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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 42 min ago

Cheyenne diocese: sex abuse claims against retired bishop appear credible

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 19:28

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

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

 

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

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 18:45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have questions on Humanae Vitae? Social media discussion offers answers

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 16:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“These are open fora,” said McInerny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Keep immigrant families together, bishops plead at border

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 20:27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gomez said that families should be prioritized in legislative efforts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DiNardo said the visit was a prayerful and pastoral visit.

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

“Some parts painful, but very beautiful.”

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

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

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

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

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

Gomez reiterated that point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Archbishop Gomez: Hearing immigrants' stories should make us grateful

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 18:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 15:24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How knowing your fertility can catch diseases early

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 18:04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Fertility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cycles and Diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Fertility Awareness Helped to Find a Tumor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fertility – 'A Public Health Issue'

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a public health issue.”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

This article was originally published July 31, 2015.

Human trafficking remains a problem in US, advocate says

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 08:01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 18:43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 08:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Diocese of Memphis declined to comment on this story.

 

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

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 18:48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bishops weigh in on SCOTUS union case and workers' rights

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 17:01

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

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

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

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

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

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

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">It is encouraging that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFCSME upholds the right to be free from coercion in speech. No longer will public sector employees be required pay dues to support unions that promote abortion and other political issues with which they disagree.</p>&mdash; Bishop Paprocki (@BishopPaprocki) <a href="https://twitter.com/BishopPaprocki/status/1012363223377563648?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 28, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Commenting in a June 28 post on Twitter, Paprocki, depicting the agency fees as dues, said that “no longer will public sector employees be required pay dues to support unions that promote abortion and other political issues with which they disagree.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reversing Roe should be the beginning – not the end – for pro-lifers

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 15:42

Washington D.C., Jun 29, 2018 / 01:42 pm (CNA).- The announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement has prompted elation from pro-life groups, who are hopeful that the addition of a pro-life justice to the nation’s high court will be enough to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

But if Roe is overturned, and individual states then outlaw abortion, as pro-life advocates hope, then what?

Making abortion illegal is an important goal, and a critical first step for building a culture of life. But it’s a first step. We must also address a culture that accepts a lie about the connection between human sexuality and pregnancy, and then fails to support women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. For the millions of women who have been offered the false promise of contraception their whole lives, more is needed.

For a half-century, the false promise of contraception has been embraced by American women. It is unfathomable to them that they would not be in total control over their reproductive lives.

Even many advocates against abortion have embraced the idea that contraception gives women control over conception.

The problem is, it’s not true. Contraception does not guarantee sex without the possibility of conception. The reality is, sex always brings with it the possibility of new life.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, half of all U.S. abortions are performed on women who were using contraception during the month that they became pregnant. Many of these women believed that they were acting responsibly. Many were even married. They had been told all their lives that faithfully popping a pill or inserting a device would “protect” them from an unintended pregnancy.

But they were wrong, and when they became pregnant – something that had not even been a possibility in their minds – they were left alone, panicked and vulnerable. Abortion is not the solution for these women. What is?

What is the solution for a woman whose health insurance doesn’t cover prenatal care, labor and delivery – as was the case for more than 80 percent of individual health care plans just a few years ago?

What is the solution for a woman trying to finish school, unsure whether her academic schedule will be able to accommodate a baby, and whether her budget will allow for babysitting, formula, and diapers?

What is the solution for a financially struggling woman whose employer does not offer a single day of maternity leave? U.S. employers are not required to offer paid parental leave. And in 2012, the majority of American workers did not qualify even for the unpaid leave offered under the Family Medical Leave Act.

These questions point to a serious cultural problem that the pro-life movement needs to remember: A worldview which assumes that women have total control over reproduction does not realize the necessity of supporting unplanned pregnancies.

Women say they choose abortion because they lack support. One recent study found that “the vast majority of women who have chosen abortion would not have done so if just one person would have supported them.”

How do we support an entire generation of women who have been told that they have a right to total control over their reproductive lives, and nothing should stand in the way of their reproductive choices?

