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Scheduled execution in Nebraska 'would undermine respect for human life'

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 19:11

Lincoln, Neb., Jul 6, 2018 / 05:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nebraska's bishops on Friday issued a statement opposing the execution of Carey Dean Moore, whose execution date has been set for Aug. 14.

“Our society has a pervasive culture of violence and death which can only be transformed by a counter-culture of justice and mercy,” read a July 6 statement issued by Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, and Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island.

“Each time we consider applying capital punishment, Nebraska has an opportunity to respond to an act of violence with an act of mercy that does not endanger public safety or compromise the demands of justice.”

“There is no doubt the state has the responsibility to administer just punishment,” the bishops wrote. “However, given our modern prison system, the execution of Carey Dean Moore is not necessary to fulfill justice and, for that reason, would undermine respect for human life.”

The bishops said that “We continue to offer our sincerest prayers for all victims and those affected by the heinous crimes of Mr. Moore, and we pray for his conversion of heart.”

Nebraska has not executed a prisoner in 21 years, and capital punishment has been a contentious issue in the state's legislature in recent years.

Moore's execution date was set July 5 by the Nebraska Supreme Court. Moore, 60, has been on death row 38 years, the longest of the state's 12 death row inmates. He was sentenced for the 1979 murders of two cab drivers, Reuel Van Ness, Jr. and Maynard Helgeland.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that Moore will be executed by injection of diazepam, fentanyl citrate, cisatracurium besylate, and potassium chloride. Moore's execution would be the first lethal injection in Nebraska; most recently, the state utilized the electric chair.

Nebraska's store of potassium chloride is due to expire at the end of August.

A district judge ruled in June that the state had to release records of its communications with the supplier of its lethal injection drugs, but the decision was appealed and there records remain private.

Moore has chosen not to appeal his execution.

Capital punishment was abolished by Nebraska's unicameral legislature in 2015, overriding a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts. But state voters reinstated the practice 2016 in a ballot measure by a vote of about 61 percent.

“We express our disappointment that the death penalty will be reinstated in Nebraska,” Nebraska’s three bishops said in a joint statement Nov. 9, 2016. “We will continue to call for the repeal of the death penalty when it is not absolutely necessary to protect the public safety.”

Meet the likely nominees for the next Supreme Court justice

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 18:53

Washington D.C., Jul 6, 2018 / 04:53 pm (CNA).- On July 9, President Donald Trump will announce his nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Trump reportedly spent the last weekend interviewing candidates for the position, and insiders say that he has narrowed it to three people: Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Raymond Kethledge.

Here’s what you need to know about each of these justices.

Amy Coney Barrett:

Barrett has served on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals since November of 2017. Prior to this, she was a professor at Notre Dame Law School. She clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

She received a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes College (BA) and received a JD from Notre Dame Law School.

Barrett and her husband Jesse have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti, and one with special needs. She is a Catholic, and is reportedly a member of People of Praise, a charismatic ecumenical group. Her father is a Catholic deacon.

Concerns of anti-Catholic bigotry were raised during her appeals court nomination hearing, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told her that “the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.” If she is nominated, she will likely face opposition from Senate Democrats over her pro-life stance and the common presumption that she would be willing to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that found a right to an abortion throughout a pregnancy.

Barrett said in 2016 that she could envision abortion rights changing in the United States, according to the New York Times. She said in her 2017 confirmation hearings that she would “have no interest” in challenging the Roe v. Wade decision.

Her limited judicial experience on the bench may work against her, although other justices with less experience have been appointed in the past. Given the advanced age of two of the other Supreme Court justices (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Justice Stephen Breyer will turn 80 in August), as well as her relative young age of 46, it’s entirely possible Trump may save her for another potential appointment once she has more experience.

Brett Kavanaugh:

Kavanaugh has served on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals since 2006. Prior to that, he was a secretary in the George W. Bush administration. He clerked for the recently-retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

He received his undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University, and is married to his wife, Ashley. He is Catholic and graduated from the Jesuit high school Georgetown Preparatory School.

On abortion, not much is known regarding his personal views. Kavanaugh recently wrote a decision that prevented a pregnant undocumented minor in federal custody from receiving an abortion. The decision was overturned by another court.

Kavanaugh has written dissents in the past opposing undocumented persons voting in union elections and was opposed to expanding visas to foreign workers when there were Americans who could do the job.

His 2015 ruling on the HHS contraception mandate was met with a mixed response. While he sided with Priests for Life in their case against the Obama administration, he appeared to acknowledge a “compelling” interest in the availability of government-provided contraception, which had previously been recognized by members of the Supreme Court.

In a case involving the Washington Metro’s prohibition on religious-themed advertisements, including an ad by the Archdiocese of Washington, Kavanaugh was “unrelenting” in his questioning of the Metro’s lawyer, saying that he believed the prohibition was “discriminatory.”

Raymond Kethledge:

Kethledge has been on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals since 2008. He, like Kavanaugh, is a former Kennedy clerk.

He received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Michigan. Kethledge and his wife, Jessica, have two children. He is an Evangelical Christian.

Kethledge has not said much publicly on abortion, but he served as Judiciary Committee counsel for a pro-life senator who was seeking to ban certain types of abortion.

Out of the three reported finalists, Kethledge has a mixed record on immigration that may upset some conservatives. In the past, he has sided with undocumented immigrants and has blocked deportations, but he has also ruled in favor of the government in other cases. He’s described as a judicial “textualist.”

His rulings on religious liberty are limited. In one 2018 case, he sided with a church-owned restaurant and its volunteers against the Labor Department’s wage requirements. He has, however, ruled in many free speech cases, and generally supported free speech. One notable exception was when he ruled against a legal challenge to a law that banned strip clubs in a city’s downtown.

President Trump is expected to announce his pick Monday evening from the White House. Senate hearings are expected to begin shortly thereafter.

DiNardo: Roe v. Wade is no litmus test for Supreme Court justices

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 14:45

Washington D.C., Jul 6, 2018 / 12:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Senate should not use a nominee’s stance on Roe v. Wade as a litmus test on suitability for appointment to the Supreme Court, the president of the nation’s bishops’ conference has said.

“By any measure, support for Roe is an impoverished standard for assessing judicial ability,” wrote Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, in a July 6 letter to senators.

“If a Supreme Court ruling was wrongly decided, is widely rejected as morally flawed and socially harmful, and is seen even by many supporters as having little basis in the Constitution, these are very good reasons not to use it as a litmus test for future judges,” the cardinal wrote.

DiNardo noted that most Americans oppose the policies permitted by the Roe v. Wade decision and “believe that abortion should not be legal for the reasons it is most often performed.”

He added that “mainstream medicine rejects abortion,” that state legislatures are “passing laws to provide as much protection from abortion as possible,” and that “even legal scholars who support abortion have criticized Roe for not being grounded in the U.S. Constitution.”

DiNardo added that “nominees’ faith should not be used as a proxy for their views on Roe. Any religious test for public office  is both unjust and unconstitutional.”

The cardinal’s letter comes days before July 9, when President Donald Trump is expected to announce his pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement in June.

Pro-life advocates have expected hope that a Trump-appointed justice could give the court a majority of justices willing to overturn Roe v. Wade. Among the rumored candidates is Judge Amy Barrett, a Catholic, who made headlines last year when Sen. Dianne Feinstein criticized Barrett’s faith, saying that Catholic “dogma lives loudy” within her.

At least one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, has said that a nominee who intends to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision would "not be acceptable.” The Senate is required to confirm a nominee before a Supreme Court appointment can take effect.

DiNardo’s letter said that the Church’s ethical commitment to the right to life “has profound consequences not only for abortion,” but for the death penalty, the right to health care, and other issues.

“Our civil society will be all the poorer if Senators, as a matter of practice, reject well-qualified judicial nominees whose consciences have been formed in this ethic,” DiNardo concluded.

In eastern India, radicals expel ten Christian families

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 19:00

Kolkata, India, Jul 5, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Several Christian families have been assaulted and expelled from their village by local extremists for refusing to renounce their faith, drawing protest from an American group who says the attack violates the families’ rights under Indian law.

“We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned to see that 10 Christian families have been beaten and displaced for merely exercising their religious freedom rights,” William Stark, regional manager at International Christian Concern, said July 3.

International Christian Concern, a non-denominational Christian NGO based in the U.S., reports that 10 Christian families in the eastern India state of Jharkhand have been driven from their homes for refusing to renounce their faith.

On June 5 the ten Christian families from Pahli village in Latehar district were summoned to a meeting with local radicals. The radicals told them to renounce their faith or leave. After the families refused, they were beaten and driven from their village.
The radicals then locked down their homes. The Christians have been unable to return to their homes and local authorities are either unable or unwilling to assist them. Local police in Balumat have unlocked some of their houses, but have taken no action against the radicals, 25-year-old Shyamlal Kujju, one of the Christians affected, told ICC.
“We are living in fear, away from our homes,” Kujju said. “It is almost a month since my house is locked by Hindu radicals and there is no attempt by the police or the government to resolve the issue. Our lives are devastated as we hide ourselves from the Hindu radicals. We do not know how long this will continue.”

