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At the intersection of faith and autism – a Catholic priest shares his story

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 10:58

Bethesda, Md., Apr 2, 2019 / 08:58 am (CNA).- When Fr. Matthew Schneider was asked to move on after just one year of a three-year assignment as school chaplain and youth ministry leader, he was shocked.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I knew it was a new role and I had made some mistakes, but I figured, well there’s a learning curve, and almost anybody’s going to make a few mistakes given a new role like that.”

But his superiors believed the assignment was not a good fit for him. They cited struggles with social communications as a reason for their decision.

While the experience was frustrating for Schneider at the time, today he looks back on that moment as a blessing, because it eventually led him to be diagnosed with autism, a diagnosis that helped him better understand himself, and ultimately, to find roles in ministries that were better suited to him.

In a video released April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, Schneider decided to go public with his autism diagnosis.

“I realize the need to evangelize this segment of the population,” he said in the video. “We’re about 1.5–2% of the population. We have a much higher chance of being atheists, a much lower chance of attending religious services on a weekly basis…we need someone to reach out to that community, to inculturate the Gospel to the autistic mind.”

Schneider spoke with CNA about his life at the intersection of autism and the Catholic priesthood, and his hope of bringing the Catholic faith to more people who share the diagnosis.

Like many people in the autistic community, Schneider has a sharp memory and a good mind for facts. He tends to be a concrete  thinker, writer, and preacher. He describes himself as “intellectually driven” and he has always been a good student. He prefers to be called an “autistic person” or simply “an autistic” rather than a “person with autism.”

Unlike many of his autistic peers, however, faith plays a prominent role in Schneider’s life. Studies suggest that people with autism are less likely to believe in God and attend weekly religious services than those without autism.

Schneider said his faith is not just one aspect of his life, but is central to the way he views himself.

“Our Catholic faith affects all of what we are, and really we are called to incorporate our Catholic faith in every aspect [of life]. I’m somebody who struggles in this area or that area. But I can, through my relationship with Jesus, overcome those struggles, [and] reach a deeper level of understanding. We can have Jesus and have the faith enter in and help us…to live with those difficulties that come from autism in our lives, to have a greater degree of peace.”

Although Schneider exhibited signs of autism as a child, the diagnostic criteria were different in the 1980s than they are today. It was not until January 2016 – a little more than two years after being ordained a priest of the Legion of Christ – that he received an autism diagnosis.

“Autism is primarily a distinction in a way of thinking, a neurological difference,” he said. Autism presents challenges, including difficulty with picking up on subtle, non-verbal cues. For the priest, this means putting in extra effort when going into social situations.

“Realizing that I’m going to have these difficulties, I will try to put in as much effort as I can, even if that tires me,” Schneider said. “And sometimes I will second-guess: Ok, I might not have picked up the best on that.”

Ultimately, he said, he tries to keep in mind, “Ok, I’m not necessarily going to pick up every social cue, so I’m going to do the best I can and ask for clarification when I’m not sure.”

“There’s [no] magic bullet, and there’s not a time that I’m not autistic, that I can just understand perfectly those social cues. I can put effort into understanding them better, but it’s not going to be the exact same as non-autistic people would probably understand them.”

But there are also blessings to life with autism, Schneider said.

“I have what’s kind of a stereotypical autistic memory, which is a very good memory of details and facts, which has been helpful in different ways as a priest.”

He has also found that he can overcome some of the challenges associated with autism by using a method called Theory of Mind, in which he guesses what another person is thinking as he talks to them. It also helps him prepare homilies and write articles, by anticipating how his audience may react as they read or hear his work.

“That’s a conscious thing I do, whereas most people just do that subconsciously,” he explained.

Even with those tools, however, there are some assignments that would be especially challenging for an autistic priest, Schneider said. A typical parish assignment or role as a school chaplain would present struggles for Schneider, given the difficulty that autistic people tend to have in picking up on nonverbal cues, particularly during face-to-face conversations.  

Right now, Schneider is working on a doctoral thesis in theology, while also helping out at the Maryland retreat center where he lives. His said his goal is to become a seminary professor or a writer, since these “are fields that as an autistic I think I’m going to succeed in more than in a lot of other more stereotypical priestly ministries, like parishes or chaplaincies.”

The priest said his superiors in the Legion of Christ have been very supportive of him.

“I wasn’t sure what kind of attitude [they’d have] or what kind of things they’d want when I was diagnosed,” he said. But he was met with support and encouragement, “just in simple things such as helping me move toward ministries where I am going to be more likely to succeed in as an autistic person.”

Until now, Schneider has not has spoken widely about his diagnosis with people outside of his community. He maintains two Twitter accounts – a public one under his name and an anonymous one with the handle @AutisticPriest, where he posts about faith and autism.

Schneider said he decided to go public with his story out a desire for transparency and a hope of evangelizing.

“I thought that by coming forward, I would be able to go through and look at how we can better present the Gospel in a way adapted to the autistic mind,” he said.

A lot of contemporary catechesis presents the truths of the faith in ways that are not inherently wrong, but are not adapted to an autistic way of thinking, Schneider explained.

Often, he said, “we can present the faith in an emotional way that is good for a lot of people, but we autistics tend to think much more logically,” he said. “So just simply a more logical explanation is more helpful…so we understand why. We tend to be less easily satisfied asking why. We don’t have the social cue that a lot of kids have, or a lot of young people have, where after you’ve asked why three or four times, you kind of stop…we’ll keep asking until we understand it, because that’s kind of the more logical way our brain works in that regard.”

Prayer can also be a challenge for autistic people, at first.

“In prayer, a lot of times we struggle at the beginning because we struggle to understand how other people are thinking as we are talking,” the priest said. But once the expectations for prayer have been adapted for an autistic mindset, it “can be very freeing to realize we can communicate directly with God and we don’t have to go through the means of human language.”

Autistic people may struggle to bring concept or ideas into human language, while hoping other people will understand the point they are trying to get across, Schneider said. “But with God in prayer, I can directly share my ideas with God, without bringing it into human language.”

Schneider hopes to see catechetical materials and programs developed to better address these features of the autistic mind. He also noted that autistic people “tend to have very strong long-term memory. That can be an advantage for us learning the faith, in the sense that we don’t ever forget what we’re taught, so we don’t have to do as much repetition.”

In addition, he sees a need for better social inclusion for autistic people in schools and parishes, since they may feel isolated or have trouble integrating at first.

“We have to bring those people into the community,” he said, suggesting that a Christian understanding of charity should foster this inclusion.

He said he once spoke with a secular psychologist who told him that efforts to help autistic people enter social groups “have a much higher success rate with religious groups, because there is that sense of charity and that sense of openness to other people who may struggle and may have difficulties, more than in non-religious groups.”

Moving forward, Schneider plans to release YouTube videos on topics such as prayer and Christian theology, presented in a manner that is more conducive to the autistic mind.

He hopes to start a broader discussion within the Church on how to minister to people with autism, both those already in the pews and those who are not Catholic but may be interested in learning about the faith if it were taught in a way that was adapted to their mindset.

Asked what message he would offer other autistic Catholics, he said the message is fundamentally the same for all people.

“Jesus loves us, Jesus wants the best for us, whatever our situation is life is, and as autistics, we have the opportunity to experience God’s love in an autistic way. We don’t have to conform our own experience of God, in prayer and in the liturgy, to how others think, but we can experience it our own way, which is 100% valid.”

 

Pro-life health care network gets a boost from federal HHS grant

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 18:54

Washington D.C., Apr 1, 2019 / 04:54 pm (CNA).- Low-income individuals and families in California will be able to receive taxpayer-funded services from a Catholic-backed pro-life health care network, thanks to a federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services and the end of a rule that required grantees to give abortion counseling.

“With this grant, the administration has opened up a new avenue of health care choices for low income and underserved women and their families in California,” Kathleen Eaton Bravo, founder and CEO of Obria Group, said March 29. “Many women want the opportunity to visit a professional, comprehensive health care facility – not an abortion clinic – for their health care needs; today HHS gave women that choice.”

The $1.7 million grant for 2019 will be used to expand services to low income individuals and families in four California counties. The grant could total up to $5.1 million through 2022, provided funds are available, the grantee complies with standards, and the project shows progress.

Before the Trump administration’s February change to federal rules, Title X-funded providers were required to counsel patients that abortion is an option to end pregnancy, a requirement dating back to the Clinton administration in the 1990s. That requirement discouraged many prospective grantees from applying.

Obria describes itself as “a nonprofit affiliate network of full-service medical clinics providing professional, comprehensive, and life-affirming care to low income women and men across the country.”

Its clinics do not perform abortions and do not provide contraceptives. It offers “comprehensive care” including pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, breast and cervical cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and full prenatal care. It provides some remote medical care through a specialized smartphone app, which Obria said reduces barriers to quality health care.

“Obria clinics also provide parenting classes, adoption counseling and referral, sexual risk avoidance education, as well as referrals to other health and legal resources,” the network said on its website.

The organization launched in the 1990s as Birth Choice Pregnancy Centers, beginning as a volunteer-run nonprofit, the New York Times said.

At present Obria has eight affiliates with 21 clinics in five states. In addition, it has 11 mobile clinics. It is staffed by 126 employees, 78 of whom are licensed doctors and nurses. Another 15 affiliates are pending, which could expand its number of clinics by another 20.

Obria’s medical advisory board includes obstetrician-gynecologists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. It is fully licensed and five of its eight affiliates are accredited through the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. Accreditation is underway for the other three affiliates.

Under the terms of the federal grant, Obria is the main recipient and will supervise the work of seven subgrantees, including three of its California affiliates.

Two of the four subgrantee clinics provide contraceptives but won’t be allowed to use the Title X family planning grant funds to pay for it, an HHS spokesperson told The Hill.

Tim Head, president of the advocacy group Faith & Freedom Coalition, said the grant to Obria represented a victory after decades of work.

