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Study finds no 'gay gene' - What that means for Catholic morality

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Aug 30, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- After a major scientific study found there is not a singular genetic marker for homosexualty, a Catholic theologian explained that the findings are fully in accord with Catholic teaching.

The study was published Aug. 30 in Science. It examined data from several large genetic databanks in multiple countries, and surveyed nearly half a million people about their sexual partners and preferences. Previous studies on the matter have only examined sample groups of hundreds of people.

“From a genetic standpoint, there is no single [genetic distinction] from opposite-sex to same-sex sexual behaviors,” said Andrea Ganna, a geneticist at Finland’s Institute of Molecular Medicine, and the study’s lead author.

Speaking to Scientific American, Eric Vilain, a geneticist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., called the study’s result “the end of the ‘gay gene’” theory.

In recent decades, many of those involved in the LGBT movement have advanced the argument that sexual orientation is genetically determined, and that people who experienced same-sex attraction are born with a fixed orientation.

In a June interview, Fr. James Martin SJ, author of “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” said that "most reputable psychologists, psychiatrists, biologists, social scientists say that people are simply born this way." 

In a commentary published along with the study, Oxford University geneticist Melinda Mills noted an “inclination to reduce sexuality to genetic determinism” in support of sociological or ideological positions.

“Attributing same-sex orientation to genetics could enhance civil rights or reduce stigma,” she wrote. “Conversely, there are fears it provides a tool for intervention or ‘cure.’”

Still, Mills said the results of the study show that the use of genetics to predict same-sex attraction, or to change it through some kind of gene editing, is “wholly and unreservedly impossible.”

Commenting on the report Friday, Martin told CNA that "the study shows that a variety of factors, including genetic factors, influence human sexuality.” 

“For me, the most helpful quote came from a geneticist who was one of the lead researchers, who talked about how 'natural' homosexuality is,” Martin said, quoting Dr. Benjamin Neale of MIT.

Neale told the New York Times that same-sex behavior is “written into our genes and it’s part of our environment... this is part of our species and it’s part of who we are.”  

“That seems to sum up the results of the study accurately," said Martin.

The research showed five distinct genetic data points which appear common among individuals who reported at least one same-sex encounter. Two of these markers appear linked to hormones and smell, factors in sexual attraction. 

But the five markers together explained less than 1% of differences in sexual activity among the population, the results found.

“Although they did find particular genetic loci associated with same-sex behavior,” Mills said, “when they combine the effects of these loci together into one comprehensive score, the effects are so small, under 1%, that this genetic score cannot in any way be used to predict same-sex sexual behavior of an individual.”

Noting that the study results highlight considerable differences by generation and the influence of cultural norms on sexual behavior, Mills concluded that future research was best focused on “how genetic predispositions are altered by environmental factors.”

“Once again it's also important that we listen to the lived experience of LGBT people, as we minister to them in the church,” Martin said.

Dr. Kevin Miller, assistant professor of theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, told CNA that the results are in accord with the Church’s existing teaching about homosexualtiy.

“The Catechism treats homosexuality in nos. 2357-2359. Early in this treatment we read that its ‘psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.’ The new study does not change this.”

The study draws a distinction between people who engage in homosexual acts and those who identified as “gay” or “homosexual,” a distinction Miller noted was already central to the Church’s teachings.

The Catechism teaches that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “under no circumstances can they be approved.” This is because, Miller said, only sexual acts oriented by their nature to the possibility of procreation and set within marriage are “compatible with the essential moral virtue of chastity and – as St. John Paul II emphasized in both his pre-papal and papal writings – love.”. 

“Any others are – independent of the subjective dispositions of those who take part in them – objectively hedonistic and selfish, rather than authentically loving. Obviously there are many types of sexual acts that could fall into this category - homosexual acts are by no means the only type.”

Homosexual tendency or inclination, often called same-sex attraction, is defined by the Catechism as “objectively disordered,” Miller said. This is because a desire which, if acted on, would lead to immoral acts is by its nature disordered, he said. 

But, Miller noted, the desire or inclination itself is not “morally wrong,” since a person does not choose to have an inclination or exercise their free will over having it.

Central to understanding the distinction between sexual inclinations and acts, Miller said, is that all sexual acts are freely chosen; even if a person has an interior disposition toward engaging in homosexual acts, they have the same freedom to pursue them or not as a person inclined towards immoral acts with someone of the opposite sex.

“One can see that in this explanation of the Church’s teaching, there is no reference of any sort to the cause of the homosexual tendency or disposition. This is simply irrelevant to the analysis of the moral goodness or evil of homosexual acts, and of the ordered or disordered character of the homosexual tendency or disposition.”

Miller explained that the origin of a person’s sexual orientation, whether biological, environmental, or experiential, had no bearing on what the Church teaches about the morality of acting on a particular sexual urge. 

“These teachings do not depend on any assumption regarding the cause of the tendency or inclination,” he said.

“Even if it could be shown that a homosexual tendency or orientation is wholly biologically determined, this would not affect at all the logic underlying the Church’s teaching.”

Dupont: I was 'absolutely' unaware Seattle man was planning suicide

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 13:44

Seattle, Wash., Aug 30, 2019 / 11:44 am (CNA).- A priest who was photographed blessing a man who planned to commit suicide said Friday that he was unaware of the man’s intentions, and that if he had known what the man was planning, he would have acted differently.

“I believe that life is a gift. I believe that it is a gift from God and an opportunity every day to learn from God and love as God is trying to teach us to love though scriptures and the examples of Christ and the saints. I feel terrible that there is an insinuation that I, or a member of the clergy or religious order or this archdiocese, would think otherwise or would make a public statement otherwise,” Fr. Quentin Dupont, SJ, told America magazine Aug. 30.

Dupont is a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle, and periodically celebrates weekend Masses at St. Therese Parish in Seattle.

A photograph of the priest was part of an Aug. 26 Associated Press story profiling Robert Fuller, a St. Therese parishioner who committed medically assisted suicide May 10.

On May 5, Dupont, along with the parish community, blessed Fuller at a Mass he had announced as his last.

Dupont told America that when he conferred the blessing,  “I was absolutely, unequivocally unaware of Mr. Fuller’s intention [to kill himself]. I’m not part of the conversations that happen in [the St. Therese] community all the time. I was given very limited information, and I had very limited knowledge about Mr. Fuller’s situation.”

“I did what I thought was pastorally expedient with the knowledge that I had. And it turns out I did not have key pieces of the story, otherwise I would have reacted completely differently.”

Members of the St Therese parish community were aware of Fuller’s plans at the May 5. He had by then announced that his funeral would be held at the parish May 17 and arranged for a parish choir to perform at the “end-of-life” party he threw in the hours before his suicide.

Dupont, however, told America that he was not told of those plans when he arrived at the parish May 5.

“I arrived at church and I saw a parishioner there and I asked how he was doing. He said, ‘Well, this is Bob Fuller’s last Mass,’ and I was puzzled and so I asked him what he meant. He said, ‘Well, Bob is going to die.’ I didn’t know much about Mr. Fuller. I knew he was very ill and I thought that meant that his treatment had run out, that he was getting off treatment and that Mr. Fuller knew he had days to live. And I continued my way to the sacristy and I met another couple of parishioners who said likewise, that this was Bob’s last Mass. Through those conversations, I became aware that this man that I knew was very ill would like a blessing.”

“So we talked about doing a blessing at the end of Mass. We had Mass and at the end of Mass we blessed him.”

“I thought the pastoral situation I was walking into was with this very ill man who knows he’s about to die. I wanted to make sure he felt cared for by the church.”

Dupont said that he knew a television camera was at the May 5 Mass “because Bob was there. I didn’t probe what story they were writing. I thought they were making a story about this man who was facing great health difficulties and who had a life of faith, which I assumed was an interesting story to tell in a day and age which is heavily secularized.”

“There was a photographer there. I do not at all remember being introduced to this photographer as a member of the press. I was never asked for an official release about images that would be taken of me or photos that would be taken of me. I thought that this photographer was there because this was [Mr. Fuller’s] last Mass and he wanted a memento, a memory, of this Mass, this community, this time, when later he would be gravely ill in bed and he wanted to feel the strength and the love of the community with him. And I thought this was a professional photographer that he had hired to take some pictures to have them as memories and souvenirs for himself,” he said.

The priest said that a parishioner told him about Fuller’s suicide plans shortly after the Mass, at the parish social hour.

“I had absolutely no idea what his intentions were before that. The moment I learned about his intentions, I was completely stunned. I was shocked; and I was just really really puzzled. I remain very puzzled,” the priest told America.

Dupont addressed a March 16 post in which Fuller claimed that he had the approval of a priest to end his own life.

“I have absolutely no reservations about what I am doing,” Fuller wrote in that post. “And my pastor/sponsor has given me his blessings. And he’s a Jesuit!!!”

Dupont said that he was “absolutely not” the Jesuit priest Fuller referenced, and that he did not know who the priest might be. Neither the Archdiocese of Seattle nor the West Province of the Society of Jesus have indicated what priest Fuller might have been referencing, or if the matter is under investigation.

Nor has the archdiocese addressed questions related to the parish choir’s performance at the party Fuller hosted leading up to his suicide.

The archdiocese has addressed Fuller’s funeral, which he scheduled with the parish prior to his suicide.

In its Aug. 28 statement, the archdiocese said that when Fuller discussed his desire for a funeral with his pastor, Fr. Maurice Mamba, the priest discussed the gift of life and tried to convince him to change his mind. He made it clear that neither he nor the parish could support his plan to take his own life.”

After it was clear Fuller would continue with his plans, Mamba contacted Archbishop Sartain, who agreed that “it is the church’s responsibility to pastorally care for those who mourn. With this in mind, the archbishop gave permission for the funeral with certain conditions to ensure there was no endorsement or other perceived support for the way in which Mr. Fuller ended his life,” the archdiocese said.

Fuller announced the arrangements for his own funeral one week before he died, and days before the parish blessing. He scheduled the funeral for May 17. The archdiocese did not indicate when Sartain granted permission for the funeral, or when Mamba requested it.

For his part, Dupont said that he feels “shocked” by the attention the story has received.

“I feel absolutely terrible about the confusion that has arisen out of this story,” the priest told America.

“The last thing I want to do is be part of a confusion, and I certainly have no desire to question the church’s teaching on the sanctity of life.”


