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: 6 min 46 sec ago

Is the Benedict Option the only option?

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 05:46

Denver, Colo., Jul 5, 2017 / 03:46 am (CNA).- When Josh and Laura Martin, both converts to the faith, moved their growing family of six from the city of Dallas, Texas to the hills of Oklahoma, they didn’t necessarily know that they were participating in the “Benedict Option.”

“We initially just wanted to get out of the city and raise our family in a more protected, slower-paced environment,” Josh told CNA.

“With all the families out here searching for the same thing, we gravitated towards it and made the leap.”

They moved to be close to the Benedictine Abbey at Clear Creek, Oklahoma, where dozens of other families from around the country have congregated over the course of the past 15 years or so.

Dubious of the direction in which the morals of modern society seem to be heading, they came in search of a slower pace and a more liturgical life with a community of other like-minded Catholics. Many villagers attend daily morning Mass with the monks before 7 a.m., and the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays. The monastery serves as the center of the community, the monks as a real-life example of religious life to the youngsters.

Journalist Rod Dreher is credited with dubbing this phenomenon “The Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.” This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”

Just as Benedict was looking to escape the crumbling and increasingly anti-Christian culture of Rome, families like the Martins are looking to the hills of Oklahoma to escape today’s secular society, where Christian values are seen as increasingly foreign or even hostile to the status quo. They are disturbed by trends such as the legalization of gay marriage, of the increasing popularity of gender ideology, or the shrinking of religious freedom.

In his new book, “The Benedict Option,” Dreher calls the new societal trends and values “The Flood,” and argues that Christians can no longer fight the flood - they must figure out a way to ride it out and preserve their faith for generations to come.

“...American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears,” he writes.

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”

Communities like the one surrounding Clear Creek Abbey seem to be the most obvious examples of the Benedict Option, their lifestyles most resembling the villages that grew up around the Benedictine monasteries in Europe centuries ago. However, Dreher does expand the definition to include other forms of Christian communities, like those that form around classical schools, such as St. Jerome’s school in Hyattsville, Maryland. The phenomenon is also occurring not just among Catholics, but among Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well.

Mike Lawless, his wife Kathy, and their children first learned about the community surrounding Clear Creek when they were living in San Diego. They were part of a homeschool group, and lived on the edge of town, as far away from the city hustle and bustle as possible.

But when a friend told them about the families moving near Clear Creek Abbey, the whole family of six (going on seven) loved the idea of the novelty and adventure of moving to the hills of Oklahoma, so they packed up and made the leap.

“What we were looking for was a healthier culture,” Mike told CNA. He wanted to raise his children in an environment that wasn’t heavily influenced by the prevailing secular culture.  

When Josh and Laura Martin moved in 2007, they were expecting their fifth child. They too were looking for a better place to raise their family.

It was rough going at first. The land by Clear Creek Abbey is not great for farming. Josh tried to make the leap from management positions to manual labor, but it ultimately didn’t work.

“I just fell flat on my face, burned up all my money, learned a lot of good valuable lessons I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Josh said. “After 4-5 years we realized that you have to do something that you know how to do.”

He’s now in a management position for a medical device company in the area, and things have been a lot better. Similarly, Mike Lawless tried to make living off the land a priority. But after his attempts at farming and cattle were heading in a “direction that wasn’t positive,” he had to scale back his agricultural projects and return to the work he knew, which was mechanical engineering.

“That romantic vision was shattered there pretty quick when we moved,” Mike said.

Most families in the area do not subsist off the land alone, but there are few options for work in town. The Institute for Excellence in Writing, directed by Clear Creek villager Andrew Pudewa, employs some people in the area. Others, like Mike, do much of their work remotely. Still others make the hour commute to and from Tulsa for work.

Despite the sacrifices, the geographic retreat is an important aspect of the Benedict Option for many of its adherents.

“Being in a rural area, where you’re not maybe as distracted by the noise and goings on of the city, there’s a little bit more quiet, and that silence gives you the opportunity to appreciate (the liturgical season) more,” Laura Martin told CNA.

“There’s fewer distractions, and that is helpful I think in focusing on trying to regain some of the culture that we’ve lost or the connections that we’ve missed in our busy lives, so that element has been really helpful for us to grow in our faith.”  

But one of the main critiques of the Benedict Option has stemmed from this idea of separation - both culturally and geographically. How can the faithful evangelize, as they are called to do, if they embed in communities of likeminded people in remote countryside hills?

“It’s not an insular community,” Josh insists, “but it is a sort of retreat because the cultural forces are so overwhelming that it’s difficult for me to imagine...trying to raise my family in that environment, so somewhere in that mix is the Benedict Option.”  

The Martins are aware of the dangers of becoming too insular. They send two of their kids to public school, and they let their kids play soccer on a local league, which has made them a lot of local, non-Catholic friends. But not everyone in the village agrees on this, or other subjects. The use of T.V. and internet varies widely among families, as do opinions about whether women should wear anything other than skirts (and of what length those skirts should be), or how much contact is maintained with the outside world.

The Martins were careful to specify they spoke only for themselves.

“Out here it’s very dangerous to speak for the community, because...there’s not one unified approach, there are many dissimilarities,” Josh said.

But what there is, is a strong sense of community and a desire to live out the Catholic faith. Whether it’s for funerals, weddings, baby showers, dances, parties - almost everyone is involved, he said.

“Weddings are just a complete madhouse,” Josh said, laughing. Baby showers can sometimes include 60-70 women. When a new family arrives, everyone pitches in to help them move furniture and get settled.

“There’s a huge sense of cohesion,” he said. “Your life is so intertwined with the community. There’s a strong identity of being definitely Catholic that would be very difficult to leave.”

What about parish life?  

For many Catholics, uprooting their lives and moving to Oklahoma (or near other monasteries) simply isn’t an option. The most basic building block of Catholic community and society available to them is their local parish.

Dreher writes of the importance of living in proximity to one’s parish, so that it can all the more easily become the center of one’s life. But Christians must still be discerning about whether their local parish is teaching the true faith, or whether it has been too compromised by the secular culture.

“The changes that have overtaken the West in our modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves,” Dreher writes.

“As conservative Anglican theologian Ephriam Radner has said, ‘There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.’”

To be sure, parish life has seen significant shifts in the United States. When waves of Catholic immigrants arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they found stability and community in the New World at their local, often ethnically segregated, parish. Often ostracized for their faith in other areas of society, they looked to their parish not only as a source for the sacraments, but as a place to meet friends, host meetings and dances, to rely on as a second family.  

Society has since shifted. As Catholics became more accepted into mainstream society, they no longer looked to their parish as their only source of community. And as ethnic ties became looser, the need for Polish Catholics to go to the Polish parish, for example, dwindled. The hub of Catholicism, once the East Coast, shifted west as people moved out of the city.

But while things have changed, that doesn’t mean that flourishing parishes can’t be found today, said Claire Henning, executive director of Parish Catalyst, a group that studies what makes parishes thrive.  
“I’ve become more aware of how I’ve always perceived a parish as a building - but it really isn’t that, it’s a living, breathing ecosystem that expands and contracts depending on who’s there.”

For their recent book “Great Catholic Parishes,” William Simon, founder of Parish Catalyst, identified four characteristics of thriving parishes: shared leadership among clergy and laity, a variety of formation programs, an emphasis on Sunday and the liturgy, and evangelizing to people both in and out of the pews.

One of the main questions these thriving parishes are constantly asking of themselves is: “How do we speak the language of the Gospel to the people of today?” Henning said. “So you need people who are thought leaders to be thinking of that.”

St. Mary’s parish in Littleton, Colorado, is one such parish, with around 1800 registered families, an orthodox Roman Catholic faith and a thriving community life.

“The goal is to be a family of families,” said Linda Sherman, director of family life and service for the parish.

“What we’re looking for is to support families in all their various nuances and ages, to support them in their Catholic faith, and as they are growing in their faith and growing closer to God.”

It can be difficult to create a sense of community in such a large parish, Sherman admits, but the key is getting families involved in ministry.

Perhaps one of the most important ministries that St. Mary’s offers is called Mother of Mercy ministry, the purpose of which is “to fill in the gaps of people who don’t have an existing support system of families in town,” Sherman told CNA.

How it works: anyone can sign up for Mother of Mercy, either offering or asking for services ranging from lawn-mowing to rides to the doctor to babysitting. It connects volunteers with folks who need them, and helps people feel like they have a local support system, she said.

There are also youth groups, young adult groups, family groups and bible studies that allow people to grow in their faith in smaller settings, which then strengthens both their faith and their connection to the parish.

It’s become increasingly important for parishioners to find a community of others who share their faith and values, Sherman said.

“It allows you to be stronger in your faith if you have people around you who support you in your values. And that’s whether you’re newly married or you’re 50 years old and you’re working in a job with people who don’t have the same faith life as you, or any faith life,” she said. “You don’t want to feel like the odd man out.”

And while Dreher expresses concerns about the orthodoxy of many parishes and churches, Henning said it is the churches that focus on liturgy and discipleship that prove to be the best parishes.

“They actually are strategic about planning for discipleship, they challenge and engage the spiritual maturity of their people,” she said.

“And they really excel on Sundays. There’s an intense interest on preparing good homilies, they get the best music they can get, they’re very hospitable. And they really do have a plan for evangelization, they enter into mission, and they have a vision and structure for moving beyond the doors of the church.”

Prayer and the Eucharist are also central to thriving parishes, as Simon points out in his book. St. Mary’s parish has a 24-hour adoration chapel, accessible by code.

“The Eucharist is the source of unity for the parish; is is the supreme action that unites all who experience it to Christ and to the prayer and tradition of the universal Catholic community,” Simon wrote.  

Catholicism in the city: Ecclesial Movements

Another popular form of community within the Catholic Church, particularly in the post-Vatican II years of the 20th and 21st Centuries, has been Ecclesial Movements. These include groups such as Opus Dei, Focolare, or the Neocatechumenal Way.

In e-mail comments to CNA, Dreher said that he did not know enough about Ecclesial Movements to say whether or not they could constitute a “Benedict Option.” But they seem to have markedly different philosophies when it comes to living the Christian life in the world.

Ecclesial Movements seek to re-engage the laity in their faith and to evangelize the world. They include a variety of charisms, educational methods and apostolic forms and goals, and while they have local bases, they are not geographically bound to one location. Many have a presence in countries throughout the world.

Holly Peterson is the director of communications for Communion and Liberation, one such ecclesial movement that was founded by Italian priest Fr. Luigi Giussani.

As a young priest in 1950s Italy, where basically everyone went to Mass and Catholic school, Fr. Giussani began to realize that the faith didn’t actually mean anything to the real, lived experiences of the young students he was teaching. They went through the motions of the faith, but they didn’t seem to know what it meant to really live a Christian life.

“He later defined it by saying that he had this question in him - have the people left the church? Or has the church left the people?” Peterson told CNA.

Fr. Giussani started taking his students on retreats and excursions in the mountains so that he could teach them how to live an authentically integrated life of faith - much in the style of Pope John Paul II, a close friend of Giussani and the movement.

“He understood that...he needed to introduce them to life, because through their experience of life they would begin to understand who God was, who Christ was,” Peterson said.  

As his students grew up and continued following his teachings, a movement was born. Membership in Communion and Liberation is freely given - there’s no registration or membership requirements, and there are many different levels of association, but a standard commitment is attendance at the weekly meetings, called School of Community.

School of Community is more than just a meeting, Peterson said. It’s a chance for catechesis, for members to be spiritually fed, but also for them to develop Christian friendships that grow outside of the official meetings. Members form strong friendships and communities that carry on outside of the weekly meetings. They go out to dinner, help each other with babysitting, have parties, and just live life together.

The movement also has consecrated lay men and women - called Memores Domini - who live in community but work in the secular world. There are doctors, rocket scientists, secretaries, teachers and many other kinds of professions found amongst the members.

But regardless of the level of association, CL members have a markedly different way of viewing the world than the Ben-Oppers.

“We’re not afraid of doom and gloom around the corner, not to say that that’s wrong, but that’s not our style,” Peterson said.

“Instead we desire to dive into the deep end of the pool. We want to be present where people are suffering, we want to do what Pope Francis has called us to do, which is to go to the periphery.”