“For decades, multiple Congresses and presidential administrations, the pro-life movement has fought to at least slow federal tax subsidies for abortion providers but has failed to do so — until now,” Head told the New York Times.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It gives out about $250 million in grants each year.

The HHS also announced multiple three-year Tile X grants to seven Planned Parenthood affiliates, with the total running at least $16 million, according to HHS grant listings. The department is cutting grants to some Planned Parenthood affiliates. Four affiliates in Hawaii, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia, lost funding. These serve about 40,000 people in their regions.

Direct federal funding of abortion is usually barred by law, but the abortion provider receives grants for other services.

Planned Parenthood was critical of Obria, its fellow HHS grantee, as well as the Trump administration.

“Today, they are removing funding from these trusted health centers and providing funding to entities that do not provide evidence-based treatment,” objected Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood.

She contended there was a “continued attack” on Title X that will result in “dismantling our nation’s program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care, risking access to comprehensive health care for millions of low-income women and families.”

Essential Access Health, another California-based grantee, received $21 million for fiscal year 2019 to provide family planning services.

Julie Rabinovitz, president and CEO of Essential Access Health, said her organization was “very concerned” by the grant to Obria, alleging “they’re denying women information about all their health care options.” She said this could reduce progress in “reducing unintended pregnancies.”

New rules remove the abortion counseling requirement and require a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions, meaning that abortion clinics will be ineligible. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.

HHS announced these changes Feb. 22, characterizing them as the “Protect Life Rule.”

In February March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said the move prevents Title X funds “from being misused by those who promote and profit from abortion.”

“Abortion is not healthcare, yet for decades the federal government has voluntarily supported abortion by subsidizing the industry with hundreds of millions of tax dollars every year,” she said.

Planned Parenthood could lose about $60 million in federal funds annually due to the rule change. The organization is still eligible for federal funds that are not part of Title X. Last year, Planned Parenthood received more than $500 million in federal funding.

Planned Parenthood and Democratic-governed states have filed lawsuits challenging the new rules.

While critics of abortion have long opposed giving Title X funds to the largest abortion provider in the U.S., Planned Parenthood has come under renewed controversy since Center for Medical Progress videos appeared to show leaders involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts.

Other critics of the Obria grant include the Campaign for Accountability advocacy group. Its counsel Alice Huling charged that the grant shows the Trump administration is “more interested in courting religious ideologues than in providing real health care to low-income Americans.”

The group has filed suit seeking Obria’s communications with the Trump administration. The New York Times said the group has found tax filings showing it has backing from Catholic Church organizations.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has donated about $2.5 million to the Obria network, while the Diocese of Orange has given about $560,000.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, is a member of Obria’s national advisory board.

Elderly pro-life protester back outside Planned Parenthood after assault

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 17:01

San Francisco, Calif., Apr 1, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- An elderly protester who was thrown to the ground and kicked outside a Planned Parenthood facility in San Francisco March 21 is still afraid for his safety, according to the California-based legal group representing him.

According to the Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF), the 85-year-old victim, identified simply as “Ron,” was peacefully taking part in a 40 Days for Life protest March 21 outside a Planned Parenthood facility.

A bystander’s video captured the moment when an as-yet unidentified attacker stole the victim’s “40 Days for Life” banner. Ron tried to stop the attacker’s bicycle by jamming the stick holding the banner into the spokes of the front wheel, but the attacker knocked him down and kicked him several times, telling him to “stay on the ground, old man, unless you want to get hurt.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">NEW: Video shows 85-year-old man getting kicked outside of a Planned Parenthood in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SanFrancisco?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SanFrancisco</a>. SFPD investigating. Hear from the 85-year-old about what happened, at 11 on <a href="https://twitter.com/nbcbayarea?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nbcbayarea</a>. <a href="https://t.co/d8chXkfjvR">pic.twitter.com/d8chXkfjvR</a></p>&mdash; Ian Cull (@NBCian) <a href="https://twitter.com/NBCian/status/1111133809666191360?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 28, 2019</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Ron is “bruised” but back outside Planned Parenthood to pray as of March 27, and says he thinks his attacker needs “therapy” to get help.

“The vicious attack against our elderly client is intolerable,” said Allison Aranda, Life Legal Senior Counsel, in a March 25 statement.

“We will pursue all legal avenues to see that justice is served and that the freedom to speak freely on the public sidewalk without threat of physical violence is protected no matter the message.”

The same attacker had thrown a sign, table and pro-life literature into the street two days earlier, LLDF reports. The attacker had reportedly knocked two peaceful protesters to the ground, including Ron, during that incident as well.

Police took statements from witnesses after the assault and Ron was treated by paramedics at the scene, according to 40 Days for Life campaign director Shawn Carney.

“While the 800,000 volunteers who participate in our peaceful prayer vigils around the world sign a statement of peace and have always been law-abiding, violence from abortion supporters has increased,” Carney said March 25.

“The gentleman who was attacked will not be deterred nor will other volunteers be deterred from peacefully being a voice for the unborn as many in America advocate for late-term abortion and infanticide. The pro-life movement uses science, medical alternatives, and compassion to change hearts on this crucial issue.”

Carney said in a statement that 40 Days for Life is active in “816 cities in 56 countries” and the group has been “blessed to never have an incident like this one before.”

San Francisco police are investigating the matter as an assault, NBC Bay Area reports.

The LLDF also reported that the Planned Parenthood facility has surveillance footage of the attack area, but is “unwilling” to release it or to cooperate with the police investigation.

CNA contacted Planned Parenthood of Northern California to confirm this, and was told by a spokesperson that PPNC “is fully cooperating with the investigation and the footage has been released to SFPD [San Francisco Police Department].” The spokesperson said it would be up to SFPD to decide whether the surveillance footage would be publicly released.

Georgia passes heartbeart abortion bill despite celebrity criticism

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 16:30

Atlanta, Ga., Apr 1, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Georgia state legislature has passed a controversial fetal heartbeat bill Saturday, despite protests from actors and business executives.

 

H.B. 481, which would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, passed a March 30 vote in the House of Representatives by a vote of 92 to 78--just one above the 91 votes needed for passage.

 

An earlier draft of the bill had already been passed the House, with an amended version passed by the Senate last week before coming back to the House floor on Saturday. Governor Brian Kemp (R) has said that he will sign the bill.

 

Ahead of the vote, a group of 50 actors and actresses threatened a campaign to move film and television production out of Georgia should the bill become law. Led by Alyssa Milano, former star of TV show Who’s the Boss and direct-to-video film Poison Ivy II, the group co-signed an open letter urging Kemp and the state speaker of the house to re-think passage of the bill.

 

Owing to a program of generous tax incentives for the entertainment business, Georgia has eclipsed California as the center of the film production industry in the United States. Over the weekend, the actors were joined by corporate executives from Coca-cola and Amazon in objecting to the bill’s progress.

 

After the bill was passed, many of the Hollywood figures took to Twitter to criticize the legislation, with many repeating their pledge to pull business out of the state.

 

“If Georgia is going to stop pretending it cares about women’s rights by banning abortion, we should stop pretending we want to go there for work,” said Chelsea Handler, star of National Lampoon’s Cattle Call and other productions.

 

Former stand-up comedian turned director Judd Apatow agreed, saying “I guess we won’t be shooting movies and TV in Georgia anymore if this moves forward.”

 

One actress who did not join in on the calls for boycott was Ashley Bratcher, star of the newly-released pro-life film “Unplanned.” Bratcher, herself a resident of Georgia, wrote a rebuttal to Milano defending H.B. 481 and the sanctity of life.

 

“Unplanned,” which tells the story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s ideological conversion, had a successful opening weekend at the box office, doubling many projections for its initial receipts.

 

“Unplanned” earned $6.1 million, placing it in fifth place overall nationwide, and came in third for its per-screen average.

 

Vice President Mike Pence issued his own message of support for the film on Monday, calling it a “deeply inspiring” film via his Twitter account.

 

“More and more Americans are embracing the sanctity of life because of powerful stories like this one,” said Pence.

 

Although Gov. Kemp is expected to sign the bill into law, it is unlikely to come into force. Similar legislation in other states has been subject to immediate legal challenge, with court’s striking down heartbeat laws in Iowa and North Dakota as unconstitutional.

SCOTUS ruling shows divide over ‘permissible’ suffering in executions

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Apr 1, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court issued a decision Monday denying the appeal of a Missouri death row inmate who argued that execution by lethal injection would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” in his case.

The court rejected his appeal in a five-four decision issued April 1, which revived debate on the court about the legal limits on pain inmates can experience during executions.

Russell Bucklew was convicted of kidnapping, rape, and murder in 1996 and sentenced to death. He has not appealed either his conviction or his sentence. Instead, Bucklew contends that a rare medical condition, involving blood-filled tumors in his throat and neck, prevent him from being strapped down on his back, because he could begin to suffocate before a lethal injection could be administered.

Writing in the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch explained that a measure of pain and suffering was expected in executions and that the constitutional bar on “cruel and unusual punishment” did not entitle inmates to a pain-free death.

“When it comes to determining whether a punishment is unconstitutionally cruel because of the pain involved, the law has always asked whether the punishment superadds pain well beyond what’s needed to effectuate a death sentence,” Gorsuch wrote.

The court found that Bucklew offered no alternative means of execution that could be readily implemented by the state and which would offer a more reasonable chance of minimizing pain.

The court also held that he had failed to make a solid case he was at undue risk of pain beyond that which could be expected in the course of an execution.

“His contention that the State may use painful procedures to administer the lethal injection, including forcing him to lie flat on his back (which he claims could impair his breathing even before the pentobarbital is administered), rests on speculation unsupported, if not affirmatively contradicted, by the record.”

“The Eighth Amendment forbids ‘cruel and unusual’ methods of capital punishment but does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death.”

