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US abortion rate keeps declining – but what's behind it?

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 02:04

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A reported drop in the United States abortion rate by the Guttmacher Institute is good news to pro-life leaders, who nevertheless acknowledge that optimism should be tempered.

“The news that there may be fewer abortions taking place in the United States is a great start to the New Year, though we have to take the abortion industry’s claims with a grain of salt,” the acting president of Americans United for Life, Clarke Forsythe, stated.

The accuracy of the numbers could have been affected by the lack of a “national reporting requirement” for clinics, he said.

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, echoed that claim, saying the numbers were “good news” but cautioning that “a confluence of factors” was behind them.

Abortion rates in the U.S. fell to their lowest recorded level since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, the Guttmacher Institute, which provides research and analysis to “advance sexual and reproductive health and rights,” said in a report released Jan. 17.

The rate of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in the U.S. fell by 14 percent from 2011 to 2014, Guttmacher reported, with the current rate at 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. There were 926,200 recorded abortions in 2014 overall, they said.

And the number of pregnancies ending in abortion, excluding miscarriages, also fell by 11 percent since 2011, the report noted.

This continued a marked decline in the abortion rate, which had already dropped by 13 percent between 2008 and 2011. The overall abortion rate has seen a steady decline since 1980-81 when it was at its peak of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women, NPR reported.

Pro-life leaders have welcomed the overall finding of a smaller abortion rate, although they raised some questions about the accuracy of the report.

“That’s the core question,” Chuck Donovan of the Charlotte Lozier Institute told CNA of the accuracy of the numbers. For instance, he noted that California has no reporting of abortion numbers from its state health agency. The report itself states that “we obtained responses from only 58% of facilities that we believed provided abortions in 2014.”

This points to a “crying need” for better reporting of abortion numbers on a state and national level, Donovan said.

Nevertheless, among all the sources that are reporting abortions, they show a sharp decline in the abortion rate, he emphasized, from state reports to Guttmacher’s report to reports by the Centers for Disease Control.

The biggest cause driving the decline, Guttmacher suggested, could have been the use of contraceptives.

Dr. Rachel Jones, principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, told CNA, “we think the most important contributing factor is improvements in contraceptive use … That couples are using contraception more effectively, and in particular, there are indicators that more women are using long-acting methods such as IUD.”

There was increased utilization of certain contraceptive devices such as intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). The “reliance” on those two devices had increased by 130 percent between 2007 and 2009 and “continued, albeit at a slightly slower pace, through 2012,” the Guttmacher Institute said.

Jones added that “fewer women were getting pregnant in 2014 than in 2011…we think this is because the best available evidence suggests that more women are using highly-effective methods and therefore there [are] fewer unintended pregnancies. So that means more of the pregnancies that do occur are intended. And so, by default, these women chose to get pregnant and they choose to have a baby.”

Other, smaller causes for the decline in the abortion rate could have been state laws restricting abortions or regulating abortion clinics, Guttmacher said.

“Improved contraceptive use in recent years has led to a decline in the U.S. unintended pregnancy rate, suggesting that women are increasingly able to plan their pregnancies and therefore have a decreased need for abortions,” they stated.

“However, the wave of abortion restrictions passed at the state level over the last five years could also have contributed to the decline by making it more difficult for women to access needed services in highly restrictive states.”

19 states have passed “pain-capable” bills, or 20-week abortion bans, since 2010. Regulations of abortion clinics have also been passed by several states in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell incident, in which the Philadelphia abortionist was convicted in 2013 on three counts of first-degree murder of babies and prosecutors described his clinic as a “house of horrors” full of serious health violations.

There are a “whole host of factors” that could be behind the abortion rate decline, Donovan said. “We think there’s an awful lot going on.”

He pointed to surveys showing young people trending more pro-life, due to an increase in the use and quality of ultrasounds that show a baby in the womb. The violence of abortion would also be a turn-off to many young people, he said. A higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term, he added.

Teenage sexual activity has overall decreased, Donovan said, pointing to numbers from the Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention showing the percentage of high school students who had ever had sex declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2013.

There have also been “changing understandings of abortion,” Camosy said. The unborn child was formerly referred to as a “clump of cells,” but the rise of technology such as 3D ultrasounds have enabled people to see a living, moving child in the womb.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards attributed the decline to contraceptives, NPR reported. "It shows that we're finally doing a better job of helping women get access to birth control that's affordable and that's high-quality,” Richards said.

In the Guttmacher report, there was a 14 percent increase in “early medication abortions” that were “in non-hospital facilities,” like the use of the RU-486 pill in the first eight weeks after gestation. Donovan admitted this is a “worrisome number.”

It is also a “clarion call” for better tracking of the number of abortion injuries, he insisted, as the RU-486 pill can be taken by a mother at home and the complications or injuries arising from it are “outside of the clinic.”

And only just over half of states require reporting of abortion complications, he said.

Overall, the numbers reflect progress, Donovan said, pointing to factors like more resources for pregnant women as driving more women to carry their children to term.

Kickbacks for suing the Church? Lawsuit claims major misbehavior at SNAP

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 19:02

Chicago, Ill., Jan 19, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A former employee of the controversial Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests has filed a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination for challenging the organization’s misbehavior, including alleged kickbacks from attorneys who were suing the Church on behalf of sexual abuse victims.

In the lawsuit, Gretchen Rachel Hammond, a past development director of SNAP, claimed to have been fired after coming to learn “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors – it exploits them.”

Although the plaintiff “had explicitly stated to potential donors that SNAP did not engage in kickback schemes,” Hammond’s discoveries while employed there allegedly showed otherwise – and the reputed proof is on an external hard drive.

“SNAP routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of ‘donations.’ In exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church,” the lawsuit charges. “These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

Hammond’s attorneys filed the lawsuit against SNAP on Jan. 17 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. Hammond was employed at SNAP from July 2011 through February 2013, the complaint said.

The lawsuit prompted a flat denial from SNAP president Barbara Blaine.

“The allegations are not true. This will be proven in court. SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: To help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse,” she said in a statement provided to CNA.

According to the SNAP website, Blaine herself says she was abused as an eighth grader by a priest who taught at her Catholic school.

The lawsuit claimed that the organization receives “substantial contributions” from attorneys sometimes totaling more than 40 or 50 percent of its annual contributions. A prominent Minnesota attorney who represents clergy abuse survivors reportedly donated several six-figure annual sums, including over $415,000 in 2008. Other unnamed attorney-donors who represent abuse survivors reportedly came from California, Chicago, Seattle, and Delaware.

Hammond claimed that the SNAP leadership provided a list of attorneys who were regular donors and “ordered Plaintiff not to reveal to anybody that SNAP received donations from attorneys.”

The lawsuit alleges that during 2011 and 2012, SNAP “concocted a scheme to have attorneys make donations to a front foundation” in order to conceal attorneys’ “kickbacks.”

SNAP describes itself as “an independent, confidential network of survivors of institutional sexual abuse and their supporters” who aim to protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded and expose the truth in an effort to “hold church institutions responsible for enabling abuse and shielding predators.”

Despite the organization’s self-portrayal, the lawsuit charged, “SNAP is a commercial operation motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”

The lawsuit cited an April 26, 2011 email from executive director David Clohessy recommending an abuse victim pursue a claim against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee: “every nickle [sic] they don't have is a nickle [sic] that they can't spend on defense lawyers, PR staff, gay-bashing, women-hating, contraceptive-battling, etc.”

Hammond’s lawsuit questions the organization’s treatment of victims. It claims that SNAP “callously disregards the real interests of survivors” and pressures them to “pursue costly and stressful litigation” instead of the survivors’ best interests.

SNAP allegedly uses publicity about victims’ lawsuits to drive fundraising. The group “regularly communicates” with victims’ attorneys, often receives drafts of complaints and “other privileged information” which it would allegedly use “to generate sensational press releases on the survivors' lawsuits.”

“SNAP and survivors’ attorneys would often base their case filing strategy on what would generate the most publicity for SNAP – instead of the best interests of the survivors,” the suit charges.

It cites an email of SNAP leaders discussing whether publishing a newsletter item would prompt more donations or upset abuse survivors. One leader said: “my initial response is that we err on the side of using it to raise money.”

The lawsuit suit claims the organization would “ignore survivors who reached out to SNAP in search of assistance and counseling” and had no grief counselors or rape counselors on payroll at relevant times.

The suit says Hammond helped the organization improved its donation-tracking software system, streamlined its donor list, and helped raise its Better Business Bureau ranking and received a raise for this work.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff oversaw the fundraising for SNAP’s trip to The Hague where the group filed charges against Pope Benedict XVI in the International Criminal Court. SNAP, together with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, had asked the court to investigate Pope Benedict and other Vatican leaders for crimes against humanity related to sex abuse by U.S. clergy.

Hammond reportedly raised “some $1 million” during and after the trip for a public relations campaign premised on these charges.

SNAP allegedly used the funds “for lavish hotels and other extravagant travel expenses for its leadership.”

In May 2013 the international court dismissed the case as outside its jurisdiction.

The suit also recounts SNAP’s alleged efforts to counter a blogger critical of the organization, and gives what it claims to be background of several trials and legal disputes involving SNAP and priests accused of abuse.

The suit claims that when Hammond attempted to confront superiors about the practices, they engaged in retaliation resulting in the firing. Now, the lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and other relief.

