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Minnesota House committee hears testimony on assisted suicide

Thu, 09/12/2019 - 18:01

St. Paul, Minn., Sep 12, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- More than 200 people attended an informational hearing of a Minnesota House committee Wednesday that listened to testimony regarding an assisted suicide bill, which is unlikely to advance in the Republican-led Senate.

Among those testifying against the End-of-Life Options Act was Kathy Ware, who cares for her 21-year-old son Kylen, who has multiple disabilities.

“My son is not undignified because I have to help him use the bathroom,” Ware said Sept. 11, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “This bill makes a public statement by law that death is better than living with a disability like Kylen.”

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mike Freiberg of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. It would allow a mentally capable adult with a terminal illness who has six months or fewer to live to be prescribed life-ending medication. A second doctor would have to confirm the terminally ill adult's situation.

The manner of death of those who commit assisted suicide would be “listed as the underlying terminal illness and not as a suicide or homicide.”

The bill says that “a person who has custody or control of medical aid-in-dying medication … that remains unused after the terminally ill adult's death shall dispose of the unused medical aid-in-dying medication by lawful means according to state and federal guidelines including: (1) returning the unused medical aid-in-dying medication to a federally approved medication take-back program or mail-back program; or (2) returning the unused medical aid-in-dying medication to the local or state police departments who shall dispose of the medication by lawful means.”

In Oregon, where assisted suicide was legalized in 1997, doctors have written 2,217 prescriptions for lethal medication, and about two-thirds of those who were prescribed them, 1,459, have died from the drugs.

The Minnesota bill would allow health care providers to choose not to provide assisted suicide, but requires the provider to “make reasonable efforts to accommodate the terminally ill adult's request including transferring care of the terminally ill adult to a new health care provider.”

Health care facilities would be able to bar their employees from providing assisted suicide only if the terminally ill person intends to take the medication “on the facility's premises.”

The bill also declares that what it terms “aid-in-dying” does not constitute suicide or assisted suicide.

Marianne Turnbull, a St. Paul resident who has cancer and supports the bill, said at the hearing of the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee that “when the time comes, I want a good death. I want to die at home surrounded by people who love me.”

Stephanie Packer travelled from California to testify against the bill, the Star Tribune reported. Packer has pulmonary fibrosis, and said her insurer stopped covering several of her medications after assisted suicide was legalized in her home state, and she was told her copay for assisted suicide medication would be only $1.20.

“If there are other options out there to save them money, they are good businesspeople, and they are going to do it,” she said of insurance companies.

A Nevada physician, Dr. T. Brian Callister, warned that with legal assisted suicide, “what we are going to see is a movement towards the cheapest treatment” by insurers. “The cheapest treatment is the medicine that is going to kill you.”

Senator John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, told the AP that insurers could pressure the elderly and disabled to use assisted suicide medication, and said, “I think people with disabilities should be pretty concerned.”

Rep. Anne Neu questioned at the hearing how many people would choose assisted suicide “in fear of being a burden on their families.”

The state's bishops are among the religious leaders opposed to the bill.

At the hearing, Asad Zaman of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota noted his opposition to the bill, while Harlan Limpert, a Unitarian Universalist minister, indicated his support.

Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said shortly after the House committee's hearing that “physician-assisted suicide is a dangerous policy and we will not hear it in the Senate.”

“Many of those opposed to state-sanctioned suicide are in the mental health and disability community because when people are vulnerable, they are at the greatest risk of outside influence clouding their personal judgement,” she noted. “When people are facing difficult decisions or even desperation, the state should not be telling them ending their life is a way out.”

Benson suggested palliative care as a “life-affirming” alternative, and said: “In fact, we proposed a palliative care commission to discuss policy options that would support palliative care, but House Democrats opposed the bill.”

“Senate Republicans have increased funding and expanded health care access to those with mental health issues in recent years. It frightens me to consider someone who may be having suicidal ideation could be told that suicide is a positive choice for their life. Let’s be clear: it is not. Whether it’s done by a medical professional or an individual’s tragic decision, suicide hurts those left behind,” she stated.

“Finally, if physician-assisted suicide becomes law, it may be easier for some to remind those with a high level of care that it is cheaper for them to die than to keep them alive. The cost of care is not how we determine the value of someone’s life.”

The state legislature will not reconvene until February 2020.

In the US, assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and in Montana by a court ruling. A law allowing it in Maine will take effect Jan. 1, 2020, and a law legalizing it in New Jersey is on hold while it is being challenged in court.

In Colorado, a Colorado man who has cancer and his doctor have filed a suit against a Catholic health system alleging that its policy barring doctors from participating in assisted suicide violates state law.

Florist appeals to Supreme Court for second time over same-sex wedding case

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Sep 11, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A florist in Washington state sued for declining to serve a same-sex wedding is once again appealing her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a statement issued Sept. 11, lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom said that Barronelle Stutzman’s case must be considered by the court for a second time.

Stutzman’s appeal comes after the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against her for the second time earlier this year, saying that “the adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus” in ruling against Stutzman.

“Regardless of what one believes about marriage, no creative professional should be forced to create art or participate in a ceremony that violates their core convictions. That’s why we have taken Barronelle’s case back to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of the U.S. Legal Division of ADF and attorney for Stutzman, said on Wednesday.

In 2013, the 74 year-old florist declined to make flower arrangements for the same-sex wedding of long-time customer and friend Rob Ingersoll, saying that she believed marriage to be a sign of relationship between Christ and His Church and she could not make a floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding. Stutzman referred Ingersoll to several nearby florists. 

Although Ingersoll did not file a complaint with the state, Stutzman was later sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the attorney general of Washington state for discrimination.

“The Attor­ney General concocted a one-of-a-kind lawsuit, prompt­ing others to threaten and harass her,” ADF’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court states.  

In 2017, the Washington state Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling against Stutzman. In June of 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the ruling and sent the case back to the state supreme court, ruling that Stutzman’s case should be reconsidered in light of the Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

In that decision, the Court decided that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed a constitutionally unacceptable hostility toward religion in ruling that Masterpiece Cake Shop baker Jack Phillips violated anti-discrimination law.

In June of 2019, the Washington supreme court again ruled against Stutzman saying the lower courts had not acted with impermissible hostility towards her religious beliefs.

“Although settled law compelled us to reject Arlene's Flowers and Barronelle Stutzman's claims the first time around, we recognized Stutzman's ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ and ‘analyze[d] each of [her] constitutional defenses carefully,’” the court’s decision stated. “And on remand, we have painstakingly reviewed the record for any sign of intolerance on behalf of this court or the Benton County Superior Court, the two adjudicatory bodies to consider this case.”

“After this review, we are confident that the two courts gave full and fair consideration to this dispute and avoided animus toward religion,” the ruling stated. “We therefore find no reason to change our original decision in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop.”

According to ADF, the state supreme court issued largely the same decision that it had previously, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to reconsider the case in light of a new decision.

The Washington court said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission applied only to “adjudicatory bodies” and not executive officials like the state’s Attorney General, who brought the case against Stutzman. 

“In any event, we decline to expansively read Masterpiece Cakeshop to encompass the ‘very different context’ of executive branch discretion,” the Washington state supreme court’s decision stated.

In the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ADF argues that the state court effectively excused religious hostility by a state executive official, and that the Supreme Court “should reaffirm that the Free Exercise Clause binds all state actors, not only adjudicators,” and citing four federal circuit court rulings that applied rules barring religious hostility to executive officials.

Stutzman says she stands to lose almost everything that she owns if she loses her case.

“This case is an ideal opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm that the First Amendment protects people who continue to believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” ADF vice president of appellate advocacy John Bursch stated.

“Particularly at a time when society is becoming more confrontational and less civil, it is critical that the courts honor the rights of citizens to speak and act freely, including those who strive to live consistently with their faith,” Bursch said.

US bishops mark 9/11 with prayers

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Sep 11, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- On the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Catholic leaders in the United States has spoken in honor of those who lost their lives, and praised the country’s resolve and unity.

“This is my eleventh 9/11 as Archbishop of New York,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan in a video released Wednesday morning. 

“And when I first came, I went down to Barkly Street, to St. Peter’s Parish, which was one of the sites where people were tended to, and where the bodies and the wounded were brought. And the pastor there said to me, ‘We’re going to rise up. We’re going to see that love conquers hate, and that good conquers evil.’ And boy that spirit of resilience, that spirit of rebuilding and restoration and renewal--that now, I think, characterizes our 9/11.” 

The Archdiocese of New York released a statement via Twitter, offering prayers for the souls and families of those lost eighteen years ago. 

“Today we join our hearts in prayer for all those lives lost and forever altered by the events on September 11th, 2001.” 

The Diocese of Brooklyn offered similar sentiment, saying, “We join together in prayer to never forget, to remember the lives we lost that day and the lives that were changed forever. For everyone who was touched by this day--you are in our prayers and hearts forever.”

In the Vatican, Pope Francis met with an interreligious committee, where they offered prayers for the victims of the attack. 

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, where the Pentagon is located, offered prayers for both the victims and for the country. 

“On the anniversary of this tragic day in our nation’s history, we pray for all those who died and for ongoing strength and consolation for their loved ones,” said Burbdige. “Pray that God will protect us and our country and fill all the world with the peace that only he can give.”

