CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 24 min ago

What does the Catholic Church teach about vaccines?

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 18:28

Washington D.C., May 6, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- More than 760 cases of measles have been reported in the United States this year, the CDC says. Currently, 23 states have been affected, with 60 new cases reported in the last week. The majority of cases have been concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, with outbreaks in New Jersey, Washington, and California as well.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But experts say a decline in vaccination rates has left some communities particularly vulnerable to outbreaks, among them communities with religious objections to vaccinations.

As the U.S. continues to faces its worst measles outbreak in a quarter-century, the national debate about vaccines has been reignited, and with it, questions about whether Catholics can and should vaccinate.

One reason that some people decline the measles vaccine in particular has to do with the fact that it was developed from cell lines descending from aborted fetal tissue.

The vaccines for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), hepatitis A, and chicken pox are the only remaining vaccines that were developed in these cell lines, and for which there are no alternatives on the market.

But this does not mean that Catholics are prohibited from receiving these vaccines, explained Dr. Jozef Zalot, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), a non-profit research and educational institute committed to applying the moral teachings of the Catholic Church to ethical issues arising in healthcare and the life sciences.

Zalot pointed to a 2005 document from the Pontifical Academy for Life which considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared in cell lines descended from aborted fetuses. The Vatican group concluded that it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.

The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

This conclusion, Zalot said, is based on a framework for evaluating ethical dilemmas, “when you’re in a situation where you want to do good, but in doing so, there’s some level of cooperation in an immoral act.”

Moral theologians weigh the level and type of cooperation in the evil act – in this case two abortions performed in 1960s from which the cells lines were developed – as well as the good of public health that comes from vaccinating.

“One is morally free to use the vaccine, despite its historical association with abortion, if there is a proportionately serious reason for doing so,” the NCBC says in its Frequently Asked Questions about vaccines, drawing from the conclusions of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“In practice, the risks to personal and public health could permit its use. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

No additional abortions are performed to maintain the vaccines, and no cells from the abortion victims are contained in the vaccines themselves, the NCBC notes.

Other concerns regarding vaccines involve side effects. Internet groups have voiced concerns that vaccines could be linked to negative outcomes including autoimmune disorders, autism, and learning disabilities.

However, the science does not substantiate claims that vaccines pose a significant threat, according to Dr. Paul Cieslak, an infectious disease specialist with the Oregon Health Authority.

Speaking as a Catholic physician and father of six children – all of whom are vaccinated – Cieslak told CNA that while all medications, including vaccines, have the potential for side effects, vaccines are largely safe.

To be approved by the FDA, he said, vaccines undergo clinical trials with hundreds or thousands of people. Once they are licensed for use in the general population, there are additional systems set up to look for possible side effects.

“When you give vaccines to millions of people, some of them are going to develop a disease or get sick [in a way] that’s completely unrelated to the vaccination,” he said, so further examination is necessary to determine whether the vaccine caused the adverse event.

If something concerning surfaces in the reporting system, known as VAERS, it is referred to the Vaccine Safety Datalink, a group of healthcare organizations around the country. They monitor data on patients coming in with certain symptoms and problems, to see if these symptoms are more likely to arise in patients who have recently been vaccinated.

“Those systems give a lot of reassurance that the vaccines are safe,” he said, noting that 15 articles were published last year “looking into various suspicions that were raised, and basically weren’t finding anything.”

Cieslak said that parents making the decision of whether to vaccinate their children should keep the common good in mind.

“I would argue that there is a rationale rooted in social justice that people should get their children vaccinated for the greater good. The Church does tell us that we are our brother’s keeper, and we can protect other people.”

In particular, those who cannot receive vaccines – children who are too young to receive them, pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems – benefit from what is called “herd immunity.” If enough of a community is vaccinated, it becomes much more difficult for a disease to spread through a population. This protects those who are most vulnerable to the disease and its complications.

In a 2017 document on vaccines, the Pontifical Academy for Life noted a “moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others…,especially the safety more vulnerable subjects such as pregnant women and those affected by immunodeficiency who cannot be vaccinated against these diseases.”

Still, some parents maintain religious or philosophical objections to vaccinating. All 50 states currently allow exemptions to vaccine requirements for those with certain medical conditions – such as life-threatening allergies to a vaccine or a chronically compromised immune system. All but a few states allow exemptions for philosophical and religious objections as well.

In the wake of the ongoing measles outbreak, several states have proposed tightening or removing these exemptions. And at least five Democratic presidential hopefuls - Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Eric Swalwell, and Tim Ryan – have indicated that they would favor removing religious and personal belief exemptions from vaccine requirements.

The removal of vaccine exemptions is extremely concerning to people like Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group that works to “prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through public education.”

“Vaccines are pharmaceutical products that carry a risk of harm and failure,” Fisher told CNA. “People should not be forced by law to violate their conscience when making decisions about vaccination for themselves or their minor children.”

“Every person is different, born with different genes and a unique microbiome and epigenetic history. We do not all respond the same way to pharmaceutical products and doctors cannot reliably predict who will be harmed by vaccines,” she continued. “One-size-fits-all vaccine policies discriminate against those who are biologically vulnerable to suffering vaccine reactions.”

Zalot agreed that requiring people to inject a foreign substance into their children’s bodies without exemptions is troubling.

“That would raise a lot of concerns for me, to make a blanket statement that a parent has no conscience rights, or parental rights in terms of vaccinating or not vaccinating,” he said, clarifying that he was speaking for himself and not the NCBC.

This becomes tricky when objections are based on arguments that lack scientific backing, he said.

“It really is a balancing act,” he said. “It’s very difficult to make a blanket statement. You have to really look at the individual situation and make a judgment from there.”

