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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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DeVos allows religious groups to provide educational services

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Education will no longer enforce a provision that forbids religious organizations from providing federally-funded educational services to private schools. The decision was announced in a March 11 letter addressed to congressional leadership.

 

“Those seeking to provide high-quality educational services to students and teachers should not be discriminated against simply based on the religious character of their organization,” wrote Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the Monday letter.

 

“The Trinity Lutheran decision reaffirmed the long-understood intent of the First Amendment to not restrict the free exercise of religion,” she wrote, referencing the 2017 Supreme Court decision in the case Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.

 

That decision found that the state of Missouri acted illegally in not awarding Trinity Lutheran Church a grant for resurfacing a playground located at its preschool and daycare center. The grants were awarded to similar, but non-religious, organizations. Trinity Lutheran was denied solely because it has a religious affiliation.

 

In the decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court said that Missouri had violated the First  Amendment by denying the grant to to the church.

 

Citing the decision, DeVos said the department will stop enforcing the specific provisions in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)--sections 1117(d)(2)(B) and 8501(d)(2)(B)-- that prevent religious groups from providing specific services, including tutoring, special education programs, and mentoring.

 

The ESEA says that those enrolled in both public and private schools must receive “equitable services,” which can be provided by contractors. Until the Monday announcement, those contractors could not belong to any sort of religious organization, and in the case of private schools they must be independent of the school.

 

In the letter addressed to Congressional leadership, DeVos said these two provisions were unconstitutional.

 

“After consultation with the Department of Justice, I have concluded that the requirement in ESEA sections 1117(d)(2)(B) and 8501(d)(2)(B) that an equitable services provider be ‘independent of . . . any religious organization’ impermissibly excludes a class of potential equitable services providers based solely on their religious status, just like the State policy that was struck down in Trinity Lutheran,” said DeVos in the letter.

 

The secretary said that the exclusion of religious organizations by virtue of their beliefs constituted a “status-based prohibition” that “cannot be justified.”

 

DeVos wrote that allowing both religious and secular organizations to provide these services would not violate the Establishment Clause, and that “the Department generally considers faith-based organizations to be eligible to contract with grantees and subgrantees and to apply for and receive Department grants on the same basis as any other private organization.”

 

All other provisions of the ESEA, including that the equitable services provided be “secular, neutral, and nonideological” would still be enforced, DeVos said.

 

Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a professor at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, told CNA that he believes the change is “actually constitutionally required."

 

"What the Department of Education said was they understand that the Constitution and the Supreme Court's recent decisions about the Constitution make clear that the government can't exclude religious people and religious organizations from participating in otherwise neutral programs,” Rienzi told CNA.

 

Rienzi explained that it would be different if the government were hiring people to preach religion or to celebrate Mass, but in this case, it involves hiring teachers from a religiously-affiliated school to teach secular subjects, such as English as a second language classes.

 

“What the Department of Education said is that the Constitution does not allow the government to exclude religious groups and religious organizations from participating on equal terms with everybody else in those kinds of programs," he explained.

 

The idea that the government forbids religious groups from equal participation in programs is “just not the law,” he said.

 

Rienzi compared the past Department of Education policy to one that would forbid the fire department from putting out a fire at a church.

 

“The church is a building in town just like the library, the bookstore, and the drugstore and everything else. And of course, the government can and should provide equal services and let them participate on equal terms with everybody else.”

California bishops praise death penalty moratorium

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 17:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 13, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The imposition of a state moratorium on the use of the death penalty by Gov. Gavin Newsom was hailed as a positive step by California’s bishops Wednesday. But the state’s Catholic leaders cautioned the state’s criminal justice system was still in need of reform.

 

Newsom announced March 12 that he would issue an executive order to remove the state’s lethal injection protocol and close the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison. The moratorium will not result in anyone being released from prison on pardoned.

 

“This is a good day for California and a good day for our country,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles in a statement. Gomez said that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it provide “true justice” to those who were victims of crime.

 

Gomez, along with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has long called for an end to capital punishment throughout the United States.

 

In his statement, Gomez said that he believed the moral arguments for ending the death penalty were clear.

 

“Every human life is precious and sacred in the eyes of God and every person has a dignity that comes from God. This is true for the innocent and it is true for the guilty. It is true even for those who commit grave evil and are convicted of the most cruel and violent crimes,” said Gomez.

 

In the executive order, issued Wednesday, Newsom said that the death penalty was costly, ineffective, and racially biased in its application.

 

Gomez agreed with these claims, and said that he hopes action will be taken to “address the inequities in our criminal justice system, to improve conditions in our prisons, and to provide alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent crimes,” as well as to properly rehabilitate prisoners.

 

“Much more needs to be done in California to address social conditions that give rise to crime and violence in our communities,” said Gomez.

 

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco issued a statement March 13 on behalf California Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s 26 bishops. Cordileone welcomed an end to the death penalty in the state, and expressed hope that the moratorium could be soon codified into law.

 

San Quentin State Prison is located in Cordielone’s archdiocese.

 

The California bishops’ statement encouraged Newsom to “use well the time of the moratorium to promote civil dialogue on alternatives to the death penalty, including giving more needed attention and care to the victims of violence and their families.”

 

“Capital punishment is not a cure for the suffering and turmoil inflicted by violent crime; the restorative healing of victims and their families to the extent possible is an essential part of justice.”

 

California’s last execution was on January 17, 2006. Clarence Ray Allen, 76, was put to death by lethal injection for arranging the 1980 murders of Bryon Schletewitz, 27, Douglas Scott White, 18, and Josephine Linda Rocha, 17, while Allen was already serving a life sentence for murder.

 

There are 737 people on death row in California, the largest in the country and comprising nearly one quarter of the total number of condemned prisoners in the United States. California has not conducted an execution in over a decade due to a lack of availability of the drugs needed for lethal injection.

Arkansas moves to ban abortion at 18 weeks

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 16:00

Little Rock, Ark., Mar 13, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The Arkansas Senate approved a bill Monday that would ban most abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. Three Democrats joined 25 Republicans to pass the bill 28-6.

 

The original text of the bill only allowed exceptions for medical emergencies but State Sen. Jason Rapert, a co-sponsor of the bill, offered an amendment to include exceptions for rape and incest.

 

House Bill 1439 faces one last vote in the House, which must approve the Senate’s amendments, before being presented for executive signature by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. According to the Associated Press, the governor is supportive of the measure and is expected to sign the bill into law.

 

Should it become law, the ban is expected to face legal challenges. If enacted, the 18-week abortion ban would be the strictest abortion limit on the statute books in the U.S. Arkansas already has a 20-week abortion ban, enacted in 2013, which has yet to be challenged in court.

 

Gov. Hutchison signed a “trigger law” last month which would ban most abortions in the event the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade court decision that recognized abortion as a constitutional right in the United States.
 



The Diocese of Little Rock welcomed the trigger law, which would outlaw abortion except in the case of a medical emergency.
 



Arkansas is the fifth state to pass a law to ban abortion if Roe is overturned. Trigger laws have also been passed in Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Mississippi.


Similar bills are advancing through the legislature in Kentucky and Tennessee.
 