A total of 2,977 people were killed in the attacks in New York, Arlington, VA and in a thwarted attack that ended with a plane crash in Shanksville, PA. The first certified victim of the attack was Fr. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar who was chaplain of the New York Fire Department. Judge was struck by debris and killed while ministering to firefighters at the World Trade Center.

The two planes that struck the Twin Towers originated from Boston’s Logan International Airport. At the time of the attack, the now-Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland, Maine, was a pastor at a parish across the harbor from the airport. He shared his memories of the day. 

“I opened up the church and began the rosary,” tweeted Deeley. “Within a short time, the church was full, and it continued for the whole day as we understood little by little what had happened.” 

He said the knowledge that two of the planes had taken off from Logan cast “a darker light” on what had once been a welcoming place. 

Deeley acknowledged that his present city of Portland, Maine also played a role in the attacks--some of the hijackers spent several days in the city prior to the attack and “began their heinous journeys at the (Portland International) Jetport.” 

The attacks, Deeley said, “left us all feeling hopeless,” yet also served as “a moment of hope.” 

“What happened on 9/11 reminded us that we are well-served by those who protect us and serve us. We need to pause to give them thanks. We do not need to wait until a disaster strikes to be grateful for the dedication of all of those whose life [sic] work is the protection of the public,” he said.

“May we continue to reach out in compassion to all who were affected by the violence of 9/11, promote justice for all peoples, and be architects and ambassadors for world peace.”

Senate Democrats move to block all Title X funding

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 12:15

Washington D.C., Sep 11, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Senate Democrats acted Tuesday to block funding of the Federal Title X family planning program, drawing condemnation from Republicans and pro-life leaders as a violation of a previous budget agreement between President Trump and congressional leaders.

Senate Democrats inserted an amendment to block funding of the Title X program for the 2020 fiscal year into an appropriations bill Sept. 10; the bill would fund the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, Labor, and other agencies.

In July, Trump and congressional leaders agreed that no “poison pill” riders would be inserted into spending bills for the next two years, including any amendments trying to undo the administration’s existing pro-life policies.

Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee responded to Tuesday’s action by canceling a scheduled vote on the bill, prompting questions about the likely passage of the appropriations legislation just weeks before the end of the fiscal year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday called the effort to block Title X funding a “disturbing development” and a violation of the budget agreement.

McConnell said that the budget agreement between President Trump, himself, Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made clear “what a poison pill was. A poison pill was anything that was not in existing law. Anything that was not in existing law. If there was to be any change all five of us would have to sign off on it.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blamed Republican attempts to insert $12 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border as the reason for the breakdown in budget negotiations.

“Their proposal, which didn’t work out the 302(b)s with Democrats or the orders puts $12 billion more for the wall. That’s not going to happen. We know that. That’s what’s causing all their problems,” he said. “They know darn well that $12 billion additional monies for the wall is not going to fly, with Senate Democrats or with the House.”

A markup hearing scheduled on Thursday for the Labor-HHS appropriations bill—required to move it towards the Senate Floor for a vote—has now been postponed, CNA was told by congressional staff, until both sides can agree on how the budget agreement will be applied to the appropriations process.

The effort to block Title X funding comes one month after new administration regulations went into effect for the Title X family planning program. The new rules clarify that abortion cannot be funded under the program as a method of family planning and that recipients cannot make abortion referrals or “collocate” with abortion clinics.

Other requirements include more reporting on subrecipients and referral agencies; mandatory protocols for clinics to protect survivors of sexual assault, as well as mandatory reporting requirements for such cases. The rules also encourage communication between minors and their parents on family planning matters.

Planned Parenthood announced Aug. 19 that it would leave the Title X program, foregoing as much as $60 million per year in Title X grants, rather than comply with the new rule. A statement issued by a senior official at the abortion provider on Tuesday thanked Democrats for fighting to “protect” Title X.

Planned Parenthood vice president of government relations and public policy, Jacqueline Ayers, called the Republicans’ cancellation of the vote on the Labor-HHS appropriations bill “shocking and disgusting” in a statement.

"We thank Senator Murray for making it clear that Democrats and Republicans should stand together and insist that Title X be protected in any spending bill moving through Congress,” Ayers stated, thanking Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In a released a statement on Tuesday, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading pro-life advocacy group, called the attempt to block Title X funding “unacceptable” and in opposition to the budget agreement.

“With the enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Agreement last month, Democratic Leaders Pelosi and Schumer agreed to keep anti-life poison pills out of subsequent appropriations bills,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“By excluding new riders and poison pills, the agreement safeguarded President Trump’s Protect Life Rule so that Title X tax dollars will no longer be funneled to abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood. It is unacceptable for Senate Democrats to renege on their end of the deal,” Dannenfelser stated.

“Now, on day one of subcommittee markups, Senate Democrats are threatening to derail the entire process with an amendment to force taxpayers to fund the abortion industry against their clearly expressed will.”

Following state, federal funding cuts, two abortion clinics close in Cincinnati

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 02:21

Cincinnati, Ohio, Sep 11, 2019 / 12:21 am (CNA).- In response to new federal and state regulations restricting funding of abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood announced Monday that two of its clinics in Ohio will close this month.

Planned Parenthood currently operates 26 clinics in Ohio. Two will be closing down in the Cincinnati area. Their last day of business will be Sept. 20.

In March, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a state law that bans state funds from going to medical providers that perform abortions, cutting about $600,000 from Ohio Planned Parenthood, the Hill reported. The law passed in 2016, but it was immediately challenged in court.

Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who authored the majority opinion, said that Ohio had no constitutional requirement to provide funds to any private organization.

“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.”

In addition to the state funding cuts, Planned Parenthood has also seen a decline in federal taxpayer money, after the Trump administration's Protect Life Rule went into effect earlier this summer.

The Protect Life Rule makes changes to the Title X family planning program, barring Title X fund recipients from performing or referring women for abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.

The rule also prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics and requires financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions.

Rather than comply with the new rules, Planned Parenthood announced that it was withdrawing from the Title X program. Nationwide, this decision means the organization is forgoing about $60 million in federal funding, of 15% of its annual federal funding. This money will be transferred to other organizations that adhere to the new regulations, so that the total amount of Title X funding distributed will not decrease.

Abortion advocates lamented the funding cuts.

“Cincinnati is the last place politicians should be forcing health centers to close,” said Kersha Deibel, president of Planned Parenthood of southwest Ohio.

She argued that pro-life advocates want to see world “where women lose access to birth control, where information about how to access abortion is held hostage, and where, if you don’t have money, it’s almost impossible to access an STI test or a cancer screening,” she said, according to the Hill.

However, Catherine Glenn Foster, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life, told CNA after the March ruling that the court was correct in ruling that there is no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion.

She rejected Planned Parenthood’s claims “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.”

Lawsuit over access to online abortion pills is 'ludicrous,' pro-life activists say

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 20:06

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2019 / 06:06 pm (CNA).- Pro-life groups are decrying an effort by a European doctor to sue the United States Food and Drug Administration in order to continue selling medical abortion pills online.

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts is a licensed physician in Austria and the founder of Aid Access, a European company that prescribes and mails misoprostol and mifepristone, the drugs required for a medical abortion, to women in the United States.

In March, the FDA issued a cease-and-desist to Aid Access, ordering the group to stop prescribing and mailing the drugs to patients in the United States because they were unregulated.

On Monday, Gomperts, through attorney Richard Hearn, filed a civil action lawsuit in federal court in Idaho against the FDA, seeking the protection of the women who have received the prescriptions, and the protection of her group to continue selling the abortion drugs online.

In the suit, Gomperts claims that the FDA has seized up to 10 doses of the abortion drugs sent through the mail by Aid Access, and blocked some payments from patients made to Aid Access, since March.

Dr. Tara Sander Lee, a senior fellow and the director of life sciences with pro-life research group Charlotte Lozier Institute, said in a statement that it was “ludicrous” of Gomperts to sue the FDA, “a government agency charged with protecting the public health of women by assuring the safety and efficacy of any drug.”

“Far from being safe and effective, abortion pills from Aid Access have been shown to be damaged and contaminated, and these tainted drugs have caused serious—and sometimes even fatal—bacterial infections and excessive bleeding in women,” Lee said.

“It is fully within the FDA's jurisdiction to protect women from harm and prevent these dangerous abortion pills from getting into the hands of any more women. That Aid Access is attempting to stop the FDA from doing their job proves they have no intention of ensuring the health and safety of women in the U.S.,” Lee added.

FDA-approved versions of the medical abortion drugs have been available to US consumers since 2000, but may only be prescribed by a certified health care provider in a hospital, clinic, or medical office setting. They may not be sold online or in a retail pharmacy.

The health care provider must inform patients about the serious risks associated with use of the medications, and sign a waiver certifying the patient has access to emergency care or a surgical abortion in the case of complication.

These requirements are part of an FDA risk mitigation program called REMS, which is used for all higher-risk medications. The March letter to Aid Access stated that the FDA-approved version of mifepristone, called "Mifeprex," is under the REMS program because “the drug carries a risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects, including serious and sometimes fatal infections and prolonged heavy bleeding, which may be a sign of incomplete abortion or other complications.”

