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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Bishops received money and complaints about Bransfield, according to report

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 15:01

Wheeling, W.V., Jul 3, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Allegations of financial impropriety against former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield went unheeded for years, according to a new report. Letters from lay men and woman, and from Bransfield’s own chancery staff raised serious concerns about the bishop’s spending and that he was using diocesan resources to “purchase influence.”

On July 3, the Washington Post reported that concerns about Bransfield’s spending were raised as early as 2012 with senior Church authorities in the Unites States and Rome. Several of those to whom complaints were made were themselves recipients of gifts of money from the bishop.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope. Following allegations of sexual and financial misconduct by him over a period of years, local metropolitan Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was ordered by Pope Francis to conduct an investigation. Lori subsequently barred Bransfield from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore.

On Wednesday, The Post reported that specific concerns had been raised years earlier about the use of financial gifts to Church authorities by Bransfield, and the role they may have played in delaying action against him.

In an August 2018 letter addressed to Lori, Bransfield’s own Judicial Vicar, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, said he believed the gifts bought the bishop latitude.

“It is my own opinion that [Bransfield] makes use of monetary gifts, such as those noted above, to higher ranking ecclesiastics and gifts to subordinates to purchase influence from the former and compliance or loyalty from the latter,” Quirk is quoted by The Post as writing.

The eight-page letter from Quirk also detailed prescription drug and alcohol abuse by Bransfield, and his serial sexual harassment of priests and young men, accusations which Bransfield denied to The Post, saying that a diocesan investigation has exonerated him of sexual abuse.

Quirk resigned from his positions as Judicial Vicar and rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in June 2019.

The Post also names four senior American prelates as having received financial gifts from Bransfield and complaints against him from the West Viginia faithful.

Former apostolic nuncio to the Unites States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was asked to investigate Bransfield’s lifestyle and leadership in 2013 by diocesan resident Linda Abrahamian. Vigano had previously confirmed to the Post that he received $6,000 in gifts from the bishop.

Vigano also confirmed he had heard “rumors” about Bransfield’s sexual misconduct, but that they had never been “substantiated.”

Responding to the new report, he said that he had no memory of the complaint being made and that he had donated all of Bransfield’s gifts to charity shortly after receiving them.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and Archbishop Peter Wells, formerly an official at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, are also both reported to have received gifts from and complaints about Bransfield.

Both denied to The Post that Bransfield’s gifts influenced them in any way.

Lori himself, who was eventually placed in charge of investigating the allegations against Bansfield, received a complaint in November of 2012, alleging the bishop had taken punitive action against a priest who had denounced Bransfield’s lavish spending.

Kellee Abner, a parishioner of the priest, complained to Lori about his treatment by Bransfield and was contacted by someone from Lori’s office, but was told that the Baltimore archbishop had no authority to intervene.

After being authorized by the Vatican to investigate earlier this year, Lori stated publicly in June that accusations of sexual and financial misconduct by Bransfield had been determined to be “credible” by an independent investigation, and that Bransfield had managed to erode and evade oversight and by fostering “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” in the diocese.

The report also concluded that “during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending,” and that investigators had “uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.” 

After the Washington Post obtained a full copy of the investigators’ report, last month Lori was forced to apologize for redacting the names of bishops – including his own – who had received money from Bransfield from the version of the report sent to Rome, saying he had mistakenly thought such information would have been a “distraction.”

Lori also announced he would return $7,500 in gifts he had taken from Bransfield since 2012.

In a phone call with The Post, Bransfield reportedly defended his spending while in charge of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, calling it justified and saying that insufficient attention had been paid to his expansion of a local Catholic hospital and improvements to Catholic schools.

End 'hidden abortion surcharge' in Affordable Care Act, lawmakers tell HHS

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Jul 3, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Over 125 members of Congress and other pro-life leaders have asked the Trump administration to clarify how abortion coverage is listed in healthcare plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

A letter signed by over 100 House Members and 25 Senators was sent July 2 to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, asking him to finalize a rule that would require separate payments and accounts for elective abortion coverage in health plans offered under the ACA, in accordance with the original text of the law. 

The signatories, led by Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas) and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss), called the proposed rule “an important step in providing transparency and awareness,” and pro-life leaders have issued their own statements of support for the letter.

“Obamacare was the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand since Roe,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, upon release of the letter. 

“Consumers deserve transparent information about the hidden abortion surcharge and the opportunity to avoid plans that cover abortion during the 2020 open enrollment period.”

Section 1303 of the ACA mandates that, for health plans offered under the law, elective abortion coverage merits a separate surcharge from enrollees, drawing a distinction between abortion coverage and health care coverage.

The legislator’s letter notes that this surcharge arrangement remains a violation of the principle of the Hyde Amendment—a long-standing bipartisan federal policy barring taxpayer funding of abortions through Medicaid—but said it at least offered transparency about abortion coverage in health plans, according to the text of the original law.

The Obama administration chose to interpret Sec. 1303 to mean that elective abortion payments and health care payments would be made together in the health plans offered under the ACA, not separately, only requiering that health coverage on the plans be itemized and that abortion coverage be listed in that itemization, or that a single notice about abortion coverage to enrollees would suffice for compliance.

The legislators contend that this interpretation created a “hidden abortion surcharge” in many plans that enrollees may have been unaware of when choosing a plan.

For instance, in 2018 taxpayer-funded ACA plans in 24 states and Washington, D.C., offered elective abortion coverage with the abortion surcharge included, and in 10 of those states more than 85 percent of ACA plans covered abortion-on-demand, the SBA List reported.

“We continue to urge swift action to finalize the rule in time for 2020 open enrollment,” the Members’ letter to Azar stated.

Dannenfelser said that “the sooner the rule restoring the original intent of the law is finalized, the fewer excuses insurers will have for noncompliance,” while maintaining that “Congress must still act to eliminate abortion funding from Obamacare.”

'Priests in the Park' offer public witness of confession, Catholicism in Michigan

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 05:21

Monroe, Michigan, Jul 3, 2019 / 03:21 am (CNA).- Dog walkers, bike riders, joggers, and Catholics priests hearing confession - most of these things you can find in any given park on any given summer day. But one of these things is not like the others.

In St. Mary’s park in Monroe, Michigan, passerby and street traffic looked on with a befuddled look on their faces on June 17 while four Catholic priests, cleric-clad with stoles draped over their shoulders, heard the confessions of roughly a few dozen penitents over the course of two hours.

It was the second such “Priests in the Park” event for the 20,000-person community located 25 miles south of Detroit.

“My goal was to really magnify this awesome sacrament that the Catholic Church has, and put it out in public,” Joe Boggs, one of the organizers of the event, told CNA.

Boggs is the Evangelization committee chair for the Monroe Vicariate, a regional group of Catholic churches that fall under the Archdiocese of Detroit. Boggs said he got the idea for a “Priests in the Park” event from an article in The Michigan Catholic about a similar event held in Plymouth, Michigan a couple of years ago.

“I said man, this is a great idea, let’s kind of blow this up, put it on steroids, and we’ll see what happens.”

The Vicariate hosted its first “Priests in the Park” event in May, which was strictly priests hearing confessions in the park. For the June event, they added a Catholic speaker, some professional musicians, and a booth with holy cards, saint medals and other information about the Catholic faith.

They were also joined by members of St. Paul’s Street Evangelization ministry, who spoke to any curious bystanders and helped explain the event and the Catholic faith.

“I think a lot of people have stigmas and stereotypes about not only the Catholic Church but also specifically confession,” Boggs said, “so doing it out in public in a very vulnerable way, shows to people who are not Catholic, or to people who maybe used to be Catholic who now have bad ideas of the Catholic Church….that people are doing this out in public, they’re being vulnerable, they’re admitting that they’re sinners.”

Boggs said they received a lot of positive feedback about the event from both Catholics and non-Catholics.

“One comment that we got was that (a penitent) could see the face of Christ in the priest, and that it was just so merciful and so loving,” Boggs said. “There was nothing judging that was going on there, it was more (about the priests) just being there with you, giving you counsel, and also absolving you of your sins.”

