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Outreach or outrage: Catholics react to Met Gala fashion

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 19:07

New York City, N.Y., May 9, 2018 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- The papal pomp and Catholic circumstance on display at this year’s Met Gala in New York (aka the ‘Oscars of the East Coast’) was met with a combination of confusion and optimism from Catholic thinkers and writers.

The theme for this year’s annual gala, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, inspired equally creative and controversial attire, including the bedazzled, skin-bearing papal ensemble worn by Rihanna, a pregnant Cardi B dressed up as Mary Queen of Heaven, and a Sistine chapel-inspired dress worn by Ariana Grande, among many other outfits emblazoned with crosses and icons and other Catholic-inspired paraphernalia.

The event kicked off the Met exhibit with the same theme, which features Church garments borrowed from the Vatican, religious art from the Met collection, and 150 designer fashion pieces that were intended to pay homage to Catholicism.

Considered by some to be a perverse and often baffling event, many Catholic writers seemed reluctant to dub the gala as either completely sacreligious or as a stroke of New-Evangelization genius - most fell somewhere in the middle.

Ross Douthat, a Catholic columnist at the New York Times, called the gala a “beautiful and blasphemous spectacle” and noted that “When a living faith gets treated like a museum piece, it’s hard for its adherents to know whether to treat the moment as an opportunity for outreach or for outrage.”

While he lamented the lack of faith behind the fascination with Catholicism, Douthat did wonder whether there was a lesson for the present-day Church contained in the secular world’s enamoration with the trimmings and trappings of an older Catholic aesthetic - one that he said has largely taken a back seat in the Church since the Second Vatican Council.

“The path forward for the Catholic Church in the modern world is extraordinarily uncertain,” Douthat wrote. “But there is no plausible path that does not involve more of what was displayed and appropriated and blasphemed against in New York City Monday night, more of what once made Catholicism both great and weird, and could yet make it both again.”

Also lamenting the lack of real faith behind the display was Matthew Schmitz of First Things, who said that people should pay attention to the real Catholic imagination and the meaning behind it, and not the overly sentimental and shallow aesthetic Catholicism that was on display at the gala.

“The same faith that gave rise to these beautiful baubles proposed views on sexuality and social order that are contrary to the spirit of the age. It is foolish to suppose that either the Church’s teaching or its relics are mere artefacts that now have lost their power,” he said.

“These beautiful copes, stoles, clasps, and rings still move men—still have the power Leo XIII acknowledged in Testem Benevolentiae when he advised priests in America to spread the faith ‘by the pomp and splendor of ceremonies’ as well as ‘by setting forth that sound form of doctrine.’ In the Met's carnival atmosphere, their splendor seems all the more radiant.”

Some writers noted that the gala also revealed a double standard of what is acceptable to culturally appropriated, following an uproar last week over a Utah teen who wore a Chinese dress to her high school prom even though she was not Chinese herself.

Daniella Greenbaum, writing for Business Insider, said that while she finds the whole concept of cultural appropriation “deeply misguided,” she did think that the Met revealed a double standard over what qualifies as offensive, given the outrage over the Chinese dress and the lack thereof over the Catholic costumes at the gala.

“It highlights the unfairness. Social-justice warriors inevitably create distinctions — they have appointed themselves the arbiters of which cultures deserve protecting. And in the meantime, it seems, they've left Catholics out to dry,” she wrote.

However, others saw the cultural appropriation as a neutral or even positive part of the event, creating opportunities for further conversation.

Madeleine Kearns, writing for The Spectator, a UK publication, said that Catholics ‘can cope’ with cultural appropriation, and that being offended by it is a “counter-productive, ideological dead-end; a festival of victim culture. As far as I’m concerned, if people want to dress up as the Pope, or drape rosary beads over their car mirrors — why ever not? It starts a conversation about a culture I’m proud of.”

Eloise Blondiau, writing for America magazine, said that “If nothing else, the theme of this year’s exhibition and gala shows a willingness to engage with religion that is healthy and promising in a climate where polarization is rife.”

While the event was organized in cooperation with the Vatican, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was one of a few prelates in attendance, joking later that he ordered in “street meat” - hot dogs from to a pushcart - to the posh event after finding the refreshments insufficient, and joking that Rihanna borrowed her miter from him.  

The cardinal, who some criticized for attending the event, said in a press conference for the opening of the exhibition that he came because the ‘Catholic imagination’ honors “the true, the good, the beautiful.”

In the ‘Catholic imagination,’ the True, the Good, and the Beautiful have a name: Jesus Christ, who revealed Himself as ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life,’” he said. “In the ‘Catholic imagination,’ the truth, goodness, and beauty of God is reflected all over… even in fashion.  The world is shot through with His glory,” he said, adding a thanks to the organizers of the event, as well as to the Vatican “for its historic cooperation.”  

Dolan later told SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel that as a self-proclaimed “JCPenney’s Big and Tall man” his personal interest in the event was not for the fashion, but for the chance to engage with people about the Catholic faith.

“There were some aspects that looked like kind of a masquerade party, a Halloween party,” he said. “I didn’t really see anything sacrilegious, I may have seen some things in poor taste, but I didn’t detect anybody out to offend the church.”

However, “A number of people came up and spoke about their Catholic upbringing and things they remembered and it was a powerful evening.”

The exhibition itself will run May 10 – Oct. 8, 2018 and is hosted at the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the medieval rooms at the Met on Fifth Avenue, and the Met Cloisters in uptown New York City. It is the Met Costume Institute’s largest show to date.

Church garments and liturgical vestments, many of which are still in use, will be displayed separately from the fashion exhibit, out of respect. The items in the separate exhibit come from the Sistine Chapel sacristy’s Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and range in age from the mid-1700s to the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.


Sistine Chapel Choir's Met performance a real 'wow moment'

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 17:08

New York City, N.Y., May 9, 2018 / 03:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A surprise performance by the Sistine Chapel Choir at the Met Gala this week left attendees in awe and helped convey the joy and beauty of the Church, said one of the organizers of the performance.

The choir’s performance had not been announced in advance, coming as a surprise to those present at the May 7 Met Gala, which takes place annually on the first Monday of May and serves as a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

This year the Met exhibition, which opens May 10 and runs through October 2018, carries the theme “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” and features around 40 items on loan from the Vatican.

The items, many of which come from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy's Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, range in time period from the mid-1700s up to the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.

Given the special nature of the Vatican items, they will be set up in a separate display from the other pieces, which include religious art from the Met collection itself and around 150 designer fashion pieces intended to pay homage to Catholicism and which draw inspiration from Catholic iconography, liturgy and other aspects of the faith tradition.

John Hale, one of the leading organizers of the choir's surprise performance at the gala, told CNA that the evening “was really a wow-moment.”

Hale sits on the board of directors for the Vatican's Patrons of the Arts, which consists of different chapters, most of which are in the United States, who fund restoration projects for the priceless treasures housed in the Vatican Museums.

At one point after the performance, Hale said Anna Wintour, Met board member and editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Vogue, told him guests were unusually silent, commenting that “this is the quietest I've ever seen for this gala.”

Wintour, Hale said, told him attendees “were absolutely enthralled” by the performance. That sentiment, he added, “summed it up beautifully.”

“I spoke with a number of the attendees and mixed with them right after the performance and it was perfect silence, there was very good applause and many folks were just really moved.”

Commonly referred to as “the pope's choir,” the Sistine Chapel Choir consists of 20 professional singers from around the world, as well as a treble section composed of 35 boys aged 9-13, called the Pueri Cantores.

With a 1,500-year history, the Sistine Chapel Choir is believed to be the oldest active choir in the world.

According to Hale, who is also president and co-owner of Corporate Travel Service, the invitation to sing at the Met Gala came during the choir's U.S. mini-tour in September 2017, during which the choir sold out performances in Washington D.C., New York and Detroit.

The choir's director, Maestro Massimo Palombella, had approached Hale several years ago about creating a tour in the U.S. The September mini-version was essentially a test run, Hale said, and given the choir's success during their fall tour, a longer nationwide tour is being organized for this summer.

Hale said he was initially hesitant when he was asked to help organize a performance at the gala, and had concerns over sensitivity to the Catholic faith. However, when the Vatican green-lighted the choir's visit, he jumped on board and kept the performance under wraps for nearly a year up until the moment the choir filed in and began singing.

