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US international religious freedom commission reauthorized, with strings

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 17:51

Washington D.C., Dec 19, 2019 / 03:51 pm (CNA).- The Senate is set to re-authorize the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom for the next three years, in a compromise bill that has drawn charges of hampering its ability to do good work.

The re-authorization is found in an omnibus spending bill that was released Dec. 16.

The move was praised by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’s spokeswoman, who said, “The inclusion of provisions related to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020 is vital for continuing to advance religious freedom worldwide.”

She praised the “bipartisan compromise” that will “enhance its credibility and transparency.”

But the new omnibus bill clarifies that commissioners of the USCIRF cannot accept travel expenses from any non-federal source, a change that angered former USCIRF commissioner Kristina Arriaga.

Arriaga resigned from the organization in November, citing “a move towards more bureaucratic controls.”

“USCIRF's strength is derived from its independence, its nonpartisanship, and its nimbleness. It's good that USCIRF lives on but the reauthorization has seriously disabled its effectiveness,” Arriaga told CNA in an email.

Earlier this year, the Senate proposed bills that would have included further restrictions on what the USCIRF’s commissioners were able to do, and what they must report. Arriaga resigned in part due to these proposed policies.

“USCIRF needed reform and transparency, but instead of creating legislation stipulating qualifications required of staff and commissioners, Congress offers legal representation to the staff alone,” she added. This means that “the government becomes both partner and enforcer” and that those who do not “read from the script” of the government will be punished.

“The message from Congress is clear: Commissioners are no longer in charge of the Commission,” said Arriaga.

Lawsuit challenges Nashville suburb's limits on abortion clinics

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 17:28

Nashville, Tenn., Dec 19, 2019 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- Pro-life advocates warned against efforts to expand abortion after backers of abortion provider Carafem filed a legal challenge against a Nashville suburb’s zoning regulations that limit surgical abortion clinics.

“Wilson County Right to Life is deeply saddened by the fact that Carafem is not only performing medical abortion, but is working toward expanding its abortion services to include surgical abortions in our community through this suit,” Trecia Dillingham, president of Wilson County Right to Life, said Dec. 19. “We regret that we now share the label of abortion destination along with four other Tennessee communities.”

The abortion provider Carafem opened in Mt. Juliet March 1. It said it would initially offer birth control and medical abortions up to 10 weeks into pregnancy. Carafem said it planned to offer surgical abortions in the future, The Tennessean reports.

Carafem’s website bears the motto “Abortion. Yeah, we do that.” It has three other clinics in the U.S., in Atlanta, the Chicago metro area, and the D.C. metro area.

Mt. Juliet, an eastern suburb of Nashville, has a population of about 35,000 people. The Carafem clinic in Mt. Juliet is in a commercial zoning district in a medical pavilion with several medical providers.

Two days after the Mt. Juliet clinic opened, city commissioners met at a specially called Sunday meeting March 3. They introduced an ordinance allowing surgical abortion clinics only in special industrial zones. The ordinance also provides that these abortion clinics cannot be located within 1,000 feet of any churches, parks, schools, libraries, child care facilities, or residential areas, the Associated Press said. Commissioners passed the ordinance unanimously in April.

The lawsuit charges that the ordinance is “a complete ban on surgical abortion clinics within the city limits of Mt. Juliet” both “in purpose and effect.” This illegally targets the constitutional right to an abortion, it argued. It cites city commissioners and the city’s mayor who said their motivations included opposition to aboriton.

The lawsuit aims for a ruling that the ordinance is unconstitutional and seeks an injunction against its enforcement.

Backers of the lawsuit include the ACLU, the ACLU of Tennessee, and the law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.

In discussions about the clinic, former city Commissioner Brian Abstom told a local television station, “I am pro-life, so I will take any action possible within the law to make sure it’s not here,” the Associated Press reports.

Soon after the ordinance passed, Mayor Ed Hagerty said that zoning in general aims “to protect the health, safety and welfare” of city residents, The Tennessean reports.

Other pro-life advocates criticized the lawsuit.

“It's tragic that as most Tennesseans are preparing to celebrate the birth of a child, pro-abortion activists are attacking the fundamental right to life,” Will Brewer, the legislative lobbyist for Tennessee Right to Life, said Dec. 19. “This litigation underscores the paramount importance of carefully drafting public policies that can withstand the highest constitutional scrutiny.”

Thomas H. Castelli, the legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee, defended the lawsuit.

“No matter how someone feels about abortion, it is not their place to judge someone else’s decision to end their pregnancy,” Castelli said. “When a person has made that decision, they should be able to get the care they need without facing unnecessary obstacles.”

“Mt. Juliet politicians passed this targeted ordinance solely to interfere with a woman’s personal decision-making,” he said. “We cannot allow those who want to put abortion completely out of reach to implement another law that stands in the way of necessary, constitutionally-protected health care.”

The ACLU of Tennessee cited the remarks of City Commissioner Brian Abston, who said of the abortion clinic: “I realize they have rights, but my constituents and I don’t want it here.”

His March statement to NewsChannel5 Nashville also said: “I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town. If there is anything we can legally do to keep them from opening in Mt. Juliet we will do it.”

City Commissioner Ray Justice said that he has talked with commission members who are “100 percent behind shutting this abomination down.”

“This is not Mt. Juliet. This is not us,” he said.

The lawsuit claims that within two days of the clinic’s opening, it was completely booked for 30 days.

Nashville’s Planned Parenthood abortion clinic temporarily halted abortions in December. The Carafem clinic in Atlanta reported many more women traveling from Tennessee to get an abortion during this time, the lawsuit said.

About 8,600 abortions were performed in Tennessee in 2017, according to figures from the Tennessee Department of Health Services.

Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi is among the plaintiffs challenging Tennessee’s 2015 law requiring a 48-hour waiting period and mandatory in-clinic counseling for a woman seeking an abortion. A federal judge has not made a ruling in that case, the Associated Press reports.

Texas Right to Life fined for illegal funding of political ad

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 16:10

Austin, Texas, Dec 19, 2019 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- Pro-life group Texas Right to Life has been issued a $7,500 fine by the Texas Ethics Commission for illegally funding a political radio ad for the 2018 re-election campaign of a Republican state senator, Texas sources have reported.

The ethics commission’s general counsel, Ian Steusloff, told The Dallas Morning News that corporations are normally banned by state law from politically funding candidates or representatives currently in office.

The commission issued the fine to Texas Right to Life, the state affiliate of National Right to Life, in November after it was found that the group’s corporate branch, not its political action committee, had paid $37,915 for a radio ad for the campaign of Senator Bob Hall.

Kimberlyn Schwartz, director of media and communication for Texas Right to Life, told The Dallas Morning News that the group had already “self-corrected and self-reported” the error, and said that the ethics commission “is known for targeting citizens and nonprofits, including Texas Right to Life.”

“Due to the commission's web of rules aimed at limiting free speech, average citizens find it very difficult to be engaged in the political process without incurring hefty fines and lengthy court battles,” Schwartz added.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the funds were used to air radio ads on Dallas stations featuring Hall’s voice starting in December 2017. The ads included a disclosure that they had been paid for by Texas Right to Life.

The expenses were disclosed in a January 2018 finance report, and attributed the funds to Texas Right to Life’s corporate arm.

In February 2018, Texas Right to Life issued a correction, noting that the source of the funds had been “inadvertently” misidentified and that they instead came from its political action arm, just before an ethics complaint was filed against the group.

In March 2018, Texas Right to Life provided documentation to show that their corporation had reimbursed their political action committee for the funds.

That same month, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops encouraged Catholics to sever ties with the group and instead give their time and efforts to other pro-life groups, including Church-sponsored pro-life ministries, after taking issue with Texas Right to Life’s stance on multiple political problems, as well as their voter guide.

In a parish advisory notice issued to Catholic churches in the state, the bishops objected to the group’s opposition to incremental pro-life reforms, such as laws that restrict certain types of abortion rather than outlaw the act entirely, and mentioned “conflicts on end-of-life reform” and issues with the organization’s voter guide among their concerns about the organization.

“The bishops have been compelled to publicly correct Texas Right to Life’s misstatements on end-of-life care and advance directives,” the bishops stated.

“Texas Right to Life implied that the legislation the bishops were supporting allowed euthanasia and death panels rather than the reality that the legislation reflected the long-standing Church teaching requiring a balance of patient autonomy and the physician conscience protection.”

The bishops added that the group’s voter guide excluded pro-life members of the Texas legislature, and “was not based on a fair analysis of a legislator’s work.”

In response, Texas Right to Life issued a statement that they were “disappointed but not surprised” by the bishops’ “uncharitable mischaracterizations” of the group.

Drop in support for the death penalty matches decline in its use

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 02:03

Washington D.C., Dec 19, 2019 / 12:03 am (CNA).- As support for the death penalty decreases in the U.S., so does the number of inmates executed by the states, said a new report this week.

The non-profit Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) said in a Dec. 17 report that 22 state executions were carried out in 2019, three fewer than in 2018 and the second-lowest rate in nearly three decades.

According to the DPIC, this is the fifth year in a row that states have carried out fewer than 30 total executions, and fewer than 50 new sentences for the death penalty have been handed down. The organization said this drop has coincided with a decrease in public approval for capital punishment, and an increase in public advocacy against it.

A November poll from Gallup found that for the first time in more than three decades, a majority of Americans favor life imprisonment without parole over the death penalty as a punishment for murder.

The poll found that 60% of survey respondents said life without parole is the preferable sentence for a person convicted of murder, while 36% said the death penalty is preferable.

The DPIC reported that 32 states have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in a decade. Fewer than 40 new sentences will have been imposed by the end of 2019, the organization projected, which is significantly less than the 1994-1996 peak of capital punishment in the U.S., which saw more than 300 sentences issued annually.