They need to be told the truth about human sexuality. And they need to know that if they ever face an unplanned pregnancy, they will not be alone.

The potential reversal of Roe v. Wade presents opportunities – and obligations – to address these cultural deficits. The Church should make a renewed effort to promote its teaching on human sexuality in Humanae Vitae – the prophetic Church document on contraception that marks its 50th anniversary this year – and Theology of the Body.

Serious efforts should also be made to provide practical support for women in need. Groups like Students for Life already work to accompany women who find themselves scared and vulnerable in unexpected pregnancies – arranging babysitting, offering diapers and other necessities, and helping talk with professors about scheduling options. This work would be even more critical in a post-Roe era.

Adoption awareness and funding would also be key in offering women real alternatives to abortion. Pro-life groups should be on guard against initiatives that would create barriers to adoption – such as last year’s GOP tax proposal, which would have removed the adoption tax credit, making adoption impossible for many families.

Presenting a renewed understanding of human sexuality, and supporting pregnant women in need: This is the big picture that the pro-life movement must keep in mind. Overturning Roe v. Wade is not the end – it’s just the beginning.

 

Local leaders offer prayers after shooting at Annapolis newspaper

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 17:22

Baltimore, Md., Jun 28, 2018 / 03:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore offered their prayers for the victims and first responders of a shooting at an Annapolis newspaper on Thursday afternoon.

A suspect is in custody after an active shooter was reported at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland around 2:30 p.m. Eastern time. At least five people are dead and multiple others have serious injuries, according to police reports.

“We offer our prayers for the victims of today's shooting at the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis and for the first responders on the scene,” the Archdiocese of Baltimore said on Twitter.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan also offered his prayers for the community and urged people to stay away from the area.

“Absolutely devastated to learn of this tragedy in Annapolis. I am in contact with County Executive Steve Schuh, and @MDSP [Maryland State Police] is on the scene assisting @AACOPD [Anne Arundel County Police Department]. Please, heed all warnings and stay away from the area. Praying for those at the scene and for our community,” Hogan said in a tweet.

“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you're under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” Phil Davis, a reporter at the newspaper, said on Twitter.

The Capital Gazette is a local, daily newspaper and website owned by the Baltimore Sun Media Group.

Minn. archbishop: No plans for parish appeals to fund abuse settlement

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 15:01

St. Paul, Minn., Jun 28, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis said Wednesday there are no plans for additional parish appeals to fund a proposed $210 million settlement for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

In a June 27 radio interview with MPR News, Hedba told host Kerri Miller that most of the settlement money - $170 million - would come from the archdiocese’s insurance and from money already collected from parish appeals.

Parishes will likely not be responsible for the remainder of the money, he said, though some have voluntarily given donations.

"It's not like we're going to be making an additional appeal – at least at this point, that's not part of the plan," he told MPR News. "Certainly, we've already been hearing from people that desire to be part of this, who recognize the responsibility of the church at large for the situation."

After more than two years’ deliberation, the $210 million settlement was announced by the archdiocese in May, and includes a plan for abuse compensation as well as for bringing the archdiocese out of bankruptcy. The amount is an increase of more than $50 million from the proposal that the archdiocese had originally submitted.

In January 2015, the archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy, saying many abuse claims had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

The initial plan proposed by the archdiocese included $156 million for survivors who filed claims. That plan would have drawn about $120 million in insurance settlements and $30 million from the archdiocese and some of its parishes. Victims’ attorneys said it was inadequate and did not include insurers and parishes sufficiently.

In January 2018, a federal bankruptcy judge ordered a return to mediation for all the parties involved.

Under the final plan, the majority of the money – about $170 million – comes from insurance carriers for the archdiocese and individual parishes. The other $40 million will come from diocesan and parish sources, such as cash-on-hand and the sale of interests in land.

Hebda told MPR News that while some Catholics are angry about the settlement, there are many “wonderful Catholic lay people” who are supportive of the archdiocese and are committed to helping the Church do better in the future when it comes to sexual abuse.