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion in which he questioned both the determination that Bucklew’s medical condition would not “superadd” excessive pain, and that he should be obliged to suggest a readily practical alternative for his own execution.

“Bucklew has easily established a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether an execution by lethal injection would subject him to impermissible suffering,” Breyer wrote.

During evidence, the court heard that each morning, Bucklew begins his day by wiping away the blood which had leaked out of his nose and mouth over night, such is his sensitivity to lying down.

“The evidence, taken in the light most favorable to Bucklew, creates a genuine factual issue as to whether Missouri’s lethal injection protocol would subject him to several minutes of severe pain and suffering.”

Breyer also argued that Bucklew’s condition was so unique that ruling lethal injection to be unconstitutional in his case, even without an alternative put forward, would not open the door to similar challenges from other inmates in Missouri.

Last year, Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church last week to say that the death penalty was now “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” due in part to various improvements in modern prison systems and their ability to keep the public safe.

Since then, bishops in Florida, Tennessee and Washington have all supported an end to capital punishment in their states. Last month, the bishops of California welcomed a moratorium on the death penalty introduced by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

'Gut-wrenching and heart-warming': Nebraska Catholics count blessings after record floods

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 18:01

Lincoln, Neb., Mar 31, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- If you ask a Nebraskan how the historic floods over the past few weeks have affected them, they are likely to count their blessings, and to tell you that it could have been worse.

They’ll thank God for sparing their lives, rather than curse him for the destruction of their homes or the washing away of their cattle.

It’s not, so much, a reflection of the severity of the disastrous flooding (which covered a third of the state at its peak, and will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars in property, crop and livestock losses), but rather a reflection of the faith and indomitability found in many a Nebraskan soul.

“We in Nebraska, we come together,” Tony Hergott told CNA. Hergott is the Disaster Relief Chairman for the Knights of Columbus, and has been coordinating groups of Knights to assist in some of the hardest-hit communities in Nebraska, including his own hometown of Columbus, which sits just north of the Loup river right before it meets up with the Platte.

“The biggest challenge we have as Nebraskans is – there’s a lot of pride in Nebraska. People don’t ask for help. You get up, you dust yourself off, you change your clothes, and you fix it – and then you go and help your neighbor, and that’s just the way it is,” Hergott said.

Many people won’t ask for assistance, even if they badly need it, until they are done taking care of their neighbors, he added.

“Its gut-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time,” he said.

On Wednesday, March 14, heavy rains piled on top of already-heavy snows to create the perfect storm of flooding conditions. Rivers and waterways throughout the eastern part of the state overflowed their banks to historic levels, washing away roads, homes, bridges, livestock, and anything else that stood in the way.

To lay down his life for his friends

Fortunately, evacuations and the quick responses of emergency workers resulted in very few lives lost to the floods in Nebraska, though at least one life was lost while trying to save the life of another.

James Wilke, a farmer near Columbus, set out on Wednesday with his tractor, guided by emergency workers, to try and save the life of a motorist stranded in the flood waters on a country road.

When Wilke drove his tractor out over a bridge on Shell Creek, the bridge collapsed under the weight of the tractor and the pressure of the floodwaters, sweeping Wilke and his tractor downstream. Wilke’s body was later found downstream, near his own farm, reported the Omaha World-Herald.

Hergott said that while Wilke was not a Knight of Columbus, he was a “faith-filled man who...embodied all that it is to be a Knight, in service to his brother. ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’ He went out to try to save one life and in return gave his.”

“When you see things like that, it moves you,” he said.

Hergott said the Knights of Columbus immediately reached out to the Wilke family to offer financial assistance and support.

The Knights also sent groups out to the hardest-hit communities in the area, including North Bend, where they talked to families, handed out food, water, cleaning supplies and gift cards, and hosted a fish fry for the other emergency responders and volunteers.

“It’s a Catholic community over there, we wanted to make sure that the Catholics had non-meat to eat on a Friday in Lent,” he said.

“When we were cooking fish and everyone was sitting down to eat, people were joking around like nothing ever happened,” he said. “I mean it’s like your dinner table where you talk and you tell your stories, your good times and bad times, but it’s family time.”

Hergott said the flooding in Columbus and the surrounding areas has been catastrophic, though they are only just beginning to get the full gist of exactly how much property has been damaged or lost.

Some of the greatest needs going forward are going to be hot water heaters and furniture, as well as financial assistance for rebuilding, he said.

He also asked for prayers.

“In North Bend a lady told me, 'well, all we can do is pray'. And I said, 'no, the greatest thing we can do is pray'. Don’t downgrade praying, that is the greatest thing. Somebody told me that years ago, and I’ve used that ever since,” he said.

“It’s just stuff that we lost.”

Carol Waldow is a 73 year-old Nebraskan from Bellevue who also spoke of the importance of prayer.

On the day the floods came, Waldow was ordered to evacuate her home by emergency responders.

“I just said: Dear God, what am I supposed to do? And he said: Get out!”

Waldow escaped with her husband and their two poodles. Their home, which sat in a development right next to Offutt Air Force Base, was destroyed.

Waldow and her husband moved in with one of their sons and his family. They’ve already found a new, closer parish to go to in the interim (St. Wenceslaus in Omaha) and are signing the lease on a new, small apartment “so we’ll have somewhere to lay our heads.”

Waldow said that while thinking of her losses can sometimes make her “weepy,” she knows that she still has all of the most important things.

“It’s just stuff that we lost,” Waldow told CNA.

“I didn’t lose my faith, I didn’t lose my family, and I didn’t lose my friends. You know, and I really wasn’t living for all that stuff anyway, I’m living for better rewards in heaven. I’m not living for those knickknacks and pictures and things like that,” she said.

Waldow said she hoped the flood would be a good reminder to everyone that “we don’t live forever.”

“The things that we have are all gifts of God anyway, and we need to remember that to God we shall return, and it’s only through his blessing that we have life anyway,” she said.

When she’s tempted to feel sorry for herself, Waldow said she gets out her Magnificat and says her prayers.

“It’s just such a blessing that I have my faith, because without my faith and my family and my friends I’d have nothing anyway. It just brings me closer to God,” she said.

“We can’t always choose the kind of Lent we will have”

The levels and severity of the flooding was unlike anything most Nebraskans have seen in the state in their lifetimes.

“It came on so fast; I talked to a lady who was in her 90s, and she said that the only flood that was near this was in 1943, so it was kind of a once-in-a-hundred-years type of situation,” said Father Tim Forget, who, like many priests in rural Nebraska, is the pastor of two parishes – St. Jane Frances in Randolph and St. Mary in Osmond.

And, like many rural priests that Wednesday, Forget ended up being stranded away from his parish when the floods hit. Forget, who normally lives in Randolph, drove to Osmond that Wednesday to celebrate Mass and to hold adoration.

But soon after making the trip over, he realized: “Wow, this is really getting bad quick.”

Parents started calling to get their kids from school, and Forget opened up the normally-vacant Osmond rectory to teachers and families who couldn’t get back home. Then he tried to make the trip back to his Randolph rectory, but ended up rerouting to Norfolk, a nearby town, due to the numerous road closures.

Forget said his parishes “thankfully” didn’t sustain any damage, while the Catholic school had some water in the basement. Some parishioners homes were not as lucky.

Despite the damages, “there’s been a lot of positive people, it’s a very tight Catholic parish,” Forget said.

In a reflection in his March 31 bulletin, Forget wrote: “Small town Nebraska has a lot to teach the outside world about coming together and helping. We can’t always choose the kind of Lent we will have but we can choose what we will do when it comes to us. In so many ways I see all of you being such amazing examples of what it means to be a Christian family.”

Fr. Bill L'Heureux is another rural Nebraska priest whose life was made more interesting by the flooding, as he pastors four parishes in northeastern Nebraska: St. Lawrence in Silver Creek, St. Peter and Paul in Krakow, St. Rose of Lima in Genoa, and St. Edward in St. Edward.

After the floods, he offered to help another priest in a nearby parish with adoration.

“I told him I had to go through two time zones, the Pony Express, one Indian reservation and three check stations to get there,” he joked. “It’s kind of fun.”

Every weekend, L'Heureux celebrates one Mass at each parish. Except now, he is cut off from his St. Edward parish due to washed-away bridges and closed roads.

Like in Osmund, St. Edward was able to open up the vacant rectory to host some families who were driven out of their homes by the flooding until they could make more permanent arrangements, he said.

“I’m just so proud of everybody stepping up and helping each other out and taking care of their neighbors, it’s all the stuff we preach about on Sunday,” he said, recalling the Gospel passage about the fig tree bearing fruit.

“I’m just the gardener,” he said.

About 70 miles to the east of the Silver Creek area, the city of Fremont turned into an island after the floods cut off all roads and bridges leading into town.

Fr. William Nolte, pastor of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Fremont, had to be flown back into the town from Omaha after getting stranded during the floods.

“I called my principal and said hey, if you know anybody who has a plane or a helicopter so I can get out of here, whatever it costs, I’m going to need to get back. Within 15 minutes I got a call that it just so happened that a neighbor four doors down flies to work and he had flown in that day and gave me a ride back. It was very providential,” he said. “So it’s amazing how God has been taking care of his family down here.”

Nolte said people in the Fremont area are bracing for the long-haul; recovery from the floods could take months and in some cases years.

“This is not just a one week, two week, one month problem. This is going to be a problem, but an opportunity to take care of one another – this is going to be a several-year opportunity. And so they're bracing for that,” Nolte said.

Father Kizito Okhuoya is the pastor in the towns of Niobrara and Verdigre, which bore some of the worst of the brunt of the floods when the nearby Spencer dam failed March 14.

“The words I use are devastating, shocking, overwhelming, just unbelievable,” he said.

