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Outgoing ambassador sees major strides in religious freedom

Sat, 02/11/2017 - 08:32

Washington D.C., Feb 11, 2017 / 06:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. has made significant strides in promoting religious freedom abroad in the last two years, says the outgoing U.S. religious freedom ambassador.

One “success” of his tenure at the State Department was “the work that we’re quietly doing day in and day out on behalf of prisoners of conscience,” the former Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rabbi David Saperstein insisted at a panel discussion on religious freedom, held Thursday in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Religion News Foundation.

These “prisoners of conscience” might be religious leaders, political dissidents or human rights activists jailed because of their public beliefs and advocacy. The State Department helps obtain “security” or “legal support” for these people, or helps them leave their country, Saperstein said. Their lawyers and defendants have credited the United States’ advocacy with the release of their clients from prison, he noted.

Rabbi Saperstein, who led the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism before his time at State, was confirmed by the Senate as the State Department’s Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom in December of 2014, filling a 14 month-long vacancy in the position.

The ambassador is charged with promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy, reporting on human rights abuses, and holding foreign actors accountable for how they treat religious minorities.

The office was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which also mandated the State Department publish an annual global report on religious freedom.

In March of 2016, during Rabbi Saperstein’s tenure as ambassador, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Islamic State – also known as Daesh, ISIS, and ISIL – was committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

The genocide declaration was hailed as a key act in the resettlement of the persecuted minorities in the region, one that could help them obtain needed humanitarian aid, priority resettlement status, and a safe return home if they chose to do so. It came almost two years after ISIS swept across Northern Iraq, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of ethnic and religious minorities that inhabited the region.

Advocates had insisted for months that the U.S. declare genocide had taken place. According to reports, the agency originally planned to declare that only Yazidis in Northern Iraq were genocide victims, based off of a Holocaust Museum fact-finding mission in the region that focused only on atrocities committed on the Nineveh Plain during the summer of 2014.

However, after a request by Ambassador Saperstein, the Knights of Columbus and the advocacy group In Defense of Christians published an almost 300-page report from a fact-finding mission to Iraq, documenting atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians and other minorities, and featuring interviews with genocide survivors and legal documents.

A week later, Secretary Kerry issued the genocide declaration. In an interview with CNA, Saperstein revealed that the declaration came about at Kerry’s insistence.

“That genocide finding took place because the Secretary wanted it,” Saperstein said. “He demanded far more information than had been available when he began this process, when there clearly wasn’t enough information available to make a finding.”

Saperstein noted that the situation in Iraq and Syria differed from previous instances where the U.S. declared genocide, like in Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia.

“Here, most people fled before ISIL came in and the ones left under ISIL control were not available to people. Just now in Mosul, we’re just learning about the extent of the brutality of what was going on under ISIL’s control,” he explained. “So we didn’t have the same information available.”

Former Secretary Kerry “really deserves the credit for this finding,” he continued, noting that the U.S. “had already been acting as if there was such a finding” by intervening to send supplies to Yazidis cut off from food and water on Mt. Sinjar in August of 2014, and establishing a military coalition to counter the Islamic State.

The global state of religious freedom is still dire, he insisted, noting that three-fourths of the world’s population still lives in countries like China, India, and Pakistan where freedom of religion is significantly restricted.

In these countries “religious communities, particularly religious minorities, still face significant threats from social hostilities, from other religious groups, or repressive actions of the government in controlling what they can say or how they can worship or what they can do as part of their religious communities,” he said, giving examples of anti-blasphemy laws, onerous registration requirements for minority religions, and laws prohibiting conversion.

An increase in its budget and staff has boosted the office’s efforts, Saperstein noted. In his two years as ambassador, he said the office’s budget doubled, its “programmatic money quintupled,” and its staff doubled in size.

The Office on Religion and Global Affairs also has done key work in studying “the role of religion” in all areas of life from public policy to economics to “conflict resolution,” he said.

“You ended up with a situation at the end of this administration where there were some 50 people working day in and day out on nothing other than religious issues in the United States government,” he said. “It’s probably more dedicated staff just to that issue than all the governments of the world put together” on international religious freedom.

“That’s quite a vote of confidence as to the importance of religious issues in the United States,” he added, noting that “across the globe…many of the cardinals and bishops that I met with were very encouraged” by this.

And the State Department has crafted an “international coalition” to help genocide victims resettle in their homes, stay where they currently are like in Iraqi Kurdistan, or move elsewhere, he said. “The UN is playing a key role in achieving that with significant American support.”

The coalition is dealing with issues like “security measures” for genocide victims to live peacefully, “economic development” in the region, empowering them to have a role in rebuilding Iraq, preserving their cultures, and punishing the perpetrators of genocide.


Bishops reaffirm support for refugees as judges scrutinize Trump policy

Fri, 02/10/2017 - 17:46

Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2017 / 03:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that affirmed a legal injunction against a Trump administration executive order on refugee resettlement and travel bans targeting Muslim countries.

“We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process,” said Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, speaking in his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution,” Bishop Vazquez said Feb. 10. “At this time, we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed to our country.”

“We will continue to welcome the newcomer as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and tradition,” he added.

The three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 3-0 vote on Feb. 9, upheld a lower court’s temporary restraining order against several provisions of an executive order on refugee resettlement.

The provisions under judicial scrutiny included a 120-day halt on U.S. refugee resettlement program; an indefinite ban on resettling Syrian refugees; and a 90-day prohibition on entry for individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

On Thursday, the panel said that the Trump administration did not present any evidence that any alien from the countries it named has carried out a terrorist attack in the U.S. It said the public has an interest in national security and the ability of a president to enact policies. It added that the public also has an interest “in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination.”

President Trump had said the order would stop terrorists and allow federal agencies to develop stricter screening for those entering the country.

He pledged to fight the ruling in court, saying on Twitter “the security of our nation is at stake.”

The executive action said that priority will be given to “refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution” for members of minority faiths in the refugee’s country of origin.

While the order does not mention Christianity, Trump has told media outlets such as Christian Broadcasting News that the order would prioritize Christian refugees.


Catholic groups step up after tornadoes strike New Orleans area

Thu, 02/09/2017 - 18:43

New Orleans, La., Feb 9, 2017 / 04:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It’s a scene all too unfortunately familiar for many in the city of New Orleans - that of devastation in the wake of a natural disaster.

On Tuesday, at least seven tornadoes ripped through the state of Louisiana, wiping out homes and leaving a trail of damage in areas of New Orleans that were hard hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

An estimated 250-400 homes were either destroyed or heavily damaged by the storm, and about two dozen people were injured, some of them seriously.

However, “the Lord has blessed us with not a single fatality at this time,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference following the tornadoes.

Tom Costanza with Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New Orleans was on the scene with aid workers soon after the tornadoes. He told CNA that they are beginning the “long process” of cleaning up and rebuilding.

Catholic Charities and local parishes have been providing immediate assistance at distribution centers such as the one at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish for the people in the area, he said, handing out food and providing initial counseling and case management services.  

Catholic Charities is also partnering with the city, the Red Cross, and other aid organizations to meet basic and immediate needs, he said. A shelter for the displaced that Catholic Charities helped establish had 93 people in it last night. Thousands are still without power and probably will be for a few more days.

“What we’re finding is a lot of people were renters with no insurance who lost everything,” Costanza said, “so we’re kind of helping them get situated.”

Andrew Gutierrez, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, is also organizing a group of 15-20 men from Notre Dame seminary to go out and help with “whatever physical need these people need met.”

Because Louisiana doesn’t often get tornadoes, Gutierrez told CNA the seminarians are not entirely sure what to expect, but they want to help in whatever ways they can.

“We’re just going, this is what we do,” he said. When there was flooding in Lafayette and Baton Rouge last year, the whole seminary – more than 100 men – went out for a few days to offer relief.

“These are the types of seminarians that the church is forming right now,” Gutierrez said. “These are the kind of men that are entering the priesthood, men that are willing to meet people with a variety of needs, knowing that we ultimately go as Christ. So when we’re picking up a broken door, we’re doing it as Christ, with his joy, with his compassion and sensitivity to these people who are suffering.”