Father Theodore Mascarenhas, the secretary general of the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference speculated following violence in another village of Jharkand last month that “maybe government agencies have been targeting Christian missionaries” in the region, which is predominantly poor, predominantly rural, predominantly poor, and the epicenter of a long-running guerilla conflict between Maoist radicals and government forces.

The families in Pahli regularly worshipped in a fellow Christian’s home before the June 5 threat.
Christian Pastor Rajdev Toppo, who is familiar with the area, said it has become “increasingly difficult” to serve in the Latehar district.
“On a daily basis, I am threatened and ridiculed for teaching Christians the Word of God,” he told ICC. “The local government has not been helpful including when cases of the Christians were taken to the police and administration.”
Jharkhand State adopted legislation billed as a Freedom of Religion law in September 2017, but its critics see it as an anti-conversion law. The law regulates religious conversions and criminalizes forced conversions.
ICC said that “forced conversion” is a legally ambiguous term and radicals often abuse these laws to make false accusations against Christians or to justify assaults against them.

Stark said India’s constitution backs the individual’s right to profess, practice and propagate his or her religion.
“This right has obviously been denied to these 10 Christian families in Pahli village,” he said. “Local authorities must take decisive action to correct this denial of rights and arrest those involved in the June 5 attack. Without enforcement, India’s religious freedom rights will remain only words on paper and attacks on Christians and other religious minorities will continue to rise in both number and severity.”
Earlier this year, Hindu nationalists posted online a video calling for a Christian-free India and showing them trampling a photo of Pope Francis near Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi, the national capital.


UK appoints first religious freedom envoy

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 16:10

London, England, Jul 5, 2018 / 02:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For the first time, a Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief has been appointed in the UK to promote international religious liberty and fight persecution.

Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, was selected for the role. Ahmad also serves as the Prime Minister's Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.

In the role, Ahmad “will promote the UK’s firm stance on religious tolerance abroad, helping to tackle religious discrimination in countries where minority faith groups face persecution,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement Wednesday.

Ahmad said he was delighted by the appointment and plans to “use the UK Government’s global network to reach across religious divides, seek the elimination of discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and bring different communities together.”

“In too many parts of the world, religious minorities are persecuted, discriminated against and treated as second class citizens. As a man of faith, I feel this very keenly,” he said in a statement.

“Freedom of Religion or Belief is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It must be respected. People from all faiths or none should be free to practise as they wish. This respect is key to global stability, and is in all our interests.”

The role of religious freedom envoy, similar to the U.S. position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, will “demonstrate the country’s commitment to religious freedom by promoting inter-faith respect and dialogue internationally,” the government said in a press release.

“The appointment underscores the Prime Minister’s commitment to tackling religious prejudice in all its forms and follows the government’s recent announcement of a further £1 million funding for places of worship that have been subjected to hate crime attacks.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a coalition of religious freedom advocates, said it was “greatly encouraged by Lord Ahmad’s concern and dedication for those around the world, of all creeds or none, who experience injustice because of their religion or belief.”

The group’s chief executive, Mervyn Thomas, said they “look forward to continuing to work with [Ahmad] to uphold and promote the right to freedom of religion or belief for all.”

In making the announcement, Prime Minister Theresa May stressed that “Religious discrimination blights the lives of millions of people across the globe and leads to conflict and instability.”

“Both here and abroad, individuals are being denied the basic right of being able to practise their faith free of fear,” she said in a statement.

She said that Ahmad has worked “to promote religious liberty in his role as Minister for Human Rights at the Foreign Office” and will now work “with faith groups and governments across the world to raise understanding of religious persecution and what we can do to eliminate it.”


What went wrong in the Sexual Revolution? New documentary takes a look

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 18:51

Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 4, 2018 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- The story of a donor-conceived woman. The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s. The development of birth control. And a papal document that shocked the world. These themes come together in a new documentary, Sexual Revolution--50 Years Since Humanae Vitae.

The film’s director, Daniel diSilva, told CNA that the documentary focuses on three main messages: addressing the broken ideals of “free love” that were promised in the Sexual Revolution; examining the consequences of the “free love” movement in light of Humanae Vitae; and outlining the historical development of the birth control pill and Natural Family Planning.

Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI, affirms the Church’s teaching against contraception. It talks about the dignity of human life and sexuality, and outlines the use of Natural Family Planning as a morally valid method of planning and spacing children.

The Sexual Revolution, said diSilva, introduced a new concept of love “with no strings attached, no babies, no consequences.” But it “went off track…and it has broken every promise that it made to our culture.”

“We, as a culture, were lied to left and right, and we all went with it,” he said. “I think the sexual revolution was, in a certain sense, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Pope Paul VI, who will be canonized a saint this October, “was the antithesis, if you will, of the sexual revolution,” he continued. In Humanae Vitae, the pope warned society against the widespread use of artificial contraception, saying it would lead to an increase in marital infidelity and general decline of moral standards, the possibility of governments using coercive measures to force contraceptive use upon people, a loss of respect for women, and a general decrease in humility regarding humanity’s dominion over the human body.

“And he was ridiculed. He was laughed at,” said diSilva. “That document, to this day, is probably…one of the most hated papal history.”

But in the end, he continued, the pope’s warnings about the consequences of contraception for society would prove to be true.

The film also delves into the history of the pill in contrast with Natural Family Planning. For those who have not explored Natural Family Planning, diSilva said, its history is revealed in the film as a “beautiful and organic, super scientifically effective method,” especially in a time “when people are so focused on what’s organic and what’s natural.”

Tying these elements together is the story of the film’s narrator, Alana Newman, whose exploration of her life as a donor-conceived individual led to her conversion to the Catholic Church.

The inspiration for the film came during a conversation between diSilva and Newman’s husband, Richard, during the screening of diSilva’s previous work, The Original Image of Divine Mercy.

“I’ve been pitched a million ideas for films,” he said, but Newman’s idea stuck out to him.

The idea was even more special to diSilva because it began during the screening of a film based on God’s mercy.

“It’s highly significant because of what mercy means,” he said. “It’s an incredible link from Divine Mercy to this film.”

It also tips its hat to the pro-life movement. “It’s a work of art that is a culmination” of all pro-life efforts, he said.

The film features commentary from prominent Catholic leaders, including Professor Janet Smith of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Princeton law professor Robert George, Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project Brad Wilcox, George Mason law professor Helen Alvare, and author Mary Eberstadt.

But diSilva hopes its message will reach far beyond a Catholic audience.

Since its trailer was released on June 2, more than 1,000 screening requests have come from 47 different states, said diSilva. Inquiries regarding screenings can be sent to, and further details are available at the film’s website:

Some early viewers have already reported deeply inspirational experiences, diSilva said. He mentioned one particular story in which a man who had been struggling with his sexuality announced his renewed commitment to chastity aloud to the crowd of film-goers after the movie had concluded.

The film will also be screened in Rome for a week in October, diSilva said, in honor of Pope Paul VI’s canonization on October 14.

The film, he said, is “an invitation to revisit Humanae Vitae now, 50 years later…Nobody can ridicule the pope for what he said in Humanae Vitae anymore - those days are over. Because everything he said came true. He was right about everything. He couldn’t have been more accurate in Humanae Vitae.”

Rebuilt from the ashes: The story of an American basilica

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 05:41

Norfolk, Virginia, Jul 4, 2018 / 03:41 am (CNA).- An immigrant parish, burnt down, with only the crucifix remaining. A parish rebuilt, transformed and a key part in giving back to the community. In a sense, one parish’s story of struggle, pressure and rebirth is metaphor for the American Catholic experience.

St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, Virginia, is the only black Catholic church in the United States that is also a basilica. Its dramatic history captures both the broader American Catholic history of persecution, growth and acceptance, but also a witness to the unique challenges faced by black Catholics over the centuries.

Founded originally as St. Patrick’s Parish in 1791, it is the oldest Catholic parish in the Diocese of Richmond, predating the foundation of the diocese by nearly 30 years.

“Catholicism was not legal to practice” in Virginia when the colony was founded, said Fr. Jim Curran, rector of the basilica. In much of Colonial America, before the Revolution and the signing of the Bill of Rights, churches that were not approved by the government were prohibited from operating, he told CNA.

The land originally bought in 1794 for the parish is the same ground on which the basilica today stands. From the beginning, according to the parish’s history, Catholics from all backgrounds worshiped together: Irish and German immigrants, free black persons and slaves.

However, by the 1850s, the parish’s immigrant background and mixed-race parish drew the ire of a prominent anti-Catholic movement: the Know-Nothings.

Largely concentrated in northeastern states where the immigrant influx was greatest, the movement rose and fell quickly. Concerned with maintaining the Protestant “purity of the nation,” it worked to prevent immigrants – many of whom were Catholic – from gaining the right to vote, becoming citizens, or taking elected office.