Healed aneurysm investigated as possible miracle for Creole nun's beatification

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 05:30

Little Rock, Ark., Aug 30, 2019 / 03:30 am (CNA).- In December 2017, 19 year-old Arkansas college student Christine McGee was rushed to the hospital by her mother.

Christine had fallen ill with what turned out to be an aneurysm, and it looked like she was going to die. Once at the hospital, Christine fell into a coma and became unresponsive.

Today, Christine is healed. She recently received her Master’s degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, and she can drive and live independently.

Her recovery could be a miracle that progresses the sainthood cause of a Louisiana Creole religious sister, say authorities from the Diocese of Little Rock Arkansas.

While Christine was ill, her mother prayed for the intercession of Venerable Henriette DeLille, asking for healing for her daughter.

“From the time she learned about her sickness, she started to pray, and prayed to Henriette the whole time. Even though it seemed like things weren’t going to work, she held onto that belief,” Sister Doris Goudeaux, co-director of the Henriette Delille Commission Office, told the Arkansas Catholic.

Born in 1812 to a wealthy French father and a free Creole woman of Spanish, French and African descent, Henriette was groomed throughout her childhood to become a part of what was then known as the placage system.

Under the placage system, free women of color (term used at the time for people of full or partial African descent, who were no longer or never were slaves) entered into common law marriages with wealthy white plantation owners, who often kept their legitimate families at the plantations in the country. It was a rigid system, but afforded free women of color comfortable and even luxurious lives.

Trained in French literature, music, dancing, and nursing, Henriette was prepared to become the “kept woman” of a wealthy white man throughout her childhood.

However, in her early 20s, Henriette declared that her religious convictions could not be reconciled with the placage lifestyle for which she was being prepared. Raised Catholic, which was typical for free people of color at the time, she had recently had a deep encounter with God, and believed that the placage system violated Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage.

In 1836, wanting to dedicate her life to God, Henriette used the proceeds of an inheritance to found a small unrecognized order of nuns, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known today as the Sisters of the Holy Family.

During Henriette’s lifetime, the Sisters taught religion and other subjects to the slaves, even though it was illegal to do so at the time, punishable by death or life imprisonment. The sisters also encouraged free women of color to marry men of their own class and to have their marriages blessed in the Church, and they established a nursing home for the poor and sick elderly, among other works.

In 1988, the Mother Superior of the order at the time requested the opening of Henriette Delille’s cause for canonization. She was declared a Servant of God, and then was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI on March 27, 2010.

A miracle through Henriette’s intercession is needed for her beatification, the next step in the process before canonization to sainthood.

The Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas has been studying and gathering information on the healing of Christine McGee, which they believe could be that miracle. They first informed the Holy Family sisters of the miracle, and the sisters then granted their approval for the diocese to proceed in its investigation.

Because the possible miracle occurred in the Diocese of Little Rock, they were the ones to undertake the investigation, starting in 2015.

According to the Arkansas Catholic, a diocesan tribunal has submitted formal documentation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican, which is considering the evidence of the possible miracle and whether it will be approved for the cause of Venerable Henriette.  

“We served as a fact-finding gathering source for the Holy See,” Father Greg Luyet, JCL, told the Arkansas Catholic. Luyet serves as judicial vicar for the Diocese of Little Rock and oversaw the canonical processes involved in this stage of Henriette’s cause.

Sr. Doris told the Arkansas Catholic that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has already issued “a decree of juridical validity,” dated December 2018, which confirmed that the diocese met the documentation requirements necessary for a possible miracle to be considered. 

There are currently at least four other Catholics of African American descent whose causes are being considered for sainthood, including Julia Greeley, Pierre Toussaint, Mother Mary Lange, and Father Augustus Tolton. If the possible miracle for Henriette’s cause is approved, she would move on step closer to possibly being the first officially canonized saint of African American descent in the United States.

Pro-life group: Use gene editing to fix disease, not make designer babies

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 19:20

New York City, N.Y., Aug 29, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- As scientists explore new avenues for gene editing, a pro-life group is urging caution against the temptation to use the technology to create “designer babies.”

The Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the research branch of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, commented on the use of CRISPR, a gene editing tool, to alter the DNA of sperm cells at a lab in New York.

“Use of CRISPR to manipulate genes or remove them entirely from the human germline presents a host of scientific and ethical questions that we can’t possibly answer at this time,” said David Prentice, CLI’s vice president and research director.

“Our focus should be on helping patients, not on designer babies,” he stressed in an Aug. 28 press release.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine, the biomedical research arm of Cornell University, recently began the project. The experiment hopes to fix genetic mutations that cause diseases to be inherited from a father to his children, and to examine and fix causes of male infertility.

Gianpiero Palermo, a professor of embryology at Weill Cornell Medicine, is head of the research lab where the project is underway. He told NPR that the goal is to remove abnormalities from the gene pool. He said, theoretically, this would be a “major, major benefit to society.”

However, Prentice noted that there are still many unknown variables. He said there is no way to predict with certainty that gene editing will have positive results in the long run.

“Researchers describe the ‘theoretical’ benefits of germline editing, but theoretical is all this is. We simply don’t have any ability to ascertain the long-term effects germline mutation will have on future generations who inherit a mutated gene or the lack of a gene,” he said.

At the lab in New York, the first series of trials will attempt to edit the BRCA 2 gene, which is strongly connected to cancers such as breast, ovarian, or prostate.

Rob Stein, an NPR health correspondent who recently visited the lab, said the DNA of sperm is difficult to access because it is packed tightly at the head of the sperm. He said scientists are trying to zap the sperm with electricity to loosen the DNA and shuffle the CRISPR tool inside.

Stein said modifying the DNA of sperm is safer than using CRISPR to edit the genes of human embryos, which can pose complications if scientists end up “editing some and not all of the cells in any babies [they] try to make from an edited embryo.”

He also acknowledged the concerns surrounding gene editing technology.

“Somebody someday could try to use the same technology to make, you know, so-called designer babies, where parents pick and choose the traits of their children. And that raises all kinds of sort of scary sci-fi scenarios about genetic haves and genetic have-nots,” he said.

Virginia governor accepts appointee's resignation over anti-Catholic tweets

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 13:00

Richmond, Va., Aug 29, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A Democratic Party activist with a history of anti-Catholic and other bigoted social media posts has resigned from Virginia Council of Women after her appointment prompted outcry from Catholics. 

Gail Gordon Donegan, a Democratic activist and self-described “gadfly” from Alexandria, was appointed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to the Virginia Council on Women on August 16. The council serves as an advisory to the governor, awards scholarships, and develops programming. 

On Monday, Bishops Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Barry Knestout of Richmond co-signed a letter to Northam calling Gordon Donegan’s statements “offensive to human dignity” and requesting that he rescind Gordon Donegan’s appointment. 

On Tuesday, Virginia Catholics were encouraged to contact the governor to express their concerns. 

In a statement released to the media Aug. 28, Gordon Donegan said she was unwilling to let her history of profane public mockery become a distraction from the work of the committee.

“Today I submitted my letter of resignation to the Governor and will no longer serve as a member of the Virginia Council of Women,” Donegan said. “I do not wish to distract from the work of the Council. I will have no further comment besides this statement.”

On Aug. 23, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a review of her Twitter account, noting Gordon Donegan’s many anti-Catholic statements, as well as the frequent use of profanity, and jokes about sexual assault and pedophilia. Gordon Donegan’s Twitter account has since been locked and made private. 

Northam initially defended the appointment, though his office insisted the governor did not “condone” the language in the tweets. Following outcry from numerous faith groups, including both Catholic dioceses in the state, his office later confirmed the resignation had been accepted.

A statement from the Diocese of Arlington, released Wednesday, called the resignation “a welcome development,” and said that Bishop Burbidge “thanks and commends” Virginia Catholics who registered their objections to the appointment.

The controversial content on Gordon Donegan’s social media accounts dates back to 2010, since that time she repeatedly tweeted anti-Catholic jokes, many of which made fun of the sexual abuse of children. In addition to the Catholic Church, she also issued profane tweets aimed at the Boy Scouts, Republican politicians, and supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president. 

While saying she accepted that some of her tweets “crossed the line,” in her resignation statement Donegan called the backlash to her remarks “just another chapter in the bullying that women activists face every day on social media.”

Gordon Donegan said she had been the “target” of a “small group” who had forced her resignation by “painting a false picture” of her.

“I will resign today — but I will be taking legal action in the near future to ensure this small group is never able to smear someone like this again.”

Can tattoos be sacramentals? 

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 05:30

Denver, Colo., Aug 29, 2019 / 03:30 am (CNA).- When the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the English Carmelite, St. Simon Stock, she carried the Carmelite scapular in her hand and told him: “This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in this garment shall be saved.”

Some 300 years later, by the 16th century, a smaller version of the Carmelite scapular, known today as the Brown Scapular, was made available to lay Catholics who underwent a small ceremony and blessing that enrolled them as a member of the Brown Scapular Confraternity.

The scapular, carrying the powerful promise of escaping hell, remains a popular devotion today.

But scapulars can be awkward under certain types of clothes or simply easy to forget in the morning. So, could a well-intentioned Catholic already enrolled in the Brown Scapular Confraternity get a tattoo of the image of the scapular on their skin and receive those same graces and promises?

CNA asked; theologians and priests answered.

The short answer is: no. But, you might not want to write off tattoos completely. There is a bit more to it than that.

“It seems the answer is quite simply, no,” Dr. Mikail Whitfield, a professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas, told CNA.

The reasons for this have to do with the way the Catholic Church defines sacramentals, and the nature of tattoos, he added.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacramentals are “sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.”

The Catechism adds that sacramentals “do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.”

Sacramentals are not just objects, such as brown scapulars or Miraculous Medals, but the Catechism notes that blessings, of people, objects, meals and places, are primary among the sacramentals.

The Miraculous Medal is a sacramental inspired by the Marian apparition to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830. On one side it features an image of Mary, and on the other, a cross with an “M” underneath it, surrounded by 12 stars and the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Canon law defines sacramentals as “sacred signs by which effects, especially spiritual effects, are signified in some imitation of the sacraments and are obtained through the intercession of the Church” (Can 1166).

“Thus, for something to be a sacramental it needs to be a common object (or act) which can act as a sacred sign, which carries some imitation of the sacraments and is set aside by the Church as a means to seek grace,” Whitfield said.

The scapular, in its smaller form used by laypeople, imitates the full-length scapulars worn by members of religious orders, is a piece of wool clothing with is a common object, and imitates the vestments worn at baptism and by priests, Whitfield said.

