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Could a 'tiny house' subsidy help LA's homeless population?

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 02:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 31, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Aid agencies for the homeless often face what they call the NIMBY- “not in my backyard”- problem; the challenge that even those who support the homeless don’t want shelters in their neighborhoods.

But a Los Angeles program aims to reverse that, with homeowners inviting homeless families into their backyards to live in small, purpose-built residences subsidized by the city.

Los Angeles County has introduced a pilot program that would provide subsidies to homeowners building “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) or, as they are sometimes known, “tiny houses.” To qualify for the subsidy, homeowners would agree to rent the ADUs to homeless men and women for three years after construction.

The initiative is expected to begin next spring. The New York Times reported that more than 500 homeowners have already applied for the program. ADUs are typically small dwellings built behind a home, or converted garages.

The city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, announced on Oct. 29 that Los Angeles has received $1 million from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, which will help fund the new program.

“The ADU pilot is specifically designed to pair homeowners with homeless Angelenos who are stable, prepared to move into housing, and ready to rebuild their lives,” said Garcetti, according to Los Angeles Daily News.

“For a homeowner, it’s a win-win: the city lowers your construction costs, matches you with a tenant who is determined to make their housing work, and connects you with a case manager to ensure a seamless transition.”

Through tax breaks and reduced permitting fees for building, homeowners could receive $10,000-30,000 to help construct the ADUs.

The tenants will receive reduced rent for two years and case management support. By the third year, tenants will be expected to pay full rental prices, unless they qualify for other housing subsidies.

Landlords will be matched with tenants through a computer matching tool that takes into account the needs of both parties. Homeless families will also be reviewed by nonprofit organizations, in a process designed to screen out tenants who would be a poor match for the program.

The program comes at a time when homelessness continues to rise in Los Angeles. The city has seen a 75 percent increase in its homeless population, increasing from 32,000 to 55,000 in the last six years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In 2017, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles lamented that the growing number of homeless people indicates a widening gap “between those who have what they need for a dignified life and those who do not.”

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


Class-action suit seeks apology from Pennsylvania dioceses

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 18:51

Harrisburg, Pa., Oct 30, 2018 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A class-action lawsuit against all eight Latin-rite Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania is seeking an admission from the Church that it covered up years of child sexual abuse, and the release of any Church records of abuse.

One of the plaintiffs, Ryan O’Connor, is an abuse victim and a current member of the Catholic Church whose children attend Catholic school. The other plaintiff, W.H., is a minor who is being represented by his mother.

The lawsuit accuses the dioceses of “public nuisance” and of failing to adhere to Pennsylvania’s mandatory reporting requirements, claiming that the knowledge of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania was widespread and that the Church failed to “control, supervise, and report sexual abuse.”

The information that the plaintiffs want the dioceses to hand over would plug gaps in the Aug. 14 Pennsylvania grand jury report that named over 300 priests accused of sexually abusing over 1,000 children since the 1940s. Some of the names of clerics in the report were redacted.

Rather than seeking damages, the plaintiffs seek “injunctive relief,” which would include an admission that the dioceses are causing a public nuisance as laid out in the lawsuit, and a court order declaring the Church’s alleged actions unlawful.

The plaintiffs also want to see the release of all the dioceses’ records pertaining to sexual abuse dating back to 1948. Alternatively, they seek a court order compelling the defendants to meet their mandatory reporting obligations as set by the state.

Memento mori - Why this religious sister wants you to think about your death

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, has had an interesting Twitter project for the last year and a half: she has kept a small (ceramic) skull on her desk, and has been tweeting daily meditations on death with the hashtag #MementoMori.


The project has now grown to include two forthcoming books: a journal titled “Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Journal,” as well as a Lenten devotional titled “Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional.”


What makes a relatively young religious sister, certainly not one expecting to die soon, so eager to focus on death?


Noble told CNA that she was first inspired by the example of the founder of her order, even before she entered the religious life.


Bl. James Alberione kept a skull on his desk to remind him of his eventual death.


“Before I entered the Daughters of Saint Paul I read this and I thought, ‘That is so metal. Definitely going to do that at some point,” she said.


While she later forgot about the intention, it came back to her during a spiritual retreat last year. One of the priests at the retreat had a small skull with him. Noble took this as a sign to take up the meditation and borrowed a ceramic skull from one of her sister’s Halloween decorations. She created the hashtag campaign shortly thereafter.


The practice of meditating upon one’s death has been common in the Church for centuries, and daily prayers for the dead are part of the routine for many religious orders. In Catholic art, many saints are depicted holding a skull as a reminder of their death and the importance of preparing for a final encounter with God.


While death can certainly be an uncomfortable topic to think about, it is far from a morbid subject in the mind of the Church. Noble said that she believes that as Christians, “we are not just meditating on the reality of death but on Christ’s victory over death.”


With this in mind, Noble said that meditating about death is actually a “hope-filled practice.”  


“Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that ‘Christ died so that by dying he might deliver us from the fear of death,’” she said. The practice of memento mori, she said, “helps us to make that journey from fear to hope.”


Since starting her tweets, Noble told CNA that “hundreds” of people have sent her pictures of their own memento mori skulls, and that many people have seen the spiritual fruits that come along with meditating on their own death.


“One man told me that he had been suffering from insomnia and serious anxiety and had stopped going to church,” she said.


“But one Sunday he decided to go after seeing one of my tweets. As he walked into the church, the priest was saying an exact phrase from a Bible passage that I had tweeted earlier. The man felt God speaking to him in that moment through that ‘coincidence.’ He started going to Mass and meditating on his death, and his insomnia disappeared. God can work powerfully in people's lives through memento mori.”


With the journal and devotional she is now writing, Noble says she wants to help people with the spiritual practice of meditating on one’s death “with something more substantive than my tweets.”


The journal contains an introduction to the practice of memento mori, as well as prayers and quotes from the church fathers, saints, and scripture. The journal, she said, is meant to be a companion to the Lenten devotional, which contains journaling prompts. It can, however, be used on its own.


Noble told CNA that “it would not be an exaggeration” to say that the practice of memento mori has changed her life and how she thinks about the world. In addition to thinking about death in a more Christian sense, she says she is less afraid of dying and more motivated to ask God for graces to change immediately rather than putting it off for the future.


“We all think we will live until old age, but death could come at any time,” she said.


“Holiness becomes more urgent in view of the fact that death is both inevitable and unpredictable.”

Anti-religious freedom grants target Georgia, Florida, N.M., Texas

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 17:19

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2018 / 03:19 pm (CNA).- Four states, including Texas and Florida, are in the crosshairs of an anti-religious freedom funders’ network that coordinated the successful effort to recognize gay marriage in law.

The Proteus Fund’s Religion, Faith and Democracy Collaborative, launched last year, has dedicated at least $900,000 to efforts in Georgia and New Mexico, its 2017 grant listings show. At the same time, it is funding like-minded groups in Texas and Florida to develop grant proposals, apparently laying the groundwork for activist coalitions in those states.

“Together with progressive faith leaders and communities, we fight against discrimination under the false guise of religious liberty,” the funding collaborative said on its website.

Saying that success for LGBTQ and “reproductive justice” movements advance one another, the collaborative said it aims to unite leaders and organizations from diverse coalitions to maximize impact.

“We believe in the right of every individual to control their sexual and reproductive health and to live freely and with dignity in their gender identity and sexual orientation. We believe that these unalienable human rights should never be undermined by discrimination, whether justified by law, social norms, or religion,” the group said.

Regarding Texas, the Proteus Fund collaborative made small four-figure grants to develop proposals from four groups: the ACLU Foundation of Texas; the Equality Texas Foundation; the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Texas.

Jonathan Saenz, president of the group Texas Values, is among the critics of this collaborative’s goals.
“Some of the same people that are aggressively supporting abortion on demand and taxpayer-funded abortion are the same ones teaming up to use the government to attack religious freedom on issues related to marriage and sexuality,” he told CNA in a statement. “Texas Values is well aware of these organizations, and they have a long history of opposing common-sense religious freedom protections in Texas.”

Saenz’s organization, a self-described backer of family values, engages in policy research, public education, and voter mobilization in service of religious freedom and of “biblical, Judeo-Christian values.” He said there has been a “significant increase” in groups lobbying against religious freedom in recent years.

“They are misleading members of the public and business to serve their own political interests,” he said, charging that these groups have attracted support from those Saenz has called “fake Republicans.”

The Proteus Fund declined comment for this story. Its 2017 grant listings show $500,000 to four advocacy groups in Georgia. Four grants of $125,000 each went to Alternate Roots, Atlanta Jobs with Justice, SisterSong, and the Equality Foundation of Georgia.

According to Georgia grant listings, these grants were intended to help build “a long-term cross-movement public-education campaign rooted in reproductive justice and LGBTQ rights that uses a values-based messaging framework to reclaim religious freedom as a progressive value, center reproductive justice and change the environment in Georgia to support a comprehensive approach to civil rights.” This approach “includes religious freedom protections that are inclusive and unifying, rather than based in fear, hatred or discrimination against women and LGBTQ people.”

The Alternate Roots grant aimed to support the Georgia-based group Women Engaged’s work with this coalition. The group, a self-described social justice non-profit, aims to advance civil leadership of “women and young people of color living in the U.S. and global south interested in health equity, racial, and reproductive justice.” According to the Women Engaged website, it provides training in organizing, fundraising, and civic engagement, and creates policy recommendations and messaging campaigns.

The Proteus collaborative gave $400,000 to four New Mexico groups. Grants of $100,000 each went to the ACLU of New Mexico; the Center for Civic Policy; the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; and Young Women United, a policy change, social change, and community organizing project “by and for women and people of color” in the state.