Hammond, who identifies as a transgender woman, is currently a journalist for the Chicago LGBT newspaper the Windy City Times.

CNA contacted attorneys for Hammond but did not receive comment by deadline.


College group sues after being denied grant for pro-life speaker

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 08:01

Denver, Colo., Jan 19, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Colorado chapter of a national pro-life collegiate group is suing Colorado State University, after the school denied the organization funding for a campus event.

Last September, the CSU chapter of Students for Life applied to the university for a “Diversity Grant” to host a speaker from the Equal Rights Institute on the topic of abortion and bodily rights.

The grant is funded by student activity fees, which are mandatory for all enrolled students.

According to the CSU website, the purpose of the Diversity Grant is to “enhance the educational and cultural aspects of the university community and raise the awareness of differing perspectives.”

The grant was denied to the pro-life group because the proposed speaker did not appear “entirely unbiased as it addresses the topic of abortion,” and therefore the diversity grant committee worried “that folks from varying sides of the issue won’t necessarily feel affirmed in attending the event,” the national branch of Students for Life reported on their website.

“That was the wrong answer,” the group said.

The university is being accused of denying free speech, and a lawsuit was filed Jan. 17 on behalf of CSU Students for Life by lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Emily Faulkner, 21, has been president of CSU Students for Life for more than a year and is named as plaintiff in the suit.

Faulkner told a local news station that the lawsuit “is about free speech.”

She also said that the university routinely funds events for other groups without making the same requirements that are being imposed upon CSU Students for Life.

CSU Students for Life hosted the event on campus anyway, with funds raised by the organization rather than by the Diversity Grant.

“Universities should encourage all students to participate in the free exchange of ideas, not play favorites with some while shutting out others,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a statement.

“Colorado State University funded the advocacy of its preferred student organizations but has excluded Students for Life from consideration based purely upon the viewpoint expressed in its funding request to bring a speaker to campus. Because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, courts have repeatedly rejected this discriminatory treatment as unconstitutional.”

CSU spokesperson Mike Hooker told CBS Denver that they were not aware of the lawsuit until this week and that they are reviewing claims and issues raised, and will respond accordingly. Hooker says the university does not typically comment on pending litigation.

The story behind sex change surgery you haven't heard

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 05:04

Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 19, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- You've probably heard of Bruce Jenner.

Now referred to as Caitlyn Jenner, the high-profile Olympic athlete with a famously dramatic family had a very high-profile surgical sex transition from male to female – including a cover on Vanity Fair magazine and the now-canceled docu-series “I am Cait.”

You probably haven't heard of Bruce Reimer.

Bruce and his twin brother Brian were born in Canada in the 1960s. At the age of seven months, the otherwise healthy boys were circumcised. But the doctors used a new method of circumcision, involving an electric cauterizing needle, on Bruce. An accident occurred, completely burning off the little boy's penis.

Brian's operation was canceled, but his parents were devastated.

The Reimers decided to take Bruce to Dr. John Money, a psychologist and sexologist at Johns Hopkins they had seen on T.V.

Dr. Money had a theory that aside from reproductive and urinary functions, gender was a social construct. Until the Reimer twins, he had largely worked with intersex cases – children born with ambiguous genitalia or abnormal sex chromosomes.

But the Reimer twins – otherwise healthy and biologically normative – were the perfect experiment on which to test his theory of gender fluidity. Brian would be raised as a boy, and Bruce would from now on be called Brenda, and raised as a girl.

The Reimers agreed, and insisted on girl's clothes and socialization for Brenda throughout childhood. They never told the twins about the accident, or about Brenda's biological sex.

The twins were brought in for a yearly observation with Dr. Money, who dubbed the case a wild success by the time the twins were nine years old.

“No-one else knows that she is the child whose case they read of in the news media at the time of the accident,” he wrote.

“Her behavior is so normally that of an active little girl, and so clearly different by contrast from the boyish ways of her twin brother, that it offers nothing to stimulate one's conjectures.”

What the Doctor didn't tell

Deacon Dr. Patrick Lappert is two things you wouldn't necessarily expect to occur in tandem – a plastic surgeon, and a deacon for the Roman Catholic Church.

These two roles give him a unique understanding of the human person, both physically and metaphysically. They've also given him a unique perspective on transgendered persons, and the current cultural movement to support surgical sex changes.

Dr. Lappert was asked to speak at the recent Truth and Love conference for Courage in Phoenix. He included the case of the Reimer twins during his talk, “Transgender Surgery and Christian Anthropology.”

The on-paper success of Brenda Reimer as a lovely and well-adjusted little girl did not match the lived reality of the child, Dr. Lappert said. Brenda Reimer was a rambunctious tomboy – shunned by the boys for wearing dresses, and by the girls for being too wild.

“She was very rebellious. She was very masculine, and I could not persuade her to do anything feminine. Brenda had almost no friends growing up. Everybody ridiculed her, called her cavewoman,” Brenda's mother, Janet, recalled in an interview with BBC News.

“She was a very lonely, lonely girl.”

During the twins' yearly checkup and observation, Dr. Money would force the twins to strip naked and engage in sexual play, posing in positions that affirmed their respective genders. On at least one occasion, this sex play was photographed.

By their teenage years, the twins were strongly opposed to going to their checkups with Dr. Money.

By age 13, Brenda was suicidal.

By 15, the Reimer's stopped taking the twins to Dr. Money and revealed the truth to Brenda – he was biologically male. He fully embraced his male identity, chose the name David, and began hormone therapy and a surgical genital reconstruction. He dated and married a woman, whose children he adopted.

But the wounds of his traumatic childhood were deep for both David and his brother. Both suffered from depression. After 14 years, David's wife divorced him. Then Brian died from a drug overdose. Not long after, in May 2004, David committed suicide. He was 38 years old.

Despite everything, Dr. Money never printed any retractions of his studies, or added any corrections.

“He never said a word, never took any of it back,” Dr. Lappert said.

Which is hugely problematic, because this study is still frequently cited as a successful gender transition by the medical community at large, including the society of plastic surgeons to which Dr. Lappert belongs, he said.

“I put this case out there as an example, to show you the foundation – the sand upon which this whole thing is built,” Dr. Lappert said.

“We have to understand this as we’re talking about the human person as a unity of spirit and form, that there is an integrity to the maleness and femaleness with which we are made.”

One of the biggest problems with transgender sex change surgeries is that they are permanent and irreversible in any meaningful way, Dr. Lappert said.

“There’s nothing reversible about genital surgery – it's a permanent, irreversible mutilation of the human person. And there’s no other word for it,” he said.  

“It results in permanent sterility. It’s a permanent dissolution of the unitive and the procreative functions. And even the unitive aspect of the sexual embrace is radically hindered if not utterly destroyed,” he said, because of the inevitable nerve damage that occurs during the surgery, and because the brain will always register the genital nerves as coming from their organ of origin.

In other words, nerves connected to a vagina will always register with the brain as a vagina, even if they are now part of a surgically constructed penis, and vice versa.

Another major issue is that sex change surgeries seek to solve an interior dysfunction with an external solution.

“Underneath it all, you're trying to heal an interior wound with exterior surgery,” Dr. Lapper said. 

The shocking Nebraska law that barred a nun from teaching

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 18:46

Lincoln, Neb., Jan 18, 2017 / 04:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sister Madeleine Miller’s efforts to substitute teach in a Nebraska public school ran afoul of a century-old law that left her bewildered – and prompted the state legislature to take another look at the law’s dark past.

“I was just shocked,” she told the Lincoln Journal-Star. “It was 2015. How could that possibly be legal or constitutional?”

Sr. Miller, 37, is a member of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk, which requires its sisters to wear their habit at almost all times in public.

She had applied to Norfolk Public Schools as a public school substitute due to a lack of openings in Catholic schools. The school district told her she couldn’t wear her habit if she was hired.

“I could have been arrested, jailed, fined or had my license taken away if I had tried to teach,” Sr. Miller told the Associated Press.

The 1919 law was backed by the Ku Klux Klan and other anti-Catholic groups. Violations are criminal misdemeanors. Teachers who violate the law face a one year suspension for the first offense, then lifetime disqualification from teaching on a second offense.

The law would also ban yarmulkes and burqas.

At one time 36 states have had similar legislation. Now, only Nebraska and Pennsylvania still bar religious garb for public school teachers. Oregon was the most recent state to repeal the law, in 2010.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer has proposed a bill to end the law, saying it violates teachers’ free speech rights and compounds Nebraska’s teacher shortages in 18 fields.

Many groups have supported the repeal of the law, including the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the Thomas More Society, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, and the Nebraska State Education Association.

Because she could not find a job in the eastern Nebraska school district, Sr. Miller moved to her order’s convent in Winnebago, Neb. to work at a Sioux City, Iowa Catholic school.

She holds a Nebraska teaching certificate, a bachelor’s degree from Nebraska’s Wayne State College, and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.

Sr. Miller said her goal in teaching is to help students learn, and “not to make converts.”

“I think everyone should have a right to work in their professional capacity regardless of their faith tradition,” she said. “You do what you're hired to do and you go home. And everyone should have that right.”

Does defunding Planned Parenthood really threaten women's health?

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 17:56

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2017 / 03:56 pm (CNA).- Congressional plans to strip Planned Parenthood of federal dollars have gained considerable media attention in recent weeks, leading to speculation about the impact that such a move would have on women’s health.