Tennessee’s Catholic bishops have voiced strong support for the measure in that state, while opposing attempts to pass a bill that would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat but would likely fail an inevitable court challenge.
 



In Georgia, state legislators are also close to passing a fetal heartbeat law, though the Georgia Health and Human Services Committee tabled a second piece of legislation that would have banned abortion following a reversal of Roe v Wade.
 



Democratic lawmakers are working to repeal a similar statute which has been on the books in New Mexico since 1969.


Last month the Arkansas Senate voted to advance a bill to require doctors to inform a patient in writing that a medication abortion could be reversed after the first pill is taken, an expansion of a 2015 law. Idaho, South Dakota and Utah have passed similar laws.

Former New Jersey priest, credibly accused of abuse, shot dead

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 15:50

Las Vegas, Nev., Mar 13, 2019 / 01:50 pm (CNA).- John Capparelli, a former priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, was found dead in his Nevada home Saturday. Caparelli had been included in a list of clerics credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors released last month.

Capparelli, 70, was found dead in his kitchen March 9 with “a single gunshot wound to the neck”, the New York Times reported. His death is being investigated as a homicide. According to The Star-Ledger, his body was found about 5:10 p.m.

He lived in Henderson, part of the Las Vegas metropolitan area. He had purchased the Nevada home in 2016.

According to the New York Times, the Henderson police have not yet identified a suspect, but are “following up on developed leads.”

The Newark archdiocese released Feb. 13 a list of clerics credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. Capparelli was among the 63 names.

Capparelli was ordained in 1980, and was assigned at three parishes, a prep school, and as a temporary chaplain at a hospital. The school, Oratory Prep in Summit, N.J., currently serves boys in grades 7-12.

According to the archdiocese’s list, Capparelli had multiple victims, and had been “Permanently removed from ministry/Laicized”. Accusations against him date from the 1970s through the early 1990s. The Star-Ledger reported that he was removed from parish ministry in 1989, suspended from any ministry in 1992, and was dismissed from the clerical state around 2013.

In 2011, the archdiocese said that though he had not been dismissed from the clerical state, he was not receiving a stipend.

In 1993, one year after being suspended from ministry, Capparelli became a public school teacher in Newark. In 2011 he was teaching math to ninth graders, according to The Star-Ledger.

The Newark school district learned of the allegations from the The Star-Ledger in 2011, and reviewed his record, but said there were no allegations against his time as a teacher. Spokeswoman Renee Harper said, “we will remain vigilant in ensuring student safety for all of our kids acting in accordance of the law.” He was soon after removed from the classroom and given an administrative position at the school district’s headquarters. Harper said that “he has not been demoted and remains an employee in good standing.”

He also served as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University from 1990 to 2009, The Star-Ledger found.

Capparelli was never prosecuted or convicted of a crime, but he was at the center of lawsuits against himself, the Newark archdiocese, Theodore McCarrick, and the Boy Scouts of America. He was accused of groping, abusing, and photographing underage males, often in the context of wrestling.

He was the subject of at least two lawsuits in 2011.

One suit alleged that Capparelli sexually abused Andrew Dundorf for more than 10 years in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Another suit, filed by Rich Fitter, said that Capparelli groped, photographed, and brutalized him from his fifteenth to his seventeenth year. Fitter came to a settlement with Capparelli and the Newark archdiocese.

Capparelli was also accused of the embezzlement of about $30,000 by a business for which he worked part-time as a bookkeeper in the late 1980s. According to The Star-Ledger, the business heads “decided not to press charges” after meeting with the Archbishop of Newark, Theodore McCarrick, and after Capparelli’s family repaid the money.

He was sent to a treatment center in Jemez Springs, N.M., for several months in 1989, “on McCarrick’s recommendation.”

Ohio can defund Planned Parenthood, court rules

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 13:00

Columbus, Ohio, Mar 13, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A state law in Ohio that effectively defunds Planned Parenthood is legal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday in a split decision. The state passed a law in 2016 that banned state funds from going to medical providers that offer abortions.

 

In 2018, the Sixth Circuit unanimously found that Ohio’s law was unconstitutional. The state appealed, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the earlier decision March 12 with a 11-6 vote.

 

Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who authored the majority opinion, said that Ohio had no constitutional requirement to provide money to any private organization, Planned Parenthood or otherwise.

 

“The state may choose to not subsidize constitutionally protected activities,” wrote Sutton. “Just as it has no obligation to provide a platform for an individual’s free speech,” the state has “no obligation to pay for a woman’s abortion.”

Planned Parenthood operates 26 clinics in Ohio, and will lose about $1.5 million in state funds as a result of this decision.
 

Catherine Glenn Foster, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life, told CNA that she agreed with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that Planned Parenthood has “no constitutional ‘right’ to offer women abortions, nor to receive public taxpayer dollars for doing so.”

 

“I applaud the court’s strong denunciation of Planned Parenthood for claiming to represent the best interests of women when it advocates for unlimited abortion, as if that were either a health-based or justice-minded approach to the gift of human life,” said Foster.

 

Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio CEO Iris E. Harvey described the decision as a “devastating blow” for the people of Ohio, and pledged to “continue to fight” for its patients.

 

Dr. Leana Wen, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the decision will result in serious damage to public health in Ohio.

 

“I recently visited our Ohio health centers where I saw for myself the public health necessity of our Planned Parenthood programs that reduce maternal and infant mortality, cut STI and HIV rates, and provide breast and cervical cancer screenings,” said Wen.

 

No Planned Parenthood clinics provide mammography services, and last year Planned Parenthood performed 58,612 more abortions than pap smears in its clinics nationwide. Last year, Planned Parenthood provided 2,831 adoption referrals--a rate of one adoption referral for every 117 abortions.

 

None of Planned Parenthood’s locations in Ohio advertise that they offer prenatal care services. All advertise that they provide either abortion services or referral for an abortion.

 

Due to the numerous legal challenges, the law never had a chance to go into effect. It is unclear when this will happen.

Baton Rouge Catholic Charities expands international adoption services

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 18:21

Baton Rouge, La., Mar 12, 2019 / 04:21 pm (CNA).- Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge has expanded their international adoption services into the northwestern part of Louisiana.

Paula Davis, the clinical director of maternity, adoption, and behavioral health services for Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge, told CNA that the agency saw a need for adoption services north of Baton Rouge and expanded to fill that need.

“I think one of the values [of being a Catholic-based adoption service] is that we are mission-based, so we’re providing services, whether its domestic or international, based on the needs of the child, but also with respect for life,” Davis said.

She also said that they are looking for families not only for infants, but for “all children who are in need of a loving, stable home.”

Davis stated that Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge staff have extensive experience in international adoptions and are Hague accredited, which she described as a “seal of approval that we are providing competent, ethical, transparent international adoption services.” They are also the only Hague accredited adoption agency in the state, a requirement for most international adoptions.

Catholic Charities’ expanded services will provide the cities of Lafayette, Lake Charles, Alexandria, and Shreveport with home studies, training, and post-placement supervision.

It will also hold free informational seminars once a quarter for families to learn about different adoption processes and to find which process is best for them.