Tattoos, on the other hand, lack many of these elements.

“While a tattoo is a thing, it is hard to consider it an object. It is more properly an image, though admittedly images can be sacred Furthermore, it is certainly not a ‘common object’ of daily life by which we can be reminded that all the things we do in this life, even the simplest things like wearing clothing, are supposed to be ordered towards our heavenly end,” Whitfield said.

Furthermore, he added, tattoos do not seem to imitate any other sacramental aspects of the Church, and they have not been set aside by the Church as sacramentals themselves.

In fact, the Catholic Church has not made any definitive statements on the morality, or lack thereof, of getting tattoos, and so answers to questions about tattoos vary widely among theologians and priests.

“I don’t think we can talk about tattoos as something good,” said Fr. Luis Granados, D.C.J.M, who serves as the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney theological seminary in Denver.

“They are not ‘intrinsically evil’ but they are wrong ways of treating our body,” he said, even if a tattoo is religious in its image or messaging. 

“The problem of a tattoo is...we are misunderstanding the meaning of the body,” he said. “Our body is called to be accepted as a gift from God. We can heal what is sick, but we are called to accept our body, with its characteristics.”

Adornments of the body, such as makeup or nail polish, are different because they are not permanent changes to one’s body, Granados said.

“I think the question to understand why a tattoo is wrong, is: Why do I want to get a tattoo? Why do I want to spend this money and to some extent risk my health? My body has been wonderfully created by God (Psalm 139) and it does not need my additional words. It already speaks,” he said.

However, in some parts of the world, there are deeply rooted traditions of Christian tattoos. Some Coptic Christian churches require that Christians must have a tattoo of a cross on their arm in order to be admitted into their churches.

One Coptic Christian family has been tattooing pilgrims to the Holy Land with crosses and other religious symbols as a token of their visit for more than 700 years.

Seeing a priest or a religious sister or brother with tattoos may become a more common occurrence as well, because according to a 2015 Harris Poll, a whopping 47% of millennials reported that they have at least one tattoo.

Br. MJ Groark O.F.M. Cap., is one of those millennials, and is “heavily tattooed.”

“As a millennial (and soon to be priest), I can tell you that my tattoos have been generally met with overwhelming generosity. I have a heck of a conversion story, and these are part of it,” he told CNA.

“I can tell you that God is calling many men and women from this generation into ministry, and a whole bunch of us have tattoos. It's part of our generation's way of expressing our lives, and increasingly, our spiritual beliefs,” he said.

Groark said that considering what he learned in his moral theology training, he thinks the morality of a tattoo lies in its meaning.

“...the human person is created imago Dei (in the image of God). We are indeed temples of the Holy Spirit. And like the temples of old, and the temples we continue to worship at, we are somehow lured by the Catholic imagination to decorate and to magnify the beauty of our spaces,” he said.

“As long as a tattoo points towards the true, the good, and the beautiful, I'm okay with it. If it does not, then there would be a question of the morality.” 

Father Ambrose Dobrozsi is another tattooed millennial priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio. Dobrozsi told CNA that he did not think tattoos could not be considered sacramentals in the strict, proper sense of the word.

“Sacramentals, used well, keep us close to the grace of Christ given to us in the seven sacraments, and receive their graces by the authority that Christ gives his bride, the Church, when she asks for his help. When the Church asks Christ for graces, He never refuses his bride,” he said.

“This means that sacramentals only work when they are done according to the rules of the Church. If we want to ask Christ for these graces, we need to make sure we do so authentically as the Church, obediently accepting the rules she sets down. It's clear in Canon Law that the Apostolic See alone has the authority to establish sacramentals and define the criteria for their use [c. 1167],” Dobrozsi said. 

However, he added, it is possible that tattoos could be “sacramentals” in a broader sense of the word.

“A permanent image, engraved on the skin, could certainly serve as a constant, physical reminder of our new life in Christ. The image of a rosary, a cross, or other sacramental on our skin could lead us frequently to pray, to desire the seven sacraments more, and to think and act in communion with the Church,” he said.

“So, while a tattoo could not fulfill the requirements to be a proper sacramental in itself, if used in discernment and good faith it could certainly provide similar benefits and be helpful in the pursuit of holiness.”

Whitfield said that another reason that a tattoo would not be a proper scapular is because “an image is not the thing it images.”

“A picture of Michelangelo’s Pietà is not the same as seeing it in person. And standing in front of his sculpture pales in comparison to those who stood at the cross and saw Mary in person holding Christ’s lifeless body in her arms. The thing is always greater than the image. So, not only is a tattoo of the scapular not the scapular, but there’s some question of why it would be preferable; its an image of the thing, not the thing itself,” he said.

The Church already provides Catholics with an alternative to the traditional, woolen brown scapular through the wearing of a Miraculous Medal, which was approved by the Church as a substitute for the scapular in 1910.

“Why? In certain tropical and subtropical areas of the world the use of a scapular had been identified as impractical. High levels of sweat would cause scapulars to break down and deteriorate at such a rate that they were hard to maintain. Because of this, the Miraculous Medal was permitted by the Church to be worn in lieu of the scapular,” Whitfield said.

Is it possible, then that the Catholic Church could extend through its authority the same graces and promises of the scapular to a tattoo of the scapular?

“Aside from the fact that as we’ve seen, tattoos do not seem to be of the nature to appropriately be a sacramental, I have a hard time seeing a practical purpose why such an extension should or would be made,” he said.

Part of the appeal of a scapular tattoo, as previously mentioned, is its permanence - someone with a scapular tattoo would not have to remember to put their scapular back on every morning when they got dressed.

But that remembrance is important, Whitfield said, and a one-time commitment “is not how the Christian life is lived.”

“Each and every day we recommit to the God whom we love. Even those who take permanent vows must choose to live them out each day. It is a daily struggle, and choosing to affirm that wearing the scapular is as important to me today as it was yesterday is part of the very commitment that one makes in putting it on,” he said.

Ultimately, Whitfield said, because God is all-powerful, he could decide to extend the graces of the scapular to someone with a scapular tattoo, but he is not bound to do so, as they are not the same as the sacraments of the Church.

“Sacramentals are reminders and holy practices which dispose us to grace, and through them we believe that God gives further graces by the will of his divine mercy,” Whitfield said.

“(God) has not bound himself to giving graces through sacramentals in the same way he has in the sacraments. So, might he be able to will to give the same graces to someone with a tattoo as someone who wears the scapular? He certainly could, but having the tattoo doesn’t mean he will.”




Federal court upholds block on Indiana 'parental notification' abortion law

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 19:30

Chicago, Ill., Aug 28, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- A federal appeals court today upheld an injunction that blocks an Indiana law designed to require parental notification for minors seeking abortion.

Indiana law requires any Indiana minor seeking an abortion to provide the courts with written consent from a parent. The state allows a minor to petition a court for approval to have an abortion without parental consent, but a 2017 law also allows judges to notify parents that their daughters are seeking to have an abortion without consent.

In 2017, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that prevents judges from notifying parents when minors seek abortions. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that injunction Aug. 28 by a vote of 2-1.

According to the Associated Press, the court said the notification provision would place an “undue burden” on teens seeking an abortion.

Opponents to the court’s decision have said it restricts the rights of parents to be involved in their children’s medical decisions.

Circuit Judge David Hamilton disagreed.

“The State has not yet come forward with evidence showing that there is a problem for the new parental notice requirement to solve, let alone that the law would reasonably be expected to solve it,” he wrote.

The preliminary injunction issued two years ago was in the context of a lawsuit filed against the state by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

After the initial court decision, state attorney general Curtis Hill said the ruling was “an attempt to give courts rather than parents the legal guardianship of children.”

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld part of another Indiana law, which required aborted babies to be either buried or cremated. The court said states have a “legitimate interest in proper disposal of fetal remains.”

“The Seventh Circuit clearly erred in failing to recognize that interest as a permissible basis for Indiana’s disposition law,” the court said.

Pro-life leaders welcomed the decision. Denise Burke, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in response to that decision that “unborn infants shouldn’t be disposed of as ‘medical waste’ when they die before birth, regardless of whether their deaths are spontaneous, accidental, or induced,” she said.

The Supreme Court has not considered the merits of another Indiana law under judicial injunction. That law woul prohibit abortions chosen solely on the baby’s sex, race, or disability.

“Indiana law also sends a clear message that all victims of discrimination – born and unborn – are worthy of protection,” Burke said in May.

“We had hoped the Supreme Court would take this opportunity to revisit the 7th Circuit’s deeply flawed ruling, which endorses a lethal form of discrimination, as long as it occurs in utero.”

Facebook posts contradict Seattle archdiocese claims on parishioner’s planned suicide

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 13:36

Seattle, Wash., Aug 28, 2019 / 11:36 am (CNA).- Social media posts made by Robert Fuller, the man whose assisted suicide was profiled Aug. 26 by the Associated Press, suggest that he scheduled his funeral with his parish days before his suicide, and that a priest had “given his blessings” to the suicide plan. 

In a March 16 Facebook post, Fuller claimed that he had completed the legal steps required to receive a prescription of life-ending drugs, and that he had the approval of a priest to end his own life. 

“I have absolutely no reservations about what I am doing,” he wrote. “And my pastor/sponsor has given me his blessings. And he’s a Jesuit!!!”

Fuller did not name the priest referenced in the post, and the pastor of St. Therese parish, Fr. Maurice Mamba, is not a Jesuit. Several Jesuits assist with Sunday Masses at the parish. Examination of past parish bulletins show that only one, Fr. Quentin Dupont, SJ, regularly celebrated the Sunday Mass that Fuller normally attended.

Dupont was the celebrant at the Mass on May 5, at which the priest, along with first communicants and other parishioners, extended their hands in blessing over Fuller. 

Other posts on Fuller’s Facebook page recount that he met with parish staff as he planned the final days of his life, including a party held in the hours before his suicide on May 10, and his own funeral.

On May 4, Fuller posted details of his upcoming funeral, which he had arranged to be held in the parish on May 17. The May 19 parish bulletin from St. Therese included a notice of Fuller’s death, and confirmed that his funeral was held at the church on May 17.

In the same post, Fuller wrote that he had one week left to live. He thanked his “faith family” at St. Therese, and invited people to join him at Mass the next day and at his “end of life celebration party” on May 10 - the day he died.

The Archdiocese of Seattle did not respond by deadline to CNA’s request for clarity.

