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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 33 min ago

Across education lines, US Christians share common religiosity

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 13:28

Washington D.C., May 3, 2017 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- College educated Christians are more likely to be churchgoers than their less educated counterparts, and seem to show about the same level of religious commitment as other American Christians, a survey says.

“The tendency for Christian college graduates to exhibit rates of religious observance that are at least on par with their less highly educated counterparts is evident across a variety of Christian traditions,” the Pew Research Center said April 26.



Christians who are college graduates are more likely to attend religious services weekly, with 52 percent saying they do so. This compares to 45 percent of Christians with some college education, and 46 percent with a high school education or less.

Pew’s survey also created a scale of religious commitment incorporating measurement of practices like reported religious service attendance, reported daily prayer, statements that religion is very important, and belief in God with absolute certainty.

About 70 percent of Christians with college degrees show a high level of religious commitment on this scale. Their levels are about the same as Christians with some college or a high school education or less.

While Catholics show less religious observance than other Christian groups like Evangelicals, Catholics show a similar level of religiosity when compared to other Catholics by education levels. College educated Catholics have a level of religious commitment ranked at 62 percent, according to Pew’s scale.

However, college graduates overall are less likely to identify with Christianity. About 64 percent said they were Christians, compared to 71 percent of those with some college and 75 percent of those with high school education or less.

About 11 percent of college graduates described themselves as atheists or agnostics, compared to 4 percent of those with a high school education or less.

At the same time, only about 24 percent of college graduates overall identified as unaffiliated in religion. College graduates were no less likely than other Americans to say they attend religious services.

Pew said the patterns largely hold if those with postgraduate degrees are examined separately from those with only bachelor’s degrees.

The Pew Research Center used the results of the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted June 4-Sept. 30, 2014.

Diocese says 'ordination' of woman as Catholic priest not valid

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 08:02

Charlotte, N.C., May 3, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A breakaway Catholic group is in the news for attempting to ordain a woman as a Catholic priest at a non-denominational church in North Carolina.

Abigail Eltzroth, 64, went through the simulated ordination at the Jubilee! church in Asheville, N.C. under the aegis of the group Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. She has said she intends to start a Catholic community in the area of Asheville.

The local diocese, however, reaffirmed Catholic teaching that such an ordination is null.

“I hope that Catholics in the diocese will understand that it would be sinful to receive a fake sacrament from a woman priest and that includes attending a fake Mass,” said David Hains, spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.

Eltzroth converted to Catholicism from a Presbyterian background in her 50s, the Charlotte Observer reports. The simulated ordination was carried out by Bridget Mary Meehan, who presents herself as a Catholic bishop.

Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests traces itself back to the attempted ordination of seven women on a ship cruising the Danube River in 2002. Attempted ordination of a woman is automatic excommunication for both the person attempting the ordination and the person attempting to be ordained.

From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has been clear on the issue of women priests, while still emphasizing the unique and important role of women in the Church.

On his return flight from Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Sept. 28, 2015, the Pope reiterated that women priests “cannot be done,” and called for a more comprehensive theology on women.

In an interview with Vatican Insider in December 2013, Francis responded to a question on whether or not he'd ever consider naming a woman a cardinal. The very question, he indicated, stemmed from an attitude of clericalism.

“I don't know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not 'clericalised,'” the Pope said. “Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”

Throughout the three years since, Francis has consistently called for a more “incisive” feminine presence in the Church, yet has refrained from limiting this presence to a mere position.

'Thank you': DC cardinal to fallen police officers, first responders

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 19:33

Washington D.C., May 2, 2017 / 05:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At a Mass on Tuesday, the archbishop of Washington, D.C. thanked law enforcement officers and first responders for putting themselves in harm’s way for the betterment of society.

“This Mass,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl said, “should call forth from all of us enormous gratitude.” He thanked officials in attendance, their fallen comrades who died in the line of duty, and the families of the deceased.

Cardinal Wuerl was the celebrant and homilist at the 23rd annual Blue Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Washington, D.C.  The Mass is said for law enforcement and fire safety officials, and for those who have died in the line of duty.

According to the Archdiocese of Washington, the tradition of the Blue Mass dates back to 1934 but it has only been an annual tradition beginning with 1994.

In 2016, there were 144 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in the U.S., according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

In attendance at the Mass were various federal and local law enforcement honor guards and families of slain law enforcement officials. At the end of the liturgy, two trumpeters played Taps after the names of the slain officials from the past year were read.

"Taps" for fallen law enforcement/fire safety at the end of DC's Blue Mass. pic.twitter.com/nZJZvabJ0O

— Matthew Hadro (@matthadro) May 2, 2017 “Recognizing that not every law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency responder or medical personnel returns home at the end of their shift, we pray especially for the fallen and their families,” the cardinal wrote later on his blog.

“Reflecting our faith in the Resurrection, our prayers are directed to our loving and ever-merciful God, whom we ask to receive into his kingdom of new and eternal life those who have paid the last full measure so that others might live, prosper and be free,” he continued.

Those officers fallen in the line of duty show us that “violence” is around us, the cardinal admitted in his homily. “We recognize unfortunately that violence is also a part of life,” he said, yet “we must never let it change us.”

He reflected on the first reading of the martyrdom account of St. Stephen, insisting that there was “more to the story” than an unjust death.

The officers who “stand in harm’s way” in defense of human dignity witness to “the great hope that there is a better way,” he added. “Your lives and your service are a great witness to that hope,” he told the officials in attendance at the Mass.

Ultimately, these officers are motivated by love, the cardinal stressed: “their love of their families to be sure, and also their love for the community, their selfless love for those they do not even know, for those who may not even like or appreciate them, but for whom they are willing to risk their own lives.”

“This love is reflected in all of the routine day in and day out challenges they face all the time.”

More from DC's Blue Mass honoring law enforcement & 1st responders: bagpipers in the preliminary procession playing "Minstrel Boy" pic.twitter.com/NRAdIq0kwA

— Matthew Hadro (@matthadro) May 2, 2017  

Critics of Columbus Day get history wrong, scholar says

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 19:24

Denver, Colo., May 2, 2017 / 05:24 pm (CNA).-

The historical legacy of Christopher Columbus is tarred by bad history in the quest to change Columbus Day, according to a researcher who has focused on Columbus’ religious motives for exploration.

“They’re blaming Columbus for the things he didn’t do. It was mostly the people who came after, the settlers,” Prof. Carol Delaney told CNA April 25. “I just think he’s been terribly maligned.”

“I think a lot of people don’t know anything much, really about Columbus,” said Delaney, an anthropology professor emerita at Stanford University and the author of the 2011 book “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem.”

She said Columbus initially had a favorable impression of many of the Native Americans he met and instructed the men under his command not to abuse them but to trade with them. At one point Columbus hung some of his own men who had committed crimes against the Indians.

“When I read his own writings and the documents of those who knew him, he seemed to be very much on the side of the Indians,” Delaney said, noting that Columbus adopted the son of a Native American leader he had befriended.

Columbus is again in the news in Colorado, which in 1907 became the first U.S. state to make Columbus Day an official holiday.

Now, one Colorado legislator aims to repeal Columbus Day as a state holiday.

State Rep. Joe Salazar’s 2017 bill charges that Columbus’ voyage “triggered one of history's greatest slave trades” and created “a level of inhumanity towards indigenous peoples that still exists.”

The bill excerpts three paragraphs from the writings of Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish Dominican friar born in 1484 who became the first Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico and advocated for indigenous Americans. He wrote strong polemics against Spanish abuses.

Bishop De las Casas depicted the Spaniards as “acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before.” De las Casas claimed that the native population of Hispaniola was reduced to 200 people from 3 million.

He said the Spanish killed “such an infinite number of souls” due to lust for gold caused by “their insatiable greed and ambition.” He charged that the Spanish attacked towns and did not spare children, the elderly or pregnant women. He said they stabbed and dismembered them “as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house” and made bets on how efficiently they could kill.

Salazar’s bill describes these as “Columbus’ acts of inhumanity.”

Delaney, however, emphasized that the acts of the colonists need to be distinguished from those of Columbus.

Bishop De las Casas’ own view on Columbus is more complex, she said. Other scholars have noted that Las Casas admired Columbus and said he and Spain had a providential role in “opening the doors of the Ocean Sea.” The bishop thought Columbus was treated unjustly by the Spanish monarchs after he was accused of mismanagement.

