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Analysis: With bishops in a tight spot, will priests get squeezed?

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 06:50

Denver, Colo., May 1, 2019 / 04:50 am (CNA).- Last week, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo suspended three priests who were accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual conversations with diocesan seminarians.

While the move is likely to be praised by those who have called for Malone’s resignation, or urged him to demonstrate a commitment to addressing clerical sexual abuse, his priests might have another take on the decision. And the unfolding situation in the Diocese of Buffalo might be a harbinger of what’s to come in the aftermath of scandals that have roiled the U.S. Church for the past nine months.

On April 11, a group of priests in Malone’s diocese had a party at a parish rectory. They invited some seminarians. At least one of the priests was a seminary formator, a spiritual director for the seminarians in attendance.

The party got out of hand, according to the seminarians. They said that alcohol was consumed in excess, and that some priests, their formator among them, engaged them in lewd, blasphemous, and pornographic conversation.

The seminarians said there was a telephone conversation with a woman who, they were told, wanted to have sex with them, there was discussion about the sexual habits of one seminarian’s parents, there was conversation, seemingly homosexual in nature, about the genitals of one priest’s parishioner and the body types of their fellow seminarians.

The seminarians were disturbed, they had the good sense to write their superiors, and Malone acted. He announced that after an initial investigation, three priests had been removed from ministry, and would face ““disciplinary and corrective actions” including “psychological evaluations and possible treatment, retraining in sexual harassment policies, individual retreats,” and, depending on the results of those steps, the possibility of further action.

Malone’s decision came during a difficult time for his diocese. Since August, the bishop has faced accusations that he covered up for some priests accused of abuse, withheld names from a published list of those credibly accused, and permitted a priest to return to ministry who had faced repeated allegations of grooming behavior.

Malone says he’s not covered up abuse, that he’s committed to transparency, and that he’s learned
lessons from his mistakes.

In fact, on the same day as the rectory party, April 11, Malone issued a thorough apology for his failings, while defending many of his actions and inviting an organization of his critics to assist him in developing new policies and protocols.

But Malone has continued to face calls for his resignation. Some Catholics in his diocese say he has not done enough to tackle clerical sexual misconduct, and that the diocese can not move forward without new leadership.

The bishop has said he will not resign: that he will “repent and reform,” while helping his diocese to “rebuild itself and learn and grow from the sins of the past.”

Many in Buffalo are likely to see his swift action regarding the priests at the April 11 party as a sign of commitment to his promises of reform. Diocesan officials have said that the suspensions are an indication that policies and protocols established by Malone are working. And the action will likely draw praise from many of those rightly concerned with the influence of apparently lecherous priests on seminarians.

But at least one group might look more skeptically at the matter: Malone’s priests.

It will not have passed unnoticed by Buffalo’s presbyterate that the diocesan announcement does not indicate what specific canonical crime the accused priests are alleged to have committed. There has also been no indication that the priests were given the opportunity to defend themselves before action was taken against them.

In fact, at least two priests at the party told reporters that they had no opportunity to tell their sides of the story before Malone announced his decision.

Well beyond Buffalo, many priests will also note with alarm the apparently coercive use of psychological evaluations and treatment as a punishment, a praxis forbidden by canon law but explicitly noted as a “disciplinary” measure in this case.

Priests will also ask whether due process, a clear explanation of the charges against them, and protection of their reputations during a canonical proceeding were afforded to the priests suspended in Buffalo. Diocesan clerics, even those disgusted by the apparent behavior of the Buffalo priests, might find themselves wondering whether they should expect similar treatment if accusations are someday leveled against them.

While bishops face public pressure, as Malone does, to “get tough” on misconduct, canonists and clergy have warned already about the risk that the canonical rights of accused clerics might be soon tossed over the side of Peter’s Barque.

That concern will sound familiar to observers who remember the years following the clerical sexual abuse scandal of 2002, a period in which, by many accounts, the rights of priests were sometimes forfeit to the need of bishops to “crack down” on clerical sexual misconduct. It is commonly held among priests and experts that in that period priests were sometimes censured unjustly, without any real opportunity to defend themselves.

Some observers will suggest concerns of that kind are a waste of time: the quibbles of lawyers who are scandalously focused on the rights of obviously malfeasant priests, those corrupting innocent seminarians, rather than with the integrity of the Church’s mission.

That reaction is certainly understandable. But canon lawyers are likely to note that the Church’s canonical tradition is the source of most western understandings of the rule of law: understandings predicated on the idea that just societies depend on procedural justice for legitimacy, even in cases where accused parties seem very obviously guilty. The Church has known for centuries that without affording the apparatuses of justice to the guilty, the innocent will have very little chance of vindication.

Of course, that’s the issue that puts Malone in a tough spot. And he is not alone. Bishops in the United States do have to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of ordinary Catholics, that they will take seriously complaints of obvious clerical wrongdoing, especially complaints manifested by seminarians, in the aftermath of the scandal that began with Theodore McCarrick. But if they do not at the same time protect and respect the canonical rights afforded to clerics, they will likely lose whatever trust they have among their closest collaborators, their priests. Losing that trust will compound their problems.

There is another problem with enacting ad hoc disciplinary measures outside the established procedural norms of Church law: they tend to be short-lived. The aftermath of 2002 taught that lesson well. Some bishops, after the “Long Lent of 2002,” began responding to allegations of misconduct hastily, without sufficient regard for canonical processes. This assuaged Catholics, to some extent, but it fostered resentment and mistrust among priests. In response to that resentment, some bishops began to slip into old habits, out of the public eye, and grew more lax about clergy discipline, especially regarding the kinds of offenses, like the ones in Buffalo, which are not specifically enumerated in the Church’s penal law. That laxity might have allowed misconduct to begin festering anew.

In short, a knee-jerk approach to discipline usually creates a pendulum effect, with very little long-term benefit.

So what bishops might do, in light of those lessons, to address obvious occasions of clerical misconduct?

Some canonists have advocated for at least possible solution in recent months: actual canonical legislation, at the diocesan level, that establishes a framework of specific delicts—canonical crimes—related to sexual misconduct, and a system of gradated penalties that correspond to them. In the present law of the Church, all but the most egregious sexual delicts are defined nebulously, and bishops usually have very little idea how to handle them.

But many canonists argue that bishops could make their own lives easier by using their legislative prerogatives to establish clear canonical processes to use when situations like the one in Buffalo emerge. They could, in short, create particular laws that enshrine their plans for addressing these matters, and they could ensure that they follow those laws when it becomes necessary. This would tell priests what to expect if they act imprudently or immorally, and it could ensure that their rights are protected.

By some accounts, the very knowledge that such law existed would boost morale among many priests, make seminarians and others more likely to report misconduct, ensure the protection of rights, and put bad actors on notice that misconduct once ignored could lead to real consequences.

At their June meeting, bishops will discuss national solutions to the sexual abuse crises the Church is facing. But bishops needn’t wait for that meeting to establish local solutions to problems they will likely face in months to come. Buffalo, and the situation of Bishop Malone, is a reminder that thoughtful proactivity will likely better ensure justice than will hasty reactions made when problems have already hit the press.

Federal judge in Oregon blocks Title X abortion rule

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 17:46

Eugene, Oregon, Apr 30, 2019 / 03:46 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in Oregon has issued a temporary nationwide injunction against the Trump administration’s requirement that recipients of Title X family planning funds be separate from abortion facilities.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane of Eugene, Oregon, blocked the changes from taking effect. In his Monday ruling, he called the new regulation “a solution in search of a problem” and a “a ham-fisted approach to health policy that recklessly disregards the health outcomes of women, families, and communities.”

The state of Oregon was joined by 19 other states and the District of Columbia, as well as Planned Parenthood Federation and the American Medical Association in challenging the regulation, known as the Protect Life Rule.

A federal judge in Washington state issued a similar nationwide preliminary injunction last week, saying that the new rule represented “no public interest” and was an unlawful policy on the part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The policy change had been scheduled to go into effect on May 3, revising the Title X program, which subsidizes family-planning measures and related products, including contraception, for low-income families. Created in 1965, the federal program has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

Among other provisions, the Protect Life Rule requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest performer of abortions, was set to lose about $60 million in federal funding due to the rule change. Planned Parenthood receives about half a billion dollars in federal funds each year, including money from Title X.

The Protect Life Rule did not reduce the amount of federal funding available through the Title X program, but only restricted how the funds could be allocated.