“And the periphery isn’t necessarily skid row of L.A., though that is the periphery as well,” she added. “My periphery could be my workplace, where everyone might live a pessimism that’s so thick and so sad, where they have absolutely zero hope in front of the reality that we live.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, founded in France, is another active ecclesial movement. Like the name implies, they strive to live the teachings of the Beatitudes within their community. Their charism is Eucharistic and Marian, and in the Carmelite tradition.

The community has consecrated brothers and sisters, as well as several hundred lay members and friends at various levels of association, that are active throughout the world. In the beginning, lay members lived in community with the consecrated members in huge monasteries in Europe that allowed each vocation to have it’s own separate wing. But more recently, the Vatican told the community that the lay members must not live directly with consecrated members.

“Rome said lay must be real lay, you don’t stay set apart,” Sr. Mary of the Visitation, a member of the community in Denver, told CNA.

“So obviously they are lay people, they receive the spirit and the charism of the community, they are full members of the community, they’re fully part of the liturgy, but they live in the world.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, much like Communion and Liberation, quickly spread all over the world. Their apostolates serve the immediate needs of their surrounding communities in various ways - schools, hospitals, catechesis - rather than focusing on one particular type of ministry. Members and friends of the movement regularly come together for meals, liturgy, faith formation and service.

Sr. Mary of the Visitation said that while her community anchors her, she desires to invite more people to live a life following the Beatitudes.

Although rooted in prayer, “we live in the world,” she said. “So if I’m going for a walk in the neighborhood, I will meet people, obviously when they see my habit they will think about God, but then we can have a conversation and go deeper.”

Sr. Mary said that on the one hand, she understands the Benedict Option desire to preserve the good, and to separate oneself from evil. Preserving oneself from too much T.V., or other inappropriate media, is a good thing, she said.

But she also worries that the Benedict Option may look at those in the world as “other,” rather than as brothers and sisters.

“What I dislike in this idea, is that it would mean that the world is bad, and the Benedictine Option is good. But we’re not in a movie with the bad and the good. We are in the reality of life, where the world is within me, and this is the most difficult part is to convert myself,” she said.

“And I really think that my brothers and sisters from the world, I cannot judge them, I cannot be separate from them, because I don’t want to go to heaven without them.”  

There have been concerns among some that ecclesial movements are taking the place of the parish in members’ lives. But lived properly, Peterson said, that’s not the case - movements should serve to strengthen parish communities.

“We try to be very engaged in the parish for that reason,” she said, “doing charitable work, teaching in parish schools, a lot of musicians in the movement are active in their parishes.”

Ultimately, she said, “I think these movements are the way that God is rejuvenating the Church...movements are called to give people life so that they can live in this crazy world here.”


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 26, 2017.

Will we go to the peripheries?

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 22:59

Orlando, Fla., Jul 4, 2017 / 08:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Encountering Christ brings with it the responsibility of reaching out to those on the peripheries, Catholic leaders urged their fellow Catholics.

This service and need to bring with us the joy of the Gospel to all starts with those around us who are overlooked and reaches to the furthest ends of the globe.

“Jesus is already at the peripheries,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders. “The question for us today is whether he will be there alone or whether his disciples will be there with him.”

The Convocation of Catholic Leaders was a meeting of more than 3,500 Catholic leaders, priests and bishops from around the United States in Orlando, Florida. The theme for the meeting was “The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

Anderson highlighted the work of the Knights of Columbus around the globe in geographical peripheries like North Korea, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

“As missionary disciples, we must make the Universal Church a presence at the peripheries as the process of globalization continues,” he urged attendees.

“However,” he continued, “the most difficult challenge may not be reaching out to the world. The most difficult challenge may be in reaching out to our own neighbors.”

In ministering to those on the peripheries in one’s immediate area – in one’s parish, in one’s neighborhood, in one’s family – Catholics are challenged to go outside of themselves and be a living witness of Christ.

“Those who are closest to us are the ones who discern most clearly the authenticity of our witness.”

This care for the peripheries closest to us extends to the American Church at large as well, Anderson said.

“There is no other Catholic country in the world that has as much diversity as America,” he said, detailing the wide range of demographic, geographic and cultural experiences present in the Catholic Church in the U.S.

“We have the opportunity to do something so fantastic for Catholicism in the world and no other country has the opportunity to do something so fantastic.”

A life of missionary discipleship in one’s family or nation does not diminish the responsibility of U.S. Catholics to care for those on the peripheries worldwide.

“There is no reason the U.S government should ignore the plight of Middle Eastern Christians,” Anderson urged, emphasizing again the work of the Knights of Columbus in protecting Christians of the Middle East.  

Anderson’s speech was part of a larger session focused on the peripheries, a word used often by Pope Francis to refer to the outskirts of geographic and social boundaries. 

His comments were followed by a panel discussion on how the Church works in the peripheries in the United States and across the world.

Dr. Ansel Augustine, a campus minister at St. John’s University and former head of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of New York, highlighted the gifts that black Catholics have to offer the Church at large in America.

“Sometimes when we talk about black Church or black Catholicism, it’s met with some kind of shock or even at times disgust, because normally when we hear the notion of the word ‘black,’ it’s with the connotation of negativity,” he said.

This connotation, along with the long history of how persons of African descent have been treated in the U.S., make the black Catholic Church part of the peripheries, he noted.

The black Catholic community also has many gifts to give the American Catholic Church. He pointed to the example of the five African American men and women whose causes for canonization are open: Venerable Pierre Toussaint and Venerable Henriette Delille and Servants of God Fr. Augustus Tolton, Sister Thea Bowman, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, Julia Greeley.

“That’s important to us and that’s our story, our pain, our struggle,” he said.

“All we ask is that the Church that we love show us they love us back.”

Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ, Executive Director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grand Valley spoke about her experience ministering to immigrants coming over the southern border. She explained that many people coming over have experienced hurt and pain by other people who are Catholic as well.

When reaching out to those people, she said, “you have to trust that God is with you.”

She also stressed the importance of placing Christ and love for the other person at the center of outreach to people in vulnerable situations.

"If our work isn't grounded in the love of Christ, it quickly becomes about us," she said.

Lastly, Sr. Pimentel explained what can be learned from people living and ministering in the peripheries.

“The people in the valley, somos familia (we are family). We take care of one another,” she said. "Welcome the immigrants in your communities. They need you.”

Fr. Paul Check, Rector of St. John Fisher seminary and former Executive Director of Courage, a ministry for Catholics who experience same-sex attraction, spoke about chastity.

"Chastity is part of the Good News of Jesus Christ,” and a message that is needed in the world, he said.

“Our Lord would not ask us to do something that is impossible,” he explained, “but he also told us that we would be a sign of contradiction in the world. That contradiction is not to be provocative, and certainly not to be belligerent, but it is to invite people to the fullness of Joy, that living the life of Christ lived in this world will bring.”

Persons who have lived one way of life and then, through conversion, have started living another way are an essential part of the Church’s evangelization and ministry to those on the margins.

Fr. Check encouraged all to “be bold in your charity and chastity for the kingdom and God’s grace will help you.”

Carolyn Woo, former president and CEO of Catholic Charities explained how CRS goes about its work of ministry and service even in the most difficult of situations. In many countries where CRS serves, governments are hostile to Christians and Catholics.
Maintaining a Catholic identity in countries hostile to Catholics and Christians

“In some countries conversion is punishable by death,” Woo said, adding that in some cases, proselytizing actions could risk the lives of the people CRS serves as well as those of local lay faithful, priests and bishops.

Despite these challenges, “we have to go to serve and there can be no conditions.”

In countries all over the world, regardless of the state’s beliefs, CRS ministers. In some cases, this example of Christian life has resulted in changing perceptions among the public about what it means to be Christian, accompanied by a “sense of solidarity and trust for American Catholics,” she said.

In this, Woo continued, CRS sees its ministry as a form of evangelization.

“What does evangelization really mean? For us it means making real God’s love. The truth is God loves everyone all the time, and this love is very real.”

Cardinal DiNardo: To be active, we have to learn to be contemplative

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 16:44

Orlando, Fla., Jul 4, 2017 / 02:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Contemplation is the most active thing we can do if we want to work for the Lord, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said in his homily on July 4.
Which might seem counter-intuitive, considering that he was addressing hundreds of bishops and thousands of Catholic leaders gathered in Orlando, Florida for the final Mass of the Catholic Convocation.
But contemplation is action, the Cardinal of Galveston-Houston said, and the Gospel of John shows us this.
In John 17, Jesus prays aloud for the apostles and for the Church to his Father during the Last Supper. He prays for their unity and for those they will evangelize, those they will meet once they are sent on mission.
The 12 apostles, gathered at the table, are “mute”, observing and listening to Jesus, Cardinal DiNardo noted.
“On this (4th of July) day of barbeques and fireworks, bands and parties, the Gospel text is striking...the most single contemplative chapter in the New Testament is read for us and proclaimed to us as we're going forth,” he said.
“Today, Jesus lets us overhear his intimacy with the Father,” Cardinal DiNardo said, the Father on whom he leans during his mission and during his passion and death.
He also pointed out another passage in the Gospel of John, during the multiplication of loaves, during which Jesus teaches his apostles another lesson about mission.
During the passage, found in Chapter 6, the apostles see the great crowds gathered around Jesus and despair at how they are going to feed them.
“Jesus says - you give them something to eat. What do the apostles do?” Cardinal DiNardo asked.
“It's apostolic, it's gone on ever since. What do they do? They whine,” he said, laughing.
"We don't have enough, we don't have bread," the apostles say.  
“Jesus responds - not wagging a finger of disapproval of their less than excellent conduct, but he just looks at them and says, just give me what you have.”
“Jesus gives so much power to his friends, it's amazing how he lets us work,” he said.  
From their meager offerings, Jesus is able to feed the multitudes. In the same way, we are called to offer what we can to the Lord, and expect that he will multiply our efforts, he added.  
“Imagine the gallons we'll have leftover if we do it at the Lord's word,” Cardinal DiNardo said.

And learn to distinguish the different between true action "and just running around," he added. 

“We are in a very significant time in our church in this country - and this reminds me of how contemplative we're going to be if we want to be active. Never are you more active than when the word of God is overpowering you. You are seated there, in God's loving grace, and you realize how much God can let you do.”


Bishop Barron: 6 tips for evangelizing the 'nones'

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 13:54

Orlando, Fla., Jul 4, 2017 / 11:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The way we evangelize should grab the world by the shoulders and shake it out of its apathy, Bishop Robert Baron told a crowd of Catholic leaders Tuesday.

Evangelization is especially urgent as the 'nones' - the number of the population who do not identify with a religion, continues to grow, he said.