And having worked with the Met to get all the details in order, “I can really say they were not only respectful, they really wanted to communicate the beauty and faith of the Church,” he said. “I really had that sense, and it was very sincere. I was very moved by how sincere they were.”

The exhibit itself was “beautifully done,” and serves as “a real opportunity to express the Church's teaching through beauty, through truth,” Hale said. “The same with the performance of the Sistine Chapel Choir.”

While there was some “outlandish fashion” that hit the red carpet at the gala, the vast majority of the 600 some attendees were “dressed beautifully and very appropriately,” he said.

“That might not be picked up traditionally because the media wants the outliers,” he said, explaining that while it is important to be sensitive to how the Church is portrayed, the Church also has to “go out.”

“We have to communicate beauty, and we have been invited, as a Church, to communicate what is our expression of beauty and our making manifest God's presence through beauty,” he said, adding that in his opinion, “it would have been a crime not to respond to that invitation.”

Ultimately, what gets communicated through the beauty of things like fashion and music is God's love, Hale said. “Everyone wants to be loved and we all need to be loved by God.”

Referring to a recent pastoral letter written by Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron titled “Unleash the Gospel,” which spoke of the need to find “shallow entry points” for evangelization, Hale said the Met exhibit and gala “was an entry point into encountering God through the true beauty and good.”

Choir members themselves felt both appreciated and respected by gala attendees, he said, noting that a number of the singers told him they could see people in the front row, and it was obvious they were captivated.

“Several choir members commented on the smiles, the joy, they could see genuine joy,” he said. “There was an exchange and a communication of joy that was palpable and apparent to the choir members and to the attendees.”

Religious freedom efforts in the spotlight as North Korean prisoners freed

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 15:29

Washington D.C., May 9, 2018 / 01:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The release of three American prisoners from North Korea was hailed as an important first step in addressing abuses within the nation, as U.S. leaders call for a continued expansion of religious freedom initiatives in U.S. foreign policy.

The freed prisoners are expected to arrive in the U.S. early Thursday morning. They are accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had traveled to Pyongyang to finalized negotiations surrounding their release.  

David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, called news of the prisoner release “a great victory for these families and one critical step toward restoring diplomatic relations with North Korea.”

However, he cautioned, “To keep progressing, this first gesture of goodwill must now be followed by further actions to address the long-running, systematic human rights abuses that still plague the people of North Korea.”

The May 9 release of Tony Kim, Kim Hak-song, and Kim Dong-chul from North Korea comes as the U.S. government is looking to expand its promotion of religious freedom abroad through both economic development and security partnerships.

In a May 8 policy briefing at the U.S. House of Representatives Canon office, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said that he had recently met with leaders in the Department of Defence and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to discuss the promotion of religious freedom in their fields.

Among the new developments, USAID will be adding a “religious freedom grid” as a part of the programs that it funds, according to Brownback, who also said that “we are training military leaders around the world on religious freedom.”

Browback’s pragmatic approach includes advancing an idea that religious freedom contributes to greater economic growth and security.

Religious freedom “is not only a God-given human right, which I think should be enough, but it is going to grow our economy and grow our security. And, we want to project that around the world,” he said.

The European Union counterpart to Ambassador Brownback, Ján Figel, also spoke about E.U. approaches to promote greater international religious freedom at the May 8 briefing, which was co-hosted by the International Catholic Legislators Network and the Religious Freedom Institute.

The U.S. will also be expanding its advocacy efforts on behalf of prisoners of conscience, announced the chairman of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Daniel Mark at a seperate event on May 8.

Through the Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project, USCIRF compiles a list of people who are imprisoned for their faith or religious freedom promotion, and advocates for their release.

Mark said that USCIRF is ramping up efforts to compile an even larger list of prisoners of conscience, especially for the “countries of particular concern” listed in their recently released 2018 report.

The three American prisoners released from North Korea each had Christian connections through their work within the country, known as being among the worst perpetrators of religious freedom violations in the world.

Kim Dong-chul is a Christian pastor who was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor in North Korea in 2016, on charges of spying. Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song both taught at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a university founded in 2010 by a Christian Korean-American entrepreneur, before their arrest. They were detained for “espionage” and “hostile acts,” respectively.

President Trump sees the release of the three American detainees as “a positive gesture of goodwill” leading up to his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to a statement released by the White House on May 9.

The high profile prisoner release may be a sign that human rights will not be neglected in the continued security and peacebuilding efforts with North Korea, a question that had previously been a point of contention.

“The three Americans appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance,” continued the White House statement.

In contrast, when 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier was returned to his family last year after being detained in North Korea for 17 months, he had severe brain damage and died shortly after. Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a political poster from his hotel while on a sightseeing tour of North Korea. His parents filed a lawsuit against the North Korean government on May 3.

Open Doors USA emphasized that while the release of the three prisoners this week is a positive development, there are still tens of thousands imprisoned in the Asian country, and their situations should not be forgotten.

There are currently an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps, in which the U.S. State Department has found evidence of starvation, forced labor, and torture.

“Reports indicate that tens of thousands of prisoners facing hard labor or execution are Christians from underground churches or who practice in secret,” said the 2018 report by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

USCIRF Associate Director of Research and Policy, Tina Mufford, underscored this point.

“Today’s release of three American citizens unjustly imprisoned by the North Korean regime is welcome news, but should serve as a call to action on behalf of the tens of thousands of North Korean citizens, many of whom are Christians, currently serving prison sentences in unspeakable conditions,” she said.

“North Korea may be positioning itself on the global stage, but the regime grossly disregards international human rights standards, including freedom of religion or belief,” she continued. “Any U.S. or international engagement with North Korea must include discussions about religious freedom and related human rights, in no small part because these fundamental freedoms are critical to regional and global security.”

Why some parishes are offering IDs to undocumented Texans

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 19:09

Dallas, Texas, May 8, 2018 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For undocumented immigrants in Texas, something as simple as a routine traffic stop could mean arrest and deportation.

Since an anti-sanctuary law was enacted this spring, Texas law enforcement officers are permitted to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they have detained, even during routine interactions, and must comply with federal guidelines to hold undocumented criminal suspects for possible deportation.

Despite promises that the law would not lead to racial profiling and unnecessary arrests, its passage has left many immigrants feeling uneasy in their communities.

Father Michael Forge, a Catholic priest in Farmers Branch, Texas, told Dallas News that since the anti-sanctuary law was passed, several of his undocumented parishioners have told him that they felt unsafe to going to church or taking their kids to school.

That’s why Forge and several other local Catholic churches have begun issuing Church identification cards. Unlike state-issued identification, they do have any legal significance, but they can provide officers with a name and address, assuaging for some card holders the fear of arrest during otherwise routine interactions.  

Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of Dallas, who helped launch the initiative with the group Dallas Area Interfaith, said that the identifications give immigrants a sense of safety, community and belonging.

“It was just a way of giving them status within the church,” Kelly told CNA. “It was a way of saying you belong to us, you’re a part of our parish family.”

Applicants for the church ID cards are typically asked to provide some other form of identification, such as an expired driver's license or passport from their country of origin, or an affidavit certifying their identity.  

Some parishes ask that immigrants show that they are active parish members for several months before applying, though that is not a requirement everywhere.

"You don't have to be Catholic for that matter," Forge told Dallas News. "We certainly want our immigrants, legal or otherwise, to have some sort of peace."

Kelly said the cards have been a way to offer some solidarity with and peace of mind to fellow Christians.

“They’re our brothers and sisters but oftentimes they live in the shadows, they’re subject to injustices, wage theft, people may hire them and not pay them,” he said.

Police in the cities of Dallas, Carrollton and Farmers Branch have been told that they are allowed to accept the church cards as a form of identification. The church IDs include a person’s name, address and home parish. They can also be used to enroll in citizenship or language classes.

“So far people have said there’s a sense of relief and joy that they have something that says that they belong to this parish,” Kelly added.

“They recognize that it’s not an official government ID, they know that, it’s just a way of saying: 'we are acknowledged here.'”


NM Supreme Court reconsiders textbook funding for private schools

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 18:54

Santa Fe, N.M., May 8, 2018 / 04:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision has given new life to New Mexico backers of state funding for private school textbooks, as their case returns to the state Supreme Court.