Their grants, as listed on the Proteus website, aim to support a state coalition to build “a cross-sector, place-based movement with faith leaders, immigrants, LGBTQ youth and communities of color that challenges the discriminatory effects of religious refusals in New Mexico through public education, research, documentation, faith leader mobilization and place-based and intersectional organization and training.”

The Center for Civic Policy grant included support for the work of the New Mexico Dream Team, a group whose website described itself as “a statewide network committed to create power for multigenerational, undocumented, LGBTQ+, and mixed status families towards liberation.” The group engages in leadership training and development, community engagement, organizing and advocacy for “policy change fighting to dismantle systematic oppression.”

For Florida, the Proteus Fund made a $5,000 grant in 2017 to the Equality Florida Institute to work with Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida and also Proyecto Somos Orlando, a support group for those affected by the 2016 Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting, to develop proposals for the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative.

Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, was critical of the Proteus Fund collaborative’s advocacy of these causes as a way to advance the separation of church and state.

“Groups that aim to promote separation of church and state seem to be taking advantage of and are perpetuating a misperception of the proper role of religion in civil society,” Sheedy told CNA. “Religious persons have long been engaged in the public square, and religious entities have been a tremendous impetus for good in our society. Faith calls us to our better selves to serve those in need. We need more people engaged in promoting the common good – not fewer.”

There are various religious freedom concerns in Florida, he said. Adoption agency conscience protections were debated and failed to pass in the legislature, though unlike some other states there are no requirements for an agency to violate its faith in making a child placement.

Many Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close because they cannot place children with same-sex couples, and so violated new regulations governing agency licensing or funding rules.

Florida law has conscience protections regarding participation in executions and regarding some end-of-life issues, Sheedy said. There are also protections related to abortion and family planning, though bills have been filed to limit this.

He did say there are some conflicts beginning to emerge between “Christian anthropology” and various LGBT issues.

Lobbying in Florida, said Sheedy, primarily focuses on local-level “conversion therapy bans” and state and local level advocacy for “housing and employment policies that relate to typically ill-defined concepts of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’.”

Saenz seemed optimistic that the efforts to restrict religious freedom will fail.

“With such important elections on the line, and recent victories for religious freedoms on the court many of the organizations that have been getting away for many years with suppressing religious freedom now know their days could be numbered,” Saenz added, citing like the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop case, in a which a Colorado bakery owner successfully fought an anti-discrimination complaint for declining to make a cake celebrating a same-sex union due to his Christian beliefs.

“If we stand united we can win, particularly in Texas,” he said.

The Proteus Fund collaborative said the change it envisions requires “a shift in the way that the public and policymakers understand religious liberty and the delicate but critical balance between it and many other equally important rights that protect against discrimination.”

State-based advocates need “significant additional resources” to test and implement “new public education, advocacy, organizing, and messaging strategies” and to build “organizational and collaborative capacity” while sharing knowledge across different states and issues.

The collaborative’s funding partners, listed on the Proteus Fund website, included the Alki Fund of the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, the Groundswell Fund, the Irving Harris Foundation, the Moriah Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, and anonymous donors, as CNA reported in 2017.

According to the CNA’s running count, various foundations have dedicated nearly $10 million in earmarked anti-religious freedom grants. Grants from the Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative are counted separately to prevent double-counting of funds.

Foes of the Masterpiece Cakeshop’s Supreme Court case received $500,000 from the San Francisco-based Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, which is also a donor to the Proteus anti-religious freedom collaborative.

A previous Proteus Fund project, the Civil Marriage Collaborative, dedicated at least $825,000 to support “special litigation efforts and work on use of religious exemptions to attempt to justify the undermining of full marriage.” This grantmaking included funds to groups in Arizona, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas, including ACLU affiliates.

This marriage collaborative, which ended in 2015, was a leader in the push for legal recognition of gay marriage. Paul Di Donato was director of this project, and in 2016 became the president and CEO of the Proteus Fund. The marriage collaborative itself awarded over $20 million in grants “strategically targeted to support a cultural sea change on the issue of marriage equality and LGBTQ justice at the state and national levels,” the Proteus Fund website reports.

The marriage collaborative’s “Hearts & Minds” report, analyzing the project’s work at its close, says that its funding partners altogether invested $153 million over 11 years in many states and at the national level in gay marriage-related advocacy.

“By aligning all their marriage-related grantmaking behind this shared game plan, the partners were able to exponentially increase the impact of the $153 million they put into the effort, including the $20 million invested in the CMC,” the report said.

Ahead of migrant caravan, Catholic leaders urge U.S. govt to protect the vulnerable

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 02:00

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- As a caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America continues its trek north to the United States, the U.S. bishops’ conference and leaders of Catholic aid agencies have urged government officials to treat migrants compassionately.

Signers of the joint statement, released on Monday, included Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Bishop’s committee on migration, Sean Callahan, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Sr. Donna Markham OP, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.

“We affirm that seeking asylum is not a crime,” they said in their statement.

“We urge all governments to abide by international law and existing domestic laws that protect those seeking safe haven and ensure that all those who are returned to their home country are protected and repatriated safely,” they said.

Earlier this month, a group of about 160 migrants in Honduras started a migrant caravan, trekking northward to seek asylum as refugees in the United States. That caravan, which is now in Mexico, is believed to have peaked at 7,000 people, although several hundred have reportedly dropped off or fallen behind at various points.

Other smaller caravans have also started making their way north to the U.S., including a caravan of about 200 people from El Salvador.

The President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, has offered benefits such as temporary work permits and medical care to migrants who want to stay in the country, but at least 4,000 people are continuing the journey to the United States.

Catholic Churches along the route in Mexico have provided places of brief rest and refreshment, the Washington Post reported.

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump called the caravan “an invasion” and announced that 5,200 troops will be deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the week to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ensure enforcement of immigration laws.

“Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

In their statement, Vásquez, Callahan and Markham said they have helped assist the poor and vulnerable in the U.S. and throughout the world, and they “deeply saddened by the violence, injustice, and deteriorating economic conditions forcing many people to flee their homes in Central America. While nations have the right to protect their borders, this right comes with responsibilities: governments must enforce laws proportionately, treat all people humanely, and provide due process,” they said.

They also urged the government to address not only the migrants that come to the U.S., but to work to address the regional issues that force migrants to leave their homes, such as violence and lack of economic opportunity in their countries.

“An enforcement-only approach does not address nor solve the larger root causes that cause people to flee their countries in search of protection,” they said.

“As Christians, we must answer the call to act with compassion towards those in need and to work together to find humane solutions that honor the rule of law and respect the dignity of human life.”

The migrant caravan is still 900 miles from the United States, but is expected to reach the border in the next few weeks.

Annual White Mass honors the gifts of those with disabilities

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Oct 29, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Washington celebrated the ninth-annual White Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.


The Mass is held in honor of the dignity of those living with disabilities. It was first celebrated in 2010, and is called the “White Mass” as the color is symbolic of the “dignity shared by all who have been baptized into Christ’s body.”


Those who attend are encouraged to wear white.


The principal celebrant of the Mass was Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Apostolic Administrator for the Archdiocese of Washington, and the homily was delivered by Msgr. Charles Pope.


In his homily, Pope spoke about courage, and drew comparisons to the day’s Gospel, which featured Christ healing a blind man and restoring his vision. Pope said that Catholics should not only think of themselves as the blind man of the Gospel, but also as the crowd and even Christ, in that they are called to help others see.


“It takes courage to see, courage to even want to see,” he explained.  


Pope acknowledged that while some people in the room were physically blind, “all of us struggle with a degree of spiritual blindness.”


“There are many things we should see, but do not. Sometimes we are afraid to see, at other times we resist seeing because we know it will make new demands upon us.”


However, “many in our world recoil from looking at or seeing disability,” Pope said, despite the fact that some form of impairment is inevitable as one ages.


These feelings of discomfort towards others result in “many today remaining blind or vision-impaired when it comes to seeing the dignity and gifts of those who are disabled,” he continued.


Expanding his point, Pope shared a story about his late sister, Mary Anne, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a child and spent most of her life in mental institutions and group homes. Mary Anne passed away in 1991, as the result of a fire that she herself likely set.


It was a “great sadness,” said Pope, that it took his sister’s death for him to appreciate her dignity and true suffering. While she was alive, Pope said he did not enjoy talking to her and had complained to his parents when she tried to talk to him.


“I couldn’t see, I was blind, and in a certain sense I wanted it that way,” he said.


After her death, he was able to view her body, which was scarred by the flames. Due to the fire, the funeral directors were unable to change her facial expression, and “she had clearly died weeping,” he said. Pope, too, wept when he saw his sister.


Although he had previously been blind to his sister’s dignity, “that day, looking one last time at her, I received the gift to see her more as God did.”


“And so I was, and in ways still am, the blind man of Jericho,” he said.


“But my sister’s final gift was that God taught me to see through her and I resolved that it should not take a tragic death for me to see the dignity and gifts of those with disabilities or special needs.”


Now, said Pope, it is up to the Church to act as Christ did in the Gospel and “help others to see the dignity of those with special needs and the disabled.” This is, he said, is particularly important in a “culture of death” which permits an extremely high abortion rate for those with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome or other medical conditions, and the increasing legality of physician-assisted suicide.


“This blindness to the dignity of all human persons from conception to natural death is a blindness we are called to heal as the active presence of Christ in the world.”


It is up to the Church, he said, to work to “heal the blindness of so many who fail to see not only the current dignity of those who suffer, but also their future glory.”