“People who have lived here all their life have never seen anything like it, some people recall that there was a flood in the '60s, but it’s nothing close to what they experienced this time around. We were kind of blindsided because nobody saw this coming,” he said.

While the parishes were spared any major damage, many homes were lost or damaged, and farms that had been in families for generations were wiped out. Chunks of ice swept in by the floods made much of the area nearly impassable before they melted.

“Parishioners lost a lot of their possessions,” Okhuoya said. “People lost collectibles, sentimental things, people lost a lot of stuff.”

But people from neighboring communities have stepped up to help, he added, sending crews of people to clean up mud, or pump out water, or haul trash out of flooded basements.

“It’s been unbelievable the generosity, the outreach, the kindness, the compassion that people have shown us, it’s very humbling for me to see all that,” he said.

The Archdiocese of Omaha has a special collection for flood relief, and he said he’s been getting calls of spiritual and material support from many places throughout the country.

Okhuoya said the clean-up process has been “very emotional”, as people come to terms with the scope of the losses they’ve suffered, so he teamed up with the Methodist pastor in town to offer an ecumenical prayer service where people were able to pray together and read God’s word, he said.

“In my weekend homilies since this happened, I’ve been pushing messages of hope and of God’s love, a message of gratitude. A message that maybe there are lessons here, that God wants us to rethink our priorities and focus on the things are important, because like I said in one of my homilies, sometimes we quibble and fight over nothing. But when this flood hit, nobody was fighting,” he said.

Small towns can sometimes have a way of letting small divisions fester over time, but it shouldn’t take a disaster to bring people together, Okhuoya said.

“Why can’t we stay this way? Why do we have to allow things like this to happen to force us to create that connection and to care and to show compassion? Why can’t we just always do that? We don’t need all these calamities to push us to where we can show that kind of compassion always,” he said.

“So why can’t we learn the lessons and always be the best we can be, as Christians, as Catholics, as citizens of this country, and do the best to work with each other, and do whatever is good, whatever is honorable, or whatever is going to touch the lives of people. For me … I think that’s what I am learning.”

Arizona home helps women rebuild lives after prison

Sun, 03/31/2019 - 06:13

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 31, 2019 / 04:13 am (CNA).- Women leaving prison can face numerous challenges – from finding housing and employment despite a criminal record to repairing relationships with family members and friends.

At one women’s home in Flagstaff, Arizona, former inmates receive help getting back on their feet. The home, run by Catholic Charities, has seen so much success in its first few years that it is now planning to expand.

Since it opened in 2016, the Juniper House has helped 55 women re-enter society after leaving jail – with a sober environment, manageable rent, and the resources to get their lives on track.

The Juniper House began through a partnership developed between Catholic Charities and the local authorities.

Sandi Flores, Catholic Charities Community Services’ senior programs director for the northern offices, said the project works with the woman who have gone through Exodus, a sobriety program completed during incarceration.

“[It began with] some interest from the local sheriff department and jail folk, who were looking for an alternative for women who were exiting the substance abuse program that was offered at the jail. So we collaborated with them.”

Since women will exit the Exodus program at different times, the Juniper House staff consistently conducts interviews at the jail once a month. The house only holds eight women at a time, so there is growing wait list.

Women who going through the program will set goals, like focusing on jobs, completing their education, or reuniting with family members.

Flores said many of these women will face challenges that hinder these goals and their recovery. A criminal record may make it hard for the individuals to find work, and past friendships may push the women back into substance abuse.

The goal of the Juniper House, she said, is to minimize the stresses these women face as they exit incarceration, giving them the best possible shot at remaining substance free, finding work, and moving forward with their lives.

Residents receive free rent for the first month, followed by discounted rent. This allows them to focus on sobriety and accessing resources, like school or searching for employment.

“It gives them a chance, when they first get out, to be in a sober living environment, focus on recovery, to work at getting a job, learning to budget their funds, build some social support and social connections that don’t involve alcohol or drugs,” said Flores.

Unlike many other halfway homes, Flores said, the Juniper House allows residents a significant amount of freedom. Women who live at the house can take behavioral medication and work late if necessary. They are not removed from the program if they relapse, but instead will be coached alongside a case manager to develop a recover plan. And they are able to move at their own pace, with some staying a house for a few months, and others for up to a year.

Flores said the one of the house’s most beautiful qualities is the accountability that develops among the women. While it can be difficult for people in general to give or receive feedback, she said, the women routinely warn each other about dangerous behavior or motivate each other to find better solutions.

“They empower each other, and they support each other, and they are quick to point out when they are seeing something that is starting to go wrong.”

“We don’t want them to feel accountable to us. That’s not our role. Our role is to provide an opportunity for them and the support and resources to help themselves to permanent stability. Holding them accountable to us is not the message, is not the mission. Letting them be accountable to each other is very strong and powerful.”

According to the Catholic Sun, 50 percent of the residents are expected to gain income within 30 days and 80 percent to gain income within 60 days. Four in ten are working to reunite with their children. Last year alone, the house served 25 women.

The Diocese of Phoenix now wants to use the Juniper House as a model for similar homes across the state of Arizona. A diocesan campaign that began two years ago has raised the funds to help the project expand to Maricopa County and Yavapai County, with $1 million going toward the expansion.

Flores expressed hope that the project will continue to grow, providing more women with the opportunity for rehabilitation.

At Catholic Charities, she said, “it is always our mission to serve our community’s most vulnerable. So we are always looking to see what is that vulnerable population that is not being served.”

 

Will LGBT activists split the Methodists?

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- While the United Methodist Church has reaffirmed traditional Christian teaching on controversial LGBT issues, some American leaders in the denomination have rejected that decision, and now are organizing either to resist the decision or split into a new denomination.

“In the weeks since, several small but powerful cadres of pastors and bishops have begun plotting paths to overturn or undermine the decision,” the Washington Post reported March 29.

One group of objectors has “a methodical, political-organizing-style plan for drawing others into their fight,” the Post said. Their meetings this week and next in Dallas and Atlanta will host 30 clergy and leaders, including seven LGBT leaders. Another 500 leaders will meet in May at a Kansas church. They hope to draw 5,000 Methodist leaders to a planned meeting this fall.

In a February 2019 Methodist leadership gathering in St. Louis, called the Special Session of the General Conference, Methodist delegates from around the world voted to reaffirm church teaching that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” They rejected same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually active homosexuals. Under the Traditional Plan, approved in a narrow vote, penalties were increased for ministers who attempt to perform a same-sex wedding.

That decision reflected global divisions and demographic shifts. American delegates largely rejected the plan, but it had strong support from delegates representing parts of the world where the denomination is fast growing, such as Africa. The continent is on track to add five new Methodist bishops and a fourth central conference starting in 2021, United Methodist News Service reports.

The United Methodist Church is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the U.S., where it has about 6 million members. It claims about 12 million members worldwide.

In reaction to the vote, some Methodist churches in the U.S. displayed rainbow banners or took out newspaper advertisements that voiced grief over the decision. Some individuals and leaders circulated letters, petitions and proposals for action. Some regional leadership groups, called conferences, will reportedly consider barring funding for hearing complaints, investigating and censuring violations of church law related to LGBTQ ordination or marriage.

Not all American Methodists objected to the decision.

“I believe we are watching the stages of grief play out before our eyes in the reaction of our brothers and sisters who wanted to see church teachings changed,” Rev. Chris Ritter, a traditionalist, told the United Methodist News Service.

Objectors will gather this May at the 20,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in the Kansas City suburb of Leawood, Kan., the largest Methodist church in the U.S.

“I’ve been astounded at the number of emails, phone calls, text messages I’m receiving from churches across the country saying we can’t live like this,” Rev. Adam Hamilton, the church’s pastor, told the Washington Post.

Hamilton described these churches as “centrist,” and said they felt the decision marked a change from “the United Methodism that we have always known and loved.”

“To be in a church that will be in the future led by the most conservative caucus in our denomination feels untenable for them,” said Hamilton.

The Reconciling Ministries Network is a major backer of LGBT advocacy within Methodism. It said 18 new churches and communities and more than 3,000 people have joined its ranks since the February general conference.

One member congregation in Columbus, Ohio, King Avenue United Methodist Church, put its denominational payments into escrow as a protest of the vote to uphold traditional Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality. Similar financial action came from another member congregation, Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, which has also covered the words “United Methodist” on its church sign.

LGBT advocacy within Christian denominations and churches has external support, such as the New York-based Arcus Foundation. Since 2011 the foundation has given $1.9 million in grants to the Reconciling Ministries Network, the foundation’s website says. It has also “backed pro-LGBT” church policy advocacy from the Methodist group Church Properties Reimagined, Inc.

Arcus-backed groups helped foster a split within the global Anglican Communion over homosexuality. The foundation is also a patron for  dissenting Catholic groups like Catholics for Choice, Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition. The foundation has funded LGBT advocacy groups in Africa and has been a partner to the U.S. State Department’s Global Equality Fund, established under President Obama, which acts to defend what it considers to be “the human rights and fundamental freedoms” of LGBT people.

United Methodist supporters of LGBT advocacy are not the only ones reporting more interest and reactions.

Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a traditionalist offshoot from mainline Methodism, told United Methodist News Service that his organization has also seen an “uptick” in membership and inquiries.

“The responses that have been on the traditional side have not been of the dramatic public expression — newspaper ads and those sorts of things,” Boyette said. Rather, the focus is on questions like “How can we continue to be invested in a church that is this broken?”

Hamilton said the American Methodists who disagree with the decision could split from the global domination, or work to resist it.

Resistance would probably be financial with large American churches halting their donations to the denomination, Hamilton told the Washington Post. This would be done out of hope it would result in an agreement to hold another LGBT vote at the 2020 global meeting. Delegates from Africa and Russia would have to agree to the new vote, and the American faction hopes they would acquiesce in order to preserve funding for mission projects.