“Ending the textbook lending program will disproportionately hurt low-income and minority children, at a time when they need access to a quality education more than ever,” Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said May 7. “We should be investing in kids’ futures, not crippling their ability to gain a quality education.”

The Becket law group, working on behalf of the New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools, has challenged a court decision that ended non-public school students’ participation in an 80-year-old textbook lending program for state-approved textbooks and other educational material.

“A science textbook is a science textbook no matter whose shelf it’s on,” Baxter said, arguing that siding with the school would “stop discriminating” and “give all kids equal access to the best educational opportunities.”

In 2011, two parents challenged the program on the grounds the state constitution bars education funds from being used “for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university,” language known as a Blaine Amendment. A 2015 New Mexico Supreme Court decision, Moses v. Ruszkowski, sided with the parents and ended nonpublic school students’ participation.

Becket has challenged the ruling’s reliance on the Blaine Amendment. The law group claimed the 19th century law was “originally designed to disadvantage New Mexico’s native Catholic citizens” and “was all about anti-Catholic animus.”

Such amendments have been used “to keep religious organizations from participating in neutral, generally applicable government programs on the same terms as everyone else,” the legal group charged. It cited efforts in Oklahoma to use a Blaine Amendment to block the use of scholarships for learning-disabled children attending religious schools.

Frank Susman, a Santa Fe attorney who represents the parents, said their case was backed by the Blaine Amendment and at least two other constitutional amendments which he said bar appropriations for private entities, whether schools or students.

“They all absolutely ban this type of aid,” Susman said in court May 7, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.

The U.S. Supreme Court has returned the 2015 decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider in light of its own 2017 ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. That 7-2 decision sided with a Christian preschool which had been denied a Missouri state grant for an effort to improve playground safety because it was associated with a church.

The United States' highest court ruled that it was wrong to deny a church a public benefit that was otherwise available only because of its religious status.

New Mexico’s Public Education Department is also challenging the state court’s ruling, though the department has not provided funding for private school textbooks since the decision. The ruling relates to over $1 million in federal funds the state receives each year through the U.S. Mineral Leasing Act.

Wisconsin diocese to launch new parish for Hmong Catholics

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 04:41

La Crosse, Wis., May 8, 2018 / 02:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A special quasi-parish for Catholics of Hmong background will be established in the Wisconsin Diocese of La Crosse, its local bishop announced.

“It’s with great hope and joy that I welcome our newest parish, whose mission is to bring the Catholic tradition to the Hmong community,” Bishop William Patrick Callahan said May 6. “Today we are proud to continue in our history of reaching out to peoples who have not encountered Jesus and the gospels.”

A quasi-parish is the equivalent of a parish under canon law, with some exceptions. It can later become a parish at the discretion of the local bishop.

Bishop Callahan named Father Alan T. Burkhardt as the quasi-parish’s first pastor. He currently pastors St. Anne Parish in Wausau. That parish currently hosts a bilingual Hmong Mass on Sunday afternoons.

Hmong refugees began to arrive in the La Crosse area after the Vietnam War and the civil war in the southeast Asia country of Laos, where they are an ethnic minority. There are over 7,000 people with Hmong heritage in the Wausau area, and its Hmong Catholic community is the second-largest in the U.S. There are significant Hmong populations in La Crosse and Eau Claire as well.

The initial work to launch the quasi-parish, including organizational and civil requirements and selection of a worship space, is expected to finish by the end of 2018. According to the bishop’s decree, the quasi-parish’s name will be Mary, Mother of Good Help.

“The members of the Hmong community desire to know their faith and have asked me to consider the possibility of pursuing this dialogue as a new parish,” Bishop Callahan said in a May 6 letter to the Catholics of the diocese and of the Wausau deanery.

“I offer my fervent prayers and very warm wishes for all who are directly involved in this great missionary event,” he said.

“With great hope in Jesus, this new parish will provide new opportunities for the Hmong community to grow,” he added, invoking the diocese’s tradition of serving Irish, German, Polish and French immigrants.

Bishop Callahan said the needs of the diocese’s Hmong community have been a particular point of reflection for him in the last year.

The diocese has recognized a desire for integration between the Hmong community and the native population, but different cultures and languages are “real barriers” which require “special attention to overcome.”

While Catholic missionaries worked among the Hmong for decades before they arrived in the U.S., the community’s history in refugee camps and during relocation to the U.S., among other factors, have meant Hmong people have had limited time to establish “a common vocabulary and understanding of basic Catholic beliefs,” the bishop said.

“With this in mind, the ministry to the Hmong community requires adjustments from us to assist in their assimilation and knowledge that will provide them an ability to feel comfortable within Catholic tradition,” said Bishop Callahan.

“The Hmong community is new to Christianity,” he continued. “Their traditional spirituality is a form of animism. Since coming to our diocese, a significant number of Hmong have embraced the Catholic faith. Their conversion from animism to Catholicism requires special attention, so that the traditions of animism are not erroneously carried over into Catholic practices.”

“Since animism and Hmong culture are intimately integrated, this process of sorting possible errors is challenging,” said the bishop.

Creating a parish with a pastor for the Hmong community may help this dialogue evolve and help the community deepen their understanding of Catholicism, he said.

Bishop Callahan cited the 1987 letter from La Crosse’s then-Bishop John Paul, “On the Christian Welcome of the Hmong Population Among the Faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse.” Bishop Paul considered the history of the Hmong people and noted that the Hmong had allied with the U.S. during the Vietnam War. He asked Catholics to help the refugees meet their needs.

“The Diocese of La Crosse is honored to be involved in this missionary work by which we ‘welcome the Stranger’ by bringing our Catholic tradition and faith to the Hmong people who have made our diocese their home,” Bishop Callahan said.


Christian leaders in Jerusalem respond to vandalism by settlers

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 18:27

Jerusalem, May 7, 2018 / 04:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Church leaders are defending the need for a Christian presence in the Old City of Jerusalem, as some report increased vandalism, verbal abuse, and aggressive property acquisition by Jewish settlers.

“Today the church faces a most severe threat at the hands of certain settler groups. The settlers are persistent in their attempts to erode the presence of the Christian community in Jerusalem,” said the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, in an interview with the Guardian.

“These radical settler groups are highly organised. Over the last years we have witnessed the desecration and vandalism of an unprecedented number of churches and holy sites and receive growing numbers of reports from priests and local worshippers who have been assaulted and attacked,” he continued.

Catholic institutions and individuals have also been subject to such attacks, according Jerusalem-based Catholic priest, Father David Neuhaus, an affiliate of the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

“What Patriarch Theophilos describes is correct in that church properties and Christian individuals have been attacked,” Father Neuhaus told CNA.

“The attackers make no distinction among the Christian denomination,” explained Fr. Neuhaus. “Of course, Catholic institutions and individuals have had their share in bearing the brunt of these attacks.”

Most of the Christians in Israel are Arabs belonging to either the Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, or Roman Catholic Churches.

The Benedictine Dormition Abbey has been vandalized on five different occasions in recent years, with anti-Christian graffiti written in Hebrew.

Vandals shattered stained-glass windows and destroyed a statue of Mary in St. Stephen Church in the Beit Jamal Salesian monastery, 25 miles west of Jerusalem, in September 2017.

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre recently contributed funds for a fence project to protect another vandalized Catholic church in Nazareth, 90 miles north of Jerusalem, from future attacks.

However, Fr. Neuhaus said that it is important to remember that “these attacks are equally against Muslims” and “many more mosques are targeted than churches.” He says that the settler violence is directed against all non-Jews.

“The question of settler and right-wing vigilante violence is an important phenomenon in Israeli society and deeply affects Christians and Muslims,” said Fr. Neuhaus.

The Executive Director of “In Defence of Christians,” Philippe Nassif, told CNA he is “concerned about Christian holy sites in Jerusalem being targeted by extremists on all sides.”

“It is important that Christians feel free to worship, work, and live in Israel without the fear of violence from a handful of extremists, and we urge the Israeli government to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice,” continued Nassif.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem also emphasized the importance of the Christian community in Jerusalem last week.

