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Updated: 2 hours 39 min ago

‘Whispered in the dark’ conference aims to help fight porn

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 20:00

Detroit, Mich., Nov 9, 2018 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- An all-day conference will be hosted in southeast Michigan to expose the problem of pornography and promote resources for those seeking help.

The event will include religious leaders and other professionals, who will share knowledge and experience on pornography addiction. The conference will also share resources, including books and local services, among them an anonymous support group for sex addicts.

Patty Breen, an event organizer and a pastoral associate at Saint Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia, Michigan, told CNA the goal of the conference is to empower the participants.

“We just want people to feel empowered and to give them tools and resources, and for them to feel less alone in how to navigate this because I think, unfortunately, there is a lot of shame still attached to sexuality and especially this topic,” she said.

“We just want to have a loving, pastoral, honest conversation in a way that affirms people and supports them, but gives them hope, gives them resources, gives them tools.”

Called “Whispered in the Dark,” the conference will take place on Nov. 10. Organized by Breen, Danielle Center, and Naomi Vrazo, Breen said the conference is the product of women who’ve experience the harm of pornography first-hand.

A Certified Sex Addiction Therapist will present the statistics behind pornography addiction – explaining pornography’s chemical effect on the brain, and the body.

“We have a priest coming to speak about the spiritual impact of addiction and how it affects how we see ourselves, the shames that goes with this a lot of the time, what is the impact of addiction in spiritual life,” Breen said.

During the conference, some speakers will personally share the damages pornography has wrought in their life.

Nick Jorgensen will share the story of his recovery from porn addiction. A married couple, Beth and Steve, will share discuss the impact of pornography on their relationship. Breen will discuss the harmful effects of porn on her marriage.

Breen said she found out about her spouse’s addictive habit less than a year after their marriage began, and the couple immediately sought counseling. She said the struggle ultimately tore the couple apart but she wants other women in similar situations to have the resources they need.

“I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, didn’t know where to find help, and I was lucky in our diocese to find resources,” she said. “I just don’t want other Catholic women to feel alone and isolated if they find themselves in a similar situation.”

Breen said she wants to make resources available to those helping those fighting pornography addiction.

“We are frustrated to see the lack of resources, the lack of help, the lack of people talking about it in the Church,” she said.

“I hate that this exists and I hate that we live in a culture that promotes it…because I thinks it’s the greatest killer of a healthy relationship,” she added.  


What do Catholics expect from USCCB meeting on abuse crisis?

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 19:10

Denver, Colo., Nov 9, 2018 / 05:10 pm (CNA).- The annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will take place in Baltimore, Maryland next week.

This meeting will discuss a crisis of sexual abuse in the Church, centered around questions about how Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was able to perpetrate decades of sexual abuse against seminarians and young priests while operating at the highest levels of the Church in the United States.  

There are plans to discuss a “Code of Conduct” for all bishops, along with a third-party system for receiving and investigating sexual abuse complaints against bishops.

But is this meeting likely to bring healing to sexual abuse victims, or begin a process of renewal in the Church?

CNA spoke with theologians, priests, and other prominent Catholics about what they hope to see at the upcoming meeting of U.S. bishops.

“Rebuilding trust from the ground up”

Dr Timothy O’Malley, Director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, told CNA that he is hoping for a recognition on the part of the bishops of the existence of a “real crisis.” He said there must be an investigation into how McCarrick was allowed to commit years of abuse.

“There has to be a recognition, I think, on the part of the bishops that this is a real crisis and that it's not just sort of trumped-up charges by a media that is provocative, but that actually it really is a crisis,” O’Malley said.

“There needs to be serious movement toward the creation of ombudspersons with real authority and responsibility in diocese, to be the source of the response. It's not just going to be bishops who will receive the response; it's going to be these laypeople,” he said.

O’Malley said he hopes that this recognition of the existence of a crisis will lead to real penance from the bishops.

“Penance isn't really supposed to be publicly proclaimed, and so I think there needs to be real penance...not a prayer service where everyone sees the bishops and how sorrowful they are...I think it just needs to be serious in the sense that harm has been done and real sorrow. And it can't be a media opportunity.”

O’Malley said if the bishops manage to get beyond their personal “political battles,” there’s a chance the meeting might produce some results.

“This meeting will be important if it develops procedures and processes by which the bishops hold themselves accountable, and I think the real work for rebuilding trust is always going to happen at the local level,” O’Malley said.

“What's really going to [restore trust] is local bishops rebuilding trust from the ground up. And for a lot of them, they actually can because they're trustworthy people...they have to keep their eyes very carefully located on the crisis of trust that was precipitated through Theodore McCarrick.”

“Taking time to pray together”

Father Thomas Berg, Vice Rector and Director of Admissions at St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York, told CNA that beyond a possible revision to the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the establishment of an independent lay body to investigate the McCarrick affair, he’s “not expecting much else.”

“I don't think there's going to be time at this meeting on anything outside of those two things. Other than taking time to pray together,” he said.

Berg expressed frustration that the bishops hadn’t met sooner to discuss the crisis.

“They should have suspended all activities, all vacations, and they should have commenced meetings immediately back in June or July,” he said.

“I think there's a great amount of pressure now to do anything that the bishops are able to do.”

“Well, it's our Church”

Father Bryan Kerns, O.S.A., offered his perspective to CNA as a young priest who had followed the progress of the abuse scandal.

He said since he was only 13 years old in 2002, he “entered [priestly] formation in light of the reality of the scandal.”

He said the resignation and “quiet despair” from some Catholics in the pews, many of whom already lived through the 2002 scandal, scares him. He said other young priests that he knows are unsure of the best way to respond.

“[We] want action, but there's no one engaged enough ecclesiastically to understand how to affect action, to call forth for certain reforms,” Kerns said. “So I think [we young priests] lack an adequate mode of expression.”

“Among my peers it's more along the lines of: ‘Well, it's our Church, so it's our job to help bring the truth about. Let the truth see the light.’ But they don't quite know how to do it.”

Kerns the best-case scenario would be “action:” steps toward a more open process, and a reckoning with what has happened in the Church in the past 50 or 60 years in the United States.

“I don't expect an adequate response to that,” he admitted.  

The worst-case scenario, Kerns said, would be “more of the same,” more "sorry" and less actual action.

“I think...that the American bishops really have an opportunity to take the lead in setting the tone for accountability and transparency,” Kerns said.

“For them not to take that opportunity would not result in the destruction of the Church in the United States, would not result in a mass exodus— but it would cause [deep seated and resigned] damage that would take a long, long time to repair.”

“Perfect opportunity to expand the role of women”

Dr. Grazie Christie, Policy Advisor for the Catholic Association, said investigating the Cardinal McCarrick affair and redoubling their commitment to a “culture of life” and religious liberty should be priorities of the upcoming meeting.

Christie was one nearly 50,000 women who signed a letter to Pope Francis seeking answers about the situation with McCarrick.

“The recent Synod document called for more active involvement for women, and this would be a perfect opportunity to expand the role of women,” she wrote in an email to CNA.

“Laywomen, in particular, who love and support the Church and are active in their parishes can be helpful to the Bishops when it comes to identifying good priests and religious and recommending future leaders.”

“A systemic ‘looking the other way’"

Dr. Nathaniel Peters, Executive Director of the Morningside Institute, told CNA that the bishops’ response to the abuse crisis should reflect their status as spiritual fathers to American Catholics.

Peters was among the signatories of an August letter from young Catholics to Catholic bishops.

“A lot of the responses that we've gotten from bishops [to the crisis] have been the responses that presidents of non-profit organizations make,” Peters said.

“Which are all well and good...bishops are kind of managerial, and [do] govern. But...bishops are also fathers, and their responses should sound on some level like a father...not one primarily of damage control.”

Peters said he hopes the bishops will make clear that the Church's parlance of "vulnerable adults" should include seminarians and priests as well. In his eyes, the problem is not just that children are involved, but a general decline of chastity and a rise of sexual assault; a “systemic looking the other way" and avoidance of confrontation over sin.

He emphasized that the bishops need to recognize that the current crisis in the Church is not “just” about the abuse of children, as pressing as that issue is, but also issues of abuses of power more generally.

“I would want the bishops to make clear that they understand that the problem isn't just that there were a few bad priests that preyed on children years ago, and that we've ‘fixed’ that now,” he said.

“The bishops have not clearly communicated that it's wrong to prey on seminarians, that it's wrong for priests to live double lives and be sexually active, whether or not they are sexually active with people who are consenting...with men or with women.”

He said the bishops’ credibility on a host of moral issues, including abortion and immigration, has taken a hit, especially among young people.

“I think the worst case scenario would be that the worst responses that we've gotten from individual bishops emerge as the corporate response of the body as a whole,” he said.

“That the bishops would be seen to be more managerial than paternal...that people come away with a sense that not much has changed, or that bishops are not really interested in actually making the changes that need to be made.”

Alternatively, he said, the best-case scenario would involve bishops who have wanted to kind of work toward systemic changes in their diocese, and more broadly in the Church, feel empowered to do so.

“When it comes to cases of sexual assault in the Church, this shouldn't be a [political] matter, it should really just be a matter of opposition and a desire for justice and truth when violations take place,” Peters said.

“And it also shouldn't be about covering for the person on your "side"...what's more important than the "victory" of your theological position at this point is the vindication of victims, and exposing the truth about evil that's committed in the Church.”

Peters expressed consternation at the fact that government authorities are taking it upon themselves to investigate some diocese across the country because of a lack of transparency.

“Certainly 5 years ago, 10 years ago, among the young Catholics I know, if you had told us that the attorney generals for a handful of states are going to go after the Church with racketeering laws, we would have said immediately, ‘This is terrible, this is anti-Catholic bias,’” he said.