He also noted that the archdiocese has improved the way in which it addresses allegations, including the establishment of a review board that includes members who have survived past clergy abuse.

"Any time that there's any allegation that would come into the archdiocese, not only do we involve law enforcement, but we would also involve that review board," he told MPR. "The opportunities for anything other than transparency are minimal."

US bishops add directives for Catholic hospitals on mergers, collaboration

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 02:08

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2018 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic health care must remain Catholic, even in instances of collaborations or mergers with non-Catholic institutions, say new directives from the U.S. bishops.

The sixth edition of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services was “overwhelmingly accepted” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at their spring meeting in Fort Lauderdale, said Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, who chairs the USCCB’s subcommittee on health care, which was responsible for compiling the new directives.

Overall, the directives deal with a myriad of issues, including health care at the beginning and end of life, as well as pastoral and spiritual responsibilities of Catholic health care institutions to their patients.

The new edition includes multiple updates to the sixth section of the directives, which deal with collaborative arrangements with other health care organizations and providers, whether those are Catholic or secular.

The new and updated directives are a result of four years of study and consultation with the Vatican and with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, McManus told CNA.

They clarify, among other things, that Catholic health care institutions must maintain their Catholic identity and provide care consistent with Church teaching even in instances when they collaborate or merge with other healthcare institutions.

“The rule of thumb is a Catholic hospital in partnership with a non-Catholic hospital cannot formally cooperate with doing evil,” Bishop McManus said. Formal “cooperation (with evil) is always eliminated, it cannot be done.”

The directives state that formal cooperation with evil happens “not only when the cooperator shares the intention of the wrongdoer, but also when the cooperator directly participates in the immoral act….(and) may take various forms, such as authorizing wrongdoing, approving it, prescribing it, actively defending it, or giving specific direction about carrying it out. Formal cooperation, in whatever form, is always morally wrong.”

Material cooperation, on the other hand, occurs when “the one cooperating neither shares the wrongdoer’s intention in performing the immoral act nor cooperates by directly participating in the act as a means to some other end, but rather contributes to the immoral activity in a way that is causally related but not essential to the immoral act itself. While some instances of material cooperation are morally wrong, others are morally justified,” the directives state.

Material cooperation is never justified in actions that are “intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization,” the directives state. Other situations of material cooperation may be more morally complex.

According to the bishops: “Reliable theological experts should be consulted in interpreting and applying the principles governing cooperation.”

Another important consideration in situations of collaborations and mergers is the principle of scandal, McManus said.

“Theological scandal, strictly speaking, means that I cannot do or say something that might cause someone else to enter into sin,” he said.

“So even if there is cooperation that has been justified by (as) material cooperation, if that might cause scandal, even after attempts to explain why a Catholic and non-Catholic institution are partnering, if there is the reality of scandal, that has to be avoided,” he said.

The directives also clarify the role of a bishop in overseeing collaborations of Catholic and non-Catholic institutions.

Joe Zalot, a staff ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that these directives are necessary because health care collaborations are increasingly common, and can create complex situations when determining who has authority over these entities.

“Basically what’s happened is that many of the Catholic hospitals, historically they were founded and run by religious orders, particularly women’s religious orders, and as those orders are literally and figuratively dying out, there were not enough sisters to administer them,” Zalot said.

As a result, some Catholic health care institutions are now overseen by what are called juridic persons in canon law, which are legal entities recognized by the Vatican. Because these juridic persons exist within a diocese, or in some cases multiple dioceses, the local bishop or bishops share responsibility in ensuring the Catholic identity of these entities, Zalot said.

“What these directives are doing is recognizing that fact and trying to define the role of the bishop in terms of Catholic health care entities in his diocese. Essentially the bishop has oversight of what happens in his diocese,” Zalot said.

“What the bishops are saying is not new. What they’re doing is clarifying the role of the bishop in terms of Catholic entities in (their) dioceses,” he added.

Zalot said that for the most part, these directives usually do not pose problems for Catholic institutions that seek collaboration with non-Catholic ones.