The injunctions mean that the rule will not go into effect while the cases are heard in courts.

Oregon Right to Life defended the new regulations last week, saying they align more closely with the program’s original goal.

The revised rules “would ensure that family-planning funds go towards actual family-planning, not killing members of families,” said Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life.

“Abortion is not healthcare nor is it family-planning,” Anderson continued. “However, abortion is big business. Planned Parenthood performs almost 40 percent of abortions in the country. They have a financial interest in keeping Title X funding coming their way.”

Also on Monday, House Democrats released a new spending bill that includes a provision to block the Title X changes from going into effect, presenting the threat of another government shutdown if the House and Republican-led Senate cannot agree on government funding before the current spending bill expires at the end of September.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, argued that the Protect Life Rule represents “the will of the American people to disentangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry.”

“We urge the House Appropriations Committee to remove this anti-life poison pill amendment to nullify the Protect Life Rule,” she said in an April 30 statement.

“President Trump has vowed to veto any legislation that would weaken existing pro-life protections,” she added.

Social media, polarization risk fueling violence, bishop says

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 17:30

Scranton, Pa., Apr 30, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Religious intolerance and violence are being fueled by a polarized society and fanned by social media, Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton told CNA.

Bambera, who is the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told CNA that he is worried about the state of interreligious dialogue and ecumenical work.

“Certainly, our world, our country, our people, seem more polarized than ever before,” said Bambera.  “There seems to be less of a tolerance for those who are 'different'--and I use different in quotes--from those who are looking at them and passing judgment."

The bishop told CNA that increased understanding and dialogue has suffered a backslide over the last few decades.

"The last half of the last century was so focused on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue,” said Bambera. This was not because dialogue was a “novel thing,” but “because it really helped us to recognize that which was similar, that which is different, and come to a much more harmonious sense of relationship and rapport with one another.”

Now, Bambera thinks that there is a need to “re-energize” interreligious cooperation for the present generation, citing Pope Francis’ recent call for increased dialogue.

This dialogue is especially needed in light of recent events.

In the last six weeks, there have been acts of violence targeting the three major Abrahamic faiths. The March 15 shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand killed 50 muslims. On Easter Sunday, bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed 253. On Saturday, a shooting at a synagogue near San Diego, CA killed one and injured three.

The shooters in the mosque and synagogue attacks both engaged in online forums and released “manifestos” prior to their arrests. The prevalent use of social media worries Bambera.

Despite being a “wonderful tool” for individuals and organizations to spread positive messages, the bishops warned that this is by no means always the case.

“As much as it can lead to good, it also has the potential (...) at times to be misused,” he said. “And I certainly think that has been the case related to many of these unfortunate situations."

On social media, a person can be exposed to “erroneous information” about a particular faith or group of people. Constant online reenforcement of misinformation and stereotypes can lead to people blindly accepting what they are being told without doing any further research, he explained. Predjudice and hate, Bambera said, are often rooted in untruths; increased dialogue between actual members of religious faiths, he explained, can be a crucial part in combatting the rise of violence and hate.

Despite the current climate, Bambera said there is cause for hope in the coming generation, pointing to the universal anger and pain in response to recent attacks on houses of worship, which he said “captured the attention of the entire world.”

Leaders around the world condemned the attacks as assaults on “basic human values."

Bambera told CNA that a presence by law enforcement was now a sad fact of annual Eastertide celebrations in Scranton, something he called unthinkable a decade ago.

He said that many of his parishioners expressed gratitude for the increased security, confiding to him there fears that attacks on religious celebration was becoming a fact of life.

While the security may be “unsettling” reminder of current dangers, he said, “we can’t live without fear” and that American Catholics had to rely on each other in facing a common fear in the name of God and of peace.

"We have a right to freely worship as we want to, and we ought not let extremists prevent us in any way from doing that, because then they win,” he said.

Why these high school students built a chapel and Marian shrine at a local school

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 16:47

Battle Creek, Mich., Apr 30, 2019 / 02:47 pm (CNA).- When two Michigan high school students were planning for a community service project, they decided they wanted to help younger children learn to pray. So, they fundraised, designed, and managed the construction of a chapel and Marian shrine for the local Catholic middle school.

Adam Sprague is a junior and Jacob Thome is a freshman at St. Philip Catholic Central High School in Battle Creek, Michigan. As part of earning their Eagle Scout badges, Sprague oversaw construction of a Blessed Sacrament chapel and Thome worked to build a Marian grotto.

Father Christopher Ankley, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, was involved with both projects. He told CNA that St. Joseph Catholic Middle School was in need of more prayer spaces, especially for students at the school.

“Just to have the Blessed Sacrament in the school is a good way to have that presence of Jesus with them all the time and to help them grow closer to our Lord and holiness,” he said. “It’s just one way to increase our Catholic identity and stress the importance of our faith.”

Both Sprague and Thome initiated their projects last year and completed them in December. As part of the Eagle Scout initiative, the students had to manage volunteers and work with interior or landscape designers on the projects’ layouts.

Sprague fundraised over $4,000 for the project by promoting it after weekend Masses. The money was used to purchase altars and pews. A local construction company donated free labor and tile, and a parishioner, who is an interior designer, also consulted on the chapel’s layout.

“I’m just glad how everything came together especially so that we can have kids start praying more and getting closer to God. I think it’s really special that there is adoration in there every Friday to increase that faith formation,” Sprague told CNA.

The chapel is named after St. Jose del Rio, a 14 year-old martyr who was executed for his faith during the Cristero War in Mexico. Sprague said the name was voted on by the middle school students, noting that the saint best represented the community.

“We have a very diverse community,” he said.  “We wanted to go with the saint that they could connect with. We wanted them to be represented in terms of the name.”

Father Fred Adamson, Sprague’s uncle and the vicar general for the Diocese of Phoenix, procured a first class relic of the saint for the chapel. Sprague said the relic’s presence in the chapel will benefit the students’ faith journey.

“Sometimes if the kids don’t necessarily have a good connection with God, a good foundation, it’s hard” for them to establish a strong Catholic faith, he said. “Just having a physical piece of the saint, I think will help a lot of the kids along with their faith journey,” he later added.

With adoration each Friday, the chapel is already being used by students and teachers.

Thome began fundraising for the Marian Grotto in September by announcing his project after several Masses. He told CNA that he received nearly $5,000, which he used to purchase the Marian statue, trellis, and landscaping materials, including plants and benches.

He said St. Joseph Church, located across the parking lot from the school, was not a convenient location for prayer, especially during the winter time. He said the Marian Grotto, which is located close to a hill at the entrance of the school, has already been used for prayer, especially the rosary.

“I think prayer is important. It can bring you closer to God and Jesus. Especially in middle school, it’s important to start your prayer life early, to become closer to God, which will benefit you later in life,” he said.

Father Ankley emphasized the importance of prayer. He said areas reserved for prayer are vital for students, noting that young people need an opportunity to be removed from the distracting noises of the world.

“We all need that time and place for just a little bit of quiet to hear our Lord because he is always reaching out to us, always wants to be with us.…he is always pursuing us.”

The priest expressed gratitude for the students, highlighting the strong faith of these young men who have taken up a role in the Church now instead of waiting for the future.  

“Sometimes we talk about how students are the future of the Church, but they are the Church right now. They have their place in their Church,” he said.


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 10, 2019.

Study shows marriage prep can drive down divorce

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Apr 30, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- States that require some form of marriage preparation see lower rates of divorce, a new study has shown.

About half of all first marriages in the United States end in divorce, a figure which only climbs with every subsequent marriage. However, a recent study from the Institute for Family Studies has shown that there are an estimated 14,785 fewer divorces in 2016 thanks, in part, to state-mandated premarital counseling.

Presently, 10 states have laws on the books that require couples undergo marriage counseling.

In 1998, Florida became the first state to enact such a policy, followed by Oklahoma, Maryland, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, and, most recently, Utah, which passed its law in 2018. These laws either require or incentivize premarital counseling by offering a discounted or free marriage license, and permit both religious and non-religious counseling.

In states that did enforce premarital counseling requirements, the IFS found that divorce rates were about 0.5 to 1.5 percent lower than states with no such requirements. The study’s author noted that the statistics could be underestimating the programs’ effectiveness.

“While this may seem like a small effect, note that the divorce-reduction effect is measured for all marriages, including those that began before the premarital education policies were implemented,” said Tiffany Clyde, the author.

