christ’s ministry. “The baptism of the Lord, just like the Nativity, is not just a historical event: it’s a revelation,” Fr. Carrazzo said.

To mark the day, Eastern Catholics begin celebrations with Divine Liturgy at the Church, which includes a blessing of the waters in the baptistry. After the water is blessed, the faithful drink the water, and bring bottles of water to bring back to their homes for use and not only physical but spiritual healing, he explained. Many parishes hold feasts after Liturgy is over. In many Middle Eastern cultures, people also fry and eat awamat – dough that is fried until it floats, and then is covered in honey.

During the Theophany season, priests also try to visit each home in the parish to bless the house with Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany. Fr. Carrazzo invited all Roman Catholics to come and become familiar, “to be part of a family” and join in celebrating Eastern Catholic traditions.


This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 6, 2017.

Caggiano condemns anti-Semitic graffiti at Bridgeport cathedral

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 20:22

Bridgeport, Conn., Jan 5, 2019 / 06:22 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Bridgeport condemned anti-Semitism Saturday, after a swastika was found painted on the doors of Bridgeport’s cathedral.

“I am appalled and outraged by this act of vandalism against the Mother Church of our Diocese and this brazen and disgusting display of anti-Semitism which is morally abhorrent and an affront to our Catholic faith,” Bishop Frank Caggiano said in a statement Jan. 5.

“To use a clearly anti-Semitic symbol is participating in unspeakable evil.”

The swastika was found painted on the doors of St. Augustine’s Cathedral on the morning of Jan. 4. Caggiano said that because he is on retreat, he had only learned of the vandalism Saturday afternoon.

Bridgeport police have not yet named a suspect in the crime, Caggiano said.

Anti-Semitic incidents are reported to be on the rise in the U.S. and internationally. The number of anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent in 2017, the Anti-Defamation League reported. In October, 11 people were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a man who said he “wanted all Jews to die.”

A recent survey of Jewish people living in the European Union found that over a quarter of respondents had been the victims of anti-Jewish harassment in 2017 or 2018.

“It is deeply distressing to see such a display of hatred at a time when we need to strengthen our efforts to come together as a community in mutual respect and support,” Caggiano said.

“My thoughts and prayers are with our Jewish brothers and sisters in the city of Bridgeport and beyond. We stand with you and condemn every form of anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry wherever it may be found.”


Scarlett Johansson: Deepfake pornographers prey on the vulnerable

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 14:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 5, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- In a 25-year film career, Scarlett Johansson has portrayed a cartoon mermaid princess, a comic book superhero, an Indian python, and a punk-rock porcupine. She has not portrayed a porn star. Nevertheless, her image has been digitally-generated in dozens of “deepfake” pornographic videos, which have been viewed more than 1 million times.

The actress said recently there is no way to fight back, and that online pornographers prey on the vulnerable for profit.

“The Internet is just another place where sex sells and vulnerable people are preyed upon,” Johansson told the Washington Post Dec. 30.

“Nothing can stop someone from cutting and pasting my image or anyone else’s onto a different body and making it look as eerily realistic as desired.”

Johansson has been the victim of digital technology that digitally replaces the faces of pornographic actors with those of celebrities, creating synthetic but convincing videos in which the digitally imposed person appears to be engaging in pornographic sexual acts.

One program, FakeApp, is freely available to download and does not require programming skills; it can be used by anyone with the kind of computer capable of running detailed video games.

“The fact is that trying to protect yourself from the internet and its depravity is basically a lost cause, for the most part,” Johannson told the Washington Post.

“Vulnerable people like women, children and seniors must take extra care to protect their identities and personal content,” she added.

The actress said that while Google has recently developed policies allowing anyone to request that false pornographic depictions of themselves be blocked from search results, deepfake pornography can still be found.

“There are basically no rules on the internet because it is an abyss that remains virtually lawless, withstanding US policies which, again, only apply here,” she said.

FakeApp’s creator has said that he hopes his face-swapping technology will become more easily accessible and useable.

“Eventually, I want to improve it to the point where prospective users can simply select a video on their computer, download a neural network correlated to a certain face from a publicly available library, and swap the video with a different face with the press of one button,” the app’s creator told Motherboard in 2018.

Matt Fradd, author of “The Porn Myth” and host of the podcast “Love People Use Things,” told CNA last year that the app could invade celebrities’ privacy and inflict harm upon their reputation.

“It will get to the point where we’re not really sure if Jennifer Aniston just did a porn film, or whoever the celebrity is, or if this is one of the AI things. So we are dragging people’s reputation through the mud and we are humiliating them,” Fradd told CNA.

“If they can do that with celebrities they can do that with your sister or with your mom if they wanted to.”

Rudolph Bush, director of journalism at the University of Dallas, told CNA in 2018 that deepfake technology could also be used for dangerous political manipulation.

“It’s very likely to happen, I think, and the consequences could be serious,” Bush told CNA. “Depending on who is targeted by this, depending on how ripe that target is to be manipulated, it could be very damaging.”

Bush said deepfakes could sow widespread social and institutional confusion.

“As these things become more sophisticated, particularly if they’re used by state actors or groups with a high level of understanding of what it takes to manipulate a society or a group, then we’ll see whether we can parse what’s real or not real,” he said.

For Johannson, who called deepfake pornography demeaning, fighting back is not a simple matter.

“it’s a useless pursuit, legally, mostly because the internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself. There are far more disturbing things on the dark web than this, sadly.”

Fradd told CNA that Catholics should respond to any kind of pornography with the wisdom of the Church.

“Wojtyla says the human person is a good to which the only proper and adequate attitude is love, but when we consume pornography we are always engaging in something contrary to love, namely use.”