“I consider the Know-Nothings to be a sort of gatekeeper organization, by which I mean that they were both anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic at the same time,” said Fr. David Endres, an assistant professor of Church History and Historical Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

He told CNA that the Know-Nothing Party was able to bring together both pro- and anti-slavery voters in the mid-1800s, united in the common “dislike of foreign-born and Catholics.”

While most anti-Catholic activities took the form of defamatory speeches and public discrimination, the prejudice sometimes turned to violence and mob action, Fr. Endres explained.

The anti-Catholic discrimination and threats found their way to St. Patrick’s doorstep, where the Know-Nothings were unhappy that the pastor was allowing racially integrated Masses, said Fr. Curran.

The pastor at that time, Fr. Matthew O’Keefe, received so many threats directed against the church and himself that police protection was required to stop the intimidation of the Catholics worshiping at the church, according to the locals.  

Despite the threats, however, Fr. O’Keefe did not segregate the Masses. In 1856, the original church building burned down, leaving only three walls standing. Only a wooden crucifix was left unscathed.

More than 150 years later, it is still unclear exactly who or what caused the fire, but since the days following the blaze, parishioners have had their suspicions.

“We don’t know for sure if they were the ones who burned it, but it’s widely believed, it’s a commonly held notion that it’s the Know-Nothings who burnt the Church,” Fr. Curran said.   

Fr. O’Keefe and the parishioners worked hard to rebuild the church, seeking donations from Catholics along the East Coast. A new church building was constructed less than three years after the fire and is still standing today.

After the church was rebuilt, the parish renamed itself in 1858 in honor of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854. It claims to be the first church in the world named for Mary of the Immaculate Conception following the declaration.

In 1889, the Josephites built Saint Joseph's Black Catholic parish to serve the needs of the black Catholic community, and the two parishes operated separately within several blocks of one another. However, in 1961, St. Joseph’s was demolished to make way for new construction, and the two parishes were joined, reintegrating – at least in theory – St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

But the merger was not popular with many of the white parishioners and conflicted with the segregation policies of local government institutions and public life, Fr. Curran said. “St Mary’s became a de facto black parish.”

During this demographic shift, many parishioners of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception had to draw deeply upon their faith. Black Catholics had to be stalwart, facing prejudice from both some white parishioners, who did not view them as fully Catholic, and some black Protestants, who did not support their religious beliefs.

“They were devoted, and still are,” the rector said. “You have to be very devoted to be a Black Catholic.”

This devotion and witness of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception was formally celebrated when, in 1991, Saint Pope John Paul II elevated the 200-year-old church to a minor basilica.

“Your black cultural heritage enriches the Church and makes her witness of universality more complete. In a real way the Church needs you, just as you need the Church, for you are a part of the Church and the Church is part of you,” Pope Saint John Paul II proclaimed at the elevation.

Today, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception plays a vital role not only as the only Catholic basilica in Virginia, but also as an important anchor of the neighborhood. The basilica operates a “robust” set of outreach ministries to local families, including rent assistance and food aid, serving thousands of people.

“The Church standing proudly and beautiful in the midst of the poor is where we need to be,” Fr. Curran said.

This article was originally published on CNA July 4, 2015.

EWTN to air Fr. Capodanno documentary for 4th of July

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 02:08

Irondale, Ala., Jul 4, 2018 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- EWTN Global Catholic Network will observe America's Independence Day with airings of Called and Chosen: Father Vincent R. Capodanno.

The 90-minute documentary about the life and death of Fr. Capodanno will air on EWTN July 4 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time. Produced by Jim Kelty, the film won a Gabriel Award at the Catholic Media Conference in June.

Servant of God Vincent Capodanno was a decorated Navy chaplain who was killed while seeking to provide the sacraments to ambushed Marines in the Vietnam War. His cause for canonization is being pursued by the Archdiocese for Military Services.

Father Capodanno was a Maryknoll priest from the New York City borough of Staten Island. He was nicknamed the “Grunt Padre” for his service to members of the infantry.

While with Maryknoll, Fr. Capodanno served in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and then requested to be reassigned as a chaplain with the U.S. Marine Corps. He was sent to Vietnam in 1966, and requested an extension to his tour of duty when it was up.

The chaplain was killed at the age of 38 on Sept. 4, 1967 in Vietnam’s Que Son Valley after his unit was ambushed by North Vietnamese forces. Despite suffering injuries from mortar fire, including a partly severed hand, he continued to give last rites to the dying and medical aid to the wounded.

In disregard of intense small arms fire, automatic weapons fire, and mortars, Fr. Capodanno rushed about 15 yards to reach a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of a North Vietnamese machine gunner. He was killed just before he reached the wounded man.

He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor Jan. 7, 1969.

“By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom,” said the priest’s Medal of Honor citation.

Some Catholics devoted to Fr. Capodanno have reported favors granted following intercessory prayers to the chaplain. In 2006 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared Fr. Capodanno a Servant of God.

Cheyenne diocese: sex abuse claims against retired bishop appear credible

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 19:28

Cheyenne, Wyo., Jul 3, 2018 / 05:28 pm (CNA).- Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart has been credibly accused of sexually assaulting two boys after he became Bishop of Cheyenne in 1976, the Wyoming diocese has said, following an investigation of charges ordered by its current bishop.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children. We have zero tolerance for sexual abuse of any kind,” Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne said July 2. “If there is ever any indication of abuse brought to our attention, it will be reported to the civil authorities and investigated thoroughly, even when the allegations involve a bishop.”
“I hope that our investigation will lead to a final determination by the (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) that these sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Hart are credible and require disciplinary action.”
A cleric’s abuse of a minor is a crime under church law, and is so serious that accusations are handled by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Hart has denied all accusations of abusing minors.
Hart’s first accusers came forward in 1989, when he was alleged to have abused boys while serving as a priest in Kansas City. Ten individuals named Hart in lawsuits related to child sexual abuse claims dating from the 1970s. These accusations were part of settlements the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph reached in 2008 and 2014, though Bishop Hart denied the accusations, the Missouri diocese said July 2.
In 2002, a Wyoming man accused the bishop of sexually abusing him as a boy, both during sacramental confession and on outings. The alleged abuse took place after Hart had become a bishop. A second Wyoming man recently accused Hart of abusing him.
The district attorney of Casper, Wyo. in 2002 had put forward a report saying there was no evidence to support the allegations that originated in Wyoming.
“The Diocese of Cheyenne now questions that conclusion based upon a recently completed exhaustive investigation,” the Cheyenne diocese said July 2.
Bishop Hart had been ordained a priest for Missouri’s Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph in 1956, where he served until he was named an auxiliary bishop in Cheyenne in 1976, and appointed to lead the diocese two years later. He served as Bishop of Cheyenne until his resignation in 2001 at the age of 70, when he was succeeded by Bishop David Ricken, who now heads Wisconsin’s Diocese of Green Bay.
According to the Cheyenne diocese, Bishop Biegler had ordered a “fresh, thorough investigation” because the claims against Hart had not been resolved. In December 2017, the bishop retained an outside investigator who obtained “substantial new evidence” and who concluded the district attorney’s 2002 investigation was flawed. The investigator concluded that Bishop Hart had sexually abused two boys in Wyoming.
The diocesan review board, after reviewing the report, concurred with the investigator, finding the allegations “credible and substantiated.” The diocese reported the alleged abuse to the Cheyenne district attorney in March 2018, and Cheyenne police opened an investigation.
The diocese said it reported the allegations of abuse as required by its own policy, the national Catholic Church policy, and Wyoming law.
Now-Archbishop Paul Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, who was the Bishop of Cheyenne from 2009-2016, had restricted Bishop Hart from celebrating public liturgies in the diocese. Bishop Biegler, who learned of those restrictions in June 2017 when he was ordained the new Bishop of Cheyenne, kept them in place.
The Congregation for Bishops has extended the restrictions on Hart’s ministry to apply everywhere. Biegler has also decided to remove Hart’s name from a building at St. Joseph’s Children’s Home in Torrington, Wyo.
Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph addressed the claims on July 2.
“I want to assure those harmed by sexual abuse, especially by leaders in the Church, of our diocese’s commitment to create safe environments and accompany abuse survivors as they travel through the journey of healing,” he said.
The Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese encouraged anyone harmed by Hart or any person who has worked or volunteered for the diocese to contact the diocese’s ombudsman. It also gave information on how to report suspicions of abuse to law enforcement authorities.
Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection, told CNA there are “continued efforts” from the Church to uncover any misconduct.
While he would not address the specifics of the case of Cheyenne’s bishop emeritus, he said the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms are in place “to assist dioceses in dealing with allegations such as these.”

Nojadera pointed to the charter’s first article, which concerns outreach to victims or survivors of sexual abuse and their reconciliation and healing.
The charter’s fifth article, which aims to help guarantee an effective response to abuse allegations, outlines the process to follow once an allegation has been received. That section stresses that clergy sexual abuse is so severe that the Church’s response is handled by the CDF. The charter adds that sexual abuse of a minor is a crime in all U.S. civil jurisdictions.
During an investigation, accused clergy must have the presumption of innocence and all steps must be taken to preserve their reputation, the charter says.
If a single act of sexual abuse of a minor is admitted or established after an appropriate process, the offending cleric must be “permanently removed from ministry” and even dismissed from the clerical state, if warranted. Bishops of a diocese or eparchy must ensure that any priest or deacon under their governance be removed from ministry if he has committed sexual abuse.