“It's very striking that those same people now have basically said, 'Good.' And if you're a bishop, that should be really sobering...the people who are your closest supporters are happy that state— and now federal— prosecutors have your diocese in their crosshairs. Because they think that that's how [the Church] is actually going to be changed.”


U.S bishops welcome new HHS mandate exemptions

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The USCCB has welcomed the Trump administration’s new rules providing enhanced conscience protections against the HHS contraceptive mandate.


In a statement released Nov. 9, the U.S. bishops’ conference called the new exemptions, announced Wednesday, a victory for common sense.


“We are grateful for the Administration’s decision to finalize common-sense regulations that allows those with sincerely held religious or moral convictions opposing abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception to exclude such drugs and devices from their health plans,” said the statement.


The bishops’ response was co-signed by USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville. Kurtz leads the USCCB’s Office of Liberty.


The finalized rules from the Department and Health and Human Services exempt companies, organizations and individuals from having to provide coverage that includes contraceptive methods to which they have strong religious or moral objections.


The new rules do not make contraceptives illegal nor do they prevent various third-party groups from providing alternative coverage.


The new protections restores free-exercise rights to those with legitimate objections to providing contraceptives, abortifacient drugs, or sterilization methods to employees as part of their health insurance, the bishops’ statement said.


“The regulations allow people like the Little Sisters of the Poor, faith-based schools, and others to live out their faith in daily life and to continue to serve others, without fear of punishing fines from the federal government.”


After the HHS contraception mandate was announced in January 2012, many religious-based employers, including EWTN, filed suit against the federal government in opposition to the mandate. The mandate required that all employers whose insurance plans were not grandfathered in by the Affordable Care Act to provide certain contraceptives free of charge to their employees.


When the mandate was announced, bishops throughout the United States drafted letters expressing their opposition and explaining the Church’s position. These letters were then read at Sunday Masses over the weekend.

Trump signs rules restricting asylum for illegal migrants

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 16:48

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2018 / 02:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation Friday morning that would prohibit those who entered the United States illegally through the southern border from applying for asylum.

The Nov. 9 proclamation, which goes into effect Saturday, is in response to the migrant caravan that has been headed toward the U.S. for the last several weeks. The caravan consisted of several thousand people at its peak, and recently departed Mexico City on its journey through Mexico.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit to attempt to block the order from going into effect, arguing it violates the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The proclamation was necessary to “take immediate action to protect the national interest,” said Trump, “and to maintain the effectiveness of the asylum system for legitimate asylum seekers who demonstrate they have fled persecution and warrant the many special benefits associated with asylum.”

This new policy will apply to those who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, excepting unaccompanied minors who apply for asylum.

Trump said in a statement that the majority of the migrant caravan did not appear to meet the eligibility requirements for asylum. The president said that “the continuing and threatened mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border” has turned into a “crisis” that seeks to undermine border integrity.

Those who present themselves at a port of entry are still eligible for asylum, and those who are found to have entered the country illegally can apply for protection under a different program, “withholding of removal”, which has tougher eligibility requirements.

Trump said that the techniques of those crossing the southern border have changed over the last 20 or so years. About two decades ago, the average person caught crossing the southern border was a single adult who was immediately returned to Mexico, and did not try to claim asylum or express fear about going back to their country of origin.

“Since then, however, there has been a massive increase in fear-of-persecution or torture claims by aliens who enter the United States through the southern border,” said Trump. Although the “vast majority” of these people satisfy the first step of the asylum process, which is called the “credible-fear threshold,” only a “fraction” are found to actually qualify for asylum, said Trump.

The country’s immigration system and Refugee Admissions Program is being “overwhelmed” by illegal immigration through the country’s southern border, said Trump. He was critical of policies that would release families with children who claimed they were being persecuted, which he said was “in too many instances an avenue to near-automatic release into the interior of the United States.”

“An additional influx of large groups of aliens arriving at once through the southern border would add tremendous strain to an already taxed system, especially if they avoid orderly processing by unlawfully crossing the southern border,” said Trump.

The asylum policy is to remain in effect 90 days, unless Mexico agrees to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport to Mexico Central Americans who have entered the US from Mexico.

Repeated requests for comment from the USCCB were not answered.

In June, USCCB Chairman Cardinal Daniel DiNardo was intensely critical of the Trump Administration’s various immigration policies, including one that changed eligibility for asylum claims.

Archbishop Gomez after Thousand Oaks shooting: Jesus cries with us

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 13:08

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 9, 2018 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop José Gomez offered prayers for victims of a shooting at a country dance hall this week, telling those present at a prayer vigil Thursday that even when we cannot understand senseless violence, we can trust in God’s love.

“God does not want any of his children to suffer evil. Why these tragedies happen — we will never know, on this side of eternity,” the Los Angeles archbishop reflected at a Nov. 8 prayer vigil at Saint Paschal Baylon Parish in Thousand Oaks.

“What we do know,” he continued, “is that God’s love for every one of us is stronger than any evil, stronger even than death.”

And Christ never abandons us in our suffering and grief, the archbishop said.

“Jesus never asks us to carry our burdens alone. Where we walk, Jesus goes with us — even through the dark valleys of sorrow, suffering and doubt,” he said.

“And he cries with us. Just like he wept for Lazarus in the Gospels.”

On the night of Nov. 7, a gunman opened fire at Borderline Bar & Grill, a country dance club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., during college night. He shot and killed 12 people in the packed bar before apparently killing himself, according to police. About a dozen other people were injured in the shooting. Police are still investigating a motive for the attack.

In the face of senseless violence, it can be difficult to know how to respond, the archbishop reflected.

“We open our hearts to the families and friends of those who were killed, and we try as best we can to share their grief with them.”

“The hurt they are suffering, we can never really know. What they have lost, we cannot return to them,” he said. “But we can walk with them. We can help them to find healing and hope. We can help them to discover the love of Jesus, even in this dark time.”

Recognizing that Jesus is near amid the sadness and disbelief, we turn to him, Archbishop Gomez said.

“He will turn our mourning into joy. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. He will give us gladness in the place of sorrow.”

The archbishop encouraged those present to “ask our Lord for the faith and strength — to reach out to our brothers and sisters who are suffering. Let us honor the memory of those who have fallen — by living our lives with greater intensity and purpose and with greater love for one another.”

Archbishop Gomez concluded his reflection by praying for the souls of those who had died in the shooting, and for comfort and peace for those who survived.

“We pray for peace in our communities and for peace in the hearts of all those who are troubled and disturbed,” he said.

“May our Blessed Mother Mary, who knows the sorrow of losing her only Son, help us to find light in this darkness and bring new life out of this death.”

On the morning of Nov. 9, Archbishop Gomez said he received a note of condolence from Pope Francis. The note said the Holy Father “was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic shooting that took place in Thousand Oaks, California.” Francis assured his spiritual closeness and prayed for peace, strength, and consolation for those affected by the shooting.

Fear God, not Rome – advice for the US bishops

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 12:59

Denver, Colo., Nov 9, 2018 / 10:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A former senior staffer at the USCCB wrote Friday to the country's bishops ahead of their general assembly, urging them to deal with the sexual abuse not out of fear, but by demanding an open investigation of the McCarrick case.

Jayd Henricks' letter to the US bishops was published Nov. 9 at First Things. Henricks is executive director of strategic partnerships at the Augustine Institute, and worked for the USCCB for 11 years.

He wrote that the impact upon his young children's lives by the decisions to be made at the general assembly is what compelled him to write “about the critical moment we face in the Church.”

“The revelations of Archbishop McCarrick’s horrid behavior, its long-term cover-up, and the failure to hold accountable those who empowered him could cause the faithful to distrust all bishops,” Henricks said.

“This is a tragedy,” he said, noting that the bishops are “faithful men who give your lives to the Church out of your love for Jesus.”

“There is, however, something wrong with how the body of bishops functions as an assembly and how bishops relate to and interact with one another. Far too often, fear appears to govern what is done or not done by you as a body. There is the fear of disunity, fear of conflict, fear of disrupting a superficial collegiality, and today, more than ever, fear of Rome.”

While the bishops face intense pressure, “the bottom line is that it sometimes appears that many of you are governed by fear of each other and of the institutional order more than by the fear of God.”

Hendricks also observed that “your work as an association of bishops leads many of you to value the appearance of unity over adherence to principle,” which leads to “patterns of conflict avoidance.”

He wrote that this can at times be charitable, but “far too often … I watched good men back away from conflict when what was needed was confrontation and forthright debate.”

“This culture of fear enabled the likes of Theodore McCarrick to attain power and to scheme and maneuver at the highest ecclesial and political levels.”

At least in the US, Hendricks said, bishops are divided into two dominant camps: one which sees the Church “as a platform for political interests,” which “includes key authorities in Rome,” and the other, which see the Church “as a pastoral reality.”

However, this second group “is reluctant to address critical issues if doing so would entail conflict with Rome.”

“The curial advisors of the Holy Father have failed to understand the nature of the present crisis,” Hendricks wrote. “They have chosen a path that only exacerbates it.”

“They have failed to undertake a swift and full investigation of the McCarrick case. The Vatican’s failure to act is now aggravating the real harm done to the Church. In the end, however, the faithful in the United States will hold you—and not the curial officials—responsible for what does or does not happen in the wake of the most recent scandals.”

Henricks stated: “I urge you to petition forcefully for an open investigation led by the laity. Do not allow a false notion of unity to prevail, a false unity in which your integrity as bishops is sacrificed to expediency.”

He said he understands, “as a former Church bureaucrat … the instinct to do whatever Rome asks.”

“I implore you, nonetheless, to state publicly what most of you know needs to be done so that the corruption within the Church is brought into the light and eradicated.”

“Only if the evil is exposed can the Church be healed,” Henricks wrote. “If you do not pursue this course, the faithful will blame you for the next scandal, which is sure to come, and their distrust will surpass that of the present moment. The result will be that more parishes and schools will close, and less charitable work will be available to the poor and the marginalized. Most damaging of all, fewer people will avail themselves of the grace of the sacraments. The losses will be eternal.”