The Facebook posts appear to be at odds with a statement released by the Archdiocese of Seattle on Tuesday. That statement said parish leaders had been unaware of Fuller’s intentions at the time he received a blessing during Mass on May 5, and that the priest who led the liturgy had only been told Fuller was gravely sick.

In addition to the posts regarding his funeral and his pastor’s “blessing,” other social media posts by Fuller suggest that parish leaders knew about his plans to end his own life, and affirmed his decision. 

On March 3, Fuller posted that he had arranged for one of the musicians at the parish to perform during his end of life “party” to mark his suicide. Three weeks later, he posted that a parish choir would perform as well.

“Today I asked our choir director if he and other musicians and singers can come perform during the first 1 1/2 hours and he emphatically replied YES. OF COURSE!” wrote Fuller on March 24. 

An article on the Seattle Housing Authority’s website confirms that the Shades of Praise choir from St. Therese performed at the party. 

Parish choir director Kent Stevenson also told the AP that Fuller’s suicide “was comletely in keeping with who Bob was” and that Fuller made the choice to die with “tenacity and clarity.” 

Neither Dupont nor the West Province of the Society of Jesus responded to requests for comment.

HHS says university hospital forced nurses to assist in abortions

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Aug 28, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Wednesday it has put the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) on notice after several nurses there reported being forced to help with abortions against their moral objections.

“In a country with many contentious issues, we do not want a society where, on the issue of life and death, people are forced to violate their deepest-held beliefs about it,” Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, stated to reporters on Aug 28.

“Our investigation has uncovered serious discrimination by UVMMC against nurses and staff who cannot, in good conscience, assist in elective abortions,” Severino said in a written statement provided by HHS. “We stand ready to assist UVMMC in changing its policies and procedures to respect conscience rights and remedy the effects of its discrimination.”

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a Notice of Violation to the University of Vermont Medical Center, after it found that a nurse was forced to participate in abortions as a matter of the hospital’s official policy; the federal agency says it has already investigated and attempted to “resolve the matter” but the hospital has not yet cooperated.

The medical center violated the Church Amendments, which were enacted in the 1970s to protect health care workers with conscience-based objections to helping with abortions, the HHS said.

The hospital began performing elective abortions in 2017, but did not inform all staffers, “many of which had already informed” the hospital of their objections to assisting in abortions, Severino said on a conference call with reporters.

The nurse at the center of the case was scheduled for a procedure that was apparently dealing with a miscarriage. She had reportedly made her objections to assisting in abortions known for years, but was not told that she was scheduled to help with an abortion until she entered the room and the abortionist informed her, saying “Don’t hate me.”

This “put the nurse in a tremendous moral quandary,” Severino told reporters. The nurse asked for a replacement but her request was refused. She helped with the abortion, and “has been traumatized ever since,” Severino said.

The hospital has policies mandating that employees assigned to assist with abortions do so regardless of their religious or moral objections. The current policies “do allow for some accommodation,” Severino noted, but are still conditioned upon staffing levels at the hospital, at its discretion.

Federal law, the Church Amendments, put the burden on federally-funded entities to set up procedures so that such cases do not happen, Severino said.

After the incident, the nurse filed an official complaint with HHS on May 9, 2018; despite the agency ordering the hospital, which receives HHS funding, to produce documents and witnesses concerning the incident, the hospital did not comply with the demands.

OCR found, in its ensuing investigation, that several other staff members at the hospital were assigned to participate in abortions despite their conscience-based objections, since at least the spring of 2017.

The hospital was “not fully cooperative” with the HHS investigation, and “contested” both the investigation and the allegations, but the agency gathered “more than sufficient evidence” in the case, Severino said.

“There was a coerced abortion, that we are convinced of,” he said.

The HHS is basing its Notice of Violation on the Church Amendments, which prohibit discrimination against health care employees who have conscientious objections to assisting in abortions.

Unless the hospital notifies OCR within 30 days that it intends to change its policies to not discriminate any further against health care personnel who object to assisting with abortions, and makes remedies for past incidents of such discrimination, HHS will forward its notice to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the branch of HHS that provides funding for the hospital. Severino said that the hospital’s HRSA funding had been $1.6 million over a three-year period.

In May, HHS issued a new rule mandating that health care providers receiving federal money first be certified that they comply with more than two dozen legislative protections for health care workers objecting to performing or participating in health care procedures against their conscience; these procedures would include abortions, sterilizations, or gender-transition surgeries.

Previously, HHS had announced a new division of Conscience and Religious Freedom within the Office of Human Rights (OHR), including a new mechanism for health care workers to contact the department directly with complaints of violations of their religious freedom or conscience.

Severino said that while the agency received an average of 1.25 conscience-related complaints per year in eight years, the agency is now receiving hundreds of such complaints per year. In the 2018 fiscal year, over 1,300 complaints in the HHS Conscience and Religious Freedom division were received, and 784 were retained, 

He credited the increase to a greater awareness of conscience-based discrimination in health care, and a new willingness of the government to enforce existing law.

Violations of conscience in health care have happened and “it will continue to happen unless there is sufficient, vigorous enforcement” of the law, he said.

New Jersey appeals court overturns injunction on assisted suicide law

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 11:59

Trenton, N.J., Aug 28, 2019 / 09:59 am (CNA).- A New Jersey appeals court ruled Tuesday that the state’s law permitting assisted suicide may take effect while a legal challenge against it is heard in court.

The ruling reversed a previous decision from a lower court that had halted the law.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act is being challenged by a physician who says that it is a violation of religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution and laws against suicide.

Dr. Yosef Glassman is an Orthodox Jew who says that he is opposed to facilitating suicide both due to his religious beliefs and his profession as a doctor. He also objects to the law’s stipulation that a doctor who objects to assisted suicide must refer patients to another doctor who will help them end their life.

The law’s demands on doctors, Glassman said in his lawsuit, present “not only a violation of the rights to practice medicine without breaching the fiduciary duties owing to those patients ... but also violations of their First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to freely practice their religions in which human life is sacred and must not be taken,” the AP reported.

However, the appeals court said Glassman had not shown that irreparable harm would result from allowing the law to move forward during the court challenge.

“We conclude the court failed to consider adequately the interests of qualified terminally-ill patients, who the Legislature determined have clearly prescribed rights to end their lives consistent with the Act,” the appeals court said, according to the AP.

The assisted suicide law passed the New Jersey legislature narrowly in late March. The law allows those deemed by a doctor to have less than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient then must administer the medication themselves.

Governor Phil Murphy signed the bill into law April 12.

A self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic,” Murphy said that he was aware of the Church’s opposition to assisted suicide, but that after careful consideration and prayer, “I have concluded that, while my faith may lead me to a particular decision for myself, as a public official I cannot deny this alternative to those who may reach a different conclusion.”

“I believe this choice is a personal one and, therefore, signing this legislation is the decision that best respects the freedom and humanity of all New Jersey residents,” Murphy said.

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

He stressed that despite the new legality of the practice, it remains gravely immoral, and said the Church would continue advocating for the sanctity of all human life and working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of assisted suicide.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said the bishop, adding that the elderly, sick and disabled could feel pressure to choose suicide so as to avoid burdening others.

He also clarified that Saint Peter’s University Hospital, sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, will not condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Instead of assisted suicide, Checchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider suicide.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”

Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana under a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

After the abuse: A bishop's ministry of healing and trust

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 06:25

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 28, 2019 / 04:25 am (CNA).- Bishop Andrew Cozzens became a bishop in the middle of a crisis.

“There was this kind of fire that was burning on the front page of the paper everyday,” Cozzens told CNA, “and then I got this call.”

The call was his appointment as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Cozzens was appointed to that role just days after a whistleblower leveled charges of misconduct and cover-up against Archbishop John Nienstedt, who eventually resigned from his post amid scandal.

The archdiocese was in a state of chaos, and, Cozzens said, Catholics were in a great deal of pain.

“I was named a bishop at a very unique time, and it was so unique that it was clear to me God had planned it,” Cozzens told CNA.

He told CNA that he knew, from the time he was appointed, “that the Lord was calling me to be a part of healing. I didn’t have any idea what that meant when I heard that word in prayer.”

“Since the beginning,” he said, “I have felt like that’s why God made me a bishop and that’s what he wants me to do, and so I need to help do that.”

If God chose Bishop Cozzens to be a part of the Church’s healing ministry, meeting Gina Barthel was a big part of how that healing ministry would begin.

He remembers when she emailed him, in early 2014. It was just months after he’d become a bishop.

Barthel wrote to Cozzens that she had been a victim of clergy sexual abuse, and that she wanted to tell him her story. He accepted. They met in his office. Bishop Cozzens hadn’t met with many victims of abuse before. But when Gina told her story, he was disturbed. And he wanted to help her find the healing she sought.

“What was most disturbing about her story was the clear abuse of the office of spiritual direction. And since I’m a spiritual director, and have been a spiritual director, I understand how sacred that space is, and so the fact that it was clearly abused was for me the disturbing part,” Cozzens told CNA.

“Basically I knew that it would be very difficult for her to trust anyone, especially a priest or a bishop, so I was grateful that she was willing to share with me. And that was always the goal from the beginning, was to provide her an example of someone she could trust, and let her know that I was available to help her in any way that I could, to help her find healing, but obviously you can’t force those kinds of things.”

Gina Barthel told CNA that she’s found healing - and found Christ - through the Church, and with the help of Cozzens. But, she says, it wasn’t easy.

In 2005, nine years before she contacted Cozzens, Barthel was a novice in a religious community. She hoped to profess vows as a religious sister. In the course of spiritual direction, she told a priest, Fr. Jim Montanaro, OMV, that she had been sexually abused, and how that had impacted her spiritual and emotional life.

Armed with that knowledge, Barthel told CNA, Montanaro began to groom her, and eventually would sexually abuse her.

At first, the priest asked her to spend excessive time alone with him, and then discuss her body with him in sexual ways that made her uncomfortable. He told her, she remembers, that God could use that experience to heal her.

In the summer of 2005, Barthel decided to leave the religious community. She got an apartment in New York. Montanaro reached out to her, and said he wanted to remain her spiritual director.

“I was like, ‘Well that's awesome because it's impossible to find a spiritual director, so I don't even have to look.’”

“So if you can imagine, a girl from Minnesota, who has no interest at all living in New York City, suddenly finding myself living in an apartment. I don't know anyone except the sisters and what does that equal? I'm lonely. I'm isolated. It was a setup for disaster.”