Both the House and the Senate have passed measures to set up a vote to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds, which mostly come in the form of Medicaid reimbursements. According to its FY 2014-15 report, the organization and its affiliates received almost $554 million in taxpayer dollars, 43 percent of its total revenue.

The measures have been hailed as a victory by pro-life groups, and lamented as an attack on women’s health care by those who support abortion.

But beneath the hype, what exactly would happen if federal funding were pulled from Planned Parenthood?

Years of controversy

The main argument against Planned Parenthood’s federal funding is that it is the nation’s largest abortion provider, performing around 330,000 abortions per year, and the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal dollars from directly paying for abortions.

Medicaid reimbursements and federal health grants are not supposed to go directly toward abortions, although a recent report by the Charlotte Lozier Institute and Alliance Defending Freedom claimed that, according to federal and state audits, taxpayer dollars were funding abortion-related services.

In New York, “hundreds of thousands of abortion-related claims were billed unlawfully to Medicaid” over a four-year audit, the report said. One audit in Nebraska “found a Planned Parenthood affiliate spending federal funds on abortion expenses” like “physician fees” for an abortionist and “employee travel” and “on-call” work time involving abortion procedures.

Planned Parenthood claims that abortions account for only three percent of the total services they provide, although fact-checkers – at the Washington Post among others – have taken issue with that claim, pointing out that Planned Parenthood counts each small procedure like a pregnancy test or a pap smear as a service provided, but abortion accounts for much greater cost and revenue for the organization.

During a town hall last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan explained that even if federal dollars are not going to direct payment for abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics, the current revenue may be fungible – it frees up other resources for Planned Parenthood to perform abortions.

Additionally, the organization has come under fire for multiple controversies in recent years.

A 2015 Alliance Defending Freedom report claimed that Planned Parenthood clinics in several states were not reporting suspected cases of sexual abuse of minors as they were supposed to by law.

Planned Parenthood doctors were also shown on undercover camera in 2015 discussing prices for the body parts of aborted babies with actors posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company. Those videos shone a light on the organization’s role in the fetal tissue trade.

These controversies have strengthened calls for defunding. According to polls released by the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List earlier this month, a majority of respondents in states that will be “battleground states” in the 2018 Senate races – like North Dakota, Florida, and Ohio – opposed taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.  

Providing alternatives

In his town hall comments, Speaker Ryan stressed: “We don’t want to effectively commit taxpayer money to an organization providing abortions, but we want to make sure that people get their coverage.”

“We believe that this can better be done by putting that money in federal community health centers,” he added. “They are vastly bigger in network, there are so many more of them, and they provide these kinds of services without all the controversy surrounding this issue.”

According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, such health centers are publicly-funded and exist in all 50 states, almost 10,000 in total, compared to around 650 Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide. The health centers served over 24 million people in 2015, while Planned Parenthood says it serves around 2.5 million per year.

There are also thousands of other rural health clinics that offer services including primary care and first response, as well as some vaccinations, though these facilities are not required to offer as many services as federally qualified health centers are. Some 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. also offer help for expectant mothers.  

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the “main purpose” of federally qualified health centers “is to enhance the provision of primary care services in medically-underserved urban and rural communities.”

These health centers do not perform abortions but they do provide services like pre-natal and perinatal care, diabetes screening, pap smears, checkups and mammograms, something Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards has admitted her clinics do not provide, despite claims that they do. Planned Parenthood only provides referrals for mammograms, not the procedures themselves.

Would Planned Parenthood survive?

Removing federal funding from Planned Parenthood would not necessarily mean that the organization would shut its doors.

From 2011-2015, Planned Parenthood’s annual reports indicate that its revenue exceeded expenses by more than $300 million.

The organization also fundraises, and claims that the threat of defunding has considerably upped contributions from private donors.

The Congressional Budget Office in 2015 considered the potential consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood for a year. It found that it was uncertain whether the organization would be able to replace the lost funding.

“If none of the federal funds were replaced,” the budget office said, some customers wouldn’t receive any services that they would have received at Planned Parenthood, while others would go to other clinics accepting Medicaid payments.

“If almost all federal funds were replaced, CBO expects that most Medicaid beneficiaries currently served by Planned Parenthood would continue to obtain services from Planned Parenthood, but at no cost to Medicaid,” they said.

Is it enough?

If Planned Parenthood did close its doors, would federally qualified health centers and pregnancy centers be able to handle an influx of patients seeking health care other than birth control or abortions?

When “family planning clinics” in Texas and Wisconsin closed due to state funding cuts, the number of women utilizing services like cancer screenings and checkups at clinics also went down, said Professor David Slusky at the University of Kansas.

But in those cases, there were cuts in funding in addition to redirecting some of the remaining state funds to health centers. In contrast, the current plan proposed by Congress would not cut funding, but simply redirect it.

Slusky told CNA that it is not clear from his research whether health centers would fill health care “gaps” left by the closure of some Planned Parenthood clinics. Part of this would depend on what other clinics were receiving funding. It is possible that some women would forego cancer screenings and other forms of care if they have to travel a greater distance to find a clinic.

Knowledge of other options would be key. Women going to Planned Parenthood clinics may not necessarily know of other crisis pregnancy centers, writes research analyst Dr. Jeff Pauls.

Many women he interviewed for his work “were unaware of the idea of the Pregnancy Help Center, although they occasionally referenced government health clinics as an alternative to Planned Parenthood.”

The women were not necessarily admirers of Planned Parenthood, he wrote, saying that they “are most troubled by the waiting room practices demonstrated by the long waits, non-confidential medical conversations, and the general fear and mistrust of the low-income people who are frequent customers.”

Ultimately, Charlotte Lozier Institute believes women will be able to access the care they need through other clinics. The number of Planned Parenthood patients has decreased recently and their total “prenatal services” are down 44 percent since 2010, they said. And according to the pro-life group Live Action, Planned Parenthood provides only 2 percent of the nation’s clinical breast exams and 1 percent of the nation’s pap smears.

If the organization’s current federal funding were redirected to community health centers, those centers would see an average patient increase of two per week and almost surely would be able to meet the increased need.

And the centers have been growing, Charlotte Lozier Institute says, treating almost two million new patients and growing by 430 new centers in 2015.

The institute also pointed to a website showing locations of health centers and pregnancy centers and the services they offer,

“Voters agree: taxpayer dollars would be better spent on community and rural health centers that provide comprehensive, whole-woman care,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “Abortion giants like Planned Parenthood do not need or deserve taxpayer dollars.”


US bishops: Health care should be truly universal, affordable

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 15:47

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2017 / 01:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Any changes to health care law under the new administration should not abandon the principal of genuinely affordable health care for everyone, said the U.S. bishops in a letter to Congress.

In American policy, they said, “we must not see health care as a luxury, but as a necessary building block to help individuals and families thrive and contribute to the good of the community and the nation.”

“We recognize that the law has brought about important gains in coverage, and those gains should be protected,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida said in a Jan. 18 letter to members of Congress.

He wrote in his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

For the U.S. bishops, any repeal of key provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act should not take place “without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for their wellbeing.”

President-elect Donald Trump, in a press conference last week, pressed for a speedy repeal of the health care legislation commonly known as Obamacare. He has also spoken of replacing the legislation with his own proposals that promise “insurance for everybody” and “much lower deductibles,” CNN reports.

However, some Congressional Republicans have voiced concern about any vote that would end major parts of the 2010 law that covers 20 million people without providing an alternative, creating widespread disruptions.

The U.S. bishops emphasized that health care reform “should be truly universal and it should be genuinely affordable.”

“Every person is made in the image of God and possesses inherent dignity,” Bishop Dewane’s letter said. “A just community strives to see and address the needs of those who struggle on its margins, and each segment of society is called to build toward a common good that creates and maintains conditions aimed at true human flourishing.”

He cited Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris, which spoke of the right to life and the right “to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services.”

Pope Francis echoed these words in May 7, 2016 remarks to a doctors’ group: “Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.”

The bishops’ letter to Congress noted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ support for the general goal of the 2010 health care law, but added that the conference in the end opposed its passage “because it expanded the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion, and it failed to provide essential conscience protections and access to health care for immigrants.”

“We remain committed to the ideals of universal and affordable health care, and to the pursuit of those ideals in a manner that includes protections for human life, conscience and immigrants,” the letter concluded. “We urge you to approach the important debates in the days ahead seeking also to honor these principles for the good of all.”


'Conscience in Residency' project supports doctors in training

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 02:40

Austin, Texas, Jan 18, 2017 / 12:40 am (National Catholic Register).- When it came time for medical student Ashley Stone to apply to OB/GYN residency programs, she was determined that nothing would stand in her way – including her Catholic beliefs on contraception, sterilization and abortion.

“I’m normally really stubborn,” said Stone, 27. “[I thought] ‘It’s my right to go wherever I want.’”

Still, she wanted to get some advice from her medical school program director before she turned in her application.

“Here’s the thing: I don’t want to do these things because of my beliefs,” Stone told her director.

“Well,” her director told her, “you can’t come here.”

To be rejected out of hand by her own institution was frustrating, admits Stone, now a second-year resident at the University of Texas at Austin. But it was a frustration she was prepared for.