An alternative could be that all American Methodists of various beliefs, including backers of Methodist teaching who would prefer a separation, vote in favor of a split into two denominations.
 
The denomination’s judicial council must reconsider the constitutionality of a disaffiliation plan approved at the recent global gathering – a plan it previously ruled unconstitutional.

United Methodists in Norway and Denmark are considering responses that might include leaving the denomination as a last resort. The executive committee of Germany’s United Methodists unanimously approved a statement calling the traditional plan’s stipulations “not acceptable for our church.”

David Reed, a traditionalist lay leader with the Methodists’ Memphis Conference who chaired its delegation to the general conference’s special session, said leaders on both sides are saying “we’ve got to find a way not to continue to work in conflict with each other.”

Some clergy have pledged to disobey church teaching despite increased penalties, while others advise only following the letter of the law.

Bishop Kenneth Carter of Florida, who had backed the proposed One Church Plan to allow local changes to church practice on ordination and marriage, is discouraging pastors from witnessing vows or signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, the Washington Post said. At the same time, he is encouraging pastors to give premarital counseling or take part in those ceremonies by reading Scripture, giving communion or delivering the sermon.

Texas AG investigating potential discrimination against Chick-fil-A

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 20:00

San Antonio, Texas, Mar 29, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is investigating the San Antonio City Council for potential First Amendment violations. The council voted last week to disinvite Chick-fil-A from opening a store in the city-owned airport based on the religious beliefs of Chick-fil-A’s executives.

San Antonio Councilman Roberto Treviño on March 21 offered an amendment to a contract with a concessions company at the San Antonio International Airport that removed the nationwide chain of chicken restaurants from the plans, stating that he objected to the company’s “history of donating to organizations that oppose LGBTQ rights,” according to the San Antonio Express News.

Paxton announced March 28 that he had sent a letter informing the mayor and city council members that he is opening an investigation into the council’s decision.

“The City of San Antonio’s decision to exclude Chick-fil-A based on the religious beliefs associated with the company and its owners is the opposite of tolerance,” Paxton said in his statement.

“It’s discriminatory, and not only out of step with Texas values, but inconsistent with the Constitution and Texas law.”

Paxton says he also requested, by separate letter, that United States Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao open an investigation into the City of San Antonio’s potential violation of federal law and Transportation Department regulations.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio reportedly sided with Councilman Treviño in opposing Chick-fil-A, but argued that the chicken restaurant should be excluded because, in part, the chain is closed on Sundays and it is not a local restaurant, the San Antonio Express News reports.

One San Antonio councilman, Greg Brockhouse, sent a letter to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy on March 26 apologizing for the decision, saying that “in spite of this decision, San Antonio is a welcoming City that values diversity, faith, and inclusivity,” and noting that Chick-fil-A “employs and serves everyone, without prejudice, discrimination, or hate.”

In a separate, similar case, a concessionaire at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York canceled plans to build a new Chick-fil-A franchise yesterday after previously announcing that Chick-fil-A would anchor a new restaurant area there.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan was quoted as saying in the Buffalo News that "a publicly financed facility...is not the appropriate venue for a Chick-fil-A restaurant.”

Though Chick-fil-A is an equal opportunity employer, controversy over its supposed LGBT opposition stems from the organization’s financial support, through two nonprofit arms, for a number of Christian charitable organizations, several of which publicly affirm support for the Christian view of marriage.

Some of the largest beneficiaries of Chick-fil-A’s donations in the past few years have been highlighted and branded “anti-gay” by LGBT advocacy groups such as the Human Rights Campaign.

Chick-fil-A operates two nonprofit organizations— the Chick-Fil-A foundation and the WinShape Foundation— through which it distributes donations and grants. In fiscal year 2017, Chick-fil-A distributed $9.9 million in donations through the Chick-fil-A foundation, or less than 0.1 percent of the company’s $9 billion annual revenue.

The WinShape Foundation primarily funds marriage retreats as well as youth camps and foster homes, according to tax documents.

According to the Chick-fil-A Foundation’s 990 tax form for fiscal year 2016, the Georgia-based nonprofit donated to more than 250 organizations across the country, including the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta, a Georgia refugee support group, and a Georgia Catholic high school.

Most of the groups receiving donations are focused on community, family, or youth support, and much of their work is nonpolitical in nature.

The donations range from just $125 to an Atlanta organization that helps families transition out of homelessness, to nearly $1.6 million donated to various chapters of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in 2017.

FCA is a Kansas City, Missouri-based Christian organization that organizes sports camps and Bible studies for young athletes. FCA’s Statement of Faith, among other Scripture-based tenets, affirms the Christian view of marriage.

“God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman,” it reads.

“We believe that God created all human beings in His image. Therefore, we believe that human life is sacred from conception to its natural end; that we must honor the physical and spiritual needs of all people; following Christ’s example, we believe that every person should be treated with love, dignity and respect,” the statement continues.

Another oft-cited “anti-LGBT” organization is the Salvation Army, a Christian organization deicated to helping the poor, which recieved $150,000 from Chick-fil-A in 2017, making it possible to provide Christmas gifts to “11,000 children in need throughout the Atlanta area,” Chick-fil-A says.

“To suggest that our efforts in supporting these organizations was focused on suppressing a group of people is misleading and inaccurate,” the company has stated.

“It is well-known that our Founder S. Truett Cathy used biblical principles to guide our business in its formative stages, and that we still uphold those same principles today.”

Media and activist scrutiny of Chick-fil-A heated up in 2012, when company president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy, an outspoken Christian and son of the late founder, gave an interview to the Baptist Press and expressed his support for a traditional view of marriage, based on his Christian faith.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy told the Baptist Press.

“We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,” Cathy said.

The Chick-fil-A Foundation did not respond to CNA’s media request by press time.

Underground bishop, vicar general detained in China's Hebei province

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 19:01

Xuanhua, China, Mar 29, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A bishop of the underground Church in China's Hebei province and his vicar general were placed in detention this week, and a lay Catholic activist was jailed in Hong Kong.

According to UCA News, Coadjutor Bishop Augustine Cui Tai of Xuanhua and his vicar general, Father Zhang Jianlin, were detained by officials of Hebei province this week.

“The government’s aim is to paralyze the diocese. If the diocese fails to manage the community, then the government will use this as an opportunity to take it over,” an anonymous priest from the underground Church told UCA News.

According to the UCA News, the bishop had been taken in custody the morning of March 29 after he received a text message in regards to his arrest. He had also been detained for indoctrination in April last year and was recently released in January.

UCA News reported that Father Zhang was seized March 28 for violating a traveling restriction. Since his identity papers were confiscated, the priest has not been allowed to travel even to a neighboring city.

In November two of Bishop Cui's priests, Fr. Su Guipeng and Fr. Zhao He, were abducted to be “indoctrinated on the religious policy of the Chinese government … because they refuse to enroll in the Patriotic Association.” Two priests of the Diocese of Chongli-Xiwanzi, also in Hebei, were also taken.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Yip Po-lam, a member of the Justice Peace Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong, was jailed March 28. A court had refused to hear an appeal regarding a conviction she received five years ago for disturbing the peace during a protest.

The peaceful demonstrations were protesting the controversial Northeast New Territories Development Plan, which displaced villagers and damaged property. Chairman of the Hong Kong Catholic Institution Staff Association, Alexander Yu, decried the court’s decision, stating Yip had acted justly, according to UCA News.

“We agree with Yip’s action as her motives were genuine when calling on the general public to examine the injustices of the development plan,” he said. “The social teaching of the Catholic Church points out that our love for neighbors urges us to seek social justice.”

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

In September 2018 the Holy See and Beijing reached an agreement meant to normalize the situation of China’s Catholics and to unify the underground Church and the CPCA.

The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

In December, two bishops of the underground Catholic Church agreed to step aside in favor of bishops of the CPCA, in the wake of the September agreement.

One test of the result of the Holy See-Beijing agreement may be the appointment of a bishop to the Diocese of Jining (Wumeng) in Inner Mongolia.

The South China Morning Post reported March 29 that the diocese is nearing its selection of episcopal candidates, making it the first time that the Vatican and Beijing might agree on a bishop appointment since the September 2018 accord.

Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. The Sinicization of religion has been pushed by President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013 and who has strengthened government oversight of religious activities.

In 2017, Xi said that religions not sufficiently conformed to communist ideals pose a threat to the country’s government, and therefore must become more “Chinese-oriented.” Since he took power, crosses have been removed from an estimated 1,500 church buildings.

Reports of the destruction or desecration of Catholic churches and shrines have come from across China, including the provinces of Hebei, Henan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, and Shandong.

The US Commission on International Religion wrote in its 2018 report that last year China “advanced its so-called 'sinicization' of religion, a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with 'Chinese characteristics.'” Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners have all been affected.

Texas bishops praise delayed execution of prisoner denied Buddhist chaplain

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which represents the state’s 32 bishops, issued a statement on Friday praising the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the execution of Patrick Murphy. Murphy, a Buddhist, was denied access to a Buddhist minister during his scheduled execution.

 

“The Catholic bishops of Texas applaud the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution of Patrick Henry Murphy since he did not have access to a spiritual director of his faith,” said the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.

 

“Our country was founded on the rights of each individual to exercise his faith, regardless of whether in prison or in a church. May Mr. Murphy find peace and wise counsel in his search for purity and truth,” they said.

 

Murphy’s execution had been scheduled for Thursday. One month prior to his execution date, he requested the presence of his spiritual advisor in the execution chamber. His request was denied, as the Buddhist minister is not an employee of the prison. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice only employs Christian and Muslim chaplains.

 

Seven Supreme Court justices agreed that Murphy’s rights had been violated and that his execution should be stayed. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not join the majority opinion.

 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court’s newest member, authored a concurring opinion explaining why the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had violated Murphy’s rights.