“In other words, most marriages measured by the divorce rate could not be ‘treated’ because the policy was not in place when they married. So, the divorce-reduction effect of the policy is likely underestimated,” she said.

While the results show that these programs contribute to positive results, the Institute for Family Studies also found that many states either did not effectively enforce them, or ended funding to enforce them after only a few years. Clyde posited that couples who married after the policies went into effect will likely show even lower rates of divorce then the general results.

The Catholic Church in the United States typically requires that couples undergo some form of pre-Cana program prior to their marriage. This comes in the form of counseling with a priest, classes, retreats, or a mixture of these methods.

Timothy Olson, a canon lawyer who works with couples and serves as a judge in marriage annulment cases for the Diocese of Fargo, told CNA that he believes marriage preparation is vital for all couples, whether they are religious or not.

The Church considers marriage to be a natural right, explained Olson, and therefore it is extremely important that couples know what they are getting into.

“Marriage preparation is targeted at preparing a couple for the realities of marriage, which include how feelings change over time, and how affection works, and all those things,” said Olson.

Couples who are not religious or even baptized, Olson said, can still benefit greatly from counseling before marriage.

“Even as a natural institution, grace builds on nature,” he said.

“For everyone, whether baptized or not, it’s important to have more than just the gist of the basics in human dynamics that come across in a marriage,” Olson said.

“Being able to deal with the problems that inevitably come up, difficulties with children, the interrelationship with the couple, all those things matter in the formation of a stable permanent union.”

"Helping couples understand the fullness of marriage, but enlightened by the realities of human experience, needs to take place before the wedding," he said.

“Whether you’re religious or not, these are still things you simply must be prepared for, rather than hoping on good intentions. With marriage preparation programs, whether in the religious context or the secular context, the hope is to prepare people for their responsibilities in marriage.”

Pope Francis has repeadedly called for the Church to offer longer and more in depth forms of marriage preparation.

In October last year he said that "three or four" meetings in the parish was not enough. 

“The preparation must be mature and it takes time. Marriage is not a formal act; it is a sacrament,” Francis said.

“To enter the Sacrament of Marriage, the engaged couple must mature the certainty that within their bond is the hand of God, who precedes them and accompanies them, and will allow them to say: ‘With the grace of Christ I promise to always be faithful to you.’” 

Dominican priest: California confession bill threatens all religions

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 02:02

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 30, 2019 / 12:02 am (CNA).- If California moves forward with its proposed law trying to force priests to violate the seal of Confession, it is not just Catholicism but all religions that will suffer, said a Dominican priest in a recent op-ed.

Writing Sunday in USA Today, Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, assistant professor of canon law at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California, warned that “If this bill passes, no religion is safe.”

“If a core principle as deeply ingrained in Catholic tradition and doctrine can be wiped away this easily by the state, no fundamental rights of religion or conscience are safe.”

The proposal, California Senate Bill 360, would seek to require priests to violate the sacramental seal of confession in suspected cases of child abuse or neglect.

More than 40 professions, including clergy, are already covered by state law requiring them to notify civil authorities in cases of suspected abuse or neglect of children. Current law provides an exemption for “penitential communications” between an individual and their minister if the requirement of confidentiality is rooted in church doctrine.

Senator Jerry Hill introduced the proposed legislation in February, saying, “The law should apply equally to all professionals who have been designated as mandated reporters of these crimes — with no exceptions, period. The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk.”

In his op-ed, Pietrzyk asserted that the bill is “nothing less than an attempt to jail innocent priests.”

While the purpose of mandatory reporting statutes is good, he said, “there is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose cases of abuse learned of in the confessional would have prevented a single case of child abuse.”

Instead, he said, “There is every reason to believe the elimination of the privilege would mean that perpetrators would simply not bring it to confession.”

The bill would force a priest who hears in the confessional about sins regarding sexual abuse to choose to “face possible imprisonment or to betray that confidentiality and violate his deepest conscience and the laws of God and the Roman Catholic Church.”

“I know priests all along the theological and ideological spectra, none of them would ever consider breaking the seal of the confessional,” Pietrzyk said.

The Catholic Church holds that confession is a critical sacrament, allowing penitents to receive the grace of Christ and forgiveness of their sins, the priest explained.

“Although the priest acts as an instrument, confession is fundamentally about the encounter of the penitent Christian with God; he admits his sins to God and through the priest receives God’s absolution. It is a privileged moment in which a person reveals the deepest part of his conscience to God.”

The Church teaches that the “seal of confession” is inviolable and cannot be changed by human authority, because its origin is in divine revelation, Pietrzyk said. A priest who intentionally violates the seal commits a mortal sin and incurs an automatic excommunication.

“The Catholic Church holds that the information received by the priest in confession does not belong to him. It belongs to God alone,” he explained. “For that reason, a priest is absolutely — meaning there are no exceptions — forbidden from revealing the sins of a penitent.”

This belief is foundational to Catholic teaching, which existed for centuries before the United States was founded, the priest noted. And it has long been upheld by courts and civil authorities.

In 1813, Pietrzyk said, the New York Court of General Sessions stated, “To decide that the minister shall promulgate what he receives in confession, is to declare that there shall be no penance; and this important branch of the Roman Catholic religion would be thus annihilated.”

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged, “The priest-penitent privilege recognizes the human need to disclose to a spiritual counselor, in total and absolute confidence, what are believed to be flawed acts or thoughts and to receive priestly consolation and guidance in return.”

Given the religious and historical context of the seal of confession, California’s proposal should alarm all Americans, Pietrzyk said.

“To force individuals to choose between the most sacrosanct part of their religious beliefs and imprisonment is what the Bill of Rights was entirely meant to avoid.”

Buffalo priests removed from ministry following seminarian complaints

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 22:54

Buffalo, N.Y., Apr 29, 2019 / 08:54 pm (CNA).- Three priests have been temporarily removed from ministry in the Diocese of Buffalo, after seminarians say they engaged in salacious and inappropriate conversation during a party at a parish rectory. Officials say the removal is a sign that protocols are followed in the Diocese of Buffalo.

A statement from the Diocese of Buffalo said that during an April 11 gathering of priests and seminarians at a parish rectory, “unsuitable, inappropriate and insensitive conversations occurred that were disturbing and offensive to several seminarians in attendance. The complaints did not include or infer any instance of physical sexual abuse of a minor or adult.”

“The Diocese of Buffalo is thankful the seminarians followed the proper protocol and the Seminary responded correctly by immediately investigating and forwarding the findings to Bishop Richard J. Malone and other diocesan officials, including the Office of Professional Responsibility,” the statement added.

“Our primary mission is the education of our students and the formation of our future priests, deacons, and pastoral ministers,” Fr. John Staak, interim rector at Buffalo’s Christ the King Seminary noted in a statement last week.

“I am pleased the seminarians stepped forward to voice their concerns about unsuitable, inappropriate, and insensitive conversations which occurred [at a social gathering of priests and seminarians.] Several seminarians in attendance found the conversations disturbing and offensive.”

One of the priests temporarily removed from ministry is a formator at the seminary.

While seminarians described the conversation as “pornographic,” and described lewd sexual references in a written report, other priests who attended the party told reporters they did not hear all of the salacious talk the seminarians claim to have heard, and say they wonder whether some aspects of the conversation were misinterpreted.

Malone took no chances on the matter, removing the priests from active ministry last week. The diocese said that “disciplinary and corrective actions include: psychological evaluations and possible treatment, retraining in sexual harassment policies, individual retreats and, based on the results of these steps and additional investigation, further actions may be taken.”

The diocesan statement did not say whether the priests are accused of a particular canonical delict, or crime.

Generally speaking, Church law prohibits compelling a priest to undergo psychological evaluations or treatment against his will, with few exceptions. Church policy also generally requires that a canonical process assure a priest accused of misconduct has occasion to defend himself before being subject to a penalty. The Diocese of Buffalo’s initial statement did not indicate whether a canonical process for the priests will be forthcoming.

Malone has come under fire in recent months, after his former secretary alleged in August 2018 that the bishop had omitted the names of some priests accused of abuse or misconduct from a list the diocese released last March.

The bishop has since faced calls for his resignation.

In a statement released April 11, Malone maintained that he acted in good faith, and did not cover up any allegations. He assured Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo that he intends to be more transparent about clerical sexual abuse and its financial impact on his diocese.