“What (the bishops) are concerned with is ensuring the identity of the Catholic institution remains, even within these mergers. And actually it does happen, we see it, there’s hospitals that have been merged into or bought by a secular institution. But one of the elements of the contract or the purchase agreement is that these institutions remain Catholic,” he said.

“And as far as I know, most secular institutions don’t have a problem with that,” he added. The directives just help to ensure that “what is happening in a Catholic healthcare institution actually is Catholic, and you’re providing care consistent with the teachings of the Church.”

While discussing the revision of the directives at the general assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore noted that three of the five Catholic hospitals in Baltimore are already in collaborative arrangements, and that the new revision “doesn't answer every question, but it does offer helpful guidance.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington said the revision “walks a very clear path through many complex issues,” preserving the theological principle of the autonomy of individual dioceses in pastoral ministry. It “makes clear there should be collaboration between dioceses, without taking away the autonomy of the individual bishop.”

The USCCB voted to approve the revised Ethical and Religious Directives June 14, by a vote of 183 to 2, with 2 abstentions.

'Many individuals' requested hold on clergy sex abuse report, Pa. court says

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 18:01

Harrisburg, Pa., Jun 27, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a unanimous opinion released Monday, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania supported and explained its earlier decision to hold the publication of a grand jury report detailing years of clergy sexual abuse in the state.

In the five-page June 25 opinion, the court said the request for the stay was made by “many individuals” named in the report, most of whom had cited concerns of due process and reputational rights guaranteed by the state constitution.

“Most, if not all, of the petitioners alleged that they are named or identified in (the grand jury report) in a way that unconstitutionally infringes on their right to reputation and denies them due process based upon the lack of a pre-deprivation hearing and/or an opportunity to be heard by the grand jury,” the opinion states.

The stay, ordered by the court on June 20, indefinitely delays the release of a report that has been more than two years in the making, during which time victims have recounted incidents of past clergy sexual abuse to a Grand Jury.

Legal experts have told local news sources that the depth and breadth of this investigation, which includes six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses, is almost unprecedented among clerical sex abuse investigations that have taken place in the United States.

The two non-participating dioceses in the report, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, have already undergone similar investigations.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has headed the investigation, said in a May 21 statement that he believed dioceses and bishops were behind the push to block or delay the publication of the report.

However, the participating dioceses - Allentown, Erie, Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Harrisburg, and Scranton - and their bishops have all said that they did not apply for the stay, and that they support the publication of the report.

Diocesan officials told CNA last week that they were unaware whether those who had applied for the stay had ties to the Church.

Ed Palattella, a reporter for the Erie Times, wrote that it is believed that those who filed for the stay petition were not diocesan officials, but others who were named in the report.

Because the majority of those named in the report would be priests, it is likely that a group of priests named in the report filed petitions for the stay, though the petitioners have not been named by the Court and all documents pertaining to the proceedings remain sealed.

In their opinion, the Supreme Court said they have not yet seen the full Grand Jury report, and that the stay order would be revisited “when the proceedings before it have advanced to a stage at which either the petitions for review can be resolved, or an informed and fair determination can be made as to whether a continued stay is warranted.”

Activist priest calls for an anti-violence protest, closing down Chicago highway

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 17:16

Chicago, Ill., Jun 27, 2018 / 03:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The social advocate and Chicago priest Father Michael Pfleger has invited anti-violence activists to protest gun violence by closing a portion of the Dan Ryan Expressway, where it is part of I-94.

As many as 1,000 people could join Father Pfleger July 7. Beginning at the entrance ramp on 79th Street, the protestors will march about mile and a half until the exit ramp off 67th Street, shutting down the highway’s northbound lanes.

Father Pfleger is the pastor of St Sabina Catholic Church, a parish which has hosted similar protests in the past. On Monday, he posted on Twitter and Facebook encouraging people to participate in the rally. The march will follow a few days after U.S. Independence Day, which sees annual spike in shootings in Chicago.

