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Mother of ‘brain dead’ Michigan teen: 'Allow for him to fight'

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 18:56

Detroit, Mich., Nov 1, 2019 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- The mother of a Michigan teenager who was recently declared brain dead is asking for prayers and support, after a judge ordered a hospital to continue life support until a Nov. 7 court hearing on her son’s health status.

"We feel that human life doesn't have an estimable value, and it's invested with the highest dignity by God...To me, it's very important that we allow for him to continue fighting," LaShauna Lowery told CNA in a Nov. 1 interview.

Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan declared Titus Jermaine Cromer Jr., 16, to be brain dead, after two doctors determined that he had suffered “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.”

The hospital had made plans to remove his life support systems on Oct. 28, and Cromer’s family challenged the decision, asking for additional medical opinions on whether he is actually brain dead.

Cromer is a junior at University of Detroit Jesuit High School, a Catholic high school in Detroit, Michigan. He was rushed to the hospital Oct. 17 after suffering cardiac arrest. Upon arrival at the hospital he could not breathe independently or regulate his own blood pressure.

After Cromer received hydration, nutrition, and body temperature regulation, his family’s lawyer says he is showing signs of improvement and can now breathe independently and regulate his own blood pressure.

“There are strong indicia that he is getting better everyday,” the family’s lawyer, Jim Rasor, told The Detroit News.

“He is currently able to breathe for short periods on his own. ...That’s a dramatic improvement from when he came into the hospital.”

Lowery, who is a Baptist went to a Catholic school when she was young told CNA the family's Christian faith is in important part of the whole situation.

"We're Christian, right? What I would say is, in our faith, we believe that when the soul leaves the body is when we're gone. So I think that we need to allow Titus, to allow for his brain to heal."

Lowery said the family has received independent guidance that has suggested that for a brain injury like Titus', it could take between two months and two years for the brain to really see healing.

"Seven days, nine days, right, is not enough time," she said. "So we really want to be able to give a chance for him to allow for his brain to heal, and to allow for him to fight."

She cited 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body."

While also asking for prayers for Titus' recovery, she encouraged any other family that is going through a similar situation to reach out to her with offer support and information.

"I didn't know I had options. I didn't know I had rights. I didn't find out about the patients' rights until it was too late,” she said.

“And so when you're going through a situation like this, you're so overwhelmed by all the information that's being put at you, sometimes it's hard to digest. So I would say any family that's going through this— learn your rights, know you have options, and don't give up."

Michael Vacca, an attorney and head of bioethics for the Catholic healthcare nonprofit Christ Medicus Foundation, urged Beaumont Hospital to defer to the rights of the parents.

“Despite being declared brain dead, a designation that is imprecise and inconsistent, these physical signs in Titus are objective indications of life,” Vacca said Oct. 30.

Louis Brown, Executive Director of the CMF, called for another medical facility to take Titus on as a patient.

“It is unjust that medical institutions are seeking to end life support so quickly against the wishes of the patient’s family and when patients are showing signs of life,” he said Oct. 30.

The family will go to court Nov. 7, when both sides will present their case so Oakland County Circuit Judge Hala Jarbou can decide what will happen going forward.

In the interim, Lowrey said, the family is looking for facilities that will take Titus and offer him care, both in the Detroit metro area and further afield.

Cromer’s case is similar to that of 14-year-old Bobby Reyes, who was rushed to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Michigan last month following a severe asthma attack. Repeat tests in the following days indicated that there was no blood flow or electrical activity in the boy’s brain.

The hospital declared Reyes brain dead and made plans to remove him from life support. Reyes’ family fought the decision but ultimately failed to receive relief from a court, due to a jurisdiction dispute. Reyes was removed from life support on Oct. 15.

The hospital said in a statement, “Continuing medical interventions was inappropriate after Bobby had suffered brain death and violates the professional integrity of Michigan Medicine’s clinicians.” Michigan law recognizes an individual as dead if they have undergone “irreversible cessation of all function of the entire brain, including the brain stem.”

The two Michigan cases have drawn renewed attention to the diagnosis of brain death and sparked concerns over parental rights in cases where family members question a diagnosis.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) maintains that cases of improvement over the course of months or years generally indicate an incorrect diagnosis of brain death in the first place.

“Stories of people continuing on a ventilator for months or years after being declared brain dead typically indicate a failure to apply the tests and criteria for determination of brain death with proper attentiveness and rigor,” said Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the center, in a 2005 information sheet.

“In other words, somebody is likely to have cut some corners in carrying out the testing and diagnosis.”

In Cromer’s case, the family believes their teenage son has been misdiagnosed. Their lawyer cited his improvements in independent breathing and blood pressure regulation as “very strong indicia that he has not suffered brain death,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

Medical criteria for diagnosing brain death, while controversial in some circles, have been accepted by most Catholic bioethicists, provided that diagnostic tests are carried out thoroughly and carefully.

In an Aug. 29, 2000 address to the international congress of the transplantation society, St. John Paul II stated that using as a criterion for death “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem) … if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”

The NCBC has also stated repeatedly that “Health care workers can use these neurological criteria as the basis for arriving at ‘moral certainty’ that an individual has died.”

The NCBC noted that determining death by these neurological criteria typically involves bedside testing to assess absence of response or reflexes, apnea testing to assess the absence of the ability to breath, and “possible confirmatory tests to further assess the absence of brain activity (for example, an EEG) or the absence of blood flow to the brain.”

Similarly, the U.S. bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services indicate that “the determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”

And in 2008, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences stated that “brain death … 'is' death,” and that “something essential distinguishes brain death from all other types of severe brain dysfunction that encompass alterations of consciousness (for example, coma, vegetative state, and minimally conscious state).”

“If the criteria for brain death are not met, the barrier between life and death is not crossed, no matter how severe and irreversible a brain injury may be,” the academy added.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences said that after brain death, “the ventilator and not the individual, artificially maintains the appearance of vitality of the body. Thus, in a condition of brain death, the so-called life of the parts of the body is ‘artificial life’ and not natural life. In essence, an artificial instrument has become the principal cause of such a non-natural ‘life’. In this way, death is camouflaged or masked by the use of the artificial instrument.”

Still, some pro-life advocates question the medical criteria used for diagnosing brain death and argue that taking organs from individuals diagnosed as brain dead amounts to homicide.

The NCBC rejects that stance as “irresponsible” and “in tension with Catholic teaching,” countering that while a body may appear to be alive due to oxygenated blood being mechanically pumped through the body, thorough and rigorous testing can confirm that an individual is truly dead.

Dr. Alan Shwemon, former chief of the neurology department at Olive View-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, is an outspoken critic of the criteria used to diagnose brain death.

Shewmon had diagnosed some 200 patients as being brain dead throughout this career, according to the New Yorker. But he began to have doubts about the condition, which were intensified when he saw the case of a 13-year-old girl in Oakland who had been declared brain dead but began to show signs of improvement after being given tube feeding and hormone replacement.

Over the next four years, the girl was able to respond to simple motor commands and underwent puberty-related physical developments before dying of unrelated conditions, Shewmon said. His analysis of the situation led him to believe that the girl had not been brain dead, but was instead in a “minimally conscious state,” with brain flow in the brain too low to be detected by imaging technology, yet sufficient to prevent the death of brain cells – a condition known as global ischemic penumbra.

“Her case challenges the claimed infallibility of diagnostic criteria for brain death and supports the hypothesis that global ischemic penumbra can mimic both clinical brain death as well as absent blood flow on radionuclide scans,” Shewmon asserted in a December 2018 article.

Georgia bill would make 'transgender treatment' for minors a felony

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 18:00

Atlanta, Ga., Nov 1, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A state representative in Georgia has proposed a law that would make it a felony for medical professionals to assist in changing a minor’s gender either through surgery or medication. 

Rep. Ginny Ehrhart (R-Marietta) announced on Wednesday in a press release that she intends to introduce “The Vulnerable Child Protection Act” in the 2020 legislative section.

If passed, the act would make it a felony for doctors to perform certain medical procedures on children, such as “sterilization, mastectomy, vasectomy, castration and other forms of genital mutilation.” It would also make it a felony to prescribe “puberty-blocking drugs,” and “cross-sex hormone therapy.”

“Cross-sex hormone therapy” is when a biological female is given synthetic testosterone, or when a biological male is given synthetic estrogen in an attempt to make the body resemble a different sex. 

Speaking to CNA, Ehrhart said that she has been working on the bill for nearly two years, and that it was “not a knee-jerk reaction to anything that’s currently in the media,” but that she considers it “timely.” 

Ehrhart said the aim of the bill was to curb the “dangerous tide” of the increasing number of minor children identifying as transgender and being placed on drugs that delay puberty and on cross-sex hormones. 

Studies have found that without puberty-blocking drugs, which delay the production of certain hormones and effectively halt a person’s sexual development, as many as 90% of children who identify as transgender eventually resume identifying as their natal sex. A study in the Netherlands from 2010 found that when a child is given hormone blockers, they almost never revert to identifying as their biological gender.  

Risks of puberty blockers include reduced bone density, infertility, and disruptions to brain development. Their use for the treatment of gender dysphoria is considered to be “off-label” and has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Ehrhart said that the number of children who are seeking to change gender is an “epidemic” that is “really sweeping the country right now.” While solid data concerning the number transgender children in the United States is not available, the number of gender clinics in the country that treat pediatric patients has increased from zero in 2006 to more than 40 in 2018. 