Bishop Baron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and well-known evangelizer for Word on Fire, addressed the crowd of Catholic bishops and leaders gathered at the Catholic Convocation in Orlando, Florida through a live video feed on July 4, the last day of the gathering.
“We do have a fight on our hands, but the great saints of our church have always loved a good fight, and we should too.”  
In a talk entitled “Equipping Evangelizers”, the bishop with more than 15 years of evangelizing experience said that there are three main challenges and three main opportunities that Catholic evangelists face today.
1. The first challenge: Scientism
The culture’s embrace of “scientism”, or the philosophical belief that the only valuable knowledge is scientific knowledge, is one of the great challenges that evangelists face today, Bishop Barron said.
“Let me be clear: the Catholic Church has nothing against the sciences, the church stands with the sciences at their best,” he said. “What the Church opposes is scientism, or the reduction of all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge.”
Actually, scientism as a philosophy is self-refuting, he noted.
“Scientism is not discoverable through the scientific method. Where did you empirically verify and test through experimentation that only scientific knowledge is valuable? Scientism is a philosophical position and therefore self-refuting,” he said.
But it can be challenge for evangelizers, who are speaking to the world about God.
“When we (as a culture) isolate ourselves from all references to the transcendent, we do damage to the human heart, we do damage to the human spirit,” he said.
2. The second challenge: The culture of “meh”
There’s a rampant apathy in today’s society, especially among young people, who have been formed not to embrace anything as objectively true, Bishop Barron said.
“If there is no objective truth, no objective value, what that produces is a culture of ‘meh’, or as the kids say, ‘whatever’” Bishop Barron said.
But objective truths and values form a firm foundation that sends us on mission, he said, pointing to an example used by St. John Henry Newman, who said a river gets its energy and verve from its firm foundation.
“Knock down the banks, and what’s going to happen? That river is going to open up into a big, lazy lake. Placid, with no energy, no purpose,” Bishop Barron said.
“Our society today is like a big lazy lake, all of us floating individually, tolerating each other, not getting in each other’s way, but without energy, without purpose.”
But evangelization, the declaration of the good news of Jesus, is the antithesis of this apathy, he said.
“Once you’ve been grasped by the power of know where to go and you do it with energy.”  
3. The third challenge: The culture of self-determination
What was once a fringe philosophical idea known as voluntarism, which stemmed from philosophers like Nietzsche and other recent existentialists, is now mainstream thought among the millennial generation in the United States, Bishop Barron said.
The core belief of this philosophy, embraced widely by young people, is that freedom defines identity, he noted.
“My freedom comes first, and then I determine essence, who I am, the meaning of my life. It’s all based on my freedom - my sexualtiy, my gender, purpose of my life is all up to me,” he explained.
But to evangelize is to say that “your life is not about you, your life is not up to you,” Bishop Barron said. “Remember the ecstatic expression of St. Paul: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in mean. When you’ve been seized by the power of Jesus Christ, your little ego-drama becomes pretty unimportant,” he said.  
The Bishop then presented three opportunities for evangelization based on the three transcendentals: truth, goodness and beauty.
1. The first opportunity: An intelligent truth
“I hate dumbed-down Catholicism,” Bishop Barron emphatically told the audience.
“What do I mean by that? It puts a huge stress on the superficial, the ‘banners and balloons Catholicism’ as I call it. We are a smart religion. When we don’t express Catholicism in a smart way, people fall away,” he said.
In particular, the Bishop urged catechists, apologists and evangelists to equip themselves with a good grasp on one of the great arguments for the existence of God. Young people often don’t have a robust understanding of God beyond a vague and irrelevant deity, he noted.
His favorite argument is based on contingency - that existence flows from God, and everything on the world gets its existence from him, because nothing created itself.
“The God that I’m talking about sustains the whole universe moment to moment the way a singer sustains a song. Continual creation - that’s the God the great Church talks about, that we must convey to our young people,” he said.
2. The second opportunity: The goodness of radical Christians
When the Christian life is embraced fully and radically, it’s goodness stands out to the world, Bishop Barron said.
The best example of this in the 20th century was Mother Teresa, who evangelized the world by her radical witness of goodness - caring for others indiscriminately, he said.
Throughout the history of the Church, he said, it was the “goodness and radicality of the Christian life that got the attention of the world,” through great saints like Benedict, Dominic and Francis.
“We need to recover what all these great figures found - this splendidly radical form of the Christian life. When it’s lived publicly, it evangelizes,” he said.
3. The third opportunity: Authentic beauty
Perhaps the best opportunity from which to start evangelization is with the authentic, objective beauty of the faith, Bishop Barron said.
And he’s not just talking about something subjectively satisfying like, say, deep-dish Chicago pizza, he said.  
“The objectively valuable and beautiful is not like that, it’s something so intrinsically good and beautiful that it seizes us, it stops us in our tracks - something called aesthetic arrest,” he said.
It’s an easy place to start evangelizing because it’s as simple as “show, don’t tell.”
“Just show people the beauty of Catholicism - show them Cathedrals, show them the Sistine Chapel, show them Mother Teresa’s sisters at work. Don’t tell them what to think and how to behave, show the beauty of Catholicism, and that has an evangelical power,” he said.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than the dying and rising of Jesus Christ,” he said, and the apostles in the New Testament communicate this with a “grab-you-by-the-shoulders” urgency.
“These are people who have been seized by something so powerful and so overwhelming that they want to grab the world by the shoulders and tell them about it,” he said. “We need to be filled with the same ‘grab-you-by-the-shoulders’ enthusiasm” about the beauty of our faith, he added.
“Yes we face obstacles, but the saints always loved a good fight, and we should love a good fight too, because we go forth with this great truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus Christ.”


Rebuilt from the ashes: The story of an American basilica

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 05:41

Norfolk, Virginia, Jul 4, 2017 / 03:41 am (CNA).- An immigrant parish, burnt down, with only the crucifix remaining. A parish rebuilt, transformed and a key part in giving back to the community. In a sense, one parish’s story of struggle, pressure and rebirth is metaphor for the American Catholic experience.

St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, Virginia, is the only black Catholic church in the United States that is also a basilica. Its dramatic history captures both the broader American Catholic history of persecution, growth and acceptance, but also a witness to the unique challenges faced by black Catholics over the centuries.

Founded originally as St. Patrick’s Parish in 1791, it is the oldest Catholic parish in the Diocese of Richmond, predating the foundation of the diocese by nearly 30 years.

“Catholicism was not legal to practice” in Virginia when the colony was founded, said Fr. Jim Curran, rector of the basilica. In much of Colonial America, before the Revolution and the signing of the Bill of Rights, churches that were not approved by the government were prohibited from operating, he told CNA.

The land originally bought in 1794 for the parish is the same ground on which the basilica today stands. From the beginning, according to the parish’s history, Catholics from all backgrounds worshiped together: Irish and German immigrants, free black persons and slaves.

However, by the 1850s, the parish’s immigrant background and mixed-race parish drew the ire of a prominent anti-Catholic movement: the Know-Nothings.

Largely concentrated in northeastern states where the immigrant influx was greatest, the movement rose and fell quickly. Concerned with maintaining the Protestant “purity of the nation,” it worked to prevent immigrants – many of whom were Catholic – from gaining the right to vote, becoming citizens, or taking elected office.

“I consider the Know-Nothings to be a sort of gatekeeper organization, by which I mean that they were both anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic at the same time,” said Fr. David Endres, an assistant professor of Church History and Historical Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

He told CNA that the Know-Nothing Party was able to bring together both pro- and anti-slavery voters in the mid-1800s, united in the common “dislike of foreign-born and Catholics.”

While most anti-Catholic activities took the form of defamatory speeches and public discrimination, the prejudice sometimes turned to violence and mob action, Fr. Endres explained.

The anti-Catholic discrimination and threats found their way to St. Patrick’s doorstep, where the Know-Nothings were unhappy that the pastor was allowing racial integrated Masses, said Fr. Curran.

The pastor at that time, Fr. Matthew O’Keefe, received so many threats directed against the Church and himself that police protection was required to stop the intimidation of the Catholics worshiping at the church, according to the locals.  

Despite the threats, however, Fr. O’Keefe did not segregate the Masses. In 1856, the original church building burned down, leaving only three walls standing. Only a wooden crucifix was left unscathed.

More than 150 years later, it is still unclear exactly who or what caused the fire, but since the days following the blaze, parishioners have had their suspicions.

“We don’t know for sure if they were the ones who burned it, but it’s widely believed, it’s a commonly held notion that it’s the Know-Nothings who burnt the Church,” Fr. Curran said.   

Fr. O’Keefe and the parishioners worked hard to rebuild the church, seeking donations from Catholics along the East Coast. A new church building was constructed less than three years after the fire and is still standing today.

After the church was rebuilt, the parish renamed itself in 1858 in honor of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854. It claims to be the first church in the world named for Mary of the Immaculate Conception following the declaration.

In 1889, the Josephites built Saint Joseph's Black Catholic parish to serve the needs of the black Catholic community, and the two parishes operated separately within several blocks of one another. However, in 1961, St. Joseph’s was demolished to make way for new construction, and the two parishes were joined, reintegrating – at least in theory – St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

But the merger was not popular with many of the white parishioners and conflicted with the segregation policies of local government institutions and public life, Fr. Curran said. “St Mary’s became a de facto black parish.”

During this demographic shift, many parishioners of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception had to draw deeply upon their faith. Black Catholics had to be stalwart, facing prejudice from both some white parishioners, who did not view them as fully Catholic, and some black Protestants, who did not support their religious beliefs.

“They were devoted, and still are,” the rector said. “You have to be very devoted to be a Black Catholic.”

This devotion and witness of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception was formally celebrated when, in 1991, Saint Pope John Paul II elevated the 200-year-old church to a minor basilica.

“Your black cultural heritage enriches the Church and makes her witness of universality more complete. In a real way the Church needs you, just as you need the Church, for you are a part of the Church and the Church is part of you,” Pope Saint John Paul II proclaimed at the elevation.

Today, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception plays a vital role not only as the only Catholic basilica in Virginia, but also as an important anchor of the neighborhood. The basilica operates a “robust” set of outreach ministries to local families, including rent assistance and food aid, serving thousands of people.

“The Church standing proudly and beautiful in the midst of the poor is where we need to be,” Fr. Curran said.

He also pointed to the basilica’s history as an example of one way communities can aid churches affected by violence, such as the - such as the half dozen black churches across the South that have burned since late June.

“The reason why we were able to raise so much money so quickly was because there were so many people that were appalled at the burning of St. Patrick’s,” the rector said.

Tragic events like the burning of a church can actually help bring people together in a common cause, he continued.

“It unites people of faith. If people of faith who are appalled by this stand up and assist and let our voices be heard, we can do something wonderful.”

This article was originally published on CNA July 4, 2015.

Archbishop Lori: Like Doubting Thomas, God frees us from fear for mission

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 17:47

Orlando, Fla., Jul 3, 2017 / 03:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An encounter with the Lord frees us from sin and fear, and frees us for mission and evangelization, said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore in his homily at the closing Mass for the USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom.
The July 3 Mass was held during the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, and concluded the U.S. Bishop’s Fortnight for Freedom, a two week period of prayer for religious freedom in the United States.
The Mass was also celebrated on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, also known as “doubting Thomas”, from whom we can learn a lot about freedom, Archbishop Lori said.  
Archbishop Lori started by sharing his own moment of doubting.
When he was about 10 years old, the only working TV set in his house broke, the Archbishop recalled. Forced to live without shows like “I Love Lucy” and Fulton Sheen’s “Life is Worth Living”, he would sneak away to friends’ houses to watch TV.
Then one day, his parents told him they’d won a new TV in a raffle. But he didn’t believe them, he thought they were joking.  
“It was only when the TV was delivered that I believed them,” the Archbishop said.
“Blessed are those who have not seen ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and yet still believe,” he joked.
But in the case of Thomas the Apostle, who didn’t believe the other apostles about the Risen Lord, the “stakes were much higher.”
“Thomas had been with the Lord from the beginning, heard him preach, saw the miracles, enjoyed the Lord’s friendship,” he said. But after Jesus’ crucifixion and death, it must have seemed like the end of the world to Thomas.
“So when the apostles said the Risen Lord had appeared, Thomas thought they were delusional and demanded proof. Thomas got his (proof) as the Lord invited him to touch his wounds, by which we are made whole,” Archbishop Lori said.
This encounter with the Lord set Thomas free for mission, he added. According to Church tradition, Thomas set off to evangelize India, where he didn’t know the language or the culture but he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel.
The theme of the Catholic Convocation is The Joy of the Gospel, after Pope Francis’ encyclical by the same name. Common threads of the convocation have been evangelization, mission and reaching the peripheries.
The theme of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom was “Freedom for Mission”, of which Thomas the Apostle is a good example, Archbishop Lori noted.
“Notice that it was for freedom that the Lord Jesus set Thomas free,” Archbishop Lori said.
“By breathing into Thomas the Holy Spirit, the Risen Lord set Thomas free from the yoke of sin, the Lord set Thomas free from the constraints of unbelief that lock us in a self-contained world of fear, he set thomas free for mission, free to leave everything behind so as to bring the Gospel as a stranger in a strange land,” he said.
“Might you and I need to undergo a process of conversion not unlike that of the Apostle Thomas?” he asked.
This conversion and increase of faith frees us for mission, and allows us to better protect our freedoms, especially our religious freedoms, in a country and a world where they are increasingly threatened, he added.
When we allow the Lord to touch us and free us from sin and fear, “we are free for to engage those who have no faith or have lost their faith, engage those alienated from the Church or who are lukewarm, those who are on the cusp of holiness and vocation and mission themselves,” he said.
As Catholic University of America’s President John Garvey once told a gathering of US Bishops: “If we want to preserve our freedoms, we must love God more.”
“Yes, we must take all the steps necessary to protect our freedom, advocate for those whose freedom has been denied, we must litigate, engage political leaders and one another,” Archbishop Lori added.
“But in the end, nothing will ever be more important than evangelizing, bearing witness, teaching and fulfilling our mission to love.”