Soon, she told CNA, she and Montanaro were talking every day.

“And then multiple times a day. And it turned into, at some point, a spiritual adoption. I don't remember the timetable exactly, but he adopted me as his 'Principessa', like Italian for 'princess' and I called him 'Papito.' Like, 'little father.'”

“And we would talk at night, and often the conversations at night would turn very sexual,” Barthel told CNA.

She said that over the phone, the priest would encourage her to imagine that the two of them were saints in heaven together. Then he would tell her that they should each strip naked, to be “naked without shame.”

“So it was just this weird, it feels awkward to tell you about it, because it's creepy, right? So that was happening.”

In 2006, Barthel moved to her home state of Minnesota. She struggled with depression. She was hospitalized with major depressive episodes. And then a friend offered to send her on a pilgrimage, a group trip for which Montanaro would be the chaplain. The priest invited her to visit his home in Boston before the trip began.

“He invited me to come early and I stayed at their house in Boston, and I remember him putting a sign on the door saying: ‘Do not interrupt. Spiritual direction in session.’

“And he turned on music and he's like, ‘I just want to hold my principessa.’ So there was a lot of holding and touching, but it was not sexual, yet.”

The priest was at least 20 years older than her.  But Barthel, struggling with loneliness and depression, said she liked that he was holding her. Still, she said she knew that what was happening wasn’t right.

“I feel like in that circumstance, I was a vulnerable adult, she told CNA. “Because it was like he abused the child inside of me. He wasn't abusing an equal, adult-adult relationship. Everything was very childlike.”

The next year, Montanaro took Barthel to stay with him at a retreat center in North Dakota and there, she alleges, began a sexual relationship with her.

Barthel told CNA how confused she was. She believed in the Church’s teaching about sexuality, but, she says, she also believed what the priest told her.

“The entire time, he was telling me what was happening was ‘miraculous graces,’” she told CNA. “Like, ‘Jesus is healing you.’ All of the things he was saying we should do were all part of God's healing plan for me.”

“And the biggest thing I wanted in my entire adult life was to be healed of the sexual abuse that I experienced as a child. And he used that to catapult his agenda to hurt me,” she said.

“Everything was under the guise of healing, Barthel told CNA.

“And even, he was saying, ‘God's using you to heal me,’” she said.

“So then I felt special like, ‘Well that's kind of cool, like, it's mutual. God's not just using him to heal me, but He's also using me to heal Papito.’ Like, that's really special,” she said.

Looking back, Barthel says she can see that Montanaro was using her insecurities to manipulate her. But at the time, she says, she felt confused, and she trusted the priest.

“And I remember asking, ‘Well, do I need to go to confession? Maybe I should go to confession.’ And he always said no. ‘No, we don't need to go to confession. This is part of God's will. This isn't just okay, and it’s not just good, and not just great, it’s holy.’”

The relationship continued until, after a few months, Barthel told Montanaro that it had to end.

She told CNA she realized things were wrong when the priest admitted he hadn’t told his own spiritual director about the sexual relationship. 

“He said, ‘Some things are meant to be kept a secret between you and God.’ The minute he said that, my whole world started falling apart,” Barthel said.

She told a priest she trusted about the relationship. That priest called Montanaro and confronted him. Barthel said that Montanaro admitted the whole thing, but seemed to see nothing wrong with the relationship. The priest next called Montanaro’s superiors, and Montanaro was removed from ministry.

A spokesman for the St. Ignatius Province of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary told CNA that the province “first became aware of her allegations relating to Fr. Montanaro in November of 2007, when a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis notified the rector of the retreat house where Fr. Montanaro resided at the time. 

“The then-Provincial of the St. Ignatius Province met with Fr. Montanaro on the day he heard of the allegations. Following that meeting, Fr. Montanaro was immediately removed from public ministry and was to cease all contact with that individual.”

“In January of 2008, the Provincial revoked Fr. Montanaro’s priestly faculties, and Montanaro subsequently sought, and obtained, dismissal from the Oblates, followed by laicization from sacred orders from Rome, which was granted in 2010.  Montanaro has had no role or ministry with the St. Ignatius Province since then,” the spokesman added.

The spokesman said that at the time Montanaro was removed, the Oblates “began to provide support” for Barthel.

The Oblates, Barthel told CNA, “sent me a couple of checks to help pay my rent because the trauma hit me so hard that I couldn't work initially.  They also sent me a letter offering $15,000 and a year of therapy if I signed one of those letters stating I wouldn't do anything further.” 

“I don't know what I was more upset about: the fact that they were trying to pay me off to keep me quiet or the fact that they thought I would only need a year of therapy to recover. It's 12 years later and I'm still in therapy!” 

Barthel said it took years of healing before she was prepared to report what had happened to police. When she did, it was too late.

“When I finally built up the courage to go to the police, I missed the statute of limitations by less than a month. That was devastating because it took so much from me to even go to the police. I finally went, I told my whole story, and then I get a call back and it's the statute of limitation by less than 30 days”

But she was even more devastated, she says, because Montanaro’s community, the Oblates of the Blessed Virgin Mary, have declined to name Montanaro as a sexual abuser.

“One of my big grievances has been why aren't perpetrators of adults also being listed publicly?”

Barthel told CNA that she has been concerned that Montanaro might groom other women.

The laicized priest now works as a photographer in Massachusetts. He has not responded to multiple attempts by CNA to contact him.

Among the photographs posted on Facebook by the studio where Montanaro works is a series in which several women have posed nude for the camera. The photo captions read “You are ravishing,”  and “Next time you think of something beautiful, don't forget to count yourself in.”

On the website of the studio, Montanaro writes “My biggest satisfaction is capturing the unique beauty of each person who entrusts that privilege to my partners and to me. We love to help people discover (or rediscover) their God-given beauty in a photo session, and fall in love with themselves all over again.”

In March, Barthel wrote to the Oblates.

“I have concern that he could use his credentials of previous pastoral work and education to get a job in any helper position where he would have access to vulnerable adults. While he is no longer able to hurt people using his position of power as a Catholic priest, that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a threat if he has access to vulnerable adults,” she wrote.

“This is a hurdle in my healing journey. I keep thinking, hoping, praying and wishing that someday when I Google his name, it’ll show up that he is a self-admitted abuser of adult women. Yet, to date, I find nothing. It floods me with grief and also adds to my anger that waxes and wanes as I continue to heal. I feel that as long as the Church stays silent on these matters, there is danger the abuse may continue. Who are we trying to protect and why?”

She requested that Montanaro’s self-admission of sexual misconduct be publicly acknowledged by the order.

She told CNA she has yet to hear back from the Oblates about her request.

The Oblates declined to respond to questions from CNA about Barthel’s request.

While Barthel is discouraged, she told CNA that she has not lost her faith.

“I love Jesus, I love the Church. And it's not easy and my relationship with Jesus and the Church are different now, but in some ways it's more beautiful than it was before because I'm more dependent upon Him. And I don't know how to explain it.”

“My deepest healing has all come through adoration,” she said.

Barthel emphasized the role that Cozzens has played in her life. They’ve met together regularly, and prayed together, for years.

“I needed a safe place to allow the rage and pain to unfold,” Barthel told CNA.

“Yes, I did a lot of that in therapy, but the injustice against my soul demanded someone in the Church hierarchy to listen to me, hear my voice, acknowledge my pain and empathize with me.  Bishop Cozzens has been that person for me.”

The bishop, she said, “has been the conduit God has chosen to use to bring me back into a free and even deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.”

“Eucharistic adoration is where I have received the majority of my healing,” she told CNA.

“Bishop Cozzens helped get me to a place to be able to go there and ask Jesus the hard questions and to sit and wait and listen for the answers. That’s the awesome thing about Jesus, if we ask, if we wait, He will speak to us.”

Barthel explained that Cozzens’ role in her life has been invaluable.

“When I first started meeting with him, I was terrified of praying; especially using my imagination which had always been my greatest source of delight in prayer and way of connecting to Jesus through the stories in Scripture. He never pushed, but would give me little tidbits of spiritual encouragement/advice that I could bring with me to Eucharistic adoration. This is what I needed. Someone who could walk with me and understood the danger and risk I was taking to pursue a life of prayer again.”

Cozzens told CNA that he’s learned, through his pastoral relationship with Barthel, what pastoral ministry to victims of abuse requires.

“One of the things that victims of abuse struggle with is going to Church. It’s really hard for them to go to Church. But if you’re a Catholic, you might think that you’re committing a mortal sin, but you just can’t do it because it’s so emotionally difficult for them. So to be gentle and to let them know that God understands the pain they’re going through, and the Church understands that too,” Cozzens said.

“Just to help people walk through that and let them know it’s ok that it takes time, and that God understands what they’re going through. To do that you have to be willing to go through ups and downs with people, because they go through their good moments and their bad moments. But gradually - and it takes time - but gradually the good moments outweigh the bad moments,” he added.

Barthel said she appreciated that understanding.

“Particularly in the beginning, coming back to the sacramental life of the church and prayer was excruciatingly painful, adding the regular breaking news reports of clergy abuse and cover up, there were so many times I wanted to throw the towel in and leave the Catholic Church altogether. While he never encouraged me to leave, he also never tried to convince me to stay. This gave me so much freedom and reminded me that the choice was mine. I needed that freedom and I believe it had a big part in helping me choose to remain Catholic,” she told CNA.

“I just wanted to be heard. I am hurting and I need someone to listen to me, and it needed to be somebody in the Church that I felt like cared.” “And I needed therapy,” she added. “Obviously, like I still go to therapy. “

For his part, Cozzens told CNA that many bishops, in the midst of the Church’s current sexual abuse crisis, have built pastoral relationships with the victims of abuse. But he also acknowledged that some bishops and priests, apprehensive about litigation or negative publicity, have been nervous about their engagement with victims of clerical sexual abuse.

“For me, you just have to put the person ahead of the situation...working with someone who has been hurt...they could turn on me, or be angry with me, or say bad things about me, but that’s the risk we all take if we’re going to be part of Christ’s healing. So I think we all need to be willing to take that risk.”

The bishop said Church officials should be confident about openness to relationships with the victims of abuse, despite the fact that bishops have faced, and continue to face lawsuits, for the Church’s handling of abuse allegations.

“We can’t see these things simply as liability issues. Because you have to see the people who God puts in front of us.”