The negative reaction to her pro-life beliefs was “always apparent,” she said. “Even just going into the medical field in general [not necessarily OB/GYN specifically], you’re not ‘mainstream’” if you’re pro-life.

And that’s the inspiration behind the “Conscience in Residency” project. Created and managed by a small group of residency students scattered across the country, Conscience in Residency (CIR) is a web-based project that provides a network for residents “who want to practice medicine according to logical, well-formed, evidence-based judgments,” the site explains. It also provides research on subjects ranging from contraception and sterilization to gender-identity issues and homosexuality, giving residents facts to rely on when they have a challenging conversation about their beliefs.

“[Residency is] the most difficult period in being or becoming a physician,” said Cara Buskmiller, an OB/GYN resident at St. Louis University, who supervises the website.

“As a [medical] student, you’re not responsible for prescriptions. You can say what you think, and it doesn’t affect your becoming a physician. In residency, the program controls you a lot more. If your program is not open to you choosing things to do and not to do, you’re stuck.”

“Residents … are the bottom of the barrel: When the attending [physician] says, ‘Jump,’ they have to say, ‘How high?’ They have no protection,” agreed Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists.

Providers’ Rights

“In many residency programs, there’s tremendous pressure to participate in abortions. In some residency programs, even though it’s not legal, they’re actually required to participate. The laws in place right now have no private right of action [for residents].”

If “private right of action” is a phrase that rings a bell, it’s because of the Cathy DeCarlo case.

In 2009, DeCarlo – a nurse at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital – was forced to assist in an abortion in violation of her religious beliefs. When she took her case to court, it was thrown out because she had no private right of action.

This is precisely why Harrison urges support for the “Conscience Protection Act,” which would give health care providers the ability to file a civil suit if they feel discriminated against for their beliefs – as DeCarlo did, when she was threatened with charges of insubordination and patient abandonment if she did not participate in the abortion. Currently, health care providers who face discrimination for exercising their consciences have only one recourse: to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Conscience Protection Act is more needed than ever, in light of the recent redefinition of “sex discrimination.” Section 1557 of the outgoing administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act extends protections on the “basis of sex” to include – among other things – abortion. That means that a patient of a pro-life physician could sue for discrimination if the physician declines to perform a requested abortion.

“What we desperately need is a real protection of conscience, in law, that says we have the right to conscientiously object to the taking of human life – and a private right of action,” said Harrison. “Then we, as citizens, can protect ourselves.”

Foresight and Courage

In the meantime, CIR strives to provide solid research that residents can use to explain why they will not perform certain services or write certain prescriptions – and it provides support to medical students concerned about landing in a program that is receptive to their pro-life beliefs. In other words, said Buskmiller, it is a source of foresight and courage.

It was her own experience in medical school that showed her how desperately important foresight is for pro-life medical students and residents.

She was scrubbed up and prepared to assist on a caesarean section – but what followed was the patient’s tubal ligation. “The attending physician handed me a clamp. Suddenly, I’m holding a tube while they’re tying it off. Before I could do anything, it was over.”

Horrified, Buskmiller went to confession and had a long conversation with the priest. “My will was not there, but I sure didn’t say anything [to object],” she told him.

Grateful for the grace of confession, Buskmiller used that experience to spur her to have more courage – and to plan better for other situations that might try to force her to act against her conscience.

Though abortion, sterilization and abortifacients may be challenges specific to OB/GYN residents, many residents face similar challenges to their consciences, Buskmiller pointed out. Psychiatric interns might work with patients considering surgery to alter their bodies to resemble the sex they identify with, or recovering from it, for instance, and surgery residents might be faced with the surgery itself.

Recent legislation makes the situation seem bleak, but Buskmiller noted that it may actually be improving. An older attending physician once asked her how many pro-life residents were in training with her, and she counted between 15 and 20.

Pleasantly surprised, the physician said that there had been only eight during his own time as a resident.

And, Harrison pointed out, 85% of OB/GYNs do not perform abortions. “That’s a very reassuring number,” she said. “That tells me I am not in the minority; I am actually in the majority.”

Those kinds of facts are vital for health care providers to keep in mind – and perhaps especially for residents. It gives them solid ground to stand on – and it helps them realize that they are far from alone.

“The big myth is that somehow abortion is needed for medical care. It’s not needed for medical care,” emphasized Harrison.

“Chile has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world, and abortion has been illegal since ’89. Same with Ireland – excellent maternal medical care, with no abortion [which remains illegal unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save a mother’s life].”

“You don’t have to take the life of a patient to do excellent medical care,” she added.

“And that’s the truth.”


Gay marriage lawsuit against Catholic school not expected to succeed

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 19:02

Charlotte, N.C., Jan 17, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A lawsuit against a Catholic high school claims that it was illegal discrimination to fire a teacher for contracting a same-sex civil marriage, but a law professor suggests the case will not make any progress.

“What they're trying to do is they're trying to make new law in this case,” Prof. Robert Destro told CNA. “I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't get their case dismissed.”

Destro, a law professor of the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, served 16 years on the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights.

Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina and the Diocese of Charlotte faces a lawsuit from a substitute teacher who says he was fired after he posted about his same-sex wedding on Facebook.

The Charlotte, N.C. high school is part of the diocesan school system.

Lonnie Billard had begun working at the school in 2001 as a full time faculty member. He taught English and drama. He said he brought his partner to school events and their relationship was known to students, teachers, parents and administrators. He retired in 2012 and became a long-term substitute teacher.

In October 2014 he posted a wedding announcement on Facebook. An assistant principal at the school then told him he would no longer be hired as a substitute teacher. The suit claimed that the diocese ordered his termination because of his announcement.

In January 2015 diocesan communications director David Hains said that continued employment of Billard would be “legitimating that relationship” and wrongly indicate Church approval, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was filed on Billard’s behalf by the North Carolina office of the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.

The lawsuit claims it is a cause for legal action to fire someone on the basis of sex, because of his intention to enter a same-sex civil marriage and “because he does not conform to sex-based stereotypes associated with men in our society.”

Chris Brook, the ACLU state legal director, said that religious organizations are not exempt from the federal ban on sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. He claimed that other teachers violated Catholic teaching on divorce and other matters, but Billard was the only teacher fired.

Destro, however, said he did not think the lawsuit had a basis in precedent. He questioned the lawsuit’s claim that marriages fall under sex discrimination.

“The question whether or not certain marriages are legitimate, whether certain relationships are consistent with the moral teachings of the Church, has nothing to do with the definition of ‘sex’,” he said.

The law allows religion to be a standard of employment in religious schools, he explained. This allows the school “to control the learning environment and who teaches in it.”

“It’s pretty clear from the law that the schools have the right and the obligation to stay in control of their curriculum,” he said.

According to Destro, the question is not a matter of the teacher’s sexual orientation.

“The question is about whether you’re bearing sufficient witness to the faith in the course of your teaching, another question entirely.”

Even if a teacher is not Catholic, Destro said, school contracts usually specify standards of behavior concerning teachers’ roles.

CNA sought comment from the diocese but did not receive a response by deadline.

“The Diocese of Charlotte has not received any paperwork. Typically we don’t discuss ongoing litigation,” Hains, the diocese’s communications director, told the Charlotte Observer. He said diocesan officials had not seen the lawsuit as of Jan. 11.

In January 2015 Hains noted the Church’s belief that marriage is a union only of a man and a woman and rejected claims of discrimination.

“He’s not being picked on because he’s gay. He lost his job as a substitute teacher because he broke a promise because he chose to oppose church teaching, something he promised he would not do.”

Billard said that his adherence to Catholic teaching was never part of the employment process.

The lawsuit seeks back pay and benefits, punitive damage, compensatory damages for emotional distress, and a court order blocking the school and Catholic leaders from taking similar actions in the future, “restraining Defendants from engaging in further discriminatory conduct.”

The legal action comes after several years of advocacy against religious freedom protections. The American Civil Liberties Union is receiving funding from groups like the Arcus Foundation for projects to “beat back” religious exemptions, grant listings show.

The foundation, founded by billionaire heir Jon Stryker, is also funding some Catholic dissenting groups. Stryker was a major funder of the effort to redefine civil marriage in the United States.

EWTN to launch new weekly pro-life show

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 18:48

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2017 / 04:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On the eve of this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., EWTN Global Catholic Network will launch a new half-hour weekly program focusing on promoting the culture of life.

“EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” a joint project of EWTN and the Susan B. Anthony List, will feature  Catherine Szeltner, formerly a correspondent of EWTN News Nightly, as it host.

“We want to help viewers become actively involved in the pro-life movement,” Szeltner said in a press release announcing the new show. “What are the expectations here? What’s realistic? What’s not? What is Congress debating now? How do we hold our lawmakers accountable for their pro-life promises?”

In addition to being “the authoritative resource for the latest pro-life news,” she said, the show will seek to provide answers to tough questions, segments on groups that are working to promote a culture of life, and call-to-action segments offering clear steps for how viewers can participate in the pro-life movement.

The show will emphasize abortion and assisted suicide as major concerns, according to an EWTN press release. But Szeltner added that there will be a “holistic, Catholic approach,” tackling pro-life issues in all stages of life.

EWTN chairman and CEO Michael Warsaw said that while there are signs of hope in the world today, the culture “continues to chip away at the right to life from conception to natural death.”

He explained that the new show will work to “inform, but also to show viewers how to engage everyone from their friends and neighbors to their elected representatives on the life issues.”