De las Casas himself is not above criticism. He owned indigenous people as slaves before changing his mind on their mistreatment. At one point he suggested to the Pope that black Africans be enslaved as an alternative to enslaving Native Americans.

Among the critics of the Colorado bill are the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternity founded in 1882, which takes its name from the explorer who brought Christianity to the New World. Columbus was a widely admired Catholic at a time when American Catholics were marginalized.

“Scholars have long shown that de las Casas was prone to hyperbole and exaggeration, and the bill does not take into account recent scholarship on de las Casas or Columbus,” the Knights said in an email to members.

“The legacy and accomplishments of Christopher Columbus deserve to be celebrated. He was a man ahead of his time and a fearless explorer and brilliant navigator whose daring discovery changed the course of history,” the group continued. “Columbus has frequently been falsely blamed for the actions of those who came after him and is the victim of horrific slanders concerning his conduct.”

Isaac Cuevas, a spokesman for the Knights of Columbus, was even more forceful, connecting the move against Columbus Day to a dark period in Colorado’s past.

“Nearly a century ago, the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado targeted Catholics including Italian-Americans. One of the Klan’s tactics throughout the United States was the denigration of Christopher Columbus and the attempted suppression of the holiday in his honor,” he said.

Cuevas said that a committee hearing on the bill was “tinged with offensive anti-Catholic overtones.” He charged that the bill “takes us back to what the Klan outlined in the 1920s in order to promote ethnic and religious resentment and marginalize and intimidate people with different religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds.”

Rep. Salazar put forward a bill in previous years against the Christopher Columbus holiday. His 2016 bill to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day was defeated in the state legislature.

“After speaking with the American Indian community and other communities, they were saying, ‘We actually never really wanted a day – this isn’t what this is about. This is about removing a state holiday about a man who engaged in genocide against our people’,” Salazar told the Colorado Statesman newspaper recently.

Columbus Day drew particular controversy in Colorado on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Organizers of Denver’s 1992 Columbus Day parade canceled it at the last minute due to threats from radical activists with the American Indian Movement.

Columbus has been a major figure for Catholics in America, especially Italian-Americans, who saw his pioneering voyage from Europe as a way of validating their presence in a sometimes hostile majority-Protestant country. The Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, took his name, his voyage and his faith as an inspiration.

At one point in the nineteenth century there were even proposals to push for the voyager’s canonization.

In 1892, the quadricennial of Columbus’ first voyage, Leo XIII authored an encyclical that reflected on Columbus’ desire to spread Catholic Christianity. The Pope stressed how Columbus’ Catholic faith motivated his voyage and supported him amid his setbacks.

Under pressure from some Native American activists and their allies, some U.S. localities have dropped observances of Columbus Day, while others have added observances intended to recognize those who lived in the Americas before Columbus sailed.

Delaney acknowledged that some Native Americans were sent to Spain as slaves or conscripted into hard labor at the time Columbus had responsibility for the region, but she attributed this mistreatment to his substitutes acting in his absence.

She thinks Columbus Day should be continued, even if the indigenous peoples of America also deserve recognition.

For her, Columbus’ handling of the killings of his crew showed restraint. After his ship the Santa Maria ran aground on his first voyage, he left 39 men on a Caribbean island with firm orders not to go marauding, not to kidnap or rape women, and always trade for food and gold.

“When they returned on the second voyage, they found all of the settlers had been killed,” she said. The priest on that voyage wanted to attack the locals and kill all of their people in revenge, but Columbus strongly refused to make such a move.

She noted the explorer’s relationship with a Native American leader on Hispaniola, a Taino chief named Guacanagari. Columbus had very good relations with him and adopted one of his sons. That son took the name of Columbus’ natural son, Diego, and accompanied Columbus on his final three voyages.

Columbus on his second return voyage took six Indians back to Spain, but not as slaves.

“He took them because they wanted to go,” Delaney said.

 



What Catholics like and dislike in the new spending bill

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 17:26

Washington D.C., May 2, 2017 / 03:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A massive spending package to be voted on by Congress has drawn applause for continuing foreign aid spending, but also concern at its proposal to keep funding Planned Parenthood.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List said the bill’s funding of Planned Parenthood was “incredibly disappointing,” and president Marjorie Dannenfelser insisted that it was “imperative” for the House to pass a “reconciliation bill that redirects the abortion giant’s funding to community health centers.”

The House has voted multiple times to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding because it is the nation’s largest performer of abortions, with more than 300,000 abortions per year according to its own reports. A measure defunding the organization for one year was included in the American Health Care Act, but that bill had failed to reach the House floor for a vote. A revised health care bill is now being considered by Congress.

On Sunday, an agreement was reached between the House and Senate on an Omnibus bill, a funding bill for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year that could be voted on this week.

Regarding foreign assistance, the Omnibus bill includes $990 million for international famine relief when famines are breaking out or are on the verge of occurring in four countries: Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.

In addition, the bill directs a $1 billion increase in funding of humanitarian aid programs “to assist in responding to the historic levels of refugees and displaced persons.”

Catholic Relief Services, the international aid arm of the U.S. bishops’ conference, praised this funding increase.

“These funds are a lifeline for over 20 million people at risk of starvation because of conflict and a prolonged drought,” said Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy.

“Members of Congress from both parties recognized that this small part of the budget has a huge impact, not only on those in need, but also on our nation's security. This generosity is America at its best.”

The bill also maintains restrictions on international abortion funding through the Helms Amendment and bars funding of groups deemed to be supportive of forced abortions and sterilizations under the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, the House Appropriations Committee said.

Additionally, Hyde Amendment restrictions on funding of abortions in the U.S. are maintained in the bill, and programs promoting abstinence for teens receive a 50 percent increase in funding, the committee noted. The Hyde Amendment has been policy for over 40 years.

On immigration, the bill reportedly does not fund the building of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. “Sanctuary cities,” or those cities which do not cooperate with federal demands on immigration enforcement, would not be defunded.

Funding for programs fighting the opioid epidemic in the U.S. would also increase by $150 million. In 2015, some 33,000 died from opioid abuse and the number of overdose deaths from heroin or opioids quadrupled between 1999 and 2015, as well as deaths from prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

However, President Trump has already proposed cuts to foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, and increases in defense spending and immigration enforcement funding. When the president released his initial budget proposal in March, Catholic Relief Services came out against the proposed cuts to foreign aid.

The cuts would be detrimental to programs helping those in need at a time when the number of those displaced from their homes is at its highest recorded level, CRS said.

 

St. Padre Pio's relics are touring the US!

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 14:06

Washington D.C., May 2, 2017 / 12:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Relics of St. Padre Pio will soon be touring the United States, with stops at a number of dioceses during a two-part tour later this year.

The relics will be on display for veneration between Masses at cathedrals across America from May 6-21 and again From September 16 – October 1 this year.

The tour is taking place to commemorate the 130th anniversary of Padre Pio’s birth, and the 15th anniversary of his canonization. It is being sponsored by the Saint Pio Foundation, which works to promote awareness of the saintly priest and continue his work. The foundation raises funds for American Catholic healthcare as well as educational, social, religious, and cultural organizations.

Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione in Pietrelcina, Italy on May 25, 1887.

He voiced a desire for the priesthood at age 10 and entered the Capuchin order at age 15, taking the name Pio. At the age of 23, he was ordained a priest.

The saint was widely known during his lifetime as a mystic. He dedicated much of his priesthood to hearing confessions. People would travel from around the world to have their confessions heard by Padre Pio, as he had the gift of being able to read souls.

He also received the stigmata, or the wounds of Christ, and was known for being able to heal people. He was reported to bi-locate, or appear in two locations at once.

Padre Pio died Sept. 23, 1968 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

The schedule for the relic tour is below:

• May 6-8 at Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
• May 9 at Saint Paul Cathedral in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
• May 10-11 at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the Archdiocese of Denver.
• May 13 at Cathedral of the Risen Christ in the Diocese of Lincoln.
• May 18-19 at St. Andrew Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
• May 20-21 at Saint Ann Catholic Church in the Diocese of Arlington.
• September 17-18 at St. Patrick Cathedral in the Archdiocese of New York.
• September 20 at Cathedral St. Joseph the Workman in the Diocese of La Crosse.
• September 20 at Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
• September 22-23 at Basilica of St. John the Baptism in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
• September 24 at St. Theresa Catholic Church in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
• September 29 at Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in the Diocese of Saginaw.