In his statement last week, the diocese reiterated its commitment to addressing allegations of clerical misconduct.

“It is of primary importance to Bishop Malone that these priests are held accountable for their actions,” the statement said.

Religious liberty report highlights China's repression of Muslims, Christians

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 19:02

Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2019 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- The majority of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom are found in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, according to a report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released Monday. The report's introduction focused on abuses against China's Uyghur Muslims.

USCIRF released April 29 its 20th annual report documenting the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. With the exception of Cuba— the only majority Chirstian country listed, other than Russia— all the countries identified as the worst offenders are located in the eastern hemisphere.

“Our goal is not only to call out the offenders, but to provide concrete actions for the U.S. government to take in working with these countries to get off our lists,” USCIRF Chair Tenzin Dorjee said in a release accompanying the report.

Each year the group identifies “countries of particular concern” using the criteria of “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations” of religious freedom.

Non-state actors are given the designation “entities of particular concern” using similar criteria.

Some of these violations include torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; prolonged detention without charges; causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons, the report says.

Among the 16 countries designated as CPCs for 2019 are ten flagged by the state department in November 2018: Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The list also includes six other countries: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

In addition the group identified 12 countries that meet either one or two of the three criteria for a CPC, placing them on the “Tier 2” list. These include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.

Among the non-state entities of concern this year, USCIRF identified the Islamic State, the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and, making their first appearance on the list this year, the Houthis in Yemen and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Islamist militant group in Syria.

The Houthis are a Shiite Muslim tribe that took control of a key territory and chased the president from the capital city in 2015, and Saudi Arabia and some Arab allies intervened on behalf of the opposing faction. Iran continues to back the Houthis, who are battling the Saudi-led coalition for control of the country, especially the strategically important port city of Hodeidah.

The resulting three-year long Yemeni civil war has left between 13,500 and 80,000 people dead and millions displaced, with an estimated 14 million or so people facing pre-famine conditions.

The report particularly highlights the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China. To date, between 800,000 to 2 million Uighurs— or about 10% of their population— have been detained and sent to “re-education camps” to be subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

The report calls on the US government to sanction those in the Chinese government responsible for the detention of the Uyghurs. It also recommends the appointment of a special advisor to the president on international religious freedom.

The commission noted that while the Vatican reached a provisional agreement with China on the appointment of bishops in September, “nevertheless, repression of the underground Catholic Church increased during the latter half of the year.”

Among the report's inclusion of commissioners' “individual views” were those of Johnnie Moore, who called the Vatican-China deal “one of the most alarming incidents as it relates to religious freedom in the entire year.”

“Within days of the Vatican negotiating its deal, the Chinese used it as cover to embark upon the closure of several of the nation’s largest and most prominent unregistered church communities,” Moore wrote.

He believes the Vatican “now bears a significant moral and legal responsibility to help solve the problem which it helped created—albeit inadvertently—by providing China license to viciously crack down on Christian communities (as cited in this report), and by providing the Chinese government further cover to continue its incomprehensible, inexcusable and inhumane abuses of Muslim citizens in the western part of the country.”

“While I am entirely for direct engagement on these issues, including with the most severe violators in the world, that engagement must not result in these types of unintended consequences, as has been the case in China. The Vatican made a terrible mistake, which it must take seriously. This debacle must be dealt with urgently and seriously.”

USCIRF is a bipartisan commission that advises the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State on international religious freedom issues.

Gonzaga students worked at on-campus home of accused priests

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 17:20

Spokane, Wash., Apr 29, 2019 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Gonzaga University students were hired to serve as aides at an on-campus retirement home in which lived several priests accused of sexual abuse.

Between 2000 and 2015, students at the university were hired for positions in food service, maintenance, gardening, and direct with residents in the Jesuit retirement home, Cardinal Bea House, at which at least 20 Jesuit priests accused of sexual abuse and misconduct were sent to live, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Some student-workers were assigned to accompany retired Jesuits on errands during the course of their employment.

The students in food service positions were hired through the university’s employment office. The rest were hired directly by the Jesuit province that had assigned the accused priests to residence at Bea House.

“Before being hired, the students were briefed by the community’s superior that there were Jesuits at Bea House on safety plans who were monitored and restricted,” Primrose told the Spokesman-Review on April 9. “None of the students reported any inappropriate behavior by the Jesuits to the superior or the nurse/healthcare coordinator who helped supervise their work.”

The credibly accused priests living at Cardinal Bea House were reportedly subject to “safety plans” which forbade them from engaging with students, though it is not clear whether they had interaction with the student-workers at Bea House.

From 2003 to 2016, several Jesuit priests accused of sexual abuse were housed at the Cardinal Bea House on the campus of Spokane’s Gonzaga University, according to a series of investigative reports published in December 2018 by Northwest News Network, and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The sexual abuse accusations against the priests living on Gonzaga’s campus were not made known publicly by the university, the Jesuit province, or the diocese. Most of the accused priests were reported to be living at the Gonzaga residence in retirement or due to their declining health.
The house is a residence owned by the West Province of the Society of Jesus, and not overseen by the university.

According to the media reports, at least some credibly accused priests had regular unsupervised access to the university campus and unsupervised visits with students, and were permitted to lead prayer services in other settings, including Native American reservations.

No priests known to have been accused of abuse are now living in the campus house.


‘I am a pastor at heart’ Seattle coadjutor tells press conference

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 16:30

Seattle, Wash., Apr 29, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The new coadjutor archbishop of Seattle promised Monday to be a pastoral leader to Catholics in Washington state, noting that his ministry will focus on the principles of dialogue and accompaniment, in imitation of Pope Francis.

Archbishop Paul Etienne was welcomed to Seattle April 29, during a press conference hosted by Seattle’s Archbishop James Peter Sartain. Etienne was appointed to serve as coadjutor of Seattle earlier the same day. As coadjutor archbishop, Etienne will immediately succeed Sartain upon his retirement.

Speaking to journalists at the archdiocesan chancery, both archbishops spoke of their gratitude to the Holy Father for making the appointment and of their enthusiasm for working together in the coming months.

Sartain said he had looked forward to “this happy news” for some months.

The current archbishop explained that he had presented a request to the pope last September, asking for a coadjutor to help him lead the Seattle archdiocese following several major back surgeries, most recently in 2016, that had taken their toll on him physically.

“As the people of the archdiocese know, six or seven years ago I developed some severe spinal problems,” he said.

“Following the last surgery, despite its great success, I began to notice very soon that even though the surgery was successful, my stamina and my energy had not returned to where they were.”

Sartain said he began praying and discerning about his future 18 months ago, before concluding that he would likely need to retire earlier than the usual age of 75 and to ask the pope to appoint a coadjutor.

Archbishop Sartain is currently 66 years old.

“I was very grateful that Pope Francis agreed, positively, and set in motion the process which led to the very happy announcement today.”

Speaking after Sartain, Etienne described his “excitement” at his new appointment. Since 2016, the Indiana native has served as the Archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska. He said he was notified of his appointment by the apostolic nuncio in Washington two weeks ago and that it had been a “pretty quick transition.”

“It is only in the last couple of days that I have begun to allow this new reality to set in,” Etienne told the press conference.  “My heart is just filled with a lot of gratitude.”

“I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about my entire life journey that got me here,” Etienne said, as he paid tribute to his family and also his “family of faith” in his native Indiana, noting that it was the culture of faith in which he was raised, one which made it possible for four of six siblings in his family to enter the religious life or clergy.

The new coadjutor, who will be formally welcomed into the archdiocese on June 7, also reflected on the years he had spent in mission territory and dioceses within the U.S., including in Alaska and Cheyenne, Wyoming, praising the “profound faith” and “generosity” which he had encountered there and which he believes prepared him for his new position.

“I am very grateful to Pope Francis for inviting me to be a part of the journey [of the New Evangelization], and helping to lead the Archdiocese of Seattle,” Etienne said, while listing “dialogue” and “accompaniment” as key priorities for him in his ministry.

“Fundamentally, what the people of Seattle need to know is: I’m a pastor at heart.”

Both archbishops stressed their eagerness to work together in the coming months, with Etienne saying that he would have to “learn as I go” from the “good mentor” he has in Sartain.

Sartain said that a decision about the timing of his retirement and Etienne’s succession would be made in the coming months.