“The identity of Jerusalem would not be complete without a living and vibrant Christian presence. The Holy Places and the presence of many pilgrims are not enough to affirm the Christian character of the City: without the presence of a local community, alive and active, there cannot be a Church,” wrote Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the patriarchate, in a letter to the Latin Parish in Jerusalem May 3.

Archbishop Pizzaballa said the Church is considering creating a second parish in Jerusalem to strengthen the Christian presence.

“It is a priority and fundamental for all of us, therefore, to not only preserve, but rather to strengthen our presence in Jerusalem and preserve the Christian character of the Holy City,” wrote the archbishop.

On May 14, the United States will open its new embassy in Jerusalem, making the U.S. the first country to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel since the state was established in 1948.

After President Donald Trump announced the change last December, Pope Francis expressed his “deep concern” and issued an appeal to the international community to ensure that “everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant Resolutions of the United Nations.”

Pope Francis also urged the necessity of maintaining the status quo in his meeting with Theophilos III in October 2017, in which the two discussed the patriarch’s concern for the Christian community amid aggression by Jewish settlers.

The pope said, “any kind of violence, discrimination or displays of intolerance against Jewish, Christian and Muslim worshipers, or places of worship, must be firmly rejected. The Holy City, whose Status Quo must be defended and preserved, ought to be a place where all can live together peaceably; otherwise, the endless spiral of suffering will continue for all.”

Two Franciscan friars plead guilty to endangering children in Pennsylvania

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 14:58

Altoona, Pa., May 7, 2018 / 12:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two Franciscan friars who served as superiors of their community in Pennsylvania have pled guilty to charges of endangering children, for allowing a friar suspected of sexual abuse to continue to work with children.

Father Robert D’Aversa, 70, and Father Anthony Criscitelli, 63, were each charged with first-degree misdemeanors for their role in assigning Brother Stephen Baker to positions in which he had access to children, even after several credible accusations of abuse were brought against him.

The friars belong to the Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which has undergone a recent investigation for the cover-up of past sexual abuse.

In 2016, a grand jury released a “staggering and sobering” report on years of reported abuse and cover-up within the diocese, affecting hundreds of victims. Most alleged offenders have either died or have been unable to be criminally charged, due to most cases having passed the statute of limitations.

Baker was working at a local Catholic high school, Bishop McCort, from 1992-2000, during which time the bulk of his sexual abuse reportedly occurred. D’Aversa, who was provincial in 2000, transferred Baker to another assignment after having learned of a credible accusation against Baker, but did not disclose the reason for the transfer.

Criscitelli succeeded D’Aversa as provincial, and assigned Baker to other positions where he would have access to children, despite knowing that Baker had several credible accusations against him as a sexual predator.

“These defendants knew the abuser was a serious threat to children - but they allowed him to engage with children and have access to them as part of his job within their order,” Attorney General of Pa. Josh Shapiro said in a statement. “They chose time and time again to prioritize their institution’s reputation over the safety of victims. I won’t stand for that in any institution - and any person who fails to protect and safeguard children in their care will answer to me.”

This case is the first time members of a religious order have been sentenced for the cover-up of clerical abuse in the state of Pennsylvania. Shapiro told a local newspaper that the convictions of the friars will send a message that “(enablers) will be held accountable for covering up rampant sexual abuse of children.”

D’Aversa and Criscitelli were both sentenced to five years’ probation and $1,000 fines each, plus court fees.

Baker reportedly committed suicide in 2013 by stabbing himself in the heart when abuse allegations against him were made public. He had been accused of abusing victims in Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota in addition to Pennsylvania.

Accusations of child endangerment were also brought against a third friar, Father Anthony “Giles” A. Schinelli, for assisting in the cover-up of Baker’s abuse, but the charges were dropped because the statute of limitations had been reached. Settlements have been reached with more than 90 of Baker’s Bishop McCort High School victims.

In January 2018, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown created an Office of Child and Youth Protection, which “is responsible for implementing and overseeing the full Diocesan response to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and compliance with the law.”

The charter, implemented in 2002, obligates all compliant dioceses and eparchies to provide resources both for victims of abuse and resources for abuse prevention. Each year, the USCCB releases an extensive annual report on the dioceses and eparchies, including an audit of all abuse cases and allegations, and recommended policy guidelines for dioceses.



Alliance Defending Freedom booted from Amazon Smile program over 'hate group' label

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 13:16

Washington D.C., May 7, 2018 / 11:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal organization that promotes life, marriage and religious liberty, has been removed from the “AmazonSmile” charitable giving program after being designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

AmazonSmile is a program that allows users to choose a nonprofit foundation to receive a small percentage of their Amazon purchases. ADF has been part of the program since its inception in 2013.

Recently, however, the group said it was told that this was no longer the case, due to the SPLC’s designation of the group as an “Anti-LGBT” extremist group.

Alliance Defending Freedom, which has won hundreds of legal victories, including seven cases at the Supreme Court, focuses on “defending religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.”

ADF President and CEO Michael Farris sent a letter to Amazon May 3, explaining the kind of work his firm does. He said he was “surprised and disappointed” that his organization was removed from AmazonSmile, and that he found it “concerning” that the SPLC was behind this decision.

The SPLC has ADF listed on its website as a hate group alongside the Ku Klux Klan, racist skinhead organizations, and black nationalist groups.

“ADF recently drew the ire of SPLC because of its religious beliefs and advocacy,” said Farris in the letter. “Although the SPLC did good work many years ago, it has devolved into a far-left propaganda machine that slanders organizations with which it disagrees and destroys the possibility of civil discourse in the process.”

He also argued that the group has been “discredited” due to its tactics, and said that he hopes to meet with Amazon to explain why ADF is not a hate group and should be allowed to benefit from AmazonSmile.

Additionally, Farris offered to assist Amazon with the creation of a policy for AmazonSmile “that does not ban legitimate, well-respected, faith-based organizations like ADF.”

In an additional statement published on ADF’s website, Farris accused Amazon of “hiding” behind the SPLC, a group he says “fills its ever-increasing coffers by attacking veterans, Catholics, Muslims who oppose terrorism, and even nuns.”

“SPLC is not a neutral watchdog organization,” he said.

SPLC was founded in 1971 and originally monitored persons and groups fighting the civil rights movement. It began to track racist and white supremacist groups like neo-Nazis and affiliates of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s. It also claims to monitor other “extremist” groups like “anti-immigrant” and “anti-Muslim” groups.

More recently, the SPLC has listed mainstream Christian groups like the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom as “hate groups” for their “anti-LGBT” stance.

The Ruth Institute has also been included in this list by SPLC, and was also told that it was ineligible for the AmazonSmile program because of the designation.

Last year, the SPLC came under fire after it named Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim who has spoken out against Islamic extremism, and Maajid Nawaz, a former Muslim extremist himself, on a list titled “The Field Guide To Anti-Muslim Extremists.” The page was eventually removed from the SPLC’s website this past April.

SPLC has also recently faced questions regarding its financial administration, after reports that the non-profit has transferred millions of dollars to offshore accounts and investment firms.

Bishop Fabre to head US bishops' anti-racism committee

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 18:31

Washington D.C., May 4, 2018 / 04:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism will have a new chairman, following Bishop George Murry’s resignation from the position after being diagnosed with acute leukemia.

“Our most heartfelt prayers are with Bishop Murry and his loved ones,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We ask all people of faith to join us in praying for his full recovery.”

The cardinal has named Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La. to serve as the chairman until the end of the term, the U.S. bishops’ conference website reports.

“I am grateful to Bishop Fabre for his dedication and commitment to now lead the work of the Ad Hoc Committee,” Cardinal DiNardo said.

The ad hoc committee was established in August 2017 in the wake of increasing racial tensions and white nationalist activism. Its work has included a press conference last fall at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the creation of resources for the Sept. 9 Feast Day of St. Peter Claver as an annual day of prayer for peace within communities.

The committee also promotes education, resources, communications strategies, and care for victims of racism. A pastoral letter from the committee is expected to be released later this year.

On Monday the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio announced that Bishop Murry has been admitted to the Cleveland Clinic.

“He will undergo intensive chemotherapy for the next four weeks,” said the diocese’s statement, which called for prayer.

Murry also chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education, which provides guidance for all Catholic educational institutions in the country.