 

Kavanaugh said that that allowing only Christian and Muslim ministers to be present with death row inmates in the execution chamber was discriminatory, suggesting that a more just resolution would be that no chaplains be permitted in the execution chamber and instead they be allowed to sit in the viewing area.

 

"What the State may not do, in my view, is allow Christian or Muslim inmates but not Buddhist inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room,” said Kavanaugh.

 

Murphy was sentenced to death for his role in the murder of Officer Aubrey Hawkins on Christmas Eve, 2000.

 

Murphy, who had escaped from prison 11 days earlier, together with six other inmates known collectively as the ‘Texas 7,’ was present at the scene of a robbery in Irving, TX. Murphy remained inside the car, listening to a police scanner, and warned the others when the police were coming to the scene. Murphy was directed to leave the scene by the other members of the group who were robbing the store, and he left.

 

Hawkins, an off-duty police officer who came across the robbery, was shot 11 times by other members of the group, and then run over with a stolen car. Murphy was neither present for nor aware of Hawkins’ death until afterwards.

 

Six of the “Texas 7” were captured one month later, in Colorado. The seventh member of the group died by suicide before the police could arrest him. All were sentenced to death for Hawkins’ murder, as Texas law permits capital punishment for those who were involved in the act of a capital crime.

 

Murphy and one other member of the group are still awaiting execution.

'Unplanned' star opens up about her own unplanned pregnancy

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 17:19

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2019 / 03:19 pm (CNA).- Ashley Bratcher, star of the film Unplanned, opened up about her own unplanned pregnancy during an interview Thursday on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

The film tells the story of Abby Johnson’s conversion from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life leader. After becoming pro-life, Johnson later converted to Catholicism and went on to found And Then There Were None, a ministry that helps abortion clinic workers leave their jobs.

Bratcher, who portrays Johnson in the film, wrote on Facebook earlier this month that she has her own “Unplanned” story.

“My Unplanned baby turned 9 today,” Bratcher wrote in the post honoring her son.



In an interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly’s Catherine Hadro, Bratcher said that she had a “sense of shame” about her pregancy since she wasn’t married at the time, and spent “a lot of years keeping it a secret.”

Her role in Unplanned, Bratcher said, made her realize that sharing her own story would “empower a lot of people to share and say, ‘I chose life.’”

Contrary to those who told her she would throw away her acting career by having a child, Bratcher said she knew she could “have a successful, very happy life with a child.”

“Yeah, I was scared,” she said. “I was young, I didn’t know how things were going to go, I didn’t have a job, I wasn’t married, but I knew that there was this incredible life growing inside of me.”

Bratcher explained that though her journey was worthwhile, it wasn’t easy.

 

“I remember calling out to God at that time and saying – God, what is my purpose here? I don’t understand.”@UnplannedMovie actress @_AshleyBratcher opens up to for the first time to @EWTNProLife about her unplanned pregnancy and choosing life for her son. pic.twitter.com/0VBNtc53TS

— Catherine Hadro (@CatSzeltner) March 28, 2019


 

“I just remember calling out to God at that time and saying, ‘God, what is my purpose here? I don’t understand, I don’t understand what I’m doing here,” she said.

It was during that time, Bratcher said, that she came to understand God’s love, “because if I could love this little, tiny person growing inside of me that much, how much more God must love me.”

Bratcher said that her son “saved me.”

“He taught me to love unconditionally, and what it meant to put someone else ahead of myself,” she said. “And having my child empowered me, because it made me want to be a better person, it made me fight for something, it just taught me so much about life because I chose to have him.”

Asked what she would tell women facing unplanned pregnancies, Bratcher replied that “there are people who will love you and stand by you.”

“You may think that this is the end of your life, or the end of your career,” she continued. “That’s just a lie, that is a lie that society has perpetuated right now to make you believe—and that’s something Planned Parenthood is really good at doing—is saying, ‘you can’t be successful and have a child, you can’t have a fulfilling career or a happy life and have a child.’ And what abortion does is it preys on that vulnerability. It makes women believe that they really can’t, when in reality, having a child is one of the most empowering things that you can do.”
 
Bratcher also said that it is “critical” that “Unplanned” has a successful opening weekend, which is “make or break it for a film.”

“If they want to support this cause, and they want to show the culture that this is important, that we can change society’s view on abortion, we need them to show up,” she said.

Abortion and life issues in the film industry took an unexpected turn the day before the film’s release. On March 28, a group of actors published an open letter threatening to boycott the state of Georgia if its governor signed a bill banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

The signatories, who include Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, Rosie O’Donnell, Gabrielle Union, and Sean Penn, called the pro-life bill “dangerous and deeply-flawed” and pledged to were to do “everything in our power to move our industry to a safer state for women” if it should pass.

Since 2016, Georgia has become the leading state for the production of feature films, eclipsing even California, due in large part to the state’s generous tax initiatives for production companies.

Bratcher, who herself lives in Georgia, offered her own response in defense of life and the state where she lives.

“I’m incredibly proud of my home state for taking a stand in the fight for life amidst backlash and dubious threats,” she wrote in an open letter carried by Deadline, the site which carried the actors’ original letter.

“In Georgia, we care just as much about being pro-life as being pro-film” and that Georgians “don’t believe in putting a price tag on human life.” Rather than foolish, Bratcher said that she thinks Georgia’s pro-life politicians are “brave.”

Noting the economic pressure the protesting actors were trying to bring to bear, Bratcher offered a simple observation about the relative priorities of the two issues.

“How sad is it that tax credits are a more important topic than the sanctity of human life?”

Unplanned opens in theaters March 29.
 

 

Kate Scanlon is the producer of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

Poll finds two-thirds of New Yorkers oppose late-term abortion

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 13:30

Albany, N.Y., Mar 29, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The vast majority of New Yorkers are opposed to late-term abortion, a new Marist Poll has found. The opposition comes despite the recent passage of the state’s Reproductive Health Act, which found a comfortable majority in the state legislature.

 

The poll, which was co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, found that while nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers identify as being “pro-choice,” they oppose to the idea of late-term abortion.

 

In January, the New York State Assembly and Senate easily passed the Reproductive Health Act, which codified the Roe v. Wade decision and removed nearly all restrictions on abortion.

 

Although the law easily passed through the legislative process, average New Yorkers are far less radical on abortion compared to their representatives. The poll found that 75 percent of New York residents are opposed to abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Only 20 percent of those surveyed said they approved of late-term abortion.

 

Those opposed to abortion after 20 weeks included nearly 70 percent of surveyed Democrats, 73 percent of political independents and 89 percent of Republicans.

 

Only two Democratic members of the state Senate voted against the Reproductive Health Act, alongside every Republican senator.

 

“New Yorkers simply do not support laws that allow late-term abortions,” said Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus. Anderson called the Reproductive Health Act a “radical policy” that is against the wishes of average people from all political stripes.

 

Previously, abortion was legal in New York until the 24th week of a pregnancy. Under the new law, abortion is permissable throughout an entire pregnancy, until the moment of birth, if it is deemed necessary to preserve the “health” of the mother. The Reproductive Health Act also removed abortion from the state’s criminal code, ending to potential to prosecute assailents who violently induce a miscarriage and allows for medical professionals other than doctors to perform abortions.

 

To mark the passage of the law, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), a professed Catholic, ordered various landmarks throughout the state to be lit up in bright pink. Cuomo also stated that he hopes other states will follow New York’s lead and pass similar legislation.

 

Despite being home to one of the most liberal abortion laws in the country, the poll found that New Yorkers are not particularly any more in favor of late-term abortion than the rest of the country. In February, an earlier Marist found that 71 percent of Americans opposed abortion after 20 weeks. Only 18 percent supported late-term abortion.

 

Fewer than one-third of those surveyed in the latest poll said they thought abortion should be “generally legal” in the last trimester of a pregnancy. Just over half of Democrats, 53 percent, agreed that third-trimester abortion should be “generally illegal.” This figure rose to 65 percent among political independents and to 84 percent of Republicans.

 

The poll indicated that two out of every three New Yorkers surveyed said they would limit abortion to the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. This figure is below national polling, which found that about 80 percent of Americans would limit abortion to the first trimester at the most.

 

Since the Reproductive Health Act passed, several other states have heeded Cuomo’s directive and attempted to pass a similar bill, including Vermont and Virginia. The legislation passed in Vermont’s House of Representatives, and did not get out of committee in Virginia. Similar legislation is under consideration in Illinois.

New lawsuit claims Bishop Bransfield sexually abused seminarians

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 19:16

Wheeling, W.V., Mar 28, 2019 / 05:16 pm (CNA).- A new lawsuit against the former bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, claims that the prelate sexually assaulted seminarians, a claim that he has denied.

A former seminarian filed the lawsuit against Bishop Michael Bransfield last week. The plaintiff, who is identified as J.E., said the bishop had harassed him for years prior to a case of sexual assault.

“Bishop Bransfield was a sexual predator with a lustful disposition,” states the lawsuit, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “After being placed in a position of trust by [the Church, he] sexually abused, molested, fondled and assaulted J.E. and other adolescent and ‘adult’ males.”

J.E. said Bransfield would often become drunk from orange liqueur and make sexual advances toward seminarians. He said the bishop, after returning home intoxicated one night, had exposed himself and groped J.E. while the two men were on a church trip in 2014.

The plaintiff says he had been the bishop’s altar server and personal secretary. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the lawsuit seeks compensation for psychological injuries and loss of employment, claiming the diocese, the U.S. bishops’ conference, and other unnamed church leaders were also responsible for the damages.

In 2012, Bransfield was accused of covering up sexual misconduct by other priests, as well as molesting a minor. Bransfield denied these allegations, calling them “completely false,” and the alleged victim came forward to say that he was never abused by Bransfield.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope.

In accepting his resignation, Pope Francis named Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to be apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston and asked him to launch an investigation into allegations of “sexual harassment of adults” against Bransfield.