There’s also been a lot of interdenominational collaboration in providing relief, as there has been in other times of disaster, Costanza said.

“We all work collaboratively as a faith community when things like this happen.”

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of the Archdiocese of New Orleans released a letter to clergy to be read before all the Masses this weekend, asking for people’s help and prayers.

“We always need to see the face of Jesus in the lives of those in need,” he wrote. “Please join me in praying for those who have lost their homes and possessions.”

The archbishop added that he was pleased by the “quick response” of Catholic Charities and other groups who were on the scene immediately. Archbishop Aymond is also scheduled to celebrate Mass at Resurrection parish this weekend.

And while it’s been devastating, by and large the people are handling it relatively well, Costanza said.

“There was a lady I was talking to in the shelter, and I said, 'What happened?' And she said, 'Well, I heard the tornado coming and God told me to go in the bathroom, so I went in the bathroom and the tornado ripped my roof off.' And she said, 'I listened to God, and I’m glad',” he recalled.

“And she started quoting Scripture to me, and I said, 'I can’t believe you’re Catholic, you know Scripture so well!' She was spouting off all the Scripture that’s been comforting her,” he added, laughing.

“So our people are resilient. We’ve been through this before, we’ll get through it.”  

To find out more about providing assistance for tornado relief efforts, visit:

Portland responds with love after Latino Catholics harassed during Mass

Thu, 02/09/2017 - 08:01

Portland, Ore., Feb 9, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A week after Hispanic Catholics experienced racial harassment and taunts from a group of men during a Spanish Mass, the local community in Portland, Oregon sprang into action to show their support for the churchgoers.


Despite the chill and the rain, an estimated 200-300 people created a human barrier on Sunday, Feb. 5, protecting parishioners of St. Peter Catholic Church from possible harassment.


It was a different scene than what had greeted parishioners the week before, when a group of about eight men dressed as hunters shouted racial and sexual slurs at parishioners during Spanish Mass, and taunted the congregation for being made up of many immigrants, according to the Catholic Sentinel. The group of men was nowhere to be seen the following week.


The harassment came at an already tense time for the parish because of new federal immigration policy proposals. Pastor Fr. Raul Marquez, a native of Colombia who has been pastor at St. Peter’s for 5 years, said he had never seen anything like it.


“All that Sunday I felt upset and didn't understand,” he told the Sentinel.


But the next Sunday came as a pleasant surprise. News of the previous attacks had spread on social media through two videos of the incident, and local community members banded together, with one post reading: "ATTN WHITE PEOPLE – USE YOUR WHITE BODY TO INTERRUPT RACISM!"  It urged people to place themselves "between violent bigots and people of color" to form a "strong human chain to stand as a buffer between Latino worshippers and those who hate them."


And it worked. Catholics, Christians and non-believers showed up in force to provide support, complete with welcoming signs in both English and Spanish and a table of coffee and sweets.


Local priest Father Ron Millican from nearby Our Lady of Sorrows parish and Rev. Elizabeth Larson from St Mark Lutheran Church came to show their support for Fr. Marquez, as well as Matt Cato, director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace.


Archbishop Alexander Sample expressed his support to St. Peter’s through a letter to the parish, saying that he was saddened by the harassment and offering his prayers for healing.


“Please be assured that I, as your Archbishop and shepherd, stand firmly with you in the face of such ignorant and hateful words. You are our brothers and sisters, and as members of the same family of faith, we must hold fast to our unity in Christ,” he said.


He added that the incident was not isolated and that the same group had been harassing other churches in the area. The men were reportedly part of a Portland-based group called "Bible Believers"—hard-right street preachers who appear at protests against President Donald Trump.


“Be assured of my love and prayers for all of you. May Our Lady embrace you all in her mantle of love and protection,” Archbishop Sample concluded.


Brenda Ramirez, a 21 year-old parishioner, told the Portland Tribune that she was shocked to hear about the attack at her church, but was happy with the large showing of support from the local community.


"It's just beautiful. This is what America is — not racism or hate. This is what it should be."

Where have civility and respect for one another gone?Can we please stop demonizing those with whom we (even vehemently) disagree?

— Archbishop Sample (@ArchbishpSample) February 4, 2017

The need for a Catholic ministry to transgendered persons

Thu, 02/09/2017 - 04:59

Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2017 / 02:59 am (CNA).- Walt Heyer remembers the moment when he started desiring to be a girl.

When he was just 4 years old, Heyer’s grandmother would crossdress him while she was babysitting. She loved seeing Heyer in dresses, and even made him his own purple chiffon dress.

But it was their secret, grandma said - don’t tell mom and dad.

At age 7, Heyer brought the purple chiffon dress home with him, and hid it in his bottom dresser drawer.

Heyer’s mom soon found the dress, and confronted him about it. That’s when he told his parents that grandma had been dressing him like a girl for years.

“You could have set off an atomic bomb in the house for the conflict between my dad and my mom, and my mom and her mom, my dad and his mother in law,” he said.

Heyer’s parents didn’t have the vocabulary or the resources to know how to handle the situation. His dad reacted out of fear, and implemented very stern disciplinary measures. An uncle of Heyer’s found out about the story, and started teasing him about it. Eventually, he sexually abused Heyer.

“You see people who have such disordered thinking (gender dysphoria) are hurting,” Heyer said.  “The problem is that we don’t know what to do with them.”  

The desire to be a woman - to be someone other than the abused and hurt little boy - stayed with Heyer into adulthood, even though he had married a woman and had two children. At age 42, he surgically transitioned to a woman and asked his friends to start calling him Laura.

“But it began as a fantasy and it continued as a fantasy, because surgery doesn’t change you to a female. It’s no more authentic than a counterfeit $20 is authentic. You can’t change a biological man into a biological woman.”

After less than 10 years, and a conversion experience, Heyer regretted his transition and desired to live as a man again. He now runs a website called, where hundreds of people contact him every year, sharing their own experiences and regrets of sex change surgeries. Most of them follow the pattern of feeling affirmed by their sex change for a time, only to have underlying psychological problems come roaring back after about 10 years, Heyer said.

Heyer told his story in a talk last month at a Courage conference in Phoenix, where dozens of clergy and those in ministry from throughout the country gathered to learn how to best serve those with same-sex attraction in the Church.

Just recently, the ministry has been including talks and resources not just on same-sex attraction, but also on the issue of transgenderism, as transgender advocates continue to garner attention in the public sphere.

How can the Church help transgendered people?

There are few Catholic ministries that exist today that minister particularly to those struggling with transgenderism and gender dysphoria. Other than a handful of local ministries, Courage - the Church’s outreach to people with same-sex attraction - is one of the few ministries addressing the issue of transgenderism on a national and international level.

“Until recently, pastoral care to individuals who struggle with their sexual identities as male or female has largely occurred at a local and personal level,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. Bishop’s Conference Office of Public Affairs.  

“As attention to and awareness of this experience has grown, we are seeing more efforts regionally and nationally to respond in a way faithful to the Catholic understanding of the human person and God’s care for everyone.”

Part of the problem is that the issue of transgenderism and its acceptance in popular culture is so new that mental health experts are still trying to catch up to the trend, said Dr. Gregory Bottaro, a Catholic psychologist with the group CatholicPsych.

“I think the mental health profession hasn’t really had time to really thoroughly catch up on it, besides those in the field who kind of just flow with the current of whatever is popular in the moment,” he said.

But mental health professionals who are willing to follow any current trend are only “furthering the divide” between Catholic and secular practitioners, he added.  

At the moment, the biggest concern regarding the popularising and normalizing of transgenderism is the effect it’s having on children, Dr. Bottaro said.

“With kids, it’s really important to recognize that their sexual development is so fragile, and the influence of what’s popular in the culture needs to be really, strongly filtered and studied and understood,” he said.

“The Catholic response is a return to true anthropology -  male and female he made them - to understand that our biology and our psychology are not separate things, and so to encourage the development of a curriculum of human nature that is consistent with a true anthropology,” he said.

And it’s not just the Catholic Church that is concerned with the effects of transgenderism on children.

In a paper entitled “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” The American College of Pediatricians lays out specific reasons that they are concerned about the popularising and normalising of transgenderism among kids.

“A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such. These children suffer from gender dysphoria,” the group said in its paper.