Zalot also stressed, however, that parents who do not vaccinate must realize that there may be consequences of that choice – for example, they may not be able to attend certain schools that require students to be vaccinated.

“A parent could exercise a conscientious right not to vaccinate, but at the same time, they have to accept the consequences of that.”

Times Square ultrasound draws thousands

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 17:00

New York City, N.Y., May 6, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A live, 4D-ultrasound of a 36-week gestation baby was broadcast in Times Square on Saturday, as part of Focus on the Family’s “Alive in New York” celebration.

“Alive in New York” was conducted in partnership with the pro-life organizations And Then There Were None and Save the Storks. The event drew a crowd estimated in the thousands, and it is believed to be the largest pro-life demonstration in New York state history.

In addition to the ultrasound, the event included musical performances and speeches from pro-life advocates.

Times Square, widely seen as the center of the nation’s largest city, was chose as a venue in response to New York state’s passage of the Reproductive Health Act earlier this year. That law deriminalized abortion, while removing almost all restrictions on the procedure in New York.

“Our nation, and our society, is at a crossroads. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. Now is the moment to unite with one voice to proclaim the sanctity of life. The truth will be visible to all in Times Square – at The Crossroads of the World,” said Focus on the Family in a statement released prior to the event.

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who left the abortion industry to form And Then There Were None, was given an ultrasound as part of the event. Johnson is 36 weeks pregnant with her eighth child.

During the ultrasound, Johnson exclaimed to the crowd “This right here is a baby. It’s not a cat, it’s not a parasite. This is a human being with a heartbeat, with its own DNA that is separate from my body.”

Johnson is also the subject of the new film “Unplanned,” which depicts her story and ideological conversion into the pro-life movement. In the film, she is motivated to leave the abortion industry after witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion of a second-trimester pregnancy.

New York’s bishops were extremely critical of the Reproductive Health Act as it made its way through the state legislature.

“Words are insufficient to describe the profound sadness we feel at the contemplated passage of New York State’s new proposed abortion policy. We mourn the unborn infants who will lose their lives, and the many mothers and fathers who will suffer remorse and heartbreak as a result,” the bishops of New York state said Jan. 17.

“The so-called 'Reproductive Health Act' will expand our state’s already radically permissive law, by empowering more health practitioners to provide abortion and removing all state restrictions on late-term procedures. With an abortion rate that is already double the national average, New York law is moving in the wrong direction.”

The bishops recalled their pledge “to offer the resources and services of our charitable agencies and health services to any woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, to support her in bearing her infant, raising her family or placing her child for adoption. There are life-affirming choices available, and we aim to make them more widely known and accessible.”

Tenn. bishops urge governor to stop executions

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 15:57

Nashville, Tenn., May 6, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Tennessee have requested that the new governor halt four executions planned for this year, reiterating the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life.

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who does not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote April 23 to Governor Bill Lee.

The letter was published May 3, and was signed by Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis.

The letter welcomed Lee's Republican administration and asked him to reconsider a recent plan from the state to fast-track death sentences.

The bishops said the death penalty is both unneccesary and faulty, stating that “nationally, we have seen many people released from death row after they have been found to have been innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person.”

The bishops added that “Even when guilt is certain, the execution is not necessary to protect society,”

“We clearly state our strong opposition to the state carrying out the death penalty,” they said. “We urge you to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions.”

Lee’s administration has inherited a two year plan by former Governor Bill Haslam to fast-track the execution of nine men on death row, as the state's supply of lethal injection drugs is in flux.

The first scheduled execution is that of Donnie Johnson on May 16. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Connie, in 1984. The bishops noted that “even their daughter has spoken against his execution.”

Tennessee has also scheduled the executions of Stephen West Aug. 15, Charles Wright Oct. 10, and Lee Hall Dec. 5.

The bishops drew attention to St. John Paul II's role in commuting the death sentence of Darrell Mease in Missouri in 1999: “At that time, the pope called for the end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary.”

St. John Paul II “said that it is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws. Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society,” they said.

The statement encouraged Lee to converse with the bishops and investigate the Church’s teaching on capital punishment. The bishops said they would happily provide further information on the subject and go over any questions the governor may have.

Nebraska dioceses: Privacy law impedes providing AG with some records

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 12:50

Lincoln, Neb., May 6, 2019 / 10:50 am (CNA).- At a hearing in Lincoln on Thursday, the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Lincoln explained that they have not provided the state attorney general with some records because of privacy laws.

The Nebraska attorney general's office issued subpoenas in February to some 400 Catholic churches and institutions, seeking any records related to child sexual assault or abuse.

While the vast majority of requested records have been submitted, psychiatric evaluations, medical records, and confidential settlement agreements have not.

“Those are the only things we have not turned over,” said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese, said at a May 2 hearing in Lancaster County District Court, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The pscyh evals and medical records are protected by federal privacy laws, he said: “If the court would order us to turn those records over, we would be happy to do so. But we won’t violate federal privacy laws.”

Similarly, settlements include confidentiality clauses agreed to by abuse victims: “That victim expects us to honor that confidentiality agreement, and that’s what we’re going to do, unless ordered otherwise by a court,” McNeil stated.

In 2018 the attorney general's office asked that the state's three dioceses voluntarily provide information on sexual abuse and other misconduct committed since 1978. Each of the dioceses indicated their cooperation with that request.

This March, the Omaha archdiocese and the Lincoln diocese applied for injunctive relief from the subpoenas, in part to clarify their scope and to set deadlines that can be reasonably met.

At the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Ryan Post acknowledged that many of the requested records are being submitted.

But he complained of the omissions, and said some records were redacted, with some names being substituted by initials.

McNeil explained that the Omaha archdiocese had not redacted the records and that initials were regularly used in correspondence, in part to preserve victims' privacy.