‘Our country should be better than this’ says DiNardo after synagogue attack

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 12:30

Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- The president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference has condemned the shooting at a synagogue near San Diego on April 27, and offered prayers for those affected.

“I, along with my brother bishops, am greatly saddened and deeply concerned over the news that another house of worship has been subjected to violence,” said USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

“Our country should be better than this,” DiNardo said in a statement released April 28.

“Our world should be beyond such acts of hatred and anti-Semitism. This attack joins an all too long list of attacks against innocent people, people of all faiths, who only want to gather and to pray,” he said.

Saturday’s shooting at Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, California, killed one and injured three others. The shooter has been arrested and charged with murder. This is the second deadly shooting at a synagogue in six months. The shooter, John Earnest, wrote and published an anti-Semitic manifesto prior to the attack.

Earnest has also claimed responsibility for a March arson attack on a mosque in Escondido, California.

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy also expressed his closeness to the local Jewish communittee.

“Our hearts go out to everyone at Chabad House Poway for the senseless violence that took place earlier today. Houses of worship should be places of peace. Know that the entire Catholic Community of San Diego and Imperial Counties is keeping you in our prayers,” McElroy said in a statement.

The bishop asked that all the parishes of the diocese offer a special prayer for the victims of anti-Semitism at Sunday Mass, and circulated a draft for inclusion in the prayers of the faithful. 

"For the victims of the Chabad shootings and their families; for the Jewish community, our elder brothers in faith, who are once again subjected to the evil of anti-Semitic hatred and violence, this time in our own diocese; and for our world, so consumed by anger and division, that we might understand that the gift of peace you give in today’s Gospel is a command for us to love every man and woman in the human family; we pray to the Lord.”

Cardinal DiNardo said that violence in the name of religion or or committed against people of faith was was always and everwhere intollerable.

“Unfortunately," he said, "both in the past and today, too many preach such hatred in the name of God. This cannot be abided; it must end.”

The cardinal's statement echoes last month’s message from Pope Francis condemning anti-Semitism. In March, speaking to representatives from the American Jewish Committee, said that for Christians, anti-Semitism is “a rejection of one’s own origins” and a “complete contradition.”

At the March audience, Pope Francis referred to interfaith dialogue as an “important tool” in increasing understanding between Judaism and Christianity, and stressed the importance of forming new generation of young people who are committed to interreligious dialogue.

Citing the “rich spiritual heritage” shared by Christians and Jews, the pope said that members of both faiths should seek each other out during this time of “depersonalizing secularism” in the Western world.

The shooting follows the devastating attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue last year.

On Oct. 27, 48-year-old Robert Bowers entered Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue equipped with an assault rifle and three handguns. Shouting anti-Semitic slogans, Bowers killed eight men and three women. He also injured six others, including four policemen. After a shootout with Pittsburgh Police and SWAT, Bowers was wounded and eventually surrendered.

Following that attack, several Pennsylvania bishops issued round condemnations of the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said that “Religious and ethnic hatred is vile in any form, but the ugly record of the last century is a lesson in the special evil of anti-Semitism. It has no place in America, and especially in the hearts of Christians.”

Scranton’s Bishop Joseph Bambera, who is the head of the Committee for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB, issued a statement on Sunday, claiming the act of violence to be cowardly.

“Anti-Semitism is to be condemned and has to be confronted by our nation. The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stands with our Jewish brothers and sisters during this time of great distress. May God grant peace to the dead, healing to the injured, and comfort to the families of those hurt and killed and to all the Jewish Community.”

Self-evident truths now require ‘air quotes’ senator warns

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The founding principles of American politics are at risk, Utah’s Senator Mike Lee told CNA April 26.

“There's the problem of people's reluctance these days to recognize truth--when it's not accompanied by air quotes,” the senator told CNA.

“There really are some truths that are self-evident, and they exist not because any government declares them to exist, but because God made them that way,” he added.

Speaking to CNA about the launch of his new book on the Declaration of Independence, the senator said he is concerned that public respect for objective truth and basic freedoms has been lost in the face of an expanded role of government in American society.

Lee said that an erosion of freedom in American society is fueled by a growing ignorance of the nation's founding documents, as well as a cultural shift away from the meaning of truth, including those which the Declaration held as self-evident: the equality of all people under God, and the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

He told CNA part of the inspiration behind his new book, “Our Lost Declaration,” was his desire to recover the self-evident truths laid out in the Declaration, and what they mean for civil society.

Lee said that individual liberties require space to be exercised, a space he claims expanding government structures are beginning to monopolize. To fix this, the senator proposed a cultural reset focused on a closer study and adherence to the country’s founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence, which he described as the “older sister” of the U.S. Constitution.

The loss of a common recognition of objective truth, according to Lee, has led to an over-reliance of government to take its place - expanding to absorb what were once non-political areas of society. This expansion, he argues, will have the unintended consequence of crowding out the exercise of individual rights.

Stephen White, Fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public policy Center in Washington, said that Lee's vision has some similarities to the Catholic understanding of political thought.

“Catholic social teaching is full of stern warnings about what happens when government and the civil law are not bound to higher truths,” White told CNA. 

“Pope John Paul II, for example, warned that, unless democracy was rooted in the right understanding of the human person, it could easily turn into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism. He knew this from history and from his own experience.”

Lee cautioned that losing an objective understanding truth and freedom to a subjective definition through government action could become “the high road to tyranny.” “That worries me,” Lee said.

“Whenever government acts, they do so at the expense of the liberty and the dignity of individual human beings--and of families, of neighborhoods, of synagogues and churches, and other communities,” said the senator.

“When we allow government to get too big, this is the kind of thing that gets harmed--our most fundamental rights, including our religious freedom — they get trampled,” he said.

The senator said oversized government influence does accidental harm even when it seeks to act positively. “I sometimes explain it as when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man steps on your house, it's not because the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man necessarily hates you or singled out you for an attack,” said Lee.

“It's because he's huge. He's the size of Godzilla, and your house happens to be in the way.”

The senator said that valuing the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence means respecting the freedom of individuals to live according to their beliefs and the dictates of the conscience, something constricted by a political culture which prioritizes the government’s right to intervene.   

“We assume that government has the first right to act, rather than have to justify their actions,” explained Lee.

“If we reconnect with these founding documents, as my book helps people to do, I think culturally, we can get to the point where we can reclaim the rights and get back the kind of government that we need, that we want, that we deserve, and that will respect our religious and our other freedoms."

While government can be harmful when it detaches from a proper understanding of human dignity and freedom, White told CNA that there was a risk of viewing government as necessarily opposed to the common good and individual liberty.

“The Catholic Church—even long before there was such a thing as ‘Catholic social teaching’—has always insisted that political authority has a natural and necessary role in ordering and governing human society for the common good,” White said.

“Government exists to be a guarantor of precisely that space in which true human freedom—freedom in solidarity, freedom for the good—can flourish.”

“Like all good things, government can be made to serve wicked ends. But government itself isn’t an obstacle to a healthy human society; it’s a necessary prerequisite of it.”

Religion 'less important' to most people than 20 years ago, surveys find

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Apr 27, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Participants in a study spanning 27 countries say that religion plays a less important role in public life than it once did, though in many parts of the world, participants said that religion’s importance is on the rise, or that they would like to see an increased role for religion in society.

In the study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, 37% of respondents say religion plays a “less important role” in their countries than it did 20 years ago, while 27% say it plays a more important role.

Nearly 40% of respondents said they favor an increased role for religion in society.

In addition, Pew studies suggest that although fewer people in the US and Canada believe that religion plays an “important role,” a majority of respondents in several Asian and African countries say religion’s role in their lives has become more important in recent years.  

Fifty-eight percent of Americans surveyed and 64% of Canadians say religion has a “less important role” than 20 years ago, Pew says. Roughly half of Europeans said the same thing, and 1 in 5 Europeans said there has been no change in the role of religion over the past 20 years.

By contrast, more than half in Indonesia (83%), the Philippines (58%) and India (54%) believe that religion has a bigger impact on their country today than it did 20 years ago, Pew says.

In the Philippines, young adults are 15% more likely to favor an increased role for religion than older people.

Sixty-five and sixty percent, respectively, of people in Nigeria and Kenya favor a greater role for religion in society. In addition, 96% and 93% respectively in those countries said religion is “very important” in their lives.

In contrast, people tended to say religion has become less important or there has been no change in South Korea, Japan and Australia.

In Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims have clashed in recent years, a majority of Nigerian Muslims— 88%— are in favor of a more important role for religion, while a smaller majority of Christians— 61%—say the same, Pew says. However, more Christians than Muslims are inclined to say there has been no change in the relative importance of religion in Nigeria.

The Pew authors noted that some countries have a large majority of respondents “concentrated at one end of the question of how important religion is to them,” which makes a reliable analysis of the question difficult.

“For example, so many survey takers in Indonesia, Kenya, Tunisia and Nigeria say religion is very important to them that there is a lack of respondents who say religion is ‘somewhat’ or not too important,” the authors wrote.

“The reverse is true in countries with less religious publics. An overwhelming majority of Swedish and Japanese respondents say religion is less important to them.”


After order to vacate residential area, McAllen Catholic immigration center to move downtown

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 21:00

Brownsville, Texas, Apr 26, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- After a close vote, McAllen, Texas officials approved a new downtown location for a Catholic immigration relief center that was ordered by the city in February to leave its location in a residential neighborhood.
On Monday, the city commissioners voted 2-3 to move the Respite Center of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley during a contentious public meeting in the border city of less than 150,000. The center will have to move to a new location downtown by June 15.

Following complaints from several residents, the immigrant service center was notified earlier this year that it would have to abandon its current location at a former nursing home. Neighbors claimed that foot trafficking from the Respite Center was disturbing the area’s peace.

Before moving to the residential area, the center had functioned downtown for a few years - first at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and then at a rented space near the courthouse.

Overseen by Sister Norma Pimentel, the Respite Center has helped an estimated 150,000 migrants since 2014, sometimes up to 300 a day. Most of the clients are women and children who are waiting on court dates in asylum hearings.
The center provides temporary housing to people who often move onto find families or sponsors in cities throughout the US. It also offers food, medical attention, and hygienics. The facility even has a chapel where the clients can pray.

Asylum seekers are dropped off at the McAllen center shortly after being released from the custody of federal authorities. Located right on the Mexican-U.S. border, McAllen is a hub for immigrants and concerns have been expressed by locals about the transient population of asylum seekers and other immigrants in the town.
“The need for care and support has far outpaced the capacity of the current facility,” said a statement from CCRGV.

According to The Monitor, City Manager and Police Chief Victor Rodriguez has also expressed concern about the city’s immigration. He said he has requested federal authorities to release immigrants at the nearby towns of Harlingen and Brownsville.

Although the city is overwhelmed, he said, it is still the responsibility of the town to keep everyone safe.

“Nobody would be happier than people here at city hall for somebody else to be responsible for this,” he said.

“It’s our responsibility not only to keep those immigrants safe, but to keep the people that don’t want them here safe,” he further added.

In response to the immigration crisis, Catholic Charities plans to build a new humanitarian respite center on a piece of land already purchased by the organization. To fulfill this initiative, an architectural design competition is currently underway.

“In this time of crisis, providing migrants with hope for their future and working to restore their human dignity has become a national imperative,” read CCRGV statement.

“To continue to effectively serve, CCRGV plans to build a new Humanitarian Respite Center capable of serving all those who come to its door and bring respite to the most vulnerable.”


Second judge issues injunction against pro-life Title X rule

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 17:00

Spokane, Wash., Apr 26, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A federal judge in Washington state issued a nationwide preliminary injunction April 25, blocking a rule which would deny government funding to health clinics co-locating with abortion facilities. The ruling comes just days before the Protect Life Rule was due to go into effect.

U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian in the Eastern District of Washington state ruled Thursday that the Protect Life Rule represented “no public interest” and that the Department of Health and Human Services acted unlawfully in pursuing the policy. The suit was brought by the state of Washington.

The Protect Life Rule prohibits the distribution of Title X family planning funds to clinics that are co-located with facilities that perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, was set to lose about $60 million in federal funding due to the rule change. Planned Parenthood receives about half a billion dollars in federal funds each year, including money from Title X.

Bastian made his ruling one day after U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said he would  issue a preliminary injunction against the same policy, finding that the ban on abortion referrals would prevent doctors from behaving like medical professionals.


In a case brought by twenty states and the District of Columbia, McShane ruled the new regulation would remove the full range of medical options for low-income women, create a “geographic vacuum” in reproductive health care, but said he was unlikely to issue a national injunction.

Two further suits, brought by California and Maine, are still pending. The policy was due to go into effect on May 3.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson welcomed the ruling by Bastian, and said that the injunction “ensures that clinics across the nation can remain open and continue to provide quality, unbiased healthcare to women.”

The Protect Life Rule did not reduce the amount of federal funding available through the Title X program, but only restricted how the funds could be allocated.

At least one state Planned Parenthood organization had already put into place a contingency plan to provide birth control without Title X funds.

Shortly after the Protect Life Rule was formally announced, Planned Parenthood of Illinois announced the “Access Birth Control” program, which would provide contraceptives free-of-cost for eligible persons.

Lent is over. Now what?

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 05:18

Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2019 / 03:18 am (CNA).- Chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps have graced the shelves of U.S. stores for weeks in anticipation of Easter, but now that the actual Easter Season has begun, how should Catholics observe it?

“We cannot, as Christians, walk out of Easter liturgy and wash our hands of the business. Our life is forever changed, and it can never be what it was, if we believe that a man has walked out of the tomb,” said Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, director of the Institute of Catholic Culture.

Easter Sunday begins the liturgical season of Easter, which continues through the celebration of the Ascension to Pentecost Sunday, 50 days in all. Each day of the Octave of Easter, the first eight days of the season, is a solemnity, ending on the Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Easter Triduum follows the 40-day penitential season of Lent, which is marked by penance, prayer, and almsgiving.

However, once the Triduum is over and Catholics cast off their Lenten penances, what comes next? Was Lent just one big detox program, and is the Easter Season a marathon of steak dinners, chocolate eggs, Netflix binges and bigger bar tabs, while practices of daily Mass and prayer are neglected?

Not so, said liturgical experts, who stressed that Catholics can both celebrate Easter and also grow in their spiritual life.

How do we do that? First, Catholics must remember the spiritual focus of the season, which is on Christ’s Resurrection and the evangelization that immediately follows from it, Fr. Chrysostom Baer of the Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, Calif., told CNA.

“The apostles were trying to convert the world because Jesus rose from the dead. And they really got the impulse to go at Pentecost, but the message is ‘Jesus died and rose’,” he said.

This evangelization was powered by a type of “evangelical poverty,” he said, pointing to the Acts of the Apostles: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.”

While Easter is not a time for hairshirts and fasting, he clarified, Catholics shouldn't feel like they must abandon good Lenten practices during Easter, if those practices help them be better Catholics – especially if they gave up things that were occasions of sin for them.

The Resurrection should change everything about our lives, Fr. Hezekias insisted, because in the words of St. Paul, since Jesus rose from the dead, “death no longer has dominion over Him.”

“It’s no great mystery that God is not able to be controlled by death. The great mystery is that a man walked out of the tomb that day. He was filled with Divine life. He’s the God-man. His divinity destroyed the power of death, but destroyed the power of death over us,” he said.

“We can say now, we who have been baptized in Him, death no longer has dominion over us,” he said. “Easter, Pascha, is the Christian life. Death no longer has dominion over us.”

This means that the created world has been brought back “into communion with God,” he said, and that realization should change how we see everything.

“I would think the first best way to celebrate the season is to go to daily Mass. That is bar none, the best,” Fr. Chrysostom said. “Because it really puts you in the mind of the Church, with regard to the season. The prayers change every day, but they’re all focused on the Resurrection.”

Catholics should also continue any good practices they fostered during Lent like prayer or almsgiving, he insisted, and should give attention to virtues they cultivated from Lenten penance.

“The Easter Season is for fostering those virtues that you’ve planted during Lent, and allowing them to grow,” he said. This requires taking “concrete steps” and not just vague promises to ensure that good habits are maintained, he added.

For instance, if someone gave alms during Lent, they could resolve to give money to the poor a certain number of times per week, he said.

However, Easter shouldn’t just be lived at church, but “it’s got to live out in our everyday lives,” Fr. Hezekias told CNA. There must be a “more intense realization that every aspect of my life has come into communion with God.”

“What about reading the Gospel in our homes or singing the Gospel in our homes before we bless the food at the dinner of that Sunday?” he suggested.

Another way to do this is for Catholics throw a party, he said, which we can enjoy in a new way having first fasted during Lent.