At late bishop's request, Saginaw Catholics adore the Eucharist

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 20:00

Saginaw, Mich., Oct 29, 2018 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Joseph Cistone of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan planned one final diocesan event before succumbing to lung cancer in October: forty hours of continuous Eucharistic adoration to pray for the suffering of the Church, against a backdrop of country-wide revelations of sexual abuse.

After Cistone’s death, members of the diocese are participating in the forty hours of adoration, and are praying not only for the Church, but also for the late bishop’s soul.

Bishop Cistone died Oct. 16 after announcing in February that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He said at that time that he would undergo a treatment plan involving both chemotherapy and radiation. On Oct. 1 the diocese announced that the cancer had spread to other parts of Cistone's body, and that he had begun an aggressive course of chemotherapy.

His funeral was held Oct. 23 at Saginaw's Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption.

The forty hours of adoration began Oct. 28 with Mass at that same cathedral at 10 a.m, followed by a procession through the Cathedral to begin adoration. The adoration is scheduled to end after 7 p.m. vespers prayer on Tuesday Oct. 30.

Sister Esther Mary Nickel of the Religious Sisters of Mercy told CNA that the prayer intentions for the forty hours of adoration are for the diocese of Saginaw, the suffering of the Church, and for the repose of the Bishop Cistone’s soul.  

Sister Nickel said on the first night of adoration, men from the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus volunteered to stand guard at the door all night.

"I was so surprised that people came through the night," Sister Nickel said.”I must say we're having a wonderful turnout. I'm grateful.”

Sister Nickel said that Catholics in the Saginaw diocese had been experiencing various hardships lately, in addition to the bishop’s death. Police raided the bishop’s home in March, as well as the diocesan chancery and its cathedral rectory, as part of an ongoing investigation into sex abuse allegations against several diocesan priests. Two priests have been placed on leave from their duties after a recent wave of accusations of sexual abuse against priests in the diocese.

The practice of forty hours of adoration draws its roots back to Rome over 500 years ago, begun by St. Philip Neri. Sister Nickel said the forty hours devotion was “near and dear” to Cistone's heart, and this event was the last one he approved for the liturgy office before his death. She said Bishop Cistone had a great devotion to St. John Neumann, a great proponent of the practice in the United States, who started the practice at his parish in Philadelphia in 1840.

Sister Nickel said Cistone brought this tradition back from Philadelphia to Saginaw with him, as well as his desire that his priests in particular would cultivate a devotion to the blessed sacrament.

Martha Arvizu, a lifelong Saginaw resident and a parishioner of the diocese since the ninth grade, told CNA it can sometimes be difficult for her to quiet her mind from the noise of daily life. She and her 91-year-old mother, who Arvizu said always wants to be there with her daughter despite being hard of hearing, attended the adoration service Sunday night.

"It's wonderful to come and be in the silence and get in the presence of our Lord," Arvizu said. "He's very forgiving and He walks with us.”

Arvizu said despite the difficult circumstances present in the Saginaw diocese and elsewhere in the Church, she plans to continue to practice her faith.

"I think if you lose your faith, you're nowhere," she reflected. "If you have your faith, and you believe in your faith, nothing can deter you. [God's] there to help us along, and what our destiny is, he's the only one that knows...I think our faith will get us through anything."

She said although there is at least one parish in the diocese that offers perpetual adoration, it was nice to be able to stay in adoration as long as they wanted under the protection of the Knights.

"We probably should do it more often, as long as we have preparation," "This was very well planned, they let everyone know that they were going to do this. I think it's a positive thing, and even those who have been going that don't come all the time find it enriching...[Adoration’s] something we all need, especially at this time, with the loss of our bishop.”



After synagogue shooting, bishops decry anti-Semitism and pray for victims

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 19:00

Pittsburgh, Pa., Oct 29, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic bishops promised prayers for victims and their families while condemning anti-Semitism, after a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday killed 11 people.

“To our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community, we stand with you,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

“May Almighty God be with them and bring them comfort at this tragic time.”

The cardinal, originally a priest of Pittsburgh, condemned the shooting and challenged officials “to confront the plague of gun violence.”

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said the diocese and the synagogue’s relationship has been “close over many years.”

The bishop said “anti-Jewish bigotry, and all religious and ethnic bigotry, is a terribly sin” and emphasized the importance of prayer and charity after the shooting.

“As we pray for peace in our communities and comfort for the grieving, we must put prayer into action by loving our neighbors and working to make ‘Never again!’ a reality.”

On Oct. 27, 48-year-old Robert Bowers entered Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue equipped with an assault rifle and three handguns. Shouting anti-Semitic slogans, Bowers killed eight men and three women. He also injured six others, including four policemen. After a shootout with Pittsburgh Police and SWAT, Bowers was wounded and eventually surrendered.

Bowers faces multiple charges, among them federal hate crimes for which he could face the death penalty.

Michael Eisenberg, a former president of the synagogue, said an estimated 85 people would likely have been gathered at the synagogue, spread over three separate services.

After the shooting, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said that “Religious and ethnic hatred is vile in any form, but the ugly record of the last century is a lesson in the special evil of anti-Semitism.…It has no place in America, and especially in the hearts of Christians.”

“I want to express the heartfelt support and prayers of Philadelphia’s Catholic community, and my own, for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack and their families. May God give them courage and solace, and may this be a statewide wake-up call to resist religious hatred,” he added.

Another Pennsylvania bishop also decried the violence. Bishop Edward Malesic of Greensburg said the news has left him “absolutely heartbroken.”

“People of faith should be able to worship God in peace and security. Our sacred places should be free of all violence,” he said.

He said his diocese would pray for first responders and “the loved ones of these victims and for all of our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community.”

Scranton’s Bishop Joseph Bambera, who is the head of the Committee for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB, issued a statement on Sunday, claiming the act of violence to be cowardly.

“Anti-Semitism is to be condemned and has to be confronted by our nation. The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stands with our Jewish brothers and sisters during this time of great distress. May God grant peace to the dead, healing to the injured, and comfort to the families of those hurt and killed and to all the Jewish Community.”

On Sunday during the Angelus at the Vatican, Pope Francis offered a prayer for those affected by this “inhumane act of violence.” “May the Lord help us extinguish the fires of hatred that develop in our society,” he said.


Five nuns kidnapped in southern Nigeria

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 18:55

Issele-Uku, Nigeria, Oct 29, 2018 / 04:55 pm (CNA).- Five nuns were abducted by gunmen in Nigeria’s Delta state on Thursday, according to local media.

The nuns are members of the Order of the Missionary of Martha and Mary.

They were kidnapped Oct. 25 while returning from a burial. They were taken near Agbor, about 25 miles west of Issele-Uku.

The religious women were in a vehicle which the kidnappers shot at. Along with the five abductees, another two nuns were injured.

At least five priests have been kidnapped in Delta state this year.

Violence against Christians has significantly increased in Nigeria in recent years, with the Islamist terror group Boko Haram threatening safety in the north, and smaller violent gangs threatening security in the south.

Whistleblower says Buffalo diocese did not disclose priest abuse reports

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 17:30

Buffalo, N.Y., Oct 29, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A former Church employee said she leaked diocesan documents because when the Buffalo diocese addressed sexual abuse allegations it seemed primarily concerned with protecting the reputation and assets of the Church.

A local media investigation published Aug. 22-23 revealed confidential diocesan documents indicating that Bishop Richard Malone allowed priests to stay in ministry despite multiple abuse allegations made against them.

Siobhan O’Connor, a former executive assistant to Bishop Malone, told “60 Minutes” on Sunday that she decided to leak the internal diocesan documents mentioned in the report after an incomplete list of priests accused of abuse was published.

“Bishop Malone had agreed to release a list of 42 priests accused of sexually abusing minors,” according to the program. “But O'Connor knew there should be more names because she had seen the draft list that circulated between the bishop and diocesan lawyers … As they worked on the list, the bishop and his lawyers decided they would not reveal the names of accused priests still in ministry.”

The list, released March 20, “identifies diocesan priests who were removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor,” according to the diocese. It “also includes deceased priests with more than one allegation made against them.”

O’Connor said: “It was a very carefully curated list. And I-- I saw all the-- the lawyers coming in and out, and I was aware of the-- the various strategies that were in place.”

“To my mind the overarching attitude seemed to be to protect the church's reputation and her assets,” she added.

O’Connor worked as Malone's assistant for three years, quitting in August, shortly after she leaked the personnel files to a local television station. That station’s report subsequent focused on two priests whose names were reportedly considered for inclusion on the publicly-released list of credibly accused clergy, but removed before publication. Both priests were in active ministry at the time of the list’s publication in March.

Among the cases which troubled her was that of Fr. Arthur Smith, who had been suspended from his parish by Malone’s predecessor in 2011, after complaints were made that he had shown signs of grooming and stalking students, and had inappropriate communications with one male student.

In November 2012, Bishop Malone returned Smith to ministry, as chaplain of a nursing home. There, two young adult men said they were touched inappropriately by Smith. The regional superior of the religious order running the nursing home wrote to Malone to report the complaints, and to say that the order was discontinuing Smith’s work there.

In 2015, Malone wrote in a letter to Vatican officials that Smith had groomed a young boy, refused to stay in a treatment center, faced repeated boundary issues, and been accused of inappropriate touching of at least four young men. However, in the same letter, Malone said that “On the basis of his cooperation in regard to regular counseling, I have granted Father Smith faculties to function as a priest in the Diocese of Buffalo.”

The same year, the bishop wrote a letter of approval for Smith to serve as a priest on a cruise ship, explicitly clearing him for work with minor children.