CNA contacted the U.S. bishops' conference seeking information about whether the bishop would remain on this committee but did not receive a response by deadline.

Bishop Shelton Fabre was born October 25, 1963 in New Roads, La. He was ordained a priest in 1989 and became an auxiliary bishop of New Orleans in February 2007. In September 2013 he became Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux in southern Louisiana.

He is current chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on African American Affairs, on which he has served since 2010. Since 2013, he has served as a member of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.

The bishop is a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Peter Claver, a historically African-American Catholic fraternal organization which he serves as national chaplain. He is also a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.


Iowa governor signs Fetal Heartbeat Bill into law

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 17:56

Des Moines, Iowa, May 4, 2018 / 03:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Friday afternoon signed into law the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, which prohibits doctors from performing an abortion after the detection of the baby’s heartbeat.

The law would require any women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound to determine whether a fetal heartbeat can be detected, a milestone usually detected around the sixth week of pregnancy. The legislation does make some exceptions for pregnancies conceived through rape or incest, as well as fetal abnormality, or if a doctor determines that a woman’s life is in danger.

It would also ban all persons from knowingly acquiring, providing, transferring, or using fetal remains in Iowa. This would not apply to medical diagnostic samples, or forensic investigations, or to fetal body parts donated for medical research after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Previously, abortion was legal in Iowa until the 20th week of pregnancy. The new law is the strongest abortion regulation in the country.

The bill passed through the Iowa House of Representatives on Tuesday by a vote of 51-46, and passed the Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 27-19. The bill has been significantly controversial in the state, and there have been many protests.

In a statement published on the governor’s website, Reynolds said she signed the bill as she felt it was “immoral to stop an innocent beating heart,” as well as “sickening to sell fetal body parts.”

“I believe that all innocent life is precious and sacred, and as governor, I pledged to do everything in my power to protect it. That is what I am doing today,” she said. She credited her faith as the force that “leads her to protect every Iowan, no matter how small.”

The law will most certainly be challenged in court, and is unlikely to go into effect without approval from the Supreme Court. Acknowledging this, Reynolds said that her actions on Friday were “bigger than just a law,” and that she will not be backing down.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU promised a lawsuit against Reynolds before she signed the bill, criticizing the governor for signing a bill they say is “so clearly unconstitutional.”

If this bill is taken to the Supreme Court, it could potentially force the justices to reconsider the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, praised the law, saying it “will not only save lives, it also reminds us that abortion stops a beating heart.”

“We thank Iowa for recognizing that every life is a gift and that personhood has inherent dignity from the moment of conception,” she said.



Bethlehem emigrants open shop to support Christian artisans in Holy Land

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 00:08

Denver, Colo., May 3, 2018 / 10:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic goods shop opened its first brick and mortar store last month, presenting a wide variety of merchandise which supports artisans in the Holy Land.

The store, Bethlehem Handicrafts, is owned by the Bannoura family, who produce a majority of the items at a factory in Bethlehem along with a number of other families.

The shop opened in 2000 as a website. In 2003, the Bannouras moved to Denver, selling items at numerous parishes and mall kiosks throughout Colorado. Fifteen years after settling in the state, the family were finally able to open their first physical shop in Aurora, Colo., April 2.

“We never ever showed everything in one spot because we have a lot of items. Especially now because we carry some very large items, some of them even for churches,” co-owner George Bannoura told CNA.

“We came to Denver, and at that time we [had] almost no tourists coming to Bethlehem, and we collected the finished wood from various families around us and we came to Denver, and we opened here.”

Most of the ware is chiseled out of olive wood, a type of timber common in the Bethlehem region and used in Palestinian tradition. The store offer items such as olive wood crosses, crucifixes, rosaries, saint statues, and kitchen ware. Additionally, the shop holds ceramic items and soap from the region as well.  

Bannoura said that among the most popular items are the crucifixes, which have little windowed compartments filled with Holy Land soil, stones, frankincense, and flowers.

Many pieces are made by his own family in the Holy Land, where he goes back to visit almost every summer and helps out in the factory. Bethlehem Handicrafts works with almost 400 artisans and collaborates with numerous Christian families, each with their own niche.

“For example, we don’t do much work with the crosses; we buy the crosses from a number of families, the rosaries, we get them from the ladies who make the rosaries and the bracelets; the ceramic from the community who makes the ceramic; kitchen utensils, we have a wonderful group that does nothing but kitchen utensils for years.”

Besides aiding families in the Holy Land, Bannoura said he enjoys that the excellence of their merchandise raises the bar for the quality of work from other families. “We have a great influence on many families on how to improve the quality,” he said.

In 2000, Bethlehem was off limits to the general public due to the Palestine-Israel conflict. Because Christians already make up a small portion of the area, Bannoura said the lack of tourists affected the communities, who depended on the tourism as a major source of income.

“Bethlehem had closed for almost three years, and we basically had almost no tourists coming to Bethlehem. So we had no income for three years, not just me and my family, other families as well. A majority of the Bethlehem people had no income for three years.”

Bannoura lamented the conflict, which has driven many Christians away. Without the Christian community, he said the churches and holy sites would become closer to museums than places of worship.

“We want to live in a peaceful community, we want to live in a peaceful environment. We pray for peace, and our Lord himself, asked us to pray for our enemies … My hope is the three major religions – Jewish, Muslim, and Christian – will have Jerusalem for everyone … Jerusalem can hold the three religions.”

Bishop praises ‘life-giving intent’ of Iowa’s fetal heartbeat bill

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00

Sioux City, Iowa, May 3, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Iowa bishop said that a bill banning abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat “affirms the life-giving intent” of the state’s pro-life efforts.

Known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, the measure was attached to state. legislation banning the sale and transfer of fetal remains. The bill was passed by the state’s legislature this week.

Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, told CNA he supports the legislation’s aims.

“We are grateful that, right now, it looks like it would stop some trafficking of fetal body parts following an abortion,” he said. “It also affirms the life-giving intent of our stance in pro-life activities.”

The bill, passed in the Iowa House of Representatives May 1 and the Iowa Senate May 2, now awaits approval from Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, who has not commented on whether she will sign the legislation into law.

The law would require any women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound to determine whether a fetal heartbeat can be detected, a milestone usually detected in the sixth week of pregnancy. The bill does make some exceptions for pregnancies conceived through rape or incest.

The bill would also ban all persons from knowingly acquiring, providing, transferring, or using fetal remains in Iowa. This would not apply to medical diagnostic samples, or forensic investigations, or to fetal body parts donated for medical research after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

“We support the life-giving intent of the provisions in the bill and we want to do everything we can to support that,” Bishop Nickless said.

Bishop Nickless told CNA that the state’s bishops recognize that some provisions of the bill might not withstand judicial scrutiny. He added that Catholics might disagree about the strategy of supporting legislation that could be overturned by courts.

At the same time, the bishop encouraged creative pro-life advocacy, saying that Iowa’s bishops had encouraged Catholics to discern those questions carefully. He said the message of the state’s bishops had been: “If you’re a Catholic and your conscience tells you to support this, please do.”

“The Catholic Church has always been pro-life and we’ll continue to be,” he added.

Nickless reaffirmed that the Catholic Church supports the health and rights of all women, including those in the womb. “If we are talking about women we need to make sure we are talking about unborn females as well, and protecting them for sure,” he said.

“Catholics respect all human life, from natural conception to natural death, and we are trying to respect the females among us as well,” he added.

House chaplain rescinds resignation, Ryan agrees to let him stay

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 18:22

Washington D.C., May 3, 2018 / 04:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- About two weeks after resigning, Chaplain of the House of Representatives Fr. Patrick J. Conroy, S.J. rescinded his resignation and informed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) that he intends on staying in his role through his term.

In a letter sent to Ryan on May 3, Conroy said that if the speaker still wished for him to leave his role, he would have to fire him. The priest said that he would not be submitting another letter of resignation.

In a statement released later that day, Ryan said that he accepts Fr. Conroy’s letter and has “decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House.”

“My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution,” Ryan said. “To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves. It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body, and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post.”

Ryan said he plans to meet with Fr. Conroy next week to discuss moving forward “for the good of the whole House.”