Judge Amy Barrett criticized for charismatic affiliation- Who are the People of Praise?

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 18:45

Washington D.C., Jul 3, 2018 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- Since the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, reports have circulated that Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a federal judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, is a leading candidate for the country’s high court.

Barrett, a Catholic, was appointed a federal judge in 2017. During and after her confirmation process, questions were raised about her faith, and about her affiliation with a group called the “People of Praise,” a charismatic “covenant community.”

People of Praise has been referred to in the media as a “cult,” criticized for leaders called “heads” and “handmaidens” and for its widely noted “loyalty oaths.”

But what is the “People of Praise?” Is it a cult? CNA spoke with current and former members to find out.

Bishop Peter Smith is a member of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise, an association of priests connected to the group, founded with the support of the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. Smith was ordained a bishop on April 29, 2014.

People of Praise was founded in 1971 as part of the "great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,” Smith told CNA.

The group began with 29 members who formed a “covenant”- an agreement, not an oath, to follow common principles, to give five percent of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.

Covenant communities- Protestant and Catholic- emerged across the country in the 1970s, as a part of the Charismatic Renewal movement in American Christianity.

While most People of Praise members are Catholic, the group is officially ecumenical; people from a variety of Christian denominations can join. Members of the group are free to attend the church of their choosing, including different Catholic parishes, Smith explained.

“We're a lay movement in the Church,” Smith explained. “There are plenty of these. We continue to try and live out life and our calling as Catholics, as baptized Christians, in this particular way, as other people do in other callings or ways that God may lead them into the Church."

Cardinal George, who was widely reputed among bishops for orthodoxy, wrote of the group: “In my acquaintance with the People of Praise, I have found men and women dedicated to God and eager to seek and do His divine will. They are shaped by love of Holy Scripture, prayer and community; and the Church’s mission is richer for their presence.”

The group was tapped to assist with the formation of deacons in at least one diocese, and several members have been ordained deacons.

While Barrett is known for her judicial conservatism, particularly on life issues, the group is not partisan. A person’s political viewpoints do not play a role in membership, Smith told CNA.

“I know for a fact there are both registered Republicans and Democrats as well as independents in the People of Praise,” said Smith.

There are an estimated 2,000 adult members of People of Praise. The organization has priest members in two dioceses, and operates three schools in the United States.

Barrett’s Catholic faith came under scrutiny in 2017, when she was nominated for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. During a confirmation hearing, she was asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) if she was an “orthodox Catholic” who believed in the Church’s teachings. Feinstein also said that “the dogma lives loudly” in Barrett- that phrase has become which a rallying cry of sorts among many Catholics. #DogmaLivesLoudly has even become a popular hashtag.

People of Praise has faced criticism, and some former members allege that leaders have exerted undue influence over family decision-making, or pressured the children of members to commit to the group before being able to make that decisions with maturity.

One critic, philosopher Adrian Reimers, has written that the group has made “serious errors” in its theological approach.

Despite the criticisms it has faced, a former member of People of Praise told CNA that “the rank and file People of Praise members are very, very good people, wholeheartedly dedicated to the Lord,” he said.

Bishop Smith rejected the idea that there is anything out of the ordinary or inappropriate about People of Praise. If affiliation with the group were something to be concerned about, he said, he would not have been made a bishop.

“When one becomes a bishop, they check your background out very, very closely,” Smith said. “My People of Praise affiliation was very clear in my consideration for appointment as bishop, so the Holy Father Pope Francis appointed me bishop, knowing full well my involvement with People of Praise.”

“If this was a nefarious group, I certainly wouldn't be part of it, and I certainly wouldn't be in the position that I’m in as well."

While Barrett is reportedly a member of the group, People of Praise does not official disclose information about individual members, and declined CNA’s request for comment. And while women in the group’s leadership were previously referred to as “handmaidens,” the terminology has since shifted and these women are now called “women leaders.”

Have questions on Humanae Vitae? Social media discussion offers answers

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 16:11

Arlington, Va., Jul 3, 2018 / 02:11 pm (CNA).- A month-long social media conversation on Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae kicked off this week, facilitated by the Diocese of Arlington.

Dr. Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at The Catholic University of America, will host the primary conversation on Twitter. His account, he said, will be devoted to the cause.

While he will proactively be providing some content, Pecknold said that he will also be addressing any questions that are posed and encouraging “everyone to think out loud on social media about the points that are made in Humanae Vitae.”

As a professor, Dr. Pecknold hopes to see a productive question-and-answer style conversation, similar to what he sees in the classroom.

“I hope young people will do what they do in the classroom, which is try to be courageous and formulate a question,” he told CNA. “You… kind of learn how to have good discussion through having the courage to ask questions.”

Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI, affirms the Church’s teaching against contraception. It talks about the dignity of human life and sexuality, and outlines the use of Natural Family Planning as a morally valid method of planning and spacing children.

Amy McInerny, respect life director for the Diocese of Arlington, helped in the genesis of the diocesan conversation project. She said she hopes to spread Humanae Vitae’s message to a world hungry for something “substantial.”

“If you look at Humanae Vitae, it’s a beautiful document bubbling over with truth, designed to make people happy and holy. And so many people, as we know, reject the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception,” she said, adding that the diocese wants to “[take] the message to where the people are” - social media.

In the encyclical, Paul VI predicted that if the use of contraception became widespread, society would see devastating consequences, including an increase in marital infidelity and general decline of moral standards, the possibility of governments using coercive measures to force contraceptive use upon people, a loss of respect for women, and a general decrease in humility regarding humanity’s dominion over the human body.

Each of these predictions has come true in the modern era, said Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington.

In a statement reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the papal document, the bishop said that “the truths of Humanae Vitae are eternal.”

“Its practical approach to intimate love, marriage, and the dignity of the human person can transform society and the Church, drawing all people closer to God through a proper understanding of how he made us to share life and love in the sacred bond of marriage,” he said.

Both Dr. Pecknold and McInerny encouraged participation in the conversation.

“These are open fora,” said McInerny.

There will be “2-3 tweets a day for the first three weeks, and then a social media symposium” on July 25, the anniversary of Humanae Vitae’s promulgation, she said. The symposium will be hosted on Twitter and people will “be able to engage live with Professor Pecknold.”

Those who are interested in participating can follow the Arlington Diocese on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as Pecknold on Twitter. Two hashtags will be used: #HV50 and #AskTheQuestion.

Those who do not use social media can visit a website with all the conversation content from each day.

Dr. Pecknold emphasized the importance of studying the document as a community.

“Like a lot of Church teaching, it has to be received afresh,” said Dr. Pecknold. Whether or not people have read the document, it should be a time to reflect on its ever-relevant teachings, he said.

“People are tired of polarization,” he said, “they want to think about the common good. And Humanae Vitae is really about the fundamental common good of human life.”


Keep immigrant families together, bishops plead at border

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 20:27

McAllen, Texas, Jul 2, 2018 / 06:27 pm (CNA).- Immigration reform requires seeing the faces of immigrants, and hearing their stories, according to five U.S. bishops who have completed a two-day pastoral visit to the U.S. border with Mexico in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

The bishops spoke at a press conference Monday night, reflecting on their experiences with immigrants, among them children separated from their parents and held in federal custody, during their pastoral visit.

“Our faith is not just a system of concepts,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, president of the US bishops’ conference, during the July 2 press conference. “Our faith is in a person, the person of Jesus Christ.”

DiNardo told the story of a Honduran man he met during a visit to a Catholic-run respite center for immigrants. The man told the cardinal that he entered the United States illegally in order to protect his family, after receiving death threats from gangs in their home country.  

“He had his son with him,” the cardinal said. “Did he cross the border? He did. That part is illegal. But I am not looking at an abstraction when I look at him. I am looking at a person. And that person is shaken.”

“These are all human beings here,” DiNardo added.

Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, Pa., affirmed the cardinal’s sentiment. Bambera said that talking with immigrant families reshapes perceptions about illegal immigration, and challenges political preconceptions.

“When you have the opportunity to sit down with a family...labels melt away,” Bambera said.

“When you talk to somebody whose deepest desire is not to exploit a country and take everything they can, but to provide for their children, and keep their children safe, then labels melt away.”

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice-president of the bishops conference, told reporters that immigration is “not just a matter of politics. It’s a matter of humanity.”

The immigration discussion, he said, “is really talking about men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters.”

“It’s a global reality...we all are participating in the same humanity and we are together trying to find the solution to this situation,” Gomez added.

The bishops called Catholics to advocate for immigration reform. DiNardo said that call should begin with prayer.
“I certainly think that praying is more sufficient than people even imagine,” DiNardo said.