“Our goal is that viewers will be motivated, inspired, and equipped to make a difference.”

“EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” is being produced in partnership with the Susan B. Anthony List, a network dedicated to promoting pro-life policies and elected officials, as well as to education and research on life issues.

“SBA List will bring our political insight, legislative analysis, as well as relationships with legislators and members of the media to help create a dynamic, must-watch program,” said the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser.

Beyond simply delivering news, she said, “(t)he show will collapse the distance between the White House, Congress, the press, and those at home who care deeply about saving unborn boys and girls, who want to know what more (they) can do.”

Citing the pro-life stances of the incoming White House and Congress, Dannenfelser stressed the need for viewers to be motivated into action.

“EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” will debut Thursday, Jan. 26, at 5 p.m. ET with an encore on a Friday, Jan. 27, at 5:30 p.m. ET. The show will begin airing each week at 11 p.m. ET Fridays, 10 a.m. ET Sundays, and 3 a.m. ET Mondays starting March 3, 2017.

The debut special will cover expectations for the incoming Trump administration, an interview with an abortion survivor, and ideas on how to be more involved in the pro-life movement.


Pro-life feminists booted from Women’s March sponsorship

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2017 / 04:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life feminist organization New Wave Feminists has been removed from the official list of sponsors of the Women’s March on Washington 2017. Support of abortion as a fundamental principle of the upcoming January march has been cited as grounds.

 “I can only assume it’s because there was a lot of pressure not to affiliate with pro-lifers, which is unfortunate,” Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, president of New Wave Feminists, said about the decision.

In a Jan. 16 video statement on Facebook, Herndon-De La Rosa explained that they had been removed, speculating it was because of negative media backlash after an article on their participation appeared in The Atlantic. The feminist protest had previously listed New Wave Feminists as a partner, but by Monday afternoon had removed links to the Texan pro-life group from the event’s website.

Earlier that day, The Atlantic featured a piece on pro-life participants in the Women’s March on Washington, highlighting New Wave Feminists as well as several other pro-life groups’ decision to participate in the march. The pro-life organization's decision attracted attention after the Women’s March released a list of guiding principles in early January – which included “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”

According to The Atlantic, organizers do not see the march specifically as an anti-Trump protest. But the date of the protest – the day after Donald Trump's presidential inauguration – is meant to “send a bold message” Women’s March co-chair Bob Bland told the Atlantic. Bland continued, saying the march is meant to support a wide variety of people, but particularly those criticized during the 2016 election cycle. “We’re marching to say that we support them, and all women,” Bland told The Atlantic.

The march is expected to draw between several thousand to as many as several hundred thousand participants from around the country.

More than 100 organizations, including including pro-abortion organizations such as Planned Parenthood, have applied for “partnership” in supporting the March

Bland told The Atlantic that including Planned Parenthood “was a no-brainer for us” because of their support of the Affordable Care Act. Furthermore, Bland stated, “one of the challenges facing women in this incoming administration is access to reproductive care.”

Before rescinding New Wave Feminists’ partnership, Bland told The Atlantic that women of all beliefs and backgrounds were welcome, particularly “voices that have previously been either marginalized or silenced.” She told the publication that the intersectional nature of the event and inclusion of different perspectives on feminism was valuable and the “future” of the feminist movement “We must not just talk about feminism as one issue, like access to reproductive care.”

After revoking New Wave Feminists’ partnership, the Women’s March issued a statement saying that the event it pro-abortion and that the organizers “look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women have the right to make their own reproductive choices.”

“The anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women's March on Washington. We apologize for this error,” the statement added.

The removal of New Wave Feminist’s partnership status, while disappointing, Herndon-De La Rosa said, will not her or the organization’s decision to join the March. The Women’s March’s decision does not change either their pro-life beliefs nor their identification as feminists. “We will be there whether we are official partners or not.”

Let's not misuse Pope Francis' plan for Christian marriage, bishop urges

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 12:40

Houston, Texas, Jan 17, 2017 / 10:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ teaching on marriage aims to help people in difficult family situations without departing from the broader context of Catholic teaching, Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of St. Peter has explained in a new pastoral letter.

“Only a careful and faithful reading of Amoris Laetitia will ensure that we receive the Holy Father’s words with the gratitude and respect due them, safeguarding this beautiful reflection from those who would misuse it to promote practices at odds with the Church’s teaching,” he wrote Jan. 16 in "A Pledged Troth".

The bishop cautioned against a reading of the Pope’s 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia based on secular media reports.

“As we navigate the joy and pain of family life, including obstacles and challenges that seem, at times, insurmountable, we know that we have a Savior who has gone ahead of us, has suffered as we have, and promises that nothing can separate us from his love and mercy,” he said.

The bishop cited Amoris laetitia’s presentation of marriage as “an image for understanding the mystery of God himself” as “a communion of love.”

Bishop Lopes’ Houston-based ordinariate, which covers the United States and Canada, is a special Church jurisdiction set up by Benedict XVI to aid Anglican communities who entered into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining certain elements of their liturgy and other customs.

The bishop’s pastoral letter reflects on the ordinariate’s marriage rite, in which spouses pledge “a deep, exclusive loyalty and lifelong faithfulness.”

The marriage rite for the husband includes the words “to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law.”

A valid marriage is “irrevocable” and not even the Church has the power to contravene it, said the bishop, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The pastoral letter gave particular attention to ordinariate members who may have divorced while part of Episcopalian or Anglican ecclesial communities.

“Knowing well the reality of sin and weakness, the Church tenderly accompanies those who struggle and fail in their attempts to live God’s holy law,” Bishop Lopes said. “Constantly encouraging that daily conversion by which those who fall, can, by God’s grace, rise again, the Church never abandons her children. No one is excluded from the love and mercy of God!”

Bishop Lopes noted Amoris laetitia’s emphasis on pastoral accompaniment of those who have divorced and civilly remarried. This process begins “in reminding people in this circumstance that they are loved by God and remain cherished members of the Church.” It continues through “discerning whether the irregular marital situation can be effectively resolved through a declaration of nullity of the previous marriage.”

This process can appear complicated or can cause fears of opening “old wounds best left alone.” The process should not be done alone but rather within the community of the Church to help a person “peer into difficult realities with the strength of faith and Gospel truth, so that what was hurtful in the past does not inflict new pain now.”

Bishop Lopes said members of the ordinariate who are divorced-and-remarried should speak to their pastor or another priest or deacon of trust. The bishop’s ordinariate does not yet have a marriage tribunal, but its priests and deacons can help the faithful navigate the local Catholic diocese’s tribunal.

Concerning cases where a person’s first marriage was valid, Bishop Lopes cited both Amoris laetitia and St. John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio. The entire community of the faithful must be attentive to a couple’s situation and ensure that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church. The community must help the couple and any of their children experience the Church “as a mother who welcomes them always.”

The bishop cited Pope Francis’ exhortation, which said a lukewarm attitude or any relativism would be “a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church.”

“To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being,” the Pope’s exhortation said.

The Pope warned against hasty judgements about individuals and encouraged treating the weak with compassion.

Pastoral discernment with the divorced-and-remarried must avoid the “grave danger” of misunderstandings, including the idea that “any priest can quickly grant ‘exceptions’,” according to Amoris laetitia.

Bishop Lopes explained that the prohibition against adultery “admits of no exceptions.” As Familiaris consortio says, discernment does not allow us to “look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future” and there are not different degrees of God’s law for different individuals and situations.

The bishop stressed the need for formation of conscience in the light of Church teaching. He cited Amoris laetitia’s statement that conscience formation “can never prescind from the gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church.”

“Consequently, pastoral discernment admits of no exceptions to the moral law, nor does it replace moral law with the private judgments of conscience,” Bishop Lopes said.

Bishop Lopes interpreted Amoris laetitia’s footnote 351 as saying that the formation of conscience “can include the help of the sacraments.” This phrase has been the source of much controversy.

The bishop explained this help of the sacraments can include the Eucharist, under conditions of Church teaching on worthy reception of the Eucharist: anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Confession.

His pastoral letter placed Pope Francis’ teaching in the context of St. John Paul II’s 2003 encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, which repeated the Council of Trent’s teaching that confessing one’s mortal sins must precede the worthy reception of the Eucharist.

A civilly remarried couple “committed to complete continence” could receive the Eucharist after proper discernment with their pastor and after making a sacramental confession, the bishop taught.

“A civilly remarried couple firmly resolving complete chastity thus resolves not to sin again, which differs in kind from a civilly remarried couple who do not firmly intend to live chastely, however much they may feel sorrow for the failure of their first marriage,” Bishop Lopes explained. “In this situation, they either do not acknowledge that their unchastity, which is adultery, is gravely wrong, or they do not firmly intend to avoid sin.”

At the same time, no one should regard themselves as beyond God’s grace.

“The firm intention for a chaste life is difficult, but chastity is possible, and it ‘can be followed with the help of grace’,” Bishop Lopes said, quoting Pope Francis’ exhortation.

“God orders us to our happiness and well-being, he commands only what is for our goodness, and he never abandons us in our weakness and need,” he added.

His pastoral letter noted that the Anglican Communion’s pastoral practice includes, in some jurisdictions, accommodation of divorce, contraception, and same-sex unions.