In 2019, Ohio, California, and New Hampshire have either permanently banned or temporarily halted state executions, with other states limiting the crimes eligible for use of the death penalty, the organization said.

This year, New Hampshire became the 21st state to abolish the death penalty, completely eradicating use of the punishment in New England. Rep. Renny Cushing (D), a sponsor of the bill and family member of two murder victims, said the practice does not ensure public safety.

“I think it’s important the voices of family members who oppose the death penalty were heard, the voices of law enforcement who recognize that the death penalty doesn’t work in terms of public safety, and the voices of the people in the state that know the death penalty is an abhorrent practice were all heard today by the Legislature,” he said, according to the DPIC.

Ohio suspended executions in February after a court ruling found that part of the lethal drug combination used in the state was comparable to waterboarding, suffocation, and being chemically burned alive. Governor Mike DeWine then halted executions until a humane protocol can be guaranteed.

“Ohio is not going to execute someone under my watch when a federal judge has found it to be cruel and unusual punishment,” said DeWine at the time.

California became the fourth state to issue a moratorium on executions in 2019. Governor Gavin Newson announced the new policy on March 13, saying capital punishment is costly, ineffective, and has proven racially biased in its application.

Brandon Garrett, a Duke law professor and an author of several books on prosecution and the death penalty, said the California moratorium is particualrly significant because the state has by far the biggest death row in the nation. California has 729 death row inmates, twice the number in the next largest death row state, Florida.

“Over time, more states that are not executing anyone may reconsider the considerable expense of the death penalty as not a worthwhile use of resources,” he told the Washington Post.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles praised California’s decision, hailing it as a pro-life move that is good for the state and the nation.

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

The Death Penalty Information Center said that numerous cases in 2019 involved mental illness or an error in the legal process.

“Those sentenced to death this year included defendants whose juries did not unanimously recommend a death sentence, a brain-damaged defendant who was permitted to represent herself, a foreign national who waived his right to consular assistance, and others who waived their right to counsel, waived their right to a jury trial, and/or pled guilty and presented no case for life,” the organization said.

It added that two men on death row - both convicted in the 1970s - were exonerated in 2019, bringing the number of exonerations since 1973 to 166. Clifford Williams Jr. was released from Florida’s death row in March and Charles Ray Finch was released from prison in North Carolina in June.

For the World Day Against the Death Penalty in October, three U.S. bishops encouraged mercy during a live video stream. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington emphasized the cases of people who have been found innocent through new evidence or modern DNA testing.

“With the death penalty, there are no re-tries. It concludes and ends a life that may have been wrongly [convicted],” Gregory said.

“The Gospel calls us to mercy. Mercy is never cruel,” he added.


SCOTUS to hear Catholic school religious freedom cases

Wed, 12/18/2019 - 20:00

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Supreme Court will decide two religious freedom cases concerning Catholic schools during its upcoming term, the court announced on Wednesday, Dec. 18.

The court consolidated the cases Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel, and will consider them together.

Both lawsuits concern teachers at Catholic schools who did not have their contracts renewed, apparently after poor performance. In one case, a teacher sued, claiming age discrimination, and in the other, sued claiming that she was discriminated against rights established by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Parents trust Catholic schools to assist them in one of their most important duties: forming the faith of their children,” sMontserrat Alvarado, vice president and executive director at Becket, the law firm providing counsel in both cases, said in a statement to CNA. 

“If courts can second-guess a Catholic school’s judgment about who should teach religious beliefs to fifth graders, then neither Catholics nor any other religious group can be confident in their ability to convey the faith to the next generation,” she added.

The “ministerial exception,” which permits a church or school to hire and fire teachers to their liking, was expanded in the 2012 Supreme Court decision Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the firing of a teacher at a Lutheran school was not unlawful due to the religious nature of the school.

In the cases in question, courts disagreed that the teachers were in “ministerial” roles at the school. In the Our Lady of Guadalupe School case, Agnes Morrissey-Berru, a teacher at the school in Hermosa Beach, CA, taught religion and led students in prayer. In 2015, her teaching contract expired and was not renewed. She claimed her contract was not renewed because of her age; the school says that she was not a good teacher and received complaints. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Morrissey-Berru.

Kristin Biel was a fifth-grade teacher at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California. Her contract was not renewed. She claims that the school opted not to renew her contract after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. As with Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the Ninth Circuit also ruled in favor of Biel and against the school.

Biel was the only fifth-grade teacher at the Catholic school, yet was judged by the court not to have a “ministerial” role in the faith formation of her students.

Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement provided to CNA that he is “confident” that the schools will win at the Supreme Court.

“Under our Constitution, government officials cannot control who teaches kids what to believe,” said Rassbach.

“Do we really want judges, juries, or bureaucrats deciding who ought to teach Catholicism at a parish school, or Judaism at a Jewish day school? Of course not,” he added.

“Religion teachers play a vital role in the ecosystem of faith.”

Rep. Loudermilk defends comparison of Trump impeachment to Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ

Wed, 12/18/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A Georgia congressman’s office defended a claim made Wednesday that Jesus Christ was afforded more rights during the trial that led to his crucifixion than President Donald Trump has been given during impeachment proceedings.

“Before you take this historic vote, today, one week before Christmas, I want you to keep this in mind: When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) said on Wednesday on the House floor, amid House debate on a motion to impeach Trump.

“During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus, than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process,” he added before yielding his time.


“...When Jesus was falsely accused of Treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus, than Democrats have afforded this president in this process.” #ShamImpeachment

— Barry Loudermilk (@RepLoudermilk) December 18, 2019  

“Congressman Loudermilk was simply making a comparison about the process; that Pontius Pilate allowed Jesus face his accusers, but the Democrats refused to allow the president or Republicans to even know who the accuser was, much less the right to question him or her,” Brandon Cockerham, Loudermilk’s press secretary, said in an email to CNA.

The 23rd chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke recounts that Jewish religious leaders took Jesus, who had been arrested while praying in Jerusalem's Garden of Gethsemane, to the home of Pontius Pilate, who was then governor of the Roman empire’s Judean province.

“We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king,” the crowd with Jesus told Pilate, according to St. Luke’s Gospel.

While Luke’s Gospel recounts that Pilate found “no guilt” after questioning Jesus and sent him to be questioned by Galilean tetrarch Herod Antipas. Pilate eventually acquiesced to repeated insistence that Jesus be executed.

Christ, subsequent to that execution, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Loudermilk’s Dec. 18 remarks also took issue with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who said in November that if Trump had proof of his innocence, “he should make that known.” The congressman claimed that Trump has repeatedly been denied his Constitutional rights throughout the impeachment process.

“The Constitution also guarantees that the accused can call witnesses to testify on their behalf,” said Loudermilk. “But the Republicans and the president were continually denied that right throughout this process.”

The congressman’s remarks refer to a “whistleblower,” who earlier this year accused the president of abusing the power of his office by apparently implying to Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky that military aid to the country would be withheld unless the president worked to assure an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The “whistleblower” and as such, Trump has not been able to question the party. This, said Loudermilk, is a violation of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, which states that people have a right to a fair trial and to face their accuser.

The impeachment process officially began on September 24, 2019, and concerns whether or not Trump abused his power. The two articles of impeachment filed against Trump accuse him of “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” regarding the legislative body’s investigation of Ukraine.

The House of Representatives is set to vote on Wednesday evening to impeach Trump. There will be separate votes for each of the two articles of impeachment that were filed against the president. If the vote passes, the Senate will then hold a trial to decide whether or not to remove Trump from the presidency.


Priests respond to Archbishop Paglia: 'Accompaniment isn't directionless'

Wed, 12/18/2019 - 05:01

Denver, Colo., Dec 18, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- After a prominent archbishop commented to journalists last week that he would hold the hand of a person dying of assisted suicide, two priests and a cardinal offered their perspectves to CNA on what a priest ought to do if faced with a person wishing to commit assisted suicide.

“Sitting there holding their hand as if it is no big deal is a huge mistake. I think it's in fact quite cruel...I think we need to as a culture think more about preaching about why suicide is wrong," Father Pius Pietrzyk, chair of pastoral studies at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California, told CNA.   

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, made headlines Dec. 10 by say he would be willing to hold the hand of someone dying from assisted suicide, and that he does not see that as lending implicit support for the practice.

“In this sense, to accompany, to hold the hand of someone who is dying, is, I think a great duty every believer should promote,” he said, adding that believers should also provide a contrast to the culture of assisted suicide.

Paglia spoke at a Dec. 10 press conference preceding a two-day symposium on palliative care, being sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life and the WISH initiative, part of the Qatar Foundation.

If faced with a situation of a person who is resolved to commit assisted suicide, priests must continue to do whatever they can to dissuade them, Pietrzyk said, and remind them that their eternal soul is at stake.

Beyond that, he said, a priest must do anything in their power to stop a person from committing suicide by any means, even if it means subjecting themselves to civil punishment.

"We stand up for life even at the cost of civil punishment," Pietrzyk said.

"To do otherwise is to deny the sanctity of life. To sit there passively and stroke someone's hand instead of actively trying to prevent them is to deny the dignity of their life, is to deny the gift that God has given them in their life. We as a Church refuse to do that."

He said it is a good idea to invite those family members of the person committing suicide who are opposed to the decision to come together and pray.

He also said he thinks priests need to remind the faithful from time to time, whether in catechesis or in homilies, that committing suicide is gravely immoral and that the people who do so risk their souls.  

"There's no question that, at least in this country, the suicide rate has increased. And I think, again, this false sense of mercy is what's behind it...I think our failure to condemn suicide has led and will continue to lead to a greater number of suicides.”

Father Thomas Petri, a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C., told EWTN News Nightly that accompaniment should always be governed by love, and love is guided by truth.