“The children who are available for adoption internationally are older and they typically have special needs, so it’s important that families understand the needs of the children and the challenges they’ll face. And that the agency that they’ll work with is experienced with international adoptions,” Davis explained.

Out of the Baton Rouge office Catholic Charities also provides services in domestic adoption, maternity, search and reunion, and post-adoption counseling, which Davis said they hope someday to be able to offer throughout Louisiana.

Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge has facilitated domestic adoptions since 1964, and international adoptions since the 1990s.

Catholic Charities of New Orleans is also present in the state and handles international adoptions for the New Orleans area.

Noting that international adoptions in the U.S. have dropped dramatically since the mid-2000s, and the application of the requirement for Hague accreditation by agencies, she said Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge typically handles five to seven international placements per year.

“Our staff is experienced in international adoption and in supporting families of children from hard places,” Davis said.

“It’s important to understand that our mission is finding families for children, not children for families; and that the child’s needs take precedence.”

Archbishop Kurtz voices support for Scholarship Tax Credit bill

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 17:05

Louisville, Ky., Mar 12, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- Creating a Scholarship Tax Credit program in Kentucky would align with Catholic teaching by assisting families in need and empowering parents to make decisions about their children’s education, said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville.

“The reality is that educational choice already exists in Kentucky, but sadly, not for Kentucky’s most vulnerable students,” the archbishop said.

“Scholarship Tax Credit legislation would allow more families to exercise this right and provide Kentucky children with equal opportunities.”

Kurtz wrote a March 11 opinion piece in the Courier Journal, responding to an earlier opinion piece by Rep. Jim Wayne (D), who said the tax credit proposal, House Bill 205, was incompatible with Catholic social teaching.

Under House Bill 205, Kentucky residents would be able to receive tax breaks by donating to the scholarship programs of private schools, including religious schools. The money would then go toward tuition assistance for students at those schools. With $25 million available in tax credits, residents would receive tax breaks equal to the amount they donated, up to $1 million.

Sponsored by Rep. John Carney (R), the bill was introduced on Feb. 5. On Monday, Carney said the legislation faced an uphill battle, acknowledging it would likely not receive the votes it needs to pass, according to Lexington Herald Leader.

Rep. Wayne argued that Catholic schools are often unequipped to accept children with special needs and that “only the public school system can include all children.”

“A hallmark of Catholic social teaching is the responsibility to assess every public policy through this lens: How will the policy affect the poor? If the poor are hurt, the policy is immoral,” he said, writing in the Courier Journal.

Wayne said he disagrees with taking money away from the state’s public school system. He also argued that the bill would violate the principle of separation of church and state.

Archbishop Kurtz disagreed that the policy will harm the poor and is therefore incompatible with Catholic teaching. Because it is mandated in Kentucky that more than half of the aid will support students with high financial needs, he said, the money will go to “families whose incomes are below the reduced-lunch threshold, students with special needs and students within Kentucky’s foster care system.”

“Once that mandate is met, scholarships are allowed to go to students whose family income is no higher than 200 percent above the reduced-lunch threshold. In keeping with the Catholic tradition of helping those who need it most, participants will receive aid proportionate to their level of need,” he said.

Kurtz said that while he respects public schools, some students best thrive in other education systems and it should be up to the parents to decide where to send them. Citing Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, he said education is the “primary right” of the parents.

“The government’s role is to support the parents in the exercise of this right, not to replace them,” he said.

Kurtz said the program has been successful in other states. He pointed to Florida, which has the biggest Scholarship Tax Credit program in the United States, covering more than 100,000 students each year.

“When the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results were released, Florida’s public schools made more progress than those in any other state,” he said.

“Florida students with special needs and from across racial and economic lines succeeded in showing improvement on these tests. And, it is not only the public schools that have experienced success.”

The archbishop emphasized that he is not seeking to “impose a religious education on every family,” but said that the Catholic faith supports “helping those in greatest need.”

Colorado baker asks for true tolerance, and an end to the spotlight

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 16:20

Denver, Colo., Mar 12, 2019 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- A Colorado baker who became the focus of legal battles over religious freedom and same-sex marriage hopes his time in the spotlight is over after a Supreme Court victory last year and a resolution to a subsequent case.

“I hope this is the end of my legal battles, and that I can return to my quiet life as a cake artist,” said Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., a Denver suburb. “I love creating my cake art for all people. What I can’t do is create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with my religious beliefs.”

In a March 8 Denver Post opinion essay titled “Can I just be a cake artist again?”, Phillips said this “should be OK because a truly tolerant society tolerates different convictions. The First Amendment protects the peaceful exercise of my beliefs, and it protects my choice of what not to say and what not to celebrate. It protects you as well.”

Philips said he opened Masterpiece Cakeshop in 1993 and focused his talents on artistic cakes. He developed his talents through “countless art classes and years of practice.” He believes his cakeshop has become an “art gallery of cakes.”

In 2012, he said, he became the target of state officials who were “unabashedly hostile to my faith.”

That year, Phillips declined a same-sex couple’s request to make a wedding cake for their union on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs, although he did offer to create a different cake. Colorado law did not recognize same-sex unions as marriages at the time.

The couple filed a lawsuit against Phillips and in 2013, a Colorado judge sided with the plaintiffs. He ordered Phillips to receive anti-discrimination training and to serve same-sex weddings or stop serving weddings altogether. He chose to stop serving weddings.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission then ruled that by declining to make the cake, the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law categorizing sexual orientation as a protected class.

In the commission’s unanimous 2014 vote against the baker, then-Commissioner Diane Rice said: “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we ... can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use—…to use their religion to hurt others.”

In Phillips’ view, Rice “blasted my (and your) constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom as a ‘despicable piece of rhetoric’.”

“She and her colleagues forced me out of the wedding industry, costing me 40 percent of my business. In their eyes, it seemed, my religious beliefs were incompatible with participation in a tolerant society,” he said in the Denver Post. “In other words, my beliefs were intolerable.”

Rice’s words were later cited in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy commented that tolerance is “essential in a free society” and said Colorado officials had been “neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’s religious beliefs.”

In June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phillips with a 7-2 decision in the case, known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It said the officials had shown “clear and impermissible hostility” towards Phillips’ religious beliefs and had acted inconsistently in other cases where bakers had refused to create cakes with messages to which they objected.

After that decision, Phillips thought he was “vindicated,” saying, “I hoped that I could return to being just a cake artist.”

But another case was pending.

In June 2017 lawyer Autumn Scardina ordered a cake to celebrate the anniversary of a “gender transition,” pink on the inside and blue on the outside, and Phillips declined on the grounds of his religious beliefs.

He was again put before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which issued a formal complaint against the cakeshop in October 2018 on the grounds he had discriminated on the basis of gender identity.

Phillips said he decided to “push back” because “no one should be driven out of business because of their religious beliefs.” Represented by attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, he filed a legal challenge against the commissioners, the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and other state officials.

“Those legal proceedings revealed an even deeper hostility toward my faith than previously known,” he said. One state commissioner had called him a “hater” on Twitter, while two others had publicly endorsed Rice’s “anti-religious” statements.