“As a result, that Communion has fractured as the plain teaching of Scripture, Tradition, and reason was rejected,” Bishop Lopes said, noting that this situation motivated groups of Anglicans to repeatedly request individual and corporate reception into the Catholic Church.

New York police officer remembered for his example of mercy

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 02:18

New York City, N.Y., Jan 17, 2017 / 12:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Thousands gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on Friday to commemorate and mourn the loss of Officer Steven McDonald, one of the city’s most influential police officers who died last week from a heart attack at the age of 59.

“Detective Steven McDonald was an icon of mercy and forgiveness, a prophet of the dignity of all human life, a radiant symbol of the best of what the New York Police Department represents, a loving husband and father, and a fervent and faithful Catholic,” stated Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, according to the New York Daily News.

Officer McDonald is a household name for some in the New York area, where over 30 years ago, he became known as a herald of peace and mercy in a city stricken by violence and drugs.

On July 12, 1986, Officer McDonald was a newly minted NYPD officer with a bright future, having served only two years on the force, when he was shot three times by a teenager in Central Park, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

The incident turned Officer McDonald into a quadriplegic, and he would use a wheelchair and respirator tube for the rest of his life. At the time, his newly-wed wife Patti Ann was pregnant with their first child.

“Steven would never again walk or breathe on his own, would never again embrace his wife, or hold his soon-to-be-born child. It would have been enough to turn anyone bitter, resentful, angry at God and the world,” Cardinal Dolan noted.

However, Officer McDonald wrote a public note of forgiveness to Shavod Jones, the young man who shot him, saying that he hoped his attacker would “find peace and purpose in his life.” He even went as far as testifying in Jones’ favor at his parole hearing.

“We all know how amazing that statement was, how important it was for the streets of this city,” stated Msgr. Seamus O’Boyle, a family cousin, at Officer McDonald’s funeral, according to the New York Times.

In fact, the incident with Officer McDonald ushered in a new era that cleaned up the streets of New York. According to the New York Times, murder rates have drastically declined over the years, from 1,582 murders in 1986 to 335 in 2016.

Although Officer McDonald would never return to active service, he continued to serve publicly with the police department as a first-grade detective – proving even more valuable to the force because of his voice of mercy and forgiveness.

“He became a strong advocate for peace, and spoke movingly and often on the need to show mercy to others,” Cardinal Dolan said, noting that he had even made plans with Officer McDonald to lead a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.

Officer McDonald’s legacy of mercy will live past his death, particularly through his own son, Conor, who is now a New York police sergeant. In fact, public service ran in the McDonald family a few generations, with Steven’s father and grandfather both serving on the police force.

“Steven – and now his son, Conor – represented the most noble aspects of what being a police officer is all about: a heart and soul, an agent of peace and reconciliation,” Cardinal Dolan said.

The funeral on Friday was a testament to McDonald’s life, with thousands of family, friends and fellow officers in blue filling the Cathedral to salute his legacy.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was also in attendance, recalling how McDonald always believed that “we could heal the wounds of the past,” and noting that “millions were moved by his example.”

“He was a living example of the things we aspire to be.”

Attorney General nominee says he'd consider cracking down on porn

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 19:17

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2017 / 05:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The new nominee for U.S. Attorney General has said that he would “vigorously” enforce obscenity laws, a move which one expert described as a step forward in fighting pornography and violence against women.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), during his first confirmation hearing last week to become the next Attorney General, was questioned by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) about federal obscenity laws. 

Hatch mentioned the state of Utah passing a resolution declaring pornography to be a “public health problem” and asked Sessions if “federal laws prohibiting adult obscenity should be vigorously enhanced?”

Sessions answered that “those laws are clear, and they are being prosecuted today, and should continue to be effectively and vigorously prosecuted in the cases that are appropriate.”

Hatch followed up by asking if Sessions supported the special unit at the Department of Justice to prosecute obscenity crimes, which had been closed during President Obama’s first term.

“I’m not sure I knew that” the special unit had been discontinued, Sessions answered, “but it was a part of the DOJ for a long time and I would consider that.”

Pornography itself is not a legally defined term. Instead, federal law evaluates whether something is “obscene.” 

This is determined by whether “a judge and/or a jury” finds that “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would deem that it “appeals to the prurient interest,” that it “depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, as measured by contemporary community standards, ‘hardcore’ sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable law,” and that it “taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political and scientific value.”

Federal obscenity laws bar the sale, possession, and distribution of materials like child pornography and hardcore adult pornography, among other things. A 1973 Supreme Court case Miller v. California established the legal test for whether a “work” is obscene, in which case, it is not protected by the First Amendment as free speech.

Mary G. Leary, a law professor at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, told CNA that these obscenity laws are “very important” to enforce now because pornography has increased both in the amount of content and in violence. 

“Due to limited resources and the explosion of violence against children,” child pornography crimes are a large focus of prosecutors but this leaves other forms of pornography free to “metastasize,” Leary said, “both quantitatively and qualitatively.”

Thus, the violence – especially toward women – has increased in pornography, she said, and “the effect this exposure to very obscene and disturbing imagery [has] can be significant.  Exploitation is a continuum.”

This is another reason why the DOJ special task force should be brought back, she said.

“It would allow that unit to focus on obscene glorifications of sexual violence against women and marginalized members of our community and allow the very effective Child Exploitation component of CEOS at DOJ to continue their focus on child abuse images.” 

The group Morality in Media, now the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, had put the Department of Justice on its 2013, 2014 and 2015 “Dirty Dozen” lists of the “top contributors to sexual exploitation” for closing the special task force and for not prosecuting obscenity crimes enough. 

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch in January of 2016, the center noted that “to our knowledge, not one new obscenity case has been initiated against commercial distributors of hardcore, adult pornography in the last seven years.”

“Yet, federal law prohibits distribution of obscene adult pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite TV, on hotel/motel TV, in retail shops through the mail, and by common carrier,” they continued. 

They pointed to “themes of incest, racism, sexism, and exploitation” found in content from Verizon and InterContinental Hotels Group, including an “emphasis on teen and young girls.”

NSCE concluded by asking the Department of Justice to prosecute obscenity crimes more seriously:

“In an age when our society is struggling to deal with serious child and adult sexual exploitation, racially-motivated sexual violence, and epidemic of sexual assault on college and university campuses, thousands of young women and girls are being trafficked for purposes of prostitution, Department of Justice employees must be admonished to not engage in purchase of sex from prostituting persons, and child sexual abuse is 167 times more common than autism in children, adult, hardcore pornography only serves to exacerbate deeply entrenched social ills that have devastating impacts at the individual and societal level. It is long past time for the producers and distributors of this sexually toxic material to face justice.”

When you think of MLK, don't forget the faith that inspired him

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 05:39

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2017 / 03:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Martin Luther King Day is a time to promote racial harmony in America and honor the slain civil rights leader who was “inspired by the teachings of Christ,” said the head of the Knights of Peter Claver.

“Considering that so many 'church-going folks' were supporting segregation and Jim Crow laws during the civil rights movement, it is wonderful that King dedicated his life to employing Christ's teachings to resist and counter the very social sins of prejudice, racial discrimination and segregation,” Supreme Knight F. DeKarlos Blackmon told CNA.

He said Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Baptist minister, was “a man of faith and deep conviction” who studied Catholic theology and was “particularly impressed” with St. Augustine.

King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” cited St. Augustine's saying “An unjust law is no law at all.”

From 2010-2016, Blackmon headed the Knights of Peter Claver, a New Orleans-based Catholic fraternal order present in about 39 states and in South America. It takes as its model the Spanish Jesuit priest St. Peter Claver, who ministered to slaves in Colombia in the 1600s. Its membership is significantly African-American but the order is open to all practicing Catholics without regard to race or ethnicity.

The organization was founded in Mobile, Ala. in 1909 by four priests of the Josephite Fathers and three Catholic laymen to serve African-Americans and other racial minorities. Its founders were concerned the Catholic Church would lose black individuals to fraternal and secular organizations, at a time when local racism kept many out of the Knights of Columbus.

The order has six divisions: the Ladies of Peter Claver, two separate junior divisions for young men and young women, the Fourth Degree Knights and the Fourth Degree Ladies of Grace.

The Knights of Peter Claver and the Ladies Auxiliary opposed segregation and worked to transform how communities and cities thought about race, equality and justice, Blackmon said. They worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League.

The order's leadership and members were “intimately involved” in the civil rights movement. Civil rights attorney A.P. Tureaud, a national secretary and national advocate of the order, worked with future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to help overturn legal segregation.

The now demolished Claver Building in New Orleans, which was the Knights’ headquarters from 1951 to 1974, hosted early meetings “that ultimately launched the civil rights movement,” Blackmon added.

Today, members of the order organize Martin Luther King Day activities like Masses of Unity, prayer services, days of unity, and programs commemorating King's vision in addition to their other charitable works.

Blackmon said King challenged America “to live out its creed that all men are created equal.” He said the observance is an opportunity for American Catholics to remember King's life and work and to realize the challenge to work towards Jesus’ prayer that the Catholic Church “may all be as one.”

He said African-American Catholics should use the day to remember those who have accomplished “something for the larger community and the greater good.” He mentioned African-American Catholic bishops like the late New Orleans auxiliary Bishop Harold Perry and Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, former president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

Blackmon praised the rise of African-Americans in professions like law, medicine, higher education and politics.