“Anyone who has been wounded by a priest needs to learn to separate, in their minds, the distinction between what priest did and who God is, and what God does, and how God works. And that’s a very difficult things, that’s why I think priest abuse is the worst kind of abuse, because it can separate a person from the source of healing, who is God,” Cozzens said.

“So we have to try and help them make that distinction. And that usually requires patience and trust.”

Cozzens knows there are many Catholics in pain over the sexual abuse scandals, and that healing does not come easy. That it comes one person at a time. And that bishops have to be willing to walk alongside those hoping to be healed.

Gina Barthel knows her healing journey is not complete. But, she says, she is grateful that Bishop Cozzens is walking alongside her.

Seattle bishops to 'review' blessing of assisted suicide advocate

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 18:45

Seattle, Wash., Aug 27, 2019 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Seattle is facing questions after a local man received a formal Catholic blessing at Mass shortly before committing medically assisted suicide.

Robert Fuller, an HIV and cancer patient, committed suicide on May 10. 

An Aug. 27 Associated Press profile of Fuller’s final days included a photograph and account of the blessing he received at St. Therese Parish in the Seattle archdiocese, five days before he ended his own life.

“The Associated Press story about Mr. Fuller is of great concern to the Archbishops because it may cause confusion among Catholics and others who share our reverence for human life,” the Archdiocese of Seattle said in an Aug. 27 statement.

After Fuller attended a final Mass at his parish, Fr. Quentin Dupont, SJ, led children who had just received their First Holy Communion to gather around the man. The priest, the children, and members of the parish extended their hands in blessing over him. This act was recorded and photographed by an AP journalist. 

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Robert Fuller was one of about 1,200 people who have used Washington’s Death with Dignity Act to end their lives in the decade since it became law. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The Detroit News (@detroitnews) <a href="">August 27, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

“The feature story shows a photo of a blessing that Mr. Fuller received after Mass. At the time of this photo, parish leadership was not aware of Mr. Fuller’s intentions,” the archdiocese said. 

“That morning, the priest in the photograph was told Mr. Fuller was dying and wanted the blessing of the faith community. It wasn’t until later that parish leaders learned of his plans. When these plans were made known, the pastor met with Mr. Fuller to discuss the sacred gift of human life and how we are called to respect and revere that gift as disciples of Jesus.”

The archdiocesan statement said an investigation is being opened to determine what had happened on and before the Mass on May 5. 

While the archdiocesan statement said that parish leaders were unaware of Fuller’s intention to end his own life, the Associated Press reported that Fuller’s plans were “widely known and accepted” among the parishioners at St. Therese, which he began attending regularly towards the end of his life. 

One parish leader, Kent Stevenson told the AP that Fuller made the choice to die with “tenacity and clarity” and had been “forthcoming and sober about it.” 

Stevenson, the parish music minister, is listed among parish leaders on the front of the weekly parish bulletin alongside the priest, deacon, and bookkeeper.

The archdiocese said it is “reviewing the events reported in this story, even though they took place several months ago.” It added that Seattle’s bishops will “work to clarify any confusion or misunderstanding, which this article may have generated.”

The archdiocese is led by Archbishop James Peter Sartain and coadjutor Archbishop Paul Etienne, who arrived to assist Sartain in April, after he requested help from pope following health problems.

The archdiocese told CNA that Dupont, a member of the West Province of the Society of Jesus, was assigned to serve as the weekend assistant for two parishes, including St. Therese. 

A spokesperson explained that the archdiocese has a longstanding relationship with the local Jesuit community, who often assist by celebrating Masses in local parishes if the pastor is not available. 

In 2018-2019, Dupont was a graduate student at Seattle University, which is run by the order. The Jesuit province did not respond to CNA’s requests for comment.

Fuller, who contracted HIV in the 1980s, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor at the base of his tongue during the summer of 2018. At the end of his life, he was dependent on a feeding tube, and did wish to pursue chemotherapy treatments. Instead, he expressed his intention to commit medically assisted suicide. 

Fuller had been a proponent of the practice for over three decades, and had been a member of the Hemlock Society. He told the AP that in the 1980s, he gave a friend with AIDS an overdose of medication, ending his life.

AP reported that Fuller had previously attempted suicide in in 1975, attemping to overdose on pills he stole from his job working as a psychiatric nurse at a hospital in Seattle. He sought help when it began raining, saying he did not wish to die cold and wet. 

On May 10, Fuller injected lethal drugs, mixed with his favorite drink, into his feeding tube. Washington’s assisted suicide laws mandate that the patient self-administer the medication. 

Prior to his death, Fuller hosted a party with friends and family, and was civilly married in a non-Catholic ceremony to his partner, a man named Reese Baxter. Baxter was also Fuller’s caretaker. Fuller died about nine and a half hours later. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns both euthanasia and suicide. 

“Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible,” says the Catechism. Direct euthansia is “morally unacceptable.” 

“Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable,” the Catechism states. “Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.” 

The Catechism also condemns suicide, saying “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.” 

Additionally, the Catechism states “If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.”

A person with “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture” may not be fully responsible for their suicide, says the Catechism. 

Washington State passed the Death With Dignity Act in 2008, and since then, about 1,200 people have opted to die by euthanasia. 

According to the AP, Fuller agreed to be profiled in order to “demonstrate for people around the country how [assisted suicide] laws work.” 

Franciscan Province paid poor abuse victims $15,000 in nondisclosure agreement

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 18:32

Jackson, Miss., Aug 27, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- The Associated Press has uncovered the cases of two men whom the Franciscans of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province paid $15,000 each to keep quiet about abuse claims, despite a requirement that victims must not be bound by nondisclosure agreements in child sexual abuse settlements.

La Jarvis Love and his cousins, brothers Joshua and Raphael Love, say they were repeatedly abused by Brother Paul West during the 1990s, when they were elementary school students at St. Francis of Assisi School, in Greenwood, Mississippi, the Associated Press reported Aug. 27.

The men said Brother West abused them both in the school and on summer excursions to Wisconsin.

La Jarvis, 36, came forward with his abuse claim in 2017. He told the Associated Press that Father James Gannon, Provincial Minister for the Wisconsin-based province, met with him, his wife, and his three small children at an IHOP restaurant in northern Mississippi outside of Memphis.

The Franklin, Wisconsin-based Assumption Province has had a program of outreach to the poor of Greenwood since the early 1950s.

Love said Gannon brought along a four-page agreement that the Franciscans would pay him $15,000, which included a nondisclosure requirement, which Love signed and dated Jan. 11, 2019.

The AP noted that in 2006, the Diocese of Jackson, in which Greenwood is situated, settled abuse lawsuits involving 19 victims for $5.1 million, or an average of $250,000 per victim.

The attorney who represented the 2006 victims said he is preparing to file a lawsuit on behalf of La Jarvis and Joshua, and plans to argue that the settlements they signed are not legally binding.

Gannon told the AP that he believes that the three men were abused and said that their race— all three are black— and the fact that all three are poor did not factor into the size of the settlement. He also said the Franciscans have no intention of enforcing the nondisclosure agreement.

The 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, also known as the Dallas Charter, forbids the practice of confidential settlement agreements in the case of sexual abuse of minors by clergy unless the victim specifically requests it.

In addition, Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ new guidelines for reporting sexual abuse promulgated in May, states in article 4 that “an obligation to keep silent may not be imposed on any person with regard to the contents of his or her report [of abuse].”

Gannon told the AP that West was recalled from Greenwood in 1998 and that the Franciscans lost touch with him after he left the Franciscan order, but the AP found that West began teaching fifth grade at a Catholic school near his home in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 2000, and remained on the job until at least 2010.

“The information in the article is upsetting, disappointing, and may even bring back painful memories to victims and their families. For that, we sincerely apologize,” Gannon said in an Aug. 27 statement in response to the AP article.

“The Franciscans of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province will continue to maintain safe environments. Protecting children and vulnerable adults is one of our utmost priorities. These strenuous efforts have been validated through our accreditation status by an independent firm that evaluates protection policies and procedures of major organizations.”

Joshua also took a $15,000 settlement, and says he was also abused by the late Brother Donald Lucas at the school. Lucas died in 1999.

Rafael reported his abuse to Church authorities in 1998, and Stephen J. Carmody, an attorney for the Diocese of Jackson, told the AP that the church officials notified police and a social services agency at that time.

Rafael is now serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed when he was 16, and rejected Gannon’s offer of $15,000 to settle the abuse claim, the AP says.

The Diocese of Jackson has investigated the allegations against West and Lucas and found them to be credible. The diocesan website includes both Lucas and West on its list of credibly accused clergy.

Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $572m for driving opioid epidemic

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 18:00

Oklahoma City, Okla., Aug 27, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- An Oklahoma judge ruled Monday that the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson pay $572 million for “public nuisance” in driving the state’s opioid epidemic by pushing prescription painkillers.

In an Aug. 26 decision, Judge Thad Balkman of the Oklahoma District Court for Cleveland County found that Johnson & Johnson “engaged in a false, misleading and deceptive marketing campaign” with Oklahoma doctors and citizens to sell painkillers, ultimately driving the state’s current opioid abuse epidemic.

The state’s case against the drug company was, in essence, a “public nuisance” case, Judge Balkman said in his decision, finding that the company was guilty of “unlawful acts which ‘annoys, injures, or endangers the comfort, repose, health, or safety of others’.”

Sales representatives from the company repeatedly claimed that the drugs were “safe and effective for the long-term treatment of chronic, non-malignant pain,” the decision noted, while relying upon research paid for by the company and paid speakers, and actively presenting data out of context or omitting key information.

The deceptive behavior helped drive an “opioid crisis epidemic” that is ravaging the state, the judge’s decision read, the “current stage” of which was “started by and still primarily involves prescription opioids.”

It “caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome,” Judge Balkman said.

Prescription opioid sales increased fourfold from 1994 through 2006 in Oklahoma, before rates of unintentional overdoses and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) - drug withdrawal in newborn babies - soared. More than 2,100 Oklahomans died of unintentional prescription opioid overdose between 2011 and 2015, and in 2017, 4.2% of Oklahoma babies were born with NAS.

By 2015, more than 326 million opioid pills were dispensed in Oklahoma, and the state now prescribes more fentanyl per capita of any state in the country.  

Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies announced on Monday that they would appeal the decision.

“Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” said Michael Ullmann, executive vice president and general counsel of Johnson & Johnson. “We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need.”