In January, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Wiley Daniel had said the lawsuit could proceed, given there is evidence of unequal treatment of Phillips “sufficient to establish they are pursuing the discrimination charges against Phillips in bad faith” motivated by his religion. Phillips “adequately alleged his speech is being chilled by the credible threat of prosecution.”

The judge allowed departing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to be dropped from the suit because he was leaving leaving office. Gov. Jared Polis was not added to the suit.

State officials later agreed to drop the case.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said March 5 that both parties agreed “it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases.”

“The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them,” he said, adding “equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state’s and nation’s civil rights laws.”

In his essay, Phillips said he hoped that the United States can “learn to tolerate and respect our differing beliefs” and that “governments stop harassing people whose faith they dislike.”

“If that happens, then maybe, just maybe, I can go back to being just a cake artist.”

The Supreme Court case came amid increased advocacy from influential LGBT groups and others against broad religious freedom protections.

The case was a focus of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, a San Francisco-based private family foundation with half a billion dollars in assets, which gave at least $500,000 to LGBT-supportive groups on advocacy and public relations campaigns related to Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2017 and 2018. The fund is one of several large funders which have committed nearly $10 million in various anti-religious freedom grants, according to CNA reports.

The Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop was one of several recent cases involving the collision between legal recognition of same-sex marriage and the freedoms of speech and religion. Florists, photographers, and other wedding industry professionals have been involved in lawsuits about whether they can be required to create works of art for same-sex weddings to which they hold religious objections.  

The rise of same-sex marriage and strict anti-discrimination laws and regulations have helped to close Catholic adoption agencies and others that decline to place children with same-sex couples.

Catholic soldier posthumously awarded Medal of Honor

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 15:38

Washington D.C., Mar 12, 2019 / 01:38 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump will award the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Travis W. Atkins, who was killed on June 1, 2007, after tackling a suicide bomber in Al Yusufiyah, Iraq.

 

The White House announced March 12 that the Medal of Honor would be posthumously awarded to Atkins, a Catholic, on March 27, 2019. Atkins’ son, Trevor Oliver, and other members of his family, will be present at the White House for the ceremony.

 

“Staff Sergeant Atkins’ heroic actions, at the cost of his life, saved the lives of three of his teammates,” said a statement from the White House.

 

Atkins, a native of Montana, was a member of the 10th Mountain Division out of Ft. Drum, NY. He was killed during his second tour of duty in Iraq, aged 31. He had enlisted in the army in November of 2000, and first deployed to Iraq in 2003. He was honorably discharged as a sergeant, and re-enlisted in 2005. He was deployed again in 2006. Exactly a month before he was killed, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant.

 

On the day he died, Atkins engaged in hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent. When he realized that the insurgent was trying to detonate an explosive vest strapped to his body, Atkins tackled the man and shielded other soldiers from the explosion.

 

At his funeral Mass at Bozeman’s Resurrection Parish, Fr. Val Zdilla praised Atkins for the heroism displayed in his lact actions on earth.

 

“Human lives were saved by his heroic action that can never be forgotten or denied,” said Zdilla. He described Atkins as someone who truly lived out his calling in life by serving in the military.

 

“We now remember Travis and how his life made a difference,” he said. “He was this nation’s son.”

 

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Atkins was also awarded a Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Combat Infantryman's Badge, and Air Assault Badge.

 

The Medal of Honor is the highest military honor in the United States, and is reserved for those who have demonstrated “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty.” Atkins will be the fifth person to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions during the Iraq War.

Brooklyn bishop condemns SNL R. Kelly sex abuse jokes

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 14:30

Brooklyn, N.Y., Mar 12, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Brooklyn has demanded an apology from the NBC network, calling jokes comparing Catholics to supporters of a disgraced singer charged with child sexual abuse “disgraceful and offensive.”

The jokes were broadcast by the late-comedy show Saturday Night Live on March 9. Cast member Pete Davidson suggested that the only difference between practicing Catholicism and supporting disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly is that Kelly’s music is “significantly better.”

The Brooklyn diocese released a statement condemning the routine on Monday.

“The Diocese of Brooklyn is demanding an immediate public apology from Saturday Night Live and NBC,” the statement from the diocese said.

“Apparently, the only acceptable bias these days is against the Catholic Church,” said the statement.

The diocese criticized the use of the sex abuse crisis as a laugh line, “at the expense of the victims who have suffered irreparably,” and insisted that widespread reforms had been instituted to prevent sexual abuse.

“The faithful of our Church are disgusted by the harassment by those in news and entertainment, and this sketch offends millions. The mockery of this difficult time in the Church’s history serves no purpose.”

During the Weekend Update segment of the show, Davidson said “If you support the Catholic Church, isn’t that the same thing as being an R. Kelly fan?”

Kelly, a former songwriter for Michael Jackson, was indicted in February on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He was the subject of a recent documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, in which several women accused him of sexual abuse against both adults and minors.

The SNL audience had a mixed reaction in response to the joke, while Davidson added that the only difference between the Catholic Church and R. Kelly is that “one’s music is significantly better.”

“The other day, my Mom is like ‘I’m going to Mass’ and I’m like OK, I’m going to go listen to the Ignition remix,” said Davidson, referring to Kelly’s hit single from 2002. Davidson also called Kelly a “monster” who should be jailed.

Davidson was raised Catholic and graduated from a Catholic high school in Brooklyn before briefly attending St. Francis College.

Kelly has a long history of accusations of sexual misconduct. In 1994, Kelly, who was 27 years old, illegally married his protege Aaliyah, who was only 15 years old at the time. Kelly used a fake birth certificate that claimed the singer was 18. The marriage was annulled in 1995, and Kelly was not charged for the illegal relationship. In 2008, he was acquitted on 14 counts of child pornography that stemmed from a video discovered in 2002.

In January 2019, Kelly was dropped from his record label. He maintains his innocence, and said recently in an interview that he is “fighting for his life” against the charges.

The Diocese of Brooklyn said in its statement that “it is likely that no other institution has done more than the Catholic Church to combat and prevent sexual abuse.”

“The insensitivity of the writers, producers, and the cast of SNL around this painful subject is alarming.”

Heartbeat abortion bans move forward in Tennessee, Georgia

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 02:09

Atlanta, Ga., Mar 12, 2019 / 12:09 am (CNA).- Lawmakers in Georgia and Tennessee have advanced bills that would ban most abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy. Should they become law, both are expected to face legal challenges, as courts have historically ruled similar laws unconstitutional.

House Bill 481 passed the Georgia House by a vote of 93-73 last Thursday and now moves to the Senate, according to WSB-TV Atlanta. Governor Brian Kemp released a video message supporting the bill shortly after its passage.

The bill includes exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest— which would be demonstrated by a police report filed by the woman— as well as when a pregnancy is deemed to threaten the life of the mother or to be “medically futile.”

The Georgia Health and Human Services Committee tabled a second piece of legislation that would have created a “trigger law” to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that found a Constitutional right to abortion, is overturned by the Supreme Court.

Georgia House Democrats turned their back on Republican Rep. Ed Setzler as he introduced the heartbeat bill in the house chamber. Several Democrats had already walked out in protest of the bill.

