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US anti-Semitism feared to rise if incidents aren't condemned

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 22:01

Washington D.C., Feb 21, 2017 / 08:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States must be prosecuted and condemned by the government to curb their rise, a religious freedom expert insists.

Regarding recent bomb threats made to Jewish community centers and the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Missouri, there must be “very vigilant enforcement of the law,” said Prof. Daniel Mark of Villanova University, who serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“It’s kind of a shame,” he told CNA, that “a lot of these crimes go unpunished.” They must be recognized for what they are and condemned, he added. “If you’re not willing to recognize what it is and call the thing by its name, you’re going to have a hard time addressing it.”

Jewish leaders have been alarmed at the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe in recent years, from the desecration of synagogues to attacks on Jews wearing religious symbols in public to violent attacks like in 2015, where a gunman who pledged allegiance to ISIS took hostages at a Paris kosher market and killed four.

The incidents have grown so numerous and so serious that questions have been raised about the future of Jewish communities in Europe.

However, the fervor of antisemitism in the U.S. has risen as well, religious freedom advocates have warned.

The Anti-Defamation League reported a sharp rise in violent antisemitic assaults in 2015, and leaders noted a distressing surge in online harassment of Jewish reporters during the 2016 presidential election and the proliferation of antisemitic conspiracy theories on the internet.

Shortly after Trump’s election to the presidency in November, white nationalist leaders gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. Richard Spencer said “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” and was met with fascist salutes.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum responded that they were “deeply alarmed” at the gathering and its antisemitic rhetoric.

In recent weeks, there have reportedly been dozens of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers in the U.S. A Jewish cemetery in Missouri was vandalized recently and as many as 200 headstones were reportedly damaged.

President Trump must speak out forcefully against such behavior but he has not, advocates warn, and he has even partly enabled such behavior amongst many of his far-right supporters.

“I think in some cases anti-Semites may feel emboldened by the rise of Trump,” Mark noted of the election year incidents.

“Now that’s not to say that Trump himself is not an antisemite in the way they are, but I think again, it is fair to say that Trump probably could have done more during the campaign to make it clear to his supporters that these kinds of attitudes and this kind of behavior is not tolerable, it will not be tolerated.”

Such behavior must be condemned, and Trump did not speak forcefully enough against it during the campaign, Mark insisted.

“Instead it seems like he chose the path of saying just little enough that those people could tell themselves that secretly, he’s on board with them and their bad motives, which I don’t believe he is.”

President Trump denounced antisemitism on Tuesday as he spoke at the newly-opened National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

“This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” he said. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are a painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

However, his statement came after weeks of statements – or omissions – that drew more concerns about his administration’s response to anti-Semitism.

In his Jan. 27 remarks on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Donald Trump left out any specific mention of the Jewish people, a mention made by the White House in past years.  

For instance, President Obama in 2015 said that “the American people pay tribute to the six million Jews and millions of others murdered by the Nazi regime.”

In 2016, in his remarks at the Righteous Among Nations Awards Dinner at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., President Obama insisted that “we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise” including in the United States.

Then last week at a Nov. 16 press conference, Trump was asked by reporter Jake Turx, writing for the Jewish magazine “Ami,” about the rise in antisemitic incidents.

While Turx noted there were no accusations of antisemitism leveled against Trump by members of his community, he added that questions do exist of how the Trump administration would respond to the other anti-Semitic incidents nationwide.

As Turx cited reports of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers, Trump interrupted him and scolded him for not asking a simpler question, calling it “not a fair question.” He asked Turx to sit down and told him “I understood the rest of your question.”

“I am the least antisemitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” Trump began, calling himself also the “least racist person.” When Turx interrupted to follow up his question, Trump ordered him to “quiet” and said he hated both the “charge” of antisemitism leveled against him and Turx’s “question.”

The day before, at a Feb. 15 joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Trump was asked by a reporter about the rise in antisemitic incidents:

“And I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the States, and in Israel, and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?”

President Trump responded first by pointing out his Electoral College victory and the “tremendous enthusiasm” for his administration in the country. He then promised to “stop crime in this country” and would work “to stop long-simmering racism” and noted that he had “so many (Jewish) friends” and family.

The advocacy group Human Rights First criticized Trump’s answer, calling it “inappropriate” and saying it “widely missed the mark.”

“The president’s response today once again highlights a deeply concerning trend toward accommodating antisemitic voices and failing to clearly and unequivocally denounce hate,” Susan Corke of Human Rights First stated.

“His inappropriate response is all the more troubling given his campaign’s association with antisemitic tropes, his administration’s embrace of individuals with deep ties to anti-Semitism, and his decision not to include any reference to the Jewish people in his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

On Tuesday, however, Human Rights First commended Trump for finally issuing strong statements against antisemitism, saying they were “necessary and overdue.”

“These declarations, while welcome, are a departure from those made by the president during his campaign and post-inauguration, that animated those with antisemitic and other racist views into reprehensible acts of hatred,” the group continued.

Words must be accompanied by action, they added, like “by improving data collection and providing additional resources to protect communities.”