“Prayer is important. But in addition to prayer, we have to petition Congress. We have to talk to them, we have to make it really intense. Not nasty, but really intense. My hope would be to write, to call, to include Congress, in calling for an integral immigration reform.”

Gomez said that families should be prioritized in legislative efforts.

“If we want something from the administration and from congress, it’s family unity. Because that’s essential for the human person. And we are willing to do whatever we can to help make it happen.”

“The way they came here-we can address the legal requirements of our country to make the decisions that are correct- but with family unity,” he added.

DiNardo was grateful that policies seperating children from their parents at the border have come to an end, but said the bishops “have some concerns about family detention.”

The cardinal called for the use of case-management programs as a “cost-effective alternative” to family detention, and said that Catholic-run charities would be glad to assist the government in case-management initiatives.

Undocumented immigrants waiting legal proceedings “need to be accounted for.” he said.

Through case-management programs, families, many of whom want to find employment quickly, are “able to live with a little more. I call it hope. When you go through this kind of thing, whether you’re a family or an unaccompanied minor, there’s an element of real trauma that happens to you, and you can see it on their faces.”

DiNardo said that he doesn’t believe U.S. officials intend to traumatize immigrants, but said that “case management gives them some chance to breathe, and some hope.”

The delegation of bishops visiting the border, which also included Bishop Robert Brennan, auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, toured two federal facilities, along with the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

DiNardo said the visit was a prayerful and pastoral visit.

“We have had a full 2 days and they have been a very beautiful 2 days,” DiNardo said.

“Some parts painful, but very beautiful.”

DiNardo praised the hospitality of federal officials and local Church leaders, especially singling out Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, a member of the delegation and its local host, along with Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

"There are lots of challenges here, there are lots of things we found, but we have found is that we have received incredible cooperation at every site we visited,” DiNardo said.

“All of the people who are involved in this were incredibly helpful. I want to make sure everyone knows that,” he added.

DiNardo said that the bishops are especially calling for the reunification of families separated at the border.

“The children who were separated from their parents need to be reunited- that’s already begun, but it’s not finished yet. It must be done, and it’s urgent,” he said.

Gomez reiterated that point.

“I think it is so important that these children be reunited with their parents,” he said. “I think it is important [for the Church] to really help in that process of reunification. To make sure that we are there and to participate as much as possible in that process.”

For his part, Flores emphasized the gravity of situations that motivate Central American to flee to the United States.

“We have spoken to mothers in Guatemala or in Honduras who have told me ‘my son will be killed here, they will shoot him. He’s 16. What am I supposed to do?’”

“Many people would much prefer to stay home if they didn’t feel that their children’s lives were at stake,” he said.  

I don’t think we have gotten the message out how dire it is in certain parts of Central America...and a wider conversation to address the hemispheric situation is part of our responsibility, as a Church and as a nation.”

Gomez, who said that he asked children to pray for his native Mexico’s squad in the World Cup, said that comprehensive immigration reform, addressing the complexity of the situation, is possible.

“What we all need to understand- our government and administration officials- is that it’s possible to address the needs of immigration reform. You just need to make the decision that we can do it. Once we do that, with everyone working together—we can find a solution…that the borders be protected, and that the people who are already here become very productive.”

“There are ways to move people around and respect the border and the laws of every country,” he added.

“Our country is a country of immigrants,” Gomez said. “It’s a great country.”


Archbishop Gomez: Hearing immigrants' stories should make us grateful

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 18:13

Brownsville, Texas, Jul 2, 2018 / 04:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During a visit to the United States’ southern border, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called for Catholics to lobby Congress to fix the United States’ “dysfunctional” immigration system.

Archbishop Gomez and several of his fellow bishops were able to visit Catholic Charities’ Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, and met with migrants who are living at the center. The experience caused Archbishop Gomez to reflect on the current state of American immigration policy, and question what could be done to fix the situation.

“Family separation did not begin with this administration,” Gomez wrote in Angelus News, the news site for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “But reports of thousands of children being held in detention facilities across the country has struck a chord in our national conscience.”

Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy under which all illegal border crossings would be criminally prosecuted rather than sent before an immigration judge. This shift to the criminal justice system led to families being separated, because children cannot be held legally in a federal jail with their parents.

Following outcry over the policy, Trump issued an executive order in late June to end the practice of separating families, and instead detain parents and children together in family housing units.

Archbishop Gomez was part of a six-bishop delegation visiting the U.S.-Mexico border on July 1-2. Led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, the delegation met with U.S. government officials, members of the Catholic community, and migrants.

In his reflection on the visit, Archbishop Gomez suggested that Americans take a look at their own lives and the situation in Central America, and what could be drawing people from that area into the United States. The country is viewed by immigrants as a “beacon of hope, a land where it is possible to find honest work” and a better place to raise children, he said.

Gomez himself was born in Mexico and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1995.

It is important to know the stories of those crossing the border illegally, Gomez said, so that we can hopefully understand their plight and the situation they are fleeing. And while this cannot change the fact that laws were broken, “knowing their stories will make us thank God every day that we are not forced to make these kinds of choices in our own lives, for our own families.”

“When you are in a border town, you realize even more the truth that every nation has the duty to secure its borders and enforce its laws,” the archbishop said.

Unfortunately, Gomez said, the current immigration system in the United States is dysfunctional, to the point where enforcing the current laws is leading to “new injustices and cruelties.”

The only thing that will help, he said, is pressuring Congress to pass a “commonsense and compassionate solution on immigration.”

But this cannot happen, Gomez said, if politicians from both parties use immigration as a “winning issue” that brings people to the polls. As long as this is the case, no one will be motivated to make any real change.

“What we are waiting for is politicians with the courage to do what is right,” he said. “And we have been waiting for 25 years.”

In addition to wondering how much longer the country will have to wait on immigration reform, Gomez questioned how it would be possible to justify what has been done - or what has not been done - to assist the children who have been separated from their parents after crossing the border.

These children, “care nothing about our politics,” and just want to see their parents, he said.



Amid policy debate, US bishops hear from migrants at the border

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 15:24

Brownsville, Texas, Jul 2, 2018 / 01:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Seeking to hear the stories of migrants and how they have been affected by U.S. detention policy, a delegation of Catholic bishops is visiting the U.S.-Mexico border this week.

“The bishops are visiting here so they can stop, look, talk to people and understand the suffering of many who are amongst us,” said Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. “It’s part of the purpose of Christian life to talk to people and hear their suffering.”

The bishops’ delegation had a purpose, said Flores. “To talk, to see, because that’s what the Lord shows us… And then respond,” he said, according to the Los Angeles archdiocesan news site Angelus News.

Flores was part of a bishops’ delegation that visited the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. On Sunday, July 1, the bishops met with Central American migrants hosted at the center.

One man, Pedro Marquez from Intibucá Department in Honduras, spoke of threatening street gangs in his hometown called “maras.”

“The maras make it impossible to live,” he told the bishop. “They tax us to live in our own house, tax us to have a business, and if we don’t pay, we get killed,” he said. Government crackdowns on the gangs seem only to strengthen them.

Marquez took his 11-year-old daughter Yamilet with him during the three-week journey from Honduras. They aimed to take a Greyhound bus to Philadelphia, where they have family members.

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, said as many as 250 people per day pass through the center, which provides short-term hospitality for families that have been processed by the Department of Homeland Security. The center provides immediate medical assistance, food, clothing and information about how to comply with immigration proceedings. The volunteer-staffed center is located in a rented storefront.

“We’re in constant triage – that’s the word that comes to mind,” said Brenda Riojas, Brownsville’s diocesan relations director.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, headed the delegation. Other delegation members were Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the vice-president of the bishops’ conference; Auxiliary Bishop Robert Brennan of Rockville Centre; and Auxiliary Bishop Mario Alberto Avilés of Brownsville.

Their visit aims to understand the human side of the border crossing situation, said Bishop Flores. The visit comes amid continued controversy over the Trump administration’s immigration policy. One aspect of the policy, separating migrant family detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, was recently changed after strong outcry.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark had suggested the visit at the U.S. bishops’ annual spring meeting last month.

Bishop Flores told the Washington Post that the bishops specifically want to address the Trump administration’s policy of detention of immigrants in family detention centers, including centers at military bases.

“We really have to keep our eye on the developing situation—to see how families are going to be housed,” Flores said. “Part of the delegation, I hope, is the chance to really ask some questions about how this is going to unfold, so that we’re prepared for it.”

At the Humanitarian Respite Center, Cardinal DiNardo and the other bishops served chicken soup and tortillas to children who had just arrived with their parents from a detention center run by the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement Center. Many of the children refused to leave the arms of their parents.

The adults at the center wear GPS ankle bracelets to track them to ensure they attend their immigration court date closest to their U.S. destination.

Sister Pimentel said the community gathered together “to make sure that we take care of these families, and that we welcome them.”

“We must offer compassionate and humane processes that care for these families who are victims of structures that are corrupt and abusive in their home countries,” she told the Washington Post.