Some people got in line and asked to speak with a priest and not necessarily go to confession, Boggs noted. Other people joined in the lines to chat with someone they knew, and then ended up talking with a priest as well, he said.

While the park where the event was held is named St. Mary’s, it is a public park. However, the property used to be Catholic, Boggs noted. It was the site of the convent of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who are still local to the area, but had to tear down and relocate their convent after it became dilapidated over the years. They sold the property to the city, which granted permission to Boggs for his event.

Nathan Hintz, 22, told Boggs for an article in the Detroit Catholic that he “loved that I was able to go to confession in public. This was a great opportunity for people to see how confession is nothing to be intimidated by.”

“I think this was a great witness for this sacrament and for our faith,” Hintz added.

Boggs told CNA that the committee hopes to make “Priests in the Park” events a summertime tradition, and will hold events through August or September, weather permitting. The next event is scheduled for July 13.

“I think it’s a really good kind of exposure to (the Catholic faith),” he said.

 

Chicago Tribune op-ed: Public schools can learn from Catholics in handling sex abuse

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 18:43

Chicago, Ill., Jul 2, 2019 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- After an investigative series by the Chicago Tribune uncovered numerous cases of sexual abuse and cover-up in the city’s public schools, a local commentator is looking to the Archdiocese of Chicago as an example of putting safeguards for children into practice.

In an article last week, Kristen McQueary, a columnist and member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board, highlighted the scandal surrounding Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the need for greater transparency regarding sexual abuse there.

Police investigated 523 reports that children were sexually assaulted or abused inside city public schools from 2008 to 2017, or an average of one report each week, McQueary reported.

“Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials for months fought records requests from Tribune reporters on sexual assaults within schools,” she said.

“CPS only relented under threat of a lawsuit...It was not an exercise in protecting students.”

Illinois House Bill 3687, which made it to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk June 28, is a bipartisan effort to ensure that the superintendent of schools, school administrator, or other employer is notified if a school employee is being prosecuted for sexual abuse.

“The [public school] scandal forced a reckoning at CPS more than 25 years after the Archdiocese of Chicago began to acknowledge and take steps to hold priests and other religious personnel accountable for allegations of sexual abuse and assault against children within its schools and institutions,” McQueary noted.

She pointed out that the archdiocese has conducted background checks on priests, staff, volunteers and any parent or coach who might come into contact with a student; has removed priests with substantiated allegations of abuse; and continues to publish a list of accused clergy, though the page was not available on the Archdiocese’ website as of press time.

“CPS still has not publicly identified the majority of adults in its system who have been accused of wrongdoing, and the new law awaiting Pritzker’s signature does not require that disclosure, even if an educator gets disciplined by the state,” McQueary said, suggesting that CPS officials should be calling for an additional bill to address those concerns.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago met with the tribune’s editorial board on June 24.

The Chicago Tribune had previously reported that an independent review of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s policies on child sexual abuse, commissioned by the archdiocese, found that church officials needed to improve how they spot, report and discipline “boundary violations” and other behavior that could lead to abuse.

A spokesperson for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in June that the state is “continuing to investigate abuse in the Catholic Church across the state,” the Tribune reported.

Cardinal Blase Cupich has faced criticism from former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office identified 690 clergy members in Illinois accused of abuse, compared with 185 credible allegations identified by the Church. Madigan’s report did not distinguish based on credibility of individual claims.

The Archdiocese of Chicago maintains that it has, for more than a decade, reported all allegations of child sex abuse to authorities and published the names of all diocesan priests with substantiated allegations against them.

 

 

Gender identity protections good for the economy, companies tell SCOTUS

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Jul 2, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- More than 200 businesses have asked the Supreme Court to recognize anti-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation as good for business and the economy.

The companies filed a joint amicus brief with the Supreme Court this week, after the court announced it would hear oral argumentation in the next judicial year, in October.

“The U.S. economy is strengthened when all employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” 206 businesses argued in their “friend of the court” brief in a bundle of three employment discrimination cases that will be heard before the Supreme Court this October in oral arguments.

The question before the Court will be whether protections against sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also include discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, or discrimination against transgender people.

“The failure to recognize that Title VII protects LGBT workers would hinder the ability of businesses to compete in all corners of the nation, and would harm the U.S. economy as a whole,” the first section of the brief stated.

The filing comes at the end of  “Pride Month,” during which many cities and corporations mark the campaign of LGBT advocacy. On June 10, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released a document which included a sweeping denunciation of so-called gender theory and the “radical separation between gender and sex, with the former having priority over the later.”

“In all such [gender] theories, from the most moderate to the most radical, there is agreement that one’s gender ends up being viewed as more important than being of male or female sex,” the Congregation for Catholic Education wrote in the document entitled “Male and Female He Created Them.”

“The effect of this move is chiefly to create a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution, since such beliefs claim specific rights for the individual and across society.”

The 206 businesses who filed the amicus brief “collectively employ over 7 million employees, and comprise over $5 trillion in revenue,”according to their court submission, and they argue “that no one should be passed over for a job, paid less, fired, or subjected to harassment or any other form of discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The amici curiae include employers from various sectors, such as communications, financial, technological, food and hospitality industries; the list of employers includes big businesses such as Airbnb, Amazon, American Airlines, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Ben & Jerry’s, Bloomberg L.P., Coca-Cola, Comcast NBC Universal, CVS Health, Domino’s, eBay, Facebook, General Motors, Google, LinkedIn, IBM, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Lyft, Macy’s, Marriott International, Mastercard International Inc., NIKE, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Uber, and Univision Services Inc.

The San Francisco Giants and the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball also signed on to the brief.

“The brief has more corporate signers than any previous business brief in an LGBTQ non-discrimination case,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a blog post.

The brief argues that specific employment protections for people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are “not unreasonably costly or burdensome for business” and that uniform federal protections are needed so that businesses can “benefit” from “consistency.”

To lack such protections across-the-board, they argued, would pose “significant costs for employers and employees.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act expressly forbids employment discrimination on basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex; three cases that are to be argued before the Supreme Court in October are all related to whether this prohibition of sex discrimination includes protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The cases are Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia; Altitude Express v. Zarda; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

 

'Religious freedom is important for all of society,' Cardinal Dolan says

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 11:30

Salt Lake City, Utah, Jul 2, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York championed the importance of religious freedom at a patriotic-themed gathering in Utah on Sunday, appearing with religious leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We come together as neighbors, we come together as a family, we come together as friends,” Cardinal Dolan said. “See, that gives a counterexample to those who would love to caricature us as these bigoted, hateful, violent people. And we can't allow that to happen.”

The Cardinal added that religious freedom “is important for all of culture and all of society, not just for people of faith.”

Cardinal Dolan gave the keynote address to a crowd of 3,000 at Utah Valley University UCCU Center in Orem, Utah, on Sunday. The speech was part of America’s Freedom Festival at Provo which is an annual patriotic gathering held around Independence Day to promote American values of faith, freedom, patriotism, and family.

He appeared with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon faith, at Sunday’s event. On Monday Dolan met with church President Russell M. Nelson who presented him a statue of the Christus.

The Cardinal has previously worked with Mormon leaders on matters of religious freedom, faith, marriage and humanitarian efforts, including a 2017 ecumenical meeting in New York City with Mormon and Jewish leaders.

“To have us be able to work together on things that would bless this country,” Cook said, “whether they're of a faith or no faith at all, has been an incredibly significant thing, as far as we're concerned.”

Both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Oscar Solis of the Diocese of Salt Lake City on Sunday emphasized that love of country should go together with love of God.

"We have to remember that patriotism is a biblical virtue,” said Cardinal Dolan, adding that it is important “to see people coming together — especially to see our young people — to show that we're not alone in our love for God and country.”

“We have to bring God and patriotism together. It’s a great formula for a healthy society,” said Bishop Solis.