“A national leader failing to clearly denounce harmful speech can serve to embolden extremist voices and serve as a legitimation of violence,” they stated. “President Trump should make clear immediately that he condemns all forms of antisemitism and intolerance, and that he will do everything in his power to support investigations and prosecutions of hate crimes.”

We're more likely to jail the mentally ill than get them help

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 17:11

Washington D.C., Feb 21, 2017 / 03:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- People with severe mental illness are much more likely to be incarcerated than treated for their disorders, advocates said at a recent panel, and changes need to be made in order to break the vicious cycle of prison and homelessness.

“We don’t have a mental health professional in half the counties in America. We need to do something about that,” Doris A. Fuller of the Treatment Advocacy Center said at a panel in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

Almost 400,000 inmates in the U.S. prison system are estimated to be mentally ill. For many with severe mental problems like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, their untreated illness may have played a primary role in landing them in prison.

“The going in and out of jail is a challenge. And many of the times it is because of the mental illness,” said Karen Ostlie, director of behavioral health services for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

“So that’s the same as across the country, is you get a lot of people that are incarcerated because of their mental illness,” she told CNA, and it might be for something small like “trespassing if they’re homeless and they’re trying to find a warm place to sleep at night.”

The mentally ill are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized.

And if they are released from the criminal justice system back into society, without receiving the proper treatment, they may very soon end up back in jail.

In the span of five years in Miami-Dade County in Florida, 97 people – primarily homeless men and people with schizophrenia – were arrested a total of 2,200 times, said Judge Steve Leifman of the Miami-Dade County Court Criminal Division.

The panel discussion, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., discussed the criminal justice system and the U.S. mental health crisis. Participants explored the scope of the problem after the release of a new report “Emptying the ‘New Asylums’” on reducing the number of inmates waiting in prison to be treated at a state hospital.

“We have a population of inmates behind bars in America today with mental illness that’s about the size of the city of Oakland, California,” Fuller stated, noting that an average of 5,000 people with “serious mental illness” are booked in jails per day.

They are arrested for a number of crimes ranging from the small, like trespassing or public urination, to violent felonies. Many crimes among this population are the result of someone’s untreated mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, panel members argued.

The mentally ill are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. An estimated 40 percent of those with severe mental illness are incarcerated at some point in their lives.

A shortage of mental hospitals

Some 90,000 people in prison have been judged “incompetent to stand trial.” In all but three states, they must then be treated back to a competent state. Usually they are sent to state mental hospitals for this, yet there are far too few beds available for them there.

In the first half of the 20th century, the U.S. housed far more people in mental hospitals, but starting in the 1950s, a push to “deinstitutionalize” the system – as well as federal cases brought against hospitals for horrific abuses there – led to budget cuts and the closing of hospitals rather than states working to reform them, Leifman said.

Thus, state hospital beds for the severely mentally ill fell dramatically from 337 per 100,000 persons in 1955 to only 11.7 per 100,000 in 2016.

As a result, severely mentally ill persons are “languishing” in jail and even dying there, advocates warn. “Incarcerating pre-trial and convicted criminal offenders with serious mental illness is so common today that jails and prisons are routinely called the ‘new asylums.’ They are anything but protective,” said the report “Emptying the New Asylums” by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

The prison system does nothing to help an existing case of mental illness, and all too often exacerbates it. Studies have shown the deleterious effects of prolonged solitary confinement on someone’s mental condition, and for those with serious mental illness, a prolonged stay in prison can cause crippling damage to their health.

“If you want to really improve your public safety, improve the community mental health system.”

There may be no immediate option for people in this situation, said Kianna Richardson, a correctional support specialist with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The jail or prison cannot release someone who is not competent to stand trial onto the streets without treatment.

“It would be kind of difficult just to work with them, because they may refuse services, and in turn, they may go through the same cycle and commit another crime,” she told CNA.

One way to help seriously ill inmates get the treatment they need more quickly would be to make “small changes” to the waiting system at state hospitals, said participants at the AEI panel.

The Treatment Advocacy Center contracted with the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University to gather and analyze data from five state hospitals. Their findings led them to believe that changes could benefit the system.

In Florida, for instance, where 120 inmates per month will need to be treated for illnesses before they stand trial, “if you divert two of them, the average bed wait drops from 12 days to 3 days,” Doris A. Fuller noted. In Wisconsin, if eight beds were added to the state hospitals, the average waits for a bed would fall from two months to two weeks.

The importance of post-jail treatment

However, even after mentally ill inmates are released from jails and state hospitals, if they are not properly treated in their communities, they are at high risk of recidivism.

“Putting someone in jail with mental illness for even a few days and then releasing them – which everyone gets released – is not an improvement of public safety,” Leifman insisted at the panel. “Most of them have serious trauma issues, and jail re-traumatizes people.”

“If you want to really improve your public safety, improve the community mental health system,” he added.

Matthew D. Chase of the National Association of Counties pointed to the example of Leon County, Florida, which established a system where non-profits met officials at the jail at midnight to take in homeless individuals and inmates with serious mental issues.