In the United Kingdom, where there is one gender clinic for pediatrics, Tavistock GIDS, the number of patients has grown exponentially over the last decade. In 2009-2010, there were 32 girls and 40 boys treated at the clinic. In 2018-2019, that figure had grown to 624 boys and 1,740 girls. A full 20% of these patients were under the age of 12, with a total of 52 aged six or below.

Ehrhart told CNA that she has received support from people of both political parties, as well as from members of the transgender community who are opposed to children receiving hormonal treatments or surgeries. She also insists that her bill is not anti-trans or anti-LGBT, but rather against children receiving irrversable surgical procedures they may come to regret. 

"This bill does not speak at all, nor does it address or attempt to address the decision of any individual that is of legal adult age, the age of consent, to make these decisions for themselves,” said Ehrhart. 

“It is also not an indictment of the LGBT community, it is specifically and narrowly defined. The bill is about child abuse. Period.”

Four Detroit area Catholic high schools closed Friday over shooting threats

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 17:05

Detroit, Mich., Nov 1, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- Four Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit closed Friday after serious threats were made against the schools, officials have reported.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the threats against at least three of the schools included warnings about a “shooting rampage” at school Mass on November 1, the feast of All Saints Day.

It is yet unclear if or how the reported threats may be connected to each other.

On Thursday, staff at the all-boys high school Warren De La Salle Collegiate sent an email to parents, warning them that a “serious threat” had been made against the school and that classes would be canceled Friday.

“The Warren Police Department was alerted, and school officials are collaborating with them to investigate this threat,” the school said in a statement posted to its website.

In a reportedly separate incident, De La Salle was on lockdown for part of Thursday, Oct. 31 after a student reportedly brought a knife to school. Detroit Free Press reported that the school was searched by police who arrested a 17-year-old. There were no reported injuries and classes eventually were resumed.
Regina High School, the sister school of De La Salle located just two miles away, also closed its doors on Friday due to a threat against the school.

"We were made aware of a serious threat against Regina High School to allegedly occur on Friday ... Due to this situation, school is canceled," a message to Regina parents said, according to Detroit Free Press.

Detroit Catholic Central High School, located roughly 30 miles to the west of DeLasalle, was also closed on Friday due to threats, police told Detroit Free Press.

A fourth school, University Of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy, announced it was canceling school on Friday for similar threats.

"Due to an implied threat, we are joining other Catholic Schools in the area over an abundance of caution to cancel school while we investigate," Principle Anthony R. Trudel said in a statement obtained by Detroit Free Press. "Further information will be provided before Monday."

A note on University’s website stated that most evening activities were continuing as planned, and that school would resume Monday.

Regina’s message to parents encouraged them to report any new or related information they might have.

"We know it is extremely important if you hear or see something to say something," the message said, according to Detroit Free Press.  "Please pray for peace in our schools and our world."

De La Salle’s statement posted on their website ensured parents that everything was being done to keep their students safe.

“We are grateful for the safe learning environment provided by our staff, together with the ongoing support of, and close relationship with, the Warren Police Department,” De La Salle Principal Nathan Maus said in the statement. “We continue our commitment to work together with parents and guardians to ensure an environment that is both safe and conducive to learning for our students.”


HHS changes rules to protect religious adoption agencies

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Nov 1, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration has announced a change to federal rules to preserve federal funding of faith-based adoption agencies, regardless of their views on same-sex marriage.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Nov. 1 that it would change its enforcement of previous regulations and propose a new rule, allowing faith-based adoption agencies to continue receiving federal funding while not having to match children with same-sex couples against their religious mission.

HHS said it would revise a 2016 rule that conditioned federal funding of child welfare agencies upon their matching children with same-sex couples.

The U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) praised the change in a statement released on Friday.

“To restrict faith-based organizations’ work by infringing on religious freedom – as the 2016 rule threatened to do - is unfair and serves no one, especially the children in need of these services,” said a joint statement by Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the USCCB Domestic Justice and Human Development committee, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chair of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, and Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, chair of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty.

The previous regulation “threatened to shut out faith-based social service providers, namely adoption and foster care agencies that respect a child’s right to a mother and a father,” the bishops said.

The announcement comes in the middle of a “foster care crisis” in which faith-based adoption agencies will play a critical role in placing children with families, religious freedom advocates said.

“It is just as important today to continue fighting so that vulnerable children will have all hands on deck in the midst of a nationwide foster care crisis,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“Every child deserves a chance to be raised in a loving home,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Zack Pruitt said, noting that there are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system and 100,000 eligible for adoption. HHS’s action “offers hope for children, more options for birth mothers, support for families, and increased flexibility for states seeking to alleviate real human need,” he said.

However, the administration’s proposed rule “would only fix part of the problem,” Windham tweeted, as faith-based agencies also face hostility from state and local governments and thus “still need help from SCOTUS.”

Becket represents several entities affected by the Obama administration regulation and similar state and local efforts to push child welfare agencies to place children with same-sex couples.

In a press release on Friday morning, HHS said it would stop enforcing certain regulatory provisions for administering grants, due to a problematic interpretation of them by the Obama administration.

The federal agency also issued a proposed rule revising part of a 2016 Obama-era regulation, to better protect faith-based adoption agencies.

The rule, HHS said, would ensure respect for civil rights while protecting religious freedom and “eliminating regulatory burden” on “the free exercise of religion”; it would do so by requiring grant recipients to comply with existing anti-discrimination laws passed and religious freedom laws that have been passed by Congress, while also requiring HHS to comply with relevant Supreme Court decisions.

Faith-based adoption agencies have had to contend with efforts at the federal, state, and local levels that conditioned public funding on the agencies placing children with same-sex couples in violation of their religious mission.

In Michigan, Catholic Charities West Michigan—represented by ADF—brought a federal lawsuit against the state for withholding funding from faith-based adoption agencies over their stances on marriage. A federal court recently blocked the Obama-era regulation from going into effect in a case involving St. Vincent Catholic Charities and a family looking to adopt, represented by Becket.

“Both the federal government and a federal court have now recognized that discrimination against faith-based agencies seeking to serve those most in need should not be tolerated. We hope that state and local governments will follow suit,” Windham said.

There are several federal laws which are relevant to nondiscrimination in the adoption and foster care system.

These include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs of child welfare agencies and state courts. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 forbids sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs; other laws prohibit discrimination for age and disability.

The Obama administration interpreted existing law to forbid discrimination in the child welfare system not only on basis of sex, but sexual orientation. Thus, it began taking action against adoption agencies that did not place children with same-sex couples, on the grounds that they were discriminating against an individual’s sexual orientation.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) introduced an amendment in a 2018 funding bill to withhold some HHS funding of states that would not allow faith-based organizations to carry out their religious mission in child welfare. The amendment was removed from the legislation before a final House vote.

Adoption agencies have also been facing adverse action from states which have anti-discrimination laws.

In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities of the Boston Archdiocese stopped its adoption services in 2006 after the state legalized same-sex marriage. Catholic Charities in California and Illinois also stopped their adoption services in 2006 and 2011, respectively.

In Illinois, the bishops had said that the state “made it financially impossible for our agencies to continue to provide these services,” after the state legalized same-sex marriage and required adoption agencies to pair children with same-sex couples.

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia stopped placing adoptive children with Catholic Social Services, only days after calling for 300 new families to adopt foster children.

The city faces a lawsuit by several foster mothers for its decision to stop working with Catholic Social Services, and on Nov. 15, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to grant review in Fulton v. Philadelphia.

Kentucky shirtmaker wins discrimination case over LGBT festival

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 09:30

Frankfort, Ky., Nov 1, 2019 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The Kentucky state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of a Christian business owner who declined to serve an LGBT pride festival, and who was punished by a local government for discrimination.

“Today’s decision makes clear that this case never should have happened,” said Jim Campbell, senior counsel with the group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case of print shop owner Blaine Adamson before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

“The First Amendment protects Blaine’s right to continue serving all people while declining to print messages that violate his faith,” Campbell said.

The case of Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals dates back to 2012, the print shop Hands On Originals--owned by Blaine Adamson—was asked by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization to print shirts promoting the Lexington, Kentucky, Pride Festival.

Adamson declined, saying that to print shirts promoting such a festival would violate his Christian beliefs. He referred the organization to other vendors who could serve them.

“I will work with any person, no matter who they are, and no matter what their belief systems are,” Adamson told reporters after oral arguments in his case before the Kentucky Supreme Court, on Aug. 23. “But when I’m presented with a message that conflicts with my faith, that’s just something I cannot print.”

In 2014, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission ruled that Adamson had violated the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. The commission required him to receive diversity training.

Adamson challenged the decision and won in a Kentucky court in 2017. The case was appealed to the state supreme court, which ruled in Adamson’s favor on Thursday.

The city’s human rights commission “lacked statutory standing” to make a discrimination claim against Hands On Originals, the court’s opinion by Justice Laurance VanMeter stated, as the complaint was brought by an organization and not an individual.

While Adamson had inquired about the nature of the festival he was requested to print shirts for, he did not ask about the sexual orientation of the organization’s representatives, the court found.

Furthermore, when the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization then filed a complaint with the Lexington Human Rights Commission, “the record is clear that no individual claimed Hands On had discriminated,” the court’s opinion said.