"I think [Paglia is] just looking to show that Christ doesn't abandon anyone, that's how he started his response. I do think, however, that it was imprudent to suggest that a priest could hold the hand of someone engaged in assisted suicide,” Petri told EWTN News Nightly.

“It's important not to normalize or regularize this as though it's some other medical treatment. I wouldn't hold somebody's hand if they were about to shoot themselves, or about to hang themselves, I would stop them, which is what a priest ought to do if he's in that situation."

Pietrzyk echoed Petri’s point, adding that a Catholic would not "hold the hand" of a woman having an abortion, nor of the executioner flipping the switch on an electric chair.

"There's a fundamental misunderstanding about pastoral ministry, especially with regards to suicide," he continued.

"Accompaniment isn't directionless. Accompaniment is to accompany people to heaven. When you're in a situation where you're accompanying someone into Hell, you've done something terribly wrong...and I think we as a Church have to say no to that," Pietrzyk said.

Modern culture tends to associate dignity with ability, Petri said, and thus it can be tempting to think that a bedridden or suffering person has lost their dignity.

“Christianity says, on the contrary, your dignity has not been erased, in fact you have more dignity precisely because we follow a God who became man to suffer. And so God redeems suffering and makes it dignified," Petri said.  

Cardinal Willelm Eijk of Utrecht told CNA this week that a priest cannot be present when voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide is performed as this might imply that the priest has no problems with the decision.

While not denying the possibility of spiritual accompaniment, Eijk stressed that "the priest must not be present when euthanasia or assisted suicide are performed. This way, the presence of the priest might suggest that the priest is backing the decision or even that euthanasia or assisted suicide are not morally illicit in some circumstances."

Eijk also explained that a priest can celebrate the funeral of a person who died by assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia only in some circumstances, including in some cases of psychiatric illness, though suicide is always illicit.

Teens deserve better than Planned Parenthood in LA schools, critics say

Wed, 12/18/2019 - 02:47

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 18, 2019 / 12:47 am (CNA).- As Planned Parenthood prepares to open as many as 50 centers in Los Angeles public high schools, critics are warning that the organization will not help teens receive the formation they need for practicing virtue and building successful relationships.

Kathleen Domingo, senior director at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Life, Justice and Peace, is not confident the health centers will encourage students who are seeking alternatives to sexual activity, contraception, and abortion.

If young women say they are not prepared for current dating and hookup culture and want to step back, Domingo told CNA Dec. 12, “those choices are not generally supported by Planned Parenthood in their materials and resources.”

She had her own advice for high school students: “Seek out those people in your life who are living out the kind of life you want to live, and find out how they are living a life of virtue.”

If a student feels that the school environment is pushing them in a particular direction, he or she should “follow your conscience, and follow what you know God is asking you to do.”

“We will be there to provide you support for those good choices,” Domingo said, encouraging youth to seek out positive resources in the parish, youth ministry, and archdiocese.

The new LA plan provides for “wellbeing centers” in local public high schools. The centers will each be run by two public health officials trained by Planned Parenthood and will offer education and counseling five days a week. Their work will include in-classroom activities.

One day a week, Planned Parenthood clinicians will provide services including birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy testing. The clinics will not offer abortions, but will have “pregnancy options counseling.” Students may make appointments at the in-school centers and may leave class for them. They may also walk-in for services.

The three-year funding plan for the project includes $10 million from Los Angeles county and $6 million from Planned Parenthood to cover 75,000 students at 50 schools, the Washington Post reports. Los Angeles’ regular Planned Parenthood clinics had more than 250,000 patient visits in 2018.

The schools are selected because they are low-income and lack similar centers nearby. Five wellbeing centers have already opened in the district high schools.

Planned Parenthood also intends to train hundreds of teen “peer advocates” to provide information about safe sex and relationships to high school students.

Backers of the project say it is necessary to address an alarming rise in sexually transmitted diseases among young people aged 15 to 24.

Alexis McGill Johnson, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said young people deserve to have “the education, resources, and skills they need to make informed decisions about their health, their relationships, and their futures.”

Sue Dunlap, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, said the program will help address mental and behavioral health issues, substance use, and “lack of knowledge around sexual health” that can “create barriers to academic success.”

However, Sister Paula Vandegaer, S.S.S., a licensed clinical social worker who has counseled women for about 40 years, disagreed that the sex education offered by Planned Parenthood is forming teens for success.

Vandegaer is the founder of Volunteers for Life, a Los Angeles-based organization that describes itself as a “pro-life volunteer corps.” Its work includes counseling and support for women in crisis pregnancies and work with unwed mothers.

She suggested that teens need help to pursue important questions about their lives. Education must be about more than “do what you want” or “follow your feelings,” she said.

“What are my ideals? Who do I want to be? Who do I want to be like? What are my values? What do I stand for? These are the questions that young people should be able to shape and form,” she told CNA. “This is what I don’t think Planned Parenthood forms.”

Citing her experience in marital counseling, Vandegaer warned that helping teens learn self-discipline in sexual matters and relationships is vital for future relationships and marriage.

Vandegaer is not confident the Planned Parenthood centers will support pregnant teens. Planned Parenthood is the largest performers of abortions in the United States. In 2016, the organization performed about one out of every three abortions.

“They will be offered abortions,” she said. “I don’t think they will receive adequate pregnancy counseling like we do in the pro-life pregnancy centers.”

“Pregnancy centers have time to talk with the girls through alternatives, help her to calm her fears, help her to know what her own values are, help her to promote good values, confidence in herself as a mother, help her to be a good mother,” she continued. “There’s ongoing counseling and ongoing help for the girl: financial and educational and emotional and physical.”

Such support is not going to happen in the school-based Planned Parenthood health centers, she suggested. There, a pregnant teen “won’t have adequate knowledge of what she can do if she has her baby and the help that’s available to her.”

Vandegaer told CNA that the California ban on “abstinence-only” education ends up promoting “abortion and contraceptives as the answer to teenage pregnancy.”

Los Angeles public schools are already offering abortion referrals. Domingo noted that while Planned Parenthood says its school centers won’t offer abortions, this likely does not acknowledge the properties of some drugs like Plan B that can cause abortions.

She also questioned whether separating students’ health and sexual education from the context of their families is in their best interests.

“We have traditionally felt that parents know their children best and advocate for their child’s health and safety,” she said.

California law allows minors to consent to receiving birth control or mental health counseling. Health care providers are not allowed to inform parents without the minors’ permission.

Domingo pointed to alternatives like the Culture Project, which has worked in the Los Angeles archdiocese for the last five years to send young adult missionaries to Catholic schools and parishes to work with students in religious education.

“It’s really a very different message,” Domingo said. “It’s the message of human dignity, understanding yourself, understanding the gift that you are, understanding the gift of your life and the gift of body, and understanding the integrity of that: what it all means, what it’s all for, and how to respect that in context.”

“That’s a much better message than one that parcels out a piece of you and says ‘we can fix this for you, we can solve this’ but doesn’t address the larger issue.”

Domingo believes the program is part of Planned Parenthood’s strategy to reach younger and younger populations.

“There’s a real sense within the organization that the support the organization used to have from teens and young adults is just not there anymore,” she said. “They’re being very aggressive in going after supporters.”

“Are they looking to provide services? Sure. But I think they’re also doing more than that. I think it’s a marketing strategy to look for lifetime support from a new generation of young people,” said Domingo.

In the past decade, Planned Parenthood has seen its number of patients decline. The number of cancer screenings, contraceptives distributed, and prenatal services provided by the organization decreased as well.

Its number of abortions, however, have increased by about 10% since 2006, despite seeing fewer patients.

Cuts in taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and abortion restrictions in dozens of states across the country have put the organization on the defensive. The Trump administration has also instituted rules that meant the organization lost about $60 million in federal funds.

Planned Parenthood has also faced increased scrutiny following the release of a series of undercover videos in 2015 in which executives at the organization appear to be discussing the transfer of body parts from aborted babies for money, a practice that would violate federal law.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s most recent president, Dr. Leanna Wen, M.D., resigned in July. She said she was forced out after only eight months in her role because she had wanted the organization to focus on health care, while others in leadership positions insisted that abortion advocacy in the political sphere was central to the organization’s purpose.


Ohio legislator didn't consult with doctors before crafting bill on ectopic pregnancy

Tue, 12/17/2019 - 20:01

Columbus, Ohio, Dec 17, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- An Ohio state representative told the Cincinnati Enquirer Dec. 17 that he did not consult with doctors before crafting a bill that would allow insurance providers to pay for procedures to “reimplant” embryos removed from ectopic pregnancies – a procedure that does not yet exist.

State Representative John Becker (R-Union Township, Clermont County) introduced House Bill 182 in April, which would prohibit insurers from covering abortions. It provides an exception for “a procedure for an ectopic pregnancy, that is intended to reimplant the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman's uterus,” allowing insurance providers to cover such a procedure.

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo implants outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. Once implanted, the embryo’s growth is likely to rupture the Fallopian tube, which can cause the death of both mother and child.

Both pro-life and pro-choice advocates have noted that no standard procedure currently exists to reimplant the embryo.

According to the Enquirer, Becker consulted Barry Sheets, a lobbyist for the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio, in crafting the bill. Neither Becker nor Sheets responded to CNA’s calls for comment by press time.

HB413, also in the Ohio Legislature and cosponsored by Becker, includes a provision that doctors must attempt to “reimplant” ectopic pregnancies in a woman’s uterus “if applicable.” The bill, which has garnered attention around the world, is currently in committee.

"I heard about it over the years," Becker reportedly told the Enquirer, referring to the reimplantation procedure.

"I never questioned it or gave it a lot of thought."

There is dubious evidence of two cases of successful reimplantation, in 1917 and in 1980. The 1917 case is poorly documented, and the 1980 case used falsified research.

Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, a high-risk obstetrician and Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami, is sceptical of the 1917 case, with the doctor's case report the only evidence that it occurred.

“You have no way of proving that happened. You have to accept what the guy wrote,” she commented.

Dr. Lorna Cvetkovich, an OB-GYN with the pro-life medical practice Tepeyac Center, told CNA in May that the 1980 case was found to have used falsified research.

Becker reportedly told The Enquirer he hadn't seen the two studies until after The Enquirer requested examples of research in May, and now acknowledges that there is no standard operating procedure for reimplanting ectopic pregnancies, WOSU radio reports.

“[Reimplantation] is so theoretical at this point, that I can't imagine how anybody would vote to approve this,” O’Sullivan told CNA in an interview earlier this month.

“It's food for thought, no question about that. Maybe it will stimulate some kind of research to see whether this can actually be done, at least in animals.”

There are three common medical procedures to address ectopic pregnancies, she noted, only one of which is widely considered to be moral.

The patient may be offered methotrexate, which is an anti-cancer drug that stops the embryo’s cells from dividing; the Fallopian tube can be opened and the embryo “scooped” out, a salpingostomy; or the segment of the tube can be transected on each side and removed completely, a salpingectomy.

In all of the procedures, the embryo dies. However, in the first two, the procedure itself is an act to end the life of the embryo. A salpingectomy, in contrast, is an act to remove the damaged portion of the fallopian tube.

For this reason, salpingectomies are generally considered moral under the principle of double effect: the objective of the surgery is the removal of the affected tube, and the embryo dies as an undesired –  although foreseen – side effect. Since there are no alternative procedures that can save the life of the embryo, this process is considered morally acceptable.

O’Sullivan said in her view, the methotrexate treatment and the salpingostomy are both abortions.

“What you're doing this time [in a salpingectomy] is you're taking out damaged section of tube, and since it's removed it's cut off from its blood supply, and ultimately the little baby, the little fetus, will die,” O’Sullivan explained.

“In the other two cases, the baby is going to die, too. But both of them are direct attacks on the baby itself. In this latter one, you primary intent is to remove the diseased section of the tube, and you know that the outcome of that will be the loss of the pregnancy.”

White House hosts Catholic leaders for religious freedom briefing

Tue, 12/17/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The White House hosted dozens of Catholic leaders on Monday afternoon for an internal briefing on life and religious freedom issues.

The off the record briefing, held in the Indian Treaty room of the Executive Office Building, focused on “life, religious freedom, and other issues pertinent to the Catholic faith community,” according to an invite provided to participants. Attendees also had the opportunity to share their observations or concerns with the administration.

Catholics in attendance included former Kansas congressman Tim Huelskamp, now a senior political advisor for; Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society; and Stephen D. Minnis, president of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Several nuns were also in attendance, Huelskamp said.

Mick Mulvaney, White House chief of staff and a practicing Catholic, led the briefing on religious freedom and life issues for around 45 minutes each, and devoted around 20 minutes to the economy, said Gia Chacón, a speaker and pro-life director at the group Bienvenido, who attended.

The discussion of religious freedom included both health care and education policy, she said, and how “the previous administration advocated for ‘freedom of worship’ as opposed to ‘freedom of religion.’”

According to social media posts after the event, Mulvaney said “worship takes place within four walls,” while “faith is the way we live our lives,” differentiating between freedom of worship and religion.

The “Fairness for All Americans Act,” recently introduced in the House on Dec. 6, was also raised by a participant, said Patrick Reilly.

That legislation, introduced by some House Republicans on Dec. 6, would try to balance anti-discrimination protections for categories of sexual orientation and gender identity, and religious freedom concerns.

Reilly, who was also present at the briefing, noted the “real danger that that [act] poses for religious freedom, not just for individuals but for organizations, because we don’t believe that the carve-out for organizations could ever survive once the legislation got through.”

Mulvaney touched on “all the major issues” that then-presidential candidate Trump discussed in his 2016 letter to Catholics, Huelskamp told CNA.

In that letter, released on Oct. 5, 2016 at the Catholic Leadership Conference in Denver, Colorado, Trump promised that “I am, and will remain, pro-life. I will defend your religious liberties and the right to fully and freely practice your religion, as individuals, business owners and academic institutions.”

Three highlights of the briefing, Huelskamp said, were the administration’s record on the issues of life, religious freedom, and economic growth. “There was a lot of exchange back and forth” on those issues, he said.

Louis Murray, the chairman of the board of Boston’s Catholic Radio, the EWTN-affiliate of the Station of the Cross Network, also attended the briefing. Murray said that he has written op-eds in various national publications in support of the administration’s policies.

Among the issues Mulvaney discussed were “the common good for Catholics in the United States,” Murray told EWTN News Nightly.

“On the pro-life issue, Mick Mulvaney was very clear. He said President Trump pledged to be the pro-life president, and so far he has over-delivered, and he will continue to over-deliver,” Murray said, and everyone “in the room was excited about the administration’s not letting up on making the unborn a critical issue, now and hopefully in the election.”

Other issues were also covered at the briefing on Monday, including pornography and the opioid crisis.

Reilly said that “one other thing that was clearly resonating was the whole pornography issue, and wanting more action to try to enforce existing obscenity laws.” Four members of Congress recently wrote the Department of Justice, asking Attorney General William Barr to enforce existing obscenity laws and prosecute pornographers.

The contribution of faith-based organizations to fighting the opioid epidemic also reportedly came up.

“The administration talked about their desire to make sure that faith-based addiction treatment was not overlooked in the admin’s commitment to addressing the fentanyl and opioid crisis,” Murray said.

Attendees also had a chance to make their voices heard on various matters important to them. Stephen D. Minnis, president of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, said in a Sunday press release that the chief message he planned to deliver to the White House was that “Catholic organizations should be allowed to provide the services only they can provide.”

Minnis said he planned to warn of three trends threatening Catholic institutions: regulations requiring them to take public stances that are contradictory with the Catholic faith, “free college” promises that would “undermine” Catholic education, and the right of Catholic organizations to “free exercise” of religion in public and “not just right to worship.”

Reilly said he also raised “the concern about the National Labor Relations Board, which for decades has been asserting jurisdiction over Catholic education.”

House passes spending bills, strips out pro-abortion language

Tue, 12/17/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House on Tuesday passed two large spending bills that were stripped of pro-abortion language, ultimately satisfying pro-life advocates.

“This should never have been a problem in the first place. The main reason it was, was because the Republicans allowed it to get into the underlying bill,” Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, told CNA of pro-abortion language that was pulled from legislation funding government agencies for 2020.

The House on Tuesday passed two large spending bills devoid of problematic provisions that had previously plagued legislation when it was being considered in the Senate several weeks ago.

The bills—the House-amended Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 and Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020—passed by votes of 297 to 120, and 280 to 138, respectively, before the House readies to vote on articles of impeachment of President Trump on Wednesday.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said Tuesday that she was “pleased” that an “anti-life” amendment was removed from the 2020 funding bill for the State Department and foreign operations.

The amendment by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) increased international family planning assistance and reinstated funding for the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA). The Trump administration has declined to fund the UNFPA for three years because of its partnership with the Chinese government’s family planning program, which the administration says is complicit in forced abortions and sterilizations.

The increases in family planning assistance could pay for abortions and abortion advocacy, pro-life advocates warned, as some domestic groups that have received U.S. assistance in the past have promoted abortion as a method of family planning despite the prohibitions of the Mexico City policy on funding of abortions and abortion advocacy.

As the policy applies to international groups, domestic groups that work overseas were not barred by the policy from receiving U.S. funding.

Shaheen’s amendment would have also provided a mechanism to enforce an Obama-era USAID policy, that would have been used to discriminate against religious organizations and other NGOs that don’t provide abortions or contraceptives when USAID chooses its contracting partners for international assistance.

Tuesday’s “double decker” spending bill that passed the House did not include the Shaheen provision. “I think it was because of the loud voice of the folks at OMB, and it was because of everybody working among the pro-life community, united, that the Shaheen-Graham language was pulled,” McClusky told CNA.

Dannenfelser said that Shaheen’s amendment was “violating the groundbreaking budget agreement that Democratic Leaders Pelosi and Schumer were obligated to honor.”

In July, President Trump reached an agreement with House and Senate leaders of both parties that no “poison pills” would be added to spending legislation in the next two years without the consent of all parties involved.

The agreement was viewed by some pro-life leaders as a victory, in that it would protect against any last-minute attempts to add pro-abortion amendments to spending bills.

McClusky, however, had criticized the deal as ineffective. During the appropriations process in early September, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tried to insert an amendment undoing the Trump administration’s rule protecting against taxpayer funding of abortions in the Title X family planning program; her efforts forced Senate Republicans to abandon the spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies.

Bishops praise House agriculture workers bill, urge Senate to pass

Tue, 12/17/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops have praised the passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, which creates a new status for migrant agricultural workers and enacts changes to the temporary worker program. 

The bill passed the House of Representatives on Dec. 11, with bipartisan support. The bill is co-sponsored by 37 Democrats and 25 Republicans. The bill now moves to the Senate.

“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was written in an effort to make a better system for both the farmer and the farmworkers and to create a more effective and humane agriculture industry,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City in a statement released by the U.S. bishops’ conference. 

“The Catholic Church has long recognized the dignity of work of both citizen and immigrant farmworkers and growers alike and welcomes changes in the law to help ensure greater protections,” he added.

Coakley is the chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. 

If passed, a status category of “certified agricultural worker” (CAW) will be created for certain workers. This would apply to anyone who worked in agriculture for at least 1,035 hours from November 12, 2017 through November 12, 2019, is eligible for deportation, and has continuously lived in the United States during that period. 

CAW status would be valid for five and a half years, with the possibility of an extension. The spouses and other dependents of the worker with CAW status would be eligible as well. 