“As we celebrate Independence weekend, there’s not a sense of freedom in many of our communities and for many of our young people,” Father Pfleger told the Chicago Tribune. “Instead, there’s a sense of fear.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois State Police have declined to comment on the protest, but are aware of its presence. Father Pfleger announced the plans to notify commuters in advance, but he does not plan to receive permission from authorities.

In an opinion piece at the Chicago Sun Times, Mary Mitchell said Fr. Pfleger had compared this rally to acts of civil disobedience that were part of the civil rights movement. He said city officials have not done enough to address gun violence, especially that taking place on Chicago’s South and West Sides.

“I’m taking a page out of the 101 Book of the Civil Rights Movement. We are sick of this violence – the violence by police, the violence of black on black crime, violence across the board,” he said

“But also the violence of bad schools, violence of poverty, violence of no businesses, violence of those coming back from incarceration with bus fare and no opportunities, and the lack of common-sense gun legislation in our state.”

The Chicago Tribune wrote that the city has seen over 1,300 people killed by gun violence this year alone. The weekend of June 15 was reportedly one of the most violent weekends in 2018, including nine deaths and 47 wounded. On the last Fourth of July, 15 people were shot and killed and 87 others were injured.

St Sabina parish also led anti-gun demonstrations on June 4 at Chicago’s Civic center downtown and on June 15 in Auburn Gresham neighborhood.

Kennedy's retirement from the Supreme Court prompts pro-life hopes

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 16:45

Washington D.C., Jun 27, 2018 / 02:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The retirement announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has led pro-life advocates to voice hope that his successor could help overturn Roe v. Wade in coming years.

Kennedy submitted his formal resignation on Wednesday, in a letter to President Donald Trump.

“This letter is a respectful and formal notification of my decision, effective July 31 of this year, to end my regular active status as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court,” the letter read.

“For a member of the legal profession it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court. Please permit me by this letter to express my profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret, and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises.”

Kennedy has served on the court for 30 years, since being appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. He was known as a swing vote on a court that had been divided for years on key issues.

Kennedy had expressed varying views on abortion throughout the years. He sided with the majority on Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, which preserved a right to abortion in the country. He was also the author of the majority opinion in the 2007 case Gonzales v. Carhart, which held that a ban on partial-birth abortion was constitutional.

Most recently, he voted with the majority on NIFLA v. Becerra, which rejected the claim that pro-life crisis pregnancy centers can be required to provide information about how to receive a free or low-cost abortion.

President Donald Trump will now appoint a replacement for Kennedy, who will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump promised to appoint pro-life court nominees.

Pro-life advocates are hopeful that Kennedy’s retirement could set in motion the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade - the 1973 Supreme Court decision that required legal abortion throughout the U.S.

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannefelser called the announcement a “pivotal moment for the fight to ensure every unborn child is welcomed and protected under the law.”

“The most important commitment that President Trump has made to the pro-life movement has been his promise to nominate only pro-life judges to the Supreme Court, a commitment he honored by swiftly nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch,” said Dannefelser.

Catherine Glenn Foster, CEO and president of Americans United for Life, said in a statement that Kennedy’s retirement sets the stage for Trump to nominate a “committed constitutionalist to the Supreme Court who will hew to the intended meaning of the nation’s charter and refrain from employing it as a means of social engineering.”

“The Supreme Court, and the American people, need Justices who understand that the Constitution is the Nation’s highest form of precedent and that the Court should allow space for rearmament of poorly reasoned precedent, rather than prematurely declaring permanent victors in divisive constitutional spaces.”

Foster’s comments were echoed by Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins, who said that while she had been disappointed by some of Kennedy’s past decisions, she believes that Trump will appoint someone who is pro-life to the Court.

“We expect that President Trump will live up to his promises and appoint a justice in the tradition of Justice Antonin Scalia who respects the law as written and who understands that Life is the foundation for all other rights,” said Hawkins.

President Trump said that he intends to nominate someone to the Supreme Court from his list of 25 potential nominees released last year. The list includes Amy Coney Barrett, a former professor at Notre Dame Law School, who was controversially grilled over her Catholic faith during confirmation hearings last year.