The city ordinance in question bars discrimination against individuals, the court said, yet “in this case, because an ‘individual’ did not file the claim, but rather an organization did, we would have to determine whether the organization is a member of the protected class, which we find impossible to ascertain.”

A concurring opinion by Justice David Buckingham, however went further in saying that the city’s human rights commission actively tried to “compel” Hands On Originals “to engage in expression with which it disagreed.”

“Hands On was in good faith objecting to the message it was being asked to disseminate,” Buckingham wrote. Citing the Supreme Court’s decision Janus v. AFSCME, he wrote that “[w]hen speech is compelled…, individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions. Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning.”

Adamson’s case is one of a number of religious freedom cases where business owners have been sued for refusing to violate their religious beliefs and provide a service they deem objectionable.

Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman has appealed to the Supreme Court after she was sued for declining to serve a same-sex wedding, and lost her case at the state’s supreme court. Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips has once again been sued for conscientiously declining to make a cake; in the most recent case, he was asked to make a cake celebrating a gender transition.

As fires sweep through California, Catholics offer prayers and support

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 19:02

Sacramento, Calif., Oct 31, 2019 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- In the face of ongoing fires throughout California, Catholic organizations have responded with prayers, shelter, and food.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the U.S. bishops' committee on domestic justice and human development, offered prayers for the victims of numerous fires in California.

“I join in the heartfelt prayers offered by the bishops in the state of California in response to the terrible wildfires that have affected approximately thirty counties in that state,” he said Oct. 30.

The most destructive fire is currently the Kincade fire, which began in Marin County Oct. 23 and has so far burned over 75,000 acres. Although the fire is about 60% contained, it has damaged 47 structures and destroyed 266 more. The fire has also injured four people.

The Easy Fire initiated Oct. 30 near Simi Valley. It has claimed over 1,700 acres and destroyed 2 structures. It is five percent contained. The Getty Fire began Oct. 28 near Los Angeles, scorching 745 acres, destroying 12 homes, and damaging five more. This fire is 39 percent contained.

The Hillside Fire began in San Bernardino in the early hours of Oct. 31. It has claimed over 200 acres and forced more than 1,300 residents to evacuate. The fire is 80 percent contained.

A couple of hours after Hillside began, the 46 Fire started in Jurupa Valley. The fire is the result of a car crash involving a police chase and a stolen vehicle, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The fire is five percent contained.

According to CBS News about 206,000 homes throughout California are still facing a power outage. The power had been cut to prevent fires from spreading.

Dewane encouraged Catholics to pray for the victims and provide monetary support for people seeking to recover.

“It is in solidarity with our brother bishops in California, who have voiced their desire for prompt relief, that I encourage all appropriate public parties and the faithful to be generous in their financial support of these recovery efforts. Let us all pray for the safety of those affected and their property,” he said.

“The faithful of our nation are urged to support, through their petitions and concern, the efforts at extinguishment and recovery taking place throughout California in response to these fires.”

Among other Catholic efforts, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco is using the church as an emergency shelter. It has so provided shelter for 39 evacuees, which includes about a dozen children, according to KCBS Radio.

Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Marin County has continued to provide basic necessities to those in need, even when it lost power on Saturday evening. Christine Paquette, executive director for the organization, told CNA that SVDP had trained for natural disasters like these. She said programs, like Free Dining Room, saw a drastic increase in beneficiaries.

“We did stay open even though we had no power. We cooked with gas and served about 700 meals a day so about 50% more than the usual [amount],” she said.

“We have drilled to be able to prepare for that number of meals without power or without water. So we had all the materials that we needed and we had our staff trained so we weren’t guessing our way through it, nobody panicked,” she further added.

During the past three years, California has witnessed its two worst fires on record. Paquette said these natural disasters are a new normal and there must be safety measures in place. She said victims of fires are already anxious and need to be given an organized and safe location.

“[During] these fires and evacuations, people are absolutely at their most vulnerable. They are afraid, they don’t have their things with them, whether it’s their car or their clothes. People are really only fleeing with just themselves and hopefully their loved ones.”

“It’s really important to have an instant, compassionate, organized response. I think, in the past, when things aren’t as organized, it’s really hard on the victims because they are already very anxious and it makes a big difference to have a calming community response.”

Cardinal Dolan on Biden communion denial: 'I wouldn't do it'

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 18:58

Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2019 / 04:58 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York has responded to questions about the denial of Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden last Sunday.

On an Oct. 31 interview with Fox News, Dolan said that he thought the incident was a good teaching moment about the Eucharist and the seriousness of denying Church teaching, but that he would not himself deny anyone reception of the Eucharist.

“So whether that prudential judgment was wise, I don’t want to judge him either,” Dolan said of Fr. Robert Morey, who denied Holy Communion to Biden. “I wouldn’t do it.”

“Sometimes a public figure will come and talk to me about it. And I would advise them, and I think that priest (Morey) had a good point, you are publicly at odds with an issue of substance, critical substance, we’re talking about life and death and the Church,” Dolan said.

Receiving the Eucharist “implies that you’re in union with all the Church believes and stands for. If you know you’re not, well, integrity would say, ‘uh oh, I better not approach Holy Communion.’ That’s always preferable than to make a split-second decision and denying somebody,” Dolan added.

Last Sunday, Morey denied Eucharistic communion to 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden at Mass at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, because of the politician’s public support of abortion.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Morey, who is the pastor of St. Anthony’s, explained in a statement sent to CNA.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that,” Morey added. “Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching.”

In denying Biden communion, Morey was following a diocesan policy set forth in a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte. The decree states that supporting pro-abortion legislation is “gravely sinful” and that public figures who do so must be denied communion until they repent.

Joseph Zwilling, director of communications in the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA that the archdiocese does not have such a policy.

Dolan told Fox & Friends he agreed with what Morey said, though he would not personally deny a public figure the Eucharist.

“I think what he said was very to the point, I thought that was a good teaching moment,” Dolan said.

The cardinal said the issue has never come up for him personally - he has never seen a public figure in his Communion line who he knew was publicly advocating for policies that violate Church teaching.

“I’ve never had what you might call the opportunity, or I’ve never said ‘Uh oh, should I give him or her Holy Communion’, it’s never come up. Sure could,” Dolan said.

Dolan faced heavy criticism in January from Catholics who felt that he should have explicitly barred from communion New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had signed into law an expansive abortion bill.

On his radio show Jan. 29, Dolan said that sacramental disciplinary measures against the governor “would be completely counterproductive, right?”  

“Especially if you have a governor who enjoys this and wants to represent himself as a kind of martyr to the cause, doing what is right. He is proud to dissent from the essentials of the faith. He’s proud with these positions."

"For me to punish him for it? He would just say, ‘Look at the suffering this prophet has to undergo,' the cardinal added.

Dolan said Oct. 31 that he frequently sees public figures at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and that he “admires” them when they do not approach the Eucharist out of their own awareness of their sin and separation from the Church.

“They seem to know - ‘I shouldn’t do that. That could be hypocritical at this moment,’” Dolan said.

“On the other hand, we also remember Pope Francis. We...I personally can never judge the state of a person’s soul. So it’s difficult, that’s what I’m saying. I’m not up there as a tribunal, as a judge, distributing Holy Communion, I’m there as a pastor, as a doctor of souls,” Dolan said.

“So it’s difficult to make a judgment on the state of a person’s soul. My job is to help people make, with clear Church teaching, make a decision on the state of their soul and the repercussions of that.” 

When asked if priests could refusing other people communion because of their sins, Dolan said that communion is intended for sinners.

“If only saints could receive Holy Communion, we wouldn’t have anybody at Mass, including myself, alright?” Dolan said.

“So sinners are who Holy Communion is for, it’s medicine for the soul, it’s an act of mercy, so it’s intended for sinners...but sinners who want to, who are sorry and want to repent. Then anybody’s welcome, come on up,” he added.

Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Edward Peters, who teaches canon law at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit wrote in The Hill this week that “however the decision to withhold holy communion from Biden made headlines, it was unquestionably the pastor's decision to make and he made it, in my view, correctly.”

“While there are relatively few examples of pastors withholding holy communion from Catholic politicians who support abortion, the refusal that Biden experienced should not have come as a surprise. He had been warned about approaching for holy communion in 2008 by Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, who told Biden that, because of his support for abortion, he would be refused holy communion if he approached that prelate, and by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput (then of Denver, now of Philadelphia), who implied likewise,” Peters wrote.

While not addressing Dolan's remarks Peters addressed a point Dolan made during his interview, which Peters called the “reddest herring” in defense of Biden. 

Specifically, he criticized the argument “which implies that withholding holy communion requires a minister to peer into the soul of a would-be recipient and judge it unworthy. Nonsense. To confuse the private examination of one's conscience as envisioned by Canon 916 with the recognition that some public acts warrant public consequences under Canon 915 is to show either ignorance of or indifference to well-established Catholic pastoral and sacramental practice.”

In a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2004, explaining the application of Canon Law 915, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said “the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin.”

The case of a “Catholic politician” who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” would constitute “formal cooperation” in grave sin that is “manifest,” the letter added.

Biden has declined to comment on the communion incident telling reporters that it was “just my personal life.”

“I’m a practicing Catholic. I practice my faith, but I’ve never let my religious impose that view on other people,” Biden said this week.