Earlier that Sunday, the bishops celebrated Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle, a national shrine in San Juan, Texas regarded as pilgrimage site for migrants. The basilica exceeded its capacity of 1,800 people for the Mass.

During the Mass, Bishop Flores said in his bilingual homily “The plan of the Lord is to always be attentive to what’s right in front of Him… That’s Jesus’ way.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston celebrated a high-profile border Mass in 2014, while Pope Francis prayed on the Mexican side of the border during his 2016 visit.

On Monday, the bishops were scheduled to meet with U.S. government officials and members of the Catholic community, with their visits intended to focus on family unity. Stops on their schedule included the U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s Ursula Processing Center in McAllen, Texas and the Southwest Key Casa Padre detention center in Brownsville. The latter center, hosted in a former Walmart building, has become a place for unaccompanied minors.

The Austin-based Southwest Key programs, a federal non-profit contractor, operates 26 shelters in Texas, Arizona and California, CNN reports. It has cared for 19,000 children in the most recent fiscal year, but has been the focus of news coverage due to hundreds of citations by Texas state regulators inspecting its shelters in the last three years.

After U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” border policy, the average population of its shelters increased by 300 people in under one month’s time.

The U.S. bishops’ delegation is set to hold a press conference at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle at 6 p.m. Central Time, to be live-streamed on YouTube.


How knowing your fertility can catch diseases early

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 18:04

Washington D.C., Jul 1, 2018 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When Maggie* was in high school, she stayed after class to talk to ask a teacher what to do about a very personal concern she felt her physician was not taking seriously.

What she learned led to the discovery of a brain tumor, and treatment for the growth, which had been affecting the teen for years. The tools she needed to find and treat this growth came from an awareness of her fertility and natural cycles.

“It wasn’t so much that I was trying to avoid pregnancy or get pregnant – it’s that there was something legitimately wrong with my body,” Maggie told CNA.

By the time she was in her late teens, Maggie had noticed that her cycles had never regulated, and had no idea what that meant except that it wasn't normal. While for the first years after a young woman begins to menstruate her cycles are of varying length and heaviness, they typically regulate within a few years. But several years after her own cycles began, Maggie was concerned that they never had settled into a normal pattern – in fact, she sometimes would have as few as one cycle a year. In addition, she also faced rounds of headaches.

One day, Maggie approached her college-level biology teacher, who also happened to be a practicing Catholic, looking for an explanation for her concerns and asking what to do. The teacher told her to ask her pediatrician, but also put her in touch with her church’s fertility instructor to see what could be done.

Maggie said her pediatrician immediately assumed that she was pregnant: an impossibility, because she was not sexually active. When the pregnancy tests came back negative, the doctor responded, “‘I don’t know what your problem is’ and brushed me off,” she recalled.

Meanwhile, the local parish’s natural family planning (NFP) instructor saw the teen’s distress and put her in touch with a Catholic fertility physician who could teach Maggie how to observe and chart the signs of her fertility.

Understanding Fertility

“A sign of health in a woman is a normal, regular cycle,” Dr. Lorna Cvetkovich, a gynecologist and obstetrician at Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., explains. “We know what a normal cycle looks like,” she continued, “so at any time the parameters fall outside of those, then that’s a clue that maybe they’re not ovulating, they may have a luteal phase defect, they may have fibroids. It can show you all sorts of things.”

For women whose cycles fall within a normal range, normal bodily processes present themselves in a predictable pattern.

In the first part of a woman’s cycle, called the follicular phase, hormonal signals from the pituitary gland trigger the follicles (egg-containing structures within the ovaries) to prepare an egg for ovulation and to secrete estrogen into the woman’s body. This rise in estrogen levels triggers changes in the kind of fluid the cervix secretes, as well as thickening the uterine lining, making them more able to support the conception process.

After ovulation a woman's body secretes progesterone, which causes a sharp increase in a woman’s basal, or resting, body temperature, as well as a preparation of the uterine lining for possible implantation. If a pregnancy occurs, the basal body temperature and hormone levels may continue to rise, whereas if pregnancy does not happen, the resulting dip in hormones triggers a drop in temperature, menstruation, and the beginning of a new cycle.

In a healthy woman who is not pregnant, this cycle will repeat every 21-35 days.

These changes can be observed by any woman, and can be used by married couples as a valid method to achieve or delay pregnancy, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, which teaches that it is immoral to disrupt this natural cycle with the use of contraceptive pills, implants, barrier methods, or by having incomplete intercourse. Using these observations to help in the discernment of family size is known as natural family planning.

However, the same observations and data – commonly collected into charts for easier analysis – can be used to help diagnose gynecological issues such as ovarian cysts and growths in the uterus, called fibroids, as well as hormone deficiencies and other abnormalities affecting bodily functions. The information can also be essential in pinpointing issues surrounding pregnancy, such as the exact date of conception, infertility, and miscarriages.

This information is such a valuable insight into a patients health and symptoms – and an invaluable tool for doctors practicing reproductive medicine. “I just think it’s invaluable, and I don’t really know how people practice [gynecology] without having the charting,” said Cvetkovich. “There’s just so many uses, and it adds so much to your evaluation of the patient.”

Cycles and Diagnosis

Disorders in other bodily systems – such as the endocrine system – can manifest in a woman’s menstrual cycle and her chart. “Thyroid plays a role in almost every function of the body, so it may show up as a sign in the cycle,” explained Cvetkovich.

For Christine, charting her bodily signs helped her to catch an issue with her thyroid that might otherwise have been missed. After charting for four years, she started noticing that some months there was no ovulation that could be detected by temperature or with chemical tests for the hormones that trigger ovulation.

“I had what looked like a really long cycle, and then eventually, what to the uninformed observer would look to be a light period. But because I knew I hadn’t peaked, I was able to identify it as estrogen breakthrough bleeding and not a real cycle,” she explained.

“It seemed like my body was trying to ovulate, and not really getting there.”

She approached her doctor, explaining she was not ovulating and that she would like to find the cause for something that was out of the ordinary. The doctor then ordered comprehensive blood tests, and found that some of her thyroid-stimulating hormone levels were elevated beyond normal – in fact, her levels were twice as high s they had been a year ago.

After receiving treatment, her cycles returned to their normal pattern.

“I didn’t have a lot of signs or symptoms of hypothyroidism, aside from missing ovulation,” Christine noted, saying she wouldn't have picked up on the disorder had she not been charting. “ I wouldn’t have realized there was an issue,” Christine she added, reflecting on the fact that she probably would not have even received the treatment she needed.

“Whenever I’m sharing my experience with NFP with somebody, I’m always quick to point out not only all of the standard benefits, but that it enabled me to know my body and know there’s a problem that so many people wouldn’t be aware of."

How Fertility Awareness Helped to Find a Tumor

After a local NFP instructor put Maggie in touch with physicians familiar with fertility awareness, she became more aware of what was going on in her own body. She learned to observe her basal body temperature and cervical fluid signs – and noticed that while sometimes she had a more typical menstrual cycle and her chart showed the usual peaks and dips of a healthy young woman, at other times her cycle was irregular and her temperature was more elevated.

Even though she was not sexually active, “my body was acting like it was pregnant,” Maggie said. The doctors at the Catholic fertility clinic sent Maggie out for blood work, which showed a high level of prolactin – a hormone present during pregnancy and breastfeeding. She took this information back to her pediatrician, and then to an endocrinologist, who ordered an MRI scan of her brain.

“There was a tumor pressing into my pituitary, pressing into my frontal cortex,” Maggie explained.

“When I first heard the word ‘tumor’ I freaked out,” she related, but thankfully, “it wasn’t cancerous,” but a benign growth which explained both her irregular cycles and some of her headaches.

Maggie received the treatment she needed to shrink the tumor, and told CNA that “things are pretty much normal now.” While the tumor is still there – “it’ll never really go away, unless I get surgery," she related; “what’s happened at this point is that it’s checked.”

While since receiving treatment she has no need to monitor as rigorously all of her signs and symptoms, knowledge of her fertility and its signs has given Maggie tools she can use use if the tumor starts to grow again.

“I have this, and I know these are indicators to know [if] something is wrong with my prolactin.”

Fertility – 'A Public Health Issue'

Cvetkovich suggested this level of awareness can be useful for any woman looking to take care of their health.

“I think that anytime you put someone more in tune with your body,  they’re just going to know that things are wrong earlier. I think that’s what it’s all about, knowing what’s normal for you, and being in tune with it.”

She commented that many of her fellow physicians, as well as the general public, have grown accustomed to relying on hormonal contraceptives to address disorders, a practice she said “makes people very distant from their bodies and from their cycles.”

“We’ve lost the idea that having a normal monthly cycle is health – that’s normal. Being fertile is normal. I think that’s where NFP brings us back to, really: to reality.”

Maggie agrees, saying that some of her initial struggle in receiving treatment was a result of people  “missing the point that fertility isn’t sort of an accessory to being a human woman – it’s an integral part of how our bodies work.” Awareness of how women’s bodies work, and how to tell when they’re not working correctly, is important for everyone.

“It’s a public health issue.”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

This article was originally published July 31, 2015.