In March, the archdiocese said it had submitted more than 11,500 pages of records to the attorney general's office.

The Lincoln diocese said in February that it has “voluntarily cooperated with the investigation since it was announced last September, and pledged its ongoing support to stop criminal behavior by predators.”

Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island, the third diocese in the state, said Feb. 26 that “while we don’t believe subpoenas were necessary, we will continue to share information with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to bring this investigation to a conclusion. The Diocese is committed to the protection of children and safety of all, and to that end, has cooperated with the Nebraska Attorney’s Office in a voluntary review of files.”

The inquiry in Nebraska follows new or revisited allegations of sexual abuse of minors or other misconduct committed by priests in the Lincoln diocese as far back as the 1980s. Several priests have resigned as pastors, while alleged misconduct of a former vocations director for the diocese, who died in 2008, also became a matter of public attention.

The Lincoln diocese announced last month that it is adopting new, comprehensive safe environment policies and that it will investigate the alleged misconduct by Msgr Leonard Kalin, the former vocations director.

The diocese also released a list of diocesan priests against whom substantiated allegations of childhood sexual abuse have been reported.

Scientists join call for moratorium on embryonic gene editing

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 17:01

Milwaukee, Wis., May 4, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A group of 62 doctors, scientists, and bioethicists have issued an open letter urging a global moratorium on experiments that alter human genes that can be passed on to subsequent generations, a practice known as “germline editing.”

“Although we recognize the great scientific advancement represented by gene editing technologies and their potential value for an improved understanding and possible treatment of human disease, we strongly believe the editing of human embryos that results in births carries serious problems for which there are no scientific, ethical, or societal consensuses,” the letter from the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy reads.

The organization sent the letter April 24 to US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

“As a result, we contend that such human genetic manipulation should be considered unacceptable and support a binding global moratorium until serious scientific, societal, and ethical concerns are fully addressed,” it reads.

In Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that while somatic cell gene therapy is in principle morally licit, “because the risks connected to [germline cell therapy] are considerable and as yet not fully controllable, in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny.”

The instruction also warned against a “eugenic mentality” that aims to improve the gene pool, adding that there could be social stigmas and privileges applied to people with certain genetic qualities, when “such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human.”

The April letter is not the first time prominent scientists have addressed the issue of germline editing; in 2015, a group of five scientists published an op-ed in the journal Nature warning that “heritable human genetic modifications pose serious risks, and the therapeutic benefits are tenuous.”

In March of this year, a different group of 18 scientists took to the pages of Nature to call for a global moratorium on the practice of editing human DNA to create genetically modified babies, until the international community can develop a “framework” for how to proceed in an ethical manner.

At least four scientists have signed their names on both the March and April letters.

The two recent calls for a germline editing moratorium come in the wake of ethical questions surrounding the purported actions a Chinese biophysicist who claims he created the first genetically modified babies late last year.

The biophysicist, He Jiankui, says his goal was to edit embryos to give them the ability to resist HIV infection by disabling the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to enter a cell.

“The alterations induced by Dr. He in these two girls would be expected to have been introduced into human germline cells, which would make the changes heritable and therefore passed on to future generations,” the letter asserts.

“Dr. He proceeded without clear medical need, in a surreptitious manner lacking any meaningful public or scientific community discussion or consensus, and without any regulatory approval.”

He says he used a technology known as CRISPR to edit sections of the human genome, performing the procedure on embryonic humans. The technology, which selectively “snips” and trims areas of the genome and replaces it with strands of desired DNA, has previously been used on adult humans and other species. CRISPR technology has only recently been used to treat deadly diseases in adults, and limited experiments have been performed on animals.

In a December 2018 letter signed by 150 Chinese scientists, He was condemned for ignoring ethical guidelines. The letter called the gene manipulation a “Pandora’s box,” and said, “The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only. Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as crazy.”

In the April letter, the scientists drew attention to scientific questions surrounding germline editing that, in their view, must be addressed before scientists proceed. These include how artificial changes to an embryo’s genes “might interact with existing human genetic diversity when these new alterations are passed on to future generations.”

Clinical germline editing is currently banned in the United States and in 30 or so other countries throughout the world, including China.

“Before this status quo is revisited, it is vital that extensive discussions and engagement take place among all major stakeholders, including members of the scientific, medical, patient, caregiver, policy, legal, ethical, and faith communities,” the letter reads.

These stakeholders must be consulted before any more germline editing takes place, they say, and “effective and easily accessible mechanisms” must be developed “for reporting potential violations.”

The scientists in the April letter noted the potential for gene editing in somatic cells which do not result in births or the passing on of manipulated traits.

“In somatic cells, certain types of gene editing will likely have important scientific and medical applications, including their use to treat patients living with genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia, beta-thalassemia, blindness, muscular dystrophies, and hemophilia, as well as cancer and many other diseases,” the scientists wrote.

Azar has not yet issued a response to the April letter.

CNA spoke to John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in early 2017. He explained that somatic cell gene editing may be morally legitimate when used for “a directly therapeutic purpose for a particular patient in question, and if we’re sure we’re going to limit whatever changes to this person.”

He pointed to gene therapy trials for disorders such as sickle cell disease and cancer that show promise for treating difficult disorders.

Editing sperm, eggs, or early embryos, however, presents serious concerns, he said. Manipulating sperm and ova requires removing them from a person’s body; if conception is achieved with these cells, it is nearly always through in vitro methods. This practice of in vitro fertilization is held by the Church to be ethically unacceptable because it dissociates procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act.

Calif. attorney general investigating LA archdiocese sex abuse files

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 17:45

Los Angeles, Calif., May 3, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- The California Attorney’s General’s Office this week wrote a letter to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, announcing that it will be conducting an investigation of its handling of sexual abuse allegations involving minors, starting with accusations made as early as 1996.