They were sent to various groups who worked with mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse cases, among others, he said, where previously these people would have gone straight onto the street.

Other groups like Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. are actively ministering to this population, providing case management and long-term psychiatric treatment for inmates and those who have been released from the justice system.

Kianna Richardson, a correctional support specialist with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., sees clients with arrest records, most of whom are “non-violent offenders.”

She provides 60-day case management for those “with severe and persistent mental health diagnoses who are returning from Charles County detention center back to the community.” She insisted that “it’s crucial for them” to receive treatment.

“Hopefully that will help them avoid being incarcerated in the future,” she said, and “reduce their recidivism rate”

Housing and employment are the biggest challenges for this population, she insisted. If they have untreated mental health problems and an arrest record, they have a much lower chance of getting a job and holding it down. If they have no job, they can’t pay for a place to live.

Also, in the county where she works – Charles County, Md. – the temporary shelter stays open only during the winter months, meaning that the homeless may have no options from April through September.

Washington, D.C. is one of the highest cost-of-living metropolitan areas in the U.S., and this poses a unique challenge to the city’s homeless population, said Karen Ostlie of Catholic Charities, D.C., who has worked in mental health in the district for 20 years.

“There’s a lack of affordable housing,” she said. “That can be very difficult, when somebody doesn’t have a stable place to live, to stabilize that person, for them to follow through with their mental health treatment.”

Catholic Charities provides psychiatric treatment, and the ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) team “works with about 120 of our consumers,” Ostlie explained, including “some of the most disengaged” and “seriously ill consumers.”

They also work with other clients who had long-term hospitalizations at St. Elizabeth’s, a psychiatric facility in Southeast D.C.

The ACT team will find and meet the homeless where they are, seeking to engage them in treatment, she said. But there are challenges – even if they receive prescription medication upon being discharged from mental hospitals, if they have no stable home, it is harder for them to keep the medication and take it as ordered.

The goal is to get the patients to engage in treatment with a psychiatrist, Ostlie said. They also work to get benefits for the patients and to help them apply for the appropriate housing, such as a single occupancy room or a group home.

“With some of our most seriously ill consumers, part of the difficulty with finding housing, other than the cost of apartments, is that they can’t manage in a shared group home situation, or their behaviors are so challenging that the folks that run the group homes won’t accept them or they leave or they don’t want to deal with the rules.”

Drug abuse is another significant challenge among this population, she said. Not only can it make mental illness worse, but even if patients go through treatment for it, they can easily fall back into addiction by returning to their former place on the streets.  

“The key is to change the way we think about these things,” Leifman said at the panel, insisting that there must be a greater national focus on improving mental health in communities rather than just incarcerating the perpetrators of crimes. “So much of our money is now going into correctional cost.”

“There is no other illness in this world that is permissible to send people out into homelessness in the middle of the night,” he said, but when it comes to mental illness, “people don’t bat an eye.”

 

This 200 year-old black Catholic school is a 'gem' in Baltimore's inner city

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 08:02

Baltimore, Md., Feb 21, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nestled among the mix of shiny new storefronts, foreclosed row houses, parks, and public housing, lies what locals call the “gem of East Baltimore:” St. Frances Academy. Perduring the Civil War, social tumult, economic growth and decline in the neighborhood, the 189-year-old Catholic school still operates from the principles of its foundress, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange.

Along with the building, Mother Mary Lange’s legacy has been preserved as well: to educate and form children left behind by society, particularly those of African descent. While the kinds of challenges faced by many of Baltimore’s students have changed over nearly 200 years, what has not is the need for strong, Christ-centered education in the heart of the inner city, say educators at the school.

“The kids really understand and appreciate the legacy. They know the story, they know the history,”  Sister John Francis Schilling, OSP told CNA. “They will tell you in a minute,” she added of the students’ eagerness to share Mother Mary Lange’s story, “and are very proud of it.”

Dr. Curtis Turner, Ed.D,  principal of St. Frances Academy and a deacon of the Archdiocese of Washington, noted that St. Frances Academy still has its eyes on the same goal their founders did –  Christ.

“You’d have 180 souls really in jeopardy if we weren’t here,” the principal said to CNA.

In 1828, a Haitian refugee named Elizabeth Lange began teaching children of African descent, both slave and free, out of her home in Baltimore – a slave state with a large free African-American population.

“Mother Lange started this school because she wanted to teach the children of slaves about the Bible, about religion and realized they couldn’t read,” Sister John Francis recounted. While it wasn’t illegal to teach slaves in Maryland at that time, educating persons of color was socially taboo. Despite this, Lange was determined to teach the girls from her home.

A year later, Sulpician Father Nicholas Joubert approached Lange and asked if she and her co-teacher, Marie Balas, would be willing to start a religious order while continuing their work in girls’ education. Lange responded that she had been wanting to dedicate her life to God, and with the blessing of the Archbishop of Baltimore she took vows and the name “Sister Mary.”

Mother Mary Lange was named the superior of the new congregation, the Oblate Sisters of Providence – the first religious community for women of African descent in the United States.