If Roe were to be overturned, the legality of abortion would be decided at the state level. Some states have laws on the books that would effectively ban abortion if Roe were overturned.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that the Senate intends to confirm whoever is nominated by the fall, meaning that the new justice will join the Supreme Court in time for the start of the term on October 1.

Father Weinandy discusses Gnosticism Today

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 14:01

Denver, Colo., Jun 27, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap., is a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, an accomplished professor of theology, and a prolific author. His most recent book is Jesus Becoming Jesus: A Theological Interpretation of the Synoptic Gospels.

  CNA Editor-in-Chief JD Flynn interviewed Father Weinandy about “Gnosticism Today,” an essay published earlier this month at The Catholic Thing:



 

Your essay, "Gnosticism Today," says that the attitude commonly described as neo-Gnosticism has "little to do with its ancient antecedent." What is Gnosticism? What is the origin of the Gnostic heresy?

As I said in my essay, gnosticism is basically the notion that one is saved by “knowledge” (gnosis). While, especially during the second and third centuries, there were many different forms, sects or schools of Gnosticism, all were concerned with addressing the problem of evil in the world and the eternal destiny of humankind. For the Gnostics the source of evil was the material world, often thought to be created by an evil deity.

The reason the Gnostics thought that matter was evil can be found, to some extent, in Platonism. Plato did not believe in an evil creator god. However, Plato did believe that truth is unchangeable – what is true is always true. Unlike what is true, matter is always changing – a tree grows and then dies, the human body is healthy and then gets sick. Moreover, human beings are slaves to bodily passions and desires – filled with greed, lust, anger, despair, etc. Because matter always changes, it cannot be the source of what is true, which never changes. The Gnostics, and other sects similar to them, concluded that matter is evil.

From a philosophical point of view, for Plato, one needs to intellectually escape the world of matter and rise up through one’s intellect to the unchanging world of ideas – the perfect unchanging idea of a tree, or dog or human being. In later Platonic thought these perfect ideas were considered divine ideas. (By way of an aside, while Plato and the later Platonic schools where correct in thinking that truth does not change, they were obviously wrong in thinking that the cause of evil- what is not true- is due to matter. Aristotle, Plato’s student, recognized that one comes to know the truth through coming to know the material world.)

Within Gnosticism, this Platonic tradition merged with other pagan thought, eastern mystery religions, astrology as well as Jewish and Christian ideas. Gnosticism in the end was very synchronistic – pulling together different philosophic and religious ideas.

The overriding claim of the various Gnostic sects was that they provided the knowledge by which one is able to extricate oneself from the evil world of matter (the body) and ascend into the eternal spiritual world of divine truth. There were also various Gnostic redeemers – those first enlightened so as to know the truth, thus empowering them to pass this gnosis, knowledge, on to others. Within various forms of Christian Gnosticism, Jesus was often seen as one of the many Gnostic redeemers.

Today Gnosticism is found in the New Age movement. Here, as in ancient Gnosticism, one becomes “enlightened” so as to be elevated to the spiritual cosmic realm and so leave the confines of this material, evil world.

Why are some contemporary Catholics characterized as "neo-Gnostics?" What attitudes are conflated with Gnosticism?

This is a very complex question. St. Irenaeus (c. 130-200 AD) wrote five large volumes, “Adversus Omnes Haereses” (“Against All of the Heresies”), attempting to answer this kind of question. Irenaeus knew that at first sight one might ask: Is not Christianity gnostic? Do not Christians “know” truths that others do not know, and did not Jesus reveal this knowledge to Christians? Was not Jesus a Gnostic redeemer? Here we must makes some very important distinctions – distinctions that Irenaeus made.

Jews and Christians believe that all that God created is good precisely because he is the perfectly good and only God. There are not “bad” gods who create evil matter. Thus, matter is good and the body is good. Evil does not find its source in matter but in the free misuse of what is good. For example, sexuality is good, but it can be freely used in an evil manner – adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexual acts, etc. Food is good, but we can freely become gluttons.