In 2017, Malone assigned Smith as a “priest in residence” at an area parish. The priest was suspended in 2018, after the diocese said it had received a new substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

“Our previous bishop had removed him from ministry, so I always thought it was odd that Bishop Malone had reinstated him,” O’Connor told “60 Minutes.”

“When I explored his file more in-depth, that might have really been the moment when I knew that I had to do something with this information.”

Because the list of accused priests was substantially shorter than she believed it should be, O’Connor said, “I felt that instead of being transparent, we were almost being the opposite or-- or half transparent. Here are the names that we would like you to know about, but please don't ask us about the rest.”

“60 Minutes” also interviewed two clerics of the Buffalo diocese who are dissatisfied with how the local Church has handled allegations of sexual abuse: Fr. Robert Zilliox, who holds a licentiate in canon law, and Deacon Paul Snyder.

Bishop Malone declined to be interviewed by “60 Minutes,” and issued a statement about that decision Oct. 27.

The first reason, he said, is that child protection and victim reconciliation is occupying most of his time.

Second, he said, “it is clear to me and my staff that your roster of interviews did not include those who are aware of the full extent of the efforts of our Diocese to combat child abuse. Nor does it include those who urge me every day to stay the course and restore the confidence of our faithful.”


Virginia dioceses pledge to cooperate with attorney general

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 12:30

Arlington, Va., Oct 29, 2018 / 10:30 am (CNA).- In a statement released last Wednesday and repeated at Masses over the weekend, Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond pledged that they would cooperate with an investigation into clerical sexual abuse of minors in the state.


Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced the investigation Wednesday, Oct. 24, together with a state police hotline and web form for the public to report accusations of abuse.


“Any instance of child sexual abuse is intolerable and gravely immoral,” read the statement from the Catholic bishops of Virginia.


“We hope that this process will bring healing for all victims and confirm our commitment to accountability and justice.”


Burbidge and Knestout said they had both met with victims and seen the effect “unforgettable” abuse had throughout a person’s life. Both bishops said that they valued the opportunity to meet with survivors and to “support them in their journey toward healing.”


In September, prior to the announcement of Herring’s investigation, both the Diocese of Arlington and the Diocese of Richmond issued press releases saying they would conduct a review of all diocesan clergy files. Additionally, the bishops said that they would be releasing a list of all clergy with “credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against a minor” made against them.


While this process remains ongoing, the bishops said they would “ensure it does not impede the attorney general’s investigation.”


Currently, policy in both dioceses requires allegations of the sexual abuse of minors to be reported to the police. The allegations are also presented to a majority-lay diocesan review boards in both dioceses.


Clergy, along with parish staff and volunteers who work with children, are now trained on how to identify “suspicious behavior” and how to report allegations of abuse.


The two bishops encouraged anyone aware of any sort of misconduct or abuse invovling either a member of the clergy or staff associated with the dioceses to both call the police and call the state’s clerical abuse hotline.


Victims of abuse were asked to contact their diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator to arrange a meeting with their bishop, to make a formal complaint against their abuser, and to receive pastoral and emotional support.


Priests across the two dioceses read a statement at all Masses over the weekend about both the investigation as well as the dioceses’ promises to cooperate in full.

Number of Americans who say they are witches is on the rise

Sun, 10/28/2018 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2018 / 01:00 pm (ACI Prensa).- The number of Americans who claim to be witches has increased dramatically over the past 30 years.


An estimated 1 to 1.5 million people say they practice Wicca or paganism, a rise from an estimated 8,000 Wiccans in 1990, and 340,000 in 2008.


In 2014, a Pew Research Center survey found about 0.4 percent of Americans identify themselves Pagan or Wiccan, a significant increase over prior years.


If accurate, the Pew data would suggest that there are more self-identified "witches" in the United States than members of some mainline Protestant denominations. For example, according to 2017 figures, there are 1.4 million practicing Presbyterians in the United States.


Wicca is a form of modern pagan witchcraft begun in the 1940s and 1950s in the United Kingdom. Those who practice Wicca often refer to themselves as “witches.” People who practice other forms of witchcraft may not identify with the "Wiccan" or "pagan" label, meaning that the number of self-identified witches in the United States might actually be higher than reported.


Online, witchcraft has become increasingly popular and mainstream. The hashtag “#WitchesofInstagram” has been used nearly two million times on Instagram, featuring images of crystals, pentagrams, and people sharing their experiences as witches.


A priest pursuing doctoral studies in exorcisms told CNA that he was not surprised by the increasing number of Americans interested in dabbling in witchcraft.


The priest, who asked not be identified because of the attention exorcist priests often receive, pointed to the increasing popularity of spiritualism in general, which includes yoga and ouija, and the need for instant results in American culture.


He theorized that people who are dissatisfied with their religion begin to look for a “quick fix-- magic.”


And while some witches differentiate between “white magic” and “black magic,” with black magic being intentionally malicious, he rejected the idea there could be any such thing as positive or harmless magic.


“Both of them are associated with Satan, and he’s in charge of that,” the priest told CNA.


People who embrace one form of witchcraft, whether to find love or solve a problem may find themselves “trapped” in the world of the occult, he said.


“I have personally had many, many experiences of people coming to me,” with issues that stemmed from something initially thought to be innocuous, he said.


The modern appeal of paganism may stem from Christianity’s early roots, the priest said. When Christianity first spread to pagan areas--Ireland, France, etc.--the people who lived there were incredibly superstitious. Christianity was able to provide a sort of spiritual reassurance.


"Christianity always has good news, and the good news is that the devil is overcome," he said.


Now, he said, as people have begun to turn away from the message of Christ’s lordship, and have begun to “glorify their own reason and understanding,” Christianity has become less appealing--and people return to the superstitious practices of long ago.


A lack of faith in the Christian God coupled with the “very hedonistic society” of modern times adds to the appeal of the supposed quick fix of magic, he said.


“Anything we want, we have to have right away,” he said.

“I mean, if I suffer, I need to have a solution. Even if you go to a hospital, you look at the chart and they always ask you 'how do you feel from one to 10?' and if you feel that your pain is too high, they will pump you with opioid painkillers.”


These comments were echoed by Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies.


Petri told CNA that he did not find it surprising that some people who have turned away from Christianity would turn toward pagan worship.


“Man is essentially a religious animal who seeks meaning beyond the ordinary and so is prone to worship powers beyond himself,” he explained.


The increase of self-identfied "witches" could also be as a result of Satan, he said, who “is actively at work in the world seeking to drive as many people away from salvation in Christ as he can.” Satan, he said, does this “under the guise of principalities and powers that some people think are more novel and powerful than Christ.”


“Sadly, they couldn’t be more wrong and they need our prayers.”

Some Fighting Irish are fighting porn

Sat, 10/27/2018 - 02:00

South Bend, Ind., Oct 27, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Students at the University of Notre Dame have asked university administrators to block pornography on the university’s wi-fi networks.

More than one hundred students signed letters, one sent by men and one by women, requesting that filters be installed on university networks. The letters also referenced an online petition, at which more than 1,000 “Students, Faculty, Staff, and Friends of Notre Dame” requested the same filter.

The men’s letter, published Oct. 23 in the university’s student newspaper, said that a filter “would send the unequivocal message that pornography is an affront to human rights and catastrophic to individuals and relationships.”

The women’s letter, published Oct. 24 in the same newspaper, was addressed to the signatories of the men’s letter.

“We stand in solidarity with your request to filter out pornography on Notre Dame’s wireless internet networks,” it said.

“Every human person is worthy of the utmost dignity and respect. Pornography use at Notre Dame threatens this respect by preventing men and women from encountering the full personhood of one another in friendships and relationships. How? Pornography propagates a mindset that people, especially women, are mere sex objects,” the Oct. 24 letter said.

The letter sent by men noted a 2013 survey that showed 63 percent of male students at Notre Dame had used the university’s internet networks to view pornography.

“Pornography is the new sex education, providing a disturbing script about what men find sexually appealing and what women should do to please them.”

“Notre Dame’s sincere efforts to educate students about consent and other aspects of healthy sexuality are pitifully weak in light of the fact that by the time students arrive on campus, many have been addictively watching pornography for years,” the letter said.

That letter noted that pornography “is associated with a host of issues: addiction, child sexual abuse, divorce, male fertility problems, sexual assault and the acceptance, normalization and sexualization of cruelty towards women. It contributes to prostitution, human trafficking and the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases.”

The Oct. 24 letter sent by female Notre Dame students acknowledged that the university forbids that pornography be viewed on its wireless networks.

“A written rule alone does nothing to stop its rampant consumption, and this rule is rarely, if ever, enforced. It is time for the University to take a serious stand against pornography and implement a filter on Notre Dame’s Wi-Fi of the top-25 pornographic sites,” the letter said.

University officials did not respond to a request from CNA for comment on the student letters.

But students are hopeful that the university will respond to their request.

“We have come to expect our school to be a driving force for cultural change in our nation,” the Oct. 23 letter said, “and pornography is a cultural issue that needs changing.”


Mail-order abortion pill service may violate drug laws, FDA says

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 18:30

Denver, Colo., Oct 25, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A European online service that has been quietly offering mail-order abortion pills to women in the United States for several months is being investigated by the FDA for possibly violating abortion drug laws. Aid Access is a website that says it offers abortion-inducing drugs to healthy women who are nine weeks pregnant or less.

If women qualify for the pills through online consultations, Aid Access writes them prescriptions for the two abortion-inducing drugs, misoprostol and mifepristone. These prescriptions are filled at a pharmacy in India, which mails the drugs to women in the U.S.