The new order also rented a house for the community to live in and use as a school house. Today, the school continues to operate in the building it moved into in 1871, and the Oblate Sisters of Providence still help to teach and form St. Frances Academy’s hundreds of students.

Within the building, next to an English classroom and under a science lab, the room of Mother Mary Lange remains virtually undisturbed from how it was left after Lange’s death in 1882. “The kids see it and walk by,” Deacon Turner commented, adding that the emphasis on Mother Lange's present preserves her legacy at the school. “She lived, died and prayed here.”

“It’s one of the few places where we can all claim to be third-class relics,” he joked.

Since the 1820s, both the school and the order have gone through several changes. The main school building has served as a school, a dormitory, and an orphanage over the years, and the campus has expanded to include a gym, classrooms, computer labs, and other facilities. The school has become a co-educational preparatory school.

The order has expanded, with presences in Maryland, New York, Florida, and Costa Rica, and sisters from around the globe. Mother Mary Lange’s cause for sainthood was opened in 1991 by Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore.



In spite of, or perhaps because of, this growth, St. Frances Academy has persisted as the nation’s oldest African-American Catholic educational institution. In addition, the school is the oldest continually operating black educational facility in the United States, predating the founding of  Cheyney University of Pennsylvania – the nation’s oldest Historically Black College – by nearly a decade.

Today, the school remains dedicated to Mother Lange’s vision and her desire to educate all those in need of a good education. “We’re carrying out her mission,” Sister John Francis said. The school continues its work despite the challenges of this mission. “She was a risk-taker, and we’re risk takers,” Sister said.

One of those risks is accepting kids who are deemed high-risk or who are suspended or expelled from school. “We take kids who are risks. Sometimes they call us the second-chance school because we allow kids the opportunity to fail and then come back,” she explained. “We’re pretty much always willing to give them a second chance.”

Another risk is the school’s decision five years ago to house a number of boys who are homeless or who don’t have stable housing or family situations, in the Fr. Joubert Housing Program. “It’s been very successful … These kids are considered to be ‘throwaway’ kids by the city,” Sister John Francis explained. The first class of students to go through the program have graduated and are now in college; both made the National Honor Society while at the Joubert program.

Deacon Turner noted that he and the lay staff who oversee the housing programs seek to treat the boys as their own children, making sure they have home-cooked meals, clothes, things to do on the weekends, and adequate furnishings for their bedrooms: “It’s like we have 16 sons on campus.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the boys are also under the sisters’ watchful eye from the convent across the street. “They know that the second they step outside of the Joubert house, they’re within sight of the convent,” Deacon Turner laughed.

The program takes some of the most at-risk students in the city and turns them into the stars of the school, the principal continued. “The funny part is what takes them a while is that they’re the kids who are the most needy, economically, but then they get here and they actually end up being the envy of the rest of the school community.”

As with the success of the boys within the Fr. Joubert Housing Program, St. Frances Academy has managed to thrive in the face of challenges – and do just as well as many area schools with more privileged students. In the past several decades, Catholic schools in Baltimore have faced wave after wave of school closings.

Deacon Turner said that 11 of the academy’s 14 feeder schools have been closed in the past 15 years, and all of its partner Catholic schools in West Baltimore have also been shuttered. “We feel like we’re the last person standing in the breach right now.”

But despite the struggles facing Baltimore’s inner city, the school itself is doing very well: “We’re a poor school, but not a broke school.”  Because of their success, the faculty and administration are focusing on making sure that the tuition remains accessible for the school’s students, more than 84 percent of whom receive federal food aid for lunches.

Yet even though their tuition is considerably less than many of the city’s other Catholic and secular high schools “our kids are going to those same colleges.” The drive – and the stakes – are what set the academy’s students apart.

“The difference that we make isn’t just college or a better college, it’s college or no college – sometimes, it’s life or death without us,” Deacon Turner reflected.

Without St. Frances, many students also would not have had an introduction to what a life with Christ looks like, Deacon Turner said.  “The majority of our students are not Catholic – the vast majority are not Catholic – and I would say at least half are unchurched altogether, so we’re their first introduction to a life with Christ.” In many cases, he continued, a student’s turnaround can be traced to their introduction to a Christian lifestyle and Christ himself.

 “I’ve seen other organizations try to work in the city from a purely secular point of view, and of course they meet with some marginal success, but our success rate is that virtually all our kids go to college. If we tried to do that without Christ in the equation, there’s no way we’d be at that statistic,” Deacon Turner stated.   

“All the challenges that an inner city child faces – economically, socially– in my opinion, can only be overcome with the help of Christ, by introducing them to Jesus.”

Archbishop Chaput on his new book about life in a post-Christian world

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 04:50

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 21, 2017 / 02:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia's new book, released on Tuesday, takes a hard look at how Catholics in the United States can live their faith in a public square which has become post-Christian.

CNA recently spoke with Archbishop Chaput about Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World, published Feb. 21 by Henry Holt and Co.

During the conversation, the archbishop discussed the changes seen in American public life in recent years, the role technology has played in these changes, and the place of law in the country's ethos.