While Biden served in the Senate, he largely supported the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that found a legal right to abortion, Roe v. Wade. He called his position “middle-of-the-road,” in that he supported Roe but opposed late-term abortions and federal funding of abortions.

Since then, he has supported taxpayer funding of abortions via the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy in his 2020 platform and has called for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law. Biden also favors reinstating taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.


Missouri abortion clinic hearing wraps up; decision expected in February

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 17:27

St. Louis, Mo., Oct 31, 2019 / 03:27 pm (CNA).- Regulators in Missouri are in the process of determining whether the state’s last remaining abortion clinic can keep its license to perform abortions, after a hearing wrapped up Thursday.

The hearing before the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission began on Monday to determine the clinic’s fate. In June, the state refused to grant the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region clinic a license, saying concerns at the facility must first be addressed.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that after four days of testimony, attorneys in the case will now begin trading paperwork and issuing briefs. Hearing commissioner Sreenivasa Dandamudi is expected to issue a ruling sometime after Feb. 7, 2020.

Missouri’s health department had submitted a “Statement of Deficiencies” of the clinic to a court, which cited an “unprecedented lack of cooperation” on the part of the clinic, as well as its “failure to meet basic standards of patient care.”

The statement also identified four instances of failed abortion procedures at the clinic. Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Public Health, reportedly used a spreadsheet to track the menstrual periods of Planned Parenthood patients in order to determine which patients had to come back for multiple procedures to complete their abortion.

According to the Post-Dispatch, Planned Parenthood’s attorneys argued that the state “cherry-picked” a “handful of difficult cases” out of an estimated 3,000 abortions performed at the facility.

According to the health department, Planned Parenthood went back on its agreement to perform pelvic examinations as a “preoperative health requirement,” the state said, several doctors at the clinic refused requests to provide interviews with the health department, and the clinic would not have been prepared for a case of “severe hemorrhaging” of a woman that occurred at a hospital.

Kawanna Shannon, director of surgical services at the clinic, testified that the clinic had initially complied with with the pelvic exam requirement, but soon stopped performing them.

The clinic had submitted a “Plan of Correction” as requested by the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, but it had not properly addressed all the stated deficiencies, the health department said.

Planned Parenthood responded by saying that the health department “weaponized a regulatory process” and required pelvic exams that it admitted were “medically unnecessary” amidst “public outcry and the medical community coming out strongly against” the required exams.

After the state’s refusal to grant a license, a judge and the Administration Hearing Commission both granted a temporary stay of the health department’s decision, allowing the clinic to remain open while the case was reviewed.

Jacinta Florence, Missouri and Arkansas Regional Coordinator for Students for Life, told CNA she did not think the doctors who tesitifed at the hearing this week showed any empathy towards the women who had botched abortions.

“I was also annoyed with [Planned Parenthood’s] use of words,” she said.

“Instead of saying fetal parts when describing a procedure, they used ‘products of conception.’ While a baby is a product of conception, lets call a spade a spade.”

Missouri also enacted a comprehensive abortion ban in 2019, which Governor Mike Parson (R) signed into law in May. The legislation was supported by St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson.

Missouri’s law set up a multi-tier ban on abortions after eight weeks, 14 weeks, 18 weeks and 20 weeks, as well as bans on abortions conducted solely because of the baby’s race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis.

The law was crafted to be able to survive in the courts, but a federal judge in August struck down all of the bans related to the stage in pregnancy, leaving intact the disability, race and sex-selective abortion bans for the time being.

Meanwhile, as the fate of the St. Louis clinic is being determined, Planned Parenthood has opened a “mega” abortion clinic just 13 miles away across the Mississippi River in Fairview Heights, Illinois that will have the ability to see 11,000 patients annually.

The new clinic replaced a smaller Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights that offered medication abortions but not surgical abortions.

In a controversial move, the organization used a shell company under which the facility was purportedly being constructed, and tried to shield from public view the fact that the building under construction was an abortion clinic.

Senate bill could blacklist pro-life groups for aid funding

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- A pro-life group is warning Senators that a proposed government funding bill could “blacklist” pro-life groups while funding promoters of abortion.

In an Oct. 30 letter to senators, March for Life Action warned that language in a mini omnibus (minibus) funding bill, H.R. 2740, “would prop up the abortion industry and overseas promoting of abortion with federal funds” and would set up a “vehicle to harass pro-life recipients” of U.S. foreign assistance.

The bill is under consideration in the Senate as Congress has until Nov. 21 to pass appropriations bills funding government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year. The bill was pulled from a vote on Thursday, but may be reintroduced in the coming weeks.

Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, said in an interview with CNA, that the bill contains language targeting pro-life groups and benefitting organizations that support abortion.

An amendment that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) successfully inserted into the bill would increase family planning funding that could go to abortion promoters, would reinstate funding of the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA), and would provide a mechanism to enforce an Obama-era non-discrimination rule that could essentially “blacklist” pro-life groups from being eligible for U.S. foreign assistance.

Shaheen had previously tried to overturn the Mexico City Policy in an appropriations bill in September, but was unsuccessful.

The Mexico City Policy bars U.S. funding of foreign NGOs that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning. The Trump administration reinstated this policy and expanded upon it, applying the funding prohibition not just to family planning funding, but to $8.8 billion of global health assistance.

While not outright repealing the policy, Shaheen was still able to secure passage of an amendment out of the Senate Appropriations Committee that could undercut it. Her proposed increase in family planning funding could also benefit certain domestic groups which promote abortion.

Pro-abortion groups including Pathfinder International, Population Council, Engender Health, and PATH already receive family planning funding. As they are domestic groups, they are not bound by the Mexico City Policy prohibitions, and thus can still promote abortions, March for Life Action says.

Shaheen’s amendment would also set up an enforcement mechanism of the 2016 Obama administration “Non-Discrimination Against End-Users of Supplies or Services” rule. This rule essentially required contractors with USAID not to “discriminate” against aid beneficiaries on the basis of sex, “including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy.” 

The enforcement mechanism for the rule targets pro-life and Christian groups in that it would limit review of USAID contract awards “only to the current administration,” March for Life Action’s letter said, thus revealing the “real target”: it would review the contract awards given to pro-life groups.

Thus, certain religious and pro-life organizations could have to clarify their positions on life, marriage, or gender issues in order to receive U.S. foreign assistance, McClusky said.

 “Pro-lifers do not have a ton of friends” at USAID and the State Department, McClusky said, and those agencies would be deciding which organizations would receive U.S. foreign assistance.

As the November 21 deadline nears to pass funding bills, the status quo—a short-term extension of funding, or a “CR”—would be the best-case scenario for pro-lifers, McClusky said, in that no new problems could be added to the legislation.

The larger and more complex the funding bill, the greater the chance pro-abortion language could be passed without popular knowledge, he said.

“If I think everything were to be a CR, I think that would be a good thing, because once you start getting into these minibuses and omnibuses, you don’t always know what’s inside them until it’s too late,” McClusky said.

Buffalo diocese investigation ends, DiMarzio will send report to Vatican

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 13:48

Buffalo, N.Y., Oct 31, 2019 / 11:48 am (CNA).- Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has completed his Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Buffalo.

A statement released by DiMarzio’s own Diocese of Brooklyn on Thursday confirmed that the visitation had concluded and he will submit a report to the Holy See. 

The bishop offered no comment on his findings in the scandal-hit Buffalo diocese.

The visitation, a canonical inspection and fact-finding mission, was ordered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome, the Vatican department responsible for overseeing the personal and administrative conduct of bishops. 

The visitation was announced Oct. 3, after nearly a year of controversy in the northern New York state diocese. The Diocese of Brooklyn confirmed that DiMarzio had made a total of three trips, spending a week in Buffalo as he conducted nearly a series of in-person interviews.

“He met with and interviewed close to 80 individuals; both clergy and laypeople,” the statement from the Brooklyn diocese said, “including members of the Presbyteral Council, Diocesan Consultors, Diocesan Finance Council, Diocesan Pastoral Council, Territorial Vicars, and Senior Priests. He also spoke with representatives of outside groups such as the Movement to Restore Trust, college presidents, and other interested parties.”

“Now that Bishop DiMarzio has finished his interviews, he will compile the information and prepare a report which will be submitted to the Holy See,” the statement concluded.

In its announcement earlier this month, the apostolic nunciature to the United States said that the process in Buffalo is “non-judicial and non-administrative,” meaning that no formal charges are being considered against the scandal-plagued Bishop Richard Malone, leader of the Buffalo diocese.

DiMarzio has previously said that he would approach the situation in Buffalo with “an open mind.”

“This is a difficult period in the life of the Church in Buffalo,” DiMarzio said when he accepted the assignment earlier this month.

“I will keep an open mind throughout the process and do my best to learn the facts and gain a thorough understanding of the situation in order to fulfill the mandate of this Apostolic Visitation.”

Although he has faced media criticism for more than a year, Malone said earlier this month that he was “committed to cooperate fully” with the investigation, and that he welcomed the visitation which, he said would “improve the local Church's ability to minister to the people it serves.”

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse.

In August, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

Malone, 73, has led the Buffalo diocese since 2012. He was ordained a priest of Boston in 1972, and became an auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 2000, two years before a national sexual abuse scandal emerged in the United States, centered on the Archdiocese of Boston and the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. Malone was Maine’s bishop from 2004 until 2012.