Conroy had tendered his resignation as House chaplain on April 15. In his letter Thursday, he said that Ryan’s Chief of Staff Jonathan Burks had told him that the speaker was asking him to resign. He said that Burks told him, “maybe it’s time we had a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic,” and commented on his prayer in November that was perceived as critical of the Republicans’ tax bill.

The Jesuit priest said that he had never been disciplined, and had received zero complaints about his ministry during his nearly seven years as House chaplain, but felt as though he was being forced into resigning by Ryan.

“At that point, I thought I had little choice but to resign, as my assumption was that you had the absolute prerogative and authority to end my term as House Chaplain,” Conroy wrote.

However, Conroy wrote that he changed his mind about his resignation after Ryan began speaking to the media. Ryan said last week that some House members had concerns about Conroy, and that he was not able to adequately tend to the spiritual needs of some Congressmen.

Conroy disputed this allegation, and said that he would have made an effort to adjust his ministry in order to better serve the House.

“In fact, no such criticism has ever been leveled against me during my tenure as House Chaplain. At the very least, if it were, I could have attempted to correct such ‘faults,” he said.

“In retracting my resignation I wish to do just that.”

Conroy then insisted that not only would he not be resigning, but also that if Ryan in fact wanted him removed from his position, he would have to terminate him. Otherwise, he will remain as House Chaplain throughout the remainder of his two-year term, which is up in 2019.

“Therefore, I wish to serve the remainder of my term as House Chaplain, unless terminated ‘for cause.’”

Conroy also said that he intends to run again for his role at the end of his current term, if he is not fired by Ryan.

Conroy’s resignation was due to go into effect on May 24. He has served as House chaplain since May 25, 2011.

On National Day of Prayer, Trump establishes new faith-based initiative

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 17:08

Washington D.C., May 3, 2018 / 03:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order creating a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative within the Executive Office of the President.

The executive order highlights that “the efforts of faith-based and community organizations are essential to revitalizing communities,” and reiterates that “the Federal Government welcomes opportunities to partner with such organizations through innovative, measurable, and outcome-driven initiatives.”

The White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative will “consult with and seek information from experts and various faith and community leaders,” and will provide guidance on reducing “the burdens on the exercise of free religion.”

The initiative will also seek to arrange a partnership between faith-based and other community organizations in order to combat poverty.

Previous presidents have similarly instituted faith-based initiatives, focusing on ensuring that religious charities had access to federal funding and could be involved in government. George W. Bush created the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which Barack Obama renamed the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. That head position in that office has remained vacant since Trump assumed the presidency.

The new initiative will have a stronger explicit focus on religious freedom. It will also create the position of “Advisor to the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative” and will require executive departments to designate a liason to the initiative.

Speaking in the Rose Garden with several religious figures, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl from the Archdiocese of Washington, Trump discussed the goals of the new initiative.

“The faith initiative will help design new policies that recognize the vital role of faith in our families, our communities, and our great country,” he said.

“This office will also help ensure that faith-based organizations have equal access to government funding and the equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs.”

During the speech, which fell on the National Day of Prayer, Trump highlighted Jon Ponder, a member of the audience who turned his life around while in prison for bank robbery.

After hearing a Rev. Billy Graham sermon on the radio, Ponder decided that night to dedicate his life to Christ and started spreading the Bible to his fellow inmates. After he was released from prison, he started a ministry that has helped over 2,000 former inmates rejoin society.

“You are a living testament to the power of prayer,” Trump said.

Trump reiterated his administration’s commitment to religious freedom, recalling that he was the first president to address the March for Life in a live video message.

“Our country was founded on prayer. Our communities are sustained by prayer.  And our nation will be renewed by hard work, a lot of intelligence, and prayer.”

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer from The Catholic Association praised the executive order for recognizing “the benefit to be had for all when the federal government partners with community and faith-based organizations to care for the needy.”

“People of all faiths, and those with no faith at all, find compassion and professionalism in the care they receive from groups motivated by faith. Today’s executive order hails their work — a wonderful product of the rich religious pluralism of our country.”

Lawmakers petition for rules keeping Title X funds away from abortion groups

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 15:52

Washington D.C., May 3, 2018 / 01:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Better rules are needed to ban Title X federal family planning funds to organizations that also perform abortions, Members of Congress said in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services this week.

“Abortion is not family planning and yet, the largest abortion provider in our country receives a significant amount of federal family planning grant funding,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri). She said regulations are needed to “draw a bright line between family planning and the abortion industry to ensure no federal tax dollars go to abortion providers.”

“We have an opportunity to restore program integrity and to safeguard the vulnerable lives of unborn children,” she said.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) characterized Title X as “a slush fund for Planned Parenthood.”

“Planned Parenthood dismembers or chemically poisons a baby to death every two minutes – killing over 7 million innocent children since 1973,” he said. “I hope that the Administration will finally turn off this funding stream for Planned Parenthood – ‘Child Abuse Incorporated’.”

Both Hartzler and Smith are among the 153 U.S. representatives who signed an April 30 letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. In separate letters, 41 members of the U.S. Senate and over 80 pro-life leaders echoed the members of Congress.

The U.S. Representatives said the regulations for the Title X program have been largely unchanged for about two decades and are in need of reform.

While federal law prohibits federal funding of programs that treat abortion as a method of family planning, the regulations governing the Title X program have blurred that line by requiring all grantees to refer for abortion,” said their letter. This deters applicants who do not accept abortion as a method of family planning.

“New regulations should remove abortion referrals from the program,” said the letter. The members of Congress criticized locating family planning programs in the same facility as abortion providers, which creates the risk of misuse of funds for abortion and conveys the message that abortion is a means of family planning. Title X service sites should be physically and financially separate from abortion facilities, they said.

The letter voiced “deep concern” that Planned Parenthood has received close to $60 million annually from 2013-2015 under the Title X program.

“Once again, we see that federal funds are being funneled to abortion service sites when the majority of Americans are opposed to this industry,” said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), another signer of the letter. She called for a review and update of regulations to stop funding for programs like Planned Parenthood’s, which she said “disgustingly dub abortion ‘family planning’.”

“It is family destruction, and it’s time to ensure that our money is funding actual family planning programs, and not our nation’s largest abortion provider,” Black said.

A 1991 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld similar rules implemented under the Reagan administration to ensure that Title X funding did not go to programs where abortion was considered a form of family planning, the letter said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Population Affairs is the subject of two lawsuits, NPR reports - one from Planned Parenthood and another from National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The lawsuits objects that the Office of Population Affairs guidance, released in February and known as a Federal Opportunity Announcement, does not specifically mention contraception but does mention “fertility awareness” in its call for a broad range of family planning services under Title X.

In February of this year, the HHS department also announced $260 million available for family planning methods and services, and included contraception explicitly.

Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit seeks to block the guidance document. The suit was filed on behalf of its affiliates in Utah and Ohio. These are states where Planned Parenthood serves a majority of patients under Title X who receive services including contraception and STD and cancer screenings.

Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, claimed the policy was a “radical shift that could have a big impact on people’s health.” As written, she said, it “flies in the face of the best medical practice.”

Clare Coleman, president & CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, told National Public Radio the approach was “disrespectful” to low-income parents and undermines Title X because, in his view, it has a “narrow, ideological vision of how people should live their lives,” including the view that there should be no sex until marriage.

Among the critics of the lawsuits was Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List. She charged that Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit was “ridiculous.”

Speaking to NPR, she similarly claimed that Planned Parenthood treats the Title X Family Program as “their personal slush fund” to which “only they are entitled for propping up their massive abortion enterprise.”


Benedictine nuns' new album an offering to Saint Joseph

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 05:04

Kansas City, Mo., May 3, 2018 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A newly-released album by a chart-topping community of Benedictine nuns in rural Missouri is devoted to the hearts of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but is dedicated in a particular way to Saint Joseph's paternity.

“St. Joseph has shown himself a father to us very poignantly in recent months, both spiritually and temporally, so this CD is our little votive to his paternal heart,” Mother Cecilia, prioress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, told CNA.

The Hearts of Jesus, Mary & Joseph at Ephesus was released to coincide with the May 1 feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Funds from the sale of the album will support the construction of the expanding community's priory church, which has $2 million remaining.

The album can be purchased from the nuns' website at or at Amazon. Digital copies are available from iTunes.

Construction of the priory church.