To encourage a child into thinking that “a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse,” they added.  

“So while there are biological abnormalities (children born with ambiguous genitalia or an extra chromosome), they’re certainly not circumstances to build philosophical systems on, so we see those as abnormalities and anomalies,” Dr. Bottaro explained.

Learning how to best serve transgendered persons

When asked, the U.S. Bishop’s Conference Office of Public Affairs referred back to Courage as an example of a ministry that was providing pastoral care and guidance on transgenderism at a national and international level.

Dioceses that have their own chapters of Courage to accompany those with same-sex attraction are also “in a good position to help people who have questions regarding their sexual identity as well,” the spokesperson said.

Father Philip Bochanski is the executive director of Courage International. He said the organization will continue to discern how best to serve transgendered persons and their families.

“There seem to be some similarities between the experience of confusion regarding one's sexual identity and the experience of same-sex attraction, but there are also many differences,” Fr. Bochanski said.

In the meantime, the ministry’s outreach for parents, called EnCourage, is already actively engaged with parents and families who have a transgendered loved one, Fr. Bochanski said.

The goal of EnCourage is to help parents and family members of those with same-sex attraction, or transgendered persons, to maintain strong family ties while also holding to their understanding and teaching of the faith.

“Our EnCourage members pursue these goals by striving to grow in their own prayer lives, to learn more about what the Church teaches and how to present it in a loving way, and to find ways to show love and support without either condemning their sons or daughters, nor condoning immoral decisions.”

“Like the experience of same-sex attraction, questions regarding sexual identity have a profound impact not just on the individual but on his or her whole family,” he said.

“I'm glad that our EnCourage members and their chaplains have the opportunity to share their experience of speaking the truth in love in their own families with other parents and spouses who are striving to understand and support their loved ones who identify as transgender.”

Heyer said first and foremost, the Church must gently but firmly challenge people, rather than affirm them in their gender dysphoria.

“If we affirm them in changing genders we’re actually being disobedient to Christ, because that’s not who they are. He made them man and woman,” Heyer said.

He also said that pastors and those in ministry in the Church need to be better informed about the long-term physical and emotional consequences of sex change surgery.

“Because we’re not talking about the consequences. We’re only talking about them transitioning, which all looks really good for 8-10 years,” he said, at which point many people desire to go back to their original gender.

“So if we can get a bigger set of glasses and look long term...then we can look and see the destruction that happens and begin to address the destruction.”

Pastors and psychologists, working together

Deacon Dr. Patrick Lappert, a permanent deacon and plastic surgeon, also addressed the clergy and ministry leaders at the recent Courage conference. In his talk, he addressed the medical background of transgender surgeries, as well as the terminology used when discussing the issue.

It’s important for those in ministry to be well versed in the issue, both from a catechetical standpoint and from a medical and secular standpoint, Dr. Lappert told CNA.

“One of the dangers in the subject is that ignorance causes people to respond in unhelpful ways - sometimes in anger, sometimes confusion, revulsion, all kinds of emotional things that do not serve anyone, and certainly do not serve the Church,” he said.

“Be so fluent in the issue (and the terminology) that nothing surprises you, so that you can serve the person justly with the truth and with love,” he advised.

It is also important for priests and Church leaders to have good working relationships with psychologists and psychiatrists who share a Christian anthropological view of the human person, and would not encourage people in their gender dysphoria, Dr. Lappert said.

Dr. Bottaro said he has seen an increase in good working relationships between pastors and psychologists who believe in a true Christian anthropology.

“I think priests are becoming more and more aware of the need for it, the more volatile the situation becomes, the more obvious and pressing the need is for mental health expertise from a Catholic perspective,” he said.  

He said that he thinks Courage is a good place to start as far as ministry goes, because they have the “experience and expertise to sort of bridge the gap.”

“It could become a whole separate ministry, but it’s definitely related to what Courage is already doing, so it could become a branch of it, or they could decide that there’s many more people suffering from the effect of transgenderism,” he said.

But the issue of transgenderism extends beyond just those struggling with gender dysphoria, he added. It’s a cultural issue even more so than a psychological one, and it needs to be addressed on the levels of education and improved family life and catechesis just as much as it needs to be addressed on an individual basis.

Throughout the process of discerning and pastoral care for both people with same-sex attraction and with gender dysphoria, the most important thing is to remember the foundation of everyone’s identity, Fr. Bochanski added: “That of being created in the image and likeness of God the Father, and of being called to share in God's grace as his sons and daughters.”


Can we end the need for abortion? One organization aims to find out

Thu, 02/09/2017 - 02:01

Denver, Colo., Feb 9, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Women's healthcare is reaching a new dawn in the state of Colorado, courtesy of a new Catholic Charities initiative whose goal is to eliminate abortion from the definition of women's healthcare.

The new initiative, called Marisol Health, hopes to empower women by offering a holistic option for healthcare, which also includes aid with housing and every spectrum of human services.

Just ask Marisol's Vice President, Jan McIntosh. She has been involved with the evolution of Marisol Health from its establishment in 2016, with dreams to empower women in a big way.

“It was really during 2016 that we developed the whole Marisol concept with expanded medical care – a continuum of care to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of vulnerable women experiencing unexpected pregnancies, as well as women living in poverty with children,” McIntosh told CNA.

“Trying to eliminate the need for abortion is really at the heart of this, by building a network of well-integrated services to provide the solutions to the concerns that might lead women and men down the path to make that decision to terminate a pregnancy,” she said.

Marisol’s system essentially works as a directory of aid that will connect women to a network of pre-existing medical facilities, maternity centers, and long-term housing programs, which have all been interwoven to offer women and families all-encompassing care.

Depending on their situation, a woman could walk into one of Marisol’s centers and come out with a new doctor, a new place to live, and a new community of support, including emotional counseling, parenting help, and child education services.

These services are in connection with established community organizations. According to McIntosh, Marisol is only possible through the joint efforts between Catholic Charities and key partners within the community.

“We think it’s very important to work with the community and with other organizations that are serving the women and children that we are servicing,” McIntosh said.

Marisol Health has already kicked up a lot of excitement for women around the state, and has become a successful option for healthcare at one of Colorado’s biggest college campuses: CU Boulder.

Jenny Langness, a Marisol Program Director involved at the CU Boulder campus, told CNA that “students have been excited to learn about our continuum of care.”  

“Our hope is to make CU Boulder a campus that is welcoming and accessible to pregnant and parenting students, and through Marisol Health Services, will offer women true alternatives to abortion,” Langness said, adding that Marisol’s presence on campus has truly been able to “empower women.”

Marisol was originally brought to the university’s campus through Real Choices – an existing student organization which has now merged with Marisol – to educate young women and men about alternatives to abortion through seminars and events that speak about a holistic approach to sexual health and overall wellness.

Jen Boryla, a Marisol Volunteer Coordinator, told CNA that “we want a health center that promotes the wellbeing of the entire person – mind, body and spirit.”

“We hope that by educating and teaching the younger generation about a better way to be healthy and to think about their family planning, we can influence our culture broadly, as well as impact individual’s lives,” Boryla said.

So far, Marisol has seen a successful response at all of their locations. Since 2013, when the idea of Marisol was starting to take shape, they have seen 240 babies born to mothers that their services have helped. Within the past 7 months, Marisol has also provided all-inclusive prenatal care to more than 77 women.

“We are definitely having a positive response, and we are growing every month in the number of women who are hearing about our services and that are coming to us,” she continued.

In addition, Marisol Health centers are also offering mammograms – a vital piece of women’s healthcare that other clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, does not offer. They also offer free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and STD/STI testing.

“We have partnered with St. Joe’s mobile mammography program, and they will be servicing us at both of our Marisol sites and also at the Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood,” she noted.

Marisol’s success has already made it a potential model for healthcare in other states and dioceses throughout the country. Jan said that Marisol is “actively planning” with other programs across the country that are interested in developing more comprehensive healthcare for women.

Future goals for Marisol include one major, overarching theme: ending the need for abortion in Colorado.

“In order to do that, we need the resources for the intensive care that this takes, and we do believe that there are thousands of men, women and families who need these services,” Jan stated.