In opioid-hit west Michigan, Catholic Charities plans to open detox center

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 10:01

Grand Rapids, Mich., Oct 31, 2019 / 08:01 am (CNA).- Catholic Charities West Michigan has announced plans to build a $4.5 million detox center, expected to serve 700 people a year recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.

The new center in Muskegon, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, will have 14 beds and offer three- to five-night stays, with some 80 employees including a doctor, according to local media.

Chris Slater, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Western Michigan, told CNA that they expect to break ground on the new center before the end of the year, with a 12 to 14 month timeline.

Slater said he used a Community Needs Assessment, released by various agencies active in the city including Mercy Health System, to determine what areas the community needed the most help improving.

The answer, he said, was a no-brainer.

"All throughout all of them, right on the top of the list, is substance abuse disorder treatment. It's ravaging Muskegon county," he said.

"It would have been negligent not to do something about it, in my opinion."

A report from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, released in 2018, found that Grand Rapids, which is less than an hour’s drive from Muskegon, had the second-most total opioid related deaths from 2013-2015 in the state after Detroit, with 138 reported.

The report found that the largest number of drug-related overdose deaths occurred among men aged 26-35, and men aged 46-55.

The county didn't previously have a facility to treat drug and alcohol addicts under the supervision of a doctor. Slater says he hopes the new Catholic Charities detox center will plug holes in the community's ability to care for people in need.

The county also ranks highly for per-capita deaths related to alcohol abuse.

"So when we had patients in Muskegan who wanted treatment, we were shipping them all over the state. And that posed another problem because even if they could find a bed for them, then we had transportation issues, and no way to get these patients there."

He said for the past 18 months, he has worked closely with healthcare providers, social service agencies, the sheriff's department, and the prosecutor's office to get a feel for the community's support for the project, which he says was strong from the get-go and has continued to build.

Slater said there will be opportunities for patients – who will be served regardless of their religious beliefs – to meet with a chaplain and to make use of a chapel being built along with a new office building near the detox center.

"We'll be equipped to incorporate faith into patients' recovery as they request," he said.

WoodTV8 reports that the new detox center will neighbor the Muskegon Rescue Mission, which has its own food pantry, and as a result Catholic Charities will no longer have its own food pantry but will partner with other organizations to support their food services.

Catholic Charities obtained the land for the project through a land swap with the city, which will receive Catholic Charities’ old building, located less than a mile away, once the new center is completed.

A spokesperson for the city said that revitalizing the old building will help make it a “high-quality new asset” in the area.

The hallowed tradition of cemetery Masses

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 06:00

Mobile, Ala., Oct 31, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- The end of October and the first few days of November comprise of “Allhallowtide” in the Church--All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. During the month of November, the Church takes special notice to remember, honor and pray for the dead. There are many different cultural traditions around this period, but one of the most consistently honored is the practice of visiting cemeteries. 

Some dioceses mark this tradition in an especially solemn way, by celebrating a Mass on All Souls Day in a cemetery. The Church has a special Mass setting for this expressed purpose, which is called the “Order of Visiting a Cemetery.”  Fr. Stephen Vrazel, the pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Mobile, Alabama, has celebrated Mass in a cemetery for the past several years, since he was ordained a priest in 2011. 

Vrazel told CNA that it is a tradition at the North American College seminary in Rome, where he was a student, to celebrate Mass each year in the college’s mausoleum, the resting place of American priests and seminarians who died while in Rome and were unable to be brought back to the United States. 

Vrazel said he was “incredibly moved” by these Masses, and when he became a priest his bishop asked him to preach the homily at an All Souls Day Mass held at Catholic Cemetery in Mobile. He said that even though he grew up in Mobile, he did not know that the bishop had a tradition of celebrating Mass at a cemetery.

These cemetery Masses “were formative experiences for me,” Vrazel told CNA. The Masses “impressed upon me the value of offering the sacrifice of the Mass - not only for the faithfully departed, but in close proximity to the bodies of the deceased.” 

When Vrazel was moved to his current parish, he asked if he could celebrate Mass in the Catholic section of a nearby cemetery, and was granted permission by both the vicar general and the administrators of the cemetery. Since then, Vrazel has celebrated at least one Mass at a cemetery on All Souls Day. 

“Because a priest is permitted to celebrate Mass three times on All Souls, for a few years I also celebrated Mass at another cemetery,” said Vrazel. “That Mass has since been taken over by another parish.”

The logistics of a Mass at a cemetery are slightly more complicated than for a normal Sunday. 

Vrazel said that his parish’s liturgy committee worked to set up a temporary altar in the cemetery’s Catholic section, which also has a large crucifix. A parishioner volunteered his services as a bagpiper to provide music, and vials of holy water are distributed to those in attendance for sprinkling on graves. As part of the Order of Visiting a Cemetery, graves are sprinkled with holy water during the Mass. 

While the idea of going to Mass in a cemetery may seem possibly off-putting, Vrazel said, there is much interest in the event each year, especially among the recently bereaved. He told CNA that about 100 people usually attend the All Souls Day Mass. 

The practice of praying for the dead is not found in most Protestant traditions, but is a central part of the Catholic faith and justified by the book 2 Maccabees, Vrazel explained. 

“Scripture makes clear that it is a laudable practice to pray for the dead. While most of our protestant brothers and sisters consider 2 Maccabees an apocryphal work, we recognize the sacrifices offered for the dead in 2 Mac 12 as normative,” he said. 

“Disagreements over the appropriateness of praying for the dead are rooted in wider disagreements about the nature of sin, forgiveness, mercy, and the very existence of purgatory,” said Vrazel. He suggested that this particular discussion should be a starting point for any ecumenical dialogue regarding praying for the dead. 

Even though cemeteries may make some people uncomfortable, Vrazel told CNA that he thinks that it is vitally important for Catholics to make regular visits to them.

“Walking through a cemetery you see grave after grave of somebody who mattered to someone. And while they might not have anyone today who remembers them, they still matter to God, and they should matter to us,” he said. 

“People should and honor the remains of their deceased loved ones, and strangers too. The soul is gone, and the body returns to dust, but that body is still the creation of God. We believe that our bodies will rise on the last day.”

Instead of a “horror-inducing space,” Vrazel said he thinks a cemetery should be characterized as more of a waiting room or resting ground for the eventual Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body.  

“Besides, most cemeteries close at sunset, so you don’t really have the option to visit during ‘spooky’ nighttime hours anyway,” he added.

Judge orders police to return some files to Diocese of Dallas taken in May raid 

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 21:00

Dallas, Texas, Oct 30, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A Dallas county district judge has ordered Dallas police to return certain documents to the Catholic Diocese of Dallas that were seized during a raid on diocesan property on May 15.

Documents unrelated to the ongoing investigation of sexual abuse allegations against five priests are to be returned, State District Judge Brandon Birmingham ordered last week after reviewing the files that were taken in the raid, WFAA in Dallas reported.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the investigation is focused on five current or former priests of the diocese: Fr. Edmundo Paredes, Fr. Richard Thomas Brown, Fr. Alejandro Buitrago, Fr. William Joseph Hughes, Jr., and Fr. Jeremy Myers. Paredes is the only suspect to have been formally charged, but he is believed to have fled the United States, WFAA reported.

“Therefore, the seizure of any item not related to these five particular persons, for the specific offense listed, exceeds the scope of the search warrant as written,” Birmingham wrote in his order, according to WFAA.

All five men were included in a list of names of clergy “credibly” accused of sexual abuse released by the dioceses of Texas in January. The Diocese of Dallas released the name of 31 accused clerics, including 24 incardinated in the diocese and seven priests either from other dioceses or religious orders who had worked in Dallas.

On May 15, police conducted a raid on the Dallas diocesan chancery offices, as well as on a diocesan warehouse storage facility and the parish of St. Cecilia in Oak Cliff, searching for evidence and information related to the investigation of the five priests.

At the time, Bishop Edward J. Burns of the Diocese of Dallas called the raid “sensationalism, traumatic, and a waste of resources.” Burns said in a statement that the Diocese had been cooperating with police prior to the raid, and that they had been “combing through” more than 200,000 documents in order to find those relevant to the investigation.

“To imply that these documents were intentionally withheld in any capacity is to truly misrepresent the nature of our correspondence with the Dallas Police Department,” Burns said at the time.

Among the documents to be returned to the diocese are a set of files that were labeled “no sexual assault issues,” as well as those that date earlier than January 1, 1950, according to the order.

“All of these documents exceed the scope of the search warrant,” Birmingham said, according to WFAA. Documents that both the diocese and police agree are unrelated to the investigation of the five priests are also to be returned to the diocese, Birmingham said. If there are documents on which the diocese and police cannot agree, Birmingham will review the documents himself and make a decision.

According to the order, police will have 10 business days to return “all documents that both parties agree are privileged,” “all documents the Court has determined to be privileged” and “all documents the Court has determined ‘exceed the scope of the search warrant,’” WFAA reported.

Both police and the diocese were given until December 6 to complete the review of the files, and Birmingham ordered weekly updates on the progress of the review.

The Diocese of Dallas did not respond to questions about Birmingham’s order by deadline.

Police have been investigating the Dallas diocese since February of 2018, when Paredes was accused of sexually abusing three teenage boys over the course of his time at St. Cecilia’s parish. He was suspended from ministry in June 2017 after 27 years at the St. Cecilia’s, under suspicion of having stolen between $60,000 - $80,000 from the parish.