As demographics change, how will the US Church respond?

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 22:01

Orlando, Fla., Jul 2, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The rapidly changing realities of the Catholic Church in the U.S. bring a host of challenges and unknowns, but also great opportunities for evangelization and engagement, said experts at a gathering of Catholic leaders.

“The future of U.S. Catholicism is being forged in areas once not central to U.S. Catholic life,” said Dr. Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. “Are we paying attention?”

Dr. Ospino spoke at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” event on July 2 in Orlando, Florida.

He explained to more than 3,500 attendees from parishes and Catholic organizations around the country how the face of the Church in the United States is rapidly changing. In particular, he pointed to the rapid growth throughout the nation, particularly in the South and West of Hispanic communities. He also noted swift growth of other faith communities, particularly Asian Catholic communities and, within some localities, communities of immigrants from Africa. 

These changes have swiftly changed the face of American Catholic life. Fifty years ago, over 80 percent of American Catholics were of European descent. Today, that number is less than 50 percent, with 40 percent of all Catholics claiming Latino heritage, 5 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, 4 percent African-American and 1 percent of Catholics of Native American descent. 

Among Catholics under the age of 30, those numbers are even more diverse.

To address these very shifts in American Catholic life, Catholics should imagine what the future of the Church will look like, Ospino said.

“What kind of community of faith will our children and grandchildren inherit?” he asked, encouraging Catholics in attendance to consider the best stories and guidance the Church can offer. 

Ospino also suggested Catholics reimagine their relationship with the public square. He warned that the ‘culture wars’ which have been a marker of American discourse in recent decades have hampered, in some cases, the Church’s ability to speak effectively to communities on the margins. 

“It has become impossible to speak about anything because one is expected to take an ideological position to make a point,” he commented.

“The Gospel, my friends, is not an ideology, to be a co-opted to advance an ideological position. The Gospel is a message of life and communion,” Ospino said to applause.

Catholics should look for other means of engaging and reaching these growing segments of the Church, and participate in the U.S. Bishops’ National Encuentro program as part of this engagement, he continued.

Dr. Ospino’s talk was followed by a panel discussion, describing the different ways the Church is growing and changing in the United States.

Jesuit Father Thomas P. Gaunt, SJ, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, explained that demographic changes in the United States do not apply just to Latino Catholics, but to all sections of the Church in the United States. He noted that populations of U.S. Catholic life are shifting away from the historic centers in the Northeast to booming job markets in the South and West. In addition, he noted, shifts are impacting African-American and Asian communities.  

Meanwhile, according to CARA’s research, nearly a third of U.S. Catholics are not connected to a local church. While this disparity is a sign for needed improvement, Fr. Gaunt suggested that this gap can also be seen as a resource.

“How do we re-invite and re-engage them once more?” he wondered. 

Kerry Weber, executive editor of America magazine, also pointed to these communities on the peripheries and noted that most of these communities have been engaged in the Church for decades or even centuries. The challenge for Catholic journalists, she said, is to show the diversity of the Church that has always been here. 

Helen Alvare, professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, pointed to the great strides the Church has made both in promoting its view of the human person in the public square and improving her own witness to the living out of respect for the human person in daily life. 

On one hand, she said, “there is an embracing of the role of women in the Church and in the public square,” and embracing of men’s integral role in raising children in the home. Furthermore, “there is a huge emerging consensus that the Church's beautiful way of marriage sex and the family is freeing for all people.” 

However, there have also been challenges. She noted that in the past several decades, challenges to the family have been a major contributor to social inequality. In addition, she said, the Church has experienced “profound losses of ideas” and understanding of teaching. 

She urged participants not to be afraid to share the Church’s message and vision for the human person – even as it confronts the messages and priorities of the secular world.  

“Since when has the Church's message anywhere not been scandalizing to the world?” she remarked.

At the same time, however, Catholics should articulate the fullness and meaning of the faith, and not rely purely on constitutional and legal arguments.  “We have to tell them what we're going to use our religious liberty for,” she insisted.  

Franciscan Father Agustino Torres, CFR, works extensively with Latino youth in New York City and explained that Latino youth – one of the largest growing populations of Catholics in the United States, “don't want just a program,” but an example of the Church’s message. He pointed to the Church’s teaching on love and sexuality as a concrete example of doctrine that youth can apply to their lives, finding Christ in the process. 

“It makes the Church relevant to young people,” Fr. Torres said.  

Daniel Owens, who spoke with his wife Melanie on the powerful encounter of love provided in the Church’s message of chastity, echoed Fr. Torres’ insights, saying that he sees a “real opportunity” in sharing the message of the Gospel, and added that the Theology of the Body has the unique ability to speak to the questions many youth face today.

Outside of any specific program or message, however, Fr. Torres stressed the importance of encounter, particularly when reaching out to young people. Within many cultures, particularly Latino youth, young people feel torn between different cultures and identities asking for their attention. 

“If the Church were to say 'you belong here, this is your home,’ you're going to get an army of missionary disciples,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan: Joy is at the heart of evangelization

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 12:22

Orlando, Fla., Jul 2, 2017 / 10:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Church continues its mission of forming disciples in the 21st century, a key component must be a witness of joy, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

“People may claim that they do not want faith, hope, or love. Rare is the person who does not crave joy,” the New York cardinal said July 1.

Cardinal Dolan was the homilist at the opening Mass for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando.

The unprecedented convocation gathered bishops, priests, consecrated religious, diocesan leaders, and representatives from Catholic ministries, parishes, and organizations. The event drew some 4,000 participants, including members of 155 dioceses and roughly 200 Catholic organizations, and 160 bishops. 

Cardinal Dolan reflected on the convocation as a time to acknowledge Christ, and recognize how he “calls us to discipleship, summons us to unity, imparts to us joy, and sends us on mission.”

He pointed to Mary as “a model of discipleship, unity, joy, and mission.”

In the account of the Visitation, he recalled, Mary “has just been told by the Archangel Gabriel that she is to be the mother of our Savior. She is thus the first disciple, attentive to God’s word, open to Jesus; she is eager for unity, closeness with her kin St. Elizabeth; she goes on a mission to tell another the glad tidings of the Lord’s imminent arrival; she and Elizabeth, as well as the two babies in their wombs, Jesus and St. John the Baptist, leap for joy.”

And it is this joy, properly understood, that will attract people to the message of the Gospel, the cardinal continued. 

True joy is not merely pleasure, giddiness, or “some syrupy, superficial feel-goodness,” but rather, as St. Paul teaches, a gift of the Holy Spirit.

“How we are tempted to concentrate on problems, worries, bad news, scandals, darkness in the Church. Lord knows we can’t ignore them, but neither can we be dominated by them. We cannot become, in the folksy term of Pope Francis, ‘a Church of sourpusses’.”

Cardinal Dolan noted that the theme of the convention, pulled from the title of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, is “The Joy of the Gospel.”

“In that teaching, the Holy Father proposes that discipleship united for mission will be characterized by and effective only with joy.”

The bishops agree that “a renewal of joy is essential for a deepening of Catholic vitality and confidence today,” he stressed.

Man plows over 10 Commandments monument in Arkansas

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 19:51

Little Rock, Ark., Jun 30, 2017 / 05:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When Moses smashed the stone tablets in Exodus 32, out of rage for the sins of his people, he used his bare hands.

But maybe a car would have made the task easier?

Michael Tate Reed, 32, yelled “Freedom!” as he plowed his car into a statue of the 10 Commandments placed outside the state capitol of Arkansas early in the morning of June 28, demolishing it.

The privately-funded monument, the product of a years-long heated debate about its constitutionality, had been up for fewer than 24 hours when Reed filmed himself destroying it.

Reed posted the video to his personal Facebook, where he also self-identifies as a born-again Christian and “Pentecostal Jesus Freak.”

Reed was caught in the act by an on-patrol police officer at the capitol and is being held in the Pulaski County Detention Center on charges of defacing an object of public interest, criminal trespassing and first degree criminal mischief, according to authorities.

It is his second alleged 10-Commandment-smashing offense.

Oklahoma authorities confirmed to The Associated Press that Reed is the same man who was arrested in October 2014 for destroying Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol with his car.

At that time, Reed self-identified as a Satanist and said that Satan had told him to smash the monument. He was charged with destruction of state property or improvements, indecent exposure, making threatening statements, reckless driving, and operating a vehicle with a revoked license in 2014.

In 2015, Reed wrote an apology for the act that published in a local Oklahoma paper, saying he was sorry and that he had had a psychotic break that drove him to destroy the monument.

"I am so sorry that this [is] all happening and I wished I could take it all back," Reed said in a letter to Tulsa World.

Arkansas state Senator Jason Rapert, who pushed for the monument’s construction, told local media that the incident could be a call to consider the state of mental health care in Arkansas, but that it has not yet been a proven defense for Reed’s most recent act.

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson tweeted that “resorting to property destruction is never the answer to a policy disagreement”.

The American Civil Liberties Union had opposed the building of the Arkansas monument as well as other 10 Commandments monuments at state capitols around the United States. Its construction was also opposed by the Freethinkers Society and the Satanic Temple.

After the destruction of Arkansas’ monument, the ACLU has said that they “strongly condemn any illegal act of destruction or vandalism.”

“The ACLU remains committed to seeing this unconstitutional monument struck down by the courts and safely removed through legal means,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar said.

Monuments of the 10 Commandments have attracted controversy in the past. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a monument of the 10 Commandments in Texas was constitutional, and other federal courts have been divided on other such monuments.

Rapert said Wednesday during a Facebook live news conference that he intended to have the Arkansas monument rebuilt.

Is Virginia about to execute a man with a serious mental illness?

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 18:01

Richmond, Va., Jun 30, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- William Morva is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on July 6.

He has been convicted of murdering an unarmed security guard and a sheriff’s deputy at age 24, while trying to escape jail, where he had been charged with attempted robbery.

However, a court-appointed forensic psychiatrist who examined Morva concluded that he suffered from delusion disorder, and was impaired by the illness at the time of the crime.

Morva’s attorneys claim that had experienced persistent delusions in the past but had not received any mental health treatment in prison.

Fearing that he might die of a perceived gastrointestinal problem because of the deliberate negligence of the guards, and that the prison would not be held accountable for it, Morva, they say, decided to escape and shot the security guard and deputy out of a delusional fear for his life.

The scheduled execution is the latest in a series of controversial death penalty cases involving inmates who are arguably mentally ill or intellectually disabled, and whose mental disorders could well have impaired their reasoning at the time of their crimes.

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in Moore v. Texas that the standards of Texas for evaluating the mental condition of inmates did not meet the standards set in previous Court decisions Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. States’ standards for determining one’s intellectual disability – and thus one’s eligibility for the death penalty – must meet the medical community’s consensus standards.

However, many states still execute inmates with severe mental illness. Many groups, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the American Bar Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, have advocated for barring death sentences for persons who have been ruled by a psychologist to have been severely mentally ill at the time of their crime.

In Morva’s case, his lawyers claim he had suffered from delusional disorder that had gotten worse since he dropped out of high school in his senior year and his family moved across the state to Richmond.

He was evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist, Donna Maddox, M.D., who read statements from scores of witnesses who testified to his erratic and delusional behavior. Maddox reviewed his medical records and visited Morva in person.

She concluded that he was indeed suffering from a chronic psychotic disorder at the time of his crimes, and probably had been suffering from the illness several years prior.

After Morva’s family moved to Richmond, he remained in the town of Blacksburg after his time in high school and was “a bit of a vagabond,” Robert Lee of the Virginia Capital Resource Center, which represented Morva after he received a death sentence, told CNA.

While Morva’s high school classmates admitted he was a little odd, they hadn’t seen any serious signs of delusional behavior. However, that reportedly began to change as he walked around town barefoot and slept at the houses of various friends, Lee said.

Thinking that he suffered from a severe gastrointestinal problem, Morva ate raw meat, lots of cheese, berries, and pine cones. As his fluid living situation and poor health management continued, his mental condition deteriorated.

He thought he was destined to be a leader of indigenous tribes in North and South America, and he later believed that the authorities, especially members of the Bush administration, were trying to thwart his grand plan.

In 2005, Morva planned to rob a convenience store with other partners, wearing masks and carrying firearms. They left the storefront after finding it closed, but an employee inside spotted the group and called the police, who apprehended the suspects around town.