If the USCCB speaks to the crisis and demands an open investigation, “then you will begin to regain the trust of the faithful,” he stated.

Henricks said his children “need strong ecclesial leadership as they face the strengthening winds of secularism.”

“Without your witness of standing up to misguided ecclesiastical powers, without your fatherly care for the Church and the faithful, I cannot point to Church leadership as a model for their faith.”

“I beg you not to allow fear to rule the day,” Henricks concluded.

“Please govern as fathers, stay true to Jesus Christ, and proclaim the truth, in season and out of season, regardless of the cost. Be assured of my prayers and the prayers of so many of the faithful as you execute your solemn responsibilities.”

Analysis: DiNardo's promise, and the USCCB's pending policies

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 03:34

Baltimore, Md., Nov 9, 2018 / 01:34 am (CNA).- On Aug. 16, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo made U.S. Catholics a promise.

The cardinal, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, wrote that a summer of scandal had revealed a spiritual crisis in the Church, through which “scores of beloved children of God were abandoned to face an abuse of power alone.”

“This is a moral catastrophe,” he wrote, while acknowledging that “one root cause is the failure of episcopal leadership.”

“We firmly resolve,” he wrote, “with the help of God's grace, never to repeat it.”

As the bishops hold their first formal meeting since this summer’s scandal began to unfold, many Catholics are incredulous at the promise that episcopal failures of leadership will not happen again. Some Catholics remember that it was McCarrick who in 2002 promised that “we all look to end this, for the sake of the victims, for the sake of the church, the sake of our people.”

The U.S. bishops have never faced a crisis like this. It has been more than four months since allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick were made public, and anger has still not abated.

Many Catholics wonder what will be different this time. And now the U.S. Attorney’s Office wonders as well: amid the cascade of allegations made against bishops, state attorneys general have opened investigations, as has the federal government.

Several bishops have told CNA that they sincerely don’t know what Catholics expect right now, or how to meet the expectations that seem to be placed on them. One bishop said he believes the Church should do everything possible to prevent sexual abuse and misconduct, but he feels as though Catholics now expect bishops to pass policies that will eradicate any possibility of sin. Such an expectation is impossible to fulfill.

Those bishops have a point worth considering. While Catholics have good reason to expect their bishops to lead, few seem to know what exactly they hope the bishops will do next, or what level of effort from the bishops will be judged acceptable.

At the same time, it has also become scandalously clear that at least some parts of the Church are marred by serious administrative dysfunction, by negligence, and by grave moral laxity, or worse, about sexual relationships involving priests and bishops.

The November meeting can’t solve all of those issues. But the bishops seem to hope their policy agenda will be accepted as a first step.

But will the practical policies up for consideration at next week’s Baltimore meeting do anything to foster real change in the Church’s culture? It’s worth looking carefully at what the bishops will discuss, and what’s already been decided.
Code of Conduct

To respond to complaints raised regarding sexual immorality or negligence on the part of bishops, the USCCB will discuss a proposed “Code of Conduct” for bishops.

The draft of this code is a seven-page document, by which bishops will pledge to support victims of sexual abuse, to respond to complaints about sexual abuse or harassment, to meet with neighboring bishops annually to discuss annual audits of safe environment policy compliance, and to avoid sexually harassing or having a sexual relationship with anyone.

Bishops who sign the code of conduct will promise not have a “double life” or “secret life.”

Of course, those with “double lives” or “secret lives” sustain them by lying. Signing a document that promises not lead a double live is unlikely to deter anyone who is actually living one. And the code of conduct, as a moral agreement, will not normatively bind the bishops to anything.

For those reasons, some Catholics are likely to view the code of conduct as a public relations move, not an actual commitment to change.

While there is merit to that view, there is one aspect of the conduct code that could catalyze cultural change among bishops-- the conduct code attempts to encourage regular conversations among neighboring bishops about sexuality and sexual morality.

Those conversations could be perfunctory and formal, and in most cases are likely to be. But thoughtful metropolitan bishops- local archbishops-could seize on the opportunity those meetings present, turning them into an occasion at which bishops talk freely among themselves about the challenges of their own chastity, and the challenges of calling priests to chastity.

Those kinds of conversations- if they happen- could be authentic, fraternal, and valuable. And they could give metropolitans an idea of which bishops are not handling sexual misconduct issues well, long before issues in any diocese have the opportunity to spin out control.

Still, apart from that opportunity, few observers are likely to take solace in a seven-page document in which bishops promise to do things they’re mostly obliged already to do. The bishops run a risk that their code of conduct will seem insincere, and insufficient.

Reporting systems and investigative commissions

Two other measures are designed to complement and stregthen the bishops’ code of conduct: a reporting system and an investigative commission.

The first has already been set into motion.

On Sept. 19, the USCCB’s administrative committee announced that it had “approved the establishment of a third-party reporting system that will receive confidentially, by phone and online, complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop.”

Those complaints, the conference said, would be directed to appropriate ecclesiastical authority- the apostolic nuncio- and in cases required by law, to law enforcement authorities.

This system is intended to respond to those Catholics who say that priests and Church employees have no secure way to report misconduct, with assurances their reports will be taken seriously, and with standard whistleblower protections.

The self-admitted failure of Cardinal Sean O’Malley to respond to letters about McCarrick from Fr. Boniface Ramsey seems to fit the bill, as does the situation of Siobhan O’Connor, former assistant to Buffalo’s Bishop Richard Malone, who felt she had no choice but to leak allegations of misconduct to the media.

But whether the reporting system is judged to be an effective step depends a great deal on whether Catholics trust the apostolic nuncio to act when he receives complaints of misconduct. In the aftermath of McCarrick, several recent nuncios of the United States have been criticized for failing to sufficiently act on reports about the archbishop.

Furthermore, retired nuncio Vigano has been criticized for his handling of an investigation into the conduct of Archbishop John Nienstedt, Vigano is alleged to have called the investigation to an end before it concluded, though he denies the charge. And the administration of the current nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, has been criticized for failing to assist a Minnesota diaconal candidate who claims to have been pressured by his bishop, Michael Hoeppner, into keeping silent about sexual abuse.

The third-party reporting system is likely to efficiently ferry complaints to the nuncio. What the nuncio does after complaints are received is a matter beyond the bishops’ control. But the credibility of this reform effort depends entirely on the credibility of the apostolic nuncio.

Recognizing that concern, the bishops will also vote on establishing a lay commission to receive and investigate complaints before they go to the nuncio. The commission will reportedly be called the “Special Commission for Review of Complaints Against Bishops for Violations of Episcopal Conduct.”

The idea is that if the nuncio is given a full report by an independent investigative body, the Vatican will be more likely to act on concerns about bishops.

Sources close to the USCCB have told CNA the commission would consist of six lay Catholics, two bishops, and one priest, some with expertise in criminal investigations, canon law, psychology, civil law, and other relevant fields. One lay member would be a survivor of sexual abuse.

The commission is almost certain to be approved by the full body of bishops, who are in no position to eschew the appearance of lay oversight or involvement in addressing sexual misconduct.

Draft statutes say the commission would be independent, funded by contributions from U.S. dioceses, and staffed by an executive director. While there is not yet clarity about how the lay members will be appointed, it seems likely that, like the USCCB’s National Review Board, members will be nominated by diocesan bishops and approved by the body of bishops.

Participation by bishops will be voluntary. In practice, most, if not all, bishops will agree to participate in funding the commission and commit to being open to any investigation it might make. The commission will publish an annual report of cooperating dioceses; even bishops who object will have very little choice but to participate.

But the commission will have no coercive authority; no subpoena power or statutory access to documents or personnel. The commission will have no way to know whether a bishop under investigation has responded honestly to its inquiries, whether relevant documents have been provided or instead hidden, whether facts have been reported fully or obscured.

In short, without the power to ensure it is being told the truth, there will be consistent questions about the value of the commission’s investigations, and the veracity of its conclusions. And even if the commission is largely accepted, the bishops know they cannot control what will happen when reports are filed with nuncio.

As they learned this summer, it is impossible for American bishops to pressure the Vatican, or the pope, to do anything, even if they publicly call on him to investigate an alleged serial predator in their midst.

Will they help?

Will the “Code of Conduct,” the third-party reporting system, and the independent commission make a change in the life of the Church? Only time will tell.

On the one hand, the changes could be seen to represent a commitment to cultural change; a reminder to all bishops that sexual immorality among clerics is, or should be, unacceptable. And they will give whistleblowers a pathway for raising important concerns, and a forum in which they can, at least possibly, be evaluated.

On the other hand, the measures the bishops are considering lack any force or authority. This is not the bishops’ fault- the episcopal conference, as an institution, is not empowered to make normative change, or to undertake authoritative investigations.

Still, norms and agreements emanating from the bishops’ conference can transform culture- but only slowly, and only to a certain, and limited, extent.

For that reason, some observers have suggested the changes most urgently needed right now must be made at the loci of real power- at the Holy See, and at the diocesan level.

Canonical changes

A point of repeated discussion among bishops and commentators this summer is the fact that canon law does not explicitly penalize sexual relationships between clerics and other adults, even those that involve coercion or force.

This leaves bishops unsure of what to do when a priest is involved in a homosexual or heterosexual relationship, and, for some bishops, this lacuna in the law seems to imply that sexual relationships involving clerics and other adults are not issues of major importance.

Bishops will not consistently penalize priests involved in homosexual or heterosexual relationships unless canon law explicitly forbids those relationships. And bishops who would like to do so do not have legal tools available that enable them to act. Nor do they have the guidance of the law directing them to address that kind of sexual misconduct as a penal matter.