Why it might be too soon to lift the sanctions on Sudan

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 08:02

Washington D.C., May 2, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite Sudan's recent compliance to U.S. guidelines, one expert thinks there's not enough information to warrant a complete removal of sanctions against the country.  

“In the case of Sudan, the same cast of characters, the same power base that promotes a perverted and violent expression of Islam is still in power,” David Dettoni, senior adviser to the Sudan Relief Fund, told a congressional panel April 26.

“Look at Sudan's 'President.' It is still Omar Bashir,” Dettoni said. “He and his power base are still intact and I do not think their fundamental belief system has changed.”

Dettoni recognized that reduced sanctions may have played a part in the “cease fire” in the South Kordofan and the Blue Nile State – areas Bashir had previously used criminal like tactics towards opposing forces.

However, he's concerned that the U.S. Special Envoy currently elected to analyze Sudan's improvements has not been to these areas in which saw the most bloodshed and tribulation. And because of this, he thinks there isn't enough accurate information to determine if the country has met the criteria necessary for the sanctions removal.

Nearly a week before leaving office, President Barak Obama eased Sudan's sanctions, allowing the country the ability to trade with U.S. firms. The sanctions would be further removed after five points of criteria were met. A report established by the Special Envoy in Sudan and South Sudan, will be expected to the given to President Donald Trump in June.

Dettoni suggested that Congress draft legislation to revise the sanctions, allowing for periods of modification thereafter.

During Omar Bashir's rise to power, he issued the executions and imprisonment of many political leaders, journalists, and high ranking military officers. Teaming up with the National Islamic Front, he established Sharia, or Islamic Law, at a national level.

The New York Times cited the country as having “instituted one of the strictest Muslim fundamentalist social orders in the world,” in 1993 after eight terrorists had been detained in Paris with ties to Sudan – describing the country as a sort of breeding ground for Islamic extremists. The men had been suspected of planning and in process of carrying out a terrorist act in New York City. During his testimony, Dettoni also mentioned that Sudan in the 1990s was home to Al-Qaeda – the terrorist group responsible for bombing the Twin Towers on Sept.11, 2001.

The Sudanese civil wars, claiming nearly 2 million lives, were finally ended in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and what is now South Sudan was offered the possibility to vote for their secession.

However, other areas of the peace agreement were ignored by Bashir toward the Sudan People’s Liberation Army located in Sudan, and he continued scrimmages in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, areas straddling the border between both countries. The violence was notably significant in Abyei, located within the state of South Kordofan.

“In May 2011, Khartoum invaded Abyei, burning, looting, destroying, killing and forcing the removal of over 100,000 Ngok Dinka,” he said.

In order for the 20 year-long sanctions to be completely removed, the Obama administration issued five areas needed for improvement: “ceasing hostilities in Darfur and the Two Areas (South Kordofan and the Blue Nile), improving humanitarian access, ending negative interference in South Sudan, enhancing cooperation on counter-terrorism, and addressing the threat of the Lord's Resistance Army.”

Dettoni acknowledged the recent improvements in areas regarding refugees, humanitarian access, and decreased violence in the states along the Sudan-South Sudan border.

He said 380,000 South Sudanese and an estimated 200,000 Eritreans have been given refuge in Sudanese camps, which he claimed to be “tough” but that at least Sudan has “allowed these very vulnerable and suffering people to have a form of refuge.”

However, he remains skeptical of the millions of Euros provided by the European Union to curve the inflow of illegal immigrants, known to bottleneck at Sudan. He proposed the money used to beef up Sudan’s border force may also be used to violently suppress the victims of years passed.

Dettoni also suggested the possibility that Bashir's compliance with U.S. guidelines is being used “as leverage for political or other goals that they want to achieve” specifically “to loosen sanctions, gain respect, gain valuable foreign currency.”  

He requested President Donald Trump's immediate action to publicly appoint a Special Envoy that would travel to and analyze South Kordofan and the Blue Nile State, and that the president should meet personally with Bashir and other African leaders.

Dettoni also asked President Trump to amend the previous executive order from the Obama administration or ask Congress to draw up legislation to limit Sudan’s sanctions, which would be reviewable every 180 days or annually. He suggests that the executive branch to draft a review in writing and be submitted to Congress and the president two months before the sanctions can be lifted in July.

Our Lady of Fatima is coming to the United Nations

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 20:29

New York City, N.Y., May 1, 2017 / 06:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One day before the May 13 celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima will be visiting the United Nations.

May 12 will mark the second time this particular statue has been to the United Nations, the first being in 1952.

Among the presenters at the May 12 United Nations event is Johnnette Benkovic, founder and president of EWTN’s Women of Grace.

“As she [Our Lady] came to the world through her apparitions to the shepherd children, the 100th anniversary of which will be celebrated the following day, she ‘comes again’ to remind the people of the world that the message is the same – that peace and hope and solidarity are possible through Heaven’s plan,” Benkovic told CNA.

On May 13, 1917, three shepherd children named Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco saw a vision of Our Lady of Fatima who was dressed in white and holding a rosary. These apparitions lasted through October of the same year, and brought messages of prayer, repentance, and reparation.

The apparitions were declared of “supernatural character” by the Catholic Church in 1930, and a shrine was erected near the original apparition site in Fatima. Since then, thousands of pilgrims have made their prayerful journeys to Fatima, including three popes: Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.  

During Pope Francis’ upcoming anniversary pilgrimage to Fatima, he will canonize two of the Fatima visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, on May 13.

The May 12 United Nations event is titled, “The Centenary of Fatima and the Enduring Relevance of Its Message of Peace,” and will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Speakers at the event will include Ambassador Alvaro Mendonca e Moura, permanent representative of Portugal to the UN, and Archbishop Bernardito Auza, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN.  

“The event will be focused in a very special way on the enduring relevance of Fatima’s message of peace,” stated Fr. Roger Landry, a priest serving for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission at the UN, according to a press release.

Benkovic highlighted the significance of the statue traveling to the UN. “Its purpose is to promote a message of peacemaking and peace building in light of Our Lady of Fatima and her messages to the children in 1917,” she said.

“We are in tenuous times and the Blessed Mother’s message to the world through the Fatima shepherd children is more relevant and important than ever. I am both honored and abundantly humbled to participate in this unprecedented moment at the UN.”

Benkovic will be presenting at the UN on the topic of “Mary, the Dignity of Woman and Women’s Role in the Promotion of a Culture of Dialogue, Mediation, Peacemaking, and Peace Building.”

As a presenter, Benkovic noted the cultural and unitive significance of Our Lady of Fatima, particularly among three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, saying that Our Lady of Fatima “is a Jewish woman, acclaimed and revered by Christians, and acknowledged and respected by Muslims.”

As Our Lady of Fatima is in the spotlight during May 12-13 around the world, Benkovic is hopeful that her messages of peace and repentance will touch individuals around the world in an unprecedented way.

“My prayer is that the hearts of the attendees and those who will watch via social media will be receptive to the message and the name United Nations will attain its full significance in accordance with the will of God through the maternal beatitude of Our Lady of Fatima,” she said.

Benkovic also hopes that the Fatima event at the UN will cultivate peace and an attitude of love across all cultures around the world, inspiring individuals to utilize their time and talents for the good of mankind.

“I believe it is God’s will that every nation in the world, in a way unique to its people and culture, would seek to establish a civilization of love by infusing family life, communities, institutions, organizations and governmental agencies with moral truth according to the commandments of God and the teachings of the Church,” she said.

“If this even, through the grace of God, helps us to focus our energies and hopes and gifts and talents, individually as well as collectively, in this direction, much good will be accomplished.”

 

 

 

Dozens of lawmakers press Trump for religious freedom protection

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 18:30

Washington D.C., May 1, 2017 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 50 members of Congress have written President Donald Trump asking for a broad executive order that protects religious freedom.

“Freedom to follow one’s conscience, faith and deeply held moral convictions is at the heart of our country’s identity,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), one of the letter’s signatories.

House Republicans recently sent a letter to President Trump asking for an executive order that could protect the religious freedom of various entities, USA Today reported.

“We write to express our encouragement and support for prompt executive action ensuring religious liberty protections for all Americans and look forward to working with you on complementary legislation,” the letter stated.