“The sale of misbranded and unapproved new drugs poses an inherent risk to consumers who purchase those products,” the FDA stated in the letter. “Unapproved new drugs do not have the same assurance of safety and effectiveness as those drugs subject to FDA oversight. Drugs that have circumvented regulatory safeguards may be contaminated; counterfeit, contain varying amounts of active ingredients, or contain different ingredients altogether.”

Hearn told NPR that Gomperts is operating out of a desire to provide abortions to women in remote parts of the U.S. who may not have easy access to a clinical abortion.

“Some women in the United States can exercise that right just by going down the street if those women happen to live in New York or San Francisco or other major metropolitan areas on either one of the coasts,” Hearn told NPR. “But women in Idaho and other rural states, especially conservative states...cannot exercise that right.”

Women who request medical abortions through Aid Access are seen by Gomperts in an online consultation, and if they are approved for the drugs, they are instructed on how to request them from a pharmacy in India.

According to the suit, between March 30, 2018 and August 27, 2019, Aid Access received thousands of requests for chemical abortions from women in the U.S. Gomperts claims that of these women, 7,131 have been prescribed misoprostol and mifepristone through Aid Access.

In its March letter, the FDA said that “by facilitating the sale of unapproved mifepristone and misoprostol to consumers in the U.S., causes the introduction of unapproved new drugs into U.S. commerce in violation of the FD&C Act.”

Gomperts told NPR that Aid Access briefly stopped prescribing the drugs after the FDA letter, but resumed the practice in May.

“The FDA is a huge institution. It's very powerful, and it's a form of intimidation that is quite severe,” Gomperts told NPR. “I would say a form of bullying. And so I think it's very important to stand up against it.”

Aid Access is the sister organization of Women on Web, which sends medical abortion drugs to women seeking abortion in countries in which the practice is illegal, and Women on Waves, a boat that performs abortions in international waters in order to circumvent legal issues women may face.

The lawsuit comes just after Planned Parenthood announced an expansion of its telemedical services through its app, through which users can request birth control delivery, UTI treatment prescriptions, and appointments at Planned Parenthood.

According to its website, Planned Parenthood has also used telemedicine to prescribe mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs used in medical abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states require that a licensed physician be physically present during medical abortions, effectively banning abortions prescribed via telemedicine in those states.

Kristan Hawkins, president of pro-life organization Students for Life of America, recently testified to the dangers of RU-486, or medical abortions, in California. In her testimony, she noted that the FDA had previously updated its notes on the dangers of medical abortions.

“As of December 31, 2018, there were reports of 24 deaths of women associated with RU-486 since the product was approved in September 2000, including two cases of ectopic pregnancy resulting in death; and several cases of severe systemic infection (sepsis), including some that were fatal,” the updated FDA note states.

“To date, the report documents nearly 4,200 reported adverse effects, including hospitalization and other serious complications,” Hawkins said at the time.

Hawkins said in a Sept. 9 statement that Aid Access appears to want to prioritize profits over the safety of women.

“Protecting women from the known dangers of abortion-inducing drugs is good and safe policy,” Hawkins said.

“Risking women's lives so that an international sales team for abortion pills can more easily operate is not in the interests of American women. It's easy to understand why a profit-driven industry for chemical abortion pills wants fewer health and safety standards but protecting women from the known dangers of the pills is the right public policy.”


Cheyenne diocese finds credible three abuse allegations against emeritus bishop

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 19:01

Cheyenne, Wyo., Sep 10, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Cheyenne announced Tuesday it has found credible and substantiated three allegations of child sexual abuse against Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart, which it had received since July and August 2018.

The alleged incidents newly found credible occurred in the 1970s and '80s.

“The results of the investigation were given to the Diocesan Review Board, which found the three allegations credible and substantiated,” the diocese stated Sept. 10.

It added that its results were forwarded to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “for its action”, as well as to the apostolic nuncio; Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver (the metropolitan); and Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph (where Hart served as a prior to his episcopal consecration).

In the statement, Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne said that “I applaud the victims who have come forward to report sexual abuse to the police or the Church. Your courageous action helps us to address these terrible crimes, and your example encourages other victims to find their voice. As the Church, we promise to protect the most vulnerable and to accompany those who have been harmed on a journey of healing.”

In July 2018 the Cheyenne diocese announced that Bishop Hart had been credibly accused of sexually assaulting two boys after he became Bishop of Cheyenne in 1976, following an investigation of charges ordered by Bishop Biegler.

In 2002, a Wyoming man accused the bishop of sexually abusing him as a boy, both during sacramental confession and on outings. The alleged abuse took place after Hart had become a bishop.

The Natrona County district attorney in 2002 had put forward a report saying there was no evidence to support the allegations that originated in Wyoming.

The Cheyenne diocese said in July 2018 that it “now questions that conclusion.”

According to the diocese, Bishop Steven Biegler had ordered a “fresh, thorough investigation” because the claims against Hart had not been resolved.

In December 2017, Bishop Biegler retained an outside investigator who obtained “substantial new evidence” and who concluded the district attorney’s 2002 investigation was flawed. The investigator concluded that Bishop Hart had sexually abused two boys in Wyoming.

The diocesan review board, after reviewing the report, concurred with the investigator, finding the allegations “credible and substantiated.” The diocese reported the alleged abuse to the Cheyenne district attorney in March 2018, and Cheyenne police opened an investigation.

In August 2018, the diocese announced it had found credible a third allegation of child sexual abuse committed by Bishop Hart.

“A third individual reported that he, too, was sexually abused by Bishop Hart in 1980,” the diocese said. This third person reported the abuse after the diocese's announcement there was “credible and substantiated” evidence that Bishop Hart had abused two Wyoming boys.

Police in Cheyenne recommended last month that two  clerics accused of sexually abusing male juveniles in the 1970s and '80s be charged. The clerics were unnamed in the police's release, though the investigation stams from a case initiated in 2002 that was reopened in 2018.

Also last month, four new sex abuse allegations were raised against Bishop Hart, spanning his time both as a priest in Missouri and a bishop in Wyoming. Each of these alleged victims were Missouri residents.

In its Sept. 10 statement, the Cheyenne diocese noted that while new norms authorize the metropolitan archbishop to oversee investigations of allegations against bishops, Bishop Biegler “was directed to complete the investigation … upon consultation with the Holy See,” as his diocese had already begun an investigation.

The local Church added that its investigations “included asking Bishop Hart for an interview to respond to the accusation,” but that he “declined to be interviewed.”

Bishop Hart has denied accusations of abusing minors.

His first accusers came forward in 1989, when he was alleged to have abused boys while serving as a priest in Kansas City. Ten individuals named Hart in lawsuits related to child sexual abuse claims dating from the 1970s. These accusations were part of settlements the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph reached in 2008 and 2014, though Bishop Hart denied the accusations, the Missouri diocese has said.

Bishop Hart was ordained a priest for the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese in 1956, where he served until he was named an auxiliary bishop in Cheyenne in 1976, and appointed to lead the diocese two years later. He served as Bishop of Cheyenne until his resignation in 2001 at the age of 70.

In June the Cheyenne diocese released a list of substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against minors or vulnerable adults. The release listed allegations against 11 clerics who had served in the diocese.

Vatican authorizes ‘Vos estis’ investigation into Minnesota bishop Hoeppner

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael Hoeppner is the first sitting U.S. bishop to be investigated under new misconduct protocols introduced by Pope Francis earlier this year.

Hoeppner, Bishop of Crookston, Minnesota, will be investigated by Minneapolis’ Archbishop Bernard Hebda, on charges that Hoeppner thwarted a police or canonical investigation of clerical sexual misconduct in his diocese.

“I have been authorized by the Congregation for Bishops to commence an investigation into allegations that the Most Reverend Michael Hoeppner, the Bishop of Crookston, carried out acts or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or canonical investigations of clerical sexual misconduct in the Diocese of Crookston,” Hebda told CNA Sept. 10.

“Law enforcement has been notified of the allegations. The allegations were reported to me under the procedures set out in Pope Francis’ recent legislation addressing bishop accountability, the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi.”

Hebda did not state directly what charges he will investigate. However, Hoeppner has been accused of pressuring Ron Vasek, a former diaconal candidate in the diocese, to recant the allegation that he was molested in 1971 by a Crookston priest.

In 2015, Vasek signed a letter withdrawing the allegation. He told CNA last year that Hoeppner coerced him into signing that letter.

Hoeppner has denied the charge.

In July, the Crookston diocese announced that a $5 million settlement had been reached in 15 sexual abuse lawsuits filed against it. As a condition of the settlement, the diocese is required to release the transcripts of depositions from Hoeppner and other diocesan officials.

Hebda told CNA he has “appointed qualified lay persons to assist me in carrying out this investigation, to provide an independent review of its contents, and assist in its examination and analysis. All involved in this investigation have been encouraged to respond to the investigators’ requests and provide accurate information so that the truth in this matter may become clear.”

Hoeppner will not yet step away from his post, and is unlikely to do so at least until Hebda has sent the initial results of his investigation to Vatican officials.