Absent legal norms, bishops tend to treat most sexual misconduct as a sign of a psychological malady, rather than a moral failing. This approach, many canonists say, has had disastrous effects.

Similarly, the Holy See is unlikely to take seriously sexual immorality among bishops that does not constitute a delict, a canonical crime.

For that reason, many canonists have suggested that the U.S. bishops should petition for amendments to the Church’s penal law that established a system of graduated penalties for celibate priests and bishops involved in sexual relationships. They say that without that system, and those penalties, entire categories of serious sexual misconduct go too easily unaddressed, creating a climate in which sexual abuse is also more likely to occur.

It is uncertain whether the Holy See would amend penal law in that way. But some bishops have told CNA they feel the effort is a worthwhile one, if the Church intends to take seriously coercive sexual misconduct involving priests, bishops, seminarians, and other adults. It is is unlikely, but the bishops could petition for this change during their meeting next week.

Diocesan changes

There are two changes that bishops could easily make at the diocesan level, even as individuals, that many commentators say would significantly change the culture of the Church with regard to clerical sexual immorality and episcopal negligence.

The first would be to require that all allegations of clerical sexual immorality be evaluated by the diocesan review board- not only those involving minors.

This would ensure that lay experts advise the bishop on every single case that could fester into something criminal, and, in many cases, ensure that problematic situations are stopped before they get out of hand. It would also help the review to evaluate patterns- and if the bishop himself were involved in sexual immorality involving priests or seminarians- it is likely that the review would begin to suspect that.

The second local change would be to significantly expand the role of the diocesan promoter of justice. The “promoter of justice” in canon law, acts analogously to a public prosecutor. However, the function is usually filled by a chancery canon lawyer who carries the title as a third or fourth job, and only in a perfunctory way.

Promoters of justice don’t generally expect to have to do anything in the diocese unless a penal trial takes place, which is a rare occasion.

But if a bishop wanted to be held accountable within his diocese, he could refashion the role of the promoter of justice to resemble an ombudsman, or a civil district attorney. A well-funded and well-staffed office for a promoter of justice could include oversight of the diocesan safe environment program and review board, involvement in personnel decisions, and a mediation role for whistleblowers and others involved in conflicts at the parish level.

A bishop could establish a promoter of justice who was empowered to keep authority figures, including himself, accountable to the norms of canon law and diocesan policy. The promoter could, if the bishop wished, even be supervised by the diocesan pastoral or finance council, in order to ensure independence. He could be required even to issue an annual report about the cases and issues he’d taken up each year.

Establishing a promoter in that way would be an unusual step for a bishop, but these are unusual times. Canon law says that the promoter of justice is “bound by office to provide for the public good.” At this moment, when trust is waning, such an office seems like it could be an extremely valuable step.

A long road

Next week, Catholics will look to DiNardo, and to the bishops’ conference he leads, for some signal that serious reforms are coming to the governance structure of the Catholic Church, and that the U.S. bishops might somehow be able to regain the trust of their people. The road to restored credibility, if it is to come at all, will be long and painful.

As the meeting begins, it remains to be seen whether the bishops will deliver on their promises of bold and courageous leadership. Catholics will be watching, hoping that this time, bishops who say"never again" will mean it.


Florida bishops praise result as 1.5 million former felons get votes

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 18:30

Tallahassee, Fla., Nov 8, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday Nov. 6, Florida voted overwhelmingly to amend the state constitution to return the right to vote to convicted felons who had served their sentence. Amendment 4 appeared on the midterm ballot across the state and its passage will restore voting rights to 1.5 million people.

The measure applies to felons who have completed their sentences, but does not include those convicted of murder or felony sex offences. With the adoption of Amendment 4, Florida becomes the 47th state to restore voting rights to felons who have paid their debt to society.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops was “pleased” with the passage of Amendment 4, a spokesperson told CNA on Thursday.


“The people of Florida have rightly recognized that, while our criminal justice system holds offenders accountable for their actions, inmates reentering society should be allowed the opportunity to participate more fully in their communities,” said the FCCB in a statement provided to CNA.


“Helping people become engaged citizens after incarceration decreases recidivism and creates safer communities for all.”


Florida has seven Catholic dioceses: Orlando, Palm Beach, Pensacola-Tallahassee, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Venice, and the Archdiocese of Miami.


Prior to Election Day, the bishops of Florida issued statements on several ballot initiatives, including Amendment 4. The FCCB urged the faithful in Florida to vote in favor of the amendment.


“Crime and violence that threaten the lives and dignity of Floridians cannot be tolerated; yet society may not give up on those who have lost their way,” said the FCCB in a voter guide released two weeks prior to Election Day.


“The Criminal Justice system holds offenders accountable for their actions; however, punishment must include a constructive and redemptive purpose. As nearly all inmates will return to society, their reintegration must be encouraged.”


And while the bishops acknowledged that it may not be “ideal” to have to amend the state’s constitution to restore voting rights to felons, “it seems to be the only practical way to achieve this policy goal outside of pursuing an uncertain path in the courts.”


The voting rights of felons varies from state to state. Of those that permit convicted felons to vote, 20 restore voting rights upon completion of probation, and 14 restore voting rights upon release from prison.


Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow felons to vote while incarcerated via an absentee ballot.

A look at President Trump’s pro-life 'solution'

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 17:36

Washington D.C., Nov 8, 2018 / 03:36 pm (CNA).- Following the 2018 mid-term elections, U.S. President Donald Trump said in a Nov. 7 press conference that he alone has a plan for making pro-life progress, now that Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives.  

Asked by EWTN News Nightly how he would continue pushing forward the pro-life agenda with a now-divided Congress, Trump responded, “I won’t be able to explain that to you, because it is an issue that is a very divisive, polarizing issue. But there is a solution. I think I have that solution, and nobody else does. We’re going to be working on that.”

The president declined to give details. He applauded his efforts so far, saying, “I’ve done a very good job. They’re very happy with me.”

Now halfway through his presidential term, what exactly has Trump done for the pro-life movement so far, and what remains to be done?

In his first two years as president, Trump has enacted several pro-life policies, focused largely on reversing Obama-era measures to expand abortion funding.

Within days of taking office, he reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy, ensuring that U.S. tax dollars are not funding the provision or promotion of abortion overseas in any U.S. global health spending. His administration has defunded UNFPA on the grounds that it supports coercive abortion and sterilization in China, and has repealed Obama-era guidance preventing states from defunding abortion facilities of Medicaid dollars.

Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services has issued new rules that require health insurers to specify whether plans cover abortions and has proposed a rule to cut Title X taxpayer funding from any facility that performs or refers for abortions. The department has also announced the creation of a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which will work to protect medical professionals who object to cooperating with abortion.  

And Trump has appointed two pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, and dozens more to lower courts throughout the country.

With these steps already taken in the first half of Trump’s term, many of the key political goals remaining for the pro-life movement are dependent upon other branches of government.

Ending the federal funding of Planned Parenthood, a major pro-life objective, would require the cooperation of a now-divided Congress. Overturning Roe v. Wade would fall to the Supreme Court. Restrictions on abortion – such as 20-week limits, ultrasound requirements, and bans on abortions based on genetic abnormality – are largely enacted at the state level. If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, it would also be up to individual states to prohibit abortion.

At this point, Trump has exhausted much of his power as president. What remains for him to push a pro-life “solution”?

One possibility for sidestepping Congressional gridlock and advancing pro-life legislation is to offer some other issue as a compromise. Given the Democratic Party’s emphasis in recent years on abortion as a non-negotiable value, it could be difficult to find any other issue that would incentivize them to cede any ground in this realm.

Immigration and health care are both major issues of concern for the Democrats. But since a tough immigration stance has been among Trump’s chief talking points from day one, it seems unlikely that he would be willing to use it as a bargaining chip. It’s possible that he could attempt a deal that would create a new health care plan both maintaining key elements of the current law and including pro-life protections, but finding a proposal that would satisfy both Democrats and Republicans seems improbable.

A more realistic area of focus for the pro-life movement is the Supreme Court. Two justices on the court are in their 80s. It is likely that Trump will have the opportunity to appoint at least one – if not two – more justices, and with the Senate still in the hands of the GOP, the appointments will probably be confirmed. Trump has so far lived up to his campaign promise of appointing pro-life justices, and another addition or two to the nation’s highest court would create a solid pro-life majority.

Of course, relying on the Supreme Court is a waiting game. It would be a matter of waiting for the right case to come up from a lower court – not just any case involving abortion, but one in which the legal technicalities all allow for a clear and decisive ruling in favor of the unborn. The effects of Supreme Court shake-ups are often felt only years, or decades, later.

But ultimately, Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court may prove to be his most enduring contribution to the pro-life movement. Executive orders can easily be – and in fact, generally are – overturned by a future president upon taking office. Laws can be repealed by a future Congress. But Supreme Court justices serve lifetime appointments, and their rulings routinely go decades before being reconsidered, if they ever are. A single Supreme Court ruling against the legality of abortion could shape the U.S. landscape for generations to come, by passing the decision from the federal government, to the states.

Since Trump did not give details about his plan to fight abortion, it is uncertain what that plan actually entails. But given the limits of his own power, such a solution would realistically require either an extraordinary feat of cooperation in Congress, or a long-term battle in the nation’s high court. Whether either approach is Trump’s promised “solution” – and whether it proves successful – remains to be seen.

EWTN launches expanded podcast lineup

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 16:27

Irondale, Ala., Nov 8, 2018 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- The largest Catholic media network in the world has launched an extended lineup of podcasts.

EWTN Global Catholic Network announced last month that it had begun offering "great Catholic podcasts with programs that feature interviews with Catholic newsmakers taking on the issues of the day, Catholic authors of just published books, Catholic apologists answering questions about the faith, Catholic leaders discussing the day's most important moral and theological issues," among other things.