To date, Aid Access has reportedly mailed abortion drugs to 600 women in the U.S. The service costs $95, and the website notes that financial aid is available.

The FDA, however, has issued warnings that women should not buy mifepristone online, “because you will bypass important safeguards designed to protect your health (and the health of others).”

“Mifeprex (mifepristone) has special safety restrictions on how it is distributed to the public. Also, drugs purchased from foreign Internet sources are not the FDA-approved versions of the drugs, and they are not subject to FDA-regulated manufacturing controls or FDA inspection of manufacturing facilities,” the warning states.

In a statement made earlier this week reported by The Guardian, the FDA said that it “takes the allegations related to the sale of mifepristone in the U.S. through online distribution channels very seriously and is evaluating the allegations to assess potential violations of U.S. law.”

Aid Access founder, Dutch physician Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, has not commented on the FDA statement but told CNN that she has “no worries.”

"Everything I do is according to the law," she said.

Gomperts is also the founder of Women on Web, a site launched 12 years ago to provide abortion drugs to women in countries where the procedure is illegal, and to military women serving overseas. Women on Web reportedly mails about 9,000 abortion pill packages to women each year.

Gomperts has said she believes she has a “moral obligation” to provide this service to women who may have difficulty accessing surgical or medical abortions for a variety of reasons.

A medical abortion consists of a woman taking two different medications within about 48 hours of each other – the first, mifepristone, blocks the progesterone that makes the womb an inhabitable place for a baby. The second, misoprostol, is taken 48 hours after the first pill, and makes the uterus contract and expel its contents – the baby.

Studies show that about one in every 100,000 women who induce a medical abortion will need surgical intervention due to complications. According to FDA numbers, about one in 155,000 women die from complications of medical abortions.

Doctors who perform medical abortion reversals have said that the risks of medical abortions are often due to lack of thorough follow-ups, because women often receive the abortion-inducing drugs from clinics with which they do not have an established relationship.

Pro-life groups have slammed Gomperts and her organizations for putting money and politics ahead of women’s welfare.

“Risking women’s lives to make a political point and a quick profit makes no sense, and we sadly anticipate horror stories when inevitably something goes wrong,” said Kristan Hawkins, a spokesperson for Students for Life of America (SFLA).

“Handing out deadly drugs through the mail is a disaster waiting to happen. We know that women have died using chemical abortion drugs, and that how far along a woman’s pregnancy is or where it is can be a life or death issue. Women later in pregnancy or women experiencing an ectopic pregnancy in particular are in great risk — two things that must be determined by examination and not by some online questionnaire,” Hawkins said in a statement.

Mail-order abortions would also aid abusers of women who want “to end wanted pregnancy, something that this distribution model would make even easier. Women deserve better,” she said. Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, told CNN that Aid Access’ service was "reckless and irresponsible,” especially since women cannot be screened online for an ectopic pregnancy, "a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition that no abortion clinic would try to manage."

"Because Gomperts' plan is dangerous to women's health and safety, the act of sending unregulated prescription abortion pills through the mail should be the subject of federal regulation," she told CNN. "For this reason, Americans United for Life is exploring the possibility of Congressional intervention to protect women."


Holley says 'revenge,' not ‘mismanagement’ led to his removal

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 16:53

Memphis, Tenn., Oct 25, 2018 / 02:53 pm (CNA).- One day after he was removed as head of the Diocese of Memphis, Bishop Martin Holley told CNA that he wants to be transparent about the reasons for his removal.

He says the decision was not about mismanagement, or past allegations of misconduct. Instead, he believes that he was removed at the behest of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, former Archbishop of Washington, who influenced or collaborated with apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre to excise him from episcopal ministry.

Bishop Holley says he has nothing to hide.

The bishop was removed by Pope Francis from the diocese Oct. 24, after a June Vatican investigation into Holley’s leadership in the diocese. That investigation was prompted by criticism of Holley’s 2017 decision to reassign up to two-thirds of the 60 active priests in the diocese, and his appointment of a Canadian priest, Fr. Clement Machado, as vicar general, moderator of the curia, and chancellor of the Diocese of Memphis.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told reporters Wednesday that the decision to remove Holley was “about management of the diocese.”

Burke added that concerns about Holley were “not abuse-related.” Holley also told CNA that a decades-old allegation of sexual misconduct mentioned in some reports is not the reason for his removal.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl

Holley told CNA that in 2012, Wuerl was under consideration to be transferred from Washington to a high-level Vatican position, as Vatican Secretary of State. Holley was then an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Washington.

Holley says he was asked by Pope Benedict XVI to provide input on the prospect of appointing Wuerl, and that he offered testimony expressing concern about Wuerl’s fitness for the job.

Wuerl was not appointed to the position, and Holley said that his removal from the Diocese of Memphis is the cardinal’s “revenge” for impeding the appointment. Holley said Wuerl has had “disdain” for him since that time.

“I stood in his way for something he wanted,” Holley said.

Wuerl was appointed by Pope Francis in 2013 as a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, before Holley became Bishop of Memphis. The congregation is the office charged with overseeing the ministry of bishops around the world. Wuerl and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago are the sole American members of the congregation.

According to Pastor bonus, the document governing the workings of the Vatican Curia, “the Congregation applies itself to matters relating to the correct exercise of the pastoral function of the bishops, by offering them every kind of assistance. For it is part of its duty to initiate general apostolic visitations where needed, in agreement with the dicasteries concerned and, in the same manner, to evaluate their results and to propose to the Supreme Pontiff the appropriate actions to be taken.”

In response to questions about Holley’s report and Wuerl’s involvement in the apostolic visitation, Wuerl’s spokesman, Ed McFadden, told CNA only that “it would appear that an Apostolic Visitation that took place in the Diocese of Memphis, and the results of that process, may have had some connection to Bishop Holley’s dismissal.”
An official in the Archdiocese of Washington told CNA Holley was not utilized as a close advisor to Wuerl or a member of the cardinal’s inner circle during his time under Wuerl’s leadership, and that his ministry involved overseeing administration in the deaneries of the archdiocese, and performing confirmations. A source close to the case, however, said that Holley had invited Wuerl to speak in the Diocese of Memphis three times during his two years there.

Apostolic Visitation

Holley told CNA that the June apostolic visitation to his diocese was unnecessary, and its purpose was unclear.

He said he was told the visitation was “merely to assist me in the administration of the diocese. I didn’t need any assistance.”

The bishop said that after he was installed as bishop in Memphis, he became aware of the “lack of previous governance that was here.”

“I was putting in order things that were so messed up here,” he said, noting that the diocesan tribunal was dysfunctional, and that other administrative and personnel issues had gone unaddressed by his predecessor.

Holley, who is African-American, said he met resistance because of the “racism of a few priests,” who were motivated to complain about him.  One of them, he said, was a long-time associate of Wuerl.

Acknowledging that his predecessor, Bishop Terry Steib, is also African-American, Holley said that “prejudice and racism” began to manifest itself in the diocese when he began to make necessary changes.

Local media reported that several diocesan priests raised concern about Holley after his controversial transfer of priests, and after the diocese announced in January the closure of the Jubilee Catholic Schools Network, a network of schools in economically challenged neighborhoods, established in 1999 by Steib.

At the time the school closure was announced, diocesan communications director Vince Higgins told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that "This decision would have had to been made no matter... who was the bishop...The numbers were just coming to bear."

The schools are scheduled to close after completion of this school year. A diocesan press release said that "the challenge over the years has been funding the costs of operating the schools...Funding for the schools has been provided primarily through a trust funded by very generous donors plus annual fundraising. The trust is nearly depleted and the Catholic Diocese can only fund the schools through the 2018-19 school year."

Holley was also criticized for his appointment of Machado.

Machado was until 2016 a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, a society of priests headquartered in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was incardinated, or officially transferred, to the Diocese of Memphis soon after Holley was installed as diocesan bishop.

While priests transferring into a diocese often undergo an experimental period for five years, Machado’s incardination was finalized on Dec. 20, 2016, two months after Holley was installed as diocesan bishop.

“Machado is not and was not the problem,” Holley told CNA. “If I’ve known him for this long, why would I not incardinate him?”

Machado, who claims to have had visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a child, has gained an international reputation as an exorcist and as a speaker. In 2016, however, the Diocese of Corpus Christi issued a warning, indicating that Machado was “conducting exorcisms without the permission of the local ordinary.”

“Fr. Machado has not been given permission by the Most Reverend Wm. Michael Mulvey, Bishop of Corpus Christi, to administer the Rite of Exorcism or to serve as an exorcist,” the statement read. The diocese said it was investigating complaints raised against the priest.

Holley told CNA that he has had a long relationship with Machado, and brought him to the diocese because he needed his assistance. He did not have sufficient personnel to address the administrative needs of the diocese, and he believed Machado could help.

Machado resigned from his positions in the Diocese of Memphis on June 29, shortly after the apostolic visitation to the diocese concluded. In a letter to priests announcing Machado’s resignation, the bishop asked priests to pray “that he may successfully complete his degree in the upcoming academic year, as it will greatly benefit his service to the diocese," Holley wrote.

But criticism of Machado in the diocese, he said, was motivated by resentment toward the administrative decisions Holley made. He said the priest was tasked with carrying out his controversial decisions, and that made him a subject of criticism.

Allegations of misconduct

After Holley’s resignation was announced, reports emerged that the bishop had been previously accused of sexual misconduct.

In 2009 a former seminarian published a blog post alleging that in 1986, Holley, who was then a deacon, “used all the creepy predator tricks to get me to give in to him sexually,” at Washington, DC’s Theological College. CNA attempted to contact the former seminarian but was unable to reach him.