Johnson & Johnson said that their activities in the state were conducted within the law, its drugs and ingredient manufacturers complied with federal regulations, and its drugs Duragesic, NUCYNTA and NUCYNTA ER only accounted for one percent of prescription opioids in Oklahoma. 

The company confirmed it has been named in more than 2,000 lawsuits by state and local governments regarding the marketing of opioids.

Catholic bishops, including Pope Francis, have spoken about the opioid epidemic.

In his November, 2016 address to a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on narcotics, Pope Francis warned that drugs “are essentially destroyers” that bring about “a psychic, social death,” of a person, what “amounts to ‘throwing away’ a person.”

The pope warned of “vast networks” that are well-connected to positions of power and influence, and “distribution systems,” that must be countered by “retracing the chain that connects small-scale drug trade and the most sophisticated money laundering schemes embedded in financial capital and banks dedicated to money-laundering.”

A 2016 statement by Massachusetts bishops said that patients should still be prescribed painkillers “for long and short term pain management” while warning that “overuse by the patient, along with access to vast quantities of opioids by unintended users, often leads to abuse, addiction and death.”

“We exhort health care providers to demand improved education within their own professional groups about the appropriate indications, prescriptions and use of opioid medications,” the bishops said.

The opioid epidemic has helped drive down life expectancy in the U.S., as in 2017 the life expectancy fell from 78.7 to 78.6—its third straight year of decline after more than two decades of growth.

That news came after more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017 were reported by the Centers for Disease Control, more than two-thirds of those deaths involving opioids; the number of opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017 skyrocketed to six times that of 1999.

The opioid epidemic occurred in three waves, the first caused by widespread prescription of painkillers in the 1990s that drove up overdose deaths beginning in 1999, according to the CDC.

While Fort Worth bishop says apparition is not real, alleged visionary blames demonic attack

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 16:40

Fort Worth, Texas, Aug 27, 2019 / 02:40 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, said Monday that alleged local appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary are not real apparitions, and that alleged evidence of the visions is fake. But supporters of the alleged apparitions say that Satan is trying to discredit their visions.
“It is my sad responsibility to inform you that last week the Diocese of Fort Worth received irrefutable evidence that these purported apparitions, messages, and miracles are, in fact, a fabrication,” Bishop Michael Olson wrote in an Aug. 26 letter.

Earlier this month, Olson warned in a letter that the apparent apparitions, which were said to be taking placing in Argyle, Texas, should not be considered authenticated by the Church. But his letter this week was more direct.

The bishop said that he had reviewed a security tape from Loreto House, a pro-life apostolate where both apparitions of Mary and the miraculous appearance of roses were said to occur.

“The videotape clearly reveals the alleged visionary surreptitiously dropping a rose on the floor of a room; she would later make the claim that the rose was a miraculous gift of the Virgin Mary.”

“After viewing the video and consulting with diocesan advisors and others, I have concluded that the Mystical Rose—Our Lady of Argyle is a fabrication and not true.”

The woman who claims to see visions of the Blessed Mother says on her website that she was under a demonic attack when she dropped the rose on the floor, and then acted surprised by its discovery.

An Aug. 23 post on the site reports “a recent severe demonic attack in which demons influenced the visionary to act in such a way as to potentially discredit the messages.”

After that alleged demonic attack, “the visionary immediately sought the counsel of a holy priest and bishop who confirmed the deception as being of demonic origin and also gave assurance that the messages were authentic and of God.”

The site claims that the visionary has had several “frightening and unnerving demonic attacks where the fallen have sought to have her act against her will in an attempt to discredit the messages.”

Supporters of the alleged visionary claim that the Blessed Virgin Mary began appearing in May 2017 to her. They claim the first such apparition was in Arkansas, and subsequent appearances allegedly took place at St. Mark Catholic Church in Argyle, Texas.

The alleged visionary claims to have received seven messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary in 2017, and in 2018 and 2019 to have received more than 30 “warning messages for the Church...from saints, angels, the Blessed Mother, and even from Christ Himself.”

The website, still active Aug. 27, says that “The creators of this website, the visionary, and all involved with this apparition believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.  All are members in good standing of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

Olson’s letter added that while he had tried to arrange a meeting with the alleged visionary and another Catholic involved in the apparitions, they agreed to do so only in the presence of their canon lawyer, Mr. Philip Gray. It does not appear that a meeting has been scheduled.

Gray, president of the St. Joseph’s Foundation, is also the canon lawyer behind a petition sponsored by some Fort Worth Catholics to have Olson removed from his post as diocesan bishop. In June, Gray told web site Churchmilitant that the effort to have Olson removed was his idea.

In a July 29 letter to supporters, Gray wrote that Olson “touts his ordination to the priesthood, his consecration as a bishop, his position as a rector in a seminary, and he claims a preparation for the unique situation of the Church in North Texas. He recognizes himself for the collar and the miter he wears, but not for the justice and charity he is to practice.”

Gray claims that Olson’s “ineffective and even harmful acts,” have had “grave effects on the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

Gray did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.

According to Olson, the effort to have him removed is the work of a small group of Catholics dissatisfied with his handling of administrative and personnel matters in the diocese. The online petition has some 1,500 signatures.  There are approximately 1,200,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Forth Worth.

Olson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in December that the petitioners are “a handful of people with their own agenda.”

I think people have a right to be critical. I don’t think people have a right to slander or be destructive or say untrue things. I think people have a right to be happy and a right to be unhappy, and if you are, pray for me, pray for themselves. This is about the salvation of souls ... it’s not a hobby. It’s centered on Christ,” the bishop added.

As to the alleged apparitions, Olson's Aug. 26 letter asked Catholics to “pray for the healing and conversion of all involved in these matters that have brought about discord and disunity where there should be peace and communion. I am asking the clergy of our Diocese to be especially aware of anyone who seeks healing because of this scandal and to provide compassionate spiritual counseling.”


Put human dignity not profit first, Rubio says

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Aug 27, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Economic policy and debate should prioritize people and the dignity of work, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) argued in an article published Monday. 

Writing for the magazine First Things, Rubio cited Catholic social teaching and Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum while reflecting that profit and human concern have drifted apart.

“Economic stability for working-class families is not a feature of today’s economy,” the senator wrote. “Business profits have become increasingly estranged from production and employment.”

Rubio cited international business interests and a globalized economy as twin pressures on domestic production and employment, as companies act to leverage domestic resources and assets for more speculative growth.

“When dignified work is lost or unattainable, it corrodes the human spirit. Recent years have seen the destruction of jobs that provided a way of life for families and communities for generations,” Rubio said.

“The dignity of work, the Church instructs us through documents like Rerum novarum, is not just the concerns of individuals. It is the concern of communities and nations to provide productive labor to their people.”

Rubio said the promise of a new economy, often based around casual or flexible so-called gig employment, has largely failed to materialize, and that “the new fabric of American work” is too thin to sustain people. 

The economic and political failure to prioritize the creation and sustaining of “dignified work” through investment now presents “serious problems,” he said, directly impacting the family life of many in the United States, and driving population losses in rural and mid-urban parts of the country. “Entire regions have been hollowed out,” the senator said.

Rubio went on to criticize the level of political discourse in response to serious problems at the ground level, saying that many politicians limit public debate to abstract economic models and principles.

“Compare a politics dedicated to restoring the dignity of work to the contemporary interest in abstract concepts like ‘democratic socialism.’ Separated from the daily lives of most Americans, where the most important decisions are how to raise children and make ends meet, elite-level politics asks people which abstract economic system they affirm.”

Terms like capitalism and socialism have long histories and are important schools of thought, Rubio said, but they have been reduced to superficial indicators of party allegiance. In contrast he proposed drawing inspiration from the Church’s teaching.

“The Church’s tradition cuts across identitarian labels, insisting upon the inviolable right to private property and the dangers of Marxism, but also the essential role of labor unions,” Rubio said. "The Church emphasizes the moral duty of employers to respect workers not just as a means to profit, but as human persons and productive members of their community and nation.” 

“The tradition sees past our stale partisan categories and roots our politics in something larger: the inviolable dignity of every human person, the work he or she does, and the family life that work supports.”

Citing the teaching of St. John Paul II, Rubio noted that “the obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified.” 

Proposing his own set of economic policy measures to rebalance the direction of the national economy towards human priorities, Rubio called for a rejection of “unserious and abstract debate” in favor of an economic discussion rooted in human dignity and reflective of the Church’s teachings.

“We must recover this wisdom and remember what economics is truly for.”

Musicians sign Planned Parenthood protest of pro-life laws

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 15:05

Washington D.C., Aug 27, 2019 / 01:05 pm (CNA).- Over 130 musicians have signed a Planned Parenthood-sponsored petition against recent abortion restrictions passed by several states, a move condemned by pro-life activists as “out of touch.”

“Musicians across the country are standing in solidarity with Planned Parenthood,” announced the website of the country’s larget abortion provider Aug. 26. “They’re saying access to sexual and reproductive health care is about the same type of freedom that allows them to create music and speak their truth — because no one is free unless they control their own body.”

Signatories of the petition include Ariana Grande, Carole King, Demi Lovato, the Foo Fighters, Idina Menzel, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Mackelmore, Miley Cyrus, Nine Inch Nails, Norah Jones and T-Pain. 

Pro-life advocates lined up to dispute Planned Parenthood’s claim that free access to abortion throughout pregnancy is a form of “freedom.” 

“Abortion victimizes and disempowers women - our bodies should be free from violence including the violence of abortion,” said Molly Sheahan of the organization We Are Pro-Life Women.

“These artists are out of touch with the majority of women in the United States,” Sheahan told CNA. 

“Three quarters of Americans, including 79% of black and Hispanic women, are in favor of ending or restricting abortion. Even a significant majority of Democrats and people who identify as pro-choice are in favor of abortion restrictions.” 

A February Marist poll found that the vast majority of Americans supported at least some restrictions on abortion. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said it was “heartbreaking” that people in the entertainment industry are publicly in support of “something as sad and dark as abortion.” She told CNA that the celebrities are “wildly out of touch” with most Americans, both in recognizing the reality of abortion and on the issue of taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.

“As powerful as Hollywood elites are, they can’t change the underlying truth that abortion takes the life of one and wounds another, and that Planned Parenthood is our nation’s largest abortion provider,” said Mancini. 

“Yet even with money and influence stacked against us, the pro-life movement continues to grow.”