Among the podcast offerings is a daily recording of the Mass, available for Catholics who wish to listen to Mass but are unable to attend, and a weekly Bible study.

Other podcasts include audio content from EWTN foundress Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, PCPA, news programming from EWTN News Nightly, and audio programming featuring the hosts of EWTN television programs.

EWTN's expanded podcast network can be found at the network's web site and on major podcast subscription apps.

EWTN Global Catholic Network, in its 38th year, is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN's 11 TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 287 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories. EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; the largest Catholic website in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including Catholic News Agency, "The National Catholic Register" newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.






When self-driving cars are forced to crash, whom should they hit?  

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 14:00

Boston, Mass., Nov 8, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- If a self-driving car is about to crash into a crowd, and it can only swerve to hit a baby stroller or a large man, whom should it decide to kill?
Questions like that were the focus of a massive global survey by researchers who say the results could help program autonomous vehicles to behave “ethically” in split-second, life-or-death scenarios.
Their paper, titled, “The Moral Machine Experiment,” was published in the journal Nature Oct. 24. The researchers’ internet platform, called the Moral Machine, asked participants to consider practical dilemmas autonomous vehicles might encounter in daily operation. Participants were asked their moral preferences about how an autonomous vehicle should respond in crisis situations- like whether to swerve to hit a crowd of people or stay on course to hit two people.
Commonalities among respondents included a preference for humans over animals, for the young over the old, and for preserving the lives of many people rather than a few people. Respondents also showed a moderate preference for sparing law-abiding bystanders over jaywalkers.
Among the authors of the paper was Iyad Rahwan, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab.
“On the one hand, we wanted to provide a simple way for the public to engage in an important societal discussion,” Rahwan said, according to the MIT News Office. “On the other hand, we wanted to collect data to identify which factors people think are important for autonomous cars to use in resolving ethical tradeoffs.”
The paper discusses how these preferences can contribute to developing “global, socially acceptable principles for machine ethics,” its abstract said.
For Stephen Barr, a Catholic scientist who is a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Delaware, the survey results show some merits.
“Favoring humans over animals is obviously right,” he told CNA. He compared distinctions among humans envisioned in the scenario to “triage situations” in hospitals.
“Some of the rankings one finds in this survey make sense and are perfectly traditional. Others are a bit strange, such as disfavoring large people,” he said.
While not necessarily endorsing the preferences, Barr said, “some rules must be given to the machines that reflect human moral judgments, and they must be the kinds of rules that a machine can apply.”
“The rules people come up with for the machines to follow will not be perfect, but they may be better than the way a human driver in a state of panic would respond,” he said.
The researchers’ Moral Machine platform collected 40 million decisions in ten languages from millions of people around the world, in 233 countries and territories. Over 490,000 respondents gave demographic data, which researchers split to subgroups by age, education, sex, income and political and religious views.
The top six strongest preferences to spare a character in the scenarios, in descending order, were a baby stroller, a girl, a boy, a pregnant woman, a male doctor and a female doctor.
Respondents rated criminals of lower importance than dogs, who in turn were lower than an old woman, an old man, a homeless person, a large man, a large woman and a male business executive.
Researchers documented individual variations based on respondents’ demographics, as well as cross-cultural ethical variation. Their analysis found three major clusters of differences, clusters researchers said “correlate with modern institutions and deep cultural traits.”
The researchers categorized these clusters as “western,” “eastern” and “southern.”
Those in “southern” countries showed a stronger tendency to save young people over the elderly, while those in the “eastern” cluster, which included many Asian countries, showed a weaker tendency to save children instead of the elderly compared to the other two groups.
Catholic ethics generally hold there to be a natural law standard of ethics that transcends cultural groups.
Barr said that widespread moral preferences “can be in error” but by definition the natural moral law is not.
“But natural law is often reflected in very widespread and transculturally held moral ideas,” he said. “The preferences for saving the child over the adult, the pregnant woman over other adults, the human being over the animal, and several other preferences seen in this survey are quite consistent with traditional Christian values and with the natural law.”
Other preferences seemed arbitrary to Barr, such as the ranking for the large man.
“Since questions of the common good are clearly involved, ultimately public authorities must be involved in setting the rules,” he said. “In one way or another, public opinion will play a large role, especially, but not only, in democratic societies.”
If responsible people perceive the rules to be unreasonable, “they will not be tolerated for long.”
Because public opinion can be influenced by various authorities, the Church “should do what it can to enlighten people on the principles that should apply,” said Barr.


Capuchin priest arrested in Washington DC

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 13:45

Washington D.C., Nov 8, 2018 / 11:45 am (CNA).- A Capuchin priest was arrested in Washington D.C. Nov. 7 after he was accused of sexually abusing a teenager in 2015. Fr. Urbano Vazquez, OFM Cap., had served as parochial vicar of Shrine of the Sacred Heart in northwest Washington since 2014. He has been charged with second-degree child sexual abuse.


The charges concern a claim that Vazquez had put his hand down the shirt of a 13-year-old girl on two occasions and had touched her bare chest.


The Archdiocese of Washington said they learned about the allegation Oct. 26, after being informed by the Capuchin Order of Friars Minor. The archdiocese confirmed to CNA that they immediately removed Fr. Vazquez from the parish, suspended his priestly faculties in the diocese, and informed local police who then arrested Vazquez.


Since Vazquez’s arrest, the archdiocese said they had recieved additional alleagations against the priest. Due to the nature of the police investigation, this information was kept private until Wednesday.


The Shrine of the Sacred Heart, while within the Archdiocese of Washington, is administered by the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, and the church is home to many of the D.C.-area’s Hispanic Catholics. Vazquez was not ordained by the Archdiocese of Washington, but like his brother Franciscans, was permitted by the archdiocese to work within its boundaries. The Archdiocese of Washington has since forbidden Vazquez from exercising ministry, but it will be the Capuchin Order which handles further disciplinary action.


The Archdiocese of Washington said in a statement that Vazquez had passed all required background checks and other investigative measures prior to his arrival in the city.


Also in the statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said that Vazquez’s superior at the shrine, Fr. Moises Villalta, OFM Cap. had been removed from his post as pastor.


The Archdiocese determined that Villalta “failed to follow appropriate protocols related to reporting claims” and had previously known about the allegations and had not reported them to either the police or the archdiocese.


The parish’s child protection coordinator was also placed on administrative leave.


The Archdiocese of Washington recently published a list of 28 clergy to have served within the archdiocese who had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct or abuse over the last 70 years.


Since the publication of that list, three additional names have been added, Fr. Vazquez will be the fourth.

LA archbishop offers prayers for victims following attack

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:12

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 8, 2018 / 09:12 am (CNA).- Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles has offered prayers for the victims, and all who were affected by a Wednesday evening shooting at a country music club in Thousand Oaks, California.


At least 12 people, including a Sheriff's deputy, were killed in the attack at Borderline Bar & Grill. The venue was hosting a country-themed night for nearby college students. The shooting occurred shortly before 11:30 pm.


More than 20 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment following the attack.


The shooter, identified by authorities as 28 year-old Ian David Long, also died of a gunshot during the attack, though it is not clear under what circumstances.


In a statement released by the archdiocese, Gomez said he awoke to news of “horrible violence last night at the Borderline Grill in Thousand Oaks.”


Gomez urged prayers for the families of the victims and for those who were killed or hurt in the shooting. He singled out Sgt. Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff's office as an “heroic officer” who was killed defending others during the attack.


Helus, who was due to retire next year, was the first victim to be publicly identified. After responding to the attack, he sustained multiple gunshot wounds and passed away at a nearby hospital.


“May God grant perpetual light to those who have died and may he bring comfort to their loved ones and peace to our community,” said Gomez.


A motive for the attack was not immediately available. The suspect has been identified as a Marine veteran who had numerous past run-ins with police. According to a New York Times report, Long, a Marine Corps veteran, was the subject of a disturbance complaint at his home in April following which he spoke to mental health specialists, who concluded that he was not an immediate danger to himself or others.


The shooting follows an brutal anti-semitic attack on a Pittsburgh synagoge, Oct. 27, in which 11 people were killed during a service. It also follows similar mass-casualty attacks, including the Las Vegas shooting one year ago, in which 58 people lost their lives.

Trump administration announces new conscience exemptions for contraceptive mandate

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 18:30

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- The Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor released two updated rules concerning conscience protections for organizations and individuals in relation to the HHS contraception mandate.


Under the new rules, organizations and individuals objecting to the controversial mandate’s provisions on either religious or moral grounds will be exempt.


According to a press release from HHS, the new rules “provide an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to entities and individuals that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.”


“Thus,” the release said, “entities that have sincerely held religious beliefs against providing contraceptive services (or services which they consider to be abortifacients) would be exempt from the mandate and no longer be required to provide such coverage.”


The new rules also cover nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and individuals that have “non-religious moral convictions” opposed to the services covered by the mandate.


Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, offered praise for the new rules, saying they signaled the end of a “long, unnecessary culture war.”


Under the Affordable Care Act, employer-provided health insurance plans are required to cover certain “preventative services.” These were defined by guidance issued under the Obama Administration as including all contraception methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including abortifacient birth control pills, IUDs, and sterilization procedures.  


This provision was not included in the original bill, but was announced in January 2012 by then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.


Initially, there were no exemptions for those opposed to the distribution of contraceptives due to their deeply-held religious beliefs. Eventually, an exemption was made, but it was so narrow in scope it excluded religious orders such as the Little Sisters of the Poor.


The Little Sisters of the Poor, along with several other organizations, including EWTN, filed suit against HHS over the mandate.


Rienzi, whose organization represented the Little Sisters of the Poor, said that the change in administration policy meant attention could now turn to ongoing cases in the states.


“Today, at long last, the federal government finalized the rule providing a religious exemption from the HHS Mandate to the Little Sisters and other religious non-profits.”