Religious freedom advocates have warned that, due to various mandates and rules issued during the Obama administration, religious institutions that uphold traditional marriage or do not cooperate with abortions and contraceptive use could soon face federal action if no executive order is issued to protect them.

A draft of such an executive order was leaked earlier this year, but was reportedly scuttled due to the efforts of Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.

“Americans don’t give up those freedoms when they open a family business or enter the workplace or provide health coverage for their employees,” Hultgren stated. “The federal government has recently handed down more and more mandates on Americans – it’s time to reverse this trend. Protecting individual liberty is crucial to ensuring a free society.”

One example the lawmakers cited for where such an order could be effective was a repeal of the HHS birth control mandate, which caused hundreds of religious non-profits and other employers to sue the federal government claiming the mandate forced them to violate their consciences.

The Trump administration has not yet stopped defending the mandate in court, although White House advisor Leonard Leo told Axios recently that the administration was not planning to defend the mandate indefinitely, but was rather still considering the best “litigation proof” route for lifting the mandate’s burden on religious employers.

Another reason for an executive order would be the protection of health care providers and crisis pregnancy centers from mandates that they perform abortions or cover them in employee health plans, the letter claimed.

“Despite clear federal statutes to the contrary, medical professionals have been forced by their employing hospitals to assist in abortions and state governments such as California have required religious organizations to cover abortion in their health plans,” the members of Congress stated.

Currently, the Weldon Amendments bars federal funding of states that force employers to provide abortion coverage for employees. But after California ruled that health care plans – including those of churches and religious organizations – had to include coverage for elective abortions, the head of the Office of Civil Rights at the federal Department of Health and Human Services decided last summer that the state had not violated the Weldon Amendment.

An executive order, the Congressmen claim, could fix this violation of the freedoms of churches and religious employers.

Also at stake is the tax-exempt status of schools and other religious institutions which teach that marriage is one man and one woman, the letter claimed.

For this, the signatories cited President Obama’s solicitor general Donald Verrilli, who said in 2015 oral arguments in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges, that the ability of these colleges to retain their tax-exempt status if same-sex marriage is the law of the land is “certainly going to be an issue.”

The Trump administration, the members of Congress said, “need not and should not wait for Congress to act before ordering the federal government to stop discriminating against individuals and institutions because of their reasonable beliefs on issues of deep concern to people of faith and good will.”

Another way an executive order could protect religious freedom would be to protect federal contractors, and dioceses and churches that provide military chaplains, from having to comply with mandates that they support same-sex marriage.

The Russell Amendment had upheld this freedom and was included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that passed the House, but was removed by Senate Republicans so the bill could pass the Senate.

“Any Executive Order should make it clear that religious freedom entails more than the freedom to worship but also includes the ability to act on one's beliefs,” the U.S. Bishops’ Conference stated earlier this year on the need for an executive order.

“It should also protect individuals and families who run closely-held businesses in accordance with their faith to the greatest extent possible.”

 

Catholics call survival 'miraculous' after tornado hits church

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 16:57

Tyler, Texas, May 1, 2017 / 02:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday night, parishioners of St. John the Evangelist church in Emory, Texas received the horrifying news that a tornado was heading in the direction of their church.

Immediately, the parishioners found the safest spot they could – the hallway in between their parish hall and the main church.

“About 30 seconds after we went into the hallway, it hit,” said youth minister Monica Hughes, according to CNN. “Everybody dropped to the floor and protected one another.”

The hallway was the refuge for about 45 parishioners, which included toddlers and students of St. John the Evangelist. Hughes and her husband fought against the strong wind to hold the hallway doors shut before the tornado hit – all while watching their church being torn apart by the storm.

“We could see the beams bending and the aluminum roof being ripped away,” Hughes recalled.

Throughout the terrifying experience, Hughes said that “everyone was perfectly calm and felt like it was going to be OK.” When the tornado seemed like it was over, they began to sing to keep the children calm and continued to pray for their safety.

The parishioners remained in the hallway for about two hours until EMS arrived, but they were removed from the location because of a gas leak and destroyed power lines.

“Both ends of the building were blown out,” stated Peyton Low, the director of public affairs for the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

“People are using the term ‘miraculous’ to describe what happened on Saturday night – the same night that at least three tornadoes killed four people in east Texas,” Low said.

All of parishioners at the church were unharmed, although most of the church was destroyed.

Despite conditions, the parish gave thanks for their safety during the tornado, and celebrated Mass outside of the church on Sunday.

“By the grace of God and the protection of Our Lady, no one was injured,” Low stated, saying “they gave thanks that the people inside survived.”

Five deaths and 45 injuries have been confirmed across east Texas from the multiple tornadoes on Saturday night, and displacement centers have been set up at local churches in the area.

St. John's is a small parish of about 150 families in Rains County, just outside of Dallas. The parish damage estimates and relief effort updates will be posted to their website as more information is gathered.

“Please keep the parishioners of St. John and all affected by the storm in your prayers,” the Diocese of Tyler said in a statement on its website.







Photo Credit: Ben Fisher, Catholic East Texas Magazine, Diocese of Tyler.

Watch Blake Lively's powerful speech against child pornography

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 12:59

New York City, N.Y., May 1, 2017 / 10:59 am (CNA).- Editor’s note: Some readers may find the content of this article and video disturbing.

In a deeply emotional speech in New York, award winning actress Blake Lively shone a spotlight on the crisis of child pornography, calling for greater awareness and resources to fight the epidemic.

“Sexual exploitation of children is something that isn’t happening rarely, it’s not happening worlds away,” she said. “It’s happening right here and right now.”

Lively was among Variety's 2017 Power of Women: New York honorees. She used her April 21 speech to draw attention to the Child Rescue Coalition, a group that helps identify IP addresses that are trading child pornography, and gives that information to law enforcement.

Police can then use that information to find the people who are engaged in trading child pornography, which is a felony.

Lively began her speech by saying that her deep concern for the topic of child pornography arose from the fact that she is a mother with two young children.

“I would do anything to protect them. I would literally die for them, without a moment’s thought,” she said.

From a mother’s perspective, she said that she was devastated upon realizing how common child pornography is, and that the children who are victims are often too young to speak up for themselves or report the crimes being committed against them.

What’s even more disturbing, she said, is that as viewers of child pornography become desensitized, they start looking for younger and younger children.

Just how young? Lively said that a law enforcement officer who has worked in child pornography prevention told her that he found pornographic videos of infants, with their umbilical cord still attached.

And the acts that these children are enduring are unspeakable, she said, including rape, torture, bondage and bestiality, among other acts.

“Anything you can think of, it’s out there and it’s being traded. And it’s 30-50 million files a day being traded, that we know of.”

Also alarming – the statistics indicate that the majority of child porn viewers are or will become abusers themselves.

“This is so prevalent, and I want you guys to know this, and I want it to resonate with you,” Lively said.

She stressed the importance of proactive groups like the Child Rescue Coalition, which in just three years has helped find 9,000 predators and has save 2,000 children.

Noting that her audience consisted of many wealthy, well-connected people, she asked for help in connecting Child Rescue Coalition to big companies for the purpose of forming partnerships, as well as for donations so that the group can continue offering its free services to law enforcement.

 

In Trump's first 100 days, Catholics find a mixed bag

Sat, 04/29/2017 - 07:27

Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2017 / 05:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders have found cause for both praise and concern after the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“Catholics have reason for optimism. But like the first 100 days, the road ahead remains difficult,” Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, said on the organization’s scorecard for the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.

Abortion

Pro-life leaders have found a lot to like from the Trump administration so far.

“President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have been game changers for the pro-life movement,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser stated. “Not only have there been several pro-life victories within the first 100 days of their administration, we are confident that pro-life progress will continue. This is a new era.”

A week after Trump was inaugurated, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the 44th annual March for Life on the National Mall, the first time a sitting vice president has done so. Senior advisor Kellyanne Conway also addressed the pro-life rally.

“Life is winning in America,” Pence insisted to cheering attendees, as he exhorted them to “let this movement be known for love, not anger” and “let it be known for compassion, not confrontation.”

On Jan. 23, Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy which bans U.S. funding of international non-government organizations that promote or perform abortions.

This is traditionally one of the first policy decisions a new president makes and serves as a signal of the administration’s policy on abortion. President Reagan first introduced the policy in 1984. It was repealed by President Clinton when he took office, reinstated by President Bush in 2001, and repealed again by President Obama in 2009.