“The reason the Church has us set aside meat [during Lent] is because we’ve become dependent on those things,” Fr. Hezekias explained. “The key to the celebration of Easter and Pascha is the re-ordering in our life, that now I eat meat as a gift from God,” he said.

If someone has given up meat for 40 days, he explained, they will appreciate its goodness all the more: “Suddenly they take a bite of meat, and what do you say? ‘Thank you, God!’”

And Catholics should party together.

“I think what makes a feast really a feast is that it’s shared, with friends,” Fr. Chrysostom said, and where drinks served “heightens the conviviality and the joy.”

“Everyone should be asking themselves right now, who should I invite to my home [during the Easter Season]?” Fr. Hezekias said. They should also consider inviting the newly baptized at their parish over to their homes.

“We’ve forgotten our ability as Christians to go out and really have a party,” he said. “Our society is starving because of that. We’re the ones who are supposed to be showing everyone else what true joy is, but unfortunately we’ve forgotten it ourselves.”

“We’ve got to re-discover that for the sake of society.”


This article was originally published on CNA April 18, 2017.

‘Lay co-agents essential for Church leadership’ Detroit archbishop says

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- The role of the laity is crucial to the Church’s efforts to combat clerical sex abuse, Archbishop of Allen Vigneron said Thursday morning.

Speaking at The Catholic University of America on April 25, the Detroit archbishop explained that in his own ministry he had seen how lay collaboration is essential in Church governance, and has a natural place with the Church’s hierarchy.

“In order to act well, I recognize that I am in need of what I might call ‘co-agents’--others who help me by thinking and acting along with me,” said Vigneron.

These “co-agents” take the form of both members of the clergy and laity, he explained, and could even include non-Catholics.

Vigneron was speaking at an event titled “The Way Forward: Principles for Effective Lay Action,” part of a series organized by The Catholic Project, Catholic University's progam dedicated to helping shape the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The archbishop identified three particular areas in which co-agents were crucial to his own ministry, including the review board and finance council, and the archdiocesan synod which was convened in 2016.

Recalling that when he arrived in Detroit in 2013 the archdiocese faced a financial crisis, Vigneron said it was his lay advisors who were crucial in rescuing the situation.

“Without the wise advice of the [finance] council, I would not have been able to endorse the course that enabled us to avoid financial disaster,” said Vigneron, adding that the experience  gave him confidence that lay co-agents had an equally important role to play in solving the present sexual abuse crisis.

Vigneron also identified “victim-survivors” of clerical abuse as indispensable guide to helping him understand the trauma of abuse.

Meeting abuse survivors had, he said, “provided a unique and painful perspective of the enormity of the sins perpetrated against these innocents.”

“I hear incredible anger and disappointment, especially from those victim-survivors who have been driven away from the sacraments for the rest of their lives,” he said, while expressing gratitude and admiration for the many who had told him they remained committed to the Church.  

One of the key points of discussion in the ongoing debate about enhanced lay participation in Church accountability is the strain it could place on the hierarchical nature of the Church. The office of bishops to lead and govern the Church is divinely instituted, and many - including in Rome - are reluctant to pursue reforms which could be seen to undermine episcopal authority.

Vigneron rejected the idea that effective lay involvement would necessarily supercede or undermine his role as a bishop.

“It is the final firm determination of the bishop that secures the stable basis for consistent acting,” he said. “And no healthy approach to lay-clergy collaboration can contradict this aspect of Christ’s constitution of his Church.”

Collaboration would be most fruitful and effective, explained the archbishop, when “any actions taken to respond to the challenges of the current crisis are parts of a greater whole” which is in harmony with the Church’s essential nature. The “greater whole,” he said, is the entire work of the Church for the salvation of souls, final responsibility for which rests with the bishop.

“It is the particular competence of the diocesean bishop to be the trustee of this common good and to ensure that all particular ecclesial acts contribute to this end.”

Speaking after the event, Vigneron told CNA that he was preparing for the release of a report into clerical sexual abuse by the Michigan attorney general and that "there will be a great involvement of the lay faithful helping us as this unfolds.”

While the laity could play unique and expert roles in many areas according to their skills and experience, Vigneron said that it is vitally important that all the faithful maintain their prayer lives and work to hold people accountable for inaction.

The archbishop told CNA that healing the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church was a spiritual as well as structural labor.

"All the laity can continue to be engaged at the spiritual level, to realize that if there's going to be change in the Church, part of it has to be that we all pray for that to happen,” he said.

“The other thing is to continue to hold the pastors accountable, to urge us to do what we need to do to advance the purification of the Church and to support us as we're engaged in those challenges."

CUA president applauds students' decision to block porn

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 17:40

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:40 pm (CNA).- The president of The Catholic University of America has voiced his support for a student government resolution that asked the university to block the 200 most popular porn sites from its internet system.

“I am so proud of our students,” CUA president John Garvey wrote in an op-ed for the Arlington Catholic Herald April 24.

“This month the student government association, the body that represents our undergraduates, passed a resolution asking the university to prohibit access through the campus network to the 200 most frequently visited pornography websites. I told them we'd be happy to.”

The non-binding resolution was passed by a vote of 13 to 12, and student body president Jimmy Harrington signed it April 1.

Student Sen. Gerard McNair-Lewis, a junior at the university, was the resolution’s sponsor.

Garvey noted that pornography has become more accessible than it once was; where in the past it could only be found in “leather-bound books in gentlemen's clubs and private libraries,” today “any 6-year-old can find it on a cellphone.”

In addition, pornography has become more graphic, and advances in technology not only make pornography more addictive, but also make it easier for people to slip into the mindset of: “We don't need one another for sexual fulfillment. We can summon imaginary partners at the touch of a button.”

“I think that basic human urges are fairly constant from one generation to another. But technology can change our stimuli and the way we respond. That's happening here,” Garvey said.

Reproductive technology such as artificial contraception have reinforced the idea, Garvey asserted, that if sex is merely a form of recreation, then “any partner will do: even a virtual one.”

“Our students are right to be concerned about the trend in this direction, because the digital revolution's ambition is to make virtual reality indistinguishable from life,” he noted.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.
“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” the Catechism says.

Of course, Garvey acknowledged, blocking pornography on the university’s internet system will not solve students’ appetite for porn—they can still use their phones or access a site that is not yet blocked.

But, “it does communicate a point of view that our students say they want to hear,” Garvey wrote.

“It says that this is not the sort of relationship they should be looking for, and we're not going to lend our system to help them find it.”

Garvey’s op-ed did not include specific details about how and when the university would implement the pornography ban, but a spokesperson for the university told CNA that the block on top porn sites should go into effect “within weeks.”

“Our students asked President Garvey to block the top 200 porn sites, and he told them that he’d be happy to do so,” Catholic University spokesperson Karna Lozoya told CNA on Thursday.

“We are working on implementing those blocks, and should have the top sites blocked within weeks.”

When the university last considered banning porn from the network, they found it would have been both expensive and ineffective. Now, due to advances in technology, it is now more affordable to implement this kind of filter, Loyoza told CNA earlier this month.
While students may work around a firewall and continue to access porn, “the student resolution made a convincing argument that banning porn on the University network sends the right message to the student body.”

One of the resolution’s co-sponsors, Alexandra Kilgore, told CNA that she was surprised to learn action had not already been taken.
“I was honestly shocked to learn that such a ban wasn't already in place. Even my public high school blocked inappropriate content on its wi-fi, so I knew The Catholic University of America could do better,” she said.
“As a woman, I thought it was important to be a cosponsor to bring to light that pornography is not just a men's issue. Not only does the industry exploit and prey upon primarily women and girls, but females can struggle with addiction and consumption just as much as males.”
Kilgore described the resolution as a positive expression of corporate concern among the student body, not a condemnation.
“Our resolution is not intended to shame anyone or to make pornography addiction more isolating than it already is. Rather, it demonstrates the Student Government Association's commitment to the well-being of the student body and the University's continued demonstration of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Harrington rejected the idea that blocking pornography amounted to censorship or a violation of personal freedoms, saying “it is a regulation that the national University of the Catholic Church or any private institution ought to enact.”
Harrington pointed out in his statement that many secular organizations ban pornography from their networks, not only out of moral concerns, but also because such websites often contain viruses and other malware that can damage machines.
“If a secular company can block these sites from their networks and computers, then I am even more convinced that The Catholic University of America ought to be able to and should regulate these sites on its own network,” Harrington said.