Those with a criminal record would not be eligible for CAW status. 

After obtaining CAW status, the recipient would be able to apply for lawful permanent residency after meeting a list of requirements, one of which is working in agriculture. 

Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and the chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, in a statement commended the “important effort” of passing the law, and noted that it was passed bipartisanly. 

“I urge the U.S. Senate to take up this bill which gives earned permanent residency for certain farmworkers,” said Dorsonville.

In addition to the creation of CAW status, the bill would require that the Department of Homeland Security create an “electronic platform” for H-2A petitions, the processing of cases, and as a “single tool for obtaining H-2A-related case information.” The H-2A visa is for temporary agricultural workers. 

Various changes to the H-2A visa, including those related to minimum wage, recruitment, and work hours, are also part of the bill. The H-2A worker program will become “portable” for certain workers as part of a pilot program. This means that an H-2A visa holder would have 60 days to get a new job with an H-2A employer after leaving the initial job. 

A system similar to E-Verify would be established “for employers to verify an individual’s identity and employment authorization” as part of this bill. Employers would be required to use this new system when making hires. 

The bill also would create a program that would provide assistance for rural rental housing and “off-farm labor housing and rental assistance for qualified tenants of such housing.” The Department of Agriculture would be able to provide new grants and loans for housing assistance for agricultural workers.

Catholic dating gets a makeover

Tue, 12/17/2019 - 05:06

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2019 / 03:06 am (CNA).- It all started with a Twitter rant.

A single Catholic in D.C. (CNA’s Christine Rousselle, to be exact) sounded off in personal disappointment about a speed dating event that she was attending at a local parish.

Per the norm for many things related to Catholic dating, throngs of women quickly signed up, while the event struggled to capture the interest of men, despite the $10 price that included drinks and appetizers.

The tweet spread throughout so-called Catholic Twitter and beyond, and hundreds chimed in.

“What’s wrong with these men? $10 drinks and apps and talking to women and they still won’t show up?” one commenter said. “Seems like a silly event,” said another.

The conversation sparked by the tweet captured more than just one woman’s frustration with a one-time event. Single Catholics bemoaned the many difficulties of modern dating - finding someone with the same beliefs, limited options of single Catholics who live in certain areas, the uneven ratio of Catholic women to men, those who seem forever to be discerning and never committing, and so on.

Catholic-specific online dating options have also, until recently, been quite limited. One or two sites with dial-up era technology, no apps, and high prices remained the only options for years for single Catholics hoping to meet new people, but wanting to avoid the “Netflix and Chill” culture associated with certain secular dating apps.

Times are tough in the Catholic dating world, but there are people who are paying attention - and trying to change the game.

Meet the #CatholicYenta

Emily Zanotti, a married mother of 5-month-old twins and editor for the Daily Wire, is one such person paying attention to the woes of her single sisters and brothers in Christ.

In her personal life, she already boasts several successful matches she’s arranged between friends resulting in multiple marriages and, so far, five babies. She once paid a friend $5 to ask out someone she suggested - they are married now.

“I find matchmaking to be really fun and it's something that I've done for friends and acquaintances for quite a long time,” Zanotti told CNA.

When she saw the speed dating conversation on Twitter, Zanotti somewhat off-handedly offered her matchmaking skills to anyone on Catholic Twitter who wanted to be set up. She asked interested parties to respond to her Tweet or send her a message with some contact information and personal information that she could use to follow up with them and find them a match.

The response, she said, was “overwhelming.”

“By the end of about three days - and this is to some extent thanks to help from the Jennifer Fulwiler Show on Sirius, which I went on after this exploded on Twitter - we had a thousand people sign up for this #CatholicYenta matchmaking service,” Zanotti said.

A yenta is a colloquial term for a Jewish matchmaker (it was popularized by the musical Fiddler on the Roof - the real Yiddish term for matchmaker is ‘shadchanit’). The name #CatholicYenta originally started off as a joke between Zanotti and one of her Jewish friends, who tagged her as the #CatholicYenta when she found out what Zanotti was doing.

“So I was like, you know what? No one owns that domain. Let's go,” Zanotti said.

Now an official website, Catholics can sign up for the Yenta’s matchmaking services by answering 19 questions, including a question about liturgical preferences, questions about work and pace of life, and questions about family, hobbies and interests.

There’s no algorithm-generated matches here. Zanotti is combing through each one, following up with phone calls with each applicant, and doing what she does best - personally introducing couples whom she thinks would make a good match. She said most of this will be done through email. She’ll even help coordinate the first meet-and-greet for the couple, if necessary.

For good matches, Zanotti said she pays attention to personality traits and senses of humor the most, she said, as well as if they have similar tastes in blogs or podcasts or other media.

“I find that sense of humor is a really, really good way of telling which people go together,” Zanotti said. “If they laugh at the same jokes, if they read some of the same people, I get the sense that they're ready to be matched together.”

She’s also relying on prayer and the Holy Spirit to help inspire her.

Zanotti said she’s trying to keep the matches confined to relatively the same geographical area, although she is doing some long-distance matching for those who indicated that they would be open to it.

When asked if the gender ratios of her applicants were as skewed as the D.C. speed dating event that sparked all of this, Zanotti said it was actually nearly “an even split” of men and women.

“There's a lot of men who are very quiet about this. It's not something that I think they tweet about or say or maybe even tell friends,” she said.

“I think a lot of this has to do with the way dating is right now,” she added. “There's a lot of emphasis on app dating and hookup culture and so much of it is impersonal. And I think people just responded to the idea that they want a human connection...they want to meet people using that special human touch.”

Zanotti met her husband the old-fashioned way, in person at Ave Maria law school.

“My husband asked me out on MySpace, so that's how long I’ve been out of the dating pool,” she said.

A lot has changed about dating culture since then. Zanotti said she hopes #CatholicYenta is helping to fill in the gaps where modern dating culture is lacking for Catholics.

Drops in the number of people of faith have alone narrowed people’s options, she said. Catholics are often found in small enclaves throughout the country, and if one doesn’t find a match within one’s limited enclave, it can be really difficult to meet other Catholics.

“I think people who are serious about their faith and serious about values are not particularly served by the options that are out there,” she said. “It is really difficult for Catholics and people of faith to find people who share their values in this dating pool.”

Zanotti has plans for #CatholicYenta’s expansion beyond the questionnaire, she said. She is launching a new, updated website soon, and hopes to expand the site’s services to include dating coaching, prayer groups, counseling options for married couples, and a network of people who are married or religious who want to help single people find each other.

She encouraged Catholics to pray more for their single friends who want to be married.

“To have people praying for Catholic marriages, praying for matches for the people who participate in this...the more prayer we can have, the better,” she said. “In order for Catholicism to grow and flourish, you have to have serious Catholics getting married and having children, and we need to pray for that.”

Catholic Chemistry: An updated look for Catholic online dating

While #CatholicYenta was created specifically in response to the recent Catholic tweet-storm, other initiatives have also been popping up to address the frustrations of Catholics looking for better options in the dating realm.

Chuck Gallucci is another Catholic who noticed that there was something lacking in the dating sphere for those who took their faith seriously.

While he got married in 2015, Gallucci said he had spent years prior to that on Catholic dating websites and grew frustrated with them.

“I always thought, ‘I could make something better than this. I can definitely do something better,’” recalled Gallucci, who is a web developer for Catholic Answers by trade.

“The sites felt like they were stuck in the ‘90s, they weren't really on par with modern web design. That was a big deal,” he said. “And then there didn't seem to be much unique about them. It's just a database of profiles. I get that it's hard to break out of that, it's hard to innovate in this space, but I did think that there were some things that can be done.”

Furthermore, he said, “there are many that present themselves as a Catholic dating site but... it's questionable, and this is so important, this is people's vocations. And I thought it would be good to have some service that would be conducive to the vocation of married life.”

That’s why Galluci, now a married father of three, started Catholic Chemistry last year. The site has an updated feel and a simple design, and a few funny videos about disastrous dates to pique the interest of potential subscribers.

“It was born out of frustration with the available options, solidarity with my fellow single Catholics and understanding what it's like, and just my love for web design and web development and knowing I can make something that can be useful to the Catholic community of single people,” he said.

Catholic Chemistry has many of the features of other Catholic dating websites - profiles with basic biographical information, as well as information about personality, hobbies, interests and questions about the Catholic faith.

Some new features, however, include more easily accessible and available chat features that make it easier for users to start conversations with each other.

“I think that's one of the problems in young adult Catholic communities is a hesitation to start anything, or it's just hard for people to start a conversation to make connections,” Gallucci said. “So I tried to come up with some features on the website that help singles to make more meaningful connections and make it easier for them to break the ice.”

One of those features is a quiz on the profile called “Which is more you?” Users are given the options between two different items, and they select which speaks to them the most. They might be religious things, like St. Francis or St. Dominic, Gallucci said, or more cultural things like soda or kombucha.

“It gives you a good feel of a more rounded picture of who this person is,” he said.

Moreover, it can be an easy and fun way to break the ice with a new connection, he said. Users can only see answers to “Which is more you” questions on profiles if they have also answered those same questions.

“And so if you're like, ‘I'm all about kombucha’ and then they answered kombucha, that's a starting point.”

The site then allows any user to click on the person’s response, which opens a chat window to start a conversation.

“You can say, ‘Hey, I've been brewing my own kombucha and I just can't figure it out. Do you have any tips?’ Something like that,” Gallucci said. Or if there is an image on someone’s profile, a user can click on that image, and a chat will open up with the image and a space for the person’s comment.

“It's just a way to break the ice,” Gallucci added.

Some dating apps and sites have restrictions on who can initiate conversations, or on how connections are made (i.e. women must send the first message, only two people who have mutually “liked” each other may message, etc.). Gallucci said he considered some of these, but ultimately decided to let any subscribing user be able to initiate a conversation with any other subscribing user.