The letter was dated Thursday, and addressed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to Archbishop Jose Gomez. It was obtained and reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

In the Angelus News, the diocesan paper for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, archdiocesan spokesperson Carolina Guevara said that “the Archdiocese has not officially received the letter from the Attorney General, however, we will be responding cooperatively as we have with the past three Grand Jury investigations of the Archdiocese.”

The investigation comes shortly after the archdiocese paid its largest abuse settlement to an individual to date - $8 million to a female teenager, who was sexually abused and abducted by a teacher at her Catholic high school in 2016.

Becerra’s investigation will include accusations made against clergy as well as those made against members of religious orders and against employees and volunteers for the archdiocese, the letter indicated. It will be a “review of your archdiocese’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations involving children, including whether your archdiocese has adequately reported allegations of sexual misconduct, as required under California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act,” the letter to Gomez stated, according to the L.A. Times.

The review will look at past actions that the archdiocese took against those accused of abuse, including cases properly reported to authorities, as well as actions taken against those who failed to properly report abuse. The letter asked the archdiocese to preserve for review all documents relating to allegations of sexual abuse against clergy or employees, including any secret archives, legal documents, personnel files and internal review board files.

The investigation is similar to those being conducted in other states, including Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The L.A. Times noted that it is unclear if Becerra’s investigation will include any other Catholic dioceses in the state.

The investigation is the latest of several moves on the part of the state and the archdiocese to improve transparency and reporting on cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

In November 2018, Becerra announced the creation of an online reporting form for easier reporting of accusations of abuse against California clergy.

“To date, the Office of the Attorney General has not informed the Archdiocese of any reports made to their online reporting form concerning the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Guevara told Angelus News.

In December 2018, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles updated its list of priests credibly accused of abuse of minors, which had last been updated in 2008. That same month, former Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar resigned after a previous accusation of sexual abuse was found to be credible.

The archdiocese emphasized its willingness to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation in their latest statement.

In a statement published by Angelus News, it said, “The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is committed to transparency and has established reporting and prevention policies and programs to protect minors and support victim-survivors in our parishes, schools and ministries.”

“The Archdiocese has also already cooperated with two state and one federal investigation and continues to fully cooperate with all civil authorities. Allegations of abuse involving minors whether by a member of the clergy or a layperson are reported to law enforcement, public announcements are made at the places where the person has served, and if found credible the person is permanently removed from any capacity according to the Archdiocese’s Zero Tolerance policy,” it stated.

“The Archdiocese does not tolerate anyone who does harm to a child or vulnerable person and remains committed and vigilant in ensuring that parishes, schools and ministries are safe places for everyone in our community,” it added.

Forgiving the unforgivable: Exhibit highlights stories of abuse survivors

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., May 3, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic University of America hosted a recent special exhibit to share the stories of survivors of clerical sexual abuse and how they have coped with the trauma of their experiences. Nine people are profiled by undergraduate students.

The exhibit was on display from late April until May 1.

The Hope and Healing Story Gallery was supported by The Catholic Project, an initiative of the Catholic University of America focused on renewal and healing within the Church; Spirit Fire, a Christian restorative justice organization; and the Catholic University of America’s PEERS students group, which serves to teach students about substance abuse, mental health awareness, sexual assault and violence education and prevention.

“The idea for this exhibit came about in the midst of the conversations about what renewal in the Church looks like,” reads the story gallery’s introduction. “We realized that we couldn’t continue to talk about healing and renewal without hearing from those who experienced sexual abuse. We needed to hear their stories.”

The profiles were written by seven undergraduate students at the Catholic University of America. Among the survivors who stories were told was Michael, who lives in Lake Forest, IL.

Michael was abused by a priest from the age of 12 to 16, and he did not speak of what had happened until nearly 30 years later. He then reported his abuser to the Archdiocese of Chicago and began therapy sessions.

Michael was instrumental in creating the Healing Garden at the Archdiocese of Chicago, which is a “neutral, sacred place” for survivors of abuse. The Healing Garden plays hosts to events for abuse survivors and their families each year.

In his profile, Michael spoke of his belief that repeated annual events are more effective for survivors than the “one-and-done” healing services.

“The one-and-done Mass doesn’t do it, coming together every year does,” he said. And while he is an abuse survivor, he does not consider his experience as the main part of his story. Rather, he said “My story is what I’ve done since that time” in working to help other survivors like himself.

“The acts of abuse, imposed upon me and other children, are my abuser’s story,” he said.

Another profiled survivor is Miguel, from Katy, Texas. He has relied on the example of the saints in his journey of healing from abuse. He is the founder of the St. Maria Goretti Network, works to help victim survivors with their own emotional recovery and ability to forgive their abusers.

Along with St. Maria Goretti, Miguel said that he was inspired by St. Josphine Bakhita, and St. Maximilian Kolbe, two saints that experienced grave injustices during their lives. St. Josephine Bakhita was a victim of human trafficking and was sold as a slave, and St. Maximilian Kolbe was murdered in the concentration camp Auschwitz.

“Maria, Josephine, and Maximilian showed me how to forgive the unforgivable,” said Miguel.

Alabama bill to send abortion doctors to jail sets up Supreme Court fight

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 13:30

Montgomery, Ala., May 3, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Alabama House of Representatives has passed a bill that would make performing an abortion a Class A felony offence. The Human Life Protection Act would mean doctors who perform abortion could face years in prison.

The bill was carried in the House by a margin of 74-3 on April 30. It must now be passed by the state Senate and approved by Gov. Kay Ivy (R).

Unlike so-called “trigger laws” passed in other states, which would outlaw abortion in the event that the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v Wade is overturned, the Alabama measure would come into effect within a year of being signed into law.