A senior Church official told CNA that the complaint was forwarded to the apostolic nuncio this summer, and that it might have impacted the Vatican’s decision to remove the bishop.

Holley told CNA that the apostolic nuncio has not raised the issue with him at any time.

He told CNA that while he could not comment directly on the allegation, he is concerned the matter is being raised in order to cast aspersions on his character, linking him to bishops recently accused of predatory sexal behavior.

“I am not a part of the lavender [mafia],” he said.

“I would never belong to that evil,” he added, referring to allegations of predatory sexual behavior raised against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and other senior Church figures.

He added that he was not particularly close to McCarrick, under whom he served for less than two years as auxiliary bishop. Sources told CNA that it is widely believed in the Archdiocese of Washington that McCarrick opposed Holley’s 2004 appointment as an auxiliary in that diocese, preferring a local candidate.

“I couldn’t help that I was his auxiliary,” he said.

The bishop added while he might have heard that McCarrick had a beach house, he had no knowledge of the prelate’s alleged predatory behavior, much of which is reported to have taken place there.

“I didn’t know anything about McCarrick,” he said. “The poor victims, my gosh.”

Most important, Holley said, in 2009 or 2010 he informed Wuerl, McCarrick, and Bishop Barry Knestout, then another Washington auxiliary bishop, about the seminarian’s allegation. He said he was “completely transparent” with Wuerl about the allegation, and that Wuerl thanked him for reporting it. McCarrick, he said, told him “not to worry about it.”

The matter was not raised again, he said.

Wuerl’s spokesman told CNA that “Cardinal Wuerl has no recollection of any conversation with Bishop Holley regarding any allegation from any period of time.”

Knestout's spokesperson did not respond to questions from CNA before press time. McCarrick could not be reached.

Questions remain unanswered about the canonical process by which Holley was removed. While Pope Francis established in 2016 norms by which a bishop can be removed through a Vatican process, it is not clear whether that process was used in Holley’s case, or whether the Congregation for Bishops, on which Wuerl sits, was involved.

Holley told CNA that he had not spoken with Pope Francis before he was relieved of his responsibility.  

He said he is not sure what next he will do. He is now 63, the ordinary retirement age for bishops is 75.

“There is evil at work here,” he said.

“This is a spiritual battle.”

Seton Hall president condemns student harassment of seminarians

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 15:28

Newark, N.J., Oct 25, 2018 / 01:28 pm (CNA).- Dr. Mary Meehan, interim president of Seton Hall University, has issued a strongly-worded letter to the campus community following numerous reports of students harassing seminarians on campus.


"Recently my office has been informed of several instances of foul language and incivility being aimed at members of our Immaculate Conception Seminary,” wrote Meehan in an email sent to the university community on Oct. 15.


This behavior is “unacceptable,” she said, and “cannot be tolerated.”


The university is home to Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology, which currently has about 100 students, including laypeople. Seminary students live together in a separate dormitory, and some of the campus’ 45 priests in residence live in student residence halls.


The exact nature of “incivility” was not explained in the email.


Msgr. Joseph Reilly, Immaculate Conception’s rector and dean of theology, sent an email to Seton Hall’s newspaper, The Setonian, in which he said that he was unaware his students were being harassed until shortly before Meehan’s letter.


“No one reported (harassment) directly to me, but as the father of the house and as dean of the School of Theology, I was made aware of each of the incidents by another priest member of the formation faculty,” Reilly told the paper.


He added that he was “shocked, angered, and disappointed” by the people who harassed the seminarians, saying that they “acted in a manner that does not reflect in any manner who we are as a Catholic university.”


In a statement from the university given to, Seton Hall said that they “expect all members of the Seton Hall community to be welcoming and civil in their interactions with one another,” and that “as a Catholic university we hold ourselves to the highest standards.”


In August, Seton Hall announced an independent investigation of both Immaculate Conception and the College Seminary at St. Andrew’s Hall, where college-age students study.


At the time the investigation was announced, Meehan said in a statement that it was in response to allegations of sexual abuse and harassment of seminary students by priests, and the “reported failure of many in the Church’s leadership to hold them accountable.”


Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the current head of the Archdiocese of Newark, approved of the investigation.


The Archdiocese of Newark, which sponsors Seton Hall, had previously paid settlements to two former seminarians from the diocese, following allegations of sexual abuse by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who led the archdiocese from 1986-2000.


After leaving Newark, McCarrick became the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., where he was made a cardinal in 2001 and served until his retirement in 2006. In June 2018, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it had received a “credible” accusation of sexual abuse against McCarrick dating back to 1971.


McCarrick’s resignation from the college of cardinals was accepted by Pope Francis in July, 2018. McCarrick is currently residing in a Kansas monastery, where he has been ordered to live in “prayer and penance” pending the outcome of a canonical process.


Seton Hall University is one of the oldest diocesan-run Catholic universities in the country. It has about 10,000 students, including 6,000 undergraduates.

Masterpiece Cakeshop case drew $500k in grants from religious freedom foes

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Oct 25, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Some opponents of broad religious freedom protections have spent over $500,000 on advocacy and public relations campaigns related to the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court decision, a CNA analysis of recent foundation grantmaking has found.

The spending is among at least $2.4 million in new anti-religious freedom grants since October 2017, according to CNA’s analysis. Since 2014 at least $9.9 million in grants from multiple sources have been earmarked to oppose religious freedom protections. The grants generally come from backers of LGBT political causes, legal abortion and mandatory contraception coverage.

After a six-year legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court backed Phillips, the bakery owner, who in July 2012 had declined a request to create a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding due to his religious beliefs. The court ruled 7-2 in his favor in the June 4, 2018, decision Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

While the state civil rights board had ordered him to serve same-sex weddings and undergo anti-discrimination training, the Supreme Court overruled the order, saying some commissioners “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.” The decision did not address broad constitutional questions.

That court case was the focus of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, a San Francisco-based private family foundation with half a billion dollars in assets. Its website lists multiple grants from 2017 and 2018 dedicated to messaging related to the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case.

The Haas, Jr. Fund gave $200,000 to the National Center for Lesbian Rights for a campaign to “educate the LGBT community” about the importance of the case, and $100,000 to the Equality Federation Institute for the same purpose. It gave $100,000 to the Movement Advancement Project, a key LGBT strategy and communications think tank funded by Colorado entrepreneur Tim Gill, “to develop and test ads and other tools to educate and engage the LGBT community” about the case.

Another $100,000 went to the ACLU Foundation for its LGBT & HIV Project “to coordinate a public education campaign around the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case,” while $34,500 went to the Horizons Foundation to “help LGBT Leaders and organizations prepare for a unified response to the Masterpiece Supreme Court decision.”

It is possible that additional grants related to the case will be made public in later documents.

The funding has drawn criticism from the bakery’s supporters.

“Organizations that initially supported gay marriage made the argument that they simply want the same right to marry as everyone else,” said Jeffrey Hunt, director of the Centennial Institute and vice-president of public policy at Colorado Christian University, a self-described interdenominational Christian institution.

“What we are seeing today is an effort to punish, by government force, anyone who doesn’t share their opinion on gay marriage,” said Hunt. “Even Justice Kennedy in his decision to legalize gay marriage condemned such activities by LGBT activists.”

The university is only miles from the Lakewood, Colorado bakery at the center of the case. It has held rallies in support of bakery owner Jack Phillips, has invited him to be a speaker, and has purchased from the bakery.

“It’s no surprise to us that many foundations are pouring money into the effort to restrict religious freedom,” Hunt told CNA. “The truth is the work of the church and the teachings of the Bible are always counter-cultural. They have been since the beginning of Christianity. The founders of our country understood that religious beliefs should be protected, even if they are counter-cultural.”

Denis Chicola, communications director for the Haas Jr. Fund, told CNA that the fund both believes in religious freedom and believes that the actions of the cakeshop were discriminatory.

“Religious freedom — the right to practice one’s religion and to know that society will make reasonable accommodations for people to do so — is a bedrock American value. It’s something each and every one of us should defend,” Chicola said. “We became involved in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case because we and our partners believe that allowing a private business to discriminate against a gay couple is discriminatory.  Nobody should be turned away from a business simply because of who they are.”

When the Supreme Court announced it would hear the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case, Chicola said, the fund’s grantees reported “many LGBT people did not understand the case, let alone the potential harmful ramifications it could have for marriage equality and for the ongoing work of securing broader nondiscrimination protections.”

“For this reason, we supported long-time grantees to conduct a public education campaign targeting the LGBT community,” he said. “This campaign was focused on the facts about the case, and we were heartened by how our grantees were able to broaden people’s knowledge and understanding on this vitally important issue.”

According to Hunt, Phillips’ opponents missed the point.

“Not a single Christian wants to treat a member of the LGBT community as a second-class citizen. We are called to love and serve all people,” he said. “In Jack’s case, he would have served any person who sought to purchase a product from his shop. He simply did not want to use his artistic talent to celebrate a ceremony that violated his deeply held religious beliefs.”

“Jack’s case has nothing to do with failing to serve a member of the LGBT community,” Hunt added. “In fact, if I as a Bible-believing conservative asked Jack to bake a cake that violated his religious beliefs, he would have said no. It is not about the people, it is about the message.”

“We are losing our sense of civic friendship in our communities. Too often, activists seek to use the law to punish those they disagree with in an effort to create uniformity,” he continued. “I believe we can live in society where members of the LGBT community are respected and religious freedom is protected.”