Paredes fled the diocese and his whereabouts are currently unknown, though Burns has previously said the diocese believes he returned to the Philippines, from where he originally came. Both Meyers and Buitrago were removed from ministry in 2018.



Biden communion denial was required by diocesan policy

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 18:08

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- A policy in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina requires priests to withhold the Eucharist from politicians and political candidates who support legal protection for abortion.

“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.

“We declare that Catholics serving in public life espousing positions contrary to the teaching of the Church on the sanctity and inviolability of human life, especially those running for or elected to public office, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in any Catholic church within our jurisdictions: the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Dioceses of Charleston and Charlotte.”

“We undertake this action to safeguard the sacred dignity of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, to reassure the faithful, and to save sinners,” the decree adds.

The decree, “Worthy to Receive the Lamb: Catholics in Political Life and the Reception of Holy Communion,” established policy for the Diocese of Charleston, where presidential candidate Joe Biden was denied the Eucharist on Sunday.

At St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, pastor Fr. Robert Morey denied Biden Holy Communion Oct. 27, while the Catholic presidential candidate was campaigning nearby that weekend and had attended Sunday Mass.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Morey explained in a statement sent to CNA.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that,” he stated.

“Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” the priest added.

The 2004 Charleston policy says that “Catholics in political life have the responsibility to exemplify in their public service this teaching of the Church, and to work for the protection of all innocent life. There can be no contradiction between the values bestowed by Baptism and the Catholic Faith, and the public expression of those values.”

“A manifest lack of proper disposition for Holy Communion is found to be present in those who consistently support pro-abortion legislation. Because support for pro-abortion legislation is gravely sinful, such persons should not be admitted to Holy Communion,” the decree continues.

Biden’s home diocese of Wilmington, Delaware issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Bishop W. Francis Malooly “has consistently refrained from politicizing the Eucharist, and will continue to do so.”

“The Church’s teachings on the protection of human life from the moment of conception is clear and well-known,” the statement said, adding that the bishop’s “preference” is “to interact with politicians individually who disagree with significant church teachings.”

In 2008, Malooly made largely the same point in response to Biden’s public support for abortion as he was campaigning on the ticket with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Malooly said in the Sept. 4, 2008 edition of the diocesan newspaper The Dialog, that he did not “intend to politicize the Eucharist as a way of communication Catholic Church teachings, but would rather “get a lot more mileage out of a conversation trying to change the mind and heart than I would out of a public confrontation.”

Biden, one of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, is a Catholic who represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 until 2009, and served as vice president from 2009 to 2017. In April of 2019, he announced his candidacy for president.

While Biden served in the Senate, he largely supported the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that found a legal right to abortion, Roe v. Wade. He called his position “middle-of-the-road,” saying that he supported Roe but opposed late-term abortions and federal funding of abortions.

Since then, he has supported taxpayer funding of abortions via the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy, in his 2020 platform.

Biden’s 2020 campaign platform calls for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law. It also would ensure, as part of a health care “public option,” coverage of “a woman’s constitutional right to choose. Biden also favors reinstating taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

Debate over the application of the Code of Canon Law’s canon 915 to pro-choice politicians is not a new one. The canonical norm states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

During the 2004 election, the U.S. bishops issued a statement “Catholics in Political Life” that left the decision to withhold Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians to individual bishops.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had sent a letter to Theodore McCarrick, then-Archbishop of Washington, with the expectation that it be read to fellow bishops.

The letter said that pro-abortion politicians—after first being admonished by their pastor on Church teaching and warning them against presenting themselves for Communion—“are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The law’s definition of “manifest” participation in “grave sin” applies “in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws,” Ratzinger said.

McCarrick read some but not all of the letter to his fellow bishops at their summer meeting, omitting key parts and saying that Ratzinger had agreed with the bishops’ decision to leave the judgement about withholding Holy Communion up to each individual bishop. Ratzinger’s entire letter was reported to the public afterward.

It was in August 2004, shortly after that letter was read, that the Archbishop of Atlanta, then Archbishop John Donoghue, along with Bishop Peter Jurgis of Charlotte and Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston jointly set policy for their dioceses.

A law “which legitimizes the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion is intrinsically unjust, since it is directly opposed to the natural law, to God’s revealed commandments, and to the consequent right of every individual to possess life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death,” the bishops wrote.



Bishop Barron goes to Washington

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Lawmakers must rediscover their call by God to pursue justice, Bishop Robert Barron told members of Congress and staff on Tuesday.

“In Catholic theology truth itself, goodness itself, justice itself, are simply names for God,” Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, said to an audience of members of Congress, staff, and others at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

The bishop told legislators that they were right to think of their role pursuing justice through public service as a vocation, and they were really called by God to do so. 

“When you were seized by a passion for justice, I would say you were called by God at that moment,” Barron said.

Barron addressed an audience of several dozen people in the Members Room of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill, on the vocation to public service.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) hosted the event, along with Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.). Members in attendance included Sens. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), as well as Reps. Suozzi and Moolenaar, Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), and Andy Harris (R-Md.).

Barron also delivered the opening prayer on the U.S. House Floor on Wednesday, to start the legislative business for the day. In his invocation, he echoed themes of justice that he had spoken about the previous day.

“O God, Source of all justice, You have summoned everyone who works in this chamber to walk the path of righteousness, to foster life and liberty, to care especially for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society,” Bishop Barron said.

“Free these servants of yours O Lord, of all those attachments to wealth or power or privilege or fame that would prevent them from following the course You have set out for them. Make them mindful of the time when they first heard your voice and followed it with idealism and enthusiasm,” he prayed.

In his discourse on Tuesday, Bishop Barron clarified at the outset that he would avoid discussing “hot button issues” with the members, such as abortion or marriage.

Such issues are important, he said, but could ultimately distract from “really deep and abiding points of contact between what I call the spiritual condition and political tradition.”

Barron challenged those in the room to rediscover the time when they found their vocation to public service. He said he asks priests to “remember when you first heard the call,” adding that “you will find, I wager, a moment of extraordinary clarity and spiritual power.”

Such a challenge, he added, involves “everybody in this room,” and a “sense of being called, summoned, sent on a mission, I think applies to everybody in our culture.”

The vocation to public service should be so all-encompassing, he said, that lawmakers should even remember when they were called. The prophet Isaiah, he said, dated his call to the prophetic vocation to “the year King Uzziah died,” Barron said, citing the Book of Isaiah in the Bible.

“In other words, it was burned into his memory because it was the defining moment of life,” Barron said, before asking lawmakers “what was, for you, the ‘year Uzziah died’?”

There are three transcendentals that culture is based upon, Barron said, the “true,” the “good” and the “beautiful.” Politics, he said, is especially connected to the “good.”

Barron exhorted members of Congress “to find it, to fight for it, to propagate it.”

“What animates that work?” he asked rhetorically of the pursuit of the “good” of those in public service. “It’s a passion of justice that lies at the bottom of the soul,” he said.

God called those in public service through a desire for justice, he said, emphasizing the need for “bringing our lives into harmony with the integrity and beauty of that call” where “everything I do is about serving justice.”

That, he warned, might make members “unpopular,” “less rich,” or see them “attacked.” However, he added, “The way you measure life now is how you respond to this call.”

Barron also mentioned the rise of the “Nones,” or those unaffiliated with any religion. Pew Research numbers the other week showed that the “Nones” now make up 26 percent of the overall U.S. population.

“Are we losing a sense of the sacred and divine dimension of life? I think demonstrably yes,” Barron said.

Cleveland Bishop Lennon dies at 72, remembered for love of Church

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 17:00

Cleveland, Ohio, Oct 30, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Richard Gerard Lennon died at the age of 72 on Tuesday, Oct. 29 after receiving the sacraments. His colleagues and admirers praised his service to the Church.

Lennon was until 2016 the Bishop of Cleveland.

His successor, Bishop Nelson J. Perez, praised the bishop’s life.
“In his service to the diocese, Bishop Lennon showed a deep dedication to the faithful governance of the diocese and a tremendous love of the Church and the people he shepherded. May the Lord grant him eternal rest,” Bishop Perez said in a statement from the Diocese of Cleveland.

Lennon was was installed in 2006 as the tenth Bishop of Cleveland after Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to the position. He resigned in December 2016, citing poor health. At the time the Cleveland diocese said Lennon suffered from vascular dementia, which causes cognitive impairment due to reduced blood flow to the brain, reports.

Another Cleveland bishop emeritus, Anthony Pilla, 86, said he was saddened by Lennon’s death and would pray for him.

“I am grateful for his dedicated service to this diocese and for all the good people who have given him such good care during his long illness,” Pilla said.

Lennon regularly invited the Daughters of St. Paul to perform their Christmas concert at Cleveland’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. He often treated them to dinner, the Cleveland diocese said.

Sister Theresa Aletheia, D.S.P., said that when Lennon was a chaplain for their order in Boston he was “a good friend of the community.”

“Once during a terrible blizzard, the sisters were preparing for a Communion service when Father Lennon came riding up the hill on a snowplow,” she said. “He was a good and holy servant of the Church. May he rest in peace and intercede for us.”

The late bishop was a fan of the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team. He was fond of horses, and often offered treats to police horses. Two members of the Cleveland police mounted unit visited his retirement reception.