“I thought that would only put more friction on starting conversations and I didn't want to have that as a limitation,” he said.

Another unique feature is the search function, Gallucci said. Users can search for other users based on things they have mentioned in their profiles, like St. Therese or skiing. They can also search based on age, location, liturgical preferences, and so on.

“For whatever reason, I haven't seen that on other sites.” Gallucci said. “It's a great way to explore, to browse (profiles).”

Gallucci said he tries to make the site feel fun while also encouraging serious discernment of the vocation of marriage.

“The goal of (the site) is ultimately finding someone to marry and start a vocation with, but also not doing that in a way where it takes the fun out of it or becomes too uptight,” he said.

Soon after the launch of the site in 2018, Catholic Chemistry created an app, making them one of the first Catholic dating sites to do so. Since then, other major Catholic dating site players, like Catholic Match and Catholic Singles, have also launched apps.

“Healthy competition breeds innovation, so that's good,” Gallucci said.

Gallucci said Catholic Chemistry is “growing exponentially, it's growing really fast,” and he already boasts a marriage of a friend of his who met his spouse through the site and “many, many” other matches made through it.

“One of my coworkers at Catholic Answers was a beta tester for for Catholic Chemistry...and the beta testers who were single, they rolled over when the site went live. So he was on the site, and he ended up meeting his current wife. They just got married in November... I went to their wedding and it was beautiful,” Gallucci said.

Once users have found a match, they can close their accounts and complete an exit quiz about their experience on the site, Gallucci said. He also sends couples materials on discernment to help them in their relationship.

Gallucci added that the best advice he can give single Catholics hoping to marry is to put God first in their relationships.

“In today's cultural climate, it's obviously very difficult for a single Catholic to do dating right, to do it the way God wants them to,” he said.

“I know it's frustrating, at times it feels like they are slim pickings, to find somebody who shares your faith, not just nominally, but who lives it. And there's so many temptations along the way...the thing is Catholics know deep down that all their pursuits, everything driving them, even their pursuit of a future spouse is ultimately seeking God and pursuing God. If you don't start there, you're bound to end up in disaster.”

Reviving a college dating culture

Thomas Smith and Anna Moreland are both professors at Villanova University, an Augustinian school in Pennsylvania.

Smith and Moreland, who are friends as well as colleagues, talk frequently about their teaching experiences with one another, and started to notice several years ago that their students were excelling academically but not necessarily in other areas of adult life.

“I run the honors program at Villanova, and we started noticing several years ago that students were kind of overdeveloped in one facet of their lives, particularly academics, with a very relentless approach to professionalization and work life,” Smith said. “But they weren't as developed in other areas of their life that are equally important, and romantic life is one of them.”

Students’ lack of knowledge on how to date became immediately apparent to Moreland about 10 years ago in her Introduction to Theology course, where she offered a dating assignment based off the one created by Professor Kerry Cronin of Boston College.

Cronin, whose assignment is now featured in a dating documentary called “The Dating Project,” came up with an assignment for her students to ask someone out on a first date. The rules: They must ask a legitimate romantic interest out on a date – and they must ask in person. The date must be no longer than 60-90 minutes. They should go out to ice cream or coffee or something without drugs or alcohol. You ask, you pay – and a first date should only cost about $10. The only physical contact should be an A-frame hug.

A friend of Cronin’s, Moreland borrowed the assignment for what she thought would be a one-time thing.

“I offered it as an optional assignment instead of their last short paper,” Moreland said. All but one of her students opted for the dating assignment.

“When I read their reflection papers, I was really thrown back on my heels. So much so, I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to do this again,’” she said, and she’s been offering the dating assignment in classes and workshops ever since.

“I was hoping to talk about the Trinity and the Eucharist and in my intro theology class, I literally was not expecting to get into the nuts and bolts of how to date on a college campus. But the students responded so positively,” she said.

One thing that both Moreland and Smith said they started to notice in their students was that many of them were fed up or not interested in participating in the hook-up culture that is popular on college campuses, but they didn’t seem to know any alternative approach to dating and relationships. They found that their students were either hooking up or opting out of romantic relationships entirely - and a majority of them were opting out.

“Hooking up was really the only thing on offer, and not how to break out of that kind of paltry possibility,” Moreland’s students had complained to her.

“And it's not just dissatisfaction with the hooking up, it's this epidemic of loneliness that's starting to blossom,” Smith said. A 2017 survey of roughly 48,000 college students found that 54% of males and 67% of females reported feeling “very lonely” at some point in the past year.

Moreland said she had a student remark at the end of the dating assignment that she planned to use the same strategy to make friends - to ask them to lunch in the cafeteria or to a movie.

“Students have this default of watching Netflix on their leisure time. It's easy. It doesn't demand anything of them. They don't have to become vulnerable to anyone or anything,” Moreland said.  “And so they're overworked and then they binge-watch Netflix. That's the pattern of their day, quite frankly.”

So Moreand and Smith, along with some other professors at Villanova, teamed up to create an Honors program called “Shaping a Life,” where one-credit courses were offered to teach students about dating and romantic relationships, as well as friendships, free time, professional development, vocations, discernment and more.

When it comes to dating, Smith and Moreland said their work in these classes is a “re-norming of expectations.” They talk about intimacy not just as something physical, but as “knowing and being known, and loving and being loved,” Smith said. They talk about appropriate levels of intimacy, depending on the level of relationship or friendship.

“We’ve got this third option that we're trying to rehabilitate called dating, and it's not what you think it is,” Moreland said she tells her students. “It's not casual sex, it’s casual dating. That takes a lot of work.”

Reviving a sense of true romance and dating is connected to other things that well-formed Catholic adults need, Smith added.

“The loss of a sense of romance in life is part of a larger flattening out of eros, the erotic dimension of love. That's clearly the kind of love that's in play when you go out on a romantic date, but it's connected to all sorts of other phenomena in life that Catholics should be in tune with,” Smith said. “Love of beauty, love of art, music, anything that really takes you out of yourself and invites you to unite with something that you find compelling, or beautiful ideas. These all have this kind of ‘eros’ dimension to them. So we're inviting them to think about loving a much broader way and I think a much more Catholic way.”

Smith and Moreland are currently working on compiling what they’ve learned through their Shaping a Life program into a book for college students that will serve as a guide to these many facets of adult life. Dating and romance, they said, is just one chapter.

The professors are also not alone among colleges and universities in the country who are noticing a lack of human formation in their students and are trying to address it. Smith said he knows of similar programs at multiple schools, including Valparaiso University, Baylor University, Notre Dame University, University of California at Berkeley, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania that are addressing similar issues with their students.

“These are places around the country that are really trying to think through in a different way what this generation of students needs and trying to get college right, because in a lot of ways colleges are failing in this task of inviting students into adulthood,” Smith said.

Moreland said she has been encouraged by her students’ strong desire for something other than what the hookup culture is offering.

“We have these little successes and one of them was in my office last week,” Moreland said. A student of hers in her Shaping Adult Life class came in, excited to tell her about his first date.

“And he said to me, ‘Dr. Moreland, I did it. I did it last Friday. I saw a girl across the room, we had a connection and I thought if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it now. So I walked up to her, I asked her out for coffee, I asked her for her number, then we went out for coffee on Monday. Then we went for dinner last night.’”

“And he just looked at me and he said, now what do I do?" Moreland said they sat down and came up with a plan for next steps together, including planning around finals week.

“It was like I was his matchmaker,” she said.

Smith said he’s encouraged that so many schools are taking notice of how colleges have failed students in preparing them for dating and other facets of adult life.

“There's lots of people of goodwill who kind of are waking up and realizing, well, this is not getting done in ways that are really compelling for students,” he said. “The students I have now have this palpable sense that the adult world is not there for them. They really feel like the adult world is not helping them over the threshold to become fully integrated adults. That's really a shame.”

“But I think it’s an untold story that there's a lot of good people across the country noticing this and trying to think the problem through.”


Short film portrays life of Venerable Augustus Tolton, former slave

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 22:01

Birmingham, Ala., Dec 16, 2019 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- EWTN will release Wednesday a short film on the early life of Venerable John Augustus Tolton - the first African American priest - whose cause for canonization progressed in June.

“ACROSS: The Father Tolton Movie” will debut 10 p.m. ET Dec. 18 on EWTN. It will showcase the boyhood story of Tolton and his journey from a Missouri slave to a freeman in Illinois.

Prior to the film, a discussion will be held by Nashville filmmaker Christopher Foley, the movie’s writer and director, and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, the diocesan postulator for Tolton’s sainthood cause. This will take place at 8 p.m. with host Father Mitch Pacwa.

The 36-minute film is in preparation for a full-length feature, which Foley will start producing this summer. He told CNA that the movie is called ACROSS for two reasons - the cross that Tolton carried, and the obstacles he had to conquer.

“He had to go across the ocean to get ordained. He had to get across the Mississippi River to escape slavery, but he had to carry a cross his entire life because he stood out and was different,” Foley said.

“He accepted that and great things came out of it. He made so many converts, and he just sets such a great example for everybody through his perseverance.”

Tolton was born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri, in 1854. During the Civil War, Tolton and his family escaped slavery.

The young Tolton entered St. Peter’s Catholic School in Quincy, Illinois, with the help of the school’s pastor, Fr. Peter McGirr. The priest went on to baptize Tolton, instruct him for his first Holy Communion, and recognize his vocation to the priesthood.

Because of his ethnicity no American seminary would accept Tolton, so he studied for the priesthood in Rome. When Father Tolton returned to the U.S. after his ordination in 1889, thousands of people lined the streets to greet him. A brass band played hymns, and black and white people processed together into the local church.