“All that is left is for state governments to admit that there are many ways to deliver these services without nuns, and the Little Sisters can return to serving the elderly poor in peace.”


The Little Sisters of the Poor are currently being sued by the state attorney general’s office in Pennsylvania and California.


In May of 2017, Trump issued an executive order asking that conscience-based objections to the HHS Contraceptive Mandate be addressed.


In October 2017, the Trump administration announced additional exemptions to protect those with religious objections to the distribution of contraception. These have been the subject of ongoing legal challenges.


Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the Federal District Court in Philadelphia issued a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration's initial rules Dec. 15, 2017, saying Pennsylvania could suffer “serious and irreparable harm” from the rules because a lack of cost-effective contraception would mean “individual choices which will result in an increase in unintended pregnancies” burdening the state.


Shortly after Beetlestone's ruling, Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. of the Federal District Court in Oakland also blocked the Trump administration's rules, saying they would “transform contraceptive coverage from a legal entitlement to an essentially gratuitous benefit wholly subject to their employer’s discretion.”


Both of these cases were appealed by the administration and remain pending.


In April, 2018, District Court Judge David Russell issued a permanent injunction and declaratory relief against the mandate for members of the Catholic Benefits Association.


Russell also ruled that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by attempting to force employers to provide contraception and sterilization in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.


The updated exemptions, released Wednesday, will not include publicly-traded businesses. Employers that still wish to cover contraceptives as part of their insurance plan remain free to do so.


In addition to the exemption, employers and other affected bodies can still choose to arrange for a third-party accommodation, which would provide contraceptive coverage to its employees and their dependents either through independent action by their insurer or insurance administrator.


A press release for HHS also confirmed that government programs providing contraception either for free or at a lower cost to low-income women will not be impacted by these new rules.


In addition to these two rules, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a proposed rule concerning eligibility for premium subsidies through the Affordable Care Act Exchange.


This rule, titled “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA): Exchange Program Integrity,” looks to ensure that patients are eligible for these subsidies. It also proposes that issuers bill patients abortion services separately from other medical services.

Jeff Sessions resigns as Attorney General

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 16:31

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2018 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- Jeff Sessions has stepped down as attorney general. The decision came at the request of President Donald Trump.

A known defender of religious liberty and the right to life of the unborn, but a controversial actor in recent asylum and immigration debates, Sessions submitted his resignation on Wednesday afternoon.

In an undated letter, Sessions said “At your request, I am submitting my resignation.”


He continued, “I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country. I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice.”


Sessions cited his successes in prosecuting “the largest number of violent offenders and firearm defendants” in history, as well as his work targeting transnational gangs, combating the opioid epidemic, and enforcing immigration law during his time as attorney general.


Rumors of Sessions’ departure from the administration had been circulating for months. In August, Trump said that Sessions would be staying as attorney general until at least November, but only weeks later appeared to avoid the question when asked if Sessions’ job was safe.


Tensions between the president and AG were said to begin following Sessions' decision to recuse himself from oversight of the Justice Department invesitgation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.


Trump’s nomination of Sessions as attorney general was cheered by pro-life groups due to his record in Congress as a Senator for Alabama. National Right to Life gave Sessions a perfect 100 percent rating throughout his Senate career.


In July of this year, Sessions created a religious liberty task force to ensure proper implementation of a memo from the year prior. In announcing the task force, Sessions said there was a “dangerous movement” afoot that was “challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”


Sessions also garnered significant controversy over his handling of immigration issues, particularly the family separation policy. In June, he was criticized after citing Romans 13 to justify the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration.


“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” said Sessions.


Romans 13 states, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Those critical of Sessions noted that the same verse had been invoked in the past to defend slavery.


Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the USCCB, was publicly critical of Sessions stance on immigration at the start of the conference’s Spring General Assembly.


DiNardo said that Sessions’ alteration of the United States’ policy on asylum seekers “elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection,” and could “erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors.”


DiNardo also joined Bishop Joe Vasquez, who chairs the USCCB’s migration committee, in condemning family separation as “not the answer” to immigration issues, as well as being “immoral.”


Until a replacement is nominated, Matthew G. Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff, will serve as Acting Attorney General. President Trump said that Sessions’ replacement “will be nominated at a later date.”

Catholic vote split in midterm elections, pro-life amendments adopted

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 16:10

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2018 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- The 2018 midterm elections saw the Catholic vote split evenly between the two main parties, while down-ballot measures to protect life and religious freedom were adopted by voters in several states.

According to Pew Research Center, the Nov. 6 poll saw 50 percent of Catholics vote for Democrats, while 49 percent voted for Republicans. The figures represent a significant tightening between Catholic support for the two parties compared to previous midterm elections.

In the 2014 midterms, 54 percent of Catholic voters backed for the GOP with 45 percent supporting the Democrats.

Four years prior to that, in 2010, 54 percent of Catholic voters favored Republicans compared to 44 percent for Democrats. Those results were nearly the reverse of 2006’s percentages, where 55 percent of Catholics went for Democrats and 44 percent voted for Republicans.

Unlike other religious or faith demographics, Catholics do not tend to vote reliably en bloc. Evangelical Christians, by contrast typically support Republican candidates, and have done so for over a decade. In 2018, 2014, and 2010, more than three fourths of these voters backed Republicans.

Away from the national results, several states had pro-life and religious liberty measures on the ballot.

In Alabama, both Amendment 1 and Amendment 2 passed by wide margins.

Amendment 1 proposed a specific constitutional guarantee that “a person is free to worship God as he or she chooses, and that a person’s religious beliefs will have no effect on his or her civil or political rights.”

It also specifically provided for the public display of the Ten Commandments on government property “so long as the display meets constitutional requirements, such as being displayed along with historical or educational items.”

Amendment 2 was proposed as an effective law-in-waiting should the US Supreme Court overturn the decision Roe v. Wade, which recognizes a constitutional right to abortion. With its passage, the Alabama constitution now “recognizes and supports the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful; and provides that the constitution of this state does not protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

While the law will have no immediate effect because of the national applicability of Roe, should that decision be overturned and the issue of abortion returned to the individual states, it would prevent a state-level legal ruling from finding a similar constitutional protection in Alabama.

A similar measure was passed by voters in West Virginia. Amendment 1 on that ballot also  amended the state constitution to include a clarification that abortion would not be considered a right.

In Oregon, Measure 106 would have forbidden the use of public money to pay for an abortion, except in cases of medical danger to the mother’s life, but was rejected by voters. The Oregon proposal was put on the ballot following a public petition, while pro-life proposals in other states had the backing of state legislators.

A number of closely contested Senate elections also featured abortion as a prominent issue.

Democrat incumbent Joe Donnelly lost his Indiana seat to Republican challenger Mike Braun. Braun continually raised Donnelly’s voting record on abortion during a debate between the candidates, who were polling neck-and-neck.

Similarly, North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp lost her seat to a pro-life challenger, Kevin Cramer. Despite running six years ago as a candidate opposed to government funded and late-term abortions, Heitkamp had a 100% voting record score from Planned Parenthood, and repeatedly cast her ballot to continue funding the abortion provider.

Jeanne Mancini, President of March for Life, told CNA that although the Senate appears to have a solidly pro-life base of members, results in the House of Representatives were a source of concern.

“Now that Democrats control the House, we can expect the Committee Leadership to fall in line with the pro-abortion lobby, pushing an extremist agenda that undoubtedly includes undoing all the pro-life progress made by this administration.”

Mancini expressed her hope that any change in priority by in the House would be offset by strong action by the Trump administration.

“President Trump should by default issue a veto threat any time pro-life policies are stripped from legislation and continue to appoint pro-life leaders to fill critical positions within the administration.”

Despite these concerns, some pro-life victories were won in the House of Representatives too.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), one of the few staunchly pro-life Democrats in Congress, faced an intense challenge primary challenge, during which his opposition to abortion was repeatedly targeted by members of his own party.

In Tuesday’s vote Lipinski was easily reelected to his 7th term in Congress with 73.5 percent of the vote. Lipinski’s opponent, Arthur Jones, had been disavowed by the Illinois Republican Party due to his self-professed Nazi views.

Three states consider abortion, religious freedom amendments in midterm vote

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Nov 6, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- As Americans headed to the polls on Nov. 6 to vote in midterm elections, much of the media focus has been on how the results will shape the national political landscape. But in three states voters will be considering proposed state constitutional amendments that would protect the rights of the unborn and promote religious liberty.


In Alabama, voters will be deciding on amendments which would change the state constitution to protect religious liberty and to establish a right to life of unborn children.


Amendment 1 would specifically protect the right to display a monument of the Ten Commandments on public property, something which has been challenged in state and federal courts.


“Amendment 1 does two things,” reads a description of the measure on the Alabama Secretary of State website.


“First, it provides that a person is free to worship God as he or she chooses, and that a person’s religious beliefs will have no effect on his or her civil or political rights. Second, it makes clear that the Ten Commandments may be displayed on public property so long as the display meets constitutional requirements, such as being displayed along with historical or educational items.”


The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case regarding the legality of a cross-shaped monument on public land. Previously, in 2005, the court found that a monument of the Ten Commandments at the Texas State Capitol was constitutional and did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.


Amendment 2, if passed, would amend the Alabama Constitution “to declare and otherwise affirm that it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful; and to provide that the constitution of this state does not protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”


While strongly worded, Amendment 2 will not be legally enforceable unless the Supreme Court overturned its decision in Roe v. Wade, which found a legal right to abortion throughout a pregnancy. If that were to happen, and the legality of abortion became a state-by-state issue, Amendment 2 could make abortion illegal in Alabama.


Oregon residents will vote on Measure 106, a citizen’s initiative to amend the state constitution to prohibit public funds being used for abortion, except when necessary to save the life of the mother, such as an ectopic pregnancy.