“Our real hope is to fill our current health centers to capacity and then with the support of donors and grants and other funding to expand to other communities in Colorado, both along the Front Range and possibly into the mountain communities.”

Former Boston priest faces more sex abuse charges

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 18:28

Augusta, Maine, Feb 8, 2017 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- A former priest previously convicted of sex abuse of an altar boy was indicted on 29 counts of sexual misconduct involving two other boys during his time as a priest based in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Ronald H. Paquin on Feb. 7 was charged in York County, Maine for allegedly abusing two boys in Kennebunkport, Maine between 1985 and 1989. Thirteen of the charges involve a child who was under the age of 14, the Boston Globe reports.

“When I found out he was released, I thought it was an outrage,” Keith Townsend, 42, told the Boston Globe. “This guy has so many victims.”

Townsend, who said he is one of the victims involved in the indictment, said the abuse began when he was 8 or 9. It allegedly took place both in Massachusetts and at a camp in Kennebunkport. He said he has struggled as an adult with substance abuse and attempted suicide.

He hopes additional victims will come forward.

The former priest, who was laicized in 2004, is not in custody but will be summoned to York County Superior Court.

Paquin was released from prison in 2015 after serving a 10-year sentence related to the abuse of an altar boy, beginning when the victim was 12. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to three counts of child rape. The acts took place from 1989 to 1992 on a victim from Haverhill, Mass. The priest was an associate pastor at a Catholic church there.

While in jail, he told medical evaluators he had abused at least 14 boys.

Upon his release, the former priest said that he planned to go to a Boston homeless shelter, then seek sex offender treatment in Maine. He is now 74 years old.

Paquin came to public prominence when the Boston Globe reported in 2002 that the Archdiocese of Boston moved him from a parish in 1981, allegedly after learning about sex abuse allegations against him.

Paquin has said he himself was the victim of sex abuse when he was a child. He said he was abused by other youths and then by a priest.

CNA sought comment from the Archdiocese of Boston but did not receive a response by deadline.


Did a Planned Parenthood throw pizza parties if abortion quotas were met?

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 14:20

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2017 / 12:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Planned Parenthood clinics had monthly quotas for abortions or abortion referrals, according to two former clinic workers in a new Live Action investigative video.

“I trained my staff the way that I was trained, which was to really encourage women to choose abortion; to have it at Planned Parenthood, because it counts towards our goal,” Sue Thayer, a former Planned Parenthood manager at Storm Lake, Iowa, revealed in an interview with the pro-life group Live Action.

“We would try to get the appointment scheduled for abortion before they left our clinic.”

Thayer was dismissed from her job with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in 2008, and is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the affiliate. The Storm Lake clinic at which she worked closed in 2012.

Her lawsuit claims Planned Parenthood of the Heartland defrauded Medicaid by billing for birth control before it had been prescribed and overcharging, and that they illegally billed Medicaid for abortion-related services. A federal judge ruled in June 2016 that the lawsuit could proceed to trial.

The video is the third report in the Live Action’s new investigative series on Planned Parenthood, “Abortion Corporation.” The group has in the past published reports on Planned Parenthood for America and conducted undercover investigations of its clinics.

The group claimed previously that, according to their own inquiries of Planned Parenthood clinics, 92 of 97 Planned Parenthood clinics across the country admitted they did not offer prenatal care for women.

In the third video, a former center manager and a former nurse described how their clinics set monthly quotas for the number of abortions to be performed – or if they did not offer abortions, the number of abortion referrals to be done.

They would offer employees incentives such as pizza parties or extra paid time off for meeting these quotas. Center managers would be recognized by upper management if their centers consistently met their quotas.

“So there were incentives built in, and it sounds kind of crazy but pizza is a motivator,” Thayer said.

Thayer described how they would pressure poor mothers into having abortions.

Clinic workers would discuss prices for services like pregnancy tests with expectant mothers. If mothers couldn’t make the minimum payment for services, clinic workers would ask her how she expected to pay for child care once she had the baby.

“If they’d say, ‘I’m not able to pay today,’ then we would say something like, ‘Well, if you can’t pay $10 today, how are you going to take care of a baby? Have you priced diapers? Do you know how much it costs to buy a car seat?” Thayer recalled telling pregnant mothers.

“‘There’s no place in Storm Lake, or whatever town they were in, you know, where you can get help as a pregnant mom. So really, don’t you think your smartest choice is termination? We can take care of that, set it up for you,’” she continued, referring to her advice for the mothers.

Marianne Anderson, a former nurse at Planned Parenthood, admitted, “I felt like I was more of a salesman sometimes, to sell abortions.”

“And we were told on a regular basis that you have a quota to meet, to keep this clinic open,” she said.

Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action, insisted that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, should be defunded and that Tuesday’s report was further proof that it must.

“Planned Parenthood doesn’t have quotas for adoptions. It doesn’t have quotas for prenatal care. But quotas for abortions? Absolutely,” she stated.

“It’s time to redirect our tax money toward local health clinics that actually provide real care to women, instead of to Planned Parenthood, a corporation focused on upping its abortion numbers.”

President Trump has promised his support of stripping Planned Parenthood of federal funds, and House Speaker Paul Ryan announced early in January an effort to defund the organization in a budget bill repealing the Affordable Care Act. A bill has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate to redirect federal funding away from Planned Parenthood to women’s health care providers which do not perform abortions.

Reflections on the March for Life

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 11:51

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2017 / 09:51 am (CNA).- Two weeks ago, America witnessed a historic event. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the 44th annual March for Life and heard from the highest ranking White House official to ever grace the March for Life stage – Vice President Mike Pence, along with top-ranking WH official Kellyanne Conway.

The day was a bit of a blur for those of us who were there, but in reflecting back on that historic event two weeks ago, I am reminded of the critical theme that we chose this year for the March for Life – “The Power of One.”

This year’s theme was conceived one night early last Spring during a “Tenebrae” service at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington D.C. The service, which means “shadows” in Latin, falls within the context of Holy Week, when Christians worldwide celebrate the Lord's Supper, the passion, death and ultimately resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.

At one point within the service, all of the lights in the cathedral except one – a candelabra with eight candles lit on the altar – are out. As meaningful lamentations from the Old Testament are read, one by one, each of the eight candles are snuffed out until the entire cathedral is pitch black. The darkness is stark and uncomfortable, but then everything changes. A single candle at the very top is lit, symbolizing Christ. It is notable and surprising how that one little candle creates an enormously different environment than the darkness. Literally, every square foot of that cathedral was touched by a little bit of light, and that little bit of light changed everything.   

“Even the smallest person can change the course of history” is a powerful line from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and this line truly encapsulates “The Power of One” theme.  

Working to build a culture of life can sometimes feel like we are working and living in the darkness. I experienced that darkness back in June, one day after the Supreme Court made two life issues-related decisions: The first essentially gave abortion clinics a pass, and decided to treat them differently than other outpatient facilities with regard to health standards and regulations. In the second ruling, a family pharmacy from Washington State, after battling for many years, was told that they either had to violate their consciences by filling life-destructive drug prescriptions or close up their business.

As a pro-life American who doesn’t identify with either political party, approaching the close of difficult years with the Obama Administration on life and religious freedom issues, these decisions were somewhat of a final blow as we looked towards possible continuation of such policies over coming years.

But as I reflected on those two decisions and the other trials that our nation was facing, I was reminded of that little candle and the power it had to light the entire cathedral. I had to remember that no matter who is President, who is in Congress or what Supreme Court decisions are made – as significant as they are – every single one of us has the power to make a change in this world, and there is always hope. Thus, the theme of this year’s March for Life was born.

On Jan. 22, Americans from every inch of this country gathered in our nation’s capital for the historic 44th annual March for Life, not only to commemorate that dark day when Roe v Wade legalized abortion in our nation, but also to celebrate life and the countless lives saved throughout the years since abortion was legalized.

The speakers for this year’s March for Life embodied “The Power of One” theme in a way I could have never imagined. Vice President Mike Pence joined us as the first-ever vice president to address the March for Life, alongside top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway – both of whom are inspiring role models, exemplifying how one person can truly change the world.