Lennon was born March 26, 1947 in Arlington, Mass. near Boston. His father served as Arlington’s deputy fire chief. He attended Catholic schools and was an altar boy at St. James Parish. After studies at Boston College, he entered St. John’s Seminary, and was ordained a priest in May 1973 for the Boston archdiocese.

He served as a parish priest, a fire department chaplain, an assistant for canonical affairs and as a rector of St. John’s Seminary. He was named a monsignor in 1998 and ordained as auxiliary bishop of Boston on Sept. 14, 2001, serving in that role until 2006.

After Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston amid clergy sexual abuse scandals, Lennon was interim leader of the Boston archdiocese from December 2002 to July 2003.

After Lennon became Bishop of Cleveland, the Diocese of Cleveland said, he placed a priority on visiting all parishes and schools in the diocese.

He instituted internal audits at parishes and diocesan schools while also establishing norms for Catholic schools and children’s catechesis. The diocese credited his launch of the Rooted in Faith capital campaign for raising about $170 million in donations to strengthen parishes, the clergy retirement fund, evangelization efforts, the cathedral, and Catholic schools.

Following a reconfiguration of the diocese begun before he became bishop, he acted on recommendations to close about 50 parishes and to establish 17 new merged parishes. The closures sparked some backlash and criticism from laity.

He stopped the diocese’s practice of charging $450 for those seeking marriage annulments two years before Pope Francis exhorted all dioceses to do so.

Lennon was a member of the Knights of Malta and the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Cleveland diocese said funeral arrangements are pending.

House votes to recognize Armenian genocide

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass a resolution recognizing the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), sponsor of the resolution, said after the vote that “the House declared that it will no longer be party to the cause of genocide denial.”

“While we can never undo the atrocities of the Armenian genocide, this vote is a commitment that we will never forget and we will never again be intimidated into silence,” Schiff stated.

Schiff’s resolution, cosponsored by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), states that it should be U.S. policy to recognize and commemorate the Armenian Genocide, and to promote education and remembrance of the genocide. It passed the House overwhelmingly, with 405 members voting in favor, 11 Republicans voting against, and three members voting “present.”

The resolution also recognizes the Ottoman Empire’s “campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians.”

The resolution is non-binding, in that it simply expresses “the sense of the House of Representatives,” but it is still significant as the culmination of an almost-20-year effort in the U.S. House to pass such a resolution.

“This is a vote I have waited 19 years to cast; one that tens of thousands of my Armenian American constituents have waited decades to see,” Schiff said in his remarks on the House Floor on Tuesday.

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians released a statement on Tuesday, praising the vote.

“The Christians all across the Middle East were impacted by the Armenian Genocide. In Lebanon, 250,000 Maronites were starved to death by the Ottoman Empire,” Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians, stated, noting that by the House’s action, the U.S. shows it “will no longer ignore the Turk’s history of ethnic cleansing.”

Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement following the House vote that the resolution “has apparently been drafted and issued for domestic consumption” and “is devoid of any historical or legal basis.”

The Armenian genocide, recognized as such by many scholars, occurred in the Ottoman Empire - now Turkey - from 1915-1923, with the systematic annihilation of the mostly Christian Armenian minority in eastern Anatolia.

Around 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been killed, along with Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs. Millions more were displaced. Those targeted by the Ottomans suffered forced displacement, death marches, torture, rape, and mass killings.

Turkey has repeatedly denied that genocide took place, saying that the number of those killed was far less than some have estimated and that deaths were a result of conflicts related to the First World War.

A Vatican archive of documents was released in 2015, on the centenary of the genocide, showing the Holy See’s commitment, along with other Catholics, to help genocide victims in the region. The Vatican also worked to stem the tide of Christian persecution in the Ottoman Empire that had been occurring in the decades prior to 1915.

Pope Francis has referred to the killings as genocide multiple times, using the term at a Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday on April 12, 2015, ahead of the centenary.

A year later, speaking at the presidential palace in Armenia in June of 2016, the pope called the “genocide” the “‘Great Evil’ that struck your people” and said that it “was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples.”

Members of Congress said that Tuesday’s vote was a significant step toward fighting silence and ignorance on the matter.

“Today, we end a century of international silence. There will not be another period of indifference or international ignorance to the lives lost to systematic murder,” Rep. Bilirakis stated on Tuesday. “Genocide is genocide, Mr. Speaker, even if our so-called strategic allies perpetrated it.”

“I found Pope Francis’ words and explicit use of the term ‘genocide’ to be another wake-up call for the world,” Bilirakis said on Tuesday, noting that Turkey’s recent military incursion into northern Syria resulted in “extremely concerning” acts committed against local populations including Kurds.

While U.S. officials have at times referred to the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of Armenians as “genocide,” officially recognizing the genocide committed a century ago has proved difficult because of the U.S. relationship with Turkey, a NATO member and geo-strategic ally.

The U.S. did submit a written statement on the Armenian genocide to the International Court of Justice in 1951, and President Ronald Reagan mentioned it by name in his proclamation on April 22, 1981; two joint congressional resolutions, H.J. Res. 148, adopted in 1975, and H.J. Res. 247, adopted in September of 1984, also recognized it.

Nevertheless, the Tuesday House resolution was the product of almost two full decades of preparation.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chaired congressional hearings on the Armenian genocide in 2000 and 2015, said that support for a resolution on the genocide was squelched in the House due to pressure by the Clinton administration in 2000. A similar attempt in 2007 was unsuccessful, he noted.

Smith said Tuesday that 28 countries and 49 U.S. states have recognized the Armenian genocide “despite Turkish Government threats—and they do make threats.”

“As Pope Francis said at his Mass marking the 100th year of genocide: ‘Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,’” Smith said.

Meet Jan Benton - leading the charge for inclusion of Catholics with disabilities

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 15:44

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 01:44 pm (CNA).- When Janice Benton, OFS was attending college in Michigan, she answered an ad in her parish bulletin that was seeking someone willing to be a catechist for children with intellectual disabilities.

That response would begin a career spanning several decades, where she would work to improve inclusion for Catholics with disabilities--a career that would lead her to speaking at the Vatican and leading the National Catholic Partnership on Disability for 15 years.

Benton will be retiring from her position this year and will be honored for her work with Catholics with disabilities at a banquet on Nov. 8. She spoke recently with CNA to discuss how the landscape in the Church has changed for people with disabilities since she began working in the field, and how she hopes things will continue to improve in the future.

After volunteering with children at her parish, Benton started a catechesis program to serve young adults with disabilities, and was working at a nursing home. There, she befriended a young woman with cerebral palsy. She told CNA she had wondered why a young adult was living in a nursing home, and sought out the friendship. She also met another volunteer in a catechetical program who had cerebral palsy.

“So I ended up with friends and family members with disabilities,...and I was blessed to work with folks from the Archdiocese of Detroit to get a lot of their training from them,” Benton said. “They had quite a good program there.”

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) was founded in 1982, and Benton assisted with its creation, having previously worked with the U.S. Bishops’ Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities. Benton took over the role of director of the NCPD in 2004.

Benton said she has seen many positive changes regarding the treatment of Catholics with disabilities during her more than 40 years working in that ministry.

“I think people are more engaged in parish life now, and their gifts are really being recognized,” she said. “I think of it as just recognizing their giftedness and that everybody is called to, everyone belongs in the Church. And they’re called as part of the body of Christ to contribute.”

Specifically, Benton said she is happy to see more and more parishes and schools adopt inclusive models to serve Catholics with disabilities.

“There’s more involvement in parish life itself and less just separate programs (that are) just kind of off to the side to serve people,” she said. “There’s just more appreciation of people for who they are, their giftedness and what they can bring to the faith community.”

While Benton is heartened by these changes, she said there’s still much more work to be done. For instance, the NCPD still receives calls from families with children who were told they would not be permitted to receive their First Communion or participate in faith formation classes due to their disabilities. The USCCB approved the Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities in 1995, which Benton called a “beautiful resource that’s easy to put into the hands of pastors and catechetical leaders.”

And although there have been substantial improvements in the Church regarding persons with disabilities, especially with the ever-growing list of Catholic schools that are willing and able to accommodate students with special needs, Benton told CNA that Catholics with disabilities are still often overlooked by other members of their parishes.

“I have a friend who says one of the things that hurts her the most is not being seen as a person, (but) kind of being seen as a ‘person with a disability’ and not as somebody you'd want to go out to lunch with or just have fun with,” said Benton.

“And my friend in my parish says what hurts often the most is that nobody wants to sit near her. They kind of keep a wide berth. And, so I think people still tend to exceptionalize disability, and want to make it special or different or kind of focus on what might be a difference, as opposed to the common humanity of everybody.”

As she prepares to leave her role at the NCPD, Benton said she hopes the organization is able to expand its presence into parishes. She hopes that parishes will make the accommodations needed, and include persons with disabilities into their regular programs.

Doing this, she said, will ensure that “people can participate fully and meaningfully--and not just be taken care of, but really share their gifts with the Church community.”

“I want people to know that the Church is here for them, that the NCPD exists,” Benton said.

“I want people with disabilities to really experience the sense of belonging and really experience people treating them with dignity and respect, and that they really are just vital members of the body of Christ.”

What does Joe Biden think about abortion?

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 13:30

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s denial of reception of Holy Communion in South Carolina on Sunday has renewed scrutiny of his evolving views on abortion.