In April, the Trump administration pulled its funding of the UNFPA over its involvement in China’s infamous two-child policy, formerly a one-child policy, which has resulted in mass forced sterilizations and abortions. Funding was redirected to USAID for family planning purposes.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, called the funding withdrawal a “victory for women and children across the globe.”

Shortly afterward, the administration signed a joint resolution passed by Congress that nullified an Obama administration rule that pro-life leaders had called a “parting gift to Planned Parenthood.”

That rule forbade states from withholding federal Title X funds to health providers simply because they performed abortions. Now with the rule nullified, states can once again block Planned Parenthood and other abortion groups from Title X funding. Cardinal Dolan also approved of that rule change, calling it a reversal of “very bad public policy.”

In addition to signing bills into law, “personnel is policy,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, insisted to reporters on a Thursday conference call on Trump’s first 100 days.

She pointed to the picks of Vice President Mike Pence and senior advisor Kellyanne Conway as two examples of President Trump surrounding himself with persons with strong pro-life records.

Burch agreed that “President Trump has assembled a great Cabinet.”

He pointed to the pro-life appointments at the Department of Health and Human Services as examples of this. Former pro-life congressman Dr. Tom Price was tapped to be Secretary of Health and Human Services; Dr. Charmaine Yoest, former CEO of the pro-life group Americans United for Life, has been named to be assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS; and lawyer Matt Bowman, formerly of Alliance Defending Freedom, was also picked to join HHS.

“The Trump administration is staffed with thousands of high-caliber individuals like this,” Burch said.

Mancini also pointed to Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as another positive sign for the pro-life movement.

“Justice Gorsuch is a constitutionalist, committed to respecting the text and intent of lawmakers rather than legislating from the bench,” Burch stated, giving Trump an “A+” grade for the Supreme Court nomination.

CatholicVote provided a report card for Trump’s first 100 days. They gave Trump an “A” grade on the “sanctity of life” issues, noting that other achievements like the defunding of Planned Parenthood are still expected.

Although Gorsuch had not ruled specifically on an abortion case as judge, pro-life leaders have noted his dissent in a Tenth Circuit decision that overturned Utah’s defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Additionally, in his confirmation hearings, when asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) if a “super-precedent” existed for the Court’s Roe decision that legalized abortion, Gorsuch would not say that one existed, only saying that the Roe decision had “precedent,” according to EWTN’s Dr. Matthew Bunson.

Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on April 7 after Democrats threatened a filibuster. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) invoked the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster threat, whereby Gorsuch could then be confirmed with a simple majority vote. He was confirmed by the Senate 54-45.

Religious Freedom

Gorsuch’s appointment is expected to impact religious freedom cases for years to come. One of the first major cases he heard from the Supreme Court bench was the religious freedom case of Trinity Lutheran, a preschool in Columbia, Mo. operated by Trinity Lutheran Church. That case is expected to be the premier religious freedom case of the Spring 2017 term.

Gorsuch sat over high-profile HHS mandate cases while he was on the Tenth Circuit, ruling both times with plaintiffs – Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor – in favor of their religious freedom to not comply with the birth control mandate and the supposed “accommodation” offered by the government to objecting non-profits.

Another significant move by Trump administration was to stop fighting in court for the Obama administration’s “transgender mandate.” That policy had directed schools to let students use the bathroom of their current gender identity and not their birth gender.

Leading U.S. bishops had criticized the mandate as infringing on the “privacy concerns” of young students and said it “contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created’.”

After the administration announced it would drop its appeal for the policy in court, the Supreme Court sent a Virginia transgender bathroom case back to the lower courts.

However, the administration’s accomplishments in upholding religious freedom have ultimately been mixed, advocates argue, and one large reason why is that Trump has not issued a broad executive order upholding religious freedom and the rights of conscience as expected.

This is vital, Dr. Jay Richards of the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America said, because for any entity contracting with the government – or institutions receiving federal funding like Christian schools that provide federal student loans – they could be subject to actions from the government stemming from Obama-era orders on LGBT status.

Thus, charities or schools that uphold traditional marriage as part of their mission could be subject to actions from the government, unless a new executive order protects them.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tried to get support for such an executive order, insisting that “any Executive Order should make it clear that religious freedom entails more than the freedom to worship but also includes the ability to act on one's beliefs. It should also protect individuals and families who run closely-held businesses in accordance with their faith to the greatest extent possible.”

CatholicVote gave Trump a “C-“ grade on religious freedom issues, noting that “a leaked draft of an excellent Executive Order” on religious freedom “was stymied, according to reports, by Jared and Ivanka Trump along with outside left-wing groups.”

“Catholics are patient, but want action on religious liberty. And soon,” Burch said.

Refugees and Immigration

Early in his first 100 days, Trump issued an executive order to temporarily halt refugee admissions into the U.S. for four months and indefinitely suspend the admission of Syrian refugees. The order also halted visa admissions for most persons from seven countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

The order was ultimately halted from going into effect by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court. A revised executive order that was released later left out the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees and left Iraq off the list of countries from which most nationals would be barred from entering the U.S. It still halted refugee admissions for four months and capped the overall intake for FY 2017 at 50,000 refugees.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Tex., the chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, was “deeply troubled” at the revised order and said that the refugee admissions program was already well-vetted and secure. Catholic Relief Services said that since global forced displacement is at its highest levels ever recorded, the U.S. must not shut off its refugee admissions program.

The order was ultimately halted from going into effect by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland.

Trump also signed an executive order in January that would bar federal funding of “sanctuary cities,” or cities that publicly did not follow through with federal laws on deportation of undocumented immigrants. The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Tex., stated that the move “would force all jurisdictions to accept a one-size-fits-all regime that might not be best for their particular jurisdictions.”

In February, the Department of Homeland Security, enforcing the immigration orders, released new rules that did away with protections for unaccompanied children and asylum seekers coming to the border, created new detention centers, sped up the deportation process, and increased the punishments for undocumented parents who have their children smuggled into the U.S.

Bishop Vasquez warned that the new rules “greatly expand the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.”

CatholicVote, meanwhile, rated Trump’s immigration policies so far a “B,” saying that “his poorly drafted and delivered order on restricting refugees from dangerous countries was revised and continues to face legal opposition,” but “his stepped-up enforcement has rightly focused on hardened criminals while moderating on those who immigrated illegally as children (Dreamers).”

“Illegal immigration has plummeted, even without a wall,” Burch stated.

Health Care

Another major priority for Trump’s first 100 days was health care. A replacement for the Affordable Care Act was introduced in March with the goal of passing it on March 23, the seven-year anniversary of the ACA being signed into law.

The proposed American Health Care Act attempted to keep in place some policies of the original health care law like a ban on insurers denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and young people being able to stay on their parents’ health plans until the age of 26.

However, it sought to replace other major parts of the law. The individual mandate – enforced by fines for people not having health insurance – would be replaced with a fine of up to 30 percent of one’s new premium for a significant gap in coverage. Federal subsidies would be replaced with tax credits for purchasing insurance.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had ultimately opposed the Affordable Care Act under Obama because of provisions they said allowed for abortion funding in health plans. They praised the original health care law’s expansion of coverage for low-income and sick groups, although they opposed its lack of coverage for immigrants.

With the new proposal, leading bishops praised its protections against federal funding of elective abortions, but expressed serious concerns with its lack of conscience protections for doctors and other health care providers against government mandates like the transgender mandate.

Additionally, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the bishops’ domestic justice committee, worried that the new legislation could result in less affordable coverage for groups that need it the most: the elderly, the chronically ill, and the poor. For instance, the tax credits replacing subsidies were not favorably written for the elderly, he said. The 30 percent fine for a gap in coverage could act as a deterrent for someone to purchase health coverage.

Groups like the Catholic health care ministry (CMF) CURO, however, supported passage of the new bill as a step in the direction of more patient-centered health care reform, as well as a law that would help reduce abortion funding in health care.

Ultimately, the American Health Care Act failed to even make it to the House floor for a vote, but has been amended and brought back to consideration in the House. Among the new additions is an amendment that allows states to do away with “essential health benefits” like coverage for maternity care and hospitalizations that were mandated under the Affordable Care Act.