Abby Johnson shared her story of being a former Planned Parenthood director who became an outspoken pro-life advocate and founder of “And Then There Were None.” Benjamin Watson spoke about his life outside of the NFL as a father of five, a strong Christian, and a pro-life advocate in the public square. The youth presence at the March for Life is always incredible and this year we were thrilled to hear from Katrina Gallic, a student at the University of Mary. She spoke about the many buses her school brings every year to the March for Life and how, despite the blizzard of 2016, they continued as witnesses to life; even after getting snowed in on the Pennsylvania turnpike.

The March for Life is made up of tens of thousands of people who have the capacity to be the candle in a world that sometimes feels dark. This is the true power of one – every person has the power to be a light in this often dark world. We've been marching strong for 44 years, and this year, more than ever, there is so much opportunity for change. We will continue to march until a culture of life and respect has been restored in the United States; a culture where abortion is unthinkable and the inherent dignity of the human person is respected from conception to death.


*Jeanne Mancini is the President of the March for Life.

Don't move US embassy to Jerusalem, bishops ask Secretary of State

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 08:23

Washington D.C., Feb 7, 2017 / 06:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires wise U.S. engagement to build a better future for both peoples, and this future could be endangered by an embassy relocation, the U.S. Catholic bishops told the new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

Bishop Oscar Cantu, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said that resolving the conflict will require “critical, continued engagement” to overcome 50 years of conflict and its “egregious injustices and random acts of violence.”

The U.S. bishops have long backed a two-state solution, as has Pope Francis. The bishops implored the Secretary of State to keep the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Tel-Aviv, rather than move it to Jerusalem as President Donald Trump has advocated.

“Relocating the embassy to Jerusalem is tantamount to recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel,” Bishop Cantu wrote Feb. 1. He noted that the international community has determined that Jerusalem’s status must be determined in mutual agreements between Israel and Palestine.

Moving the embassy would undermine U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, the bishop said.

He added that the U.S. has always provided “leadership and support” to the peace process.

“We continue to profess hope for a diplomatic solution that respects the human dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians and advances justice and peace for all,” Bishop Cantu continued.

The year 2017 would be an important year, marking “the fiftieth anniversary of a crippling occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, crippling for both peoples,” he said.

He cited Pope Francis’ call to those in authority “to leave no stone unturned in the search for equitable solutions to complex problems, so that Israelis and Palestinians may live in peace.”

“The path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace must constantly be taken up anew, courageously and tirelessly,” the Pope said in his May 2014 visit to Israel.

Bishop Cantu said some Israeli actions undermine both peace and the Christian presence in the occupied Palestinian Territories. He pointed to the Bethlehem-area Cremisan Valley, where 58 Christian families live near a Salesian monastery, a convent and a school.

The bishop objected that the Israeli barrier wall in the valley constricts residents’ movement and their access to their lands, splits them from Christian institutions, and encourages them to emigrate.

“The Cremisan Valley is emblematic of the alarming number of Palestinians who have lost their homes and livelihoods,” he said. “Settlement expansion, confiscation of lands and the building of the Separation Wall on Palestinian lands violate international law and undermine a diplomatic solution.”


Another resignation at SNAP as controversy continues

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 19:45

Chicago, Ill., Feb 6, 2017 / 05:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Another leader of a controversial group representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse has resigned, denying that the resignation is related to a lawsuit that claimed the group was engaged in kickbacks and other unethical behavior.

Barbara Blaine of the Survivors’ Network of those Abuse by Priests resigned effective Feb. 3, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Blaine said a lawsuit filed last month against the Chicago-based organization had no bearing on her resignation and compared it to previous lawsuits she said had no merit. She said the discussions of her departure had been ongoing and it had been a great honor to serve the organization.

“Change however is inevitable,” she said.

In mid-January former employee Gretchen Rachel Hammond, who worked as a development director at SNAP, claimed to have been wrongly fired for raising objections to what she said was a kickback scheme. The former employee’s lawsuit alleged that the organization refers them to lawyers who themselves donate to the organization. It also charged that SNAP does not provide significant counseling help to abuse victims.

The suit further charged that SNAP is motivated by its leaders' “personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”

Blaine flatly denied the lawsuit’s claims, saying: “The allegations are not true. This will be proven in court. SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: to help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse.”

The lawsuit named as defendants SNAP, Blaine, past executive director David Clohessy, and outreach director Barbara Dorris.

Clohessy resigned as executive director effective Dec. 31, though the change was not widely known until after the latest lawsuit was filed. The former executive director, who had worked at the organization since 1991, also denied his resignation had anything to do with the lawsuit.

Dorris has now become managing director of SNAP.

In her resignation statement, Blaine said she founded the organization 29 years ago because a priest who had abused her remained in ministry and because she felt “immense pain” from the alleged abuse inflicted on her as an eighth grader by a priest who taught at her school.

“I knew there were other survivors out there and wondered if they felt the same debilitating hurt and if so, how they coped with it. I thought they might hold the wisdom I lacked. I looked for other survivors and asked if they would be willing to talk,” she said in a statement.

SNAP has run into other legal problems.

In August 2016 a federal judge ruled that the group made false statements “negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth” against a St. Louis priest to try to convict him on abuse charges.

The organization also sought to have the International Criminal Court investigate Benedict XVI for crimes against humanity related to alleged failures to stop sex abuse. Many critics considered the effort to be frivolous and the court rejected the request in mid-2013.

This proposed law would protect doctors who object to abortion

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 18:37

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bill that would protect health care providers’ freedom to opt-out of abortion mandates they find objectionable has once again been introduced in Congress.

“This bill is needed to give health care providers the right to provide medical care without violating their deeply held beliefs,” Sen. James Lankford, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, stated on Friday.

“Americans have very different views about abortion, but we should not force anyone to participate in it or provide coverage,” he added.

The Conscience Protection Act would protect health care providers from federal, state, and local abortion mandates if they conscientiously object to assisting with abortions. It would also protect religious employers from having to cover elective abortions in their health plans, and establishes a “right of action” for all entities if they believe their religious beliefs on the matter are violated.

The bill was introduced in Congress last year and passed the House 245-182, but did not receive a vote in the Senate.

Its sponsors say that doctors religiously objecting to abortion are not sufficiently protected from abortion mandates. Medical professionals must file a grievance with the civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services, and some complaints reportedly sit undecided for months or years.

Some states have already been forcing religious employers to offer abortion coverage and have coerced health providers into assisting or performing abortions.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who introduced the Conscience Protection Act in the House, pointed to California and New York abortion mandates as examples of this, including the case of a New York nurse who in 2009 was forced to assist with an abortion.

Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo, a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, said the hospital coerced her into helping with an abortion there. She requested an investigation by the HHS, which in 2013 found that the hospital had to change its policies to accommodate employees with conscientious objections to abortion.

California recently forced all employers, including religious groups, to cover elective abortions in their health plans. Last June, the former head of the HHS civil rights office ruled that religious groups which opposed California’s mandate were not protected and would have to comply with it.

In light of these incidents, last March leading U.S. bishops asked Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act.

The bill would “address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws, most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in a joint statement in March of 2016.

Other religious groups pushed for Congress to pass the bill last year, including the Christ Medicus Foundation, a non-profit which advocates for Catholic teaching and ethics in health care.

“Conscience is the sacred space of human dignity where persons exercise their sincerely held, reasoned beliefs,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), another sponsor of the bill, said on Friday. “It is a true poverty that this most cherished American principle is under assault, violating the good of persons and communities.”


Harry Connick Jr on faith, family, hosting a TV show

Sun, 02/05/2017 - 18:02

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 5, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Harry Connick Jr. has spent the last 30 years entertaining America as one of Hollywood’s most versatile talents: singer, songwriter, pianist, actor, and “American Idol” host. Now he’s the star of the daytime talk show “Harry”, which airs primarily on local Fox affiliate stations nationwide.

Connick’s devout Catholic faith has also guided him throughout his career, as well as his 27-year marriage to model Jill Goodacre and as a father to three daughters. Connick spoke with Carl Kozlowski for Catholic News Agency about how he ties it all together while keeping his personal value system firmly in place.

CNA: You’ve spent 30 years in the public eye, singing, performing, acting, and hosting American Idol. How’d you decide now’s the time for a talk show?