“Religious liberty is very essential for us, and that it is defined as the First Amendment in this country, and that is why we need to safeguard and uphold, because this is a precious gift.”

Indiana AG may appeal injunction against D&E abortion ban

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 19:22

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 1, 2019 / 05:22 pm (CNA).- An Indiana ban on dilation and evacuation abortion has been blocked by a federal judge’s preliminary injunction, continuing the legal fight over abortion in a time when the legal and political future of legal abortion is still in flux.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has said he will likely appeal the ruling.

“I continue to believe that Indiana has a compelling interest in protecting the value and dignity of fetal life by banning a particularly brutal and inhumane procedure,” Hill said June 28.

The Indiana Senate passed H.B. 1211 by a vote of 38-10, while the House of Representatives backed it by a vote of 71-25. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed it into law earlier this year.

The law banning the second-trimester procedure was set to take effect July 1. Doctors who violate the law could be charged with a felony and a possible six-year prison sentence, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker granted the preliminary injunction.

She said the law “prohibits physicians from utilizing the most common, safest, often most cost effective, and best understood method of second trimester abortion.” It makes doctors who perform abortions “resort to alternatives that are medically riskier, more costly, less reliable, and in some instances simply unavailable, while accomplishing little more than expressing hostility towards the constitutionally fundamental right of women to control their own reproductive lives.”

During a June hearing on the law, Barker had questioned why the state would push women towards “highly risky” alternatives such as prematurely inducing labor or injecting fatal drugs into the unborn baby.

The law bars doctors from removing a fetus from the womb using medical instruments such as clamps, forceps, and scissors. It makes exceptions to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent serious health risk.

Attorneys supporting the law said they have support from a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a federal ban on partial-birth abortion.

Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, urged Barker’s decision to be appealed.

“Dismemberment abortions are painful and barbaric,” he said. “No baby deserves this horrific death sentence.”

“It’s disgusting that the abortion industry can simply overturn a law they dislike by filing a lawsuit,” he added.

There were 27 dilation and evacuation abortions performed in Indiana in 2017, state health department figures said. There were 7,778 abortions that year, meaning dilation and evacuation abortions made up 0.35 percent.

Most of these abortions followed prenatal testing that indicated serious health risks for either the unborn baby or the mother, the Northwest Indiana Times reported in April.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of two doctors who perform such abortions. The attorneys said the law would put a “substantial and unwarranted burden on women's ability to obtain second-trimester, pre-viability abortions.”

Barker, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, recently allowed an abortion clinic to open in South Bend, Indiana after the Indiana State Department of Health denied a license to the clinic operator on the grounds it had not provided required safety documentation.

The same day as the federal injunction against the law, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from backers of Alabama’s anti-dismemberment law in Harris v. West Alabama Women’s Center.

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the decision not to hear the Alabama law, but he said the legal challenge to it “serves as a stark reminder that our abortion jurisprudence has spiraled out of control.”

“The notion that anything in the Constitution prevents States from passing laws prohibiting the dismembering of a living child is implausible,” wrote Thomas.

He said the court’s conception of “undue burden” is “demonstrably erroneous.” An “undue burden” standard currently renders unconstitutional any law that is a “substantial obstacle” to a pregnant woman seeking an abortion before fetal viability.

At the same time, he said the Alabama law does not present the right pattern of facts to challenge American abortion precedent and the case was “too risky” for the high court to consider.

Other Indiana abortion laws have been heard in the federal courts.

In May the U.S. Supreme Court upheld part of a 2016 Indiana law requiring aborted babies to be cremated or buried. However, it declined to consider another part of the law that banned abortions based solely on the sex, race, or disability of the baby, on the grounds that the law raises issues that have not been adequately considered by appellate courts.

The legal status quo on abortion is in doubt given the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pro-life advocates have hoped that strong abortion restrictions will soon pass Supreme Court muster again, if precedents such as the 1973 Roe v. Wade case are changed or overturned.

Some states have passed bans on abortion based on when an unborn child’s heartbeat is detectable, as early as six weeks into pregnancy, while other states have passed laws that secure legal abortion even if the U.S. Supreme Court modifies or overturns precedent requiring legal abortion nationwide.

US Supreme Court agrees to hear Montana school choice case

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 18:18

Washington D.C., Jul 1, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case addressing the question of whether states can deny tax credit programs to parents and children who choose religious private schools.

“States cannot base laws on hostility to religion. Likewise, no provision of Montana’s constitution can enshrine hostility to religion into state law. We commend the Supreme Court for taking this case,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel John Bursch said in a June 28 statement.

The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, was decided 5-2 in the Montana Supreme Court late last year.

The ruling found that the state’s tax credit program, which provided for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for a person’s donation to nonprofit student scholarship organizations, permitted the Montana legislature to “indirectly pay tuition at private, religiously-affiliated schools” in violation of state law.

The Montana Supreme Court concluded that the tax credit program violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, and that the Montana state constitution was even stricter in this regard than the U.S. constitution.

On June 28 the Supreme Court granted cert, meaning it will review the case when the new term begins in October.

Bursch cited a Supreme Court case from 2017, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer, which ruled that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program. The state’s natural resources department ultimately ruled the church ineligible for the program because of its religious status, but the Supreme Court ruled that the denial of the church’s eligibility for the program violated the free exercise clause.

“As the U.S. Supreme Court unequivocally reaffirmed in that decision, states cannot impose ‘special disabilities on the basis of religious views or religious status,’” he said.

CNA reported in March on a proposed federal tax credit-based scholarship program could provide a boost for parents who want to send their children to Catholic school. The proposed scheme, which U.S. Department of Education calls Education Freedom Scholarships, would be funded through taxpayers’ voluntary contributions to state-identified Scholarship Granting Organizations. Should the propsal become law, donors will receive a federal tax credit equal to their contribution.

According to the education department, the tax credit program could mean “a historic investment in America’s students, injecting up to $5 billion yearly into locally controlled scholarship programs that empower students to choose the learning environment and style that best meets their unique needs.”

The National Catholic Educational Association, which includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S., is supportive of the plan.

A similar plan was considered earlier this year at the state level in Nebraska. That bill ultimately succumbed to filibuster in May.

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents “must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.”

“Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.”

HHS delays new conscience rights protections

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Jul 1, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A rule to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals will be delayed until the end of November, the Department of Health and Human Services announced July 1. 

The administration said that the new rule, which would cover doctors and other medical practitioners objecting to procedures like abortion, sterilization, or facilitating euthanasia, is being held up after being challenged in federal court.

The Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority rule was set to go into effect on July 22. The rule mandates that institutions receiving federal money be certified that they comply with more than two dozen laws protecting conscience and religious freedom rights. 

The new rule was announced in May. 

An HHS spokesperson told CNA Monday that, due to the “significant litigation” challenging the policy, “HHS agreed to a stipulated request to delay the effective date of the rule until November 22.” 

This delay permits “the parties more time to respond to the litigation and to grant entities affected by the rule more time to prepare for compliance.”

California filed suit against the Trump administration three weeks after the rule was announced. In a statement announcing the suit, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that the conscience rule was dangerous to American lives and that “a war is being waged on access to health care across our country.” 

Becerra was joined in the suit by the attorneys general from several other states. The suit is being heard in federal court in San Francisco. According to a statement released by the city, San Francisico could lose up to $1 billion in federal funding if the rule comes into effect since the city does not intend to comply with the conscience protection laws.

A statement posted on the website of San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, called the delay a victory for the city and said that Herrera had “won” against the Trump administration.

“We have won this battle — and it was an important one — but the fight is not over,” said Herrera. “The Trump administration is trying to systematically limit access to critical medical care for women, the LGBTQ community, and other vulnerable patients.”

Herrera wrote that “hospitals are no place to put personal beliefs above patient care,” and that “refusing treatment to vulnerable patients should not leave anyone with a clear conscience.”    

Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, said in a statement that he believes the rule is legal, and that it simply is an enforcement mechanism for policies that have existed for years. 