What is needed for salvation is not simply knowledge, but more important, the means to overcome moral evil and the empowerment to live freely holy lives. Christians believe that God ultimately achieved our salvation by sending into the word his Son who became incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. Now Jesus did teach us many things (like the Beatitudes), however, his most importantly he performed saving acts – his passion, death, resurrection and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Through his loving sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus freed us from the evil of sin and death. By rising gloriously from the dead, he made possible our own resurrection into eternal life. By sending forth the Holy Spirit, Jesus made it possible for us to become holy children of the Father and so empowered to live holy lives.

Of the utmost importance is our union with the risen Jesus as our Savior and Lord. We can only participate in the salvation that Jesus offers when we are united to him. We are united to him first through faith and baptism. This communion with the risen Lord Jesus is furthered through our prayer and the other sacraments – especially in the Eucharist.

Within Gnosticism, the Gnostic Redeemer does not do anything other than give knowledge and once he has given us knowledge, his importance ceases. (All world religions are Gnostic, except Judaism and Christianity. Mohammed simply informs people what they are to do if they are to please God. Buddha, similarly, tells us what we should do in order to live properly. Once they have done so, their contemporary importance ceases because we now “know” what we are obliged to do.)

The problem facing humankind is not ignorance, but sin. Within Christianity, Jesus’ saving presence is everlastingly necessary for we must always be united to him, even in heaven, as members of his body, if we are to reap the saving benefits of his salvific work. Unlike all forms of Gnosticism, we must have a personal relationship with Jesus through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit so as to be in communion with God the Father.

Christians, in faith, hold all of the above to be true – this is why we recite the Creed every Sunday during Mass. What we know are the saving mysteries of our faith – the Trinity, the Incarnation, the sacraments, Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. Moreover, we believe that we can lovingly obey God’s commandments (the Ten Commandments) because we now life in Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord. Christians are Christians precisely because they believe in Christ – the eternal Spirit-filled incarnate Son of the Father.

Sadly, and even troubling, some people today, even in high places within the Church, accuse some Catholics of Gnosticism because these so-called Gnostic Catholics believe they “know” the truth and look down upon their fellow Catholic brethren who seemingly do not keep God’s commandments. But such an accusation is slanderous. Some Catholic may be arrogant in their faith and prideful about their presumed holiness, but this is not Gnosticism – this is the sin of judgmentalism, self-conceit and egotism.

So-called Catholic Gnostics today do not hold and teach anything other than what Jesus has revealed and the Church authoritatively teaches. On the whole they are simply ordinary faithful Catholic bishops, priests and, most of all, laity. To call the faithful Catholic laity Gnostics is an egregious falsehood. It is an insult to their Catholic integrity.

Your essay claims that those who accuse others of neo-Gnosticism often propose a kind of moral relativism, in which the conscience supersedes Catholic doctrine. How does that viewpoint relate to Gnosticism?

Many of the controverted issues within the Church today revolve around questions of sexual morality – adultery, fornication, contraception, abortion, homosexual acts, etc.

While the Church has always condemned such actions as sinful because they are contrary to what it means to be truly human and so actions that God himself has condemned, some within the Church today claim that, given particular circumstances, such acts may no longer be sinful for some people in certain situations- they may even be good actions.

Those who disagree with such arguments are often called Gnostics because they think they have all of the right answers. They know the truth. Again, this is a false accusation, for such accused people only hold what the Church has always taught. If such people are Gnostic, then the entire Catholic Church has been Gnostic from the time of the apostles.

Actually, those who claim that their now “enlightened” conscience allows them to supersede God’s previous revelation and the Church’s constant teaching are the real Gnostics, for they now claim to have knowledge that most of the Catholic faithful do not possess. In a way, such “enlightened” Catholics have fallen into the moral relativism of the secular world, where everyone is permitted to do what they feel is personally right for them. There is no such thing as unchanging “truth.” But this is to deny God, who is the ultimate source of all truth.

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