“We have realized numerous African-American and Hispanic cabinet officials, legislators, and federal judges. We have realized a black president in the White House,” he said.

However, he added, “there is still yet more to be effected.”

“By the grace of almighty God, by the arduous work of our hands, by the standing up to be a witness to the saving power of God, we will overcome prejudice, racism, intolerance, bias, narrow-mindedness, and chauvinism,” he said.

He said Christians must be “ever mindful of our role in not only welcoming, but also embracing and helping ‘the stranger’ among us.”

The Knights of Peter Claver aim to serve God and the Catholic Church. They assist the needy, the sick, and disabled, while developing their members through fellowship, recreational activities, scholarships, and charitable work. Their website is

This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 20, 2013 with the headline, 'MLK was Christ-inspired, says head Knight of Peter Claver'

US bishop disappointed over new policy toward Cuban migrants

Sun, 01/15/2017 - 08:02

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday, the U.S. bishops’ migration chair criticized the Obama administration’s denial of decades-old special protections for Cuban migrants to the U.S.

“I am disappointed over the Administration's sudden policy change to end the 'Wet Foot/ Dry Foot' policy for Cuban arrivals,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who heads the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration, stated on Friday.

“While we have welcomed normalizing relations with Cuba, the violation of basic human rights remains a reality for some Cubans and the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy helped to afford them a way to seek refuge in the United States,” he continued.

Previously, as part of the policy in place since the 1990s, Cubans who successfully entered the U.S. without a visa could be paroled for a year and then would be eligible for residency. Those migrants who were intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard on their way to the U.S. were returned to Cuba.

Now that policy has been repealed and Cuban migrants found to have entered the U.S. without a visa will be deported back if they do not qualify for asylum.

Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, announced the policy shift late Thursday afternoon in a phone conference with reporters. He said it was “part of the normalization of relations with the government of Cuba” and was meant to make the policy “consistent with our laws and our immigration enforcement priorities.”

Now, as administration officials explained on Thursday, they “will be treated like everybody else.” They will be able to claim asylum and have a hearing.

If fewer than four years have passed between a migrant’s departure from Cuba and the start of their deportation proceedings in the U.S., “the Cuban government has agreed to take that person back,” Johnson said.

White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes explained that a recent increase in migration from Cuba to the U.S., due more to a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations than political repression, precipitated the policy change.

“What we've seen, therefore, is a steady increase to some 40,000 Cubans granted parole in fiscal year 2015; 54,000 roughly in fiscal year 2016,” he said.

Also, he said more Cubans were trying to access the U.S. through Central America and the U.S.-Mexico border and “that was creating both humanitarian challenges and strains within those countries as large numbers of Cubans were essentially stuck there and then facing a very difficult – and dangerous – journey to our southern border in some cases.”

President Obama said the old policy “was designed for a different era” in his Thursday statement.

“During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people – inside of Cuba – by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world,” he stated of his administration’s move to re-open diplomatic relations with Cuba and the loosening of travel restrictions and economic sanctions.

“Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people,” Obama said.

Bishop Vasquez, however, lamented Thursday’s policy change as detrimental to Cubans seeking a better life in the U.S., particularly those fleeing religious or political repression.

“Cuban Americans have been one of the most successful immigrant groups in U.S. history. The protections afforded them were a model of humane treatment,” he said.

Now it “will make it more difficult for vulnerable populations in Cuba, such as asylum seekers, children, and trafficking victims, to seek protection.”

Even in recent years, human rights abuses have continued under the Castro regime, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom warned in December.

“While USCIRF has noted that some improvements have been made in recent years in the area of religious freedom, our Annual Reports document the Cuban government’s continued violations,” they stated.

“Areas of concern include: harassment of religious leaders and laity, interference in religious groups’ internal affairs, and preventing democracy and human rights activists from participating in religious activities. The government also has threatened to close and confiscate church properties and reportedly has demolished some churches.”


Bishops remain hopeful on immigration reform in a Trump presidency

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The upcoming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump has raised questions about the future of immigration reform, but the nation’s Catholic bishops remain hopeful.

“We also find it important that we engage the present incoming administration,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Jan. 12. “We think it is highly important that we as bishops make known what is taking place in our country and how to address those possibilities.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the U.S. bishops’ conference president, even voiced confidence.

“I actually think this may be a very good time to pursue all the goals that we’ve had all along,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “This is a new moment, with a new Congress, a new administration. And therefore we should up our expectations and move very carefully, but clearly, on comprehensive immigration reform.”

Leading U.S. bishops and bishops’ conference officials spoke with reporters Jan. 12 to mark National Migration Week, a nearly 50-year-old celebration that encourages the Church to reflect on the situations facing immigrants, refugees, children, and victims of human trafficking.

President-elect Trump, who takes office next week, campaigned on several strong anti-immigration policies, including talk of deportation, strict enforcement of immigration law and a famous promise to build a wall on the Mexico border and make Mexico pay for it.

Bishop Vasquez said that the rhetoric of wall-building is “not the place where we’d want to start our conversation on immigration.”

He said the bishops advocated humane policy and laws that take into consideration the need to keep families together and to help those who have come to the U.S. at a young age.

Cardinal DiNardo said the bishops’ concerns focus on immigration reform.

“As of right now, we haven’t (discussed) too much on the wall situation,” he said, voicing greater concern for the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, President Barack Obama’s executive action which allowed millions of immigrants who met certain standards to stay in the U.S. The program especially benefitted those who had arrived in the U.S. without documentation while being under age 18.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the bishops’ conference, said the conference is trying to have a conversation with Trump’s transition team.

“Obviously we continue to help our elected officials to understand the issue,” he said, noting there are “many challenges” regarding immigration.

“But I hope that we are going to make progress this year,” he continued. “Immigration reform is about people. It’s not about politics, it’s about fathers and mothers and children and brothers and sisters.”

Ashley Feasely, policy director of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, also reflected on upcoming priorities.

“There are many still in Congress who believe that immigration reform is a possibility,” she said. “And I think there are individuals in the incoming White House who are interested in seeing reform. I think it’s important that we continue to engage at the state and local level, with Congress, and the new administration to show the need to reform our broken system.”

For Bishop Vasquez, National Migration Week is a chance to highlight Catholics’ mission to welcome newcomers.

“In Matthew 25, Jesus specifically says, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’,” he said.  “Those words are applied to our immigrants. Jesus identifies with them completely.”

He noted that many migrants leave difficult situations including violence and gang warfare. Some have survived human trafficking.

“It’s important that we see them not as problems, but as persons,” he said.

Archbishop Gomez reflected on Pope Francis’ message for National Migration Week.

“He reminds us of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that she is our mother, and that we should not be afraid, because we are not alone,” the archbishop said. “It was a beautiful message of hope. I feel that is what we need right now. More hope for the future.”


How the Catholic author of 'The Exorcist' saw good and evil

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 19:06

Washington D.C., Jan 13, 2017 / 05:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- William Peter Blatty, whose fictionalized vision of demonic possession and Catholic exorcism transfixed a great swath of the American public, died on Thursday.

In the 1960s he became a novelist and screenwriter, with only modest success. But then his 1971 novel The Exorcist portrayed the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her exorcism by two Catholic priests. He had drawn inspiration from a 1949 Washington Post story about a Jesuit priest’s successful exorcism of a 14-year-old boy in Mount Ranier, Maryland.

For Blatty, the point of his the story was “that God exists and the universe itself will have a happy ending.”

The book sold 13 million copies. Blatty wrote the screenplay for the movie, which became a blockbuster whose disturbing imagery and depiction of supernatural evil helped redefine the horror genre and the American religious imagination.

Blatty voiced concern that the film’s climax, in which the younger priest goads the demon into possessing him and then jumps to his death, appeared to give victory to the demon.

In 2000 he prevailed upon his friend, the film’s director William Friedkin, to release a special director’s cut of the film that made the triumph of good over evil more explicit, the New York Times reports.

Blatty graduated from Georgetown University in 1950, and parts of the campus were used to film The Exorcist. He received its John Carroll Medal for alumni achievement.

However, he became a leading critic of the school. In May 2012, he announced a canonical lawsuit against Georgetown for failing to live up to its Catholic identity.

He formed the Father King Society, a group named for the late Jesuit Fr. Thomas M. King, a former theology professor at Georgetown who was rumored to be the inspiration for the priestly character in The Exorcist.

The writer voiced gratitude for his education, but lamented “that Georgetown University today almost seems to take pride in insulting the Church and offending the faithful.” The Father King Society website listed various ways it believed the university failed to comply with Ex corde Ecclesiae, St. John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic universities.

Blatty’s petition asked that the Church require the prestigious, historically Jesuit school to implement the document.

In April 2014, Archbishop Angelo Zani, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, said the group’s petition was “a well-founded complaint.”

Blatty was born Jan. 7, 1928 in Manhattan to Lebanese immigrants. His father left home when he was six years old and his mother supported them both on a meager income. He attended the now-closed Brooklyn Preparatory School and Georgetown on full scholarships.

Before becoming a screenwriter, he worked as a vacuum cleaner salesman, a psychological warfare specialist in the Air Force, a magazine editor for the U.S. Information Agency, and a university public relations specialist, the Washington Post reports.

Blatty married four times and had eight children.

He passed away Jan. 12 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. at the age of 89.