“The rule gives life and enforcement tools to conscience protection laws that have been on the books for decades,” he said in a statement provided to CNA. 

“Protecting conscience and religious freedom fosters greater diversity in the healthcare space. We will defend the rule vigorously.”

US-Mexico border bishops sorrowed by migrant deaths

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 16:43

Brownsville, Texas, Jul 1, 2019 / 02:43 pm (CNA).- The bishops on either side of the Rio Grande, where several migrants died last week, expressed Friday their sorrow over the deaths.

Bishops Daniel Flores of Brownsville and Eugenio Andres Lira Rugarcia of Matamoros wrote June 28 to “express with much pain the sorrow of the whole community upon hearing of the parents and children that have recently lost their lives upon crossing the Río Grande River, seeking a better life.”

Óscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria died June 23, drowning as they tried to cross the Rio Grande from Matamoros. Graphic images of their bodies floating on the riverbank circulated across the world after they were discovered.

The bodies of a mother and three children were also found recently near Anzalduas Park in Mission, Texas, about 70 miles northwest of Brownsville.

“We offer our condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have died, and we recall that over the course of years countless persons have lost their lives in a similar manner,” Bishop Flores and Lira wrote.

They added that “united the families that suffer these sorrows, with whom we have been able personally to speak and pray, we ask God the Father for the eternal rest of their deceased loved ones, and we ask that He fill loved ones who remain with strength and hope in these difficult moments.”

“As we recognize the good that many persons do for our migrant brothers and sisters, we invite everyone, governments and society, to be ever aware that migrants are persons like us; with dignity and rights, with needs, sorrows and hopes. We must all extend a hand to help them have a better future, following the teaching Jesus has given us: 'Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.'”

They concluded: “May Our Lady of Guadalupe intercede for us and obtain from God for us the wisdom, courage and strength to make it so.”

Martinez and his daughter, as well as his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, intended to apply for asylum in the US, but the international bridge from Matamoros was closed until Monday, so they chose to swim across the Rio Grande.

According to the New York Times, the family had left their home in El Salvador for economic reasons, and not to escape gang violence.

Tania, 21, is now at one of the migrant houses run by the Diocese of Matamoros.

Missouri abortion clinic allowed to operate without license during legal dispute

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 15:49

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 1, 2019 / 01:49 pm (CNA).- An administrative panel ruled Friday that the last abortion clinic in Missouri may continue operating while its lapsed license is disputed in court.

According to The Hill, Missouri's Administrative Hearing Commission granted the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis its latest reprieve June 28, allowing it to continue operating without a license until at least August, when the next hearing in the dispute is scheduled.

The license of the Planned Parenthood clinic was set to expire May 31, but Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis ruled that the clinic could temporarily stay open while its licensure was debated. That temporary stay was again extended at least two more times by Stelzer, who said that the clinic could remain open until the administrative panel’s decision was given.

Planned Parenthood sued the state of Missouri May 28 after the state’s health department declined to renew the clinic’s license. Representatives of the clinic have argued that there is no valid reason for state rules that mandate two pelvic exams before the administration of abortion-inducing drugs. It has also rejected state demands that officials interview its medical trainees on staff.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services rejected a license renewal request June 21 from the clinic, citing an “unprecedented lack of cooperation, failure to meet basic standards of patient care, and refusal to comply with state law and regulations.”

A 2016 report on an inspection of the clinic, the most recent available through CheckMyClinic.org, shows that the clinic at that time was in violation of multiple state standards involving the sterilization and storing of equipment, and the proper documentation of medication and procedures. Also among the state concerns are four botched abortions reported at the clinic.

While the state health department had demanded hearings with some doctors in residence at the Planned Parenthood clinic as part of its investigation, Stelzer ruled in early June that the state could not hold interviews of non-Planned Parenthood employees as a requirement for licensure.

The Hill reports that the next hearing in the case is scheduled Aug. 1.

An Italian nun’s expert advice: What you can do to fight human trafficking

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 05:48

Denver, Colo., Jul 1, 2019 / 03:48 am (CNA).- Human trafficking is “happening closer to us than we think,” and Catholic groups are increasingly committed to fighting it through advocacy, prayer and action, global anti-trafficking leader Sister Gabriella Bottani, S.M.C., has said.

“What we should do, more and more, is to be aware and to try to understand what trafficking is in our reality, in our communities,” Bottani told CNA June 26 during a Denver visit.

“I think that since Pope Francis started to speak against trafficking there is an increasing commitment in the Church at all levels,” she said.

At the highest levels of the Church, the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development is working on anti-trafficking issues and coordinating different agencies, including the anti-trafficking network Talitha Kum.

Bottani, a Comboni Missionary Sister, has been official coordinator of Talitha Kum since 2015. The network is led by religious sisters, with more than 2,000 of them being a part of the network. Talitha Kum has representatives in 77 countries and 43 national networks.

Members of the network have served 10,000 trafficking survivors by accompanying them to shelters and other residential communities, engaging in international collaboration, and aiding survivors’ return home. Bottani first worked in anti-trafficking efforts in Brazil, but she now lives in Italy.

At the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. June 20, Bottani was one of many leaders recognized individually as a Trafficking in Persons Report Hero by U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump.

The U.S. State Department report praised Bottani as “one of the most prominent and influential anti-trafficking advocates within the Catholic diaspora.” It noted her anti-trafficking work in Brazil which aided vulnerable women and children in favelas. She led a national campaign against human trafficking when Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014.

“Throughout her career, her work has inspired generations of anti-trafficking advocates within the Catholic faith,” the report said.

Bottani traveled across the U.S. with a State Department-hosted delegation of anti-trafficking leaders. She was among several speakers at a June 26 reception on the University of Denver campus hosted by WorldDenver, a World Affairs Council affiliate, and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

There, Bottani recounted to CNA the most recent case Talitha Kum managed at the international level: the repatriation of a young woman and mother from the Middle East to her home in Uganda.

In Uganda, this woman had lost her job and was questioning how she could support her young daughter. She received an invitation promising better work in the Middle East.

“Then when she arrived in that country, the situation was very different. There was no job for her, but there was domestic servitude,” Bottani said. “She had to be available more than 20 hours per day. She often had little food to eat.”

“At a certain point she was able to escape,” Bottani continued. “She became depressed and she went on the street. When she sought help, a taxi driver raped her. Then she was completely lost.”

Another person brought the woman to the local Ugandan embassy, but she had to wait three days outside before being recognized as a Ugandan citizen and receiving help.

The embassy “brought her to the Church to the Catholic sisters. The sisters took care of her,” Bottani recounted. “It was a very difficult situation. She had nothing to wear, she had depression.”

“The Church paid for the flight back to her country. A sister took her to the airport. This is the importance of having a global network,” said Bottani. “Through Talitha Kum we were able to inform the sisters, and we gave her the first support when she arrived, including health care.”

UNICEF estimates about 21 million people have been trafficked globally, including about 5.5 million children. Women are the primary victims, making up an estimated 51% of victims. Men make up another 21%, girls make up 20%, and boys make up 8%, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2016 report.

In the U.S., almost 9,000 cases of trafficking were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline in 2017, with the true numbers expected to be much larger, Fortune magazine reported in April 2019.

Trafficking is estimated to generate $32 billion per year, according to UNICEF. Other estimates are far higher.

While sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking, trafficking for forced labor is most common in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Sister Bottani warned about all forms of exploitation. From a global perspective, trafficked workers are forced to serve in industries like agriculture, domestic service, construction, and fishing. In some areas, trafficked people are forced to become beggars.

“People are forced into drug smuggling or becoming child soldiers,” she said.

She also warned against simplifying a complex situation.

“We have to be able to face the complexity, and we can only do it together,” she said. “We can strengthen one another in hope, and in trying to understand the root causes of trafficking.”

“Only in doing this work can we make a better world for everybody,” she added.

For Bottani, anti-trafficking efforts need support from everyone.