Phillips, the baker, has since faced another complaint from a prospective customer, an attorney who asked for a cake to mark a gender transition anniversary. The request was for a cake that was pink on the inside and blue on the outside, representing a transition from male to female. Phillips declined to make the cake based on his religious beliefs, and the prospective customer filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The commission ruled that there was sufficient evidence of a discrimination claim based on transgender status and ordered both sides to “compulsory mediation.”

Phillips’ attorneys filed a federal lawsuit challenging the action.

“The state of Colorado is ignoring the message of the U.S. Supreme Court by continuing to single out Jack for punishment and to exhibit hostility toward his religious beliefs,” Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of the U.S. legal division of Alliance Defending Freedom, said in August.

Waggoner’s legal group is representing Phillips, but it declined comment for this story. Phillips has said he has also declined to make a number of other types of cakes, including cakes for Halloween, bachelor parties, divorce, cakes with alcohol in the ingredients, and cakes with atheist messages.

Grant listings and tax forms provide some insight into the strategy, tactics and resources of the large network of advocacy groups, academic projects and other organizations that aim to limit religious freedom protections in the U.S.

Many donors have combined to fund the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative, run out of the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund. The collaborative’s website says its grantmaking “centers around building a sustainable, cross movement infrastructure capable of developing a unified voice for LGBTQ, RJ(reproductive justice), and faith allies; investing in learning that advances the field; and supporting long-term culture change efforts to move hearts and minds on these issues.”

Since September 2017 the Haas, Jr. Fund has given $200,000 to this project. The Overbrook Foundation has given $125,000, citing the collaborative’s work to curtail “the inappropriate use of religious exemptions to curtail reproductive health, rights and justice, discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, and otherwise undermine fundamental rights and liberties.” The Moriah Fund gave $35,000, citing its focus on “defeating harmful religious refusal policies.”

Perhaps the largest donor to the anti-religious freedom campaign, the New York-based Arcus Foundation, included $300,000 to the collaborative in its recent grantmaking.

Arcus has given $900,000 in anti-religious freedom grants since September 2017. These include $150,000 for the ACLU’s Religious Exemptions Communications Hub Project, which “spurs communications efforts in driving and shaping the public narrative around religious exemptions that harm or would harm LGBTQ people, women, and religious minorities”; and $200,000 to the Center for American Progress’ Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative “to challenge discriminatory religious exemptions policies, by advancing moral and ethical arguments for faith-centered resistance against conservative policies within the United States,” according to a June 20 news release from the foundation.

Another $125,000 went to support the Columbia Law School’s Public Rights / Private Conscience Project, which the Arcus grant listing characterized as “a thought leader in the development of legal and policy analysis, as well as in the development of messaging that strikes a balance between religious rights and other fundamental rights.”

The Arcus Foundation was launched by billionaire heir Jon Stryker, whose sister Pat Stryker is a major political donor in Colorado. Its board includes Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, which gives out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants each year. In the past, it too has backed the Public Rights / Private Conscience Project.

Religious change is also an object of the funding network.

Chicola, the Haas, Jr. Fund spokesperson, said that in 2007 his employer launched a major initiative backing the Institute for Welcoming Resources and its partners “to help inform hearts and minds on gay equality among people of faith.”

“As a result of this work, thousands more religious leaders and people of faith became advocates, and four of the five major mainline Protestant denominations eventually repealed ant-gay policies,” he said.

The Arcus Foundation has similarly been involved in cultivating allies among religious groups. One of its 2018 anti-religious freedom grants, $125,000 to Dignity USA for the Equally Blessed Coalition, was earmarked for “advocating for LGBTQ acceptance and for an end to harmful religious exemption policies within Catholic communities,” according to the June 20 grant announcement.

The self-described Catholic group rejects Catholic teaching on the immorality of homosexual acts and has called for same-sex unions to be recognized as sacramental.

The Proteus Fund collaborative’s own website says it has given $900,000 in program grants to eight organizations in state-based coalitions. Its grant listings indicate it has funded anti-religious freedom coalition partners in New Mexico and Georgia, and is preparing additional coalitions in Texas and Florida.

Rounding out the full list of recent anti-religious freedom grants, other Haas Jr. Fund spending includes $150,000 to the Pride Foundation; $50,000 to the Center for American Progress “to influence public debates around protecting civil rights protections and safeguarding religious liberties”; and $30,000 to back the Columbia Law School Public Rights/Private Conscience Project.

The Overbrook Foundation’s recent giving included $60,000 to the Lambda Legal Foundation for purposes including opposition to “overly broad” religious exemptions in non-discrimination legislation. Another $25,000 went to litigation program support for the group Freedom for All Americans, citing its work backing anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression “without allowing overly broad and harmful religious exemptions.”

CNA’s focus on grants specifically dealing with religious liberty does not convey the entire financial infrastructure for such organizations, many of which receive large grants for general operating support.

For instance, the Freedom for All Americans Education Fund received $400,000 from the Haas Jr. Fund in 2017 alone. These grants were earmarked for public education, litigation and grantee investment, not for religious freedom specifically. But the Freedom for All Americans’ website indicates it rejects religious exemptions and religious freedom laws.


Amid lawsuit, firm publishes list of California priests accused of abuse

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 02:00

San Francisco, Calif., Oct 25, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A Minnesota-based law firm released a report Tuesday compiling the names of over 200 priests from the San Francisco Bay area it says have been publicly accused of sexual abuse. At least one California diocese has questioned the sources for the list.

The law firm, Jeff Anderson & Associates, filed a lawsuit Oct. 1 against all of California’s dioceses, along with as the California Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Chicago, alleging a sexual abuse cover-up.  

The Oct. 23 report lists the names and parish assignments of 212 priests from the San Francisco Bay area. The report says it is an effort to compile “information already available to the public from various sources in the public media,” and to raise awareness of the issue of clerical sexual abuse.

“The vast majority of the claims against these individuals have been settled or have not been fully evaluated in a civil court,” the report reads.

“Accordingly, the allegations should be considered just allegations and should not be considered proved or substantiated in a court of law. All individuals should be considered innocent until proven guilty.”

The statute of limitations for trying the alleged crimes has passed in some cases, the report notes.

Mike Brown, spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said although the diocese plans to take the accusations in the report very seriously, he said it is not entirely clear what sources and criteria Jeff Anderson & Associates used to compile their list.

“[Jeff Anderson’s] already taken some names off his list since two days ago,” Brown said.

He said the diocese is in the process of reviewing its files, but cannot announce when or if the diocese will release its own list of accused clergy.

The law firm said that information on the accused came from publicly available documents, such as lawsuits, diocesan statements, and the website, a Massachusetts based non-profit that tracks allegations of sexual abuse.

The law firm’s report lists the names of 95 priests in Oakland, 135 in Los Angeles, and 33 in San Jose, although 51 of the names are duplicates because those priests operated in more than one diocese over the years.

The Diocese of San Jose released a list of accused priests Oct. 18 that included 15 names. The disclosure revealed that at least two priests returned to ministry after being convicted of sexual abuse, but were both later banned from ministry.

The San Jose diocese said Tuesday that they were reviewing the 18 additional names put forth and would publicly comment today, but no response was received by press time.  

Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland said Oct. 7 that his diocese plans to release a list of publicly accused clergy within 45 days.

New York friar’s new album says life is a pilgrimage made 'poco a poco'

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 19:06

New York City, N.Y., Oct 24, 2018 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- Musical inspiration can come from unexpected places - like a Franciscan friar’s struggle to learn Spanish.

The inspiration for the title and theme of “Poco a Poco,” a new CD from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, came from a friar living in Honduras, who worked at a hospital that serves the poorest of the poor.

Although he was having a hard time learning Spanish, the friar wanted to encourage people as they waited to for medical attention - some of whom had walked for miles to receive care - so he memorized a simple but encouraging phrase in Spanish: “Somos peregrinos caminamos al Señor; poco a poco, vamos al llegar,” which translates to: “We are pilgrims walking to the Lord, little by little, we will arrive.”

“It was just this little way of like encouraging people...little by little, step by step, I can get through another day,” said another Franciscan, Fr. Mark-Mary, CFR, who heard the friar’s phrase for the first time when he was also living and working in Honduras.

“But it ends with this hope of ‘vamos a llegar’, we’re going to make it, our hope is in Christ and we do not hope in vain,” he told CNA.

Fr. Mark-Mary shared the phrase and story with friend and fellow friar Br. Isaiah, CFR, who found that it resonated with him so personally that he chose “Poco a Poco” for the title of his first full-length musical album.

“Every time I heard it I just lit up because there was something about it that just grabbed my heart” Br. Isaiah said in a video about the CD for Ascension Press.

“Little by little, there’s something about that that my heart just says ok yeah, I can handle that...its become a chorus for me when facing life’s difficulties,” he said. “It’s become a rallying phrase for whatever the moment calls for.”  

The biblical theme of life as a pilgrimage journeying to the Lord, and with the Lord, is something that permeates the whole CD, Br. Isaiah said in email comments to CNA.

“The Book of Exodus recounts how God led Israel ‘little by little’ through the desert in their pilgrimage to the Promised Land and so He does with us,” he said.

“‘Poco a poco,’ God guides us along our journey, encouraging the heart to set out each day to a land it knows not, by paths it has not known, all with the promised accompaniment of an ever-present and unwearied Love, capable of carrying us beyond the familiar lands of our habits and capacities to frontiers of growth, transformation, and ever-deepening peace as we come to behold the God of love, in the face of Christ Jesus, whose peace (and love for us) ‘passes all understanding,’” he said.

The theme of life as pilgrimage also fits perfectly with the charism of the friars, as stated on their recently-received Pontifical Decree from Rome: "In imitation of St. Francis of Assisi, the friars seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, as a prophetic witness that life is a pilgrimage to the Father, of faith, hope and love of God and neighbor, made possible by the Holy Spirit."