Injunction against Title X funding rules draws pro-life criticism

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 17:32

Portland, Ore., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:32 pm (CNA).- Pro-life advocates have lamented a federal judge’s preliminary injunction against the federal Protect Life Rule, which bars family planning funds for clinics at the same location as abortion providers and for those which refer for abortion.

“Abortion is not healthcare, and that’s how we evaluate these kinds of decisions,” Todd Cooper, executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, told CNA.

“Coming from that perspective, it’s troubling,” he said. “I ask myself: why would medical professionals want to refer women to something that would cause untold harm and result in the death of a child?”

Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, agreed.

“Abortion is not healthcare nor is it family-planning,” she said April 24 statement, characterizing abortion as “big business.”

“Planned Parenthood performs almost 40 percent of abortions in the country. They have a financial interest in keeping Title X funding coming their way,” she said. In her view, the new regulation would not cut any money from family planning, and “reflects the original intent of the program: helping people plan their families.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family planning, including contraception and other health screenings, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The Protect Life Rule, finalized in February, requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “non-directive counseling” about abortion can still receive funds, but cannot refer for abortion.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country, is expected to lose about $60 million in federal funds due to its intention not to comply with the rule change, which would make it ineligible for funds for its family planning work.

On April 24 U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a preliminary injunction against the new rule’s ban on taxpayer funding for clinics that refer for abortion, calling it a “ham-fisted approach to public health policy,” The Oregonian reports.

Twenty states, including Oregon, and the District of Columbia, have challenged the rule change, joined by Planned Parenthood affiliates and the American Medical Association.

Fourteen other states back the rule change, which had been set to take effect May 3.

The plaintiffs in the case had sought a national injunction, but McShane said he was reluctant to set “national health care” policy. He said he would describe the injunction’s scope in a forthcoming formal written opinion.

The U.S. Justice Department has asked that the injunction apply only to the plaintiffs. There are four similar lawsuits pending in other states.

In his discussion of the case, McShane said the ban on abortion referrals prevent doctors from behaving like medical professionals. He ruled the new regulation would remove the full range of medical options for low-income women, create a “geographic vacuum” in reproductive health care, and would likely increase abortion numbers due to more unwanted pregnancies, The Oregonian reports.

The rule’s prohibition on federal funding for family planning clinics housed in the same location as abortion providers will also be the subject of an injunction, the judge said.

Attorney Andrew Bernie argued on behalf of the federal government, saying there was no proof of “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs. The administrative record did not show a political motive for the changes.

Further, the changes are in line with the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court decision Rust v. Sullivan, which upheld federal regulations barring abortion counselling by employees of federally funded family planning facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services holds that the new rules best reflect a Title X section which bars abortion as a family planning method, said Bernie.

McShane, however, said “good health outcomes” are the standard.

“Are these rules going to bring about good health outcomes?” he asked Bernie, according to The Oregonian.

The judge said the government hadn’t provided data to counter medical experts’ claims that the rule’s restrictions on medical professionals regarding abortion referral would result in unwanted pregnancies, ineffective contraceptive use, and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

Cooper, of the Oregon Catholic Conference, questioned the judge’s conclusion.

“Abortion is not a good health outcome,” he told CNA, asking for more evidence for the claim that the rule could result in more abortions.

Attorney Alan Schoenfeld, who represented Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association, said all Planned Parenthood providers would leave the Title X program because the rules, which they consider a “gag rule,” require unethical health care practice. Planned Parenthood operates about 40 percent of health care clinics in the U.S. If they reduce or close operations, Schoenfeld argued, some communities could not replace the resulting vacuum in health care, which would reduce low-income women’s access to cancer screening and other health services.

Anderson of Oregon Right to Life, however, rejected this argument. The refusal of Planned Parenthood to comply would mean the money would go to federally-qualified healthcare clinics, of which there are over 13,500 across the U.S., she said.

“In Oregon alone, there are 24 (federally-qualified healthcare clinics) for every single Planned Parenthood clinic,” said Anderson. “The idea that there would be a dearth of providers should this rule take affect is an outright lie.”

Enacting the rule, she said, “would ensure that family-planning funds go towards actual family-planning, not killing members of families.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum argued against the rule in court, saying that Title X funds are “a true safety net for low income individuals and those who would not be able to access care, due to a lack of insurance or other barriers.”

After the finalized rule was announced in February, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, praised the Trump administration for “reaffirming that abortion is not family planning.”

“Abortion ends the lives of families’ most vulnerable members, as well as damaging the spiritual, mental and physical health of mothers,” said the archbishop.

Previous regulations, written under President Bill Clinton’s administration, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions. That rule kept some organizations opposed to abortion from applying for grants.

Cooper gave an overview of the pro-life cause in Oregon, which he described as “difficult territory.”

“It’s just a challenge out here, because abortion supporters really want unfettered access to abortion,” he said. “They want to force this on society, they want to force this on women, they even want to force this on medical professionals.”

“For Catholics and many others here in Oregon that do not support abortion for different reasons, this is a battle that we are never going to give up on, regardless of where it goes in the near future. This is something that we’ll be relentless in fighting because of the harm it does to women.”

“Who wants a world where only certain children are welcome?” Cooper asked. “That’s not a world that is a good place to be.”

He pointed to efforts like the Renew Life Oregon coalition, which includes Oregon Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Portland.

“There are a lot of very committed people who are working in the trenches to support life, and ultimately help people recognize and understand the harm that abortion causes society and women in particular, and obviously the children who are being killed in their mothers’ wombs.”

According to Liberty Pike, communications director for Oregon Right to Life, almost 50 percent of abortions in the state are taxpayer-funded.

State law required all insurance plans to cover abortions without any deductible. A Catholic health care provider only secured an exemption after it threatened to leave the state.

“We are already spending an exorbitant amount of tax dollars on abortion,” she said.

Pike argued the new rule would not even force Planned Parenthood out, given it has a choice to give up the Title X funding or to comply with the funding rules.

IRS grants Satanic Temple recognition as a 'church'

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A satanic group has announced they have been granted recognition as a church by the Internal Revenue Service.

In a statement published Thursday, the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple said that they have received notice from the IRS and that the decision would grant the organization equal legal footing with other religious groups.

“This acknowledgement will help make sure the Satanic Temple has the same access to public spaces as other religious organizations, affirm our standing in court when battling religious discrimination, and enable us to apply for faith-based government grants,” the statement said.

The IRS has not commented on any conferral of status for the group, but guidance published on its website confirms that churches benefit from special tax rules, including automatic exemption from federal income tax.

IRS regulations draw a clear distinction between “churches” and other religious organizations. A church must have certain characteristics, according to IRS requirements, including: a recognized creed and form of worship; distinct ecclesiastical government; formal code of doctrine; ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study; established places of worship and regular religious services.

Despite its overtly demonic allegiance, the Satanic Temple was founded by professed atheists and articulates a set of secular humanist beliefs. Its satanic imagery appears to many to be a deliberate provocation in response to what the group perceive as interference by religion in the public square.

In a 2013 interview, the group’s spokesman, Douglas Mesner, described their intention to be a “poison pill in the Church-State debate.” They have previously mounted lawsuits to display satanic images and statues on public property alongside traditional Judeo-Christian symbols, such as the Ten Commandments.

In February of 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against a self-professed member of the Satanic Temple who claimed that a state law on “informed consent” before an abortion violated her religious beliefs.  

Mary Doe, as the plaintiff was listed in that case, argued that a booklet distributed to all women seeking abortion in the state was a violation of her religious beliefs and an articulation by the state of an alternative religious creed.

The case focused on the booklet’s statement that “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

The apparent recognition of the IRS comes after members of the Satanic Temple have had to defend themselves against accusations that their “church” is essentially a political stunt. A recent documentary entitled “Hail, Satan?” presented the group as sincere, despite ongoing suggestions that the temple was founded to make a “mockumentary” film and is essentially performance art and political theatre.

Whatever the sincerity of its founders, its conflict with the Catholic Church have been real.

In May 2014, the Satanic Temple was part of an attempt to organize a “black mass” on the campus of Harvard University. A spokesman for the group initially told the media that a consecrated Host would be desecrated during the event, although the temple and the Harvard club hosting the event both later denied this.

Following sustained outcry from Catholics and other religious groups, the event was first moved off campus and eventually cancelled.