In Tennessee, House Bill 77 passed the legislature 65-21 the same day and continues to the Senate. Gov. Bill Lee has said he will sign the heartbeat bill into law if it makes it to his desk.

Tennessee’s Catholic bishops chose to oppose the state’s heartbeat bill over concerns that it would not stand up to judicial scrutiny. Tennessee Right to Life, the state’s leading pro-life group, also opposed the bill.

“While we wholeheartedly support the intention of the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ being considered by the Tennessee Legislature, we must also be prudent in how we combat the pro-abortion evil that dwells in our society,” the bishops wrote in a Feb. 26 open letter.

The bishops cited similar laws in other states that were signed into law but never went into effect because of legal challenges. In those cases, the laws were found to be unconstitutional, and the state was forced to pay significant sums of money to the lawyers representing the pro-abortion challengers to the laws.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion chain, has already said they will file suit against Tennessee if the heartbeat bill becomes law. The American Civil Liberties Union has also vowed to challenge heartbeat bills in court in several states.

As an alternative, the bishops voiced “urgent support” for the “Human Life Protection Act,” an bill which would, in the event that Roe were overturned, trigger an automatic ban on abortion in the state.

The Georgia and Tennessee heartbeat bills join a growing list of legislation recently passed in other states, some of which the courts have already thrown out.

In January, a district judge struck down Iowa’s heartbeat abortion law, which Gov. Kim Reynolds had signed last May. The law had not yet gone into effect because of a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the abortion provider Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic, which also performs abortions.

The Kentucky House is considering a heartbeat bill that the Senate passed last month. If the bill becomes law, an examination would be required before an abortion to determine whether the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected. If so, an abortion would be illegal, unless the mother’s health is determined to be in danger.

Ohio lawmakers reintroduced a heartbeat bill last month after former Gov. John Kasich vetoed a previous version in December. Ohio’s new governor, Mike DeWine, has reportedly expressed support for the measure.

Missouri lawmakers are currently considering a bill that includes a provision banning abortion if either a heartbeat or brain function can be detected.

The Arkansas legislature passed the first heartbeat-based abortion ban in 2013, and also voted to override a governor’s veto of the bill. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled it was unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

Maryland, Minnesota, Florida, West Virginia, Mississippi, Illinois, and South Carolina are currently considering heartbeat legislation.

New law in NY used to revive $20 million suit against Brooklyn diocese

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 22:21

New York City, N.Y., Mar 11, 2019 / 08:21 pm (CNA).- A new law in New York that extended the statute of limitations for the reporting of childhood sexual abuse has allowed a Florida man to reopen a $20 million suit against the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, for claims of sexual abuse of a minor against a former employee of the diocese.

James Carlino, 55, formerly of Queens, recently re-filed a suit in which he alleges that he suffered continual sexual abuse from his former basketball coach, Robert Oliva, previously employed by the Diocese of Brooklyn.

According to the New York Post, the suit alleges that the abuse occurred continuously between the years of 1974 and 1978, beginning when Carlino was 12 years old, and while Oliva was a “legendary” basketball coach at St. Teresa school in Queens. According to the suit, the abuse continued even after Oliva transferred to a new position at a different school.

Carlino, who now lives in Florida, had previously attempted to file the suit against the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2011, but it was dismissed due to the statute of limitations at the time, the Post added. However, the recently-passed Child Victims Act has extended the statute of limitations on civil cases involving childhood sexual abuse, allowing Carlino to re-file.

The act extended the age at which victims of child sexual abuse may bring civil charges against their abuser - extending it from from the age of 23 to the age of 55. Criminal prosecution cases can be brought forward until the accuser is the age of 28.

The act, signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in February, also created a one-year window for victims of any age to come forward.

Prior to Carlino’s first attempted suit, Oliva pled guilty to two counts of child rape and one count of disseminating pornography to a minor in a Boston court for a charge of sexual abuse against Carlino, who was 14 at the time of the charge of abuse. Oliva was sentenced to five years’ probation, the New York Post reported.

The new lawsuit from Carlino alleges that “Oliva developed an inappropriate relationship with Carlino, inducing Carlino, as a very young child, to look up to Oliva, and to place absolute trust and confidence in Oliva. Oliva then abused that trust and confidence by sexually molesting Carlino.” It seeks damages for charges of assault, battery, negligence and emotional distress.

The suit comes just weeks after a Vatican summit on the global issue of the sex abuse crisis in the Church.

O'Malley introduces whisteblower system for complaints against Boston bishops

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 17:30

Boston, Mass., Mar 11, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Boston has announced it will implement a third-party system for reporting allegations of abuse or misconduct against bishops in the diocese.

Boston is the second archdiocese to announce such a system, after a proposed national reporting system for allegations against bishops was scuttled during a November 2018 meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“I have decided to implement EthicsPoint, a confidential, anonymous and third-party system, exclusively for the reporting of misconduct by a Cardinal, Bishop or Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston announced in a March 8 letter.

“Since 2011 we have utilized EthicsPoint for concerns of potential ethics violations, financial improprieties, and other violations of the Archdiocesan Code of Conduct related to financial matters.”

“Like the existing system currently in use, this will be web based and have a toll-free hotline to make a report. Reports will be sent to members of my Independent Review Board who will be charged to immediately notify law enforcement for claims of abuse as well as the apostolic nuncio; the diplomatic representative to the U.S. of the Holy See. The system will be hosted on secured servers at the EthicsPoint facility and is not connected to the Archdiocese of Boston website, intranet system or the existing EthicsPoint system currently in use. We anticipate the system being up and running soon and will provide more information at that time,” O’Malley said.

The cardinal said that the importance of “an effective reporting mechanism when a Bishop or Cardinal has failed in his duty to protect children or has himself abused children or vulnerable adults” was discussed at a February Vatican summit focused on prevent child abuse.

The bishop said he believes the U.S. bishops conference will introduce a national reporting procedure at some time, adding his desire to “address this need immediately for the Archdiocese of Boston.”

In November, the U.S. bishops’ conference was stopped by the Vatican from voting on proposals that would have created a nationalized third-party whistleblower system for reporting allegations against bishops, and a lay-led independent commission for investigating those allegations. The Vatican said it had not had sufficient time to review the proposals ahead of the scheduled vote.   

The Archdiocese of Baltimore announced a whistleblower hotline for complaints against bishops in January, as well as a plan for the archdiocesan independent review board to receive complaints and forward them to appropriate civil authorities.

When O’Malley announced Boston’s system, he also said that the Vatican’s abuse summit had pointed to the importance of hearing from the victims of clerical sexual abuse.

“The way forward for the Church is to hold as a priority the voices and experience of survivors, to keep them close to every step we take and make all possible efforts to provide the means for them to be heard.”

“In Boston we will continue to provide pastoral care and counseling for survivors. We will continue to carry out programs of prevention and education in our schools and parishes. We will continue to do background checks annually for bishops, priests, all archdiocesan personnel, and all volunteers who work with children and young people,” the cardinal added.

O’Malley faced criticism last year, after it was reported that he had received a letter raising concerns about laicized bishop Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct with seminarians, and did not respond by forwarding it to the proper ecclesiastical authorities. The cardinal apologized for the way that letter, and others like it, were handled in his office.