He also touched on Christian hope, the central importance of fidelity to Christ, and the temptation of conformity to cultural norms.
 
Please read below the full text of CNA's interview with Archbishop Chaput:

Why did you feel the need for a new book after “Render Unto Caesar”?

I think the nine years since the release of Render Unto Caesar have seen a generational change in America. Boomers are aging out of leadership. Younger people are moving in. Their civic formation and memory – their understanding of the nation, the role of religious faith in public life, the nature of the Church – are very different from my age cohort.

The 1960s generation, my age group, had the benefit of moral and intellectual capital built up over many decades. We borrowed on it, even while we attacked it. Now a lot of it is used up. That has political consequences for the country and pastoral consequences for anyone trying to preach and live the Gospel. For example, what does a word like “salvation” mean to people who’ve been told since birth that they're basically pretty good already, and if they’re not, it’s the fault of somebody or some force outside themselves?  

As Christians, we're offering a salvific message in a therapeutic culture. It's a tough sale.

Doesn't “Strangers in a Strange land” as a title suggest a rather pessimistic view of the place Christians have in society today?

Realistic, yes; pessimistic, no. Optimism and pessimism are equally dangerous because both God and the devil are full of surprises. About three-quarters of Americans still self-identify as Christians. Tens of millions of them actively and sincerely practice their faith. I know dozens of young clergy and lay leaders who are on fire with God, and they’ll make a real difference in the world with their witness. So biblical faith still has an important influence on our public life.

But we'd be foolish to ignore the overall trends in American religious affiliation, which are not good.

You make the case in your book that we're living in a “post-Christian world.” How so?

By “world” I mean mainly the developed countries of the north. In the global south, Christianity is generally doing very well and growing rapidly. But the north has the wealth and power, and therefore the ability to shape much of the dialogue about international trade, politics, and even history. Take a creature like the European Union. The EU very deliberately ignores 1,500 years of Europe’s Christian heritage and defines itself in purely secular terms, as if a huge part of its own past never happened. In effect, it tries to create a new reality by erasing its own memory.

That's a harder trick to pull off in the United States, because we have no negative experience of religious wars or state Churches, the nation’s religious roots are still fresh, and religious practice is still high. But if you unpack the subtext in some of today’s militancy about tolerance and diversity, you find the same disdain for Christian faith and morality.

What do you see as the main factors that have changed America’s religious landscape?

Some of the change is inevitable and good because we’re a country built on immigration, and our demography naturally changes over time. More important, I think, is that many of the developments in our legal and educational philosophies and our sexual mores over the past 60 years have not been friendly to religious belief, and especially to Christian faith. At the same time, technology has fundamentally altered the way we learn, live and work, how we imagine the “supernatural,” and even how we think, or whether we think at all, about God.

You mention the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision as an emblem of the “many issues creating today's sea change in American public life.” How so?

America is an invented nation. It has no history before the age of progress. It’s a country created and held together by law; and law not only regulates, it also teaches. Americans have an instinctive bias toward assuming that if it’s legal, it’s also morally acceptable. So what the law says about marriage, family and sex has a huge influence on how we actually live as a society. Obergefell was a watershed in how we view these things, and not for the better.

Can we find in our current circumstances some practical reasons for real hope, or are we Christians destined to live sort of “by hope alone”?

Jesus changed the world with 12 very flawed men. We have plenty of good men and women, and more than enough resources, to do the same. But not if we’re too self-absorbed and too eager to fit into the world around us to suffer for our faith. We’re not short of vocations. We’re short of clear thinking and zeal.

What makes Christian hope so radically different from the “hope and change” kind of political slogans common in the secular world?

Political slogans are designed to bypass the brain and go for the heart. They’re a shortcut that relieves people of the hard work of thinking. “Hope and change” is a classic example. The real issue in those words, which is never addressed, is why we should hope, and what kind of change do we want – because some change can be bad.

Christian hope is not an emotion. It’s based on our faith in a loving God, no matter how hard our circumstances. There’s a wonderful line in the King James Version of the Book of Job, where Job – who's bitterly tested by God – says, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (13:15). That confidence, despite all the seeming evidence to the contrary, that's the virtue of hope. And it's very different from just choosing a positive outlook.

How does your vision of a great Christian past and a hopeful future differ from “Making America Great Again?”

The Christian past was great only to the degree that Christians were faithful to Jesus Christ and his Gospel. All the beauty of Christian art, music, architecture, culture and scholarship that we’ve inherited – all of it – depended on and derived from that fidelity. The same applies to how we build the future.

As for the country: We’ll make America great when we make America good. And that means laws and leaders and communities that embody justice, charity and a respect for the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, and including the refugee and immigrant. Otherwise, “making America great again” is just the latest version of “hope and change.”

You say in your first chapter that there are things we Christians “should not bear, should not believe, should not endure in civic life.” Wouldn't that make us “culture warriors” rather than evangelizers?

Preaching, teaching, defending and suffering for what we believe about God and his love for us are part of a culture war that goes back to Golgotha. These things are also called witness.