Current Oregon law states that “abortions may be obtained, when approved by medical professional, under state-funded health plans or under health insurance procured by or through a public employer or other public service.” If Measure 106 passes, this will no longer be the case.


Unlike many abortion restriction measures, in the Oregon proposal there is no exception for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest.


Measure 106 narrowly qualified for the ballot in September with fewer than 300 signatures more than the legal minimum.


According to Americans United for Life’s annual “Life List,” which ranks states by pro-life laws, Oregon has some of the loosest abortion laws in the country. Oregon came in at 46, ahead of  only New Jersey, Vermont, California, and Washington.


In West Virginia, voters will be considering Amendment 1, which would “amend the West Virginia Constitution to clarify that nothing in the Constitution of West Virginia secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”


This amendment was sponsored by 15 Republican members of the West Virginia legislature, and was passed with bipartisan support so that it could appear on Tuesday’s ballot. Unlike Oregon’s Measure 106, West Virginia Amendment 1 has an exception for pregnancies that are the result of rape and incest.

Currently, West Virginia law actually criminalizes both the procurement of and performance of an abortion, but this law is not in effect due to Roe v. Wade. If Roe were to be overturned, and Amendment 1 were to pass, it would prevent judges from interpreting the West Virginia constitution in a way which would protect legal abortion in any subsequent court battle.


Abortion is legal in West Virginia until 22 weeks gestation.


Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who is considered to be one of the country’s more vulnerable Democratic senators, does not support Amendment 1. While he has often been seen as a pro-life Democrat, recent votes to continue funding for Planned Parenthood have undermined this position.

Did Iowa diocese give enough warning about abusive priest?

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 15:54

Sioux City, Iowa, Nov 6, 2018 / 01:54 pm (CNA).- A New Mexico man says that an Iowa diocese neglected to tell him about the extent of abuse committed by a priest living in his home. Leaders in the diocese told CNA they tried to warn the man about the priest’s past, and that current leaders have attempted to do everything possible to manage the priest’s situation, within the confines of canon law.

Fr. Jerry Coyle is a priest of Sioux City, Iowa, but he has lived in New Mexico for 32 years. He moved to the state in 1986, to take part in a treatment program at a facility for priests run by the Servants of the Paraclete. He was sent there after telling Bishop Lawrence Soens that over 20 years of priesthood he had abused about 50 male adolescents.

Coyle was removed from ministry and his faculties were revoked after that admission; he was not dismissed from the clerical state.

After Coyle’s time with the Paracletes was completed, he remained in New Mexico. There, more than 10 years ago, he befriended Reuben Ortiz.

Ortiz is a pious and practicing Catholic: he and his family do pro-life ministry, go to homeless shelters, feed the poor, pray the rosary frequently, and even performed music at a World Youth Day. Until recently, Ortiz was a daily Mass-goer.

When Coyle got into a car accident last year, Ortiz invited the priest to move into his Albuquerque home, to live with him, his wife, and his three teenaged children. Coyle lived with the family until June 29.

In a recent Associated Press report, Ortiz’ attorney said that the diocese did not disclose important information about the priest until he was already living in the Ortiz family home. The diocese, however, told CNA that it repeatedly discouraged the Ortiz family from taking in the priest.

Ortiz acknowledged that when he invited Coyle, 85, to live in his home, he already knew that the priest had committed an act of sexual abuse.

“He had told us that he had fondled a kid, and that, it wasn't, you know, that he knew, he went through treatment for it, and he, he was ok,” Ortiz told CNA.

Ortiz said that even though he knew the priest had sexually assaulted a minor, he wasn’t nervous about his own children.

“No, because he was very secure about the fact that he was wrong about it. And he was also very secure that he wasn't ever going to do it again,” Ortiz said.

“Because we asked him right out, 'Well Jerry, what does that mean for our kids?' And he said, 'No, no, no, that was wrong, that's the reason why I'm not doing [active ministry] anymore, I'm not going and serving at Mass; they didn't take away my priesthood, I'm good that way.'”

“He really, he did have a certain way about him that looked like it was okay. But for him to go and deceive us from the very beginning was already wrong,” Ortiz added.

‘Redemption and forgiveness’

In November 2017, shortly after Coyle got in a car accident and had his license revoked, Ortiz phoned Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, to let the bishop know about Coyle’s accident, and to inform him that the priest had come to live with the Ortiz family.

“Reuben Ortiz called me after Jerry had his automobile accident, and wanted me to know he couldn't drive any more, and he needed a place to live because he couldn't take care of himself, and he wanted to take him into his own home, because they were good friends and he wanted to help Jerry recover from the accident, and he told me he can stay here as long as he wants,” Bishop Nickless recounted to CNA.

“I said to him, 'Reuben, do you know his history?' And he said, 'Yes. Father and I have talked about it; I know that he has abused minors in the past, and I believe in redemption and forgiveness.'”

Nickless said the diocese told Ortiz that because his minor children lived at home, “we think … that is not a good place for Jerry to be, and we'd like him to move.”

“He clearly said he wanted to keep Jerry living with him. We asked him to at least inform his children of Jerry's history – he said he hadn't done that – and he said, 'I'm not going to do that to my children.'”

The problem of where Coyle was to live was taken to the diocesan review board. The review board met Feb. 5, 2018, to discuss Coyle's living situation, and suggested that he go to a nursing home in New Mexico.

“They immediately recommended that he leave the house,” Nickless said. “I told Reuben that.”

The Diocese of Sioux City encouraged Ortiz to look for a nursing home for Coyle in the Albuquerque area.

“He refused to do that,” Nickless explained. “He kept saying, 'No, no, I want him here, I want him here, I want him here.'”

On Feb. 8, Fr. Brad Pelzel, vicar general of the Sioux City diocese, spoke with Reuben and his wife, Tania, on the phone, relating what the review board had decided.

At the request of the review board, Pelzel also wrote to Reuben and Tania Feb. 12, following up on their phone conversation. Pelzel’s letter urged that Coyle move to a nursing home. It was thought that one in New Mexico would be most appropriate, because the priest had lived there for so long.

The letter said that the review board was seriously concerned about “Coyle's self-revealed history of sexual attraction to and contact with boys.”

“When he self-reported his situation … Fr. Coyle admitted that, for a period of about 20 years, he victimized approximately 50 school boys, varying from 7th to 10th grade,” Pelzel wrote.

“The Review Board is grateful to you and your family for your kindness and the Christ-like attention and care you have provided Fr. Coyle, most notably your willingness to welcome him into your home following his traffic accident,” Pelzel wrote.

“While acknowledging the grace of Fr. Coyle's repentance and the 30-plus years of apparent success he has experienced in living out celibate chastity since moving to the Albuquerque area, the Review Board cannot condone the risk you take by allowing Fr. Coyle to reside in your home and recommends in the strongest of terms that the best form of assistance you can provide Fr. Coyle would be to help him find an institution with Assisted Living facilities.”

Ortiz said that it was shocking to see the letter that said Coyle admitted to abusing 50 adolescents. While he was comfortable with having Coyle around his family when he believed the priest had abused one or two adolescents, he felt he had been misled.

“You know the shock that was, what we took on? It traumatized us to see these pages of who this guy was. It shocked us to such a degree that I didn't want to let my wife know how scared I was.”

He related that he slept downstairs near Coyle, while the rest of his family was upstairs, from the time they received the Feb. 12 letter until Coyle left in June.

Ortiz told CNA fears that Coyle could have abused his son, who is 15.

Financial matters

Although Ortiz chose not to help Coyle find a nursing home, he did accept money from his boarder. Ortiz told CNA he asked the priest for financial contributions to the family home.

According to Nickless, Coyle gave Ortiz almost $30,000 during the eight months he lived in the family home.

Nickless said that Ortiz first told Coyle he needed to buy a larger car to take him to Mass; his family and Coyle could not all fit into their existing vehicle.

Coyle gave Ortiz $25,000 to buy a new car, Nickless told CNA.

A few weeks later, Ortiz said he needed some more money to handle some expenses.

Coyle gave Ortiz another $2,000, Nickless said.

Later, Ortiz said he needed an additional $3,000, “at which point Jerry balked,” Pelzel told CNA.

“Then Reuben demanded that Jerry give him power of attorney and access to his saving and checking account,” according to Pelzel.

“So then Jerry called us and said, 'This is strange, I think I'm coming back',” Nickless said.

Asked how much money the priest had given him, Ortiz declined to answer.

“Let me ask you something, okay? What do you, how do you think money has anything to do with this? How does money come into play? I curse the day I ever met him and if I could take back every time that we met, and everything that was spent, both ways, I would do it, gladly, just to avoid that one meeting with him,” Ortiz told CNA.

After Coyle decided to leave, the diocese began making arrangements for Coyle to return to Iowa. Within five days, on June 29, Coyle left the Ortiz' home.

Month after Coyle left his home, lawyers representing Ortiz told diocesan officials and reporters that the Diocese of Sioux City was guilty of a cover-up.

Ortiz agreed.

“You know what it's like when you go to your Church officials and they do absolutely nothing for you?” He asked. “They are totally bankrupt when it comes to morals.”

While Nickless told CNA that he tried to explain to Ortiz the allegations against Coyle from the beginning, Ortiz disagreed.

“They're accepting sin, in such a way that it's ok, and so they are shameless in this sin to such a point that they think we are going to agree with a letter of that magnitude. See, they told me that; they had gone and said that he had abused; I said he told us he abused a couple kids, we don't know the extent. But they said, well you know, they didn't really make it quite clear until the letter … do you know how scary it is to have somebody like this in your home?”

Although he acknowledged inviting Coyle into his home, Ortiz maintains he was used.

“I was used, as far as I'm concerned. I was used for the purpose of people who released this into our society as a plague, and it upsets me, it does. I don't think I'm ever going to recover from it.”