Human trafficking remains a problem in US, advocate says

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Jul 1, 2018 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Department of State released its 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report this week, an apostolate which helps trafficking victims said that the practice remains a problem around the world, including in the US.

The Trafficking in Persons Report features narratives on each country, and the countries of the world were divided into three tiers. Tier 1 consists of “countries whose governments fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards.”

Although the United States is classified as Tier 1 country, human trafficking is still a problem here, Children of the Immaculate Heart President Grace Williams told CNA in an interview. Children of the Immaculate Heart is an organization in San Diego that assists those affected by trafficking.

Trafficking is the “fastest growing illegal industry worldwide, and it’s the same here in the United States,” said Williams.

Williams said that the vast majority of people trafficked in the United States are native-born citizens, and not people who were brought across the border. The average age of someone trafficked, Williams said, was 16 years old.

“The number one vulnerability factor, I can say in Los Angeles' court for trafficked minors, was child neglect,” Williams explained, followed by child abuse. Williams told CNA that she believes providing a support system, as well as stemming the culture’s sexual appetite, are key to stopping abuse.

“Kids who don't have the love and support that they need are the ones that traffickers are picking up on, and so that's where our primary work as an American society lies.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday at the release of the 18th annual TIP Report that ending human trafficking should be a bipartisan issue.

In this year’s report, Pompeo highlighted the work done by local communities around the world not only to stop human trafficking, but also to aid the survivors of these crimes.

“Human trafficking is a global problem, but it’s a local one too,” Pompeo said June 28. “Human trafficking can be found in a favorite restaurant, a hotel, downtown, a farm, or in their neighbor’s home.”

Below Tier 1, Tier 2 contains countries that may not meet the TPVA standards, “but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”

A “Tier 2 Watch List” consists of countries that are similar to Tier 2, but have other issues, such as an increasing number of trafficking cases or a lack of improvement on previously-implemented anti-trafficking efforts.

Tier 3 countries are those “whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

While no country in Africa is classified as Tier 1, Pompeo noted that 14 of the 48 African nations in this year’s report had been upgraded since last year’s TIP Report and offered praise for the work taken by the continent.

“Despite significant security threats, migration challenges, other financial constraints, and other obstacles, the region improved significantly,” said Pompeo.

“We commend those countries taking action, but we also will never shy away from pointing out countries that need to step up.”

First among these was Libya, where Pompeo mentioned the existence of “modern-day slave markets” arising from “trafficking and abuse of African migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers.” Many Africans seeking entry to Europe pass through Libya, which has not had a well-functioning government since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Pompeo said the US has engaged the Government of National Accord, recognized by the UN as Libya's legitimate government, “to bring the perpetrators to justice, including complicit government officials. We welcome its commitment to doing so and look forward to seeing real action.”

Praise was offered for Tier 1 Argentina, which recently convicted government officials who were complicit with trafficking, and Estonia, which passed a law that will assist survivors of trafficking.


Concerns surround Calif. bill to require abortion pills at college clinics

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 18:43

Sacramento, Calif., Jun 30, 2018 / 04:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A California bill that would require all public university health centers to stock abortion medication has drawn criticism for the threats it could pose to women’s health and conscience rights.

“This push to reconfigure the life-saving, health affirming purpose of school health centers into abortion vendors goes against the mission of the medical centers and exposes women and the schools to great risk,” said Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins in a press release.

California Senate bill 320 would require every public university student health center in the state to offer medical abortions by the start of 2022.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills. The first pill, Mifepristone (RU-486), is taken in a clinical setting. It blocks the progesterone hormone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the fetus. The second pill, misoprostol, is given to the woman to be taken at home within 48 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the fetus.

Students for Life of America has raised numerous objections to the legislation, including a lack of resources to properly protect women’s health, unclear funding sources, and religious freedom concerns.

Camille Rodriguez, West Coast regional coordinator for Students for Life, testified against Senate Bill 320 in a hearing before the California Assembly on Higher Education on Tuesday. She was joined by California students, professors and community members, along with Bishop Jaime Soto of the Sacramento Diocese.

Rodriguez represented 97 student groups in opposition to the bill. Since January, she said, 4,443 students from public California campuses have signed a petition in protest of Senate Bill 320. Despite the signers’ varying “personal ideologies,” she said, they all have concerns about the bill.

“There are so many pro-choice students who have signed our petition because they do not see the necessity in this,” Rodriguez told CNA.

In her testimony, several witnesses highlighted university health centers’ lack of resources to properly follow up after a woman takes mifepristone.

The FDA has reported 4,000 “serious adverse events” as a result of the drug, said Marylee Shrider, executive director of Right to Life Kern County, who also testified at the Tuesday hearing. According to the FDA, 22 women have died from taking the abortion drug as of December 2017.

The side effects of mifepristone, Shrider said, have been compared to those of Tylenol or Viagra, when they can in fact be much worse, inducing severe hemorrhaging.

The resources to provide holistic care for women who opt to take mifepristone are missing, Rodriguez said. For example, the FDA says that healthcare providers who prescribe the abortion drug “must have the ability to date pregnancies accurately and to diagnose ectopic pregnancies.” This would require ultrasound equipment, which is expensive, and not present on all campus health centers.

Questions have also arisen surrounding funding for the initiative. The bill lays out private funding sources for initial implementation costs, but “it’s unclear where funding will come from once the initial funds are used,” said Rodriguez.

She questioned whether the facilities could continue to operate “without… digging into our taxpayer funding.”

University officials are also concerned about the steep price of maintaining the resources necessary for abortions in their health centers, Rodriguez said. Her testimony mentioned her conversations with university presidents who were quick to support the availability of abortion, but referred to Senate Bill 320 as “poor legislation.”

University representatives were most clear in their opposition “when they were being asked about the specifics of funding” during the hearing, she said. “The CSU system made it very clear that they are not prepared to take on additional funding for this whatsoever.”

Rodriguez also raised concerns that the bill is an “absolute infringement” on the religious freedom and conscience rights of health center workers.

She said lawmakers were dismissive of concerns that workers would be required to distribute the abortion pills even if they held strong moral objections to doing so.

When asked about the issue, Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), who sponsored the bill, responded by saying, “Well, they can find work elsewhere,” Rodriguez said.

Though the bill passed through the assembly with a 7-3 vote and can now move forward in the legislative process, Rodriguez said she still feels optimistic that the measure will be defeated.

The bill was referred to the appropriations committee, “which will focus directly on funding. We are encouraged because the bill is very unclear about how funding will happen,” she said.


An apostolic visitation took place in Memphis. What does that mean?

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 08:00

Memphis, Tenn., Jun 30, 2018 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Last week, the Vatican sent two representatives to the Diocese of Memphis for an apostolic visitation. According to reports from local media, the visitation was to address concerns regarding major changes made by Bishop Martin D. Holley, including the reassignment of up to two-thirds of the 60 active priests in the diocese.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta and Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis were assigned as the apostolic visitors, and were sent to Memphis for three days of “fact-finding,” which included interviewing Memphis-area clergy and laypeople, according to Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal.

The Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith defines an apostolic visitation as “an exceptional initiative of the Holy See which involves sending a Visitor or Visitors to evaluate an ecclesiastical institute such as a seminary, diocese, or religious institute.  Apostolic Visitations are intended to assist the institute in question to improve the way in which it carries out its function in the life of the Church.”

In a letter to his priests issued last week, reported on by The Commercial Appeal, Holley said: "Many of you may have read, seen or heard news this week that an apostolic visitation was made to our diocese."

"We are respectful of the confidentiality of the Apostolic Nunciature’s process and are thankful that some of you were invited to participate in that process," he said. "The purpose of an apostolic visitation is to assist the local diocese and improve the local Church’s ability to minister to the people it serves. My hope is that we continue that mission here together in our diocese. The goal continues to be for the common good of our local Church and the people entrusted to our care."

Anthony St. Louis-Sanchez, a canon lawyer in the Archdiocese of Denver, told CNA that apostolic visitations are made on behalf of the pope, who is “the pastor of the universal Church.”

“We think of a pastor as someone who has responsibility over the flock to make sure that things are running well. Specifically with the Church, we’re talking about doctrine and discipline, so when we talk about the pope being the pastor of the universal church, he’s pastor insofar as he’s there to ensure that the doctrine and discipline of the Church are being maintained and passed on; that’s his primary role,” St. Louis-Sanchez added.

St. Louis Sanchez explained that an apostolic visitation “doesn’t suggest any wrongdoing” on the part of a bishop or other leadership figures.

“An apostolic visitation could be for a lot of reasons. It could be just routine - we’re just making sure the Church is running the way it should be - or, there’s some crisis that is happening and the Holy See needs to intervene.”

He noted previous apostolic visitations in the United States, including a 2005-2006 visitation to US seminaries, a more recent visitation to institutes of women religious, and a 2009 apostolic visitation to the Legionaries of Christ, a religious order whose founder was discovered to have committed acts of sexual and psychological abuse.