“Every community in the Church can support the work done, not only financially but also with prayer,” she said. “To pray but also to try to identify how we can support concretely.”

Bottani noted the Feb. 8 International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking. This day was entrusted by Pope Francis to women and men religious, with Talitha Kum in charge of the campaign.

On the matter of action, she cited the simple example of volunteers at women’s shelters who care for children when the women are undergoing training. These women often lack such a network of local support.

“We can give this support. We can offer our skills and volunteering in this context,” said Bottani.

The name Talitha Kum is Aramaic, from Jesus Christ’s words in the Gospel of Mark’s fifth chapter. There he spoke to the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, who had just died: “Young girl, I say to you, arise!” Jesus then took the girl by the hand and she got up and walked.

The network sees its name as an expression of “the transformative power of compassion and mercy” for those who have been wounded by “the many forms of exploitation.” The network grew out of efforts in the 1990s and is a collaborative effort with the International Union of Superiors General. It was formally established in 2009.

Talitha Kum has partnered with Catholic organizations like Caritas Internationalis, the Santa Martha Group, the International Catholic Organization for Migration and others.

Pope Francis has been a vocal critic of human trafficking. On several occasions he has invoked the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, herself a former slave, to intercede to bring about an end to “this plague.” In April 11 remarks, Pope Francis condemned human trafficking as a “crime against humanity” and against victims who are each human beings “wanted and created by God.”

The Talitha Kum website is www.talithakum.info.

Seminarian who died in bus crash practiced laying down his life daily, friend says

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 18:01

Santa Fe, N.M., Jun 30, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- After a bus crashed on its way back to New Mexico from a Catholic youth conference in Denver, reports have emerged that the seminarian on board, Jason Marshall, may have given his life to save the kids on board the bus.

According to witnesses and the family of Marshall, the 53 year-old tried to regain control of the bus, after a reported medical incident with its driver, 22 year-old Anthony Padilla.

“He saw the driver in distress, grabbed the wheel and prevented the bus from flipping,” Marshall’s brother Jeff told Staten Island Live. Although studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, most of Marshall’s family lives in New York.

His quick thinking and selfless action may have been what saved the lives of the other 13 passengers on board, including 10 teenagers.

"A bus that big and so top heavy carrying that kind of momentum, it could have been absolutely disastrous. It could have been so horrible," Father Rob Yaksich, a priest of the Sante Fe archdiocese, told local ABC affiliate KOAT Channel 7 News.

But that Marshall would have sacrificed his life to save others does not come as a surprise to friends and family who knew him.

“Jason never walked away from any incident if he could help,” Marshall’s mother Diane told Staten Island Live.

Matthew Gubenski was a fellow seminarian of Marshall’s at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. Though they were in different years in school, the two spent at least an hour together every day in their dormitory kitchen.

“It was a pretty close-knit house,” Gubenski told CNA. “I have dietary restrictions so I have to cook most of my meals, and (Jason) likes different food, or he likes to make coffee, and we spent about an hour in the kitchen every day either making coffee or breakfast, or frequently cleaning up other people’s messes.”

“He and I really tried to make that kitchen far more of a social place than most dorm kitchens can be,” he added.

The two became close over their kitchen chats and cleaning up messes. As the assigned kitchen coordinator of the year, Gubenski said he was grateful for Marshall’s help in reminding the other guys to clean up after themselves. An older vocation, Marshall had spent some time before entering seminary as a health inspector for restaurants in New York.

“He was pretty helpful in reminding the guys, ‘Hey, there’s a reason why you wipe up the counter after yourself, it’s because of germs, it’s not just an aesthetic thing,” Gubenski recalled.

A popular guy, Marshall was involved in the school’s Senate, and despite being older than most of the seminarians, Marshall was one of the best athletes, Gubenski said.

But even more valued than his kitchen cleanliness or athletic ability was that Marshall had a way of making people feel listened to and loved, Gubenski said.

“One thing has struck me since (the crash),” Gubenski said. “I knew that (Jason) was good at talking to people...but I didn’t realize how close everyone there felt with him. You hear stories about St. John Bosco, how every single kid in the oratory felt like they were his favorite. Jason was always ready to listen, and really get you inspired, and help you in whatever way you needed to be helped. And I didn’t realize he had done that for so many people.”

One thing that Marshall would get really “fired up” about was the need for good men as priests, Gubenski recalled.

“No matter where it started, there would always be a point in that conversation where he would get fired up and say: ‘Priests have to be men! They have to be ready - they have to be shepherds and they have to be ready to stand up and potentially lay their lives down,’” Gubenski said.

When Gubenski heard that Marshall gave his life trying to prevent the crash, he thought: “That was exactly Jason, for him to get up there. He did what he’d been talking about all year.”

The crash has brought the men from the seminary closer together, Gubenski added. They are checking in with each other now more regularly over their summer break, and they are remembering Marshall with memorial Masses and in prayer.

And they are looking back at what they loved in Marshall, and trying to emulate him in their own lives, Gubenski added, including his love for people and his love for the Lord. Marshall was usually the first person in the chapel, and the last to leave, he said.

“I know that each of us has been inspired to just try to be to other people what we saw Jason doing,” Gubenski said.

In teaching catechesis this week, Gubenski said he was asked by the kids when they should start discerning God’s will in their lives.

“And I said, ‘Right now. You have to ask God right now, what is it you want from me? You have to try to grow in virtue right now.’ And Jason did all of those things.”

The Archdiocese of Sante Fe held a memorial Mass for Jason June 26.

The precise cause of the bus crash is still under investigation.

How 'Hosanna-Tabor' is shaping employment at Catholic schools

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Jun 30, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- In the wake of recent controversies over teacher hiring, and firing, at religious schools, CNA spoke with professor Rick Garnett from Notre Dame Law School to discuss the future of religious liberty.

In 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prevents the government from interfering with the hiring or firing of ministers. The case also determined what can be considered under the ministerial exception.

A woman named Cheryl Perich was a religion teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School for five years, before she went on disability in 2004. When she was cleared to work the following year, she was not offered her job back, and the school said they had hired someone else to teach religion. Perich then sued for unlawful dismissal, stating that her firing was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The court said that her firing was in fact not unlawful, due to the religious component of her job, which the Supreme Court said likened her to a minister. The government cannot be involved with the employment of ministers, which would be a violation of the First Amendment.

The Establishment Clause would prevent “a situation like in England, where the queen picks the bishop,” explained Garnett. “The idea behind the ministerial exception is that our Constitution doesn’t permit stuff like that.”

A minister, said Garnett “is broader than just, you know, an ordained priest or pastor. It includes people who work for religious institutions, and who have a role in the religious mission of these institutions.”

The effects of Hosanna-Tabor may be seen in the coming years, as the exercise of religious liberty in schools becomes a bigger and bigger problem.

“One place where this is coming up a fair bit and creating some controversy is when you have religious schools that are firing teachers who enter into a civil same-sex marriage,” said Garnett.

“That’s happened at a number of Catholic schools around the country. And in a number of these cases have been lawsuits saying the firing was illegal, on the ground that it was discrimination.”

The schools, Garnett said, have responded to the claims of discrimination that these teachers are teaching at Catholic schools, and therefore are ministers.

“So far, there's been some disagreement about how to handle these cases in the Supreme Court,” said Garnett.

Recently, two Jesuit high schools in Indianapolis were in the news. One defied orders from the archbishop to not renew the contract of a teacher who is in a civil same-sex marriage, opting to keep him on staff. The other high school decided not to renew the contract of one of their teachers who is in a same-sex marriage, who is, coincidentally, married to the other teacher.

Other religious liberty issues are beginning to arise over school vouchers. The Maryland Department of Education last year disqualified Bethel Christian Academy from participating in the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today voucher program, which benefits low-income students in the area.

The department had previously requested to see the student handbooks of schools in the program. Bethel’s handbook includes a statement of Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

Garnett told CNA that does not think schools should be forced to give up the ministerial exemption to get vouchers, and that “every school [should] get some sort of public support.”