Connick: I was working with Justin and Eric Spangle, who used to be writers and executive producers at Letterman, on a different project a few years ago. We talked about doing a daytime show, not just a talk show but one that combined all the things I love to do: entertaining, singing, comedy; just a party show in the middle of the afternoon. There was nothing quite like what we had in mind. When we pitched it the network liked it, and we put a team together quick.

CNA: You’re very outspoken about your faith. Does it have an influence on the show?

Connick: I’m sure it does influence my decisions. The decisions I make and my faith and values are entwined. All I really want – when I pray , I don’t really ask for anything. All I want to do is God’s will and make the best decisions I can. I don’t go out and preach. This show is about being aspirational and inspirational. All I want is to make the best decisions. Faith is an extra big part of my life, which we like to show on the show rather than talk about. Faith, family and community are things that we show by example. We don’t go into politics or heavy social issues. We want to give people a respite from their day and some entertainment. It’s hard to articulate how my Catholic faith affects the show, but I’m sure it’s a subconscious part of it.

CNA: I’m a professional standup comic as well, so I relate. Our faith affects where you find your taste, or draw the line.

Connick: We try to find people on the show, or do things on the show, that are the highest things I can do – leaders in their community, inspirations in what they do, shining examples of what craft and hard work can do. You do that, and it falls into place. We’re standing somewhere else. If I keep striving to put on the best quality show based on the values I have, I don’t have to think “oh we’re crossing the line” because the line is built in. We follow that and do the best quality work we can.

CNA: How does your faith help you navigate the world of showbiz? You’ve been married forever by Hollywood standards, and are never in tabloids. Does faith help you in that regard?

Connick: All I can do is worry about me and my family. I don’t really worry about anybody else, they have to do what works for them. I wake up everyday and try to be the best husband, father and entertainer I can be. I’m no different offstage or talking to you or onstage than I am going to dinner with my family. It’s all the same place and I apply the same values to all I do. It works for me. Many people in and out of showbiz live their lives in different ways. I try to be the best I can be. But people who get married don’t always stay married. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been with my wife for 27 years. But if you think of the public lives of people who’ve been unlucky, it seems showbiz is some tumultuous crazy world but some are fortunate and some unfortunate. All I can do is keep striving to be better.

CNA: What’s your favorite part of doing the show, and what’s your biggest challenge?

Connick: My favorite part is going out with the audience every day and meeting them, sharing this tightrope experience with them. The experience is so broad, from playing music to laughing and learning. These shows are very planned, but I said I don’t want to know about stuff . And if someone wants to show me how to be a lumberjack and saw pieces of wood, I want to learn on the spot. I want to experience it with the audience. I think it was hard for them to believe that I really don’t want to know. At this point, they don’t tell me anything. I show up and get surprised, and I don’t think you can fake that. We’re all in sync on that.

CNA: Doing the soundtrack for “When Harry Met Sally” blew you up. What was that like?

Connick: I remember that vividly. I had a couple albums out that sold well for who I was at the time and the type of music I played. But it was warp speed with Harry; people started recognizing my name and face and it helped sell bigger venues. I had a bigger spotlight and I had to live up to it but I thrived under that challenge. It expedited the creative process. If I was on stage in front of 300 people instead of 30, I had to work harder at my performances because I had a greater responsibility. It was very exciting, but creative too.

CNA: Your hero seems to be Sinatra, and now you have a similar career in acting, singing, and live concerts.

Connick: I’m a big fan of Sinatra, he was the best at what he did. The last thing I do is model my career after him, though, because we do different things. He was a great singer and a great actor … It never crossed my mind to emulate his career, because we have different interests. I love orchestrating music and conducting and being on Broadway. He was an incredible artist, the best at what he did, but it never occurred to me to model my career after what he did. There was no one I modeled my career after because there was no one else who did what I did. The reasons I never set out to do a talk show is they’re formulaic. People come out, tell jokes and read questions. But that’s not what I do, and we built the show around my skill set. So far, I don’t know of a daytime host who hosts and is the musical director for the band. You have to do things that do good for you and when there’s an uncharted course, you have to figure out how to get through it.

CNA: Out of all your performing skill sets, what is your favorite thing to do?

Connick: I think it’s the variety of it. I love entertaining, I love to sing, I love to make people laugh, I love learning and meeting people. I love acting, Broadway, standing in front of an orchestra and conducting a piece of orchestration .This show is so fun because it allows me to fire on all cylinders everyday.

Pope Francis has a special message for the Super Bowl

Sun, 02/05/2017 - 10:00

Houston, Texas, Feb 5, 2017 / 08:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Patriots and the Falcons gear up for Super Bowl LI, Pope Francis sent a message to both players and viewers, saying the game is an opportunity to show solidarity and build virtue.

“Great sporting events like today's Super Bowl are highly symbolic, showing that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace,” the Pope said in his message, published on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5.

“By participating in sports, we are able to go beyond our own self-interest and – in a healthy way – we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules,” he said, speaking in his native Spanish.

The pontiff voiced hope that this year’s Super Bowl may be “a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity to the world.”

Pope Francis, a self-proclaimed soccer lover, has often spoken of sports as a privileged place to learn virtue and practice fraternity.

He himself played as a child, though he admitted in a 2015 interview with online Argentine sports news site TyC Sports that he was a “patadura” – meaning he wasn’t good at kicking the ball – and preferred to play basketball instead.

In addition to autographing jerseys and making frequent references to his favorite soccer team, the San Lorenzo team of Argentina, Francis has also demonstrated the weight he places on the value of sports by organizing two editions of a “Match for Peace.”

These matches drew big name players from teams and countries around the world, including Javier Zanetti and Diego Maradona, who donned cleats in a game at Rome’s Olympic Stadium in a show of peace and fraternity.

The Pope’s video message, however, marks the first time a Pope has sent a direct message for the Super Bowl, which draws millions of viewers both nationally and abroad.

According to CNN, last year’s Super Bowl 50 was the third-most watched game in broadcast history, with roughly 111.9 million TV viewers either cheering or booing as the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10.

Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 was even higher, with an audience of 112.2 million viewers, the second most-watched in broadcast history, online streamers not included.

CBS reportedly set a new Super Bowl streaming record last year with an average of 1.4 million viewers per minute, according to CNN.


Senate bill would move women's health funding away from Planned Parenthood

Sat, 02/04/2017 - 17:06

Washington D.C., Feb 4, 2017 / 03:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would re-allocate women’s health care funding away from controversial abortion provider Planned Parenthood, toward health care providers that don’t perform abortions.

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) are co-sponsors of the bill, called the Protect Funding for Women’s Health Care Act.

“We as a pro-life community honor the civil liberties, independence and strength of a woman – all women,” Sen. Ernst had said at the March for Life Jan. 27. “And that means both supporting mothers and rising up to protect the most vulnerable in our society – the innocent babies who are unable to defend themselves.”

The bill would fund women’s health services including diagnostic laboratory and radiology services, prenatal and postnatal care, immunizations, and cervical and breast cancer screenings, Sen. Lankford’s office said.

“For years, our nation has debated life and abortion – at a minimum we should agree that no taxpayer should be forced to fund the largest provider of abortion in the country with their hard-earned tax dollars,” Sen. Lankford said Jan. 30.

“Planned Parenthood receives millions in private donation money every year, and they’ve experienced an increase in donations since President Trump was elected. There is no reason for a private non-governmental organization, like Planned Parenthood, to receive $500 million a year in taxpayer money.”

The bill’s supporters say it would ensure that there is no reduction in federal funding for women’s health.

Sen. Lankford’s office said he had introduced a similar bill with Sen. Ernst and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in 2015 after investigative reports showed Planned Parenthood officials apparently engaged in the illegal procurement for sale of human body parts from abortion.

While federal law bars funding for most abortions, Planned Parenthood receives money through other federal programs. Critics argue that this money is fungible, freeing up other funds to be used on abortion.

Sen. Ernst and U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) are backing a separate bill to end a federal rule that prevents states from withholding Title X family planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform abortions. The rule helped stymie efforts to defund the United States’ largest abortion provider following reports of its illegal body parts sales.



Who took religious vows last year? Over 200 Americans.