The cardinal said that he left the Vatican abuse summit “convinced that no bishop could possibly say that his diocese is not affected by these issues or that this is not a problem in his country and culture. Patience among our people and in the wider community is exhausted and understandably the call is rising for effective action.”

 

Bishops Bransfield, Bennett restricted from exercising ministry

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 12:40

Baltimore, Md., Mar 11, 2019 / 10:40 am (CNA).- Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore announced on Monday restrictions on the ministry of both retired West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield and retired Bishop Gordon Bennett, S.J.

The restrictions against Bransfield are the result of a months-long preliminary investigation conducted by Lori, into allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, as well as financial improprieties.

“Pending the assessment of the findings of the Holy See, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I have directed that Bishop Bransfield is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Lori said in a March 11 press release.

Lori was appointed apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston in September, five days after Bransfield turned 75 and submitted his resignation to the Holy See. Wheeling-Charleston is the only diocese in West Virginia.

Shortly after Bransfield’s resignation, Lori announced that Pope Francis had directed him to open an investigation into claims the bishop had engaged in repeated “sexual harassment of adults.”

Lori said in September that a hotline for the investigation received more than three dozen calls during his first two weeks as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

In the March 11 press release, the Archdiocese of Baltimore said the investigation was led by Archbishop Lori as well as five lay experts, including one who is not Catholic. The team interviewed 40 people, including Bransfield, as part of their investigation. The results have now been sent to the Holy See, where a final decision about Bransfield will be made.

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

The archdiocese also announced in the release that “similar restrictions were warranted” concerning former Archdiocese of Baltimore auxiliary Bishop Gordon Bennett, S.J. Bennett was an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese from 1998 until 2004, when he became the bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica. He retired, reportedly due to health reasons, just two years later in August 2006, at the age of 60. The ordinary retirement age for bishops is 75.

Lori’s press release revealed that in May 2006, the archdiocese received an allegation of “sexual harassment of a young adult” by Bennett, which it reported to the apostolic nunciature. The bishop resigned from his Jamaican diocese three months later.

Upon the announcement of Bennett’s retirement, Fr. John P. McCarry, S.J., provincial of the Jesuit California province, informed province members that Bennett would be moving to California “for medical assessment and treatment for fatigue and depression.” Bennett is a member of the Jesuit California province.

Bennett will no longer be permitted to do any sort of priestly or episcopal ministry within either the Archdiocese of Baltimore or the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

In January 2019, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced a series of new protocols to investigate allegations against a bishop within the archdiocese. These protocols were developed by the archdiocese’s Independent Review Board, which will investigate claims that a bishop of the archdiocese engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior or abuse towards a child, as well as claims of sexual harassment or misconduct with adults, or if bishops “engaged in activities that constitute seriously negligent supervision or improper cover-up” of the sexual misconduct of others. Bishops within the archdiocese also signed a code of conduct.

Lori’s is believed to be the first policy of its kind in the United States.

Why one Alabama man is suing on behalf of an aborted fetus

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 18:30

Montgomery, Ala., Mar 9, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the United States, an attorney will represent the estate of an aborted child, after the father filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the six-week old fetus.

Court documents allege that a then-16-year-old Alabama woman obtained a medication abortion in February 2017, despite the protestations of her boyfriend, who says he is the father of the child.

The man subsequently sued the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville last month, saying that he had wanted to keep the child.

Brent Helms, the attorney representing the father in the lawsuit, told CNA in an interview that the goals of the lawsuit are to ensure that no father has to endure what the defendant has so far endured, and also to protect unborn children in cases of abortion by establishing a right to legal “personhood” for them.

“The issue that we ran into, in the case of 'personhood,' there was some incongruency there in that the definition of 'person' from conception excluded an aborted child,” Helms said.

“And so one of the goals of this case was to ensure that we were able to establish personhood for the unborn baby.”

Alabama voters approved changes to the state constitution – Amendment 2 – in November 2018 to establish a right to life of unborn children, known as a “personhood clause.” The measure passed with 60 percent support from the public.

In addition to the new constitutional amendment, Alabama has statutes created by the legislature, Helms said, to define “personhood” as beginning at conception. The state also has seven opinions from the Alabama Supreme Court defining personhood as beginning at conception, he said.

None of these, however, have immediate legal effect, due to Roe v. Wade establishing a constitutional “right to abortion” nationally.

The attorney sees this lawsuit as another effort to enshrine personhood in the state.

Helms said he's already had one indication that the lawsuit could succeed; he successfully set up an estate for the aborted child – identified in court documents as “Baby Roe” – and Probate Judge Frank Barger has allowed the lawsuit to go forward.

“That was the first estate, to my knowledge, ever created in the United States for an aborted child,” he said.

“So we've already had one victory, and we're moving on now to the wrongful death case...Obviously, it's the first case of its kind, ever, and we hope to establish legal precedent.”

In terms of broader implications if the father wins his lawsuit, Helms explained that in the state of Alabama, abortion is a profit-making industry, and in a wrongful death lawsuit the wrongdoer is punished in some way. In this case, the lawsuit names as wrongdoers the manufacturer of the pill that terminated the unborn baby's life, as well as the abortion clinic, the doctor, the nurses, all those that participated in the abortion.

If those entities are found liable for the wrongful death of Baby Roe, Helms said, then what was once a profit-making industry will now be subject to liability.

“And the question for them will be, ‘are we more subject to liability than we are to profitability?’ If a drug manufacturer determines that they're going to be held liable for an abortion in the state of Alabama, I doubt they're going to send any kind of pills to Alabama for an abortion,” Helms speculated.

“So I would think [their] conclusion would likely be that liability outweighs profitability, and therefore abortion is eliminated in the state of Alabama. It's just a simple business decision.”

Prominent pro-abortion groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America have spoken out against the lawsuit and the implications for legal personhood for aborted fetuses.

Eric Johnston, a fellow attorney and president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, told CNA that while he doesn't “disagree in principle” with what Helms is doing, he is worried that the lawsuit will not succeed unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 decision that found a constitutional right to abortion.

While the lawsuit is currently in a state court, he said, if the abortion clinic or the drug company can successfully move it to federal court, it will be “rejected in pretty short order.” If it stays in the state system, he said, even the Alabama Supreme Court is unlikely to rule in favor of the father.

“That case is not going to be upheld until Roe v. Wade is reversed,” Johnston told CNA. “I really don't think that that approach is an approach that will get to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Johnston said putting together the right lawsuit to challenge a longstanding precedent like Roe v. Wade is extremely difficult. He said he thinks laws passed by states, that directly challenge Roe v. Wade and are designed to be reviewed in the Supreme Court, are more likely to succeed.

“The Court has ruled in the past that the father of the child does not have a right over the unborn child, that it's the woman's right, and that's based on the idea that abortion is legal,” Johnston explained.

“So I don't think that the claiming of wrongful death damages by a father is the right set of circumstances that would cause the Supreme Court [to hear the case] to review Roe v. Wade. I just don't think that's the right approach for it. I just don't think it's going to fly.”