Under current Supreme Court jurisprudence, abortion is defined as a constitutional right. If the Human Life Protection Act were to become law, it would face an immediate challenge and likely be prevented from coming into force. Supporters of the bill said their intention is to use the ensuing court battle to force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v Wade.

State Rep. Terri Collins (R - Decatur) said that the law is designed to “confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in a womb is not a person."

"This bill addresses that one issue. Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our law says it is," Collins said.

As a Class-A felony, performance of an abortion would carry a potential prison sentence of 10-99 years but, the bill’s supporters noted, would only apply to doctors and not to mothers.

Collins underlined that the bill “makes it a criminal offense to perform an abortion as a doctor. The woman would be held blameless.”

Following the confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates have speculated that the Supreme Court could be open to revisiting abortion in an upcoming judicial session.

In anticipation of a possible change by the court, several states have passed legislation either restricting or entrenching abortion in state law.

The Human Life Protection Act goes further in attempting to outlaw abortion then other recent efforts.

Several states have passed so-called “heartbeat bills” which would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The Alabama bill would criminalize abortion at any stage of pregnancy.

While it does contain an exception for circumstances where the health of the mother is at serious risk, a proposed amendment which would allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest was defeated 72-26.

During the debate, state Rep. John Rogers (D- Birmingham) sparked controversy when he argued that abortion was necessary because unwanted children would be eventually killed, whether or not they were born.

“Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair. So, you kill them now or you kill them later,” Rogers said.

The representative also said that mothers should be able to abort “retarded” or “half-deformed” children.

Other critics of the bill noted the likely expense to the state which would be incurred by years of legal appeals, and suggested that it was a waste of government resources.

Rep. Rich Wingo, (R-Tuscaloosa), said the bill went to the heart of human dignity for the unborn, and noted that in his district a single clinic performed 3,500 abortions a year.

“There are more abortions in Tuscaloosa than births,” Wingo said.

Stronger conscience protections for doctors, nurses approved by HHS

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 09:15

Washington D.C., May 3, 2019 / 07:15 am (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services has released a new rule allowing medical professionals to refuse to take part in procedures because of their religious or conscientious objections. The rule covers controversial services like abortion and sterilization.

The HHS rule, announced May 2, has been in development for more than a year. It will strengthen a series of Congressional laws intended to protect the conscience rights of doctors and nurses. Under the rule, medical providers may opt of direct participation, as well as having to refer patients to other providers who will perform the procedures.

Enforcement of the rule will fall under the department’s Office of Human Rights and come into effect two months from publication in the Federal Register.

The new rule was first announced last year, following the creation by HHS of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Office of Human Rights. Creation of the division included a mechanism for medical workers to complain directly to the department about cases of discrimination or forced participation based on religious beliefs or conscience objections.

A statement released by the department said that it had received more than 240,000 submissions during the consultation period, and that the new rule would replace previous 2011 regulations which have proven “inadequate.”

The director of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, Roger Severino, said in a statement that the rule “ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life.”

“Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law,” Severino said. “Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.”

Abortion activists have said that the new rule will severely curtail access to such procedures in rural and other communities.

Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, released a statement calling the Trump Administration “determined to use religious liberty to harm communities it deems less worthy of equal treatment under the law.”

The text of the rule acknowledges that several submissions were made during consultation regarding the possible limitation on access to abortion and sterilization procedures in some communities, saying these submissions proved the inadequacy of previous conscience protections.

“The Department observed that it was contradictory to argue, as many commenters did, both that the rule would decrease access to care and that the then‐current conscience protections for providers were sufficient,” the text of the rule reads.

“If the Department’s new rule would decrease access to care because of an increase in providers’ exercise of conscientious objections, it would seem that the statutory protections that existed before the regulation did not result in providers fully exercising their consciences as protected by law.”

Speaking out, hopeful, and waiting for change

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 06:00

New York City, N.Y., May 3, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Esther Harber says she was raped by a priest in 2010. Nine years later, through grace and her own courage, Harber’s story, and her life, are moving forward in hope.

Harber is not naive. She knows the story isn’t over yet. And for now, she’s waiting, and praying, for change.

In 2010, Harber was working as a lay missionary in New York City, focused on serving women and children in need.

Harber often went to Mass and confession at Holy Rosary Parish in the Bronx. Early that year, she told a priest during confession that she had been sexually abused as a child, and was struggling with bitterness as she worked through it.

The priest was Fr. Edwin Erhimeyoma, a Nigerian, in New York for doctoral studies at Fordham University.

“It was at that time that he tried to ‘baptize me in the Holy Spirit,’” Harber said, referring to a Catholic charismatic practice in which a person is prayed over, in order to “stir up” the graces of baptism and confirmation. This often involves placing hands on the person being prayed over.

“I was extremely uncomfortable and I kept asking him to back away, back away, and he finally did. And I was so shook up about it.”

She said that she told the parish pastor, Fr. Robert Quarato, about the incident. He promised, she told CNA, to speak to Erhimeyoma.

“From that point on,” she said, “I rarely spoke to him. And then at some point I started feeling a little guilty for having ‘ratted on him,’ or whatever, just for whatever reason I did. Looking back I can’t really understand my logic then, but I made some sort of peace with him.”

“And it was from that point that our relationship took a different turn.”

She said she began talking with Erhimeyoma after Mass occasionally, especially about spiritual healing. She said the priest encouraged her to make an appointment with him, and that they met around Easter in 2010.

They met in Erhimeyoma’s office.

“There were no windows. There was no one around.”

Harber said the priest again tried to pray over her.

“He had me close my eyes, and he was encroaching very much into my space and touching me in places that he shouldn’t have been.”

After that encounter, the two started texting. Harber said that the Erhimeyoma would sometimes text “I love you” and call her “sweetheart.”