How a search for a church, and for truth, led this Protestant family to Catholicism  

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 06:18

Atlanta, Ga., Jun 29, 2019 / 04:18 am (CNA).- Allison DeVine’s conversion began in a preschool classroom.

There, she met another woman named Allison - a Catholic. The two women started talking because their daughters had become playmates. Both girls had strong personalities, and neither Allison believed the preschool friendship would stick.

But it did. The Allisons laughed about the improbable friendship of their strong-willed daughters.

“It was one of those moments we knew that we had to be friends. Our daughters intimidate everybody, but they got along fine. We were astonished that they didn’t intimidate each other,” DeVine told CNA.

“We began talking, our friendship grew deeper, and we found ourselves having more and more conversations that came back around to faith,” DeVine said.

Soon the circled widened to include other women. Devine, a mother of three, describes the small group as “A Catholic, a Protestant, an agnostic, and a Mormon…it sounds like the set up to a good joke, but we had very in depth conversations about what we believed; we respected each other completely.”

As DeVine and her Catholic friend - the other Allison - grew closer, their conversations always seemed to come back around to spirituality and belief, and eventually focused on the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism.

“One Halloween, we were all out in a group, trick or treating. The kids were running around, going crazy, and in the middle of it all, my friend looks over at me and my husband and goes: ‘Y’all will eventually become Catholic.”’

“My husband Jason and I were both like, ‘whatever’,” DeVine recalled.

At the time, Protestantism was home for the DeVines. DeVine and her husband were small group leaders at their Protestant church, and DeVine had worked in Protestant churches for most of her career.

“But slowly, God began taking everything apart,” Devine said. Their small group fell apart. Things at their church “just weren’t right.”

“We started looking for another church. And what we found during I guess what Protestants would call ‘church shopping’ was that nobody was grounded in truth. And that’s where it all started for my husband,” she said.

As things further deteriorated in their current church environment, the new year found DeVine and her husband church shopping on New Year’s day, looking for somewhere to worship.

“All the churches were closed in observance of New Year’s Day. Which was just baffling to us. It was the first day of the year, but we couldn’t find a place to begin our year in worship,” DeVine recalled.

Their frustration over shuttered churches set off a “chain reaction” in DeVine’s husband.

“He started reading about every single different denomination, going through every single Protestant denomination. I am pretty pregnant at this point and basically was just asking him for cliffs notes,” she said.

DeVine noted that the pregnancy itself had been another seed planted in the family’s life that pointed them towards Catholicism. The couple had used IUDs for contraception, until Allison found out they were abortifacients. They switched to Natural Family Planning, and became pregnant during what seemed like an “impossible time,” based on their charts. Even before their conversion, God was calling the couple to trust him more deeply through the unexpected pregnancy, DeVine noted.

As DeVine’s husband continued his church search, “one night he woke me up in bed and said ‘I have to talk to Allison,” DeVine recalled. “I was like, ‘Okay...you can have her number,’” DeVine told her husband, “and he was like, ‘No, I think we’re going to become Catholic.’”

Devine remembered rolling back over and telling him: “I’m going back to bed.”

But for Jason DeVine, a fire was lit. He started reading “everything he could get his hands on” about Catholicism. It was during that same week that the family went to Catholic Mass on Sunday for the first time ever.

“We were totally lost, didn’t know when to stand or sit,” Allison DeVine said. “And at the end of the Mass, my husband looked over and was like, ‘Yes, I think this is it.”’

At that first Mass, the parish announced that later that day, they would be beginning a series of talks on Catholicism. Allison’s husband told her: “We’re coming back tonight.”

“I am so pregnant at this point, and I am exhausted, I was almost in tears at his suggestion, just because I was so tired,” she recalled, “but I agreed to come back.”

DeVine said the very first night of the parish mission answered “almost all of my questions” about Catholicism. Still, they decided to return for a second night.

During that second session, DeVine got up from the pew to stretch her legs and walk out some of her pregnancy discomfort.

“(A) little old man in the back of the church stopped me to ask when I was due,” she said. “I told him, ‘Not for seven weeks,’ and he said, ‘Oh, no, that’s not right, you’re having that baby any day now.”’

DeVine returned to her pew and shared his prediction, laughing about it with her husband. She joked that “maybe we should take him at his word since we are in a Catholic church, and they do seem to know their pregnant women.”

By the end of that second night, DeVine said, “All of my questions were answered. It was as if that little priest who came to preach was actually speaking directly to our family. Every single question. Everything we were wrestling with.”

As it turned out, they wouldn’t have been able to return for that third night anyway, because Allison went into labor that night and their tiny son was born the next morning - seven weeks early, but “perfectly healthy, defying every odd.”

“We had a priest come and bless him that night, at the hospital, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Well, I guess we’re in the Catholic Church now.’”

DeVine joked that “my husband read his way into the Church, but I birthed my way in.”

The DeVines started regularly attending Mass once their son was discharged from the hospital. They enrolled in RCIA, and they formally entered the Catholic Church this past Easter, in April of 2019.

The switch to Catholicism had its rocky moments, including the loss of several of the family’s Protestant friends, who disagreed with some social teachings of the Catholic Church.

“God has really provided, though, because that core group of women, the four of us, we’re still very close, and there is so much respect,” DeVine said.

Becoming Catholic in 2019, however, is not a move for the faint of heart.

DeVine acknowledged that while she and Jason were aware of the scandals in the Church surrounding the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and other serious abuse allegations against prelates at various levels in the hierarchy, they “weren’t fazed by it.”

“When you work in the church as I did, in various Christian denominations all my life, you already know about everything that goes on behind closed doors,” she said. “Nothing shocked us. The difference is, though, these other churches aren’t big enough, aren’t institutionally organized in the same way. So some of them may break news for about five minutes, but nothing seems to capture the headlines the way Catholic scandals do,” she added.

“It’s actually amazing to me, because Jesus says ‘you will be persecuted for my sake,’ and we can see that in the way the Catholic Church is constantly in the news, constantly under media scrutiny. For us it was truly a mark that this was the true Church,” DeVine said.

“Every one of us are sinners, we all have our issues,” said DeVine. “He [Jesus] is the only one of us that’s perfect.”

The DeVine’s chose Sts. Gianna and Simon the Zealot, respectively, as their confirmation saints. As a mother herself who experienced complications in her first pregnancy, DeVine feels very close to St. Gianna. Inspired by their pro-life convictions, the DeVines have also founded a nonprofit to benefit the unborn, called the The Bespoke Foundation.

“We’re not good at going down and sitting in front of abortion clinics and talking to people, but we can sure raise money. So we started a foundation to benefit the crisis pregnancy clinics around the greater Atlanta area.”

DeVine cited the rosary, the Eucharist, and the reality of there being “church everywhere, always, anywhere we go in the world” as some of the biggest gifts of becoming Catholic.

And Allison’s friend, the other Allison? She is now the godmother to one of the DeVine’s children.

“God had all the details worked out ahead of time. He really thought of everything, it really is amazing.”

Allison’s husband, Jason, blogged about the family’s journey into Catholicism at his blog, www.397totheLamb.com.

Supreme Court rejects case on abortion by dismemberment

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 16:45

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will not hear a case regarding an Alabama law banning abortions by dismemberment, allowing a lower court ruling against the legislation to stand.  

On June 28, the court issued a series of decisions announcing which cases it will hear in the next judicial year. 

The rejected case, Harris v. West Alabama Women’s Center, concerned the Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act, a 2016 law that banned the abortion procedure “dilation and evacuation.” The procedure involves the dismemberment of the unborn child while it is still alive, and is only used for abortions in the second-trimester of pregnancy or later. 

This case did not involve the law passed in Alabama earlier this year, which banned abortion altogether in the state of Alabama, except when needed to preserve the health of the mother. 

The 2016 law was struck down by a lower court before it could ever go into effect, finding that the legislation placed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to access abortion. The Supreme Court’s decision to not grant certiorari means that the lower court decision will stand. 