Drowned toddler is making miraculous recovery

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 14:14

Tampa Bay, Fla., Jan 13, 2017 / 12:14 pm (National Catholic Register).- Matt and Kristin Loboda, from Tampa, Florida, and their four young children were visiting family in Phoenix, Arizona. On Dec. 29, 2016, Matt suddenly noticed that his 19-month-old daughter, Joy, was missing. She had been with them just before that. “In my heart, I knew something was terribly wrong. So, I ran down to the Koi pond on the property. I ran around it four times looking between the shadows and fish for Joy. Momentarily I was relieved. But, [then] I heard the Holy Spirit tell me to run to the pool,” writes Matt on his Facebook page.

When Joy disappeared, Matt hadn’t considered the possibility that she was in the fence-encircled pool. He sprinted there, and the sight he saw was enough to make any parent’s blood run cold: there was Joy’s little, lifeless body floating on top of the water. Matt leaped over the five-foot fence and dove into the water, bringing Joy out of the pool, so he and his brother-in-law could perform CPR while they were waiting for the ambulance.

“As I breathed into Joy, I prayed that my breath would be the breath of God into her,” says Matt, a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. “In between breaths I begged for the Ruha of God to enter her. Her lips were blue, and her beautiful blue eyes were wide open. I could see her pupils shrinking at an alarming rate. Then I started to pray in between breathes in the words of Jesus, ‘Talitha Koum,’ which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.' I knew we needed a miracle because I could actually feel her slipping away.”
First Responders

Sergeant Ronald Bryant, a policeman for the Phoenix Police Department, was just pulling out of the police station when he got the urgent call that a baby had fallen into a pool and was unresponsive. Racing to help Joy, he drove right up where Matt was trying to revive her.  “I found Joy surrounded by frantic family and concerned workers. Dad, soaked from the cold pool, was doing a great job with CPR and mom, Kristin, was kneeling, holding Joy's head in hands and praying like no mother ever wants to pray for their child,” Officer Bryant writes on his Facebook page.

He continues, “I scooped Joy up and ran her out to the front gate, giving her compressions and a couple of breaths as we ran out to meet Fire Paramedics who were almost on the scene. Fire immediately took over and got to work on Joy's tiny, cold, blue, lifeless body. My heart was broken. I was convinced she had passed.”

With 19 years of service, this was not Sergeant Bryant's first experience with infant death. Joy's stiff body spoke volumes to him. “Everything in me said it was too late, and she was gone, but I had to try everything I could,” he said.

Although the paramedics were doing everything they could to save Joy, Matt could feel the cloud of doom that had settled over them.

As the detective drove Matt and Kristin to Phoenix Children's Hospital, Matt closed his eyes and prayed to God: “‘I know she is your daughter, but she is my daughter too. Now is not the right time.”

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At the emergency room, a doctor came in and informed the Lobodas that the prognosis didn’t look good, but that Joy now had a heartbeat. This news was enough to bolster Matt’s hope. Filled with supernatural confidence, he felt in his heart Joy would make a full recovery and said as much to the doctors.

Little Joy was put in a medical coma and placed on a ventilator, but by January 7, she was responsive and breathing on her own. Kristin writes, “She's in my arms, reached for my face, and said, ‘Mamma.' Tears are flowing, and my heart is so full. Your prayers have been our strength and brought healing to our baby.”

On January 9, Joy was able to latch on and breastfeed for the first time since the accident, and though she was still experiencing pain, she was doing well enough that doctors transferred her out of pediatric intensive care. On January 10, she broke out into a smile and laughed – a miracle. She is making marked improvements every day.

When Sergeant Bryant learned that Joy was recovering, elated, he stopped by Fire Station 17 – the paramedics who had worked to save joy – to tell them she was alive. “They were amazed,” he says.

The Efficacy of Prayers

Fr. Ignatius Mazanowski, F.H.S, Kristin’s brother, told the Register, “Her recovery, in my opinion, is a testament to her parent’s love and care and the thousands of people who have been praying for little Joy.”

It surely is also a testament to the most powerful prayer, the Mass. For the first seven days, Fr. Mazanowski offered Mass at the foot of Joy’s hospital bed, choosing the First Eucharistic Prayer because he wanted to call upon the intercession of the saints for Joy and her parents. “To be honest, at first it was simply something I could do, and it provided a way to pray and offer this whole situation to the Lord. Each day, as I said Mass, I saw Joy get stronger, and her parents become more encouraged. I began to realize, in a way I never did before, how much healing comes through the Mass.”

He continues, “One Mass in particular, on the Feast of the Holy Family, became the means through which my sister Kristin's heart found healing as I led her through self-forgiveness prayers. As any parents would, she was blaming and condemning herself for Joy's accident. They lost Joy for three minutes, and Joseph and Mary lost Jesus for three days. Self-forgiveness in such a situation is so important. I believe my sister's healing is tied to Joy's healing, and for sure, it helped Kristin to be in a better place to help Joy heal.”

Joy’s Miracle Offers Encouragement

When miracles happen, we know that God is near and watching over us, but it makes me wonder why some prayers go unanswered? “All I know is that, in my experience, miracles happen for two reasons,” replies Fr. Mazanowski. “First, God wants to reveal His love to that person, and second, He wants others to come to faith and to come to know Him as a result of the miracle. In Joy's case, I know God loves her, her parents, and our family very much, and I am grateful He has chosen to restore her to health. I also know from the many people who have contacted us that God is, in fact, bringing people back to the Church and back into relationship with Him as they receive encouragement through following the story of Joy's miraculous recovery and her parents' deep faith.”


Race against time for Congress to block DC's assisted suicide law

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Jan 13, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Congress took its first step toward blocking D.C.’s doctor-prescribed suicide law on Thursday, but the action will need the support of both houses of Congress and the President.

“America must be a nation that supports and cherishes human life, no matter the age, ethnicity or health of that life,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) stated Jan. 12 after introducing a resolution in the Senate that opposes Washington, D.C.’s “Death With Dignity Act of 2015.” The law had legalized doctor-prescribed suicide in the District.

D.C.’s law, Lankford said, “would erode our culture’s respect for life, and possibly lead to the mistreatment and exploitation of the disabled and most vulnerable among us.”

The city council of Washington, D.C. had passed the “Death With Dignity Act” in 2015, with Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signing it in December.

Congress has 30 legislative days to review a law of the District of Columbia once it is passed by the city government. Resolutions of disapproval must be passed by both houses and be signed by the president to block a D.C. law.

Companion resolutions of disapproval of D.C.’s law were introduced in the Senate by Sen. Lankford, who chairs the subcommittee with oversight of D.C., and in the House by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) on Thursday. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) also said this week that he would push to block the law.

The D.C. law legalized doctor-prescribed suicide under certain conditions, similar to other “death with dignity” laws passed or introduced in several states.

A physician must determine that the patient is terminally-ill, with six months or fewer to live, and inform the patient of other options if a request for a lethal prescription is made. They must refer the patient to a consulting doctor who independently verifies they are capable of making the decision, and who may refer the patient for counseling if he deems they are psychologically impaired. Two witnesses must also confirm that the patient is capable of making an informed decision.

After two oral requests, a 15-day period, a written request for a lethal prescription, and another 48-hour period, a doctor can prescribe a lethal dose of medication after offering the patient one more opportunity to stop the process and the patient refuses.

Aside from the troubling legalization of doctor-prescribed suicide, critics of the law have warned that it is open to serious abuses.

Patients can outlive terminal diagnoses, sometimes for years, though they may not be aware of this when they receive a terminal diagnosis. Someone deemed competent to choose to die may be still be suffering from mental disorders like depression, which may be a result of their terminal illness and may be treatable.

Also, a physician writing the prescription may not be the patient’s long-time doctor who knows them well. There is no protection against a patient being coerced into ingesting the lethal medication. And one of the witnesses to their choice may be a financial beneficiary of their death.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington spoke out strongly against the bill along with other Catholic leaders in the city.

“It cannot be denied that there are hardships in life, some of which seem to overwhelm us. Whether experienced late in life, in a physical illness or a bout of mental depression, or in a crisis pregnancy, the human condition is for us all beset with trials and tribulations,” he stated.

“A truly compassionate and merciful response to the sick and vulnerable is not to confirm these impulses by offering a lethal drug. Whether it is a terminally ill person or a young person suffering from depression, our response should be to draw them away from the edge, to help the vulnerable among us – regardless of their condition or circumstances – with genuine compassion and give them hope.”

Rep. Wenstrup stated that “as a physician of over 25 years, access to quality healthcare for every American is a concern that is close to my heart.”

“By authorizing doctors to violate the Hippocratic Oath of ‘do no harm,’ physician-assisted suicide undermines a key safeguard that protects our nation’s most vulnerable citizens and ensures our loved ones receive the best medical care when they need it most,” he said.

He echoed concerns of some of the city’s African-American residents who thought the law would discriminate against the poor, minorities, and the elderly. They, more than others, might not be able to afford the health care needed to fight terminal illnesses or could be pressured into obtaining a lethal prescription rather than fight a terminal illness.

 “Under this new law, if D.C. residents are not able to pay for health care out of pocket, they may find their options severely limited when facing a new diagnosis, suffering from a chronic illness, facing a disability, or struggling with mental illness,” Wenstrup said.

Doctor-prescribed suicide is now legal in the District of Columbia and six states: Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Montana, California, and Colorado.