“Part of me really enjoyed the attention,” she said. “I was really hungry for love at that point in my life…I was a pretty broken person at that point.”

Harber said they started talking more frequently.

In the autumn, Harber said, “things started to get more bold. He was a lot more aggressive.”

Erhimeyoma’s behavior, she conceded, likely fit a pattern of grooming. Such behavior, according to resources developed by the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, is “a pre-meditated behavior intended to manipulate a potential victim into complying with sexual abuse.”

Among the most common tactics used in grooming behavior is “emotionally blackmailing the victim into compliance.”

Over time, “the victim can become groomed to the point that he/she believes to be in an apparent ‘loving relationship’ with the offender,” the USCCB says.

Grooming behavior often targets individuals who are emotionally unstable, who have suffered abuse before, or who seem likely to be easily manipulated. Experts say those who would engage in grooming often recognize the subtle signs that a person might be particularly vulnerable to coercion or manipulation.

As a child, Harber was a victim of sexual abuse. Those who are sexually abused as children have a much higher likelihood of being abused as adults than those who are not, studies show. More than a third of those abused by a family member in childhood are abused by a partner or someone close to them in adulthood, according to one study.

Still, Harber told CNA she believes she bore some responsibility for the relationship. That she recognized that it was inappropriate, and that she needed to define more concrete boundaries, but she didn’t. Studies show consistently that a person who suffers sexual abuse will struggle, often for life, to set appropriate boundaries in relationships.

Psychologist Veronica Lenzi told CNA that because sexual assault is a serious violation of a person’s dignity, it causes a profound level of trauma. That trauma can make it difficult to recognize inappropriate behavior in relationships. A person who has been sexually abused may have “cognitive dissonance” about what love, respect, and friendship ought to look like, Lenzi said.

Harber, though, did begin to realize her relationship with Erhimeyoma fit an unhealthy pattern, and she tried several times to end the friendship. She struggled to do so.

“It was very spiritualized,” she told CNA, adding that the priest used knowledge of her past, and her faith, to manipulate her in their friendship.

“He would tell me, ‘I just want you to be free with me,’” she said.

“As time went on,” she said, “and I tried more and more frequently to kind of get away from was like an addiction...You know it’s destructive, you know it’s bad, but you can’t leave. And I was just caught in this cycle.”

In October 2010, things escalated.

In that month, Harber, who had been discerning religious life, learned she would not be accepted into a religious community she’d hoped to join.

“I was pretty crushed,” she said.

She said she texted the priest to share with him the news, and he responded: “Don’t worry, honey, I still need you.”

That evening, he asked to spend time with her. She suspected he might want to be sexually intimate, but, she said, “I thought he just wanted to be there for me as a friend. I guess in my heart of hearts I knew that wasn’t true.”

“I didn’t want to have sex with him. I didn’t have sexual feelings,” she said, telling CNA she was resolved not to succumb to any advances he might make.

Still, she said, she didn’t want to be alone. And, though she know says it was a mistake, she agreed to meet him at a church. She hoped the sacred setting would be enough to deter any inappropriate intentions on Erhimeyoma’s part.

When Erhimeyoma arrived at the empty church narthex, she says he told her, as he had before, “I just want you to be free with me.”

“I told him I just needed a hug.” But Harber said that when they embraced, the priest began to kiss her forcefully.

Harber said she pulled away. She said the priest told her he would leave, if she wanted him to.

“So part of my story is that I was also abandoned many times growing up. So it’s like a huge fear of mine, is abandonment. And he knew that. And he was playing into that. He just knew way too much about my psychological makeup. Because he played it perfectly.”

Harber said she felt personally and emotionally stuck in her conversation with Erhimeyoma. She wanted him to leave, but she didn’t want to be alone.

A person who has suffered abuse can “perpetuate paradoxes of woundedness,” Lenzi told CNA, feeling panicked and trapped even in situations that she knows could be dangerous.

Harber said she asked the priest not to leave. But he began to kiss her again. Eventually, she said, he began to disrobe her.

“I was like ‘No. No. No No.’”

“He said, ‘You are so lucky. Any other guy wouldn’t have stopped right now.’ And I just felt a pit feeling in my stomach. I just felt trapped. I didn’t feel like there was any way for me to get out.”

“I can’t even begin to express the power differential in the relationship. I was in such a way that I couldn’t say no again.”

Harber said Erhimeyoma instructed her to perform a sex act, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She told CNA she was paralyzed with fear.  

“I was just so frozen,” she said.

“The next thing I know, I was flipped over, my face was on the floor.”

The priest raped her, Harber said.

Harber told CNA she had no idea what to do next.

She said she went to the restroom, and “I come back, and I’m just, like, shaking. This is so sickening for me to say now, but I asked him to, just, hold me for a minute-- and I can’t believe I asked that from him, but he was so annoyed with the request.”

“We went into the nave, into the pews, and he looks up at the tabernacle, and he’s like ‘Isn’t it amazing, we’re in the presence of God.’ And I just felt my whole self crumble at that moment.”

“He made God a co-conspirator, you know?”

Harber said she soon told her therapist and then her pastor. She said she showed him text messages between her and Erhimeyoma.

After having to wait three weeks, she had a meeting with officials of the Archdiocese of New York: Monsignor William Belford, Vicar for Clergy, and Fr. Thomas D’Angelo, who was coordinator of international priests.

“It was very intimidating for me,” she said of the meeting.

She said she told Belford and D’Angelo that she was intimate with the priest, and that she emphasized twice that she had not consented to their sexual encounter. It would be years, she said later, before she could use the word “rape” to describe her situation.

But, Harber said, because she emphasized that she did not consent, the Archdiocese of New York should have assisted her in contacting the police.