Father Tolton was the first African American to be ordained a priest. He served for three years at a parish in Quincy before moving to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics, St. Monica's, where he remained until his death in 1897.

Foley said the film will explore Tolton’s family dynamic and his childhood. He said Tolton’s mother and siblings were owned by the Elliot family and his father was owned by the neighboring Hagar family. Tolton’s entire family lived in a cabin between the two properties.

“Both families of the owners were Catholic and they made sure that all of their slaves were baptized, which is kind of a weird dichotomy that they could believe in slavery but at the same time understand that these are souls that need to be baptized,” Foley said.

In the movie, Peter leaves the family to join the Union Army when Tolton is 10 years old. Sometime afterward, Tolton convinces his mother and siblings to flee to the north. They are then shown outrunning slave-catchers and Confederate soldiers, eventually crossing the Mississippi River to achieve their freedom.

Foley said, while the country continues to face issues of racial inequality, the film has come at the proper time. He said Tolton overcame hatred with acts of love.

“We see a lot of racial angst and discord in our country now. It was so much different back then and worse, but the solution is the same,” he told CNA. “He met hatred and discrimination with love.”

“It was interesting because he was actually one of the reasons he was kind of ousted from his hometown of Quincy. He was told to minister just to black people in Quincy, Illinois and white people started coming to his church and he was fine with that. He welcomed everyone, but that raised the ire of other people. He believed that there's no hierarchy of races.”

He said the movie has also come at a time of great difficulty in the Church, including the clergy sex abuse scandal. Similarly, he said the story will highlight the Church’s overall good even among villainous men.

“One of our bad guys is a priest who was a racist, but that doesn't change the goal and mission of the Church as being good,” he said.

“The majority of her priests are good, holy men, like Father Tolton. We need to kind of hold up this example now in the midst of these scandals and say, 'Hey, most priests are more like Father Tolton than the ones that are making the headlines. We need to raise up those good stories.”

Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtue of Fr. Tolton June 12, making him "Venerable”.

In a recent newsletter, Bishop Perry said Tolton is a model of civil rights and overcoming racial adversity with Christian virtues.

“Father Tolton shows us Christians how to get through to the Kingdom, surviving the apparent contradictions of life with our faith, hope and love intact,” said Perry.

“The unfinished business of racial reconciliation in America is inspired by Father Tolton’s sense of openness to walk amidst and serve both black and white at a time, post Civil War-Reconstruction, socially not yet ripe for interaction between the races. He was ahead of his time in leading both black and white under the roof of his Church while being resented for it by pockets of Church and society of his time.”

Catholic homilies shortest of all denominations, study finds

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 17:10

Washington D.C., Dec 16, 2019 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- A new analysis from the Pew Research Center shows that many Catholic priests are holding to Pope Francis’ advice to keep their homilies on the shorter side, especially compared to Protestant denominations.

An analysis of nearly 50,000 sermons, given across a variety of Christian denominations during the months of April and May this year, found that the median length of a sermon was 37 minutes, but for Catholic priests, the average length was just 14 minutes. 

Pew found that historically black Protestant sermons had the longest median length of 54 minutes, while mainline Protestant sermons were an average of 25 minutes long, with evangelical churches falling in between at 39 minute per sermon.

The analysis was published on Dec. 16, and was titled “The Digital Pulpit: A Nationwide Analysis of Online Sermons.” 

While the terms “homily” and “sermon” are often used interchangeably, they are actually different in nature. A “homily” refers to an explanation or further commentary of scripture during a Mass. A sermon is usually defined as a talk on a religious or moral subject, especially one given by a religious leader during a liturgy. 

For the purposes of this study, Catholic homilies were counted as “sermons.”

Pew took data from 6,431 different church websites to create the analysis. The churches all posted all or part of their religious services online. For this research, “online sermon” was defined as “a portion of a religious service posted to a church website that contains a commentary from the pulpit but sometimes may include other parts of the service as well.”

The analysis found that while sermons at historically-black and evangelical churches typically contained roughly the same number of words, the sermons at the black churches were longer in length. The study’s authors suggested that this was due to the inclusion of “musical interludes, pauses between sentences or call and response with people in the pews.”

In analyzing the content of the sermons, Pew found that 98% of Catholic homilies included the terms “God” and “Jesus.” The only word that included in 100% of the Catholic sermons examined was “say.”

Each denomination also had words that were distinct to their particular denomination. Among Catholics, the terms “homily,” “diocese,” “Eucharist,” “paschal,” and “parishioner” appeared more often than in any other denomination. 

Words or phrases distinct to mainline sermons were key phrases like “United Methodist” and “Gospel lesson.”  Distinctly evangelical terms included “eternal hell” and “absent body.” 

Historically black churches were eight times more likely to hear the phrase “Hallelujah...Come” than any other denomination, though the liturgy, if a denomination uses one, was not examined in this analysis. With the exception of the liturgical season of Lent, the Alleluia is sung at every Catholic Mass prior to the Gospel, but this is not considered to be part of the homily or sermon. 

The relatively shorter homilies by Catholic priests in in line with the pope’s own recommendations. In February 2018, Pope Francis addressed priests and other Catholics and discussed the importance of having short, interesting homilies. 

“Whoever gives the homily must be conscious that they are not doing their own thing, they are preaching, giving voice to Jesus, preaching the World of Jesus,” he said on Feb. 7. Homilies “should be well prepared, and they must be brief!”

To drive the point home, Francis told a story, recounting how a priest had once told him that when visiting another town where the priests' parents lived, the father had said “I’m happy, because me and my friends found a church where they do the Mass without a homily.”

“How many times have we seen people sleeping during a homily, or chatting among themselves, or outside smoking a cigarette?” he said. When people laughed at the notion, Francis responded, saying “it’s true, you all know’s true!”

“Please,” he said, “be more than 10 minutes, please!”

Mississippi governor: Legal fight for unborn children will head to Supreme Court

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 16:55

Jackson, Miss., Dec 16, 2019 / 02:55 pm (CNA).- An effort to ban most abortions from 15 weeks into pregnancy will head to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Mississippi governor has said after a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that blocked the law.

“We will sustain our efforts to fight for America’s unborn children,” Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said on Twitter Dec. 13. “Mississippi will continue this mission to the United States Supreme Court.”

Due to changes in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, both foes and supporters of legal abortion anticipate any decision on abortion could overturn or significantly modify existing precedent that, with few restrictions, mandates legal abortion across the U.S.

In a decision published Friday, however, Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with foes of the Mississippi law in citing existing precedent dating to 1973.

“In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability,” he said in the ruling. “States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right but they may not ban abortions.”

The decision upheld U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves’ November 2018 ruling against the law. Reeves had said it is “established medical consensus” that the viability of the unborn baby, the point at which he or she can live outside the womb, typically begins 23 to 24 weeks into pregnancy.

The law allows abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy only when the mother’s life or a major bodily function is in danger, or when the unborn child has a severe abnormality and is not expected to be able to live outside the womb at full term. Exceptions are not granted for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Physicians who knowingly violate the law can lose their state medical license.

Bryant signed the legislation in March 2018, saying, “I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child, and this bill will help us achieve that goal.”

The Catholic bishops of Mississippi had praised the law’s protections for unborn human life.

In defending the law, the state’s attorneys argued that it has an interest in protecting the life of the unborn, as well as maternal health. They pointed to an increased risk of complications for the mother when abortion is performed further into the pregnancy. They have also made a case that unborn babies are capable of feeling pain prior to viability.

Attorneys representing the state had argued that the law was a regulation, not a ban, and argued that the states had the right to regulate abortion, the Associated Press reports.

The law was challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the only abortion clinic in Mississippi: Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which performs abortions up to 16 weeks, the Associated Press reports.

The pro-abortion rights group argued that the Supreme Court has held that states may not restrict abortion before the unborn baby is viable.

Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the appeals court “recognized today what is obvious: Mississippi’s abortion ban defies decades of Supreme Court precedent.”

“With this ruling, Mississippi — and other states trying to put abortion out of reach — should finally get the message,” she said, according to the Associated Press.

Bryant will leave office in January. His successor, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, also opposes abortion. Almost all Mississippi Republicans and some Democrats oppose legal abortion.

The ruling has consequences for similar laws in other states. A 15-week abortion ban signed in 2018 by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said it would take effect only if Mississippi’s law were upheld in federal court.

Prior to the passage of Mississippi’s 2018 law, the state bars abortion at 20 weeks into pregnancy. It also requires that those performing abortions be board-certified or board-eligible obstetrician-gynecologists. By law, a woman must receive in-person counseling and wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion.

In March 2019 Bryant had signed into law a different ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Reeves, the federal district court judge, blocked the law in a May 2019 decision, contending the state knew it was unconstitutional “to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,” the New York Times reports.

Reeves contended that any professed interest in women’s health from the legislature was “pure gaslighting.”

Pittsburgh diocese announces next round of parish mergers

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 15:42

Pittsburgh, Pa., Dec 16, 2019 / 01:42 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has announced that next month 26 existing parishes will be merged into eight new parishes as part of the “On Mission for the Church Alive!” strategic planning initiative.

“For more than a year, you have journeyed together on a road that is intended to unite you on the mission to bring the Good News of Jesus to your neighbors and to strengthen all of you in faith,” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh wrote in a letter read at Sunday Masses at the affected parishes this weekend.

“This has not been a simple task. Jesus never promised that it would be easy to carry his message of love and mercy to others. He was clear that sacrifice would be necessary. However, you are positioning your new parish for more effective ministry by addressing financial needs, sharing resources and allowing your clergy to focus on the spiritual work for which they were ordained,” he stated.

The mergers will take place Jan. 6, 2020, and will reduce the number of parishes in the diocese from 170 to 152. The affected parishes are in Pittsburgh, elsewhere in Allegheny County, and in Washington County.