“This investigation is a preliminary one and not a full canonical process. As such, a limited time period has been established by the Holy See to gather information that may substantiate (or not) the truthfulness of the allegations. The gathered information will be forwarded promptly to the Apostolic Nuncio, who is the Pope’s representative in the United States, and to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome for a determination whether a subsequent process is warranted,” the archbishop explained.

“Those who filed the reports have no obligation to keep silent and the accused is presumed innocent,” Hebda added.

Other U.S. bishops face charges of misconduct in office, including Buffalo’s Bishop Richard Malone, or of sexual abuse, including retired Wyoming bishop Joseph Hart. However, the investigation into Hoeppner is, to date, the first U.S. investigation of a diocesan bishop under the procedure Pope Francis introduced in response to the 2018 Theodore McCarrick scandal.

The Diocese of Crookston referred questions to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.


Born Alive bill still stalled as Congress returns to session

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Five months after first attempting to force a vote on legislation to protect babies who survive botched abortions, pro-life Members in the House are still at a standstill.

“This is not even a pro-life or a pro-choice issue. This is an issue of someone’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) told CNA on Tuesday. “This is equal protection under the law.”

“The human rights of children are being violated,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who leads the House pro-life caucus, at a congressional hearing on Tuesday on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, yet “very little is being done.”

Wagner introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (H.R. 962) in February.  The legislation would require that any baby surviving a botched abortion attempt receive the same standard of medical care that any other child would if born at the same gestational age.

Health care providers who fail to do so could be fined and face up to five years in jail, though no mother could be prosecuted in any such case under the bills provisions. The mothers could, however, take civil action to obtain relief in the event a provider does not provide the care to the child.

“To carry this piece of legislation is a joy, an absolute joy. A struggle, but all things that are hard and important are,” Wagner told CNA on Tuesday.

Days prior to the bill’s introduction in the House, controversial comments by Virginia State Delegate Kathy Tran (D), and later by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), catapulted the issue into the national spotlight.

Tran, speaking about her legislation at a hearing, told a legislative committee hearing that her bill would allow for abortions throughout the third trimester, including while a woman was in active labor, so long as one doctor determined that the abortion was necessary for the woman’s physical or mental health.

Northam, asked about the legislation later, said that the legislation referred to cases where a pregnancy was “nonviable” with an unborn child that had “severe fetal abnormalities.”

“If a mother is in labor,” he told WTOP, “the infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s that what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

“We want the government not to be involved in these types of decisions,” he said.

Comments from Democratic presidential candidates have suggested support for legal abortion up until birth, at least in some cases.

Former congressman Robert Francis O’Rourke recently said at a campaign stop that such decisions should be left up to the mother, even if she were seeking an abortion one day before birth. Peter Buttigieg has said the decision about when a child’s life begins is ultimately the mother’s.

With Democratic presidential candidates talking about access to late-term abortion, and pro-life members of Congress trying to force a vote on protecting abortion survivors, the issue is growing to become a key part of the 2020 elections.

Wagner’s bill has 190 cosponsors but has not been considered for a vote. It hasn’t been for lack of effort, especially at the procedural level. House Democratic leaders have refused requests for unanimous consent to have a vote on the legislation, more than 80 times.

On April 2, House Minority WHIP Steve Scalise (R-La.) filed a Motion to Discharge a Committee from the Consideration of a Resolution, or a “discharge petition.” If the petition gained the signature of a majority of the House—218 Members—it would move the bill to the House Floor for a full vote.

The petition garnered 193 signatures immediately and subsequently received eight more, but since June 4 there have been no additions.

Only three Democrats have signed on: Reps. Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), and Ben McAdams (Utah), and pro-life leaders have taken note.

“It is unconscionable that Democrats have not allowed a vote on this bill requiring the most basic care,” March for Life president Jeanne Mancini stated.

“Once again, we urge House Democrats from Republican-leaning districts to listen to their constituents and sign Whip Scalise’s discharge petition to hold a vote on this lifesaving bill,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser stated.

Over the August recess, pro-life groups were reportedly working at the grassroots level to get more Democrats onto the petition, Wagner said.

“We hope that they’ve heard from their constituents and will come back. The board is open as of today, they can sign the petition, and just allow this to come to a vote,” she told CNA. “And so I believe that they’re going to be held to account, I hope, by the voters.”

Catholic immigration group sues Trump administration over asylum policy

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 14:08

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2019 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- A Catholic group is suing the Trump administration over the restriction of protections granted to asylum seekers in the U.S.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Democracy Forward, and Proskauer Rose LLP filed a lawsuit Sept. 6 arguing that the Trump administration’s new policies violate the statutory rights of asylum seekers and were issued without notice.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for D.C., also argues that the new policies were issued invalidly by Ken Cuccinnelli, who the groups claim was appointed unlawfully as head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). U.S. President Donald Trump appointed Cuccinnelli as “acting director” of USCIS after it became clear that the Senate was unlikely to confirm him as permanent director.

Cuccinnelli recently announced new measures cutting in half the amount of time granted to asylum seekers as they prepare for their interviews. Previously, those seeking asylum were granted 48 hours to meet with a lawyer and collect evidence to make their argument that they have a credible fear of persecution if they return to their homeland, a key step in their application for asylum. Now, they will have 24 hours to prepare for the interview.

In addition, continuances will largely be eliminated for those with language barriers or other claims to need more time to prepare.

These new policies deny asylum seekers reasonable access to counsel, says the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of seven asylum seekers and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a nonprofit legal services group for immigrants in Texas.

Manoj Govindaiah, director of legal strategy and training for RAICES, argued that the policy changes are intentional as part of an effort to reduce the number of people seeking protection from persecution in the United States.

“These unlawful changes to longstanding policy were undertaken to ensure that asylum seekers have no true opportunity to seek refuge in the United States,” Govindaiah said.

“These directives erode the last vestiges of due process for people who have already suffered greatly and seek protection in our country,” said Anna Gallagher, CLINIC’s executive director.

She argued that the new policies violate both immigration laws and the Constitution.

“Recognizing the human dignity of all people includes honoring their right to apply for asylum,” she said. “The American people expect that when the government makes a life-or-death decision, the person affected will get their day in court.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has objected strongly to several changes in U.S. immigration policy in recent months.

After the Trump administration announced a rule limiting asylum eligibility to those who had already applied and been rejected for asylum in any third-party country passed through on their way to the U.S, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, head of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, voiced “grave concerns.”

He said the rule “jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable individuals and families fleeing persecution and threatens family unity” and that it “undermines our nation’s tradition of being a global leader providing and being a catalyst for others to provide humanitarian protection to those in need.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, said in a separate statement that the regulation “adds further barriers to asylum-seekers’ ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection.”

Last month, the administration announced its intent to deny green cards and a path to citizenship to immigrants in the country legally who use public benefits.

A statement from U.S. bishops’ conference leaders on domestic justice and migration criticized the announcement as being “in tension with the dignity of the person and the common good that all of us are called to support.”

Tulsi Gabbard supports late-term abortion ban

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:05

Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2019 / 10:05 am (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has publicly opposed third trimester abortions, in a break with the rest of the Democratic field who all appear to support abortion access until birth.

In the Sept. 8 interview, Gabbard acknowledged that she used to be pro-life but now supports “a more libertarian position on this issue that government really shouldn’t be in that place of dictating to a woman the choice that she should make.”

When asked by interviewer Dave Rubin what the “cutoff” point for her was in protecting a woman’s “right to choose” abortion, Gabbard answered, “I think the third trimester, unless the woman’s life or severe health consequences is at risk.”

Gabbard’s statement appears to signal a break with her own legislative record. In the House of Representatives, she voted against a 20-week abortion ban in 2017. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, H.R. 36, would have criminalized abortions when the “probable post-fertilization age” of the baby is 20 weeks or older, except in cases of rape and incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

Gabbard has also not signed a discharge petition to force a vote on legislation protecting babies who survive abortions. The petition currently has the support of 201 members of Congress calling for a vote on the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” H.R. 962, which would require that babies surviving abortion attempts receive the same appropriate and necessary health care from the attending doctor as any other baby would receive. A vote on the bill is currently being blocked by Democratic House leadership; 218 signatures are required to force the vote.

Gabbard’s statement of opposition to third trimester abortions stands in contrast to recent comments by other Democratic presidential candidates that suggest that women should have legal access to abortion until birth.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), when asked by an audience member at a campaign stop if he would support a woman’s access to an abortion one day before birthing her child, answered that the decision should be left up to the woman and that government should not interfere.

Peter Buttigieg has argued that women should be the ones deciding what the limits are for abortions within pregnancies, and said in a Sept. 6 interview that “there’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath,” but added that “no matter what you think about the cosmic question of how life begins,” “the woman making the decision” should be the one making that determination for her unborn child.

Other leading Democratic candidates have recently promoted abortion, including overseas.

Bernie Sanders said during a CNN “Climate Crisis Town Hall” on Sept. 4 that women “have a right to control their own bodies and make reproductive decisions,” and said that the Mexico City Policy was “totally absurd.”

The Mexico City Policy has been implemented by the administrations of Presidents Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Trump, and bars foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions from receiving federal funding.

Sanders added that “I very, very strongly support” access to birth control “especially” in poor or developing countries “where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has a campaign platform that calls for enacting federal statutory rights that parallel the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states.