Instead, she told CNA, archdiocesan officials seemed focused on removing the priest from the parish, but not on her well-being. She said she was told it would take a while for the priest to be removed from the parish, and that she should stay away from her parish until that happened.

She said she felt interrogated in the meeting, especially by Belford.

“I felt like a piece of meat, and just a problem they wanted to go away.”

The Archdiocese of New York told CNA that in 2010 a woman, whom it declined to name for privacy reasons, came forward “claiming that she and Fr. Erhimeyoma had had a sexual encounter after several months of a growing relationship, and that she was feeling upset by it.”

“When confronted by our Vicar for Clergy, Fr. Erhimeyoma admitted the encounter, and, as a result, was told that his faculties were withdrawn, he could no longer serve in New York, that we would not be able to provide him a recommendation to any other diocese in the country, and he would have to go back to his home diocese. His bishop was informed of the reason why he was no longer permitted to serve in New York,” the archdiocese said.

Erhimeyoma told CNA he had admitted a relationship with Harber, but he declined to respond to questions about whether the relationship was sexual.

“I didn’t sexually assault her, ever,” he told CNA. He declined to respond to additional questions.

“I have forgotten about all of these things,” Erhimeyoma added. “I do not wish to go back there anymore.”

Though Erhimeyoma left the Archdiocese of New York, and apparently forgot what had happened, Harber said she did not forget.

In June 2013, Harber heard on social media that the priest was living in New York City to continue his graduate studies.

She emailed Ed Mechmann, director of the Safe Environment Office in the Archdiocese of New York. She recounted her experience with the priest, and asked if he was back in New York.

Mechmann told her by email he had read her account “with great sadness,” and that he had not found any evidence that the priest was in active ministry in the archdiocese.

Mechmann and Harber continued corresponding. The archdiocese helped Harber find and pay for a therapist. She saw a social worker near for a while, but he seemed unqualified to deal with her trauma. She struggled to find a qualified therapist in the Dayton area, where she was then living. Eventually she began driving an hour to see a therapist in Cincinnati.

In one 2013 correspondence with Mechmann, Harber wrote that she did not consent to the sexual act with Erhimeyoma.

“I just zoned out and let him go,” she wrote. “I did not fight, but I did not consent. I don’t know if I personally could call it rape- although, I know some definitely would. I do know it was an extreme violation to my person.”

The police were not contacted in response to Harber’s disclosure. A spokesman for the archdiocese told CNA that “at that time, she was still ambivalent about the encounter,” adding that “her correspondence with the archdiocese mainly focused on whether Father Erhimeyoma was in the country (he was not) and assistance for counselling.”

Years later, in a 2018 email, Mechmann explained to Harber that “based on the information that was available to me in 2013, I concluded that the conduct did not satisfy the legal definition of rape, and that is why we did not refer the matter to law enforcement at that time. I understand that the Assistant DA has now concluded that Fr. Edwin’s conduct could have been prosecuted as Rape in the Third Degree.”

In another 2018 email, Mechmann wrote that when he was in contact with Harber in 2013, he was unaware of the violent nature of the sexual encounter.  

“I was not aware of your more detailed explanation of what happened,” Mechmann wrote, referencing a description of physical force Harber had recounted to him only in 2018.

“If I had known that, I would have come to a different conclusion, because that is clearly the use of physical force to overcome your spoken opposition. But at the time, our correspondence dealt with the questions of whether Fr. Edwin was still in active ministry (and I discovered he was not) and how we could arrange for therapy for you (which was the main subject we discussed). We never got into the details of the assault. Looking back I wish we had,” Mechmann wrote.  

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York told CNA a policy for handling complaints regarding non-consensual sexual relationships, or those that violate pastoral relationships, was promulgated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in 2016.

But, the archdiocese said, an “older policy was in effect when the complaint against Fr. Erhimeyoma was sent to us.”

Still, “had she described the encounter in 2013 in the way she described it in 2018,  it would have led to different action being taken by the archdiocese, including notifying law enforcement,” the spokesman added.

Harber told CNA archdiocesan officials were not experts in sexual abuse or coercion, and often seemed uncertain about how to engage with her, or understand why she had difficulty telling her story.

While Harber said it was obvious Mechmann was trying to help her, and she praised him for being the first person to apologize to her for what she experienced, she sometimes wondered whether other decision-makers made similar efforts to help her, or understood how.

She also wondered why the archdiocesan process for addressing allegations of child abuse seemed so different from the process from addressing claims from adults, she said.

Harber said she wonders why her claim couldn’t have been handled in the same way that claims of child sexual abuse are: through a diocesan review board, composed of psychological experts with specific training related to sexual assualt, along with law enforcement officials, and other experts in understanding sexual abuse, and its aftereffects.

She also said it was not until later in 2013, or in 2014, that “I was finally able to say for myself that this was rape.”

“Before then, it was so complex and it carried so much guilt that even though I knew logically ‘no means no, and that’s rape,’ it wasn’t until much further along that I had the emotional strenth, and got proper therapy, to say ‘this really was rape.’”

Harber’s experience, in that sense, is not uncommon. Psychologists say that victims of sexual assault often minimize their experience, find ways to presume responsibility for it, or deny it outright. It can take years for victims of sexual assault to be able to fully articulate their experience.

Lenzi told CNA that some victims of sexual assault or other kinds of trauma minimize or deny experiences to protect themselves from by being retraumatized. “When you start feeling that violation of yourself again, the body seizes up, and you go into denial.”

“Denial and minimization are surface things,” Lenzi said, “but what’s happening underneath is panic.”

Self-blame, Lenzi said, is also a common response to sexual assault and other kinds of trauma, and often requires extensive therapy to overcome.