Johnston said as long as Roe v. Wade gives the woman the right of privacy to have an abortion, then there is not a wrongful death cause of action, regardless of Alabama law.

“The Alabama Constitution does not supersede or overrule the U.S. Constitution,” Johnston said.

“And under Roe, they have held that the U.S. Constitution permits abortion. So it's irrelevant what the Alabama Constitution says and it's irrelevant what the Alabama Supreme Court has said in several cases.”

Helms is more hopeful. “We're in uncharted territory, and we're trying to do the best we can to navigate through it. But that also means the other side is in the same uncharted territory,” he said.

“We're obviously excited about the opportunities that this may present for future fathers who are in the same position as [this father].”

Helms said protecting life is a particularly important issue for his family – he’s the father of seven children.

“When my mom was pregnant with my brother, the doctor told her that your health is such that either you or the baby is going to die, and my mom said 'Well, if the Lord wants one of us or both of us he'll take us,'” Helms reflected.

“And so she refused to have an abortion, and had my brother. He's the smartest and best-looking of the bunch, an so we're grateful to have him. So yes, [the pro-life issue] does hit home, and my wife and I have been blessed and we're grateful to have such a large family.”

The Huntsville abortion clinic has until April 1 to respond to the lawsuit.

 

Utah school apologizes after student forced to remove Lenten ashes

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 06:50

Salt Lake City, Utah, Mar 9, 2019 / 04:50 am (CNA).- A school district in Utah has issued an apology after a fourth-grade student was told by a teacher that he must remove the cross from his forehead on Ash Wednesday.

William McLeod, a student at Valley View Elementary School in Bountiful, Utah, arrived at school with ashes on his forehead in the shape of a cross, a custom for Catholics at the beginning of the Lenten season.

He told Fox 13 that he was the only pupil with ashes at the school. Other students were curious about them, he said, and he explained the Ash Wednesday custom when they asked.

But then McLeod says, his teacher Moana Patterson confronted him about the ashes, telling him they were inappropriate and that he needed to remove them.

Despite McLeod’s objections, Patterson made him remove the ash cross with a sanitizing wipe, said his grandmother Karen Fisher.

“He went to see the school’s psychologist crying,” Fisher told the Associated Press.  “He was embarrassed.”

The school has released a statement of apology, saying that the matter is being taken very seriously. Patterson has been placed on administrative leave, and additional disciplinary action is being considered.

“The actions were unacceptable,” district spokesman Chris Williams said, according to the Associated Press. “No student should ever be asked or required to remove an ash cross from his or her forehead.”

Fox 13 reported that the teacher met with the principal after the incident, and a phone call was made to the family. McLeod later received an apology letter with some candy from Patterson.

Jean Hill, government liaison for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, told the Associated Press that mistakes occur, and that the event was a positive opportunity for interreligious dialogue. Catholics are a minority in the predominantly Mormon state of Utah.

“The diocese is also very grateful to the young student who used the situation to educate his teacher about a part of his faith and its importance to him,” Hill said.

“Learning about one another is one way we build community across religious, political, racial, ethnic and other borders,” she added.

Kansas archdiocese responds after denying school admission to child of same sex-couple

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 19:03

Kansas City, Kan., Mar 8, 2019 / 05:03 pm (CNA).- A K-8 Catholic school in Kansas is defending its decision to deny admission to a kindergarten student who is the child of a same-sex couple, citing archdiocesan admissions policies.

Father Craig Maxim sent a letter dated Feb. 27 to the families of St. Ann Catholic School in Prairie Hills, a suburb of Kansas City. Maxim, the church’s pastor, wrote that when the question of whether to allow the child to enroll first arose, he sought the guidance of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

He wrote that diocese has the ability to “form policy on these matters while individual diocesan schools do not.” The archdiocese advised against admission, he said.

A petition dated March 1 asks the school to “prayerfully reconsider” its decision. The petition has reportedly garnered over 1,000 signatures and was sent to Archbishop Joseph Naumann and the school’s superintendent Kathy O’Hara.

The petition claims that the school admits children of parents who are divorced and remarried or have conceived through in-vitro fertilization, as well as non-Catholic children and families.

“Respectfully, we believe that the decision to to deny a child of God access to such a wonderful community and education, based on the notion that his or her parent’s union is not in accordance with the Church’s teaching on Sacramental marriage, lacks the compassion and mercy of Christ’s message,” the petition reads.

In a media statement, the Kansas City archdiocese explained its admissions policy, which all Catholic schools affiliated with the archdiocese are bound to follow.

The statement affirms the Church’s teaching both that “individuals with same sex attraction should be treated with dignity,” as well as the Church’s understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“Marriage is considered the building block of the family, of society, and the heart of the Church. The Church’s teaching on marriage is clear and is not altered by the laws of civil society,” the statement reads, in reference to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

“The decision of the Supreme Court to grant marital status to same-sex unions does not change Church doctrine on marriage, but does present the Church with new pastoral challenges.”

The fact that a same-sex couple is not capable of modeling the “essential components” of the Church’s teaching on marriage “creates a conflict for their children between what they are taught in school and what is experienced at home,” the archdiocese said, and could become a source of confusion for other students.

“Our schools exist to pass on the Catholic faith. Incorporated into our academic instruction and spiritual formation, at every grade level, are the teachings of the Catholic Church,” the statement continues.

“It is important for children to experience consistency between what they are taught in school and what they see lived at home. Therefore, we ask that parents understand and be willing to support those teachings in their homes.”

The archdiocese concluded its statement by saying that the Church does not think it respectful, fair, loving or compassionate for individuals who disagree with the Church’s teaching to “place their children in an educational environment where the values of the parents and the core principles of the school conflict.”

While acknowledging that other diocese across the country have different policies regarding enrollment for children of same-sex couples, Father Maxim wrote that he had communicated his parishioners’ concerns to the archdiocese. He stressed that this was not to “undermine Church doctrine,” but rather an attempt to “continue dialogue” with the archdiocese about the policy.

“As your pastor, I am distressed over the division this sensitive and complex issue has caused within our school and church,” he wrote, asking for prayers for healing, peace, and understanding.

Assisted suicide bill advances in Maryland despite lack of 'meaningful safeguards'

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 16:45

Annapolis, Md., Mar 8, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- The lower house of the Maryland legislature passed a bill Thursday to legalize assisted suicide, in the face of critics' concerns about a lack of safeguards and economic discrimination.

The House of Delegates approved the End-of-Life Options Act by a 74-66 vote March 7.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore has said the bill would “further undermine the dignity of human life.”

“Physician-assisted suicide is not a partisan issue, and those who are concerned about the health disparity and economic discrimination issues raised by the bill stand in strong opposition to its passage,” said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

“Among those in opposition were a majority of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus and many members of Democratic House leadership, and we applaud their courage to stand up to the out-of-state interests pushing this predatory agenda.”

“We call on the members of the Maryland Senate and Governor Hogan to act swiftly to decry the action of their colleagues in the House and stop this dangerously flawed bill from advancing.”

Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, a coalition opposed to the bill, expressed hope that the Senate would recognize “that the legislation simply does not address any of the dangers that physician assisted suicide poses to Maryland.”