Sat, 02/04/2017 - 05:04

Washington D.C., Feb 4, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There were 216 Catholic women and men religious who took perpetual vows in the U.S. in 2016, and an annual survey has aimed to take their pulse.

Of the more than 200 who made perpetual vows, 81 sisters and nuns and 96 brothers and priests responded to the survey of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The center analyzed the results in a report for the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

Among those who responded, the median age of newly professed men and women religious is 36, with the youngest at 26 and the oldest at 86. About half of respondents reported that they were under age 18 when they first considered a vocation to the religious life.

Among the questions answered were those about their devotional life. About 66 percent of the profession class named Eucharistic Adoration as one of their prayer practices before entering a religious institute, while a similar percentage named the Rosary or retreats. Almost 60 percent underwent spiritual direction, almost 50 percent took part in faith sharing or Bible study groups, while about one-third practiced the Lectio Divina devotional.

Almost 90 percent were Catholic since birth and 81 percent had two parents with a Catholic background.

About 66 percent of the newly professed identified as white, 16 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, and 4 percen t as African/African-American/Black.

Another 67 percent were American-born, followed by those born in Asia then Latin America.

Sources of encouragement and discouragement were also examined in the survey. About half said a parish priest encouraged their vocation, while over 40 percent said their friends encouraged their vocation.

However, about half reported that some people in their lives discouraged a vocation, including parents, other relatives, or friends or classmates.

Only four percent reported that they had educational debt before entering religious life, averaging about $29,100. It took these vowed religious an average of four years’ delay to pay down there debt.

Overall, the CARA survey secured responses from 80 percent of religious institutes. Of these, 80 percent reported no perpetual professions, 12 percent reported one perpetual profession of vows, and only eight percent reported that two or more members made perpetual vows.

Supreme Court nominee authored a book on assisted suicide

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 18:03

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2017 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court wrote a book on “the future of assisted suicide” in 2006 – and he came to some strong pro-life conclusions.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, in his 2006 book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” argues that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Gorsuch was tapped by President Trump on Tuesday night to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year. The almost year-long vacancy on the Court was the longest in decades.

Religious liberty advocates hailed his selection, citing his previous opinions upholding the freedom of businesses and non-profits to operate according to their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

Pro-life leaders also applauded his selection, admitting that he had not specifically ruled on the Roe v. Wade decision but pointing to his defense of human life in his 2006 book on assisted suicide.

In that book, Gorsuch makes strong statements in defense of protecting all human life, from disabled persons to depressed, terminally-ill patients. Rather than relying on religious reasoning, he takes a secular approach in his arguments.

He states that his book has two purposes: to examine the views of assisted suicide advocates – from utilitarian arguments to defenses of autonomy – and to provide his own views on why current prohibitions on assisted suicide and euthanasia should stand.

In Chapter 9 of the book, he lays out a defense of prohibitions of assisted suicide. His argument is “based on secular moral theory,” he says, and “is consistent with the common law and long-standing medical ethics.”

Life is a “basic good,” he argues, “inherently worthwhile” and which can be enjoyed by many and has been seen as a good throughout “human history.”

Aristotle defined goods this way, and “argued from life’s experiences and observations of human nature” rather than from “hypothetical construct.”

We see life as a good simply from our observation of fellow human beings, Gorsuch explains, noting that “people every day and in countless ways do something to protect human life.”

Laws prohibiting murder, traffic laws, and government health departments are all based in protections of human life, he argues.

“We have all witnessed, as well, family, friends, or medical workers who have chosen to provide years of loving care to persons who may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating illnesses precisely because they are human persons, not because doing so instrumentally advances some other hidden objective,” he continues.

“This is not to say that all persons would always make a similar choice, but the fact that some people have made such a choice is some evidence that life itself is a basic good.”

The founding documents of the United States, the Constitution, and foreign political documents express that life is a basic good and argue from pragmatic experience and history, he says:

“The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws to all persons; this guarantee is replicated in Article 14 of the European Convention and in the constitutions and declarations of rights of many other countries. This profound social and political commitment to human equality is grounded on, and an expression of, the belief that all persons innately have dignity and are worthy of respect without regard to their perceived value based on some instrumental scale of usefulness or merit. We treat people as worthy of equal respect because of their status as human beings and without regard to their looks, gender, race, creed, or any other incidental trait – because, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, we hold it as ‘self-evident’ that ‘all men [and women] are created equal’ and enjoy ‘certain unalienable Rights,’ and ‘that among these are Life.’”

To say that some persons don’t have a right to life is a clear violation of “equal protection,” and undermines it at its core, he adds.

Furthermore, Gorsuch says, to create distinctions on a person’s right to life based on their “currently exercisable abilities for self-creation and self-expression” leads to “arbitrary” and “subjective” judgments of whose life should be protected – like determining the rights of “those with low IQs,” “the autistic,” and “infants with Down syndrome.”

Yet those who argue that some persons do not have the same rights as others “ask us to accept, judge, and decree that certain persons with certain (rather arbitrarily chosen) instrumental capacities are worth our total respect – inviolable under law – while other persons who lack those capacities do not merit such esteem, respect, and protection,” he writes.

“In the name of progressive policy, they would create a second class of citizens.”

Thus, Gorsuch concludes, “if, as I have argued, human life qualifies as a basic good it follows that we can and should refrain from actions intended to do it harm.” And this will “rule out cases where the doctor intends to kill his or her patient.”

And so, he determines, “current laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia largely should be retained.”    


Why some Texas legislators want to limit the death penalty

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 16:53

Austin, Texas, Feb 3, 2017 / 02:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One death sentence in Texas has prompted some legislators to rethink the state’s broad qualifications for the death penalty.

Jeff Wood, 43, was convicted for the 1996 murder of Kriss Keeran. Wood was sitting in a truck outside a convenience store in Kerrville, Texas when his friend Daniel Reneau entered the store to steal the safe. Reneau shot and killed Keeran, who was working there as a clerk.

Wood was convicted of murder under Texas' “law of parties” statute that says those who are responsible for a crime that results in death are equally responsible as the killer even if they did not directly commit the murder, the Texas Tribune reports.

The convict was scheduled to be executed in August 2016, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution just six days before the event.

At the time, the Texas Catholic Conference said the stay “prevents a gross miscarriage of justice.”

“The public outcry against this execution illustrates broad agreement on the injustice and basic unfairness of the Texas law of parties,” the conference said Aug. 19.

A trial court is reviewing Wood's case. State Rep. Terry Canales, a Democrat, is sponsoring House Bill 316 to end death sentences for those convicted of capital murder under the law of parties.

“We've got to start somewhere when it comes to reforming the death penalty, and there's no better place to start than the law of parties,” Rep. Canales said, according to the Texas Tribune.

Republican State Rep. Jeff Leach plans, a death penalty proponent, opposes using the law of parties to secure a death sentence. He was involved in Wood's case.

“He may have suspected, he may have anticipated, but he didn't know,” Rep. Leach said. “You can't be executing people like that, you just can't. We can keep them in prison for life, but to execute them is an entirely different conversation.”

For his part, Rep. Leach is backing Canales' proposal and is considering his own bill.

Another legislator, State Rep. Harold Dutton, advocates the abolition of the death penalty. However, he is also backing a more limited bill to modify the law of parties rule. His proposal, House Bill 147, would still allow death penalty sentences for those who help a killer commit murder, but not necessarily in other cases.

Changes to state law would not be retroactive and would affect Wood's case.

Five people have been executed under Texas' “law of parties” statute. Five other states with similar laws have executed one person.

In Texas' Walker County, a man named John Falk is accused of capital murder under the law of parties. In a 2007 prison escape in Huntsville, another inmate killed a guard during the escape. The trial is in the jury selection stage.

Texas is a leader in executions among U.S. states. Last year it executed seven people, behind only Georgia, the Death Penalty Information Center reports.

Who is our neighbor? Faith leaders say it's refugees

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 02:40

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2017 / 12:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As leaders of many faiths gathered for prayer in Washington, D.C. this week, they pledged solidarity with refugees looking to enter the U.S.