Harber said she wrote to Erhimeyoma’s bishop in Nigeria in 2014, but received no reply. The Diocese of Warri did not confirm for CNA whether it received that letter.

The priest remained in ministry. Harber moved on with her life. By 2018, she was married, and had a child.

In the summer of 2018, after the Theodore McCarrick sexual abuse scandal began, and after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing clerical sexual abuse and cover-up, Harber felt again that she needed to speak out.

“I saw these two women on the TV, and they were crying, and I just saw the anguish on their face, and I got so mad. I was like ‘Lord, why did no one speak up for them?’ And then it was like a light bulb- ‘Edwin could be doing this right now, and you’re not speaking up for them.’”

She wrote to her own bishop, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati. She stated directly that she had been raped by Erhimeyoma. Schnurr forwarded the letter to the Bronx District Attorney, and to the Archdiocese of New York.

As soon as it received that letter, “the Archdiocese of New York reached out to Fr. Erhimeyoma’s bishop in Nigeria once again, relating this new information, and making clear how serious the allegation was,” an archdiocesan spokesman told CNA.

By the time the matter reached a prosecutor, the statute of limitations in the case had expired.

After it received Harber’s letter, the archdiocese, and Cardinal Dolan in particular, reached out to Harber for a meeting. This, she said, eventually gave her a sense of hope. She said she started to believe that the archdiocese was willing to learn from her experiences.

Harber and Dolan met at the beginning of April.

Harber told CNA she had four goals for that meeting:

She wanted the archdiocese to assist her financially with her therapy expenses; she said that initial financial assistance covered less than 20% of her therapy bills.

She wanted assurance that Dolan had contacted the priest’s bishop.

She wanted the archdiocese to initiate a process for psychological examinations for all foreign priests.

And she wanted the archdiocese to develop a process for adults to report instances of clerical sexual abuse or coercion, for a diocesan review board to hear sexual abuse or coercion cases involving adults, and for the archdiocesan Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to be opened to adult victims of clerical sexual abuse or coercion.

Harber said she wanted more than just to be heard at the meeting.

“I can feel heard, and that might be a healing thing personally, but this isn’t just about me.”

“My therapist hears me. My husband hears me. If you really want to show me as a victim that you care, do something. Stop being afraid of this scandal and bring it to light.”

“The fear of scandal is what caused the perpetuation of this abuse,” Harber said.

“When the rubber meets the road, is he going to care for his flock?” she asked, regarding Dolan.

CNA spoke with Harber after she met with Dolan. She said it was “a very positive meeting.”

“He really acknowledged, I believe in a very genuine way, and I was surprised with how much he shared with me, and how open he was.”

She told CNA she was encouraged when Dolan apologized to her for her experience, and for how the Archdiocese of New York handled her case.

“The fact that he apologized for both what Edwin had done but also for how the diocese handled it. It made such a difference because it was like, ‘Ok, at least you see your mistake.’”

“I think the directness with which he apologized to me made a difference.

Esther said it mattered to her that “he called it a rape” while diocesan officials previously had not done so.

“It was very clear to the cardinal that it was rape,” she said. It also mattered to her that he recognized that “it was not handled well by the diocese.”

While positive, she deemed the meeting a partial success.

“I had four goals going in there, and two of them were met, one of them was listened to, and one of them was kind of brushed over,” she told CNA.

Dolan agreed that the archdiocese would further assist Harber with her therapy bills, and that he would contact Erhimeyoma’s bishop.

In fact, a spokesman for the Diocese of Warri told CNA that Bishop John ’Oke Afareha first received a letter about Erhimeyoma from the Archdiocese of New York in January 2019. At that time, the spokesman said, Arareha restricted Erhimeyoma’s priestly ministry, and began a canonical investigation into the matter.

That investigation is ongoing, the spokesman said, and Erhimeyoma, “does not have charge of a parish at this time.”

Harber said Dolan also assured her that “he is working on a process for adults to report such things,” and that he expects June’s U.S. bishops’ conference meeting to develop protocols on the subject.

New York’s archdiocesan spokesman told CNA that Dolan has asked Judge Barbara Jones, whom he appointed to review archdiocesan handling of abuse allegations, “to also examine how we respond to allegations of misconduct with adults, to see if there are ways we can improve our response.”

But Harber said Dolan did not respond to her request that all foreign priests be subject to a psychological examination before being permitted to minister in the U.S. Nearly one-quarter of priests serving in the U.S. are foreign born, and Harber told CNA she is concerned, because they are not all subject to the rigorous psychological screening that is typical in U.S. seminaries.

Dolan, she said “just acknowledged that there is no process of psychological screening for foreign born priests. So that part was a little underwhelming. I don’t know if that is part of his plan of action...I just don’t know.”

Harber told CNA she is now waiting to see how Dolan will follow through on his assurances.

“We have seen that there is a lot of talk but not a lot of action. It remains to be seen how things progress.”

“I expect him to begin to put in a solid practice for adults, and to make the point that adults can not have a consensual relationship with a priest because of the power differential. I hope that there would be something in place to protect people from priests who break their vows or promise of celibacy,” she said.

While she remains faithful to the Church, she said, she is struggling to trust.

“I wouldn’t say that my faith hasn’t wavered. There have definitely been times of desolation and there have been times when it has hurt very badly, because I feel betrayed not only by the priesthood, but by the leadership of the Church..”

Harber said she told Dolan she continues to struggle to trust priests and Church leaders, and that she has grown cynical.

“While that’s something I need to work on, I have a deep love for the Church. And that’s something I need to remember, and that we all need to remember, that the Church is much bigger than any cardinal, bishop, priest, or any sort of malfunction thereof. That Christ is bigger than that.”

“What I need is action. What the Church needs is action. And my hope is the Cardinal Dolan will take action. Because when he acts, the Church will listen.”