Mother Cecilia reflected that “Devotion to the Pure Heart of St. Joseph seems to be burgeoning in popular piety as connected with the Two Hearts. While there have not yet been official approbations of its explicit revelations … there is nevertheless a strong case in favor of this general devotion especially in the addresses of out recent popes.”

“The heart being the symbol of love and of conformity to the Divine Will, and St. Joseph being the patron of the Universal Church, it seems an apt devotion especially in our times amidst a crisis of fatherhood.”

She added that the theme of the album was suggested by Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura, who was leading a retreat at the priory.

The cardinal “asked about a recording, to which I replied that we had thought of doing one in honor of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, but were torn since we had also promised one to St. Joseph,” Mother Cecilia recounted. “His Eminence turned to us and said simply, 'You know what you should do is one to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the most Pure Heart of St. Joseph.' The Sisters spontaneously broke into applause at the direct answer to the dilemma.”

The album includes 22 tracks, eight of which are original pieces.

One of the original compositions, “Hymn to the Three Hearts”, is by a guest composer, Lisa Nardi, who was introduced to the community's music through her classical radio station, WQXR. The song includes lyrics written by the sisters at the priory.

“She was so taken by what she heard, that she reached out to us with a proposition to compose a piece for a future recording,” explained Mother Cecilia. “We happily took her up on her kind offer after hearing some of her other works, which were beautiful.”

The Sacred Heart of Jesus, being the oldest of the three devotions – revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1670s – included on the album, has a great deal of music dedicated to it, the prioress said.

“We had a hard time narrowing down which songs to do. We included our originals, 'For Love of Me' and 'The Heart of the Infant King.' The lyrics of the former was actually a poem by St. Alphonsus, and the latter by one of our Sisters, who had just read the writings of Mother Louise Margaret de la Touche, author of The Sacred Heart and the Priesthood. We included a hymn by the great American champion of Gregorian chant, Dr. Theodore Marier, who wrote a very moving hymn to the Sacred Heart in his days at Manhattanville, and the well-known 'Cor Dulce' with propers of the Mass.”

Hymns to the Immaculate Heart of Mary “were a little more sparse,” she said. Among those chosen for inclusion on the album is “I Am Thine”, an original which has been sung at profession and investitures at the priory, “so it is very much beloved by our community.” The 'Sub Tuum' “was a challenging piece by Charpentier,” a French baroque composer. It is one of the community's “first ventures” into music of that era, “but one we enjoyed very much.”

“We had an original, 'The Blessed Heart,' written 2006 in memory of a seventeen-year-old young lady who was to join us, but suffered a stroke shortly before her entrance at the age of seventeen,” Mother Cecilia added.

Mother Cecilia said the nuns “were a little dismayed by the generally narrow repertoire of Hymns to St. Joseph, especially songs that mentioned his heart, so sought to remedy the situation!”

The community has sung the “Hymn to St. Joseph” every Wednesday since 2007. And “Blessed Be St. Joseph” is an “entirely new piece,” the chorus of which was inspired by the invitatory for the feast of St. Joseph. The song's verses “came from Fr. Olier's prayer quoted by St. Peter Julian Eymard in his Month of St. Joseph,” Mother Cecilia explained. “Fr. Olier had a profound influence on St. Louis Marie de Montfort, and it was really a delight to set such beautiful words to new music.”

Life in the community is marked by obedience, stability, and “continually turning” towards God. They have Mass daily according to the extraordinary form, and chant the psalms eight times a day from the 1962 Monastic Office.

The nuns also support themselves by producing made-to-order vestments, as well as greeting cards.

Though the community practices limited enclosure, their music albums have brought them international renown and popularity – they have been Billboard's Best-Selling Classical Traditional Artist several years in a row, and their albums have topped Billboard's Top Traditional Classical Albums.

Sales of The Hearts of Jesus, Mary & Joseph at Ephesus will support construction of the priory church, which was begun in May 2017, and is due to be completed in September.

“In two short years, we have been blessed to raise $4 million dollars in funding, but we still have about $2 million left to go,” Mother Cecilia said. “We have great confidence that St. Joseph, to whom we entrusted the entire project, will see it through to the end, inspiring souls to assist us in raising this last amount.”

California bishops: We must accompany those with mental illness

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 18:08

Sacramento, Calif., May 2, 2018 / 04:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50 is not car accidents or cancer, but drug overdoses.

Suicide is not far behind, as the second-leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults, and the tenth cause of death overall in the U.S. Researchers are now collectively calling suicide and overdose deaths “deaths of despair.”

Amid these sobering statistics, and at the beginning of national Mental Health Awareness Month, the Catholic bishops of California have issued Hope and Healing, a pastoral letter on caring for those who suffer from mental illness, calling Catholics to accompany them and to offer them Christian hope.

“Christ’s public life was a ministry of hope and healing. As Catholics, in imitation of our Lord, we are called to provide hope and healing to others,” they said.

“We profess that every human life is sacred, that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, a person’s dignity and worth cannot be diminished by any condition, including mental illness.”

The bishops called the spike in mental illness, suicide, and drug overdoses a “heartbreaking” crisis, and urged Catholics to help end the social stigma for those seeking support and help in these areas of their lives.

“Persons with mental illness often suffer in silence, hidden and unrecognized by others,” the bishops said.

“We clearly proclaim that there is no shame in receiving a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder. We affirm the need for education in our communities to remove the unjust prejudice and stigma often associated with mental illness,” they said.

Instead, all Catholics should use their unique gifts and talents to help alleviate these problems and to accompany those who suffer, the bishops noted, whether by providing friendship, spiritual support, or professional support if appropriate.

They also encouraged a “both-and” approach to the healing of mental illnesses that accounted for the whole human person – spiritually, physically, and psychologically.

“Some Christians harbor suspicions about psychiatry or clinical psychology and question their compatibility with the Catholic faith. Discernment is necessary since not all psychological approaches claiming to be ‘scientific’ are in fact supported by sound evidence,” they said.

“However, good science that recognizes the life and dignity of people and the Catholic faith are never at odds. Medical science has discovered many useful treatments to help those with mental illness, and Catholics should welcome and make use of these – including medications, psychotherapy and other medical interventions,” they added.

The bishops also emphasized that Catholics who experience mental illness or addiction should not feel like spiritual failures, and noted that “Indeed, men and women of strong moral character and heroic holiness – from Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill to St. Thèrése of Lisieux, St. Benedict Joseph Labre, St. Francis of Rome, and St. Josephine Bakhita – suffered from mental disorders or severe psychological wounds. As Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, who lost a family member to suicide, said: ‘your chemistry is not your character’ and ‘your illness is not your identity.’”

Several popes in recent years have spoken or written about the importance of caring for those with mental illness, including St. John Paul II, who said during a 2003 address about depression that it is important to “stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected; in a word, in which they can love and be loved.”

Pope Francis in 2013 said that God is in everyone’s life, “Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person’s life.”

Furthermore, Francis’ continual call to reach out to those on the “peripheries” include those who have experienced mental illness, the bishops noted.

“People who suffer from severe and persistent mental illnesses are among the most misunderstood, ignored, and unjustly stigmatized members of our society. For them, our communities and parishes should be places of refuge and healing, not places of rejection or judgment,” they said.

“Our apostolic work should always bring us to those who are on the peripheries of society. We must venture out to the margins, rather than waiting for the marginalized to come to us.”

While recognizing the difficulty and sensitivity of discussing issues such as mental illness and addiction, the bishops urged Catholics to show that they are not afraid to accompany those who suffer.

They also said that while suffering usually does not make sense, Catholics can look to Christ for hope and healing, because he, too, knew great suffering when he was on earth.

“...we know that God never allows us to suffer alone. We believe that in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God descended to our level: He comes to meet us in our suffering, our illness and our affliction. We profess that God walked among us as one of us: In the person of Christ, he endured our human pain with us to the end. On the cross and in his agony, our Lord suffered not just our physical afflictions, but our mental anguish as well,” they said.

“Out of the depths we cry to him and he reaches down into these depths to raise us up. Christ’s kingdom has not yet reached its fullness, but we know in faith that it will at the end of time. On that day, all things will be made new.”

The bishop’s letter, in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, was posted to the website of the California Catholic Conference, along with a list of mental health resources and suicide hotlines available in California.