It also calls for the passage of federal laws to stop state laws that could eliminate abortion access through legal regulations that drive out abortion providers—referred to by abortion supporters as “Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws.”

In the Tuesday interview, Gabbard was asked about national polarization in the abortion debate and said that no one on either side should demonize the other.

“I disagree with Hillary Clinton on a ton of things, but when she came out and she said abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, that’s something that I agree with,” Gabbard said.

She added that the government should not be interfering in abortion—either to prohibit abortions or to mandate that women have abortions.

“A woman is the one who’s got to live with whatever decision that she makes,” Gabbard said. “And that’s where I draw the line and say that the government should not be in the position of telling that woman what choice she must make.”

Mural of first Memphis bishop removed after abuse allegations

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 19:07

Memphis, Tenn., Sep 9, 2019 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- After being included several months ago on a Virginia list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse, the first Catholic bishop of Memphis was removed from a mural in the city over the weekend.

On Saturday, a painting of former Bishop Carroll Dozier was removed from the “Upstanders Mural,” across from the National Civil Rights Museum. It was replaced by an image of Jose Guerrero, co-founder of the social service organization Latino Memphis.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Memphis&#39; first Catholic bishop has been replaced on a mural downtown months after he was included in a list of clergymen accused of molesting children. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; WREG News Channel 3 (@3onyourside) <a href="">September 9, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Last February, the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, where Dozier was ordained, released a list of clergymen with “a credible and substantiated claim of sexual abuse against a minor.” Dozier is on the list.

The original 2016 mural and the new addition were created by Facing History and Ourselves, a non-profit organization which provides educational material to counteract racial prejudice. The purpose of the mural is to commemorate the efforts of Memphis’s social activists, including Lucy Tibbs, T.O. Jones, and Sheldon Korones.

“When we conceived of creating a mural on the outside of our building, our aim was to celebrate Memphis’ leading historical figures who have made invaluable contributions to bringing our communities together and moving forward across racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious boundaries. It was in that spirit that we included Bishop Dozier,” reads a statement from Facing History and Ourselves.

“Given the allegations against Bishop Dozier, we have decided that in the best interests of our students, schools, and communities, to replace Bishop Dozier with another Memphis historical figure,” the statement reads, according to WREG.

After serving as the first bishop of Memphis from 1971 to 1972, when he resigned due to poor health, Dozier passed away in 1985. According to KAIT 8, the bishop was known for supporting the poor and opposing racism, which had earned his place on the mural.

Along with the release of the list of those accused, Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond issued a statement denouncing sex abuse. He apologized on behalf of the Church and called for an “an independent and comprehensive review” of the files of those facing allegations, the Diocesan Safe Environment Office, and the Diocesan Review Board.

“To those who experienced abuse from clergy, I am truly, deeply sorry. I regret that you have to bear the burden of the damage you suffered at the hands of those you trusted,” he said.

“Together, let our prayers guide us with God’s grace. I ask you to pray for the healing of the victims and their families. I ask you to pray for the Church. Be assured I will do all in my power to restore your trust and to make our Church an authentic witness to the Gospel now and throughout our journey to eternal life.”


'If we are spiritually sterile, we will have no future,' bishop tells Ruthenian eparchy

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 18:23

Parma, Ohio, Sep 9, 2019 / 04:23 pm (CNA).- In many ways the Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma, a local Church of the Byzantine rite in the midwestern United States, faces the same problems as the Church throughout the world: shrinking and aging parishes, fallout from scandals, financial strain.

But they feel them perhaps all the more deeply, as a community of 2,000 faithful attending liturgies at 29 parishes spread out over 12 states.

In a pastoral letter to the faithful marking the beginning of the Byzantine ecclesial year, Bishop Milan Lach, SJ, does not shy away from these problems, though he maintains optimism that the future of his eparchy is bright.

“(H)ow do we want to move forward? Growing and advancing is not about starting from scratch, but about taking our cues from who we are and what we have at our disposal, and having the courage to see the future with hope,” Lach said in his Sept. 1 letter to the Parma eparchy.

An eparchy is the Byzantine rite’s equivalent of a diocese in the Latin rite. The Ruthenian Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church which uses the Byzantine rite.

Bishop Lach said, “The most precious treasure that we have in our Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Parma is you, our faithful, from our youngest children to our eldest believers. For you, we toil in the vineyard of the Lord by proclaiming the crucified and resurrected Christ.”

“You are that pearl of great price, for which we are investing in our future by the building up of the Kingdom of God, irrespective of the fatigue, energy or finances that it may entail, because every human life is a gift of God. Other material things or finances, even if they are important in life, are secondary to me.”

While Lach treasures the faithful of his eparchy, they are increasingly scarce in number. Of the 2,000 Ruthenians who regulargly attend Sunday liturgies in the eparchy that stretches from Ohio to Nebraska, 300 are children under the age of 12. Numbers of adult parishioners have declined in recent years due to the aging or illness of parishioners, or those who move south to retire, or those who have left the Church because of recent sexual scandals, Lach noted.

This decrease in the number of faithful will likely lead to difficult decisions about the merging or closures of some parishes throughout the eparchy, Lach said.

While the southwest area of the eparchy has seen some growth and may need additional priests or parishes in the future, “the unsustainability of some parishes in other parts of the eparchy, which are not able to maintain themselves and their priest, will lead me to make the difficult decision for merger or closure.”

“I have always been and remain open to dialogue. However, at the same time, I am forced to act in order to stop the severe financial bleeding we are experiencing,” Lach said. “In this type of situation, it is not wise to attempt to save a building for the sake of the building; we need to stabilize ourselves as a community first.”

In light of these issues, Lach implored his eparchy to increase their outreach efforts.

“The future of our parishes resides in the Spirit of the Gospel that expresses itself in hospitality and openness to life. Therefore, every new visitor at our liturgies should be welcomed warmly. It is my hope and prayer that this spirit of hospitality and openness to new believers will reign in our parishes,” he said.

He encouraged outreach to students on college campuses and a “vigorous presence” on social media. He also encouraged outreach to families with children, and to Hispanic communities through the offering of Spanish liturgies.

“We must not lock ourselves in our own world, with our own problems. That won’t help us. I strongly encourage you to reach out. We cannot do without outreach … Let us not be afraid to be open to the diversity of the faithful and of cultures, for only this is the way to a flourishing future.”

Additionally, Lach noted that successful and fruitful outreach is not possible if it is not born out of a deep faith, fostered through prayer and the Word of God.

“God’s Word must become for everyone in our eparchy a daily meal, as something without which we cannot live,” he said.

“If we depart from the Logos, the Word of God, we will run the risk of our churches becoming social clubs where people enjoy being together, but do not need anyone else in their company. The Church is not a club; the Church is a community of baptized brothers and sisters.”

He also encouraged the people of his eparchy to frequent the sacraments, including monthly confession, and to pray, fast, and help the poor and needy.

“Let us not neglect our traditional liturgical prayers in our churches, whether it be vespers, morning prayers, canonical hours, or molebens and akathists. I encourage my brother priests and deacons to be an example for the faithful with their liturgical prayers and in their personal life. May God’s temple be a place of prayer where sacred silence is kept and appreciated. This is a matter close to my heart,” he said.

There are currently 23 active priests in the eparchy. In the next eight years, Lach estimates that the region will need 17 additional new priests. That is why he wants to focus the resources of the eparchy on fostering vocations and supporting priests and deacons, rather than on propping up parish buildings for the sake of an attachment to the building, he said.

“(I) want to invest funds in high-quality priestly preparation and formation of young men from the United States, who want to serve Christ in our eparchy, as well as in priests from Europe who will come to help us,” he said.

These funds will also go toward the support of currently active priests, as well as for those in retirement or those who will retire soon.

At the end of his letter, Lach described the financial situation of the eparchy, and noted that the chancery of the eparchy will no longer be able to offset the debts of parishes and “pay the required amount to the priests’ pension fund or health insurance plan.”

At one time the eparchy had enough funds to provide this, Lach said, but those funds have run out, and indebted parishes will be expected to gradually repay their debts to the chancery “in the near future,” he noted.

Finally, Lach urged the people of the eparchy to work together in implementing his vision for the future of the eparchy.

“I am firmly convinced that our Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States has a future, because it offers the Gospel, the joyful message of the living Jesus Christ, through a millennia-old authentic experience. We must let others know about it,” he said.

“While I am willing to lead and to serve, all of us need to embrace our future together,” he added.

“I hope that you will share my optimism that our future is bright, but we must together embark on the right path. Please pray for me that I may receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gift of discernment. I pray for you constantly that, by being united in Christ, in the end we will all meet in His heavenly home.”

Archbishop Gomez at Mass for immigrants: 'We can heal what is broken in America'

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 18:18

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 9, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- At a Sept. 7 Mass in Recognition of All Immigrants, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called migrants to witness to America the healing love of Christ, which has the power to restore unity to a divided nation.

“My brothers and sisters, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have a mission in this moment, in this challenging time in our country,” the archbishop said. “We need to show our neighbors a better way. The way of Jesus, the way of love.”

In this critical moment in America, Jesus is offering an invitation “to love those who make themselves our enemies, and to pray for those who would try to cause division in our country,” he said.