Bishop Dewane issued a strong statement this week criticizing the revised health care bill for similar reasons as he opposed the original AHCA. Members of Congress should not vote for the revised bill, he said on Thursday.

Foreign Policy

On foreign policy, Trump ordered missile strikes earlier this month on a Syrian airbase in response to a chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed around 100 and hospitalized hundreds. After the Syrian air force had bombed a neighborhood in the Idlib province, hundreds of civilians either died or were hospitalized with symptoms of exposure to sarin, a deadly nerve agent.

The U.S. said that forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad were responsible for the attack, and a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean launched Tomahawk cruise missiles against the airbase that was used by Syrian forces for the bombing.

Moral theologian Joseph Capizzi of The Catholic University of America told CNA that the response was “judicious” and was needed to uphold international agreements against the use of chemical weapons. Dr. Tom Farr of Georgetown University said “the strikes were fully justified, both as a means of punishing the evil acts that took place - especially (but not only) the slow torture and execution of babies by means of Sarin gas - and as a means of deterring the regime from further acts of evil like this.”

Meanwhile, Syrian clerics decried the attack, saying that an investigation should have been first conducted to prove who the perpetrators of the chemical attack were. Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo told CNA he hoped the U.S. “would have done something toward peace and reconciliation and a political solution” in Syria.

 

Major pro-life advocate Charmaine Yoest appointed to key HHS role

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 17:23

Washington D.C., Apr 28, 2017 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday, President Donald Trump announced his intention to appoint prominent pro-life legislative activist Charmaine Yoest as the new assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Yoest served for years as president and CEO of Americans United for Life, a pro-life law organization that works to coordinate and support the advance of pro-life legislation, particularly at the state level. She is currently a senior fellow at American Values in Washington, D.C.

With a Ph.D. in American Government from the University of Virginia, Yoest also served as project director of a national study on paid parental leave in academia. She worked in the White House under Ronald Reagan in the Office of Presidential Personnel.

In taking the position at Health and Human Service, Yoest will replace Kevin Griffis, who was recently named the new vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood.

During his campaign for president, Trump made several promises to run a pro-life administration. He pledged to nominate pro-life Supreme Court justices; sign into law a ban on late-term abortions; defund Planned Parenthood and reallocate funding to community health centers that do not perform abortions; and make permanent a ban taxpayer funding of abortion.

Upon entering office, he reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.
 

 

White House advisor reiterates Trump's commitment to religious freedom

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 14:10

Washington D.C., Apr 28, 2017 / 12:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A White House advisor rejected recent concerns that the Trump administration supports the controversial HHS mandate, saying it is simply a matter of timing in finding a “litigation-proof” alternative.

“The administration is not stepping back. It's doing precisely what it should be doing here... because of the way people are attacking Trump executive orders, it's very important that this thing gets done right and be as litigation-proof as possible, knowing full well they're going to get sued anyway,” said White House advisor Leonard Leo, according to Axios.

His comments came amid concerns by religious groups after the Washington Post on Tuesday reported that the Justice Department had asked a federal appeals court for 60 extra days to negotiate an agreement with East Texas Baptist University and several other plaintiffs challenging the controversial HHS mandate. The Supreme Court last year had instructed the Obama administration to negotiate with the plaintiffs as the next step in the litigation process.

During his presidential campaign, Trump had promised Catholics relief from the HHS mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs. In a letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference last October, he pointed to his opponent Hillary Clinton’s support for the mandate, and said “that is a hostility to religious liberty you will never see in a Trump Administration.”

After Trump’s election, the plaintiffs challenging the mandate widely expected that the new administration would drop the government’s appeal of the lawsuits, which federal circuit courts may re-examine in the coming months.

Instead of dropping the cases, however, the administration had indicated earlier this week that it intends to take the next step in the litigation process.

According to Axios, “The Trump administration is considering a range of options, from providing blanket exemptions to allowing schemes that would let insurance companies deal directly with employees.”

The HHS mandate was formed under the Affordable Care Act, which required preventive coverage in employer health plans. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services interpreted this to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions.

After a wave of criticism from religious employers to the original mandate, the Obama administration announced an “accommodation” whereby objecting non-profits would tell the government of their opposition, and their insurer or the third party administrator for the plans would be notified separately to include the coverage.

Many non-profits – including Catholic dioceses and the Little Sisters of the Poor – said that the process still forced them to cooperate in immoral behavior against their consciences. Some critics voiced concern that the cost of coverage would still end up getting passed along to the objecting employers in the form of higher premiums.

Hundreds of non-profits and other plaintiffs filed lawsuits over the mandate, even with the accommodation. Among these plaintiffs is EWTN Global Catholic Network. CNA is part of the EWTN family.

A number of those cases made their way to the Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell. Plaintiffs in the case include East Texas Baptist University, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, and other dioceses, schools, and charities.

In March of 2016, the Court asked both the plaintiffs and the government to submit briefs explaining whether a compromise could be reached that provided for cost-free contraceptive coverage for employees and yet still respected the religious freedom of the objecting non-profits.

That request, which came after oral arguments and in the middle of the case, was almost unprecedented in its timing.

After both parties outlined ways where they believed both goals could be achieved, the Supreme Court last May sent the cases back to the federal circuit court level, vacated the previous decisions of those courts, ordered the government not to enforce the fines against plaintiffs for not complying with their demands, and instructed the courts to give the parties time to find a solution on which they could agree.

 

Arkansas executions damage 'our whole society,' Catholic group says

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 13:33

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 28, 2017 / 11:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days, Catholics offered prayers for the prisoners, the victims, and their families, saying the executions have diminished the whole society.

“Catholic Mobilizing Network is deeply saddened by the events in Arkansas last night,” Karen Clifton, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said on Friday. “Our prayers are with all the victims’ families and all those involved in carrying out these four executions.” Catholic Mobilizing Network fights for an end to the death penalty.

Arkansas carried out its fourth execution in eight days late on Thursday night. The state had originally planned to conduct eight executions in 11 days, which would have been the largest number of executions in so short a span of time since the death penalty was re-instated there in 1976.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock wrote the state’s Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on March 1, asking him to commute the sentences of the eight men to life in prison without parole.

“Since the penal system of our state is well equipped to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life (and thus protect society), we should limit ourselves to non-lethal means,” Bishop Taylor stated.

One of the eight inmates, Ledell Lee, was put to death on April 20. Two others, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, were executed on Monday in the first double-execution in the U.S. since 2000. The lawyers for Williams tried unsuccessfully to win a last-minute stay of his execution with claims that Jones’s execution by lethal injection “appeared to be torturous and inhumane.”

The inmate executed on Thursday, Kenneth Williams, 38, had been convicted of a 1998 killing of Dominique Hurd, but after he escaped from prison he was convicted again in 1999 on capital murder charges for the killing of Cecil Boren.

Williams reportedly scored a 70 on an IQ test, “squarely within the intellectual disability range” which would make him ineligible for the death penalty, the Fair Sentencing Project claimed. His lawyers requested a last-minute stay of his execution but were denied by the state Supreme Court, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Four of the eight planned executions were halted by courts for various reasons – one for a hearing for DNA evidence, another for a 30-day public comment period after the state’s parole board had recommended clemency, and two others tied to the U.S. Supreme Court’s current consideration of a case about the rights of inmates to access an independent mental health professional to determine their competency for execution.

The four executions in eight days, Clifton said, showed “the brokenness of the death penalty system.”

“These four men represented all who are on death row: the intellectually disabled, the mentally ill, those who are too poor to afford proper counsel, those who have experienced abuse and severe trauma as children, and even some who maintained their innocence,” she stated.

Jones and Williams, executed on Monday, had both reportedly been sexually abused as children, according to the Fair Sentencing Project. Jones had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder before he committed his capital crime, while Williams had been pimped out by his mother for sex as a minor, in exchange for benefits like lodging and food stamps.

In addition, three of the four black inmates originally scheduled for execution were killed, Clifton said, while three of the four white inmates originally slated for execution received stays by the courts.

An AP reporter present at Williams’ death reported that he “lurched and convulsed on the gurney” as the drugs for his lethal injection were administered. According to the state’s three-drug protocol, midazolam – a sedative – is given first, followed by vecuronium bromide to paralyze the subject, completed with potassium chloride which is mean to stop the heart.

Williams was heard “speaking in tongues,” according to the AP’s Kelly Kissel, and as the drugs were administered through an IV he was then seen lurching on the gurney coughing, with his chest “pumping” according to one witness.