You quote Václav Havel saying that “the only way to fight a culture of lies...is to consciously live the truth.” What would it mean to live the truth for rank-and-file Catholics today?

Every Catholic every day has little opportunities to speak up to explain or defend his or her faith.  Nearly 200 years ago Alexis de Tocqueville – the great early chronicler of our nation’s life – noticed that Americans, despite all our talk about individual liberty, have a terror of being out of step with public opinion.

We don't need more resources to renew the Church in the United States. We need more courage. And that begins with the honesty to live what we claim to believe as Catholics, whether public opinion approves or not.

Life, conversion of Roe v. Wade's Norma McCorvey remembered

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 16:42

Washington D.C., Feb 20, 2017 / 02:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the woman at the center of the case legalizing abortion in the U.S. passed away, pro-life leaders hailed her ultimate conversion on the issue and her ensuing struggles to promote life.

“Ultimately, Norma’s story after Roe was not one of bitterness but of forgiveness. She chose healing and reconciliation in her Christian faith,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Saturday after Norma McCorvey’s passing.

“She overcame the lies of the abortion industry and its advocates and spoke out against the horror that still oppresses so many,” Dannenfelser added. “In her memory and in her honor, we will carry on that work and we pray for her eternal peace.”

Norma McCorvey, the woman “Jane Roe” who was the plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that found a legal right to abortion, died on Saturday at the age of 69.

She had sued the state of Texas as she was pregnant with her third child and wanted an abortion which was illegal in the state. “Back in 1973, I was a very confused 21 year-old with one child and facing an unplanned pregnancy,” McCorvey described in a recent interview posted by VirtueMedia.

Her case was supposedly a rape pregnancy, but she later revealed she had lied about the situation.

“Many believe that she was very much coerced into that situation and was encouraged to lie about the situation being the result of a rape,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life commented on McCorvey’s case. There was “a lot of manipulation and lies and pressure” behind her case, she added.

McCorvey’s case went to the Supreme Court which issued the Roe decision, legalizing abortion in all 50 states. Since 1973 there have been over 50 million abortions in the U.S.

Yet as in the other abortion case Doe v. Bolton – decided the same day as Roe – neither plaintiff had an abortion, and both women eventually “had this radical conversion to the truth and dedicated their lives to really protecting the inherent dignity of the human person,” Mancini said.

Despite winning in court, McCorvey had never had the abortion she sought, instead carrying her child to term and giving her daughter up for adoption. She is the mother of three daughters.

While she worked at an abortion clinic and later revealed herself as the “Jane Roe” of the Supreme Court decision, she had a sudden turn in the 1990s, joining the pro-life movement and becoming a Christian.

“Norma suffered tremendously at the hands of those who cared more about the institution of abortion than this courageous woman’s life,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Saturday.

She started the group Roe No More to overturn the Roe decision and reverse its cultural consequences, and was involved with the group Operation Rescue for a time before leaving.

McCorvey revealed that “upon knowing God, I realized that my case which legalized abortion on demand was the biggest mistake of my life,” adding that “abortion scars an untold number of post-abortive mothers, fathers, and families too.”

Yet baptized a Christian, McCorvey felt called to enter the Catholic Church. As she related in an article for the group Priests for Life, she had attended Catholic masses as a child with her mother who was Roman Catholic.

“I liked it so much and was often moved to tears. I felt the presence of God,” she wrote. “There was something very moving about the Catholic ritual and symbolism – the procession with the priest and altar boys, the incense, cross, and candles, the statues and the music. I knew God was everywhere, but in Catholic Churches I always felt especially close to Him.”

Tom Peterson, president and founder of VirtueMedia, recalled meeting Norma as he interviewed her on her conversion to Catholicism and her decision to become pro-life.

“Here is a woman who deeply regrets her decision, who had the courage and the faith to put her face on national television on this message,” he said, a message “to help heal those wounds, to help unknot a very complicated situation that she was a party to.”

Yet “she carried a great price for that,” he added.

“She said it was so heavy on her heart that 50 million babies had died because of her participation in this case. And she talked about the number of wounded women out there who took part in abortion because of her involvement.”

“She suffers great anxiety, and she suffered great physical and mental spiritual battles for many years,” he recalled.

VirtueMedia has launched JaneRoe.com, featuring McCorvey’s testimony and those of mothers who have had abortions and regret them.

When McCorvey decided to enter the Church, she received the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation. After the mass, she recalled what she felt during the Liturgy of the Eucharist:

“I had been taught what this meant. Jesus was not dying again. Rather, He was drawing us all into His sacrifice, making it present to us, allowing us to join our lives, our sufferings, to His. This was and is the sacrifice that saves the world, that conquers the power of death and destroys the power of abortion. There and then I could place in the chalice all the tears I had ever shed over the aborted babies, all the shame I ever felt from having worked in an abortion clinic and having been a poster-girl for the pro-death movement. There and then, just as the bread and wine were being transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, the former Jane Roe could once again rejoice in her own transformation into a new creature in Christ.”

Catholics and pro-life leaders offered prayers for her, her family, and all the victims of abortion.