“We can heal what is broken in America. We can restore the sense of mutual trust and empathy; the shared belief in our common humanity; in the dignity of those who are different from us,” Gomez stressed. “Love is the only way forward for America. And we are the ones who must show our nation the way.”

The Mass, held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, united Catholics from the diocese of Los Angeles, and the Dioceses of San Bernardino, Orange, and San Diego.

Archbishop Gomez presided over the Mass, which was concelebrated by Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishops David G. O’Connell, Robert E. Barron, and Marc V. Trudeau, Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Roger Mahony, and Retired Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sartoris, as well as Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange and Orange Auxiliary Bishops Timothy Freyer and Thanh Thai Nguyen.

The Mass concluded a novena in parishes across Southern California, as well as a three-day walking pilgrimage from Orange County to the cathedral in Los Angeles. The 60-mile pilgrimage was a gesture of solidarity with immigrants.

Relics of St. Junípero Serra, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, and St. Toribio Romo were available for veneration following Mass.

In his homily, Archbishop Gomez stressed that “[h]atred can never change the one who hates. Only love can.”

“Christian love is not weak or soft,” he said. “Christian love means working for the good of the other. It means talking to those who disagree with us, treating them with kindness and respect, trying to see things through their eyes.”

Each person present at Mass has their own story, the archbishop noted, with their own fears, hopes and dreams, converging at this moment in Southern California.

While the United States has always been an “exceptional” country, welcoming migrants as a “beacon of hope,” he said, the nation is today seeing exceptional polarization, perhaps the worst since the Civil War.

“But as we stand at this altar today, we know there are no divisions, no ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ No matter who we are, or where we come from, we are one family. And we are sinners, all of us in need of God’s mercy and redemption.”

The death of Christ unites all the faithful in a story of redemption and a call to conversion, Gomez said.

“In Jesus Christ, every barrier, every wall falls down,” he said. “There is no Mexican no Vietnamese, Korean or Filipino; no Russian or Venezuelan, no migrant or native-born. In Jesus Christ, we are all children of God, made in his image.”

When viewed through this lens, it is clear that immigration is not merely a political issue, but a spiritual one as well, Gomez said.

“Immigration is not only about borders between nations. It is about barriers in the human heart — barriers that make us fearful of people who do not look like us; barriers that make us see others as less than human, not worth caring about.”

The archbishop pointed to Mary as a special advocate for America. He encouraged all those present to pray a daily Rosary for the conversion of hearts and the healing of the nation.

When circumstances appear bleak, we can remember that Christ “is the Lord of Creation and history,” he said. “That means this world belongs to him. And we belong to him. And he wants each of us to have a place we can call home.”

Court approves religious accommodation for Texas students with long hair

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 11:02

San Antonio, Texas, Sep 9, 2019 / 09:02 am (CNA).- A court ruled Thursday against a Texas high school that was barring two Catholic students from extracurricular activities due to their refusal to cut their hair, which they had grown out for religious reasons.

The ruling from the United States District Court, Southern District of Texas in the case Gonzales v. Mathis Independent School District granted Cesar and Diego Gonzales a religious accommodation that will allow them to once again participate in school activities while the case continues its way through the court system.

The Gonzales brothers had been banned from participating in interscholastic sports and clubs at Mathis Middle School since 2017, because they have a long, braided strand of hair, which the school says is a violation of the district’s dress code, which forbids long hair for males.

When Cesar Gonzales was an infant, he contracted meningitis and became very ill. While he was sick, his parents promised to God that should he recover, they would allow a piece of his hair to grow forever uncut. They made a similar promise to God when they were expecting Diego, and grew out a portion of his hair as well. This practice, associated with Mexican Catholicism, is known as a “promesa.”

The Mathis Independent School District allowed the Gonzales brothers to wear their hair with the braid through the sixth grade. When the boys entered the seventh grade, they were told to cut it, or else they could not join the football team or clubs like the science club or student council. The school board rejected the family’s explanation that their longer hair was part of their religious beliefs. The Gonzales brothers would only be allowed to rejoin their teams and clubs if they cut their hair.

The family sued in 2018, alleging that this was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The school district has refused to budge on its insistence that the boys cut their hair.

Religious freedom advocates cheered Thursday’s ruling.

“No student should be bullied or punished at school because of his faith,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA. “This is a very easy request to accommodate, and the law requires the school district to do so.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sent a letter to the Mathis ISD in July, requesting that the boys be allowed to play in sports and join clubs.

Suit challenges religious liberty of Catholic hospitals over assisted suicide

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 19:09

Denver, Colo., Sep 6, 2019 / 05:09 pm (CNA).- A Colorado man with cancer and his doctor filed a suit last month against a health system run by the Catholic Church that alleges its policy barring its doctors from participating in assisted suicide violates state law.

Cornelius “Neil” Mahoney, 64, was told July 16 that his cancer was incurable and he would be expected to die within 4-14 months, depending on his treatment, according to a suit filed Aug. 21 in the Arapahoe County District Court by Mahoney and his doctor.

Mahoney quickly inquired about assisted suicide, having anxiety about facing death from cancer and wanting to control the place and time of his death.

According to the AP Mahoney is childless, “and does not want his siblings to have to take care of him.”

He first asked about assisted suicide at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers the day he was told his cancer was uncurable; his physician there said neither he nor anyone else at RMCC would provide assisted suicide.

Mahoney spoke the same day to a nurse practitioner at Centura Health Physician Group about his desire for assisted suicide, who referred his request to his primary physician, Dr. Barbara Morris.

He asked a social worker assigned to his case at RMCC about assisted suicide July 24, who also told him he would be unable to access it through RMCC.

Morris, Mahoney's primary physician, was employed at CHPG, which is jointly run by the Catholic Church and the Seventh-day Adventists through Centura Health Corporation.

Abiding by the U.S. bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives, Centura Health does not permit its employees to participate in assisted suicide.

Morris “would provide [aid-in-dying] to qualified patients but for Centura's Policy,” the suit says. She told him July 22 that Centura bars its physicians from providing assiste suicide, and she suggested that Mahoney transfer his care to a provider who would be permitted to provide assisted suicide.

Mahoney then inquired with another provider, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, who said that to obtain assisted suicide he would have to tranfer his care and have his condition re-evaluated.

“Neil does not want to transfer his care to a different facility and endure additional testing,” and likes the convenience of CHPG, which is close to his home.

Mahoney began chemotherapy treatment in July “in the hopes that he responds favorably and can handle the side effects,” and is uncertain whether he wants to receive additional chemotherapy.

Colorado voters legalized assisted suicide in a 2016 ballot measure. The law allows an adult with a terminal illness to request a lethal prescription from their physician. The person must be deemed mentally competent, and two physicians must diagnosis the person as having six months or fewer to live. The measure requires self-administration of secobarbital.

The AP reported Sept. 4 that Jason Spitalnick, who is among the attorneys for Mahoney and Morris, “pointed out that that the law says helping a patient get life-ending drugs does not constitute euthanasia or assisted suicide under the state's criminal code.”

The law requires the official cause of death to be listed as a patient’s underlying condition, not as an assisted suicide.

A facility may not subject its physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to disciplinary action, suspension, or recovation of privileges or licenses related to conduct taken in good faith reliance on the assisted suicide law.

The law allows health care facilities to prohibit its physicians from prescribing assisted suicide when the patient intends to use the medication on the facility's premises; the facilities must notify its physicians and patients in advance of its policy.

Centura issued a policy in February 2017 noting that it prohibits its employees from prescribing or dispensing medication for assisted suicides, or engaging in qualifying a patient for assisted suicide.

The policy does allow Centura physicians or providers to assist patients who request assisted suicide in transferring their care to a non-Centura facility.

The suit seeks a declaration that Centura may not prohibit Morris from providing assisted suicide, nor penalize her should she do so.

Morris' employment was terminated by Centura Aug. 26.

Kaiser Health News reported Aug. 30 that Morris “had planned to help her patient … end his life at his home.”

Centura Health filed a request Aug. 30 that the suit be removed from the Arapahoe district court to the US District Court for the District of Colorado.

Centura requested the transfer to federal court because the suit raises federal questions involving the First Amendment and federal statutes.

It noted that it is a religious organization, and that the doctrines of is sponsors, the Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist healthcare ministries, “govern, direct and inform” its activities.

The group added that when Morris signed an employment agreement with Centura Health-St. Anthony Hospital in 2017, “she expressly agreed that she would not provide any services 'that are in violation of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.'”

Morris told Kaiser Health News she was “shellshocked” at being fired, saying, “it seemed so obvious that they can't do it.”

JoNel Aleccia wrote at KHN that “Morris said she understood that Centura was religiously affiliated when she was hired but didn’t anticipate a problem.”

Morris said that “I didn’t think it was going to affect my general family practice. Until these conversations about medical aid-in-dying, I hadn’t felt any interference.”

Centura Health's request for removal stated that “rather than encouraging patient Cornelius Mahoney to receive care consistent with … Catholic doctrine or transferring care to other providers, Dr. Morris has, within her employment, encouraged an option that she knew was morally unacceptable to her employer. It was her employer's religious judgment that her conduct in relation to Mr. Mahoney violated the religious principles upon which the Hospital operates and warranted the termination of her employment.”