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing a concurring opinion to not hear the case, said that the Supreme Court did need to consider an abortion case and revisit its existing precedents on the “undue burden” test, which he described as “out of control,” but that the Alabama case did not present the right fact pattern for doing so. 

“The notion that anything in the Constitution prevents States from passing laws prohibiting the dismembering of a living child is implausible,” wrote Thomas. 

“But under the ‘undue burden’ standard adopted by this Court, a restriction on abortion—even one limited to prohibiting gruesome methods—is unconstitutional if ‘the ‘purpose or effect’ of the provision ‘is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.’”

While agreeing that the case was “too risky” for the Court to consider, he wrote that “this case serves as a stark reminder that our abortion jurisprudence has spiraled out of control.” 

"None of these decisions is supported by the text of the Constitution. Although this case does not present the opportunity to address our demonstrably erroneous 'undue burden' standard, we cannot continue blinking the reality of what this court has wrought."

The national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List released a statment condemning the court's refusal to hear the case.

"Once again the Supreme Court has punted on abortion, this time refusing to take up Alabama’s humane law protecting unborn children from gruesome dismemberment abortions in which a child is torn apart, piece by piece," the statement said. 

"Unborn children and mothers will continue to be victimized by the abortion industry while the Court does nothing."

Among those cases accepted by the court were DHS v. Regents of the University of California, Trump v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and McAlleenan v. Vidal, which were consolidated into one case. 

All three cases concern President Trump’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. 

In 2017, Trump announced that the program would be ending, but federal courts have repeatedly blocked his decision and the program has remained.

DACA was created by an executive order issued by then-President Barack Obama. It provides work permits and protection from deportation for some people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. 

Trump has previously urged Congress agree a bipartisan compromise bill that would codify parts of DACA into law and strengthen border protections - including providing funding for a border wall, but no agreement has been reached. 

The Supreme Court’s next judicial session begins in October.

Richmond diocese to stop naming buildings after bishops

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 16:44

Richmond, Va., Jun 28, 2019 / 02:44 pm (CNA).- In the wake of recent sexual abuse scandals throughout the U.S., the Diocese of Richmond has announced that it will no longer name buildings and institutions after clergymen and religious founders.

The new policy went into effect on Thursday, as six names were added to the diocese’s list of clergy with credible sexual abuse accusations against them. The diocese said the additional names reflect new information recently brought forward.

“Overcoming the tragedy of abuse is not just about holding accountable those who have committed abuses, it is also about seriously examining the role and complex legacies of individuals who should have done more to address the crisis in real time,” said Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond.

“The continued honorific recognition of those individuals provides a barrier to healing for our survivors, and we want survivors to know that we welcome and support them in our diocese,” he said in a June 27 statement form the Diocese of Richmond.

Schools, institutions, and parish buildings will from now on only be named after saints, titles of Jesus and Mary, mysteries of the faith, and the locations where the ministries were founded.

Buildings and institutions may no longer be named after bishops, pastors, or the founders of organizations. Rooms and parts of buildings that are already named are exempt from the policy. The archdiocese clarified that the new rules do not prohibit the placement of plaques which recognize historical figures or donors.

The only building that will require a name changes is Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach, which will return to its former name: Catholic High School.

“While the name of the school is changing, our mission remains the same, based firmly on Catholic teaching,” said Kelly Lazarra, superintendent of the Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools. “Catholic High School is dedicated to nurturing intellect, shaping character and forming Christian values.”

This move follows a nearly 10-year campaign by resident Thomas Lee, who says he was abused by a priest in the diocese and that Bishop Walter Sullivan covered up the abuse and allowed the priest to continue in ministry.

“This will go a long way in the healing process,” said Lee, according to WTKR.

Bishop Knestout issued a renewed apology to all those affected by clerical sexual abuse.

“It is my hope and prayer that the policy change is another way to continue to assist survivors of abuse in their healing, especially those who have, in any way, experienced the failure of Church leadership to adequately address their needs and concerns,” he said.

Second US Democratic debate discussed abortion, 'religious hypocrisy'

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 13:40

Miami, Fla., Jun 28, 2019 / 11:40 am (CNA).- Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, the second in a series of debates that will continue until the 2020 primaries, featured discussion of religious hypocrisy and abortion among other matters.

Candidates were asked questions by NBC debate moderators June 27 on topics ranging from health care, immigration, and foreign policy, to race relations, climate change, and taxes.

However, candidates on Thursday barely discussed taxpayer funding of abortion, as opposed to Wednesday night’s debate when candidate Julian Castro said he supported taxpayer funding of abortion as a matter of “reproductive justice.” As president, he continued, he would ensure that all women and “trans-females” – men identifying as women – would have access to abortion and abortion coverage.

Castro later said he misspoke and meant to say that “trans-males,” or females identifying as a male who still possess a uterus, would be able to receive abortion coverage under his presidency.

Candidates discussed abortion in a brief segment where Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) said that a “woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right,” and promised to not appoint any judge to the Supreme Court who was not “100 percent” committed to upholding Roe v. Wade.

“‘Medicare for All’ guarantees every women in this country the right to have an abortion if she wants it,” Sanders said of his health care policy.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) followed up by touting her own pro-abortion credentials. “I had to fight like heck” to protect contraceptive coverage and abortion services while the Affordable Care Act was being considered in Congress, she said, adding that as president, “I will guarantee women’s reproductive rights no matter what.”

Gillibrand criticized “compromise” on the issue which has brought about policies like the Hyde Amendment, an over-40-year-old bipartisan policy that bars federal Medicaid funding of most elective abortions.

After the Democratic National Committee platform in 2016 called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, that policy has come under fire by Democratic presidential candidates including by frontrunner Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) who recently reversed his long-standing support for the policy.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List criticized the lack of questions about candidates’ public opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion, despite polls showing that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions.

“The strong majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, yet no Democratic contender including Joe Biden had to answer a single hard question about their extreme stance last night,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“Democratic contenders have embraced an agenda of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand and even infanticide that is deeply unpopular with Independents and more than a third of Democrats – the voters they desperately need to win,” Dannenfelser said.

Elsewhere in the debate, during the discussion of immigration, the topic surfaced of the criminalization of immigrants crossing into the U.S. border illegally.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said she would issue an executive order to “reinstate” DACA protections for eligible persons and defer deportation for their parents and for veterans. She added that she would stop the practices of detaining immigrant children in cages and end private detention facilities.

Biden said he would unite immigrant families and send “billions of dollars worth of help to the region immediately,” regarding the surge of women and child migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.

When pressed on the deportation of “over 3 million Americans” by the Obama administration, Biden said those with “major” criminal records, but not ordinary undocumented immigrants, should be deported. He added that “we should not be locking people up”, rather harboring asylum seekers until their hearing, and should address the root causes of migration.

Sanders said that the next president should “rescind every damn thing on this issue that Trump has done” and that the “root causes” of migration should be examined.

Almost all candidates supported decriminalizing border crossings without documentation, making it a civil offense.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg said this criminalization, as opposed to civil penalties, leads to practices such as the separation of families at the border. He used that issue to condemn what he called the religious hypocrisy of the Republican Party.

“The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion,” he said, noting that Democrats have staked out a different position because they “are committed to the separation of Church and state” and support everyone whether religious believers or not.

“We should call out hypocrisy when we see it, and for a party that associates itself with Christianity,” he said, “to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, to suggest that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

On the topic of race relations, Harris attacked Sen. Joe Biden’s (D-Del.) previous opposition to federally-mandated busing in school districts in the 1970s, as part of desegregation.

Harris interjected and said that the issue of race is not discussed enough “truthfully or honestly.”

“I do not believe you are a racist,” she said turning to Biden, but added that it was “hurtful” to hear him talk about working with segregationists and noted his opposition to federal busing for desegregation.

Biden retorted that her comments were a “mischaracterization” of his position, saying, “I did not praise racists” and “I did not oppose busing in America.” He said that he supported “breaking down these lines” on race and that he “ran [for Senate] because of civil rights,” and that civil rights – including the rights of the “LGBT community” – need to be protected today.