St. Louis-Sanchez also said that the specifics of an apostolic visitation can vary considerably.  “Some could be to just go in and investigate what’s going on and report back. Others could be to go in, find out what’s going on, report back and give recommendations as to what should be done. And then other times, the Apostolic Visitator will be really empowered to make decisions, so they’ll go in with the authority of the pope and figure out what’s going on and make decisions. It all depends on their mandate.”

The Diocese of Memphis declined to comment on this story.


LA archbishop on immigration: God calls us to speak out against injustice

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 18:48

Los Angeles, Calif., Jun 29, 2018 / 04:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At a Mass in honor of immigrants on June 24, Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles called on Catholics to pray for immigrant families, to speak out against injustice and to demand better solutions from their legislators.

“For years now, we have been asking our leaders to fix our broken immigration system. Year after year, they keep telling us, ‘Mañana, mañana.’ Next year. It makes no difference which political party is in power, there is always some excuse,” he said.

“Our leaders in Washington are about to do it again - they are about to let another Congress close without taking action. Brothers and sisters, we need to tell our leaders - no more ‘mañanas,’ no more excuses. The time is now.”

Gomez gave his remarks during his homily on Sunday, June 24 at the annual Mass in Recognition of All Immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, which was attended by about 3,000 people from throughout California.

The Mass came just days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 entitled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation,” intended to end the practice of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border while maintaining the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy illegal entry into the United States.

The executive order said that detained families will be held together, “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.” It came after weeks of widespread criticism and public outcry over the separation of families at the border, due a policy that limited the amount of time children could be detained by the government, and the administration's decision to prosecute illegal border crossings criminally.

Gomez said in a Tweet on June 20 that he welcomed the executive order, and urged Congress to act on bipartisan reform. In his homily on June 24, Gomez again voiced his support for a bipartisan immigration reform bill, and urged Catholics to call their legislators.

Catholics are called to speak out against injustices towards immigrants, Gomez said, because they are also a part of God’s family.

“In the Church, we are God’s people, his family. And he gives us the duty to take care of one another. He calls us to speak out against injustice, to make things right when they are wrong,” he said.

“That is why we fight for the life and dignity of every child who is trying to be born. And that is why we all are so concerned right now for the children that our government has separated from their parents at the southern border of our country.”

He also urged Catholics to pray for the families who have been separated, that they may be reunited quickly.

“We need to pray today for those little ones and their parents. And especially we need to pray for our politicians and for all citizens of goodwill. May all of us open our hearts to the voice of God…” he said.

Attendees of the immigration Mass also had a chance to venerate the relics of St. Junípero Serra, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and St. Toribio Romo, and to write prayer intentions that Gomez will bring to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in July. The archdiocese has also started a social media campaign with the hashtag #PrayForImmigrants, so that Catholics can show their support for immigrants.

Gomez closed his homily by invoking the intercession of St. John the Baptist on his feast day, and that of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Let us ask St. John the Baptist to help us to follow his example in proclaiming the love and mercy of God in these times when so many people feel angry and afraid,” he said.
“And let us keep working for a new spirit of compassion and love — especially for the weakest and most vulnerable among us,” he added.

“May our Blessed Mother be near to every child and every parent suffering separation along our borders this day. And may she help every one of us to share in the dream of America.”


Bishops weigh in on SCOTUS union case and workers' rights

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Jun 29, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A US Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory fees paid to public-sector unions undermines workers’ collective rights and can’t be squared with Catholic teaching, including Benedict XVI’s encyclicals, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has said.

“It is disappointing that today’s Supreme Court ruling renders the long-held view of so many bishops constitutionally out-of-bounds, and threatens to ‘limit the freedom or negotiating capacity of labor unions’,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said June 27.

Bishop Dewane drew on the 25th paragraph of Benedict’s 2009 encyclical on integral human development in charity and truth, Caritas in veritate, to object to limits on labor unions’ freedom.

“By reading the First Amendment to invalidate agency fee provisions in public-sector collective bargaining agreements, the Court has determined – nationwide, and almost irrevocably – that all government work places shall be ‘right-to-work’,” said the bishop.

The outlawing of these agency fee agreements means that state and federal legislatures should explore alternative means “for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights,” Bishop DeWayne said, again citing Caritas in veritate.

However, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois took a different view, saying he finds it “encouraging” that the Supreme Court “upholds the right to be free from coercion in speech.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">It is encouraging that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFCSME upholds the right to be free from coercion in speech. No longer will public sector employees be required pay dues to support unions that promote abortion and other political issues with which they disagree.</p>&mdash; Bishop Paprocki (@BishopPaprocki) <a href="">June 28, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Commenting in a June 28 post on Twitter, Paprocki, depicting the agency fees as dues, said that “no longer will public sector employees be required pay dues to support unions that promote abortion and other political issues with which they disagree.”

The 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME struck down a 1997 Illinois law that required non-union workers to pay fees for collective bargaining.

The plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, is an Illinois state employee who sued the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). He contended that mandatory “agency fees” paid to the union for contract negotiations violate his free speech because the union takes actions with which he does not agree, the Washington Post reports.

These fees are not used for political purposes, but his lawyers argue that the unions’ lobbying efforts are political acts.

In a Feb. 26 essay in USA Today, Janus said the union uses his monthly fees “to promote an agenda I don’t support.” He objected to the legislation supported by the union’s lobbying arm and to politicians supported by its political arm.

The court considered the constitutionality of “fair share” or “agency” fees, SCOTUSblog reporter Amy Howe said in a June 27 opinion analysis. The decision overturned the 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, ruled that the mandatory agency fees violate the First Amendment. The fees mean public employees who are not union members pay for “unspecified” lobbying expenses and other services that may benefit them. This purpose is “broad enough to encompass just about anything that the union might choose to do” and if a non-member wanted to challenge a fee it would be a “laborious and difficult task” given that it is hard to distinguish what expenses non-members are required to pay and which they are not.

Alito said that the legal and economic environment has changed, with public spending, including public employee wages, benefits and pensions, showing “mounting costs.” These changes give collective bargaining a political significance that might not have been present when such fees were upheld by the Supreme Court.

Despite burdens on unions, Alito said, there have been “many billions of dollars” taken from non-members and transferred to public sector unions “in violation of the First Amendment.”

Justice Elena Kagan, who authored the main dissent, said previous legal precedent “struck a stable balance between public employees’ First Amendment rights and government entities’ interests in running their workforces as they thought proper.” Over 20 states have statutory schemes based on the precedent, she said, charging that the majority of justices acted “with no real clue of what will happen next – of how its action will alter public-sector labor relations.”

“It does so even though the government services affected – policing, firefighting, teaching, transportation, sanitation (and more) – affect the quality of life of tens of millions of Americans,” Kagan said.

Janus was represented by the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

His case also had the support of the Becket Fund, whose own amicus brief argued that allowing government workers to opt-out of mandatory union payments protects their freedom of speech and religious freedom.

The legal group, which focuses on religious liberty concerns, argued that giving power to unions to force employees to support speech with which they disagree was a form of “coercion laundering” in which the law uses non-government organizations to coerce.

In a case summary on its website, Becket said the case could have ramifications for religious colleges and universities under private accrediting agencies that could use delegated government authority to infringe on their religious speech and practices.

The Office of General Counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed its own amicus brief in the case. It said that “right-to-work” laws eliminate the clauses that prevent “free riders” who benefit from union contracts without paying for union membership. Eliminating these clauses “dramatically weakens” unions and their bargaining power on workers’ behalf, the brief objected.

The brief cited the Church’s strong commitments to protect both the poor and vulnerable from exploitation, and to protect the right of association from governmental infringement. It invoked the Church's historic, consistent support for workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. The brief cited repeated papal calls since Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on capital and labor, Rerum novarum, to promote “workers’ associations that can defend their rights.”

The USCCB's brief advocated that the court leave “constitutional space” for the public policy position supported “for so long by so many bishops and bishop-led institutions” rather than “declare still another such position outside the bounds of what policymakers are permitted to implement by law.”

At the time, Bishop Paprocki objected to some news coverage of the case that depicted the legal brief as a position adopted by the U.S. bishops.

“In fact, no vote was taken on whether to file such a brief,” he said Feb. 13. “While church teaching clearly supports freedom of association and the right to form and join a union, it does not mandate coercing people to join a union or pay dues against their will.”

For Paprocki, the question of whether rights of association and free speech are helped or hurt by mandatory dues is “a matter of prudential judgment on which reasonable people can disagree as to whether the rights of association and free speech are helped or hindered by mandatory union dues.”  

A May study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute predicted that a decision in favor of Janus would mean a loss of over 700,000 members from public-sector unions and a wage decline of several percentage points for public sector employees.

Teachers’ unions could be “permanently crippled” by the decision, the journal Education Next reported, though the decision could provide an impetus for other changes.

A loss in teachers’ unions membership could result in a decline in revenues and ability to affect policy. The National Education Association has planned a 13 percent cut for its two-year budget, totaling about $50 million, with its estimated membership losses of 300,000 people, about 10 percent.