The album is the fruit of prayer and brotherhood, said Fr. Mark-Mary, who is the CD’s executive producer.

“There’s this really popular line from St. Irenaeus, that ‘the glory of God is man fully alive,’ but man fully alive is man in communion,” Fr. Mark-Mary said.  

“There’s something about this album that’s the fruit of our Franciscan brotherhood, it’s not the fruit of Brother Isaiah being a superstar, it’s listening to one of our simple, older brother’s prayer and the way he’s speaking to the poor in Honduras, and then sharing that and putting my gifts at the service of Brother Isaiah, and Brother Isaiah receiving that gift,” he said.

“This (album) wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for our Franciscan brotherhood, which we take very seriously, we’re really proud of it,” he said.

Using music as a way to evangelize is deeply embedded in the Franciscan charism, Fr. Mark-Mary noted, and goes all the way back to St. Francis of Assisi, who had a talented musical friend and follower.

“So St. Francis would have him come and play in the market square and he’d get people’s attention, and then the musician would take a break and then they’d preach, so its very much a part of the Franciscan charism,” he said.

It’s also particularly a part of the CFR charism - one of the founding members of the order is the rapping Fr. Stan Fortuna (of ‘Everybody Got 2 Suffer’ fame), and many other musically talented brothers who have joined the order over the years.

The music adds, rather than detracts, from the friars’ primary mission of serving the poor and evangelizing, Fr. Mark-Mary noted.

“I thought it was really beautiful that on the night when (the CD) was released, Br. Isaiah came down to our homeless shelter in the Bronx, and he’s playing music and giving a word to the homeless in the shelter,” he said.

“There’s something beautiful about being able to do this but in a way that doesn’t take us away from our first call.”

Something else that Fr. Mark-Mary said he appreciated about being involved in the project was the opportunity to add something positive to the culture.

“I have a chance to lead the way again with some of the friars’ work with media evangelization,” he said.

“What it comes down to is that we’re in a battle for minds, and can we be speaking goodness into the world? Because so much of the culture these days...its not morally neutral, a lot of the stuff out there, it’s really like poison.”

But it’s not enough to tell people “don’t watch this, don’t listen to that,” Fr. Mark-Mary noted, there has to be something else to take its place.

“The full work is saying - watch this instead, listen to this instead. So we’re trying to do that and finding that music is one way to get into people’s personal cultures, to get on their phones get in their car radios,” he said.  

So far the album has been received very well, Fr. Mark-Mary said. It was at one point the fourth best-selling Christian album according to Amazon, and the number 23 best-selling album for all music on Amazon.

The album “Poco a Poco” is available on iTunes and Amazon, and CDs and merchandise can also be ordered through Ascension Press.

One of Fr. Mark-Mary's favorite parts of the experience has been watching the comments that people have made on a music video for one of the tracks, “Struggler”, produced by Spirit Juice Productions and posted on Ascension Press’ website.

“I think one of my favorite comments has been ‘I regret underestimating this,’” Fr. Mark-Mary said.

He said he has found that people often expect “church stuff” to be mediocre or lower in quality, and he likes breaking those stereotypes.

“I’m very much committed to speaking a message in a way where the means doesn’t undermine what you’re trying to say.”

How a new study says premarital sex affects marital happiness

Wed, 10/24/2018 - 12:08

Denver, Colo., Oct 24, 2018 / 10:08 am (CNA).- People who have had only one lifetime sexual partner have happier marriages than people with two or more lifetime partners, according to a new report from the Institute for Family Studies.

The study’s author, Dr. Nicholas Wolfinger of the University of Utah, found that women who have been sexually intimate only with their spouses are most likely to report having “very happy” marriages, at 65 percent. Among women with between six and ten lifetime sexual partners, only 52% reported being “very happy” in their marriage, the lowest in the study.

Among men, 71% with one partner reported being very happy with their marriage, according the study. For men who report two or more sexual partners, the number drops to 65 percent.

In addition, 40% of the study’s respondents reported having had only one or zero sexual partners before getting married. Wolfinger pointed out that the rate among younger Americans, who have married since 2000, is closer to 27 percent. The median American woman born in the 1980s has had three sex partners in her lifetime, and the median man six; just five percent of all women marrying in the 2010s were virgins.

“The surprisingly large number of Americans reporting one lifetime sex partner have the happiest marriages,” the study reads. “Past one partner, it doesn’t make as much of a difference. The overall disparity isn’t huge, but neither is it trivial.”

The study controlled for the religiosity of its subjects, which Wolfinger said has been shown by other studies to be a major factor in happy marriages, but not the only explanation. He said the data he has is not conclusive on this point.

"Coming into this beforehand, I would have expected religion to be one reason why people who don't have a lot of sex partners would have happier marriages," Wolfinger told CNA.

"Church attendance, in itself, produces happier marriages...but be that as it may, controlling for [denomination and church attendance] did not substantially affect the relationship between how many premarital sex partners you have and whether you're in a very happy marriage."

What this means, Wolfinger clarified, is that people are more likely to have a happy marriage if they have fewer premarital sexual partners whether they are religious or not.

One major factor affecting this result, he said, is the fact that premarital sex can often result in children born out of wedlock, which unfortunately tend to strain future relationships. Moreover, people who have had previous sexual partners before marriage may later compare their spouse to those previous partners, leading to a decline in the happiness of their marriage.

In a similar 2016 study, Wolfinger examined the divorce rate in relation to the number of sexual partners a woman has had in her lifetime. He found that survey respondents who had not had sexual partners before marriage had the lowest divorce rates, and those with ten or more partners in their lifetime were the most likely to spit up, with a 30% chance of divorce in the first 5 years of marriage.

Of those women who married in the 2000s without having first had sex, nearly 70% reported regularly attending some kind of church services, while less than 30% of women with ten or more partners were churchgoers.

“Everything should be on the table”

Father Brian O’Brien, a priest of the Diocese of Tulsa in Oklahoma, told CNA that the statistics presented in the IFS study are confirmed by his experience working in marriage preparation for 11 years. He said he often presents statistics to the couples he counsels, to try to help explain how premarital cohabitation and premarital sex can negatively affect the happiness of their marriage.

"Ultimately it comes down to: we're not meant to be used," O’Brien told CNA.

"I think what happens in a lot of cases is [people think]: 'I'll just sleep with a whole bunch of people, and maybe one of them will work out.' And that's exactly what happens in the movies...but the idea that you can just use somebody and move on as if that didn't happen, I think is where the unhappiness sets in."

People will remember the sexual partners that they had "along the way," because sex bonds people together, he said. A bond with a person who is no longer in a person's life will remain with them even if they start a new relationship, leaving a "lingering guilt," "unresolved issues," and “baggage” that makes new relationships that much more difficult.

"Marriage is hard enough, and it's even harder if you're bringing in a bunch of baggage," he said. “For couples that are going to enter into a marriage covenant, everything should be on the table.”

O’Brien said that the broader trend in society of couples coming into marriage with multiple sexual partners, as evidenced by statistics cited in the IFS study, has also manifested itself among the couples he counsels.

"I go into [marriage prep] assuming, until I talk to them, that the couple is probably living together, and I assume that they are sexually active," O’Brien said.

"I tell [couples] that I want their marriage to be as happy and holy as possible, and your marriage will be happier and holier if you abstain from sex and if you don't live together.”

O'Brien said he thinks most couples who are living together know what they're doing is wrong, especially when it comes to being sexually active. He said he suspects that there are many couples that don't see anything wrong with cohabitation before marriage, viewing the move primarily as an economic decision.

"It's not that they're sort of 'trying each other out,' it's that 'we don't want to pay two rents,'" O'Brien explained. "So I think in that way they're not really flaunting Church teaching, they're trying to make good economic decisions."

He said he takes a pastoral approach to the couple’s situation, affirming them in their good decisions and “meeting them where they are.”

"If they're not living together, and they're not sexually active, it's my chance to say: "Awesome! Great job!" and to really affirm them in those decisions," he said.

He said generally in the second or third marriage prep meeting, he'll ask some basic information such as the couple's home address. If the couple is already living together, they will often admit it at that point, if reluctantly.

"They'll look at each other like: 'Oh no. Should we give him the same address?' And as soon as they do that, I'll ask 'So do you guys live at the same place?' And they have this guilty look on their face, and they'll say yes," O'Brien said.

"And I’ll say: 'Ok, I'm not yelling at you, but obviously you guys feel bad about it.' So then we'll kind of take that and discuss it as we go."

O'Brien said despite popular opinion that may suggest that fewer people are seeking marriage in the Catholic Church, he and his fellow priests in Oklahoma are engaged in marriage prep and presiding at weddings "all the time."

"I'm not ready to throw in the towel on the young people of the Church," he said. "Because I think there really is a desire to have God as part of their marriage, and they're not finding that in other places."

Father Zach Swantek, a chaplain at Seton Hall University, offered his thoughts about his experience with modern marriage prep in an email to CNA.

“Often priests are afraid to discuss issues such as pre-marital sex, chastity, cohabitation, contraception and even participation in the Church with [couples], for fear that they will be offended or scared off,” Swantek wrote.

“On the other hand, some priests boast about how they refuse to marry couples that fail to live in strict adherence to the teachings of the Church, yet do not help these couples to understand and live these teachings,” he added.

“Marriage preparation must be viewed as an opportunity to accompany the couple, gradually leading them to the fullness of truth about faith, sacraments and marriage. This requires patience and work, but it is well worth the effort.”