Charged with attempted robbery, Morva could not leave the Montgomery County Jail in Virginia because his family could not afford to pay the bail.

After hurting his ankle in a fall and being escorted to a hospital by a prison guard for treatment, he knocked the guard unconscious, stole his gun, and shot an unarmed security guard to death on his way out of the hospital. Hiding along a trail in Blacksburg, Va. for 24 hours, Morva was discovered by a Sheriff’s deputy, whom he shot dead with the stolen gun.

He was apprehended afterward, and was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

At his capital trial, mental health experts did give Morva an evaluation, but they relied on the testimony of his high school friends, who had not been regularly in touch with him as a young adult, when he had suffered his worst bouts of delusions.

Even his estranged mother and sister could only provide limited testimony, as they had lived across the state from him with little contact. They did tell experts of the time he showed up to his father’s funeral unkempt, exhibiting some bizarre behavior, and wanting to walk barefoot, Lee noted.

However, the experts ruled that Morva was not suffering from a psychotic disorder, but rather from a personality disorder that was comprised of odd behavior and a poor attitude. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, after which Robert Lee took up Morva’s case.

“They minimized his mental illness,” Lee insisted, saying that Morva’s psychotic disorders are “amenable to treatment” and medications. Nevertheless, according to the court proceedings, his record is that of his 2006 trial when he was determined to have a personality disorder, not his later determination of delusional disorder.

He is scheduled to be executed on July 6, and Catholics are petitioning Governor Terry McAuliffe to grant him clemency.

Furthermore, Morva’s brother Michael was diagnosed by the Virginia Department of Corrections with a delusional mental disorder. He received treatment and medications for the illness, and after six months the department determined he was “clinically improved and stable.” He is currently employed and living with family.  

“This is the case of somebody who is seriously mentally ill,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNA, and “that mental illness precipitated the murder.”

Morva’s case is not the only controversial death penalty news of late. On Wednesday, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ended a federal district court’s halt of Ohio’s execution process by lethal injection.

The three-drug process was to be used in three scheduled executions, one of which is now set for July 26.

Ohio had used a drug combination of midazolam, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride in its lethal injection protocol. A federal district court had put a halt to that process after claims that midazolam, a sedative, was not effective enough in blocking the painful effects of the other drugs that would paralyze the subject and stop a beating heart.

Midazolam has been used in botched executions, like in Oklahoma where Clayton Lockett was seen visibly writhing on the gurney after midazolam and the ensuing drugs were administered to him. He eventually died of a massive heart attack.

While some pointed to the failure of midazolam to protect him from the painful effects of the ensuing drugs, others said that the problem was with a faulty administration of an IV into his vein.

A district court halted Ohio’s three-drug process, and the ruling was upheld by a three-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit. However, that ruling was appealed to the full court, which issued its 8-6 decision on Wednesday allowing the lethal injection protocol to proceed.

Although there was a risk of pain in the execution method, “the Constitution does not guarantee a pain-free execution,” the court stated. The district court will now make a full decision on the use of the drugs. Ohio had used a three-drug protocol before but stopped the practice in 2009 before taking it up again recently.


Why this priest isn't afraid of Christianity's waning influence

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 05:02

New York City, N.Y., Jun 30, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA).- With Catholic proposals to literally head for the hills in response to Christianity's ever-lessening influence in secular culture, the leader of a global ecclesial movement has a provocative statement:

This is actually a great time for the Church.

“As a matter of fact,” says Father Julian Carron, “it is a precious occasion to verify the validity of the Christian proposal.”

Already garnering some notable attention since its release, a new book by Fr. Carron called “Disarming Beauty” takes on the question of the Church's relevance amid modern society's most pressing challenges. From terrorism to consumerism, “rights” culture to marriage and family, the book examines the plight of our current world and invites Christians to respond – not from a place of fear, but from the joy of their original encounter with the living person of Christ.

“The fact that the Church is no longer a moral majority is liberating; it allows us to rediscover the heart of the Christian event,” he told CNA. “The Church will survive and thrive only through Her witness.”

Fr. Carron heads Communion and Liberation, which originated in the 1950s with Italian priest Msgr. Luigi Giussani. The international movement focuses on the actualization of man's faith by living the Christian presence within community.

Please read below for our full interview with Fr. Carron:

Why 'Disarming Beauty'? What does the title mean to you?

The book speaks of the beauty of Christian faith, of its power and its attraction. When God takes on flesh, He strips Himself of His own power, entering into the history and poverty of the human condition, revealing to everyone the truth of His power. This is how Christianity, the greatest revolution of all time, began. Christ is the exemplar of a way of communicating truth that needs no other means beyond the beauty of truth itself. The book speaks primarily of this beauty, which is not just an aesthetic or sentimental one. Like all beautiful things, Christianity needs no other defense, other then its own beauty, to be communicated. With the expression “disarming beauty” I wanted to say: “We Christians, do we believe in the fascination that the disarming beauty of the faith can exercise?” With the phrase “disarming beauty,” I propose a Christian presence that would be sufficiently attractive so as to make life more interesting for everyone.

What exactly does beauty “disarm” us of? How does it do that?

Beauty disarms us from our narrow way of looking at ourselves and at reality; it opens our minds and our eyes to the totality of reality, of the real. The attractiveness of beauty moves us affectively, so much so that it allows reason to become truly opened to all the factors of reality. We discover this openness in Christ’s gaze on reality; we are surprised by the way Jesus looks at the publicans, at Zacchaeus or Matthew, or at the crowd. How is his gaze different from the one of the Pharisees, which reduces the person to his ability or his ethical performance? Jesus' gaze at Zacchaeus helps him discover himself, awakening his self-awareness, something none of the Pharisees’ reproaches could do. We can say the same about the Samaritan woman, or the tenth leper. We understand the shock that His presence provoked: “We never saw anything like this.”

What do you perceive as the single greatest threat in modern society?

I think it is feeling adrift, destabilized, alone, and uncertain. Most propose to fight these emotions with walls, or changes in the system at the institutional level (as depicted by T.S. Eliot). Men and women today wait for, perhaps unconsciously, the experience of an encounter with people for whom life is “solid” in the midst of change. What will wake people up today is a human impact, an event that echoes the initial event that occurred when Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. I want to stay at your house today.” I believe that the present era is a great opportunity to witness to the disarming beauty of Christianity, and to verify the fascination of the Christian event, which does not require a context to protect it.

Why is education so important? Why do you say it's the greatest challenge the Church faces?

We see so many students and teachers passive, skeptical, and even bored. Since we don't know what to do, we manage the symptoms. Yet, we must face the challenge. The challenge for the educator is to reawaken desire, to experience the restlessness which St. Augustine speaks about. To do so, we must introduce students to a relationship with reality in its totality, with all of its beauty and meaning.

For this reason, it is necessary to put the person at the center, to teach students to look at the world with their own eyes, to think with their own heads, thus developing a critical spirit that makes their “I” more of a protagonist and less a spectator, more a leader and less a follower, more a citizen and less a subject.

This dynamic is only possible when a teacher is a witness to this relationship with reality, not as one who imposes herself or her way of seeing things upon others, in an authoritarian way, but someone who challenges the other by her own way of living.

What changes must the Church make not only to survive, but thrive in today's modern culture?

Christians are faced with an unprecedented challenge. Yet, we are not afraid of wide-ranging dialogue, without any privileges. As a matter of fact, it is a precious occasion to verify the validity of the Christian proposal. The fact that the Church is no longer a moral majority is liberating; it allows us to rediscover the heart of the Christian event. The Church will survive and thrive only through Her witness.

Arguably, though, there are a lot of Catholics who do not find it “liberating” that the Church is no longer the moral majority. Many are actually afraid of this phenomenon, and feel as though Catholics either have to isolate from culture or hold even more tightly to the tenets of Christianity as an increasingly extreme counter-witness. What do you say to this?

That the Church is no longer the moral majority is a fact. It's useless to complain. The fact that many Catholics are afraid of this situation shows the lack of certainty in the unarmed beauty of faith, causing them to either isolate themselves from the culture to 'preserve' the faith, or to see their presence in society as a counter-reaction. To describe what kind of presence is needed today, this observation may be useful:

When we have to defend something in the context of a debate, in order to make our response stronger, we almost unconsciously accept the way the other frames the issue. In doing so, we allow our position to be determined by its opposition. It is reactive instead of being an original position, that is, a position that comes from our experience of faith. This leads to further reducing Christianity, or its testimony, to the mere repetition of a doctrine, of some values or ethics. (Disarming Beauty, pp. 70-71).    

Christian faith was born in a pluralistic society in Palestine and spread throughout a multicultural Roman empire. The first Christians based the communication of their faith only in their own witness. Their free and joyful position sprang from the core of their faith, not from fear of the world. “Man today expects, perhaps unconsciously, the experience of an encounter with people for whom the fact of Christ is such a present reality that their life is changed. What will shake up men and women today is a human impact; an event that echoes the initial event, when Jesus raised His eyes and said, 'Zacchaeus, hurry down. I mean to stay at your house today.'” (Luigi Giussani to the Synod on the Laity, 1987).

You reference the malaise of “lethargy and existential boredom.” How do modern men and women regain a sense of wonder and desire in front of their lives? In your view, what is the first step, and what is Church's role in this?

The first step is to encounter somebody who reawakens us from our lethargy and boredom. Regardless of the human situation, something unforeseen is always possible, something unexpected, which makes us regain the sense of ourselves. The Church has a unique possibility to offer a big contribution to the modern situation if she rediscovers the real nature of Christianity as an event, an event that reawakens the person, just as we see in the Gospels.

How do you encounter someone who awakens you? Is there a danger of moral subjectivity, here? Does one just follow anything that attracts?   

You can see this when you meet someone who awakens you in your own experience like when you fall in love with someone. You don’t need anybody else assuring you that it is that particular person who has awakened you from your apathy, or your meaningless life. It's something objective, something that comes out of you. We can use the same method looking at the origin of Christian faith. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger said in 1993: “we can recognize only something that raises a correspondence in us.” Anybody can recognize Christ “because he corresponds to the nature of man…the longing for the infinite which is alive and unquenchable within man.” In the opening lines of Deus Caritas Est, he brought this to everyone's attention: “Being Christian is not an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The person of Jesus is such a great and precious good, as He alone fully corresponds to the human thirst for happiness. And, the exceptional correspondence He brings about in those who meet him makes them capable of being in relationship with reality in an absolutely gratuitous way.

You speak of dialogue in the book a lot. How is this possible and why is it essential?

Dialogue is crucial because it is the possibility for a person to enter into a relationship with the other's experience. Sharing our own experiences with others, welcoming the experiences of others, is the only way to enrich our life.

Freedom in dialogue comes from the esteem one has for the experience of the other. This esteem permits one to enter into relationship with the richness of the experience of another person – in order to enrich one's own perspective. We can say with Terence: “Nothing human is foreign to us.” And when one has this certainty, he or she has no problem entering into a dialogue.

Why is it important for Christians to defend religious freedom?

Because of the relationship between truth and freedom. The Second Vatican Council enables us see that there is no other way to communicate truth than through freedom. Reason is the nature of truth, and truth needs only its own beauty to communicate itself. “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth.”

Christian faith requires the use of reason and freedom. Without these two, Christianity isn't the least bit interesting. Today, therefore, only in a free environment will Christian faith be able to interest people, because for modern men and women (and in this the Enlightenment has played a foundational role), there is no greater good than freedom. No one today would think of proposing or imposing something that goes against freedom.

With the collapse of what was at one time evident (family, marriage, work, relative peace in our cities), where do we begin again?

The same way they did 2000 years ago, with a witness. Jesus introduced such a newness in history that people who met Him remained speechless, even to the point to saying: “We have never have seen anything like it.” There is no way to challenge human reason and freedom other then a life – the more fascinating life of a witness. People need to see and touch again, in a tangible way, the values that today are in crisis.

How graduates can thrive, according to one Catholic entrepreneur

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 02:14

Atlanta, Ga., Jun 30, 2017 / 12:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new book by entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank J. Hanna goes beyond the cliché advice often offered to college students, in an effort to help them focus on the things that really matter for true success in life.  

Hanna, the CEO of Hanna Capital, is the author of the newly-released book, "A Graduate's Guide to Life: Three Things They Don't Teach You in College That Could Make All the Difference."