“As coalition members have said all along, there are no meaningful safeguards in this legislation to protect against the coercion and abuse of seniors, the disabled, and other vulnerable populations. There is no way to address the fact that patients in states where this practice is legal are requesting the lethal drugs because they feel like burdens on their families, not because they are in pain … Alongside these dangers, this practice distorts medical ethics and devalues existing end-of-life care.”

This is the fourth attempt in five years to legalize assisted suicide in the state. The move is being supported by the Compassion and Choices, an Oregon-based group that advocates for assisted suicide, and the bill is based on Oregon's assisted suicide law.

Similar bills were introduced in 2015, 2016, and 2017, but were withdrawn before they could be voted down.

If passed, the bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medications to adult patients with a terminal illness and six months left to live. The bill would overturn a 1999 Maryland law that banned assisted suicide, and it would protect from prosecution doctors who prescribe the drugs. It would require that a patient make two oral and one written request to a physician, waiting two to 15 days between requests.

Physicians who decline to provide the lethal medication would be required to refer the patient to another doctor.

The bills have also been opposed by groups such as the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Baltimore City Medical Society.

The MCC found that, under the bill, no assessment screens for depression nor is there a supervisor to ensure a patient is not pressured into the process. The bill also does not require a medical professional to be present during the suicide, or a contingency if the attempt is unsuccessful.

Delegate Nic Kipke noted that “if people cannot afford treatments they need for their care, and if people are making choices based on economic factors that is not consistent with choice or safety from coercion,” WAMU reported.

The Senate version of the bill has at least 19 sponsors in the 47-member body.

Governor Larry Hogan, a Catholic and a Republican, has not indicated whether he would sign the bill. The Baltimore Sun reported that Hogan has said the bill is “one that I really wrestle with from a personal basis.”

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

According to MAPAS, Dr. Joseph Marine, an associate professor of medicine at John Hopkins, said this kind of end-of-life care is dangerous to Maryland, noting other states have already witnessed its ugly effects.

“We are already seeing reports of insurance companies in some states declining to cover the cost of life-extending treatments, and instead paying for these drug overdoses that end a patient’s life.”

During debate on the bill, Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk said that “we have 40 years of documented evidence that this is not a problem and there has never been abuse.”

Pope, Congress condemn anti-Semitism

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis condemned Friday anti-Semitism as a fundamental contradiction to Christianity. The pope spoke during an audience with the American Jewish Committee held in Rome, during which he called for renewed commitment to dialogue between the two faiths.

 

The pope’s statements came amid a rise in overt anti-semitism in many Western countries, and just one day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a motion condemning the trend.

 

Francis told the March 8 assembly that recent anti-Semitic incidents are a “source of great concern,” and that an “excessive and depraved hatred is taking root.”

 

The pope said it is important to be “vigilant” against anti-Semitic attitudes, to prevent another event like the Holocaust.

 

“I stress that for a Christian any form of anti-Semitism is a rejection of one’s own origins, a complete contradiction,” said Pope Francis.

 

He called interfaith dialogue an “important tool” in increasing understanding between Judaism and Christianity, stressing the importance of forming new generation of young people who are committed to interreligious dialogue.

 

Citing the “rich spiritual heritage” shared by Christians and Jews, the pope said that members of both faiths should seek each other out during this time of “depersonalizing secularism” in the Western world.

 

“It falls to believers to seek out each other and to cooperate in making divine love more visible for humanity; and to carry out concrete gestures of closeness to counter the growth of indifference,” he said.

 

American Jewish Committee President John Shapiro thanked Pope Francis for agreeing to open Vatican archival files related to World War II and the papacy of Pope Pius XII. Pope Pius XII was pope from March 1939 until his death in October 1958. The archived files will be open in March 2020.

 

The pope’s comments on anti-Semitism come one day after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to condemn various forms of hate speech, especially anti-Semitism.

 

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned bigotry against “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others.”

 

The resolution was widely seen as a response to a series of comments from freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) which have been broadly condemned as anti-Semitic.

 

The resolution was initially drafted as a condemnation specifically of anti-Semitism and a rebuke of Omar’s comments, but was amended to include numerous other forms of discrimination. The resolution did not specifically name Omar.

 

While it passed by a wide margin, twenty-three members of the House of Representatives voted against the resolution, saying that a more explicit denunciation of overtly anti-Semitic rhetoric is needed.

 

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), who voted for the resolution, said on Twitter that the revised text was a “deceitful” attempt “to give cover” to specific statements made by Omar.

 

Several Republicans have called for Omar to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on which she sits.

North Carolina bill would extend statute of limitations

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 12:59

Raleigh, N.C., Mar 8, 2019 / 10:59 am (CNA).- A proposed bill in North Carolina would allow more time for victims of child abuse to pursue both criminal and civil action against their abuser.

The bill, called the SAFE Child Act, has gained bipartisan support in the state legislature.

Attorney General Josh Stein (D) unveiled the legislation on March 7, saying “Our first job as parents and as a state is to keep our kids safe.”

Stein said the bill “will increase enforcement tools to make sure abuse is reported and prosecuted – which will allow more victims to see justice and put more abusers behind bars.”

The legislation would extend the statute of limitations for misdemeanor child abuse from its current two years to 10 years. It would allow victims of child abuse to pursue a civil lawsuit against the abuser until age 50, rather than the current limit of age 21.

In addition, the bill would ban high-risk sex offenders from contacting minors on social media.

It would enable prosecutors to convene investigative grand juries to examine child abuse claims, utilizing tools such as questioning witnesses under oath, compelling sworn testimony from witnesses, and subpoenaing records. Currently, investigative grand juries can only be convened in drug trafficking and human trafficking cases.

It would also require “any person or organization to report all reasonably suspected child abuse,” expanding current mandatory reporting rules, which only cover cases in which an abuser “is in a parental role and in a residential setting,” according to a fact sheet released by the state attorney general.

The attorney general also announced that he has collaborated with experts to create best practices for organizations that work with children. These include policies to prevent, identify and report abuse, and education about resources to help victims.

The Diocese of Raleigh said in a statement that it “looks forward to reviewing the proposed act recently announced by Attorney General Stein and supports efforts to further protect North Carolina’s children from sexual abuse.”

“Bishop [Luis] Zarama and the diocese support additional measures that would further clarify or expedite reports of suspected abuse and aid survivors in healing,” the statement said.

The diocese pointed to child protection efforts that are currently implemented for Church personnel, including programs to screen all adult leaders who work with children, and to train them to recognize and report signs of child abuse or neglect.

More than 24,000 diocesan staff members and volunteers have received the training since 2003.

The diocese also noted that at its request, it entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys in 2003, creating “a self-imposed obligation to immediately report to the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys (NCCDA) all claims of sexual abuse or assault on a minor.”

The fact sheets released by the attorney general’s office did not discuss whether priests hearing confession would be deemed mandatory reporters under the proposed law. The question has been raised in other states and countries, with Catholic dioceses warning that priests would be unable to adhere to such a requirement, as the seal of confession is inviolable. In 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that priests cannot be required to break the seal of confession to report alleged abuse of minors.
 

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