Catholic psychologists in your area can be found by searching at or at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

The Hispanic Catholic population is growing. Here’s how the Church is learning to respond.

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., May 1, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 2015, the average American Catholic was a middle-aged white woman married to a Catholic spouse, according to sociologists researching Catholic demographics.

But in a few years’ time, changing demographics mean that the average American Catholic is likely to be younger, less likely to be married, and will probably be more devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe than to Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Patrick of Ireland, or St. Bridget of Sweden

In 2016, the Hispanic population in the U.S. reached 58 million, comprising 18 percent of the population and the second-largest ethnic group behind whites. As the Hispanic population of the nation changes, the makeup of the Church will change too.

Hispanics made up about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016, with especially large representation among youth and young adults: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics in the US is expected to continue growing during the next decade.

In response to these shifting demographics, the U.S. bishops have called for a meeting called the V Encuentro- Fifth Encounter- a national gathering of U.S. Hispanic leaders and ministers held in order to consult with Hispanic Catholics and respond to their pastoral needs. The first Encuentro was held in 1972, and the most recent was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.

According to a letter issued by the U.S. bishops’ conference, the V Encuentro is an opportunity “to listen with profound attention to the needs, challenges and aspirations that the growing Hispanic/Latino population faces in daily life. It especially prepares us as a Church to better recognize, embrace, and promote the many gifts and talents that the Hispanic community shares in the life and mission of the Church and in the society.”

Over the past several months, local and regional meetings have convened to prepare for the national V Encuentro (Fifth Encounter), to be held in Grapevine, Texas Sept. 20-23.

“The main objective (of Encuentro) is to find new ways of responding to the Hispanic and Latino presence in the Church, and for Hispanics and Latinos to better respond as missionary disciples in service to the entire Church,” Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, Assistant Director of Hispanic affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said in a video message produced by the bishops’ conference.

The themes of these meetings have centered on encountering the needs of Hispanic Catholics, and empowering them to become missionary disciples.

They have also particularly focused on reaching out to young Hispanics, especially second- and third- generation Hispanics who have inherited their parents’ Catholicism but have been immersed in the culture of the United States for their whole lives. An estimated 60 percent of Catholics under the age of 18 are Hispanic.

“That means that the Catholic Church in the U.S. really needs to invest in this population, because whatever happens with these young women and men will have an impact in the life of the church,” Dr. Hosffman Ospino, assistant professor at Boston College, said in the video message.

Many of the regional Encuentros took place in March and April, in preparation for the September gathering. Areas of pastoral concern raised at the gatherings included the evangelization of youth and young adults, faith formation for families, and immigration, among other concerns.

Delegates from numerous regional encuentros said they were optimistic about the national meeting following the regional gatherings.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis attended the regional gathering of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota in April.

“I was so impressed with the spirit of the people here and their enthusiasm, especially for ‘going out.’ …To see the enthusiasm and their fire for that is so encouraging,” Cozzens said, according to The Catholic Spirit.

Cozzens said that after the meeting he wanted to focus specifically on strengthening families, youth formation and evangelization. He encouraged attendees who have had an encounter with Jesus Christ to become missionaries to others.

“Sending out missionary disciples is not just changing the lives of others. It is changing our own lives, the lives of our fellow parishioners and also of the lives of the people we meet,” he said. “When we have these types of experiences, we feel that Christ is with us, and these moments are so important because we can experience exactly what the disciples experienced. We can be, in these important moments, prophets of hope that the world desperately needs.”

Abelardo Hernandez, a delegate from Rhode Island at the Northeast regional gathering in March, told Rhode Island Catholic that what struck him about the gather was “that everything flowed with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We could feel the love of God that manifested within us as we shared with brothers and sisters from different parishes in dialogues focused on continuing our evangelization.”

Fr. Michael Tobin of Kentucky said in an editorial for The Record that the regional gathering in Florida in March brought “forward the voices of the faithful. Our hard work to advise our bishops on what is flourishing in ministry and what is lagging will promote fresh action across the southeast and the entire country.”

Pope Francis also issued a video message for the national V Encuentro, and said he had been “impressed by the vitality and the diversity of the Catholic community,” in the United States that he witnessed during his 2015 visit to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families.

“Throughout history the church in your country has welcomed and integrated new waves of immigrants...they have shaped the changing face of the American church,” he said.

Not only does V Encuentro seek to “acknowledge and value the specific gifts that Hispanics have offered and continue to offer to the church in your country”, he said, “it’s more than that. It’s part of a greater process of renewal and missionary outreach, one to which all of your local churches are called. Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter which encourages individuals and groups to share the riches (of their culture).”

He assured Encuentro participants of his prayers for the meeting and commended the work to Mary Immaculate.

“I ask you to consider how your local churches can best respond to the growing presence, gifts and potential of the Hispanic community,” he said. He also prayed that the Encuentro would “bear fruit for the renewal of American society and for the Church’s apostolate in the United States.”



As Pittsburgh churches consolidate, bishop urges strong communities

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 18:43

Pittsburgh, Pa., May 1, 2018 / 04:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Diocese of Pittsburgh moves to condense its 188 parishes into 57 multi-parish groups, Bishop David Zubik hopes the new communities will become inspiring witnesses to the Catholic faith.

“The first and most important thing each of those groupings have to do is come together and form a single community to develop relationships with each other,” Bishop Zubik told CNA.

“We are doing this…for evangelization purposes to try and invite people who’ve left the Church to come back, to try and invite people who are in the Church to become more excited about our faith,” and possibly inspire non-Catholics to want to know more about Catholicism, he said.

The initiative, called “On Mission for the Church Alive!” began in April 2015 with a year of prayer for the whole diocese. Since the second year of the program, over 300 parish consolation meetings have been held and more than 30,000 religious, clergy and laity have participated.

The integration process will formally start in October of this year and will extend over the next two to five years. The 57 parish groups will consist of two to seven neighboring churches; no churches will be closed yet.

A clerical team, led by a pastor, will serve the needs of several parishes during the transition. The team will include parochial vicars, parish chaplains, and deacons, while retired priests will assist as they are able.

A temporary Mass and confession schedule will go into effect on October 15. The number of weekend Masses will depend on the number of priests assigned to that parish group, but each priest will not be able to exceed three Masses, as proscribed by canon law.

After relationships have been built between the different communities, the bishop will receive three suggestions for each parish’s new name and recommendations for the programs needed for the parish.  

Bishop Zubik emphasized to CNA his hope that this consolidation of communities will be an effective tool for evangelization, generating excitement within the Church and strengthening resources to be used for outreach programs.

“By consolidating the resources of parishes in a grouping, what we’ll do is make sure every parish has all of the programs that it needs to be a parish so every parish will have a religious education program, every parish will have some association with a Catholic school, every parish will have an organized program for reaching out to the poor,” he said.

Some of the parishes have already completed the process, Bishop Zubik said, pointing to four churches in south Pittsburgh that were merged to become Holy Apostle Parish in 2016. The churches had been struggling with finances and attendance, and one pastor was reassigned five years prior to lead the parish group.

The initial transition posed a struggle to the churches, the bishop said, but as parishioners came together and relationships where built, the community gladly agreed to become one parish.

“They are so excited now about being together that they are not so concerned about the things there were concerned about five years ago,” he said. “I think that that’s kind of my dream for what is going to happen in all of the 57 groupings.”

In an April 28 statement, Bishop Zubik recognized that the reorganization will be a difficult process. However, he challenged the whole diocese to keep the faith alive by refocusing on the theological virtues.

“No matter how the Church is structured, it is the responsibility of all the faithful – bishops and priests included – to make faith, hope and love remain alive in the world around us.”

More than the church’s structure or Mass times, Bishop Zubik emphasized the need to ground faith in an active relationship with Christ, to be motivated by hope, and to recognize the true nature of charity.

“It is a relationship first with Jesus and then with others that seeks to unite us as one. It cannot be a passive endeavor, but an active trust in God that grows deeper each day and is shared with others by a courageous, vibrant and authentic witness. Hope is what spurs us on in life,” he said.

“Love is rooted in the realization that we are all God’s children, created in his image and, as such, we all deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. It seeks to follow the will of God and reach out to others, neighbor and stranger alike.”