On March 11, Archbishop Lori announced restrictions on the ministry of Bransfield, forbidding him from priestly or episcopal ministries in the dioceses of Wheeling-Charleston or Baltimore. The results of Lori’s investigation have been sent to the Holy See, where a final decision about Bransfield will be made.

Bransfield has consistently denied all accusations, claiming them to be “completely false.” He told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday that the allegations are part of a conspiracy against him, seeking financial gain.

“They’re all out to destroy me,” Bransfield said. “I wasn’t even that friendly with this person.”

Another lawsuit, filed earlier this month, claims that the diocese and former bishop had knowingly placed sex abusers in roles that work with children, without disclosing their background to parents. It also says the diocese failed to conduct thorough background checks before hiring employees.

The diocese said some of the allegations in the lawsuit involved misconduct that took place half a century ago and other cases had not been described accurately.

It argued that the suit did not justly represent the overall contribution of Catholic schools and their employees “who work every day to deliver quality education in West Virginia.”

 

Prominent actors threaten boycott of Georgia over heartbeat abortion bill

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 18:01

Atlanta, Ga., Mar 28, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A group of actors are threatening to boycott the state of Georgia should its governor sign a bill banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

Led by actress Alyssa Milano, a group of about 50 celebrities signed an open letter Thursday addressed to Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Hon. David Ralston (R), the Georgia Speaker of the House, saying that they do not want H.B. 481 to become law. Milano films her show “Insatiable” in Georgia.

“We’ve always found (Georgia) to be populated with friendly and caring people,” says the letter. “We’ve found the hotels in which we stay and restaurants in which we dine while filming there to be comfortable and of a high quality. We’ve been glad to bring billions of dollars in revenue to support Georgia’s schools, parks, and communities.”

“But we cannot in good conscience continue to recommend our industry remain in Georgia if H.B. 481 becomes law.”

H.B. 481, known as the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, recently passed in the Georgia State Senate. The vote was entirely along party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor of the bill, and all Democrats against.

The amended version of the bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where an earlier version passed. Kemp has said that he will sign the bill into law.

The signatories, who include Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, Rosie O’Donnell, Gabrielle Union, and Sean Penn, said that if this “dangerous and deeply-flawed bill” were to become law, they would do “everything in our power to move our industry to a safer state for women.”

“We can’t imagine being elected officials who had to say to their constituents ‘I enacted a law that was so evil, it chased billions of dollars out of our state’s economy,’” says the letter.

In 2016, Georgia eclipsed all other states, including California, to become the state for the production of feature films, due in large part to the state’s generous tax initiatives for production companies.

Many Marvel Cinematic Universe films were shot in Georgia, including the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, as well as Academy Award-nominated Black Panther.

This is not the first time the entertainment industry has threatened a boycott of Georgia to achieve a policy goal. In 2016, Hollywood as well as other industries headquartered in Georgia threatened to leave the state if H.B. 757 were to become law.

That bill, which was vetoed by then-Gov. Nathan Deal (R), would have ensured religious officials would not be forced to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

A group of entertainment executives also threatened to boycott Georgia upon the election of Gov. Kemp in November. That boycott has thus far not come into fruition, and was discouraged by Stacey Abrams (D), who lost the election to Kemp.

“I appreciate the calls to action, but I ask all of our entertainment industry friends to support #FairFightGA - but please do not #boycottgeorgia,” said Abrams in a tweet.

“The hard-working Georgians who serve on crews & make a living here are not to blame. I promise: We will fight - and we will win.”

If H.B. 481 were signed into law, there is very little chance it would go into effect. Pro-abortion groups have launched a series legal challenges to this type of legislation immediately upon passage.

States that have passed similar legislation have seen their laws be declared unconstitutional. Due to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, abortion law cannot restrict access to abortion prior to the viability of the unborn child, as this bill would do.

The legal uncertainty of these “heartbeat bills” has prompted pro-life leaders to refuse to support them, preferring instead to favor blanket ban laws which could come into effect were Roe v. Wade reversed.

Chaput: 'God doesn't lose'

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 16:45

Columbus, Ohio, Mar 28, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Philadelphia told seminarians March 27 that Catholics are called to renew the Church through lives of holiness, humility, and love.

“All of the great Catholic reformers in history had three essential qualities: personal humility; a passion for purifying the Church starting with themselves, and a fidelity to her teaching, all motivated by unselfish, self-sacrificing love,” Archbishop Charles Chaput said Wednesday, during the Pio Laghi Lecture at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

“God calls all of us, but especially his priests, not just to renew the face of the earth with his Spirit, but to renew the heart of the Church with our lives; to make her young and beautiful, again and again, so that she shines with his love for the world.  That’s our task. That’s our calling.  That’s what a vocation is – a calling from God with our name on it.​”

“To borrow from St. Augustine, God made us to make the times, not the times to make us.  We’re the subjects of history, not its objects.  And unless we make the times better with the light of Jesus Christ, then the times will make us worse with their darkness,” Chaput added.

The Josephinum is a college-level and major seminary directly accountable to the Holy See, and overseen by the apostolic nuncio to the United States. More than 200 seminarians study at the seminary. The Cardinal Pio Laghi Lecture is named for the papal representative to the U.S. from 1980 to 1990.

During his address, Chaput told seminarians that confusion, anxiety, and anger have in recent months become common experiences for Catholics, including bishops.

The archbishop said that he had titled his talk “Facing the future with hope and joy” because “it sounds better than ‘facing the future with confusion and anxiety,’ and anger for that matter, because I’m tempted to feel all three of those things a couple of times a week.”

“There are days when everyone in the Church seems angry.  Laypeople and priests are angry with their bishops for the abuse scandal, which never seems to end.  Bishops are angry with priests for their bad example.”

“And many bishops are also frustrated – to put it gently -- with Rome for its unwillingness to acknowledge the real nature and scope of the abuse problem.  Clerical privilege is not the problem.  Clericalism may be a factor in the sexual abuse of minors, but no parent I know – and I hear from a lot of them – sees that as the main issue.  Not naming the real problem for what it is, a pattern of predatory homosexuality and a failure to weed that out from Church life, is an act of self-delusion.” 

“My own frustration over the past few weeks has been fed by German bishops who seem willing to break what remains of Church peace and unity with bad ideas about sexual morality and impressive array of other issues.  But that’s a topic for another day,” Chaput added. 

While “much of the anger in the Church today is righteous and healthy,” Chaput said, “what we do with that anger...determines whether it becomes a medicine or a poison.”

The archbishop counseled that holiness would lead to a renewal of the Church’s life.

“Twenty centuries after the resurrection of Jesus, the Church continues her mission. She survives and continues through the grace of God.  But that grace works through people like you and me,” he said.”

During difficult times, the archbishop said, fear can also become a toxic element in the lives of Catholics.

“Do we really believe in Jesus Christ or not?  That’s the central question in our lives.  Everything turns on the answer.  Because if our Christian faith really grounds and organizes our lives, then we have no reason to fear, and we have every reason to hope.”  

“Hope depends on faith.  It can’t survive without a foundation of passionate belief in something or Someone higher and greater than ourselves.  Without faith, ‘hope’ is just another word for the cheap and cheesy optimism the modern world uses to paper over its own – and our own – brokenness.“

“But God is here with us, and because he is, this time of ours, like every other difficult time in history, is a good time to be a Catholic and especially to be a priest -- because every priest has the privilege of holding the Source of love, the God who made all creation, in his hands.”

The archbishop added that as the Church becomes absent “from the center of today’s Western culture,” Catholics are becoming disoriented, and many are “leaving the pews.”

“This ongoing cultural realignment will shake many of our Church institutions, from urban parishes, to schools, universities, hospitals, and other agencies – even seminaries.  They were founded in a different era in accord with social and political conditions that no longer exist.  But for committed believers it’s an exhilarating time, too, because we’re being pushed back onto the foundations of our faith, the enduring sources of truth and life.”  

“We still need budgets, and we can’t escape meetings. The Church was instituted by Christ, which means she’s an institution, a living body of the faithful ordered toward worship of God and service in the world. But in this time of sifting, a great deal of dead weight is being stripped away.  We’re being driven closer to the one, simple truth from which the Church draws her purpose and strength: God incarnate in Christ, the author of our salvation and life eternal,” he said.  

As he concluded, Chaput encouraged faith amid difficulty.

“The gift of this moment, the blessing of our disestablishment, is that we’re being exposed to the world as followers of Jesus Christ, even as we stumble and fall.  And through the witness of the faithful who trust, and serve, and endure in his love -- despite all our failures and weaknesses -- God will make the Gospel new and more radiant.  History is a record of that story again and again.  God doesn’t lose.”

 

Ohio lawmakers consider requirement to bury or cremate fetal remains

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 16:01

Columbus, Ohio, Mar 28, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The Ohio Senate has passed a bill requiring women who have surgical abortions to choose either burial or cremation for the fetal remains.

Senate Bill 27 comes in the wake of a recent court decision allowing Ohio to strip abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, of state funding.

A woman seeking an abortion would have to express in writing, via a confidential form the Ohio Department of Health will develop, whether she wants the fetal remains to be buried or cremated, Cleveland.com reports.

The abortion facility would pay for the burial or cremation unless the woman wants her fetus buried at a different location than the facility provides, the bill says. The facility will have to demonstrate and document the date and method used, and maintain a list of locations that the abortion facility uses to cremate or bury remains.

Women under 18 seeking an abortion would first have to obtain consent from a parent, guardian, or court. If a woman decides not to exercise her right to choose burial or cremation and does not have a preference, then the abortion facility will have to choose either cremation or burial.

Though the bill provides for a first-degree misdemeanor charge for anyone who knowingly fails to dispose of fetal remains legally, the woman who obtained the abortion cannot be charged.

The bill passed the Senate 24-7 and moves on to the House. The House has received two similar bills in the past but neither has become law, Cleveland.com reports.