His attorney noted the reports of Williams’ reactions to the injection and called for an investigation to see if the execution was “botched.” Other recent lethal injection executions have been allegedly “botched,” most notably the 2015 execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma where the inmate was seen writhing on the gurney for nearly 45 minutes after the drugs were administered.

Clifton maintained that Williams’ death, as well as the double-execution on Monday, “have raised concerns of possible complications related to the use of controversial drugs.”

“Our whole society has been diminished by these four executions,” she concluded.

 

 

Utah bishop exhorts faithful to evangelization, renewal

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 02:08

Salt Lake City, Utah, Apr 28, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Bishop of Salt Lake city has urged Utah's Catholics to be steeped in Catholic identity and to sow the Gospel’s seed within the community, leaving their comfort zone behind.

“Our Church needs more witnesses who can manifest the presence of God in our world,” Bishop Oscar Solis wrote in his April 21 pastoral letter A Springtime of the New Evangelization.

“It begins in our own conversion through personal encounter with Christ in our life. The love of God we experience compels us to go and share the joy of the Gospel and the beauty of our faith with others.”

Bishop Solis was installed as Bishop of Salt Lake City on March 7, and he is the first Philippines-born man to become a bishop in the United States.

Comparing the newness of spring to Christ's Resurrection, the bishops challenged his diocese to spiritual rebirth and renewed commitment during the Easter season.

“The resurrection of Christ from the dead brings about new beginnings, offering an opportunity to see and experience things with our minds and hearts renewed.”

“Society today mocks our efforts to uphold the dignity of life,” said the bishop, acknowledging the “daunting task” ahead.

“I do not know, exactly, where this path will lead us,” he confessed, but said that “the mission of the Church today remains the same – to bring people closer to God in order to help them encounter Christ and rediscover the presence of God in their lives.”

Bishop Oscar Solis included an outline of priorities for the diocese to focus on, listing faith formation, Catholic identity, religious vocations, social justice, and ecumenism as necessary for the spiritual growth of the Salt Lake City diocese.

“For seeds of evangelization to grow and bear fruit, they must be planted and take root in the good soil of our parishes. Parishioners must be given the opportunity to receive the necessary formation to know, live and share their Christian faith,” he said.

Because “the present culture poses a serious challenge to the practice of our beliefs ... it is necessary for every Catholic to learn more about the essential teachings of Christ and our Church,” he said. “Catechetical formation of our young children and teenagers is so important in this regard. It should bring about transformation of hearts and minds, so that they may fully live and share their faith confidently with great ardor, joy and enthusiasm.”

He explained that “we find our Catholic identity in the celebration of the Holy Mass and other Sacraments,” and these “channels of God’s graces” lead to “nourishment, forgiveness and other spiritual gifts.” He said then there must be a renewed call “for vibrant and uplifting Sunday liturgical celebrations and other forms of worship.”

“The scarcity of priests and religious is a serious concern,” he reflected, encouraging everyone to “generate greater enthusiasm in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life in order to attend adequately to the spiritual needs of the people. Let us cultivate vocations within the family and in schools accompanied by constant prayers of petition, invitation and witness of our life so that more men and women may be inspired to pursue this path of life.”

He said that “beyond knowing Christ and learning about God’s commandments and the teachings of the Church,” we must establish “a right personal relationship with God and with one another.”

“Justice and charity are the other important components of our mission of evangelization. Love for our neighbors and little ones reveals our love for God. Justice sets the right relationship among people that allows us to see in others, in the poor, the unemployed, the addicts, the sick, the least in our society, the undocumented and the refugees, the very face of Christ.”

Turning to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, Bishop Solis encouraged a fostesring of “dialogue and encounter,” saying that “Courage and fidelity to our mission come along with mutual respect, understanding and harmony among diverse people and leaders of different faith denominations. Commitment to ecumenism, dialogue and unity is our big contribution to the world and humanity.”

The bishop identified the hatred within the world occurring between differences in “race or cultural traditions, religion or politics, gender and color of skin.” As an antidote, he proposed “dialogue tempered with charity that allows us to recognize” the dignity of life in refugees, unborn babies, the poor, and the suffering.

Bishop Oscar Solis emphasized that the Church’s very purpose is “to proclaim the Gospel by the way we believe, love and serve one another,”

“Therefore, we must not make the mistake of trying to hoard the fullness of God’s goodness within the walls of our Church. But be missionaries of mercy with compassionate hearts and the ability to heal wounds, to warm the hearts of others and be a brother or sister to one another.”

Revised health care bill still has 'serious flaws', US bishops maintain

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading U.S. bishop expressed grave concerns Thursday about a revised health care bill which the House may vote on within days.

The bill is an effort replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“It is deeply disappointing to many Americans that, in modifying the American Health Care Act to again attempt a vote, proponents of the bill left in place its serious flaws, including unacceptable modifications to Medicaid that will endanger coverage and affordability for millions of people, according to reports,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated April 27.

Although the American Health Care Act was scuttled in March before a planned floor vote due to lack of support, an amended version of the bill was introduced in Congress this week, garnering the support of members of the House Freedom Caucus – which was instrumental in blocking AHCA last month.

The amended version includes allowing states to drop Affordable Care Act mandates that insurers cover “essential health benefits” such as maternity care, emergency services, and mental health and substance abuse services.

Bishop Dewane, who had serious concerns about the AHCA, said the new bill does not fix those concerns, especially regarding ensuring access to affordable health care for vulnerable populations.

“The House must not pass the legislation as it is. Members should insist on changes, especially for the sake of those who are struggling in our communities,” he said.

“Sadly, some of the recently proposed amendments – especially those designed to give states flexibility – lack apparent safeguards to ensure quality of care,” he said. “These additions could severely impact many people with pre-existing conditions while risking for others the loss of access to various essential coverages.”

The Christ Medicus Foundation (CMF) CURO, a Catholic health care ministry, called on Congress on Thursday to pass a bill that would honor conscience protections, respect the “sanctity of life”, and provide more “access to medical care for all, especially for the poor and single mothers,” as well as “empowering health sharing ministries as an affordable health care option for lower-income Americans.”

“We want to see an American health care system where people have access to care but where doctors and patients are making decisions consistent with their conscience and religious freedom,” Louis Brown, Esq., director of (CMF) CURO, stated, noting that premium increases and a decrease in the number of available health plans meant that “too many impoverished families do not have access to the quality medical care they deserve.”

In an earlier, March 17 letter to Congress, Bishop Dewane had outlined his chief concerns about the AHCA while praising certain aspects of it, including its barring of funding of abortions in tax credits and health plans and stripping funding from abortion providers.

However, the bill lacked sufficient conscience protections for doctors and health care providers, he said.

Additionally, the replacement of federal subsidies for purchasing health insurance with tax credits could disproportionately benefit the younger and wealthier while making affordability an issue for sicker and older populations, he said. Premiums for many elderly persons could rise significantly, he warned.

A 30 percent premium fine for a significant gap in health coverage could also persuade some not to purchase health insurance at all, he added.

Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus, was also among the opponents of AHCA in March.  He said he could not support the bill, despite its pro-life protections, because of how other provisions would “likely hurt disabled persons, the elderly and the working poor.”

Remembering two anniversaries

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 18:07

Denver, Colo., Apr 27, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- "The recent pledge by the Democratic National Committee chair to support only candidates who embrace the radical unrestricted abortion license is very disturbing. The Democratic Party platform already endorses abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, even forcing taxpayers to fund it; and now the DNC says that to be a Democrat--indeed to be an American--requires supporting that extreme agenda.
 
True solidarity with pregnant women and their children transcends all party lines. Abortion doesn't empower women. Indeed, women deserve better than abortion.
 
In the name of diversity and inclusion, pro-life and pro-'choice' Democrats, alike, should challenge their leadership to recant this intolerant position."
 
--Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair
U.S. bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee, April 26

 
 
We mark two forgotten anniversaries in 2017.  Here’s the first.

Exactly 50 years ago this Easter season, Pope Paul VI (now Blessed Paul VI) issued his great encyclical Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”).  The text focuses powerfully on global issues of social and economic justice and the need for rich nations to share generously with the poor.  It includes the line – worth remembering today – that we “cannot insist too much on the duty of giving foreigners a hospitable reception.  It is a duty imposed by human solidarity and by Christian charity” (67). 