In addition to his success as a merchant banker, Hanna is known for his philanthropy, particularly his commitment to Catholic education and evangelization. He is an EWTN board member. CNA is part of the EWTN family.

Amazon describes the newly-released book by saying, “The college years are often referred to as the best years of your life. Author Frank J. Hanna believes your best years are still ahead of you, but only if you have a strategy for living that goes beyond what you learned in school.”

“According to Hanna, wealth and success are not what you think. Drawing on a lifetime of business experience, he proposes a radically different approach. He shows that wealth is not merely money, competition has a higher purpose than simply getting ahead, and a life of happiness is simpler to attain than we imagine.”

CNA interviewed Hanna about his new book, his inspiration in writing it, and the advice he would offer college students today. The text of the interview is below:

You state in your book to young college students that “I want to change how you think about your future.” Why?

Unfortunately, we now live in a world of immediacy. This means that much of the advice we give to young people is catchy, and fits into a tweet or Facebook post, but at best it is often shallow, and at its worst, it is often wrong. Most college students have been filled with this kind of thinking for most of their lives, and so they are not thinking about their future in the manner most likely to lead to success.

You have a problem with the usual comment that college will be “the best years of your life”...

This is one of the clichés that happens to be bad advice. We want to encourage young people, as they head off to college; however, when we tell them that the next four years are going to be the best four years of their lives, we send two faulty messages. First, we imply that after college, the next fifty years are all downhill. And secondly, we put pressure on them while they are in college to try to live in a risky, extraordinary fashion – if these are the best four years of their lives, shouldn’t they be doing extraordinary things every day? This sort of adrenaline-seeking FOMO approach to life is not the way to happiness.

Why did you feel the need to describe human competition as opposed to animal competition?

All mammals compete for food, water, and mates. Humans do too. But if humans do not infuse their competition with love and prudence, they act like animals. If they compete like humans, they can bring out the best in one another.  

How are hope and meaningful community connected to wealth in life?

For many years, I have studied wealth in business, and happiness trends among really wealthy people. I found that the common denominator for wealth in business was hopefulness in the future, and I found that the common denominator for happiness among rich people was not how much money they had, but whether they had good relationships with others, and hopefulness about the future of those relationships. I dive into more of the background of this issue in the book, and how to develop these sources of wealth, but these are the factors that the data shows produce well-being, which is actually the essence of wealth.

Could you comment on the current education system and why it inspired you to write this book?

I think our current education system, especially higher education, does a pretty good job of transmitting information. College and high school graduates today have more information than their parents or grandparents had. However, our colleges sometimes mistake information for knowledge, and so students may not have as much knowledge as they ought. Moving even beyond knowledge, it is wisdom that leads to human flourishing. But because wisdom is so often tied to questions related to transcendence, many of our colleges not only fail to impart wisdom – some of them even deny its existence, for to acknowledge wisdom is to acknowledge truth, and in a culture of relativism, many do not want to, or are afraid to, acknowledge absolute truth.  


New Mexico bishop takes charge in fighting sex abuse, healing wounds

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 16:06

Gallup, N.M., Jun 29, 2017 / 02:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico added three names earlier this year to its list of workers against whom there are credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, as part of the diocesan commitment to transparency and youth protection.

The local Church is also holding healing services in many of its parishes across New Mexico and Arizona, in which Bishop James Wall listens to and prays with any who wish to do so, as they seek healing from sexual abuse.

The three new names on the list of credibly accused are Brother Mark Schornack, OFM, who served at parishes in the Gallup diocese between 1952 and 1984, and who is now deceased; Fr. Ephraim Beltramea, OFM, who served at St. Francis parish in Gallup from 1970 to 1973; and Fr. Diego Mazon, OFM, who served in parishes of the diocese between 1977 and 2003.

Emails sent by CNA to representatives of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Province of the Order of Friars Minor inquiring about Fr. Beltramea and Fr. Mazon were not acknowledged.

Bishop Wall spoke to CNA recently about the Diocese of Gallup's efforts at child protection, the need to find healing, and the central role that transparency plays in the life of the Church.

“We use transparency so much as a buzzword,” he reflected. “I think transparency's important because all things must be brought into the light; things shouldn't remain in the darkness.”

“In the past I think we've learned from some our mistakes, and some of that had to do with shielding those who committed abuses, or sometimes maybe turning a blind eye, or allowing people to remain in ministry – and I don't think that's a good practice, because that doesn't really protect young people, vulnerable adults. It doesn't allow for them to have a safe place to encounter the living Christ.”

Transparency means “showing our policies, our procedures, what we're doing,” he said, so that “everything is brought into the light, so there's nothing that's hidden.”

April's inclusion of three new names brings the list of those who have worked in the Gallup diocese who have been deemed by the diocese to have credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor against them to a total of 34.

Most of them (21) were diocesan priests. Another 11 were priests or brothers of religious communities, including the Order of Friars Minor, the Claretians, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, and the Crosier Fathers. There was also one seminarian and one lay CCD teacher.

Some two-thirds of the credibly accused (22) are deceased.

Bishop Wall explained that when the diocese receives an allegation of sex abuse of a minor, it undertakes an investigation, or has an outside investigator look into it. The investigator brings its findings to a review board, which makes recommendations to the diocese.

“Through that process, if we discover that the allegation is credible, then we will post that name on the diocesan website, as well as let the parishes where this person has served know.”

He added that the investigation is done because “we always have to make sure that we're protecting everyone's rights involved in this, being sensitive to everyone: the person bringing the accusation forward, as well as the accused,” noting that “the legal system is innocent until proven guilty.”

If the credibly accused person is a cleric, “immediately their faculties are withdrawn and they're informed that they are not to function or present themselves as a cleric in the Church.”

The bishop added that their case can be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where they can be assessed various penalties, such as dismissal from the clerical state.

When the credibly accused person is a member of a religious community, “the expectation is that (their community) take the lead,” Bishop Wall explained, though the diocese does work closely with the religious community throughout the process.

The Gallup diocese's list of credibly accused was first made in December 2014, and its recent update reflects the fact that “sometimes we don't have enough information on a particular case; we might not have enough information to investigate it, and then deem it credible.”

“If at a later date more information does come to us, so that we are able to investigate it, and then we are able to deem it credible, then we immediately put it on our list of credibly accused,” the bishop said. “So it all has to deal with the information that we have.”

The diocese's list reflects any local Church workers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor, whether while they were in ministry in Gallup or in another diocese. It also shows when and where they ministered within the diocese, whether or not the alleged abuse was carried out at those times and places.

Those who have been credibly accused were in ministry between the 1930s and the 2010s. There was a sharp rise of those in ministry in the 1950s, with a peak in the 1960s. Many of the credibly accused were also in ministry in the 1970s and '80s. The numbers fell in the 1990s and 2000s.

There was a sole case since Bishop Wall was named Bishop of Gallup in 2009: Fr. Timothy Conlon, a member of the Crosier Fathers. He served in two Arizona parishes from 2011 to 2013 before the diocese was informed by his religious community of an allegation of sexual abuse against him.

The bishop said the Church is now “really in the forefront of making sure that we provide a safe environment for our young people, and vulnerable adults as well,” with its screening of potential ministers leadings its efforts.

He cited the use of psychological screening and testing, and the fact that “our interview process is much, much more extensive than it was” in past times. Moreover, the Gallup diocese trains its volunteers, employees, students and clerics in child safety, and has a mandatory background check.

“We try to put in as many safety procedures as possible,” he said.

Reflecting on the spike of credibly accused clerics in the 1950s and '60s, Bishop Wall said that while there were a number of contributing factors, he believes that chief among them was the sexual revolution and “the groundwork [which] was already being laid prior to that.”

“But then again, these were bad people who did bad things to people; and these people should never have been placed in the positions to violate the trust, to violate these young people.”

In response to the crisis of sexual abuse, the Diocese of Gallup has also held healing services in parishes across its territory, in which Bishop Wall listens to and prays with survivors of sexual abuse, regardless of who their abuser was.

“It provides an opportunity not only to come together to pray, to pray for healing, but also gives an opportunity for anyone, and I stress that – anyone – who is a survivor of sexual abuse to meet with me,” the bishop explained.

“So we could have someone who is a survivor of sexual abuse by a worker of the Church, or someone who's a survivor of sexual abuse not by a worker of the Church, it could be family or friends, whatever the case might be … that's what the Church is about, it's what our ministry is about: offering the healing of Christ, so we provide that opportunity as well.”

Communities across the diocese have responded differently to the healing services, which began in November 2016.

In some places, Bishop Wall said, there is “a pretty good sized group that comes, and people who will want to meet with me individually afterwards; some people will bring family members in with them, they feel a little more comfortable, and some people just come to pray – you don't have to be a survivor of sexual abuse to come and pray.”

Healing services are scheduled at different communities in the diocese through March 2018.

While acknowledging that “it is difficult,” Bishop Wall also affirmed that “I think it's necessary, and it's a good thing, to allow people to come and sit and talk, and kind of, really unload their burden. Especially for someone who was abused by a worker of the Church, I think it's important for the bishop, who's the shepherd of the diocese, to sit with the person, to talk with the person, pray with them, apologize. I think that's one of the most important things were able to do in this.”

“These healing services, difficult though they are, provide a great opportunity for survivors of sexual abuse, whether at the hands of workers of the Church or someone else … to come before the Lord and find healing in the Lord,” the bishop concluded.

Survivors of sexual abuse are also afforded an opportunity “to pray, too, and also I think to realize they're not alone, because I think many times if someone is a survivor of sexual abuse, sometimes they feel like they're alone. And I think coming together with others, and the Church welcoming and inviting them to come together, it lets them feel that they're not alone, they're not isolated, there are people that are there for them, the Church is there for them.”


Fr. James Martin's LGBT book: Where it's strong, where it falls short

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 15:10

Washington D.C., Jun 29, 2017 / 01:10 pm (CNA).- There’s been a lot of chatter about Fr. James Martin’s new book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” and given the topic, it’s understandable why. Pope Francis’ call to “encounter” has reinforced the necessity for Catholics to go bring the Gospel to those on the margins. Within American society at large, one of the most visible minorities on the margins are those who experience same-sex attractions or identify as LGBT, and ministry to this community has been of special concern among faithful Catholics in recent years. At the same time, both communities have borne legitimate struggles, as the Church faces pressures to choose between its teachings and public service, and those who identify as LGBT – including celibate Catholics who abide by Church teaching – have for years faced violence, ridicule and discrimination for their attractions.

The book contains many good and practical explanations for why conversations between these groups can come to a standstill. Fr. Martin points out how the scandal of the sex abuse crisis or mistreatment by persons in the Church can make it difficult for members of the LGBT community to listen to the Church’s guidance. Additionally, he explains to members of the LGBT community why it’s important to respect the teaching authority of the Church. Advice like this is clarifying and can help facilitate conversations with more patience and understanding. The book closes with a series of prayers and spiritual reflections, some of which provide a welcome antidote to the Pelagian poisons of our time: Fr. Martin rightfully reinforces God’s love for all his children in a world that places terms and conditions upon our human dignity and worth.

Yes, all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God and face the consequences of our actions. But all of us are created in the image and likeness of God; it is not our action or inaction, but God’s grace, which secures our salvation. I can only hope that these reflections provide spiritual fruit for all of the book’s readers who feel rejected, neglected, hurt, or who think their deeds somehow have rendered them unworthy of God’s love, particularly readers who experience same-sex attraction or identify as part of the LGBT community.

However, there were other aspects of the book that were troubling.  

Most of all, I was confused by the book’s avoidance of the Church’s teaching on the Sacrament of marriage, as well as the importance of the gifts of celibacy and chastity for the life of the Church. Likewise, I was baffled by Fr. Martin’s reluctance to acknowledge Catholics who experience same-sex attraction who live in obedience to Church teaching – either through celibacy or in sacramental marriages to persons of the opposite sex. If the purpose of the book is to build a bridge between the Church and the broader LGBT community, why skip over the perspective of those at the crossroads of living a Catholic life and experiencing same-sex attraction?

Eve Tushnet, an author, pro-life activist and Catholic who identifies as a lesbian spoke to similar frustrations, particularly the book’s avoidance of sexual ethics, in her review of Fr. Martin’s book for the Washington Post. “The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.”  