Ohio had passed a law in 2016 that banned state funds from going to medical providers that offer abortions. In 2018, the Sixth Circuit unanimously ruled the law unconstitutional.

The state appealed, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 12 of this year reversed the earlier decision by a 11-6 vote.

Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who authored the majority opinion, said that Ohio had no constitutional requirement to provide money to any private organization, Planned Parenthood or otherwise. Planned Parenthood operates 26 clinics in Ohio, and will lose about $1.5 million in state funds as a result of this decision.

The Ohio Department of Health is already notifying Planned Parenthood clinics across the state, informing them that their state funding will end in April. A spokesman for ODH said that ODH gave about $600,000 in grants to Planned Parenthood during 2018.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory asked to lead Washington archdiocese

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 15:29

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2019 / 01:29 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis is expected to appoint Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta to serve as the next Archbishop of Washington, multiple sources have independently reported to CNA. Gregory would become the seventh Archbishop of Washington, succeeding Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

A formal announcement could come as early as next week, sources say, though it has not yet been confirmed that the archbishop has accepted the appointment. Sources in Rome and the United States told CNA that Gregory was informed of the appointment earlier this week.
 
The Archdiocese of Washington has technically been vacant since Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation was accepted in October 2018, though Wuerl has served as interim leader of the archdiocese since that time.

The identity of Wuerl’s successor has been the subject of intense speculation over the last five months, and several prominent members of the American hierarchy were reportedly considered for the role.

One source told CNA that because Washington has been an epicenter of the Church’s sexual abuse crisis, the background of potential candidates has been subject to more exacting scrutiny than is typical for episcopal appointments.

For that reason, the source emphasized, the likely appointment of Gregory could still be subject to change, even close to the announcement, if the Holy See or Gregory himself had reason to be concerned about his ability to address the problems relating to sexual abuse and misconduct that have plagued the Washington archdiocese.

“They absolutely want to get this one right,” the source told CNA.

While Gregory, 71, is generally well-regarded among U.S. bishops as an administrator, one bishop told CNA that some expected his age might discourage him from accepting the appointment.

In Washington, Gregory would likely be expected to provide a period of steady leadership in Washington for the near term, while leaving open the possibility he could carry on past the normal retirement age for bishops of 75.

The Archbishop of Washington is generally viewed as one of the most influential Churchmen in the United States; the five most recent archbishops were all created cardinals - including the now-laicized Theodore McCarrick. The Archbishop of Washington is generally expected to walk a narrow line: articulating the Church’s teaching in the middle of the national political conversation, without appearing to be partisan.

Gregory’s appointment to the archdiocese would follow months of scandal in the Church in the United States, and his selection would likely have been made, at least in part, in recognition of his experience in dealing with the fallout of the last major abuse crisis in the Church.

Serving a term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004, Gregory was responsible for helping to lead the American hierarchy through the fallout of the Church’s 2002 sexual abuse scandals. He oversaw the formation and implementation of the “Dallas Charter” and USCCB’s “Essential Norms” in 2002.

As a past USCCB president, Gregory is part of a working group - together with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz - charged by the U.S. bishops with examining and developing proposed reforms for enhancing episcopal accountability.

As the first African-American Archbishop of Washington, Gregory’s appointment would also be viewed as a historic milestone for the Church in the United States, especially since the archbishop is likely to be created the first African-American cardinal.

Within the Archdiocese of Washington itself, Gregory’s appointment would likely bring a welcome end to months of speculation.

While Washington’s near 700,000 Catholics are a considerably smaller flock than the 1.2 million Gregory has led in Atlanta, the capital archdiocese is home to a broad diversity of communities, which include the deeply enculturated African-American parishes in the southeast of the city, the affluent parishes of northern parts of the city, large communities of Latin American immigrants, thousands of university students, and the rural communities of southern Maryland.

A Chicago native, Gregory converted to Catholicism as a student in a Chicago Catholic grade school. In 1971, he was ordained a priest in Chicago by Cardinal John Cody. Consecrated bishop at age 36, Gregory served as an auxiliary bishop in his home diocese under Cardinal Joseph Bernardin from 1983 until 1994.

The archbishop is known to have preserved close ties with his home city, and with archdiocesan leadership in Chicago.

In 1994 Gregory became the Bishop of Belleville, Illinois, where he remained for ten years before moving to Atlanta in 2004. Since his arrival in Atlanta, Gregory has ordained 64 men to the priesthood and overseen the welcoming of more than 16,000 people as converts into the Catholic Church.

Calls requesting comment from the Archdiocese of Washington went unreturned. The Archdiocese of Atlanta did not respond to questions as of press time.

Maryland assisted suicide bill fails in dramatic senate vote

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 12:00

Annapolis, Md., Mar 28, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Maryland failed in the Senate on Wednesday after a dramatic deadlock vote saw one state senator refuse to cast the deciding ballot.

 

The End-of-Life Options Act was one vote short of the 24 needed to advance out of the Senate. The vote was a tie with 23 senators in favor and 23 against. There are 47 members of the Maryland State Senate.

 

An earlier version of the bill, which contained fewer safeguards than the measure before the Senate, easily passed through Maryland House of Delegates earlier this month. The Senate draft contained new provisions that would have restricted who was eligible to receive lethal drugs from a doctor.

 

Sen. Obie Peterson, a Democrat who represents Prince George’s County, declined to vote on the bill, effectively preventing it from moving forward.

 

Speaking to the Baltimore Sun, Peterson said that he had spoken to many members of his church and to his constituents, who were divided over the issue.

 

“I researched it, I talked with folks and my decision today was not to cast a vote,” Peterson told the Baltimore Sun.

 

Peterson defended his abstention, saying that he “did not relinquish my responsibility to thoroughly review all of the concerns I had about the bill,” and that “at the end of the day, I felt I could not cast a vote.”

 

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore called the End-of-Life Options Act a “deeply flawed” piece of legislation, and celebrated its failure in a statement published on the archdiocesan website.

 

“Physician-assisted suicide violates God’s most sacred gift and enables individuals to decide arbitrarily when life is no longer worthwhile­ or no longer worth living,” said the archbishop. He thanked those who worked to defeat the legislation.

 

“Thank you for standing up for the sanctity of life,” said Lori.

 

In a statement published on their website, the Maryland Catholic Conference thanked everyone who called their representatives to lobby against the bill.

 

“Because of your calls, emails, and efforts, physician-assisted suicide will not be legalized in Maryland this year,” said the site.

 

“This wouldn’t have been possible without all of your voices and prayers. Thank you for making a difference in the fight against physician-assisted suicide!”

 

Although Maryland will not be legalizing assisted suicide during this legislative session, lawmakers in several other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, are still considering similar bills. A bill in New Jersey has passed both houses of the state legislature and is awaiting the signature of the governor.

 

Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in Oregon, Washington, California, Hawaii, Vermont, Colorado, and Washington, DC.

Former deacon's $1 million lawsuit challenges Texas diocese's sex abuse claim

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 19:01

Lubbock, Texas, Mar 27, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A former Catholic deacon has charged that the Diocese of Lubbock wrongly named him on its list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors and has filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million.

Lubbock resident Jesus Guerrero has filed a lawsuit that rejected claims he had ever been accused of sex abuse or misconduct. The lawsuit described him as “a faithful servant of God in the Catholic Church his entire life,” the news site EverythingLubbock.com reports.

The plaintiff charged that the diocese committed libel and defamation against him. His lawsuit said his reputation was destroyed and he has become the object of contempt and ridicule.

Lucas Flores, the Diocese of Lubbock’s director for the office of communications, told CNA the diocese is not commenting on ongoing litigation.

In October 2018 all 15 dioceses in Texas pledged to release names of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor, dating as far back as the 1950s.

The Diocese of Lubbock released its list Jan. 31, saying Guerrero had been credibly accused of “sexual abuse of a minor.” It reported that he had been permanently removed from ministry in 2008.

Guerrero was the only deacon on the diocese’s list. Four priests were listed, including two who are deceased.

“Currently, there is no pending litigation against the Diocese of Lubbock for any matter pertaining to the sexual abuse of a minor,” the diocese said when it released the list. “However, in spite of our best efforts, we realize there could be an omission.”

The lawsuit said that before Guerrero’s name appeared on the list, he “had never been accused of sexual abuse and/or misconduct against a minor, nor had he ever been investigated for any sexual abuse and/or misconduct against a minor.”

In the material accompanying its Jan. 31 list, the diocese said a name “only appears on the list if the diocese possesses in its files evidence of a credible allegation.” The diocese said its standard of a credible allegation means that “after review of reasonably available, relevant information in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board or other professionals, there is reason to believe is true.”

The diocese said Guerrero was assigned to Our Lady of Grace parish in Lubbock from 1997 to 2003, suspended for unstated reasons in 2003, then assigned to San Ramon parish in Woodrow from 2006 to 2007. He was permanently removed from ministry the next year.

In response to the release of the list, the Lubbock Police Department said it was investigating the allegations and searching its records and but did not appear to have any past or current investigations of abuse within Lubbock for those named, the NBC news affiliate KCBD11 reported in January.

“With no information provided about where or when these allegations took place, it is unclear if the allegations were reported to other agencies,” the police said.

At the time the names of accused clergy were released, Bishop Robert Coerver wrote that the release “will be a source of pain for victims, survivors, and their families.”

“I realize that this might also be occasion for more victims to come forward and to be appropriately ministered to,” he said. “We continue to pray for victims and survivors of abuse of any kind and especially for those families whose trust in the Church has been broken.”

The Lubbock diocese covers 25 counties in west Texas, with 63 parishes serving more than 136,000 Catholics, the diocese website says.

The Lubbock diocese was created in 1983. The diocese said information about alleged offenders who served in its territory before its creation should be available from the dioceses of Amarillo and San Angelo.

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