“Now with Norma’s passing, we certainly pray for the repose of her soul. We certainly pray for her and the aborted babies and the mothers who have passed away, and are now in heaven or purgatory to pray for our country during this pivotal time,” Peterson said.

Overcome divisions to protect God's creation, bishops ask US government

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 16:03

Washington D.C., Feb 20, 2017 / 02:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States government has the opportunity to overcome political divisions and respond effectively to climate change, the nation's bishops have said in a letter to the Secretary of State.

“The Judeo-Christian tradition has always understood the environment to be a gift from God,” the bishops said. “From time immemorial, the people of our nation have recognized this gift in our abundant and beautiful lands, pristine waters and clear skies. Rooted in this tradition, Pope Francis called on the world’s leaders to come together to protect the gift of our common home.”

The Feb. 17 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was signed by Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces,  chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Justice and Human Development; and Sean L. Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services.

“We have one common home, and we must protect it,” the letter said.

Its authors lamented that environmental issues can be “politicized for partisan agendas and used in public discourse to serve different economic, social, political and ideological interests.”

However, they said, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si' has invited everyone “to rise above these unhelpful divisions.” The Pope has rejected “a narrow understanding of climate change that excludes natural factors and other causes.”

The bishops said human-caused climate change is widely recognized, as is the importance to help communities and nations adapt in response.

“The poor and vulnerable disproportionately suffer from hurricanes, floods, droughts, famines and water scarcities,” they said.

Efforts to adapt to climate change must be accompanied by efforts to mitigate human contributions to climate change. The bishops stressed the importance of U.S. leadership and commitment to the international agreement on climate change signed in Paris in 2015. They called that agreement a “key step” to goals like curtailing carbon emissions and assisting vulnerable populations in the U.S.
 
The bishops asked Tillerson to support the Green Climate Fund that helps developing nations build resilience to climate change and recover from negative climate change impact.

They also called for an “energy revolution” that could provide sustainable, efficient and clean energy in a way that is “affordable, accessible and equitable.”

“This will require ingenuity, investment and enterprise, all virtues of the American people. Our leading scientists and engineers, research institutions and energy companies have already made great strides towards developing affordable clean energy,” the bishops’ letter said.

The U.S. has the opportunity to achieve energy security and assert global leadership in growing sustainable energy capabilities through infrastructure and technological investment, they continued.

“This is a time of both uncertainty and significant opportunity for our nation and world,” the bishops told Tillerson. “Filled with hope in God, we pray that your work may contribute to America’s material, social and spiritual wealth and further solidarity across the world.”

Parishes aren't talking about the epidemic of domestic abuse.

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic that many clergy and laypersons are not properly trained to fight, says one priest who runs the country’s largest parish-based ministry to counter the problem.

“When you start talking about it, that’s when people will start coming forward,” Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P., who directs domestic violence outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told CNA about the problem of domestic abuse.

The Church's hierarchy “has not been good in getting this into the training of clergy, deacons or priests,” he said, even though a “beautiful” pastoral letter on the topic by the U.S. bishops, “When I Call for Help,” exists.

“Most priests and bishops are unaware of it,” he said. “And it should be taught and discussed in the seminaries, and it’s not.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the CDC, “intimate partner violence” can be physical, sexual, or even emotional, as with instances of stalking or “psychological aggression.”

27 percent of women in the U.S. have suffered intimate partner violence at some point, along with 12 percent of men, the CDC has reported.

There are many physical and psychological effects of domestic violence on victims – physical injuries and disabilities and bodily effects of stress, but also anxiety, depression, and trust issues. Children witnessing violence in the home may grow up with emotional problems like anger, or may even become abusers themselves when they are adults.

In his apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis wrote of the problem of domestic abuse:

“Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”

He also insisted upon the need for parishes and priests to be ready to deal properly with these problems: “Good pastoral training is important ‘especially in light of particular emergency situations arising from cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse’,” he added, citing the final document from the 2015 Synod on the Family.

Catholics are responding to this dire need, organizing a prayer campaign for domestic abuse victims while trying to spread awareness of the problem and educate clergy on how to properly deal with instances of abuse.

A symposium on domestic abuse took place in July at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., hosted by the university’s School of Social Service.

A “toolkit” for fighting domestic abuse has been provided by the Catholics for Family Peace, Education, and Research Initiative, which includes prayers and directions for helping a victim of domestic abuse.

The group is asking everyone to pray at 3 p.m. daily for domestic abuse victims, and have called for a day of prayer on Oct. 28, the feast of St. Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Fr. Chuck Dahm has created a parish-based ministry to combat domestic violence. A key part of his work is simply preaching about it, he says, because it is a widespread problem that hides in plain sight.

There is an “overwhelming lack of recognition that the problem is more frequent, more common than people think,” he told CNA. Many priests are completely unaware of cases of it, Fr. Chuck noted, although “there are people in their parishes who are suffering.”

“I have gone to 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said. “And after I preach about it, people walk out of the church and they tell me ‘thank you for talking about this. This is long overdue. And my sister, my daughter is in it, or I grew up in it.’ And this is so much more common than anybody realizes.”