Tushnet later continues: “In a culture where everything from pop songs to health insurance urges us to structure our lives around romance and marriage, gay Christians have a chance – or a duty – to show that you can make a life of devotion, joy and mutual sacrifice within celibacy. And straight Christians have a chance not only to live the models we’ve shown them, following the paths we’ve blazed, but to support us when our callings to non-marital love leave us economically or emotionally vulnerable.”

Given the topic, it seemed jarringly incomplete to be denied even a reference to the call of Tushnet and other LGBT Christians trying to live in accord with Church teaching.

After reading, I also found myself wondering about the definitions Fr. Martin lays out, particularly those surrounding identity.

While certainly respect and sensitivity are necessary for any difficult conversation, I can’t help but wonder if Fr. Martin’s fixation on identity as LGBT overlooks Catholics who experience same-sex attraction but do not wish to identify as such. For instance, members of groups such as Courage share experiences of same-sex attraction, yet many choose not to identify as “gay” or “lesbian.” Furthermore, even within the LGBT community, those labels of “gay” and “lesbian” are falling out of use among the Millennial generation, with the terms like “queer” taking their place. If this book is to help bridge an understanding, why limit this conversation to their exclusion?

On top of that, all of these sexual identities – including that of “straight” – are very recent social constructions. This isn’t to say that identities don’t reflect on how we are shaped and encounter the world, or that they cannot be an effective shorthand for describing one’s background or community. Yet, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote while he was still Joseph Ratzinger, “the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation” (or any other temporal identity). While we might claim a given identity – Gentile, Jew, Gay, Straight – they aren’t essential to who we are as children of God, nor should they limit us in doing what the Church, our Mother, asks of us.

Sadly, this point of Church teaching and historical understanding doesn’t come across clearly in Fr. Martin’s book. In one section, Fr. Martin rightly points to the hypocritical “acceptance” of some other groups who publicly disobey Church teaching such as known usurers or those in cohabiting relationships. However, he doesn’t merely call for consistency, but for consistency in acceptance of these forms of public sin. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but most of all because it seems to despair of God’s grace and sells short Christ’s call for all of us to live lives of virtue.

Overall, there are some useful insights in the Building a Bridge’s prayers and descriptions of where many conversations on this topic come to a standstill. And, the book may be a useful tool for a well-formed Catholic who wants a better insight into the LGBT experience, or for a member of that community who wants to understand a neighborhood priest's perspective. However, bridge-building is a difficult task. Hopefully the fruits of this book will prove to be a solid plank, but there is clearly a need for other resources, materials and direction to make up for what is lacking in this book as we seek to span these waters.



Enforcement is key in fight against human trafficking, report says

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 18:51

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2017 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With an estimated 20 million victims of human trafficking today, all governments must step up their enforcement efforts, a new report by the State Department insists.

“We are all confronted with a choice: Do nothing or do something,” Ambassador Susan Coppedge of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said Tuesday at a press conference launching the 2017 Trafficking in Persons report.

“When it comes to human trafficking, everyone has a role to play and an obligation to act,” she added. “We must choose to do something to end modern slavery.”

The annual Trafficking in Persons report was released by the State Department on Wednesday, over 400 pages in length and detailing the state of human trafficking around the world.

There are an estimated 20 million persons being trafficked today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted on Tuesday at the launch of the report. This number includes children. Trafficking takes many forms, including sex slavery, debt bondage, forced marriage, and involuntary servitude.

“Human trafficking is as old as humankind. Regrettably, it’s been with us for centuries and centuries,” Secretary Tillerson stated. However, he added, “it is our hope that the 21st century will be the last century of human trafficking, and that’s what we are all committed to.”

Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump and senior advisor to the president, was present at the launch of the TIP report on Tuesday. “On a personal level, as a mother, this is much more than a policy priority. It is a clarion call to action in defense of the vulnerable, the abused, and the exploited,” she said.

“Last month, while in Rome, I had an opportunity to talk firsthand with human trafficking survivors,” she said, recalling her meeting with trafficking victims at the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome after President Trump met with Pope Francis on May 24.

“They told me their harrowing stories, how they were trapped in this ugly, dark web, how they survived, how they escaped, and how they are very slowly reconstructing their lives,” she said.

Pope Francis, during a November audience with RENATE, a network of European religious who fight trafficking and exploitation, emphasized that “much more needs to be done on the level of raising public consciousness and effecting a better coordination of efforts by governments, the judiciary, law enforcement officials and social workers.”

The TIP report is required to be compiled and released annually by the State Department to document how foreign governments are “prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime.” It was mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, of which Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the House global human rights subcommittee, was the prime author.

The 2000 law also set up a tier ranking system for foreign countries based on their commitment and success in fighting human trafficking. Tier 1 countries are those that are abiding by “the minimum standards” of fighting trafficking, which were set by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

Meanwhile, Tier 2 countries do not meet those minimum standards “but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards,” the TIP report explained. A Tier 2 Watch List is for countries with more serious trafficking problems which are nonetheless making sufficient efforts to curb trafficking and meet the minimum standards of the TVPA.

Tier 3 countries are the worst trafficking offenders, because they have been determined to be not even working to meet the minimum standards for fighting trafficking.

To hold these countries accountable for their poor records on trafficking, the U.S. can take actions against these countries as allowed by the TVPA, like withholding non-humanitarian, non-trade related assistance or voting to bar them from loans by the International Monetary Fund.

China was downgraded to Tier 3 status in the most recent report, and Rep. Smith had “high praise” for the administration for recognizing China’s “shameful complicity in sex and labor trafficking.”

“They turn women into commodities for sale,” Smith said of trafficking of women from nearby Burma, Cambodia, and Vietnam for commercial sex or forced marriages in China. Goods made from Chinese slave labor are also in the supply chains of U.S. businesses, he insisted.

During a Tuesday press conference at the State Department, Ambassador Coppedge outlined some other concerns with China’s record on trafficking. According to reports from NGOs, trafficking victims have not been cared for sufficiently.

Rep. Smith stated his desire for the designation to be utilized in the future to push China toward reform of its notorious trafficking record.

“Hopefully, the new tier ranking coupled with robust diplomacy – including the imposition of sanctions authorized under Tier 3 – will lead to systemic reforms that will save women and children’s lives and ensure that Chinese exports are not made with slave labor.”

Also, many North Koreans are also working in China in slavery, with their wages effectively going to the North Korean government, Smith noted.

“The North Korean regime receives hundreds of millions of dollars per year from the fruits of forced labor,” Secretary Tillerson stated on Tuesday. “Responsible nations simply cannot allow this to go on, and we continue to call on any nation that is hosting workers from North Korea in a forced labor arrangement to send those people home.”

Of the 187 countries considered for the tier system, 40 were listed as Tier 1 countries, 80 as Tier 2, 45 were placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, and 23 were designated as Tier 3 countries, Coppedge said. Twenty-one of the countries were downgraded in status in the 2017 report, while 27 countries were upgraded.

Many countries do not prosecute trafficking as they should, Ambassador Coppedge noted, and this leads to greater impunity for traffickers to continue working. This was the theme of the 2017 TIP report, the need for governments to more strongly enforce laws against human trafficking.

“In addition to protecting victims from retribution or re-victimization, an effective criminal justice response brings traffickers to justice both to punish them for their crimes and to deter others,” the report stated.

Yet, at times, governments can be actively colluding with traffickers, Ambassador Coppedge said.

“We still see instances of government officials protecting brothels, taking bribes from traffickers, and obstructing investigations for profit, and while we still see governments criminalize and penalize victims for crimes their traffickers force them to commit,” she said.

“Trafficking in persons is a hidden crime rooted in deception,” she added. “Victims are coerced or intimidated into silence, and they often fear that if they do come forward they will be punished. When governments enact and enforce strong, comprehensive anti-trafficking laws, they send an unmistakable message to criminals: We will not tolerate this.”

The report also quoted Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, as saying that today, “wars and conflicts have become the prime driver of trafficking in persons.”

“They provide an enabling environment for traffickers to operate, as persons fleeing persecutions and conflicts are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked,” the archbishop said. “Conflicts have created conditions for terrorists, armed groups and transnational organized crime networks to thrive in exploiting individuals and populations reduced to extreme vulnerability by persecution and multiple forms of violence.”


Father Solanus Casey beatification set for November

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 13:40

Detroit, Mich., Jun 28, 2017 / 11:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Venerable Solanus Casey, an American-born Capuchin priest who died in 1957 known for his ability as a spiritual counselor, will be beatified at a Nov. 18 Mass in Detroit, the local archdiocese announced Tuesday.

“We are filled with joy at receiving the final date of the beatification of Father Solanus,” Father Michael Sullivan, OFM Cap. and Provincial Minister of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, said June 27. “It is a beautiful way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his passing.”

Venerable Casey was known for his great faith, attention to the sick, and ability as a spiritual counselor.

The beatification Mass will be said at Ford Field in Detroit, which can accommodate as many as 60,000.

Venerable Casey will be the second American-born male to be beatified.

Born Bernard Casey on Nov. 25, 1870, he was the sixth child of 16 born to Irish immigrants in Wisconsin. At age 17 he left home to work at various jobs, including as a lumberjack, a hospital orderly, and a prison guard.

Reevaluating his life after witnessing a drunken sailor brutally stab a woman to death, he decided to act on a call he felt to enter the priesthood. Because of his lack of formal education, however, he struggled in the minor seminary, and was eventually encouraged to become a priest through a religious order rather than through the diocese.

So in 1898 he joined the Capuchin Franciscans in Detroit and after struggling through his studies, in 1904 was ordained a “sacerdos simplex” – a priest who can say Mass, but not publicly preach or hear confessions.

He was very close to the sick and was highly sought-after throughout his life, in part because of the many physical healings attributed to his blessings and intercession. He was also a co-founder of Detroit's Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929.

For 21 years he was porter at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.

He is also known for his fondness for playing the violin and singing, although he had a bad singing voice because of a childhood illness which damaged his vocal chords.

Even in his 70s, Fr. Solanus Casey remained very active, and would even join the younger religious men in a game of tennis or volleyball. He died from erysipelas, a skin disease, on July 31, 1957, at the age of 87.

A miracle attributed to Venerable Casey's intercession was recognized by Pope Francis at a May 4 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

“I’m grateful to hear from the Capuchin friars that the date of the beatification has been finalized,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit stated.

“The beatification of Father Solanus will be a tremendous blessing for the whole community of southeast Michigan, an opportunity for all of us to experience the love of Jesus Christ.”

Senate health care bill 'unacceptable,' bishop says after budget office report

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 08:36

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2017 / 06:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Senate’s health care bill remains “unacceptable,” one U.S. bishop insisted after a non-partisan government office estimated it would result in millions more uninsured.

“This moment cannot pass without comment,” said Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, in response to the scoring of the draft Senate health care bill by the Congressional Budget Office on Monday.  

“As the USCCB has consistently said, the loss of affordable access for millions of people is simply unacceptable,” he said of the office’s estimate that the number of uninsured could increase by 22 million by 2026. “These are real families who need and deserve health care.”  

The Congressional Budget Office released its scoring of the Senate health care bill on Monday, H.R. 1628, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.

The bill eliminates the individual and employer mandates of the Affordable Care Act, replacing the individual mandate with a six-month waiting period for new insurance in non-group plans if one goes without insurance for more than 63 days.

Also, the bill makes it easier for states to waive essential health benefits, or the list of benefits like emergency services and maternity care that was mandatory in health plans under the Affordable Care Act. The elderly can be charged up to five times more than younger persons in their premiums by insurers, as opposed to the limit being three times more than younger people.

The bill could reduce the federal deficit by over $320 billion over 10 years, according to the CBO, largely because of cuts to the rate of increased spending on Medicaid over that time (almost $800 billion in cuts) and cuts in the amount of federal subsidies for health plans.

The Medicaid cuts would take place through “per capita” caps on federal Medicaid funding of states. Thus, the funding in the future would be dependent upon the populations of the states.

An estimated 22 million more people would also be uninsured by 2026, increasing the projected number of uninsured from 28 million to 49 million.

Some of those uninsured would be persons who voluntarily forego having health insurance because of the removal of the individual mandate, which levies heavy fines on those without health insurance.

Instead, the new bill would fine persons with a gap in coverage once they sign up for insurance again, at a rate of 30 percent of their new premium.

In the short-term, this would be the “primary” reason behind the increase in the number of uninsured, the CBO said. However, after several years, other policies could increase the number of uninsured, like the cuts to Medicaid spending and federal subsidies.