But Paul’s idea of “development” was much larger than simply providing more and better material goods for the poor, vital though that task is.  As he makes clear in Populorum Progressio, there’s no real progress without a right understanding of man’s spiritual identity.  There’s no real development without a respect for the wholehuman person as a creature of moral purpose. 

Real development, for Paul VI, demands a reverence for human life from conception to natural death.  This is why he reminded the U.N. General Assembly (1965) that “Your task is to ensure that there is enough bread on the tables of mankind, and not . . . to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life.”  It’s why he forcefully rejected abortion – echoing the words of the Second Vatican Council -- in his other great encyclical, Humanae Vitae, just a year after Populorum Progressio.

To put it another way:  There’s something irrational, something deeply contradictory, in (admirably) arguing for the rights of our nation’s foreign newcomers while (wrongly) allowing – and even sacralizing -- the systematic killing of a different kind of foreigner, the child in the womb, the newcomer to life itself.  Both the immigrant or refugee and the unborn child are human beings, both have inviolable dignity, and both demand our protection.  The difference today is, we don’t recognize and applaud anyone’s right to kill an immigrant.

As of mid-April though, that kind of logic is apparently absent from the national leadership of the Democratic Party.  The Huffington Post noted on April 21 that Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez “[has become] the first head of the party to demand ideological purity on abortion rights, promising . . . to support only Democratic candidates who back a woman’s right to choose.”

Which leads us to a second anniversary.

In 1992, exactly 25 years ago this July, Pennsylvania’s Governor Bob Casey, a prolife Democrat, was refused an opportunity to address the Democratic National Convention that nominated Bill Clinton and Al Gore.  Casey claimed he was barred because of his opposition to abortion.  The Clinton camp claimed otherwise.  But the history of the party in the decades since speaks for itself.

It’s now less and less possible for any genuinely prolife candidate to hope for national office as a Democrat.  Cardinal Dolan’s articulate concerns, noted above and voiced earlier this week, will be repeated and amplified by many others in 2018, an election year.  Party leaders chose this course freely, and they’ve earned whatever bad consequences result in the voting booth.  They have no one to blame but themselves.  In the meantime, they’ve placed state and local Democratic elected officials – many of whom are good and effective public servants – in needlessly difficult circumstances.

None of this absolves the current White House of its own ugly views, or the Republican Party of its own callous policies, or us as Christians of our duty to help women facing the pressures of an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy.  But a key to simple human decency is this:  Don’t intentionally kill the innocent.  One of our national parties is now fully and forcefully committed to tolerating, and even celebrating, the “right” to exactly that kind of killing.  

And no amount of dissembling can excuse it.  None.

 

Reprinted with permission from CatholicPhilly.com

We need to 'shatter' the anonymity of sex purchasers, lawmakers say

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 17:43

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2017 / 03:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. government needs to be continually equipped to fight the scourge of human trafficking in new and effective ways, said members of Congress introducing an anti-trafficking bill on Thursday.

“We have a huge human trafficking problem in the United States, and it needs to be combated even more robustly than it has,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said on Thursday at the capitol, introducing the Frederick R. Douglas Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act of 2017.

“We must shatter the anonymity of purchasing sex and the violence against our women, our boys, and our young girls,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who joined Smith at the press conference, said.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Smith, Wagner, and Karen Bass (D-Calif.) builds upon the 2000 Victims of Trafficking Protection Act, which was a large new anti-human trafficking bill at the time, a “landmark” bill as Rep. Smith called it.

The new bill has six other original co-sponsors, and enjoys bi-partisan support among the group.

The original TVPA included provisions for sheltering and support for victims, tough punishment of those convicted of trafficking, and introduced actions the U.S. could take against countries which failed to abide by the international trafficking standards set up by the act. The State Department ranks countries in a tier system in its annual Trafficking in Persons report, and actions can be taken against the worst countries.

Last year, the report left China, Cuba, and Malaysia off its worst offenders tier, prompting Rep. Smith to criticize the Obama administration for playing politics with the rankings. In 2015, the report also received criticism for leaving Malaysia off the Tier 3 worst offenders list as the administration was working with Malaysia on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Now, the new bill is named after Frederick Douglass, a slave who, once he escaped slavery at age 20, became a chief advocate against slavery in the U.S. and against the prejudiced Jim Crow laws of the post-Civil War era.

Douglass insisted that education is freedom, Ken Morris, Douglass’ great-great-great grandson, said on Thursday. Education must be upheld as the “primary prevention” of trafficking, he insisted, saying ““the prevention education era is here.”

“Slavery has plagued humankind for hundreds of generations, perhaps, since the beginning of civilization,” Morris said. “We can reverse the progress of slavery by fortifying individuals and the social structures around them through the application of knowledge.”

The new bill authorizes $130 million in funding over four years to, in the words of Rep. Smith, “prevent human trafficking, to protect victims and prevent them from being further enslaved,” to provide for asylum for international victims who need it, and “beefs up prosecution,” fighting trafficking in the U.S. and abroad.

The bill also funds education to help prevent girls from being trafficking victims, teaching them how to avoid dangerous situations. It provides for job training for victims – “resumption of education” for minors – who have been rescued and need to re-enter society.

Better enforcement of laws is also being called for, as federal agencies like State and Defense cannot grant contracts to entities that have been convicted of human trafficking.

Regarding government employee traveling expenses, “preferential treatment will be given to those individual hotels and airlines that have in place a comprehensive human trafficking initiative,” Smith said.

“Human trafficking is the most profitable criminal enterprise in the world after drugs, and it is able to flourish because predators purchase sex in a supply and a demand market,” Wagner said, adding that the U.S. must more vigorously enforce anti-trafficking laws.

According to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons report, illicit human trafficking and forced labor make up a $150 billion worldwide industry with estimates of 20 million victims. As many as 800,000 trafficking victims are brought through the U.S. annually.

“Our government must vigorously prosecute buyers of sex trafficking and finally end demand for this horrific crime,” Wagner said.

Another major issue for trafficking victims is housing, Rep. Bass insisted. “Eliminating pathways to child sex trafficking inevitably requires the elimination of youth homelessness,” she stated, noting that many victims have “fallen through the cracks” of the foster care system.

“Escaping is not an option without access to safe housing equipped to meet the special needs of victimized youth,” she said. “Our government has an urgent responsibility to shut down pathways for child sex trafficking and to invest in critical housing needs for vulnerable girls and foster youth.”

Big honors for scholar who revitalized Christian philosophy

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 17:22

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 27, 2017 / 03:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has won the prestigious Templeton Award for once again making belief in God “a serious option within academic philosophy,” the Templeton Foundation has said.

“The field of philosophy has transformed over the course of my career,” Plantinga said in response to the honor. “If my work played a role in this transformation, I would be very pleased.”

“I hope the news of the Prize will encourage young philosophers, especially those who bring Christian and theistic perspectives to bear on their work, towards greater creativity, integrity, and boldness,” he said April 25.

The Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation awards the prize to a living individual who has made “an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.”

“Alvin Plantinga recognized that not only did religious belief not conflict with serious philosophical work, but that it could make crucial contributions to addressing perennial problems in philosophy,” said the foundation’s president Heather Templeton Dill.

Plantinga's 1974 work “God, Freedom and Evil” is now widely regarded as having provided a definitive counter to the logical challenge that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of God. His argument rested on the nature of freedom and God’s ability to determine behavior.

His 1984 essay, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” argued that Christian philosophers should let their religious beliefs influence their academic research and serve the needs of their religious communities.

His other work has considered the basis of knowledge, the nature of justified belief, religious belief as a basis for human reasoning, and arguments for the existence of God.

While some philosophers have argued that evolution is incompatible with belief in God, Plantinga has argued that evolution is incompatible with belief in philosophical naturalism that denies the existence of spiritual reality.

Plantinga's religious background is the Calvinist Dutch Reformed tradition. He currently teaches at Calvin College. He taught at the University of Notre Dame from 1982-2010.

He and his wife, Kathleen, live in Grand Rapids, Mich.

There are now 47 winners of the Templeton Prize, including Mother Teresa, Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, philosopher Charles Taylor, and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Other winners include Czech priest and philosopher Tomas Halik, South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama.

The prize was established in 1972 by global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. The current prize includes a cash award of about $1.4 million. 

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