In the first months of 2019, several states passed laws that greatly limited access to abortion. These laws range from near total-ban on the procedure in the state of Alabama, to Arkansas and Utah laws banning abortion after the 18th week of pregnancy. Other states, including Georgia, chose to ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, usually between six and eight weeks of pregnancy. 

None of these laws have yet gone into effect, and all are being challenged in court by pro-abortion organizations.

Six states moved to expand abortion access. Four--Illinois, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont--codified abortion into law, meaning it would still be legal in the event that the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade were overturned. 

Maine’s Gov. Janet Mills (D) passed a law that allows the state Medicaid program to cover abortion, and required insurance companies offering plans within the state to cover abortion services. Mills also signed a law permitting abortions to be performed by someone other than a physician. 

In May, Nevada decriminalized abortion and repealed various restrictions on the procedure, including an age verification requirement. 

Planned Parenthood recently voluntarily withdrew from the Title X family planning program after new rules were announced by the Department of Health and Human Services. The rules prohibit Title X fund recipients from referring patients for abortions or col-locating with abortion clinics. Organizations like Planned Parenthood would also have had to keep separate finances for Title X funded programs and abortion business. The organization chose to withdraw rather than comply, despite receiving approximately $60 million in Title X funding annually. 

The organization still receives about half a billion dollars in federal funding from other programs.

Judge temporarily blocks Missouri's eight-week abortion ban

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 14:56

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 27, 2019 / 12:56 pm (CNA).- A federal judge has blocked a Missouri law banning abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy from taking effect while a challenge to the law is being heard in court.

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs issued a temporary injunction against the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act” on Tuesday.

The act, which was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson in May, bars abortions after eight weeks, except when the life of a mother is determined to be in danger.

Under the law, doctors who perform abortions face 5-15 years in prison, although women are not penalized for seeking abortions.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation, saying that it violates Roe v. Wade.

Supporters of the Missouri law had said they were trying to restrict abortion as much as possible without posing a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. They say that the state has an interest in protecting the lives of both women and unborn babies.

Rep. Nick Schroer (R), one of the bill’s sponsors, had told NPR that the goal was “to save as many lives as we can while withstanding judicial challenges.”

Should the eight-week ban not hold up in court, the law also includes bans at 14 weeks, 18 weeks and 20 weeks, as well as a prohibition on “selective" abortions following a medical diagnosis or disability such as Down syndrome, or on the basis of the race or sex of a baby.

The ban on “selective abortions” was not included in the injunction issued Tuesday, so that portion of the law may continue to be enforced in the state.

Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis voiced his support for the law when it was passed, calling it a “giant step forward for the pro-life movement.”

Catholics “need to continue to show persistence and determination in proclaiming a culture of life,” the archbishop said in a statement released in May.

He highlighted the importance of assisting women in difficult pregnancies and pointed to pro-life clinics in the St. Louis area.

Missouri also has a “trigger law” that would ban all abortions except in cases of medical emergency if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

Only one clinic in the state currently performs abortions, and the renewal of its license is currently being disputed in court.

A model of despair: Planned Parenthood and Title X

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 09:00

Washington D.C., Aug 27, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood’s decision to forgo tens of millions of dollars per year in Title X grants simply reinforces its commitment to abortion, say those familiar with the organization’s operations.

“I was very familiar with them, spent a lot of time with them over the years,” said Monica Cline, a former Title X training manager in Texas and New Mexico, and a volunteer educator for Planned Parenthood.

“That’s the whole point of their organization - for people to be sexually active and to use the contraception that they provide, and then, of course, to refer for abortions when that contraception fails,” she said.

The withdrawal from the Title X program is “really about, bottom-line, funding their abortion business,” said Jeanneane Maxon, associate scholar at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute. “Because that’s where the big bucks are.”

On August 14, Planned Parenthood announced its decision to leave the Title X family planning grant program unless the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals intervened on its behalf. The organization said it was “forced out” of the program by the Trump administration after voluntarily refusing to comply with the administration’s new regulations.

Earlier in 2019, a new rule of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) required all Title X grant recipients to not refer for abortions and to not be co-located with abortion clinics. According to HHS, the rule was meant to bring the program more in line with its original principle that the grants not be used for abortions.

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood “Employee of the Year” and Title X administrator who later founded a ministry to help abortion workers leave the industry, said in an August 21 Facebook post that she was “happy” to see Planned Parenthood leave the program, but emphasized that pro-life groups should not be a part of the Title X program. 

“However, this program is honestly junk. It’s a contraceptive management program that is primarily used for undocumented immigrants and for teens and preteens to obtain birth control without their parent’s consent,” Johnson, the founder of the ministry And Then There Were None, said of Title X.

The program began in 1970 as Title X of the Public Health Service Act. It was meant to provide family planning grants to clinics to provide contraceptives and related information to patients, mostly with low incomes.

However, the law stated that grants cannot go to “programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”

Regulations issued in 1988 by the Reagan administration forbade grant recipients from referring for abortions and mandated that Title X service sites not “co-locate” with abortion clinics, maintaining physical separation. However, the Clinton administration changed the rules and required Title X recipients to refer for abortions.

In February of 2019, the Trump administration issued a final rule saying that recipients cannot refer for abortions nor can they be co-located with abortion clinics.

Planned Parenthood called the requirement against abortion referrals a “gag rule.”

That’s a mischaracterization, Maxon said. “They can still talk about abortion, they just can’t refer for family planning, and counseling has to be non-directive.”

After it backed out of the federal Title X program, Planned Parenthood affiliates in multiple states warned that rates of sexually-transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies could increase due to fewer women obtaining services at their clinics; the affiliates were either considering or were implementing higher fees for family planning services, including in cases where they once offered the services for free.

However, Maxon clarified, Planned Parenthood already provided these family planning services on an income-based sliding scale, and only in certain cases for free, such as cases where customers reported no income.

With the organization’s annual revenue and assets, “they should easily be able to come up with the amount of money that they’re losing from Title X funding,” Maxon said. Planned Parenthood still bills Medicaid for certain services and, according to its latest annual report for 2017-18, received more than $560 million in government funding.

Their report reveals almost $2 billion in net assets, more $1.6 billion in revenue, and $244.8 million in excess revenue. Title X funding came to, at most, $60 million a year, according to a 2016 GAO report.

Planned Parenthood also claims it was serving 40% of Title X clients, but of the 90 grantees so far in the 2019 fiscal year, only eight were Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Their decision to withdraw from the program reveals where their priorities lie—performing abortions, Maxon said. As the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood performs around 330,000 abortions each year.

They still fully bill women for abortions and emergency contraceptives, and not on an income-based scale as they do for family planning services that fall under Title X, Maxon said. And abortion charges can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars, far more than the cost for birth control.

Over the years, Planned Parenthood’s share in the abortion market has drastically increased.

A 2016 Charlotte Lozier Institute study showed that, according to numbers provided by Planned Parenthood’s annual reports and the Guttmacher Institute, between 1995 and 2014 the overall number of abortions in the U.S. declined by 31%, but abortions performed by Planned Parenthood spiked from 133,900 to 324,000—a 142% increase.

The study also showed Planned Parenthood’s share in the abortion rise from 10% in 1995 to 35% in 2014.

The organization appeared to further underline its commitment to promoting abortion access during the recent decision to terminate its president Dr. Leana Wen, who was forced out by the board of directors.

Dr. Wen said she wanted to shift organization focus to a message of promoting reproductive health—of which abortion was an “important part” —but she clashed with the board for not focusing enough on political advocacy, particularly for abortion access.

Monica Cline, who dealt with Planned Parenthood affiliates first-hand as she was hired as an instructor on Title X, came to know the lengths staffers would go to promote and protect abortion access.

In Cline’s work in Texas, Planned Parenthood’s Title X clinics—which officially did not offer abortions—were referring patients for abortions. It was all part of Planned Parenthood’s model, she said, encouraging sexual promiscuity and providing contraceptives so they could then “refer for abortions when that contraception fails.”

It was an open secret that “everyone knew” about the abortion referrals, Cline said, including even officials at the Texas Department of Health who were “great supporters of Planned Parenthood.”

However, Title X clinics—that were officially not supposed to perform abortions—would sometimes host abortionists for visits.

“The one on Sixth Street has always been known as the Planned Parenthood that did not provide abortions, and that’s where they just provided the family planning Title X services,” Cline said, but as she drove around town with a Planned Parenthood colleague they would remark “‘oh so-and-so is parked there, they’re doing abortions today.’ So they say it, but it was happening.”

Cline said that other Title X clinics do not push for abortions the way Planned Parenthood did.

“They were very different,” Cline said. “They actually still talked about encouraging these girls, talking about their futures, delaying sex, not getting pregnant, not having all these distractions that these sexual relationships create in them so that they could go to college and do things and think about their future.”

If a new Planned Parenthood employee might think the same way, veteran staff “would quickly put her in her place and let her know that people in this community can’t have hopes for any of that, and it’s just a waste of time for her to speak those kind of things into that community,” Cline said.

“It really is about just making sure that they continue to be lifelong customers and dependents on Planned Parenthood, and getting abortions.”

“Planned Parenthood definitely works on hopelessness, and they allow communities to stay in that hopelessness,” Cline said.

Death row inmates appeal to North Carolina Supreme Court, citing racial bias

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 21:25

Raleigh, N.C., Aug 26, 2019 / 07:25 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court of North Carolina is set to hear the case of six death row inmates who say a repealed state law should still allow them to be resentenced to life without parole, since they were able to successfully demonstrate that racial bias was a factor in their death sentences.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments Monday and Tuesday in the cases of four death row inmates who briefly were resentenced to life without parole when state legislators approved the Racial Justice Act in 2009, the AP reports.

Under the Racial Justice Act, four inmates had used statistics to prove that their race was a “significant factor” in their trials, thus leading to a judge converting their sentences to life without parole.

Legislators repealed the Act in 2013, and the four inmates were sent back to death row without a new hearing.

North Carolina's Supreme Court justices also will hear from attorneys for two other death row prisoners whose Racial Justice Act claims were not decided before the law was repealed, the AP says.

More than 130 inmates brought claims under the Act when it was law, but these four were the only cases adjudicated successfully and then mooted, Slate reported.

A statistical study conducted by Michigan State University’s College of Law found that prosecutors struck qualified black jurors in North Carolina at far higher rates than white jurors, AP reported.

North Carolina currently has 142 people on death row, 63% of whom are non-white in a state that is 29% non-white, the AP reports.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is today “inadmissable,” because “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” and “more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”