For instance, for persons under the age of 65 by the year 2026, Medicaid enrollment would be down 16 percent, the office estimated.

The White House panned the CBO estimates in a statement released on Monday evening.

“The CBO has consistently proven it cannot accurately predict how healthcare legislation will impact insurance coverage,” the White House stated. “In 2013, the CBO estimated that 24 million people would have coverage under Obamacare by 2016.  It was off by an astounding 13 million people – more than half – as less than 11 million were actually covered.”

“To date, we have seen average individual market premiums more than double and insurers across the country opting out of healthcare exchanges,” the White House continued, urging action to be taken to reform health care.

Bishop Dewane, meanwhile, promised to pray for the Senate “to keep the good aspects of current health care proposals, to add missing elements where needed, and to not place our sisters and brothers who struggle every day into so great a peril on so basic a right.”

Last week, the bishop had outlined his serious concerns with the draft legislation. The bill, he said, in some ways made the problems with the House health care bill on health coverage for low-income persons worse.

“It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written,” he said on Thursday. The cuts to Medicaid funding in particular would “wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported,” he insisted.

Bishop Dewane also noted the lack of language protecting “conscience rights” of those in the health care industry from mandates that they perform morally objectionable procedures like abortions or gender-transition surgeries.

He did praise the language protecting tax credits from being used to pay for abortions, but showed caution in warning that the language could very well be removed by the chamber’s parliamentarian because it could be ruled as not pertaining to the budget.

Other parts of the health care bill that the CBO scored included changes to premiums for persons in non-group plans.  

The average premiums for these plans would increase in the short-term, the CBO estimated, but by 2020 would drop to 30 percent lower than the premium estimates under the current health care law.

However, some could still see their health care costs rise because their benefits might be cut and their out-of-pocket health costs could be higher, especially those living in states which choose to waive the essential health benefits.

The marketplaces for non-group health insurance would still be stable in the coming years, the CBO estimated, but in certain areas for “a small fraction of the population,” insurers might not participate in non-group coverage.

This would be because fewer people would sign up for health plans due to fewer available subsidies, or even if the insurers participate in marketplaces, the plans themselves might be more expensive.

When asked on Monday if the White House would take CBO scores into account to the extent that they would go “back to the drawing board” on the bill if necessary, press secretary Sean Spicer answered that the White House would continue its current plan on health care reform.

“We feel very confident with where the bill is,” he stated. “And he [President Donald Trump] is going to continue to listen to senators who have ideas about how to strengthen it. But it's going to follow the same plan as we have.”


Detroit event combines biking, sacred architecture

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 00:08

Detroit, Mich., Jun 27, 2017 / 10:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 250 pilgrims made their way through downtown Detroit visiting different churches on Sunday.

What made this a spectacle? They were all riding along on two wheels.

“I love these architectural gems that were gifts to us from prior generations of the faithful. I love biking, I love bringing people together, I love celebrating our heritage as Detroiters,” said event organizer Danielle Center. “So here we are, the marriage of all these things.”

Center told the Detroit Free Press that she expected about 20 people to show up to the event, named “Holy Rollin’.” She had wanted to put on such a gathering for years, but feared that people would be reluctant to bike downtown Detroit, which has been undergoing a process of depopulation for years.

However, her fears turned out to be groundless: though she had expected 20 bikers to show up, more than ten times as many brought their wheels to downtown.

“To have so many people here is pretty special,” Annie Schunior told the Detroit Free Press.

Bikers stopped at four churches after departing from Center’s workplace, Ste. Anne – St. Aloysius, Sts. Peter and Paul, Old St. Mary, and St. Joseph Oratory. At each, bikers got a taste of the art and history of each building.

“In the Catholic church there is a lot of beautiful art but there are not a lot of opportunities for people to tour and see it,” said Schunior.

Fr. Loren Connell gave the group a tour at St. Aloysius, saying he welcomed the chance to let such a group into the church building.

"It's about hospitality," he told the Detroit Free Press. "We open our doors to street people and visitors and everyone in between."

'Texting suicide' case could impact assisted suicide legislation

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 05:25

Boston, Mass., Jun 27, 2017 / 03:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A case about whether a troubled teenager convinced her depressed boyfriend to commit suicide through her words and text messages may have possible implications for physician-assisted suicide cases.

On June 16, a Massachusetts judge ruled that Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, for words and texts exchanged with her depressed boyfriend Conrad Roy III as he attempted to commit suicide two years ago. Both Carter and Roy were teenagers at the time.

The ruling of manslaughter was decided based on Carter’s words to Roy, mostly in a phone call, urging him to re-enter a truck she knew to be full of carbon dioxide, where he was attempting his suicide. Carter had also sent Roy numerous texts encouraging his suicide and later texted a friend about her phone call with Roy.

In Massachusetts, an involuntary manslaughter charge can be brought when an individual causes the death of another person by engaging in behavior that is considered reckless enough to cause harm.

While some states have laws that criminalize the encouragement of suicide, Massachusetts does not, complicating Carter’s case.

Legal experts wonder whether the case could set new legal precedents when it comes to legalizing assisted suicide.

Daniel Medwed, professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University school of law, told USA Today that the case may set a precedent of criminalizing those who sympathize with someone who expresses a desire for assisted suicide.

“Don’t forget, there’s a still a big societal debate going on about assisted suicide,” he said. “This sort of verdict would imply that anyone being sympathetic to a loved one could be at fault.”

Matthew Segal, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the verdict “is saying that what she did is killing him, that her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon here was her words.”

Anti-assisted suicide groups believe that the case is significant because of the weight it places on outside pressures on already vulnerable people to take their lives, though it remains unclear if the case will set any legal precedent regarding the issue in reality.  

Tim Rosales, a spokesperson for Patient’s Rights Action Fund, told CNA that when it comes to assisted suicide, there are often outside pressures that can influence the person’s decision to end their life.

“Whether it’s the denial of a certain type of treatment, or there is the insinuation by a physician or a family member or someone close to them about the potential of assisted suicide versus (continued care), all of those go into someone’s mindset and decision making,” he said.  

These outside pressures can be particularly strong “when they’re in a vulnerable state, and mental illness as well as physical illness can be one of those things that puts people in a vulnerable state,” Rosales said.  

“I think we have to be exceedingly cautious and that’s one of the big reasons why you have a lot of opposition to something like assisted suicide, because at its very core it is fraught with the possibility for abuse or dangers,” he said.

“I think in (the Carter case) certainly the dynamics surrounding it kind of give us an indication of how vulnerable people can be at times and how influential those close to us are during those vulnerable times.”

John B. Kelly, New England Regional Director of the disability advocacy and anti-assisted suicide group Not Dead Yet, told CNA that he does not believe the Carter case will affect future assisted suicide legislation because the decision drew heavily from a 2002 case, Commonweath v. Levesque.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Levesque, homeless couple Thomas S. Levesque and Julie Ann Barnes were found responsible for the death of six firefighters who ran into a factory building as it burned. Levesque and Barnes had been living in the factory, escaped the fire and failed to report it.

In the Carter case, Judge Lawrence Moniz drew from the case directly in his verdict, saying that “where one's actions create a life-threatening risk to another, there is a duty to take reasonable steps to alleviate the risk. The reckless failure to fulfill this duty can result in a charge of manslaughter.”

“I don’t think that it adds any legal precedent to deciding what are words and what’s coercion (in assisted suicide cases),” Kelly told CNA.

“But I think we can say that words matter, and that this ruling underlines the commonsense notion that we make choices in a context, and that those contexts can be influenced by other people,” he said.

“Assisted suicide proponents argue that an individual makes that choice freely without any impact, but we know that it’s hard to choose...when you’re seen as a burden by those around you and your doctor thinks you would be better off dead, those are influences that would be very difficult for vulnerable people to resist.”




The bishops have spoken up on two very different issues – and now the Supreme Court will, too

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 14:38

Washington D.C., Jun 26, 2017 / 12:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Supreme Court wrapped up its latest term on Monday, it agreed to consider a major religious freedom case, as well as the case of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, this fall.

Both topics have drawn concern from the U.S. bishops, who have urged respect for freedom of conscience and religion in the face of legalized gay marriage, while criticizing the travel ban for abandoning vulnerable refugees in need.  

The court agreed to hear two cases next term which could prove to have major impacts – the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, and the case of Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which involves the rights of a baker to refuse out of conscience to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.

The latter case was relisted 14 times by the Supreme Court, which finally took it up on Monday, reported.

“The issue in this case is a free speech case; whether or not the state of Colorado can coerce a person to write a message through culinary arts that violates his conscience,” said Michael Farris, president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the baker Jack Phillips in the case.

Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo. and has run the shop for over 23 years, explained on Monday how he operates his business in accordance with his religious beliefs.

The shop is “not just a bakery, but a place where I can use my artistic vision and talents to create cakes that communicate just the right message for my clients,” he said. “I gladly welcome and serve everyone that comes into my shop.”

His store is closed on Sundays and he refuses to craft cakes with messages that run contrary to his values, such as anti-American, atheist, or racist messages. He added that “my sincerely-held religious belief that marriage is a sacred relationship between a man and a woman.”

“In 2012, I was stunned when I became the target of a lawsuit relying on sexual orientation gender identity law that offers no exemptions for people of faith,” he said.

After he had declined to make a wedding cake for the same-sex wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission said he had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. The couple was able to obtain a rainbow-themed cake at another shop in the vicinity of Masterpiece.

Phillips said he was barred by the commission from serving any weddings and ended up losing 40 percent of his business, “a crushing loss.” He was also ordered by the commission to enter anti-discrimination re-education, and submit quarterly reports on updating the policies of the business.

Furthermore, Phillips said he began receiving “vile and hateful calls at the shop, including one death threat that was so bad, that I hid my daughter and granddaughter in the back until the police arrived.”

On Monday, after the Supreme Court agreed to take Phillips’ case, lawyers for ADF hoped that the Court would ultimately uphold his free speech rights.

“We’re hopeful that the Court will affirm the basic principle that the government cannot punish artists like Jack for refusing to create art that violates his religious convictions,” said senior counsel Kristin Waggoner.

In an unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court also ruled on Monday that a travel ban on visitors from six majority-Muslim countries may go into partial effect, as the ban awaits a hearing and full consideration by the high court in October.

The court blocked full implementation of the executive order originally released by President Donald Trump in January, saying that the ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”  

Thus, family members, students and employees from the six designated countries who wish to visit, live or work in the United States will be able to do so. Those who lack such ties to the U.S. will be banned under the executive order.

The order in question bars persons from six majority-Muslim countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – from entering the United States for 90 days, and also requires that refugees wait 120 days before entering the country. The executive order also lowers the number of refugees accepted by the United States in FY 2017 to 50,000 – down from the 110,000 person limit and the 85,000 refugees accepted in actuality during FY 2016.

Initially released January 27, the executive order was then revised on March 6 after judicial challenge. The modified version removed Iraq from the list of countries subject to the ban, and also walked back provisions that would have prioritized refugee admissions for persecuted religious minorities.

The bans were challenged by courts in Maryland and Hawaii, who blocked them from taking effect. Those rulings were later upheld by federal appeals courts in Virginia and California, respectively, on grounds that they violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The federal government appealed those rulings to the Supreme Court, asking that the stay be lifted and the ban go into effect until arguments are heard before the Supreme Court later this year.

The Supreme Court’s decision only removes part of the stay on the administration’s executive order, allowing the travel and refugee bans to continue against those with no existing ties to the United States. Many of the plaintiffs in the original cases brought in Hawaii and Maryland had family members, schools or employers based in the U.S.

The executive order has come under harsh criticism by the U.S. Bishops and Catholic refugee experts. Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. bishops' committee on migration, stated that the bishops were “deeply troubled by the human consequences of the revised executive order on refugee admissions and the travel ban,” after the ban’s March revision. “The revised Order still leaves many innocent lives at risk,” he said.

“The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” the bishop said.

“However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering further improvement to that vetting process.”

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for advocacy and government relations at Catholic Relief Services, echoed many of Bishop Vasquez’s sentiments, urging in a March 6 statement that “now is not the time for the world’s leader in refugee resettlement to back down.”

The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference runs one of the nation’s largest refugee resettlement agencies, helping to resettle more than a quarter of all of the refugees admitted to the United States annually.