Centura said Aug. 29 that it “expects all our caregivers to act in a manner consistent with our Mission and Core Values,” Kaiser Health News reported.

Wendy Forbes, a Centura spokeswoman, told Kaiser Health News: “We believe the freedom of religion doctrine at the heart of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution supports our policies as a Christian health-care ministry. We will vigorously defend our Constitutional rights.”

Archdiocese of Denver spokesman Mark Haas said that “asking a Christian hospital to play any role in violating the dignity of human life is asking the Christian hospital to compromise its values and core mission. This is not the hospital forcing its beliefs upon others, but rather having outside views forced upon it.”

Second Buffalo whistleblower says he was abused as seminarian

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 18:40

Buffalo, N.Y., Sep 6, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- New allegations have surfaced that the second whistleblower reporting a cover-up of clerical sexual abuse by the Diocese of Buffalo, Fr. Ryszard Biernat, was sexually abused as a seminarian in the diocese by a priest who was later removed from ministry for other credible accusations of abuse.

A new report by the Buffalo-area news station WKBW reveals allegations by Fr. Biernat that when Biernat was a seminarian he was assaulted by a Buffalo priest at St. Thomas Aquinas parish.

Biernat said in an interview with WKBW that he was assaulted by Fr. Art Smith, a diocesan priest whom Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo asked to be kept in ministry in 2015 in a letter to Vatican officials, despite the bishop admitting in that same letter that Smith had groomed a young boy, had been accused of inappropriate touching of at least four young men, had faced boundary problems, and refused to stay in a treatment center.

Fr. Smith was suspended in 2018, after the diocese received a new substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. He denied the accusation that he assaulted Biernat, but told WKBW that he simply told Biernat that he “liked him more than he would ever know.”

WKBW reported that a letter sent by Bishop Malone to the Vatican included Biernat’s allegations.

After Biernat told Bishop Edward Grosz, then-auxiliary bishop of Buffalo, his allegations of assault by Fr. Smith, Grosz allegedly responded by threatening Biernat’s vocation if he kept talking about it.

“He said [it] was my fault because I [didn't] lock the door,” Biernat quoted Bishop Grosz, as reported by WKBW. “And then he said, ‘and Ryszard, if you don't stop talking about this, you will not become a priest. You understand me? You understand me?’” Biernat said.

The Diocese of Buffalo did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

Biernat—currently on a personal leave of absence—eventually became the vice chancellor of the diocese and Bishop Malone’s secretary. On Sept. 4, WKBW reported conversations of Biernat with Malone and others that the priest secretly taped.

The conversations from Aug. 2, 2019 and March 2019 appeared to show that Malone not only knew of allegations made against Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, then-pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Cheektowaga, but that Malone believed the allegations—months before Fr. Nowak was reportedly removed from ministry.

The allegations were raised by then-seminarian Matthew Bojanowski; the seminarian sent a letter to Bishop Malone detailing his allegations against Fr. Nowak that was dated Jan. 24; Bishop Malone reported on Wednesday that the diocese’s receipt of the letter was on Jan. 28, 2019.

WKBW reported Aug. 7 that the Diocese of Buffalo had removed Fr. Nowak from ministry. At a Wednesday press conference, Bishop Malone said Nowak “was removed from ministry until he would go for that assessment,” but did not say when. On Aug. 28, the diocese announced that Fr. Nowak had been placed on “administrative leave.”

In the conversations, Malone appears to instruct Biernat not to say anything about Nowak, telling him, “[y]ou're an American citizen you're free to do what you want. I think we're gonna blow this story up into something like an atom bomb if we start talking about that.”

Biernat’s lawyer told WKBW that Malone’s comments constituted blackmail, “directly or at a minimum indirectly.” His lawyer Barry Covert did not respond to CNA’s interview request by the time of publication.

Back in March, Malone considered sending Fr. Nowak to an institute for mental health treatment, but acknowledged the difficulty of doing so, saying he could “go ballistic” at the request.

In the recorded conversation on Aug. 2, Malone appeared to acknowledge that it was a “crisis” for the diocese, and that if the news was made public it could spell the end of his tenure as bishop.

“We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop,” Malone said in the recorded conversation.

Malone held a press conference Sept. 4 for local reporters selected by the diocese. The bishop said the scandal is a “convoluted matter,” according to WIVB4.

“I’m not a masochist—I’m here because I feel an obligation…to carry on,” the bishop told reporters.

In the press conference, Bishop Malone said that Fr. Nowak first agreed in July to go to St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland for an assessment, but “did not comply.”

In the beginning of August, Nowak again said he would go for an assessment, according to Malone, but again did not go; after the diocese gave Nowak a third opportunity on Aug. 25, he “did not go,” Malone said, “and that is when I put him on administrative leave.”

In the taped Aug. 2 conversation, Malone allegedly said that Fr. Nowak “has agreed by the way to go to Southdown,” an institute for religious and clergy that specializes in mental health and addiction problems. “Cause I told him it’s that or leave of absence,” Malone said according to abridged transcripts of the conversation reported by WKBW.

“I think if we bring Jeff [Nowak] in, that gets very, who knows what he’s gonna do,” Malone said. “Even I know he’s a loose cannon.”

Bishop Malone has been the center of controversy in the diocese for almost a year; in November 2018, his former executive assistant Siobahn O’Connor leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse.

Last month, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

In the Aug. 2 conversation, Malone also referenced his fear of Biernat going public with the news because of the existence of a letter between Biernat and Bojanowski. Nowak, he said in the taped conversations, was jealous of a supposed relationship between Biernat and Bojanowski. Malone called it “a very complex, convoluted matter,” in his Wednesday press conference.

A letter between the Biernat and Bojanowski dated from 2016 was reportedly found by Fr. Nowak in Bojanowski’s apartment, the Buffalo News reported. The letter was reported to be a love letter, which Biernat’s lawyer has denied.

Crux also reported a 2018 real estate transaction under both Biernat’s and Bojanowski’s names.

O’Connor, the 2018 whistleblower, said she believes the letter was between friends and not a love letter, and that it has been circulated to distract from the Fr. Nowak scandal.

“I do not believe it is a love letter. I genuinely believe that it was a letter of friendship, which is a form of love and a very important one at that,” she wrote on her blog on Friday.

Fr. Biernat was counseling Bojanowski on how to get out of an abusive, grooming relationship, O’Connor argued, noting that she talked to Bojanowski directly about the letter and the house transaction, and that he responded without guile.

“Fr. Ryszard recognized a young man was being groomed by a priest, and he recognized it because it happened to him,” she said, adding that both Biernat and Bojanowski have shared that with her.

Regarding one line in the letter where Biernat wrote Bojanowski, “I am afraid that all that you know about me may compromise your freedom to love or to leave,” he was simply telling the seminarian that he would not stalk Bojanowski if he left the seminary, and would not use his position of influence to do so, O’Connor said.

Biernat shared the news of his house purchase with O’Connor last year, she said, and he was not secretive about it and even conducted the transaction with the help of the diocese’s lawyer. The house had been owned by a family member of Bojanowski’s, she said, and as Bishop Malone was moving to a new residence, Biernat did not want to move with all his belongings with the knowledge that Malone might be retiring soon and he would then have to move again, so he decided to purchase the home with Bojanowski.

What is the state’s role in promoting virtue?

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 12:30

Washington D.C., Sep 6, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- The debate over competing culturally conservative visions for the future of the U.S. continued Thursday night at the Catholic University of America, as Sohrab Ahmari and David French offered their prescriptions for moral decline in society.

Historic Christianity was never private, but has been “a collective experience,” said Ahmari, op-ed editor of the New York Post and a Catholic. He added that Christians “have to restore” the societal structures supporting the practice of virtue through the powers of the state and stop the public expression of certain problematic viewpoints.
David French, senior writer for National Review and a Protestant, said, “We live in a nation of enduring ethnic, religious, cultural differences,” and Christians need to accept that there will be hostile views in the public square with which they will need to co-exist under First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion.
“There is no circumstance under which any political movement in this country can create a superstructure where the people that you like always, win and the people you don’t like and you think that are bad are always going to lose, and you’re going to always like that outcome,” French said.
“And if you try to do that, you’ll rip this place to pieces. The only way this place survives as a united country is if we apply 18th century solutions to this 21st century division, rediscover the First Amendment of the United States, rediscover religious freedom.”
The debate between Ahmari and French on “Cultural Conservatives: Two Visions” was hosted Sept. 5 by the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America.
While the conversation began cordially enough, tension immediately rose as the two launched into their positions—and their analysis of the other’s position—in the continuation of an online debate this past spring.

The debate hinged upon what means Christians can and should use to promote public virtue and discourage vice in the U.S. Ahmari emphasized that Christians need to use the force of the state to fight back against threats to public virtue, including through laws that might silence public views deemed a threat to virtue.