Ortiz also said that his spiritual director, whom he described as “no slouch in the priesthood” also failed him, because he did not sufficiently warn him not to allow an admitted perpetrator of sexual assault into his home.


When Coyle returned to Iowa, he was placed at Marian Home, a diocesan retirement home in Fort Dodge.

While the board of directors at Marian Home wasn't notified of Coyle's past, several staff members at the residence were.

Pelzel says he told the activities director “explicitly what Jerry was accused of, and she promised to be vigilant.”

Marian Home is located across the street from both St. Edmond Catholic School and Fort Dodge Senior High. Students at St. Edmond's sometimes visit Marian Home, but they did not have contact with Coyle as they do not go to the area in which he lived.

The schools were not informed when Coyle moved to the residence; “it did not occur to us that the school was there at that time,” Nickless said, acknowledging that “We made a mistake in not notifying the school … we should have done a better job of that.”

Coyle has since left Marian Home, and has been taken in by an acquaintance. Nickless said the priest is living “a life of prayer and penance.”

Nickless wrote a letter to the Sioux City diocese Oct. 31 discussing Coyle's situation, noting that “No one presently at the diocese has firsthand knowledge about Jerry Coyle and that includes me. For the past few months, we have been attempting to put the pieces together about what happened during the 1980s with the files and records that we do have on Jerry Coyle.”

“During the ensuing 32 years, there were no complaints of any misbehavior by Jerry Coyle. Psychologists in Albuquerque advised the diocese that Coyle was highly motivated to change. We know that many disagree with this point, and so do I.”

The bishop wrote that police “were not contacted when Coyle self-admitted, but policies have changed since 1986. Now the policy is to contact civil authorities, which we will follow, since we have [now] named victims of Jerry Coyle.”

In a Nov. 6 statement, the diocese elaborated.

“The issue that is most important for the public to understand is that many of the allegations made in the past, prior to the 2002 ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’ were not followed up with an investigation by civil authorities. The Church often sent priests to treatment, in hopes that any actions of misconduct could be cured. We know now that is not the way to handle any allegation of sexual misconduct, and with the 2002 Charter to guide us, we have protocols in place to follow, which we do,” the statement said.

“As far as Jerry Coyle, he has had no criminal charges made against him. He self-admitted, and there was not one allegation until 1986, and this individual was an adult, so the statute of limitations had run out. We recognize that when Coyle self-admitted, each parish should have been notified, and we should have asked victims to come forward. We apologize that this did not happen under the leadership of the Diocese of Sioux City at that time.”

Nickless wrote to the diocese last month: “If you are a victim of Jerry Coyle or any priest or person associated with the Diocese of Sioux City, please come forward.” In recent weeks, several alleged victims of Coyle have come forward to the diocese.

But in 2002, when the diocese initially reviewed its records with local prosecutors, there were no identifiable victims of Coyle. Pelzel said that at that time, a student at a local university had made allegations against Coyle to another priest; but the allegation was anonymous and the diocese had no way to contact the alleged victim.

Another individual had said Coyle had acted “kind of weird” in the sacristy, but didn't remember “anything else much.”

While Coyle was removed from ministry in 1986, he was not dismissed from the clerical state, and remains a priest of the Diocese of Sioux City. As such, the diocese is obliged under canon law to provide housing and board for him. The diocesan conduct review board is now discussing the possibility of pursuing a dismissal from the clerical state for Coyle.

However, “once a priest is elderly and frail and sick, as Fr. Coyle is, most of the time it's recommended [by the Vatican] that he live a life of prayer and penance,” Nickless explained.

In fact, the Sioux City diocese attempted to have another elderly priest dismissed from the clerical state, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith refused, citing his advanced age.

The review board has also been discussing the preparation and release of a list of credibly accused clerics of the diocese, especially how to make sure that such a list would be accurate. The diocese has stated that a list of credibly accused priests will be published “as soon as we know we have all of the information we need to move forward.”

The Nov. 6 statement said that Coyle’s case raises important questions about how the Church addresses sexual abuse.

“Bishop Nickless inherited many issues from the past. These are the ones we are dealing with today. One of the most difficult issues is this: where do we put known alleged abuser priests that are still alive, but have no charges against them? What do we do with these men? We know that you do not want them in your community. Many care facilities will not, or cannot, take them. Their families sometimes will take them in, but not always. They cannot go to a prison, as civil authorities say that the statute of limitations has run out to prosecute them. This leaves us with very few choices. We understand that the many members of the public are anxious and fearful about sex offenders, because the crime is so egregious. However, if they are not charged and sent to prison, there are few options for housing them.”

“Local Bishops do not have the authority to ‘defrock’ a priest, properly known as laicization. Laicization is a complicated process that is handled by the Vatican; however, a Bishop can remove a priest’s ability to function as a priest, and this has been done. Additionally, once laicized, Diocesan officials lose all ability to supervise formerly accused clergy,” the statement added.

“The Diocese of Sioux City does follow the Charter’s guidelines for all claims of abuse in the present day. As we follow up on past cases, we want to do that in a way that helps victims to feel that have some peace and justice. We set up a meeting on December 6, 2018 with the Attorney General of Iowa to discuss matters further. A list of credibly accused priests will be published, as soon as we know we have all of the information we need to move forward.”


Box set of Mother Angelica's spiritual writings released

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 14:39

Birmingham, Ala., Nov 6, 2018 / 12:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- EWTN released Thursday a box-set compilation of Mother Angelica’s spiritual writings.

The Spiritual Wisdom of Mother Angelica is a seven-book box set made up of pamphlets and mini-books she had written during the late 1970s. The writings were compiled by EWTN and the box set was released Nov. 1.

Father Joseph Wolfe, the chaplain for EWTN, said Mother Angelica's advice was relatable because she had undergone such sufferings as the divorce of her parents.

“She could speak to people because she understood. She could have compassion on their suffering because she knew what it was to suffer, lose heart and hope,” he told CNA.  

“She wanted to speak to the man in the pew so her teaching is not high theology… It was something that was practical, living it out in your day to day life.”

The seven books are titled: Praying with Mother Angelica, Christ and our Lady, Suffering and Burnout, Guide to the Sacraments, Prayer and Living for the Kingdom, Guide to Practical Holiness, and God: his Home and his Angels.

Wolfe said a good portion of these pamphlets were written by Mother Angelica during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The first book, Praying with Mother Angelica, involves her meditations on the rosary and other prayers.

“She would describe it as these booklets were born of light. That’s how she would describe this inspiration she would get when she was in adoration with the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.

After she would write down a spiritual topic, other sisters of Our Lady of the Angels monastery would copy them down in pamphlets and booklets. Wolfe said the distribution of these booklets helped promote Mother Angelica to the media world and create EWTN.

“She would write down these different spiritual topics and then … these little spiritual teachings were put into little booklets. These eventually got spread around and Mother started to get invitations to radio and television interviews, which led … [to] the beginning of EWTN.”

Wolfe said one of his favorite spiritual tidbits from the book involves a consistent theme Mother Angelica used throughout her ministry – the search for God in the present moment.

“Every moment in life is like a clean white sheet of paper on which we can write a new love song to the Lord,” Wolfe quoted from Prayer and Living for the Kingdom.

He explained that resentment can cause someone to live in the past and anxiety can force someone to live in the future, but neither of these states are really living.  

“We can live in the past, we can live in the future, but all we have is right now this present moment …which is all I have, is how I show my love for [God],” he said.

EWTN Global Catholic Network was launched in 1981 by Mother Angelica of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. The largest religious media network in the world, it reaches more than 275 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

In addition to 11 television channels in multiple languages, EWTN platforms include radio services through shortwave and satellite radio, SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 AM & FM affiliates. EWTN publishes the National Catholic Register, operates a religious goods catalogue, and in 2015 formed EWTN Publishing in a joint venture with Sophia Institute Press. Catholic News Agency is also part of the EWTN family.

Cardinal O'Malley elected chairman of Papal Foundation

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 11:52

Washington D.C., Nov 6, 2018 / 09:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston was elected chairman of the Papal Foundation’s board of trustees during a meeting in Washington, D.C. Oct. 30, taking over from Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served in the position for eight years.

O’Malley has been a member of the foundation’s board for 12 years. He is also president of the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals.

The Philadelphia-based Papal Foundation gives grants in support of projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See. Since 1990, the foundation has given over $100 million in grants in service to the Catholic Church.

In a statement on his election, O'Malley praised the work of the foundation, through whose grants, he said, “families and individuals in underserved areas around the world have experienced profound improvements in their lives.”

“Churches, education and health care programs, evangelization and vocation efforts all have been made possible through the extraordinary generosity of the women and men who work closely with the Holy See in providing funding for our brothers and sisters in need,” he stated.

The foundation’s board of trustees voted Oct. 30 to approve $13 million in new scholarships and grants to go toward 127 projects worldwide.

The Papal Foundation is managed by a three-tiered board of trustees. American cardinals residing in the U.S. serve as ex officio members, and bishops and elected laity serve as trustees. Its members are Cardinals Sean O’Malley, Blase Cupich, Daniel DiNardo, Timothy Dolan, Roger Mahony, Adam Maida, Justin Rigali, Joseph Tobin, and Donald Wuerl.

In March, the Papal Foundation announced it would re-evaluate its mission and approach to grant-making following controversy over a $25 million grant from the foundation to a Rome hospital.

In 2017 Pope Francis asked CardinalWuerl for a $25 million grant through the foundation for the Church-owned hospital Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata, which specializes in researching and treating skin diseases.

The Holy See later declined half the grant after objections from some board members. The critics went to the media, resulting in news coverage that questioned the integrity of the hospital and the wisdom of the foundation’s grant-making process.

The foundation responded to criticism by committing to taking any necessary corrective measures and pledging to provide members with the facts of the grant and a clearer understanding of the foundation’s mission and governance. It also committed itself “to renewing its bond of trust with the Holy See.”