Over the course of his decades-long career, the Catholic former Vice President has said that the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade went too far, but has now pledged to enshrine its full effects in federal law. He has been for, then against, bans of taxpayer funding for abortion and against, then for extreme practices like partial birth abortion.

Biden was denied Communion on Sunday, at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, pastor Fr. Robert Morey denied Biden Holy Communion as the Catholic presidential candidate was campaigning nearby that weekend and had attended Sunday Mass.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Fr. Morey explained in a statement sent to CNA. “Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that,” he stated.

“Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” he said.

The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception, and that every act of abortion is the wilful taking of innocent human life. In the 2008 “Meet the Press” interview, Biden was asked “as a Roman Catholic” when he thought life began.

He said that he was “prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception,” but added that to impose that belief upon others through the application of law would be “inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”

“There is a debate in our church, as Cardinal Egan would acknowledge, that's existed. Back in ‘Summa Theologia,’ when Thomas Aquinas wrote ‘Summa Theologia,’ he said there was no--it didn't occur until quickening, 40 days after conception. How am I going out and tell you, if you or anyone else that you must insist upon my view that is based on a matter of faith? And that's the reason I haven't,” Biden said.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II warned of a political mentality where “the original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people-even if it is the majority.”

“This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed: the ‘right’ ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part,” he wrote. “To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.”

Biden, a Democrat, originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 representing the state of Delaware. He served in that role until 2009, when he was elected Vice President as the running mate of President Barack Obama.

In Biden’s 36 years in the Senate and eight years as Vice President to President Barack Obama, he has reversed himself a number of times on the issue of abortion. 

While largely supported the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that found a legal right to abortion, Roe v. Wade, Biden previously said he believed the decision “went too far.” In 1981, he voted for a constitutional amendment allowing states to overturn Roe v. Wade; the next year he voted against such an amendment.

In a 2012 vice presidential debate, Biden warned that the opposing ticket would appoint judges who would outlaw abortion, and that the administration he was in would not do that. In the 2008 vice presidential debate, he bragged about spearheading “the fight against Judge Bork,” a Supreme Court judicial nominee in 1987, warning that Bork would have changed Roe v. Wade if he were confirmed to the Court.

In a 2008 interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Biden said Roe is “as close to a consensus that can exist in a society as heterogeneous as ours” in that it left decisions on life to the mother in the first trimester of pregnancy, allowed the states some intervention in the second trimester, and that “the weight of the government’s input” in the third trimester is that the pregnancy is carried to term.

Biden’s 2020 campaign platform calls for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law. It also would ensure, as part of a health care “public option,” coverage of “a woman’s constitutional right to choose.”

In 1984 then-Senator Biden supported the Mexico City Policy, which bars taxpayer funding of foreign NGOs that promote or perform abortion as a method of family planning. He was also for years a supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions in the U.S.  

Shortly after announcing his candidacy for president in April this year, Biden reversed his support for Hyde when Democrats highlighted his long-time stance, prompting a backlash from other candidates and the progressive wing of the party. He also abandoned his support for the Mexico City Policy, promising to overturn the rule if elected.

Biden also currently favors reinstating taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

In 1995 and again in 1997, Biden voted to ban partial-birth abortion, but was vocally critical of the Supreme Court’s decision that upheld a partial-birth abortion ban, saying that it could open the door for the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

A point of consistency for Biden has been his opposition to parental notification laws and laws barring minors from seeking abortions out-of-state, both of which he has spoken against. His 2020 campaign platform calls for ending state “TRAP” laws on abortion, or laws restricting abortion access such as requiring parental notification or mandatory waiting periods.

What to do about Halloween? Catholic moms – and an exorcist – weigh in

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 11:08

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2019 / 09:08 am (CNA).- For years, Cecilia Cunningham and her husband took their children trick-or-treating in their then-suburban Philadelphia neighborhood.

“It was the kind of neighborhood outside of Philadelphia where everybody knew each other, and it was a really fun neighborhood thing,” Cunningham told CNA. “People were just out talking while kids were trick or treating, and it had been really nice up until that point.”

That point, Cunningham recalled, was in the early 1990s, when pop culture saw a resurgence of the character “Freddy Krueger,” a skinless serial killer who slashes and kills his victims with a razored glove and first appeared in the 1984 film “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Cunningham’s youngest at that point was a year and a half, “and she spent the entire night crying upstairs because of all these kids coming to our door; every other kid was Freddy Krueger.”

That year, Halloween seemed to have taken a sharp turn towards the sinister and the dark, Cunningham said.

And she wasn’t alone in her observations. Several moms from the neighborhood and her weekly rosary group had noticed the same thing. That next fall, as Halloween approached, they decided that instead of trick-or-treating, they would host an All Saints Day party at their parish, complete with a potluck, saint costumes, and tons of candy.

“We knew it would be really important (to have candy) for kids who had been trick or treating, and it was an absolute blast, it was really so much better than we expected,” Cunningham said.

As some Catholics see darker elements of some Halloween celebrations, parents like Cunningham often face similar dilemmas – what to do about Halloween?

The History of the holiday

The exact origins of Halloween and its traditions are somewhat muddled.

Some historians claim that Halloween is a “baptized” form of Samhain, an ancient Gaelic festival celebrating the harvest and marking the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die.

Because of the fear of death that came with winter, celebrations of Samhain seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from life-taking spirits.

The Catholic feast of All Saints Days traces its origins in the Church to the year 609, and it was first celebrated in May. However, in the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to Nov. 1, so that Oct. 31 would become the celebration of the vigil of the feast – All Hallow’s Eve.

While some historians believe this move was made so the holiday could coincide with, and thus “baptize,” the holiday of Samhain, other historians believe that this may have been because the Germanic church was already celebrating All Saints Day on November 1, and the move had less to do with Samhain than previously thought.

An exorcist’s perspective

Father Vincent Lampert is a Vatican-trained exorcist and a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who travels the country, speaking about his work as an exorcist and what people can do to protect themselves against the demonic.

He said when deciding what to do about Halloween, it’s important for parents to remember the Christian origins of the holiday and to celebrate accordingly, rather than in a way that glorifies evil.

“Ultimately I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the kids putting on a costume, dressing up as a cowboy or Cinderella, and going through the neighborhood and asking for candy; that’s all good clean fun,” Fr. Lampert said.

Even a sheet with some holes cut in it as a ghost is fine, Fr. Lampert said.

The danger lies in costumes that deliberately glorify evil and instill fear in people, or when people pretend to have special powers or dabble in magic and witchcraft, even if they think it’s just for entertainment.  

“In the book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 18, it talks about not trying to consult the spirits of the dead, not consulting those who dabble in magic and witchcraft and the like,” he said, “because it’s a violation of a Church commandment that people are putting other things ahead of their relationship with God.”

“And that would be the danger of Halloween that somehow God is lost in all of this, the religious connotation is lost and then people end up glorifying evil.”

It’s also important to remember that the devil and evil spirits do not actually have any additional authority on Halloween, Fr. Lampert said, and that it only seems that way.

“It’s because of what people are doing, not because of what the devil is doing. Perhaps by the way they’re celebrating that day, they’re actually inviting more evil into our lives,” he said.

One of the best things parents can do is to use Halloween as a teachable moment, Fr. Lampert said.

“A lot of children are out celebrating Halloween, perhaps evil is being glorified, but we’re not really sitting around and talking about why certain practices are not conducive with our Catholic faith and our Catholic identity. I think using it as a teachable moment would be a great thing to do.”

Trick-or-treating Catholics

Anne Auger, a Catholic mom of three from Helenville, Wisc., said that while she lets her kids dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating, she’s found that she has to screen the houses as they go, avoiding ones that are decorated with scarier things.

“Last year we had this experience this person came to the door dressed like this demonic wolf with glowing eyes and it was like, what on earth?” she said.

“Sometimes people dress up like witches and I can understand that, but this was a whole new level. It’s just so different from when we were little.”

She also makes sure to emphasize to her children the significance of Halloween as it relates to All Saints Day, Auger said.

“We let them know that we’re having a party because it’s celebrating the saints in heaven, we’re celebrating them, so when they’re trick or treating and doing all of this we tell them it’s because it’s a party for all the saints.”

Kate Lesnefsky, a Catholic mother of seven children ranging from ages 3-16, said she thinks it’s important for Catholics not to shun Halloween completely, since it has very Christian origins.

“I think as Christians we’re so used to being against the world, that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, even though it might have been something that actually came from us,” she said. “But then we lose the history of it, and we think, ‘Oh well this is the devil’s day,’ just because some people say it is.”

Lesnefsky said she lets her kids choose their costumes for trick-or-treating, as long as they’re not too scary or demonic. The next day, her children go to Mass for All Saints Day, and the family uses it as an opportunity to talk about what it means when someone passes away, and what it means to be a saint.

“I have a sister that died when I was 19, so we talk about different people that we know in heaven, or my grandparents, and we’ll talk about different saints,” Lesnefsky said.

And while haunted houses and horror movies are off-limits to her children, Lesnefsky said she thinks Halloween is an important time for Catholics to celebrate and be a witness in the culture.

“As Catholics it’s important that we don’t become fundamentalist Christians, I think that can be a detriment to our faith,” she said. “If we are negligent of knowing history, then we don’t even know about things that could be life-giving in our culture.”


This article was originally published Oct. 31, 2015.