“While we recognize and while we are very, very aware of the need for security, we also very much recognize that that cannot be at the cost of any type of failure to recognize the needs of people who are being persecuted,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. insisted at a Tuesday interfaith gathering, speaking for himself and other Catholic bishops.

“We very, very strongly invite, as we have done,” he continued, “people who are suffering persecution around the world to come and be welcome by all of us.”

Cardinal Wuerl and 15 other religious leaders met Tuesday to announce the “Interfaith Vision for Our Community” at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest Washington, D.C.

The vision was a joint statement by the faith leaders that has been developing for months as a result of their common prayer and reflection, the cardinal said.

“The idea of a joint statement rose out of the conviction of all of us involved that religious faith and religious values continue to be an integral part of our culture, of our society,” Cardinal Wuerl said Tuesday.

He was joined by Rabbi Gerald Serotta, executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, leaders of Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations, and Muslim, Mormon, Hundu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and other faith leaders.

The InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington was founded in 1978 and has been “providing opportunities for interfaith dialogue, for building community through education, through service to those most vulnerable and needy in our midst,” Rabbi Serotta explained at the Tuesday gathering.

“We’ve advocated for the rights of each religious community to freely practice its faith without fear or intimidation,” he said.

The statement of the faith leaders promoted common values that it said can be practiced by all citizens and civic leaders.

These values included caring for one’s neighbor, “quality education for all,” “meaningful vocations for all adults and a living wage for reasonable labor serving the common good,” and “responsible environmental stewardship of the earth and its resources.”

Additionally, the leaders united in opposition to “slavery, human trafficking, economic or sexual exploitation, torture, racism, sexism, and any other practice that harms life.”

“First and always, we are neighbors,” they stated, and “we don’t get to choose who is our neighbor. The neighbor is a gift.” Everyone must be “good neighbors with and for each other.”

Although the statement has been in the works for months, it was released on Jan. 31 with the first week of February being World Interfaith Harmony Week, according to the United Nations General Assembly.

It also came days after U.S. President Donald Trump issued executive orders to halt the refugee admissions program for 120 days, and to stop entry for 90 of those coming from seven countries deemed to be compromised by terrorism – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya. Syrian refugees were barred indefinitely from entering the country.

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Rabbi Serotta said, “one must not oppress the non-citizen.”

“This statement does insist that our religious communities be free to speak and act on the concerns of our consciences,” he said. “Many of the communities in front of you today, for example, have already spoken out from their faith’s perspectives concerning the closing of our country’s borders to refugees fleeing persecution.”

“The statement makes clear our neighbors are people we care about deeply, no matter where they’re from.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “issued a very strong statement” in support of refugees looking to resettle, Cardinal Wuerl noted. The cardinal spoke about it on his own as well.

“We want to always be there for people who are persecuted,” he said.

“It was some of the minority communities, including Christian communities, that were designated as the object of genocide, and we want to be welcoming everybody who is fleeing persecution here to our country,” he said, referring to last year’s designation for Yazidis, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims as victims of genocide by ISIS.

Cardinal Wuerl also said he hoped for dialogue between the new Trump administration and the faith leaders.

“We are waiting ourselves to see what lines of communication will be open,” he said. “We will be announcing our solidarity and our openness to be of service to the community as the transition is taking place.”

“We’re ready for that conversation,” he said.


Catholic leaders: Refugee ban actually harms national security

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 18:37

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Rather than protecting U.S. interests, recent executive orders restricting immigrants and refugees could actually pose a threat to national security, warned a group of Catholic leaders on Wednesday.

“These refugees are victims of the same violence we are trying to protect ourselves from,” said Jill Marie Geschütz Bell, senior legislative specialist for Catholic Relief Services, criticizing what she called a “disproportionate security response.”

“It’s time to be the Good Samaritan,” she urged.

Geschütz Bell and other Catholic immigration and refugee leaders spoke at a Feb. 1 press conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

Don Kerwin, executive director for the Center for Migration Studies, contended that by limiting refugee protection, the United States would actually harm its security goals.  

“Refugee protection actually advances and furthers security,” he said, because when refugees are left in unstable situations, terrorist organizations such as ISIS have a “potent” recruiting opportunity.

In addition, the executive orders may damage alliances – both present and future – with other nations, Kerwin said, echoing similar statements by former CIA director Michael Hayden.

During his first week in office, President Trump signed three executive orders addressing a range of issues concerning immigration, refugees, border enforcement and vetting of immigrants to the country.

One of the orders halts refugee admissions for 120 days – indefinitely for Syrian refugees – and temporarily bans visa permissions for people seeking entry to the United States from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

The effective travel ban quickly caused chaos at airports around the country as travelers already en route were told upon arrival that they would be sent back and would not be allowed into the United States for 90 days.

The same order also caps the number of refugees that will be allowed to enter the United States in 2017 at 50,000. In comparison, the 2016 cap was placed at 117,000 people, although only around 85,000 refugees actually entered the United States.

The executive action says that priority will be given to “refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution” for members of minority faiths in the refugee’s country of origin.

While the order does not mention Christianity, Trump has told media such as Christian Broadcasting News that the order would prioritize Christian refugees.

President Trump said the ban was put in place to stop “radical Islamic terrorists” and to allow time for agencies to develop stricter screening programs for those coming into the country.

Two other orders the same week focused on addressing undocumented migrants already in the country and increasing border security. They included plans to build a wall along the Mexican border, increase the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, and penalize jurisdictions that do not comply with federal immigration laws – called “sanctuary cities” – by withholding federal grants and other funds.

Kerwin argued that while the executive orders are framed as a matter of national security, in fact, the order “exaggerates the threat from refugees in the United States beyond recognition.”

He pointed to research by the Cato Institute, which found that between 1975 and 2015, the United States admitted 3.2 million refugees, and only three people have been killed by refugee attacks – a minuscule risk that also doesn’t fully incorporate new, more restrictive protections already in place, he said.

“The overall point is that refugees themselves do not threaten security, terrorists do, and the failure of states to address this crisis also undermines security,” Kerwin stated. “We’re facing not a refugee crisis, but a crisis in refugee protection, which the executive order makes far worse.”

“More broadly,” he continued, by stepping back, the United States might be providing a troubling example for other nations. “It’s really impossible to think how the greatest refugee crisis in history since WWII could be resolved without the US playing a leading role as it has in past refugee crises.”

Speakers at the press conference emphasized that current U.S. security vetting for refugees is already very strong, and while vetting concerns are always valid, the actions taken by the executive orders are disproportionate to the threat presented.

Jeanne Atkinson, executive director for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., worried that the new orders would make Americans less safe by making immigrants less likely to report crimes for fear of deportation, thus allowing perpetrators to evade justice.  

She also argued that the United States does not have the resources to carry through on the orders – there are simply not enough immigration officers and judges to review each of the 11 million cases in the country.

“What we’re going to see is the long-term detention of immigrants,” she warned. “People waiting for their day in court may languish in prison for years,” a move that she said will be costly to taxpayers and will violate the dignity of the persons detained.

Geschütz Bell added that the funds that will go into building a wall and hiring new border and immigration officers could instead be used to examine the root causes of migration. She pointed to Catholic Relief Service’s investment in and work with Honduran schools – work that undermines the gangs and resultant violence that has lead people to flee Honduras in the first place.

Within three years, she said, the program has already had immense success in educating people and stabilizing the area. “Enabling people to thrive where they are is not only more humane, but it is a cheaper option for the American people.”

Bill Canny, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, voiced hope that as time passes, implementation of the executive orders will become more “humane.” He noted that the Trump Administration has already agreed to allow in more than 8,000 people who have already left refugee areas, as well as Iraqis who have provided aid to the United States Military.

“We’re getting some indications of the humane implementation of the order,” he continued, and asked Catholics to use their influence to continue to push the administration towards more humane actions.

Geschütz Bell advocated for the humane protection of other vulnerable communities that need special consideration, such as female-headed households, children and people with medical needs.

At the root of the idea of humane treatment, added Sister Donna Markham O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, is the understanding that refugees are human persons with dignity.

She urged Catholics to remember that “they are people like ourselves who woke up one morning and learned everything they had was destroyed,” and who feel depressed, downtrodden and rejected by those who turn them away in their time of distress.

“These are human beings like you and I.”