The diocese's strategic planning initiative began in 2015 in part as a response to declining Mass attendance, the financial struggles of some parishes, and fewer priests. From 188 parishes at the beginning of the process, the diocese plans to end with 57.

The situation was exacerbated by the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-rite dioceses, including Pittsburgh. Earlier this year, CBS Pittsburgh reported that since the report's release, Mass attendance had dropped 9% and offertory donations declined 11%.

According to the diocese, no buildings will be closed immediately upon the mergers, and “decisions bout which buildings the new parishes use will occur later, after consultation among the faithful of those parishes.”

The local Church added that the mergers were requested by the groupings' administrators “after extensive consultation with parishioners,” and that the priest council and vicars general consented to the requests.

“On Mission for the Church Alive!” is “designed to help parishes mobilize their resources to prioritize mission over maintenance. Its goal is to help Catholics have a deeper relationship with Jesus and empower them to reach out to others with His love and mercy,” the dicoese stated.

Bishop Zubik noted that “southwestern Pennsylvania is radically different than it was 100, 50, 20, even 10 years ago, yet the work of the Church and our call from God to bring His love to everyone continues as strong as ever.”

Msgr. Ronald Lengwin, vicar for Church relations for the diocese, told CNA in July that ten years ago, some 187,000 people attended Mass in the diocese each Sunday. By 2018, that number had dropped to about 120,000 – a decline of more than 30%.

Brandon McGinley, a Catholic writer and editor who lives in south Pittsurgh, recently wrote in Plough Quarterly that his “was once one of the most dynamic Catholic neighborhoods in a city of Catholic neighborhoods. Its parish … was the largest parish with the largest school in the diocese. Now, although Pew hasn’t done a study on us, it would be fair to assume that 'lapsed Catholic' is the commonest religious identity among our neighbors.”

In 2000, the diocese had 338 parish priests in active ministry, compared with 211 in 2016 and 178 in 2018. The diocese estimates that with retirements and an average of four ordinations per year, the diocese will have 112 priests by 2025.

The abuse scandal has intensified problems that were already present for the local Church, including parishes that had been borrowing from the diocese to pay insurance premiums, creating an unstable financial situation.

Another wave of parish mergers under “On Mission for the Church Alive!” was announced in May, with five new parishes created. Five former parish churches were designated as shrines. And in 2016, four parishes in south Pittsburgh were merged into one.

The Pittsburgh diocese last went through a major restructuring during 1992-94, when the diocese shrank from 333 parishes to 218.

Did ‘thousands’ of women die from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade? WaPo says no

Sat, 12/14/2019 - 06:00

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- In its 2019 roundup of the biggest lies of the year (dubbed the biggest ‘Pinocchios’), the Washington Post included a false but oft-repeated claim that “thousands” of women died while undergoing illegal abortions before the legalization of abortion in the United States.

This statistic was frequently cited this year by Dr. Leana Wen, who was fired from her position as president of Planned Parenthood in July, just eight months after accepting the job.

“We dug through the statistics and it turns out she was citing numbers from the 1930s, before the advent of antibiotics,” Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post said in his 2019 Pinocchio list. “In 1972, the number of deaths in the United States from legal abortions was 24 and from illegal abortions 39, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Wen was “repeatedly” told by her staff that the statistic she was citing was false, but continued to use it anyway, the New York Times reported. Insiders at Planned Parenthood told the New York Times that Wen was ultimately let go because the organization wanted someone at the helm with a more aggressive focus on political advocacy, while Wen had worked to reframe Planned Parenthood primarily as a healthcare organization.

In May of this year, Kessler fact-checked the “thousands of women” claim that Wen had also repeated in interviews. He noted that before abortion became legal, official statistics on the number of women who died from abortions were dicey at best due to the illegality of the procedure and the shame surrounding it.

“Still, by the time Roe was issued, 17 states had liberalized their abortion laws, and the Centers for Disease Control was collecting solid data on abortion mortality,” Kessler noted.

Estimates on the number of abortions performed before Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that allowed for legal abortion in the United States, vary widely - from 200,000 to 1,200,000 per year, according to one 1958 study examined by The Washington Post.

“That’s quite a range for the number of illegal abortions, indicating how fuzzy the numbers are,” Kessler noted in May.

Another study cited in a NARAL document from 1936 used liberal estimates from a gynecologist named Frederick Taussig who used data from just 13 states and guessed at the rest to approximate the annual number of deaths from abortion at roughly 10,000.

But by 1948, researcher Christopher Tietze noted in a paper that deaths from abortion were swiftly decreasing due to the advent of penicillin and other antibiotics, as well as improved medical practices and an increase in available contraceptive methods.

In 1959, the medical director of Planned Parenthood reported that there had only been 260 deaths in the U.S. from illegal abortion, and that the procedure could be considered as safe as any other surgical procedure at the time, Kessler reported.

In 1969, a report in Scientific American magazine by Tietze and Sarah Lewit cited in The Washington Post stated that annually, the “Total mortality from illegal abortions was undoubtedly larger than (235), but in all likelihood it was under 1,000.”

“Even given the fuzzy nature of the data and estimates, there is no evidence that in the years immediately preceding the Supreme Court’s decision, thousands of women died every year in the United States from illegal abortions,” Kessler wrote.

New Jersey bishop opposes contraception bill removing religious exemption

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 22:40

Metuchen, N.J., Dec 13, 2019 / 08:40 pm (CNA).- A New Jersey bishop is calling on legislators to amend a bill that would force religious groups to fund contraceptive coverage for their employees, even if doing so violates their religious convictions.

“Legislation (S3804/A5508) is now being considered in the New Jersey legislature which eliminates the long-standing religious employers' exemption in the current law,” said Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen.

“Eliminating the religious employers' exemption would essentially force religious organizations to pay for medications, including abortion causing drugs, sterilizations and other procedures which violate our fundamental belief that all life, from conception to natural death, is sacred,” he said in a Dec. 10 statement.

The bill was introduced to the New Jersey Senate in May and the state’s House of Representatives in June. If passed, it would require full coverage for certain contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in health care plans and remove exemptions for religious organizations.

“Contraception was named as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said bill sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, according to “That was 20 years ago, whether or not insurance plans cover contraceptives shouldn’t be a question today.”

The bill must be addressed before the second week of January, when the current legislative session ends. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced his support for the bill in May.

Bishop Checchio stressed the importance of religious liberty as one of the “important building blocks of American society.”

He said the law would threaten the “basic human right” of religious freedom and would place religious organizations in an impossible position, negatively impacting their charitable work, including aid provided to immigrants and those in poverty.

“Passage of this measure would require our Catholic parishes, Catholic schools and agencies such as Catholic Charities to offer our employees comprehensive health benefits in violation of fundamental Catholic principles,” the bishop said.

“If this measure should pass many of our Catholic institutions and services will be seriously impacted. Assistance that we provide to the poor, the frail elderly, the sick and the dying, and to immigrants and their families could be at great risk.”

Edward Sita, a resident of St. Joseph’s Senior Home in Woodbridge, which is operated by the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, also spoke out against the bill.

“One of the principal reasons I am here is because we have a religious organization who wants to care for us,” he said of the senior home.

In a Dec. 12 statement, Sita said he is grateful in particular for the sisters’ attentive care for his wife, who has Alzheimers, as well as the for the opportunity for regular Mass, adoration, and other religious activities offered at the home.

“The folks here do so much and are completely giving of all that is possible to give, and that’s themselves. It’s hard to describe all the good things that are happening here.”

Sita said the proposed law would place the sisters in a “morally impossible situation.” He said he could not imagine life without the sisters’ help, if the home were forced to shut down.

“I couldn’t even imagine it and I pray and I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Bishop Checchio encouraged Catholics to take action against the bill, pointing to a website where people may appeal to their local representatives.

“I urge all of the faithful to contact their state senators today and urge them to amend the proposed legislation, S3804/A5508 to retain the established religious employers' exemption which is contained in current law,” the bishop said.


Bishops condemn antisemitism after New Jersey shooting

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference on Friday condemned the antisemitic shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City earlier this week, reiterating the Church’s absolute condemnation of antisemitism.

“The recent attack on a kosher market in Jersey City, alongside many other recent hateful and at times violent actions, have highlighted the importance of, once again, publicly condemning any and all forms of antisemitism whether in thought, word or action,” said Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, chair of the U.S. bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious affairs committee, on Friday.

“The past has taught us silence and passivity can result in the advancement of the worst crimes humanity can commit,” he said.

On Tuesday, two gunmen fatally shot a police detective in Bay View Cemetery in Jersey City, New Jersey, before entering the nearby Jersey City Kosher Supermarket and shooting four civilians inside, killing three.

After a shootout of several hours, police entered the market and found the two suspects dead;  a pipe bomb was discovered in the U-Haul truck of the shooters parked outside the market.

Bishop Bambera on Friday pledged the Church’s “irrevocable commitment to the Jewish community.”

“At the Second Vatican Council, in Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church articulated, ‘Mindful of the inheritance she shares with the Jews, the Church decries hatreds, persecutions, and manifestations of antisemitism directed against Jews at any time and by anyone,’” the bishop stated.

“We offer our prayerful support for all victims of antisemitic violence and their families.”

The two suspects in the shooting reportedly expressed anti-Semitic views online and appeared sympathetic to the Black Hebrew Israelite group, recognized as a hate group. The shootings are reportedly being investigated as domestic terrorism with a hate-crime bent.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force, said on Friday the shooting is “yet another wake-up call like the anti-Semitic slaughter in Pittsburgh that demands we redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism.” The October, 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11.

“Even though Jewish people comprise approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population, the disproportionate number of hate crimes against Jews is absolutely appalling,” Smith said, noting that anti-Jewish crimes made up more than 57% of hate crimes motivated by religious bias, in the 2018 FBI Hate Crimes Report.