Ahmari’s first anecdote was his recent discovery that a local library was hosting a “drag queen story hour” for children. He said this use of the public space threatened to scandalize children and that local Christians should take control and put a stop to it.
“It is a threat, and it is demonic,” he said, reading a description of a similar event that was held in the UK where children at a library were taught how to twerk. “To me, that should raise a five-alarm cultural fire,” he said.
French said that in such a large, pluralistic country there will be moral failings and differences of opinion on morality. Christian efforts to use the state to silence views they don’t like simply won’t work in a society with so many different views and beliefs, he said.
A problem “infinitely worse” than “drag queen story hour” is the phenomenon of “tens of millions of Christian men addicted to porn,” French said. 
When pressed by French on what actions he might take against drag queen story hour, Ahmari responded that the head of the “Modern Library Association” could be subpoenaed by Congress and face tough questions, or a local ordinance could be passed curtailing drag queen story hour.
Such a local action would be subject to review by the courts, French said. The constitution has carved out a space for Christians to proclaim Christ without being silenced by the government—and a space is all they need to operate, he said.
Ahmari countered that the public square has become so corrupt that it is quite difficult for families and children to remain virtuous, and the government has a role in protecting children from pornography and other problems. While society was formerly majority-Christian with a more common definition of what was acceptable or unacceptable in public, he said, now that common definition has eroded and Christians need to be assertive to bring it back.
Christianity can’t just be for an “elite elect,” Ahmari said, noting that his son statistically would be likely to encounter pornography before the age of 12; children should not be exposed to pornography and be expected to live a heroic moral life on their own, he said.
French argued that Christians should desire the salvation of all but should not skirt the constitution—or walk right up to the line of violating it—to discriminate against viewpoints they believe are evil. If they do, they should expect their opponents to use the force of law to silence them, he warned.
“You cannot take these things on a case-by-case basis and say ‘free speech for me and not for thee,’” French said, because “if you have wrecked legal institutions,” then “there’s a price that’s paid there.”
That exchange revealed one fundamental difference between the positions—French said that any Christian attempt to silence views they don’t like would violate “viewpoint-neutrality,” the practice of the government not discriminating against any one belief. The First Amendment is clear that such actions would be unconstitutional, he said.
Ahmari said later in the debate that “public decency” laws might have protected against problems like drag queen story hour—while French said such an event wouldn’t even have violated obscenity laws from the 1800s.
The two also differed on the direction of societal moral decay. Ahmari argued that it has reached a crisis level where government action needs to be taken to protect virtue; French acknowledged that there are serious evils in today’s culture, but maintained that they will always be present in some form.
There have been positive signs in recent years, he noted, notably the continuous decline in the number of abortions for decades and “the advances that we have made” in respect for free speech and religious freedom by the courts.
“These battles are not won and lost in any one presidential cycle,” he said, in reference to support for President Donald Trump to use his administration to push pro-life policies. French argued against what he saw as using non-Christian means—supporting a flawed candidate like Trump—of promoting Christian beliefs in policy.
Ahmari said that Trump, while imperfect, is the most pro-life president in history; French, who has long opposed Trump, said that other presidents have supported pro-life policies and that Christians risk losing their credibility by attaching themselves to such a controversial figure.
The two agreed that Christians need to witness to their faith in the public square, but the debate revealed fundamental differences in their visions. The chief tension was whether Christians should violate, or come close to violating, the First Amendment to stop immoral public events and plagues such as pornography or library story hours.
Another underlying difference between the two was the role of the state in promoting virtue—as French said that Christians have a “space” to do so without resorting to using the levers of power to accomplish it, while Ahmari argued that the state has a proper authority to support a virtuous public square and Christians should use it assertively.

In response to restrictions, Planned Parenthood expands telemedicine program

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 02:04

Washington D.C., Sep 6, 2019 / 12:04 am (CNA).- After several months of new pro-life legislation aimed at restricting abortion or defunding Planned Parenthood, the organization’s national branch has announced the expansion of its telemedicine program to all 50 states by next year.

The Planned Parenthood Direct app, through which users can request birth control delivery, UTI treatment prescriptions, and appointments at Planned Parenthood, is currently available in 27 states.

According to its website, Planned Parenthood has also used telemedicine to prescribe mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs used in medical abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states require that a licensed physician be physically present during medical abortions, effectively banning abortions prescribed via telemedicine.

“As politicians across the country try to restrict or block access to critical reproductive and sexual health care, the Planned Parenthood Direct app is just one part of the work we do to ensure that more people can get the care they need, no matter where they are,” Planned Parenthood CEO and acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement released Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood said the app will help remedy the “vast unmet need for sexual and reproductive health care in the United States,” by helping patients “overcome barriers” such as travel distance or lack of childcare during appointments.

The organization noted in its release that the expansion of the app was, in part, a response to a new pro-life policy at the federal level.

“In the wake of increasing restrictions on sexual and reproductive health care, the Planned Parenthood Direct app is helping to break down barriers and get people the timely care and information they need,” the statement said.

Last month, Planned Parenthood announced its plans to opt out of the Title X family planning program, following the passage of the Protect Life Rule, which bans recipients of Title X money from referring women for abortions, and from being located in buildings with abortion clinics. It also requires the financial separation of government-funded programs with programs that perform abortions.

By opting out of Title X, Planned Parenthood chose to forgo roughly $60 million in annual funds, or about 15% of its annual federal funding.

The Protect Life Rule came amidst numerous attempts at the state level to close Planned Parenthood clinics or restrict abortions. So far this year, Alabama, Arkansas and Utah have passed laws that would ban abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. Other states, including Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio, passed heartbeat bills that would restrict abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs between six and eight weeks of pregnancy. A lengthy clinic licensure debate in Missouri could mean the closure of the last Planned Parenthood in the state.

Many of these state laws have not yet gone into effect, and are all being challenged in the courts by Planned Parenthood or other abortion advocacy groups.

How Catholic charities are helping in the wake of Hurricane Dorian

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 18:46

Raleigh, N.C., Sep 5, 2019 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- With Hurricane Dorian leaving widespread destruction in the Bahamas earlier this week, and now moving up the eastern U.S. coast, Catholic agencies are coordinating response efforts for those affected by the storm.

“The devastation, especially on Abaco and Grand Bahama, is significant,” said Nikki Gamer, media relations manager for Catholic Relief Services.

Dorian slammed into the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane on Sept. 1, becoming the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall there.

For the next 36 hours, the storm pounded the islands, stalled by an unusual wind pattern over the western Atlantic. When the storm finally moved on, it left entire neighborhoods under water, with storm surges up to 18 feet higher than normal tide levels, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Many residents are now homeless, with little ability to communicate with their loved ones as they face ongoing flooding.

The International Red Cross suggested that up to 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or suffered severe damage from the hurricane, which saw winds exceeding 100 mph. The U.N. World Food Programme is estimating that some 60,000 people may need immediate food aid.

Gamer told CNA that Catholic Relief Services is still working to assess the needs in the area, but it is clear that the destruction is extensive.

“We will be sending a member of our emergency response team to the Bahamas in coordination with a representative of Caritas Granada to support assessments and early response programming,” she said. “We are also coordinating with Caritas Puerto Rico who are planning to send relief supplies based on an update of needs from those on the ground. Other coordination is underway with the Archdiocese of Miami.”

From there, the agency will work with local partners to help provide emergency shelter, food, and clean water to families. The agency is accepting donations to help with relief efforts.

Less than 200 miles away, residents of Miami were spared a direct hit as the storm instead skimmed the Florida coast. Some 140,000 people lost power, although the outages were expected to be brief, a Florida Power & Light representative said. Authorities warned of flooding, storm surges and rip currents along the coastline for several days.

Mary Ross Agosta, communications director for the Archdiocese of Miami, told CNA that the local Catholic community is working to assist with the short- and long- term needs of those facing devastation in the Bahamas.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski and the head of the local Catholic Charities branch are “in constant communication with Archbishop Pinder of the Bahamas,” she said, and “strong relief efforts are in place.”

“As with all disasters, people in South Florida – and around the world – seem to be at their best,” Agosta commented. “Donations to the Catholic Charities’ website,, have been rapid and constant. It is with these donations, of which 100% is used for relief efforts, that the Archdiocese can respond to the needs of the people; at first, ships with goods, including diapers, formula, rice and, then financial resources to help recover.”

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities agencies further north are encouraging people to prepare as Dorian continues its trek up the U.S. coast.

Daniel Altenau, communications director for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, told CNA that the agency “has been simultaneously working to help families recover and prepare for the next storm ever since the destruction of Hurricane Florence.”

That hurricane his North Carolina last fall, causing serious flooding, power outages, and an estimated $17 billion in damages in state.

Altenau said the goal has been to work with partner agencies to help families be better prepared for Hurricane Dorian and future storms.

“In the days leading up to Dorian making landfall, our Wilmington office worked with families to distribute preparedness supplies and review the disaster plan to make sure they stayed safe during the storm,” he said. “Our offices across the diocese have been sharing information about shelter openings and evacuation orders.”

Hurricane Dorian hit South Carolina as a Category 2 storm on Thursday and is expected to move up the coast of North Carolina overnight.

“As the storm now begins to impact our area, our staff and volunteers have been instructed to seek safe shelter until after the storm,” Altenau said. “As soon as conditions are safe, we will begin the process of distributing donated supplies such as food, water, cleaning supplies, diapers, and hygiene items.”

The agency is currently collecting donations at to aid in recovery efforts.