Harris, however, said that federal intervention on busing was required because states were obstructing civil rights. “That’s where the federal government must step in,” she said, advocating for the need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and pass the Equality Act.

Religion in China: 'It’s never been worse than it is right now,' Congress hears

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 09:15

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2019 / 07:15 am (CNA).- At a congressional hearing on the worldwide persecution of Christians, religious freedom advocates warned Thursday of the plight of Christians in Asia and particularly in China, where the government is acting forcibly bring religion under Communist Party control.

“I have been in Congress since 1981, I have worked on human rights in China since 1981,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, told the commission’s hearing on June 27. 

Referring to China’s campaign to “sinicize” religion, Smith said it was proceeding with brutal efficiency. “Under ‘sinicization,’ all religions and believers must comport with and aggressively promote communist ideology -- or else,” Smith said.

“It’s never been worse than it is right now.”

“Religious believers of every persuasion are harassed, arrested, jailed, or tortured. Only the compliant are left relatively unscathed. Bibles are burned, churches are destroyed, crosses set ablaze atop church steeples,” Smith said.

In addition to the mass internment of Uyghur Muslims in what are effectively “concentration camps” that “are up and running to commit genocide,” Smith said that the government has instituted requirements for facial-recognition cameras, restricted religious expression online, and people under age 18 have been prohibited from attending religious services. Officials have also engaged in campaigns to rewrite the Bible.

Thursday’s hearing focused on “Violations of the International Right to Freedom of Religion” of Christians. Sam Brownback, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, also testified, along with the Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and others.

Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world, facing violence and harassment in 144 countries, Brownback told the Commission, citing a recent Pew study.

“Religious persecution is a defining challenge of the 21st century, and the United States will proudly lead the charge to protect religious freedom wherever it is under attack,” Ambassador Brownback stated on Thursday.

In his testimony before the Commission, Brownback pointed to the Middle East where “Christian communities are dwindling due to harsh persecution, unjust imprisonments and religiously motivated violence,” including in Iran where Christians are are in jail facing charges brought by the Iran Revolutionary Court of “enmity against God,” “corruption on Earth,” and “disturbing national security.”

Dr. David Curry, President of the group Open Doors USA, which monitors Christian persecution and advocates for religious freedom, stated that according to the group’s most recent “World Watch List,” 4,146 Christians were killed for their faith in 2018, along with 2,625 detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned. Over 1,266 churches were attacked in 2018. 

Curry also noted a “dramatic rise” in violence against Christians, which he attributed to several causes, including radical Islamic jihadist ideology, a surge in religious nationalism in countries like India, and the rise of communist or post-communist political systems.

The Easter bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed over 250 people were also a topic of discussion at the hearing.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) relayed concerns from Christians in Sri Lanka of the government shutting down churches for “security” purposes in the wake of the bombings. Some members of the military guarding the churches also tortured Catholics in the country’s recent civil war, she said, adding that “many” Christians there “are understandably nervous about the Sri Lankan government’s intentions.”

Brownback answered that the State Department has been pushing for the government to uphold the rights of religious minorities while maintaining security.

There are “deep wounds within the society that need to be addressed,” Brownback said. “There needs to be some major reconciliation.” He praised Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith for an “outstanding job” in calling for no retribution for the Easter attacks.

In addition, Brownback noted that a result of last year’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by the State Department, was the creation of a fund for victims of religious violence, and that fund had been made availibe to victims of the Sri Lanka bombings.

Nadine Maenza, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, noted that in Pakistan, “state security forces in last year have disappeared dozens of young Christian” in the city of Karachi. Although many have been released, Christians are fearful of an escalation, she said.

In Burma, although the plight of the Rohingya Muslims has garnered international attention, “less known is the plight of the Christians,” she said.

Due to conflict between the country’s military and ethnic armed organizations, thousands of Christians have been displaced, and the government has used the conflict as a pretext to crack down on Christian leaders, “accusing them of working with ethnic armed organizations.”

“The Burmese government has created a culture of fear and violence for Christians that fundamentally undermines their ability to practice their faith,” she said, calling for U.S. sanctions on Burmese Senior General Min Aung Hlaing “for his direct role in perpetrating atrocities against Rohingya and ethnic minorities in Burma including Christians and Rohingya Muslims.”

People not politics: Pro-life groups unite to send aid to the border

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 05:02

Brownsville, Texas, Jun 28, 2019 / 03:02 am (CNA).- Reports of children with matted hair, inadequate sleep and no access to showers or clean clothes. A published photo of a father and his toddler daughter who drowned trying to reach the United States. Media reports in the last week painted a bleak picture of the unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, worsened by overcrowding and underfunding.

The crisis spurred New Wave Feminists, a secular pro-life group, to take action in collaboration with And Then There Were None (ATTWN), a support group for former abortion clinic workers.

In just three days, New Wave Feminists has collected more than $16,900 in monetary donations, while ATTWN has collected more than $12,800 worth of donated goods through a wish list registry on Amazon - so many toiletries, diapers, and other basic items that the group is renting a U-Haul truck to deliver their donations.

“The thing we keep hearing is, ‘Oh, pro-lifers don’t care about life outside the womb. Where are they at the border?’” Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, told CNA.

The sentiment is inaccurate, she said, citing a border donation drive by New Wave Feminists last year, to which pro-life people from various groups throughout the country donated.

This year, they are listing those groups as sponsors. More than 40 different pro-life groups have supported the border drive already this week. So many groups joined so quickly that Herndon-De La Rosa had to redesign a flyer that listed the sponsors. Some of those sponsors include Loyola Catholic, Libertarian Light, FemCatholic, Latinos for Life, and Mercy Missions, among many others.

“It’s been amazing to see how many other groups are getting involved and how those donations have multiplied because it isn’t just one pro-life group, it’s truly the pro-life movement that is getting behind this effort,” she said.

The success of the campaign and the broad list of sponsors from throughout the pro-life movement makes the pro-life message all the more authentic, Herndon-De La Rosa said, because it shows that the pro-life issue does not belong to one political party or religion, and that it cares about all human life.

“It’s not a political issue, it’s a people issue. And so if we care about the human dignity of the child in the womb, then we also care about the human dignity of the migrant. We care about the human dignity of all people, and that’s because we subscribe to the consistent life ethic,” she said.

One of the focuses of the New Wave Feminist group are the systemic issues that make people believe abortion is their only option, Herndon-De La Rosa noted, “and obviously poverty and instability are some of those, and access to healthcare and basic living necessities.”

Abby Johnson, founder and CEO of ATTWN, said in a Facebook post about the campaign, "Let’s be a movement that reaches out to those who need our physical and emotional assistance...whether those people are walking into an abortion clinic, at the border, or are homeless.”

On Thursday, a group of attorneys who interviewed migrant children about the detention center conditions asked a federal judge to issue an emergency order that the centers be inspected immediately and that the conditions be improved, the Washington Post reported. Late Thursday, the House passed a Senate-approved emergency relief bill that would give $4.6 billion in aid for the humanitarian crisis on the border. The bill now goes to President Donald Trump.

One of the biggest needs on the border is legal aid to help children reunite with their families, Herndon-De La Rosa said. That is why part of the donations from the drive will go to Immigrant Families Together, a legal group dedicated to reuniting families.

One of the challenges for pro-life people who want to help with the border crisis, Herndon-De La Rosa added, is that some of the larger corporations doing good work at the border also have ties to abortion funding. The groups that New Wave Feminists chose for their donations, including the legal group as well as two humanitarian respite centers, were vetted accordingly. One of the chosen respite centers - which is where families are reunited after detainment - is run by Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

“We should be able to stand with the vulnerable wherever they are,” Herndon-De La Rosa said, “and that extends beyond the womb.”

New Wave Feminists is collecting donations, 100% of which will be used for border aid, through July 13 on their website. A few items also remain to be purchased on the Amazon border aid registry.

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