Priests must listen when victims tell them of their abuse they’ve suffered, he insisted.

“You always have to believe the victim,” he said. “Victims do not exaggerate. If anything, they minimalize. So they have to be believed and supported.”

In one case, he said, “a victim survivor” told him of how she went to her parish priest, who “was not receptive and said he couldn’t do anything to help her.”

“Well that’s tragic,” he said. “She went and told him about the abuse she was suffering. He didn’t know how to handle it.”

Another problem is when some priests tell an abuse victim to go to marriage counseling with her husband – which “is not appropriate,” Fr. Chuck noted. “She needs domestic violence counseling and he needs perpetrator counseling,” he said. “A lot of priests don’t know that.”

Fr. Chuck participated in the symposium on domestic abuse at Catholic University this past summer.
Since then he’s seen the fruits of the conference, spreading awareness of the problem.

“A significant number went home with the plans of doing something in their diocese or their respective organizations,” he said of conference participants.

The Archdiocese of Washington just held a workshop for priests to learn how to deal with incidents of domestic abuse and 31 priests attended, he said. Two representatives of Catholic Charities in Vermont are starting a workshop for priests there, and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City held a workshop attended by several priests and a meeting for priests with Fr. Chuck.

“It’s hard to get the priests to come to any kind of event like this,” Fr. Chuck acknowledged.

Unfortunately, it’s been negative incidents that have driven the conversation about domestic abuse, he said. For instance, when surveillance videos surfaced of former NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée, and then dragging her off an elevator while she was unconscious, the “subsequent outrage” after that and other incidents like it “helps create more awareness about the problem.”

Then “people feel a little bit more comfortable and required to speak out about this and do something about it,” Fr. Chuck explained. “The publicity about negative events or harmful events is quite helpful in raising awareness.”

“We’re really behind on this,” he said of the Church’s efforts to combat the problem, while noting at the same time that “we’re making progress.” There will be a Domestic Violence Awareness and Outreach Mass on Saturday Oct. 29 at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, celebrated by Cardinal-designate Blase Cupich.

“Many times violence in the streets begins at home,” Cardinal-designate Cupich stated on the issue. “Adults and children are traumatized and alienated from the love and support they need by the violence they witness. We must respond to this tragedy.”

This article originally ran on Oct. 24, 2016.

Florist who lost religious liberty case says all freedoms are at stake

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 05:03

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2017 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Washington florist fined for not serving a same-sex wedding out of conscience says the state's supreme court “violated” her freedoms by ruling against her on Thursday.

“What the court decided was that now the government has the power to separate me from my livelihood and my faith,” Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., told CNA in an interview.

“They're trying to compel me to design something that goes totally against my personal conscience, and they violated my right to free speech and expression.”

Stutzman, sued by the state of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, lost her appeal at the state’s supreme court on Thursday. She says she declined to serve a long-time customer’s wedding because of her Christian beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.

The court had upheld a lower court’s decision, which ruled that Stutzman violated the state’s law barring discrimination on basis of sexual orientation. The lower court ordered her to pay a fine and legal costs, which stand because of Thursday’s decision. Stutzman will appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the 24 hours since the Washington Supreme Court’s decision, Stutzman admitted she has received both calls of support and “hate calls.” Her faith, she said, “just increases day by day,” however.

Although the court ruled that she violated an anti-discrimination law, Stutzman said she still serves gay and lesbian customers and had a 10-year friendship with Rob, the man whose wedding she would not serve.

“It’s not about discrimination at all. Rob was one of my favorite customers,” she said. When he approached her at the shop to ask her to serve his wedding and she declined, “we talked about his mom walking him down the aisle, and we talked about his marriage, and I recommended three other florists to him and we hugged each other and Rob left,” she recalled.

“I love working with Rob, and I would be so excited if he just came back into my shop today and I could wait on him for another ten years. I really miss him.”

Stutzman said she has not had contact with Rob recently other than seeing him at court, and the last personal contact was at the deposition where they hugged and talked. She has received support from other gay and lesbian customers to act according to her beliefs, she said.

Now Stutzman’s livelihood is threatened, as she is liable for the state’s fines and the legal costs were estimated to top $2 million by the end of the case.

Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom who argued Stutzman’s case before the Washington Supreme Court, said that the American Civil Liberties Union is actively fighting other religious freedom appeals throughout the country.

“They are not about protecting freedom. They are about taking it away from those who don’t share their ideology and their radical beliefs,” she said.

“Civil liberties travel together,” she insisted, explaining that countries where freedom of religion is threatened “have less freedom in many other areas as well.”

“We know that this right that’s at issue in Barronelle’s case is essential to having a just and inclusive and a stable America. And we all need to stand for that,” Waggoner said.

President Donald Trump promised in 2015 to “preserve and protect our religious liberty” as a “first priority” in his administration, Waggoner noted, and he must sign an executive order establishing broad religious freedom protections for individuals and religious organizations.

Although a federal order would not affect Stutzman’s case at the state level, it would still be “a sign and good first step to restore balance and to show the states that this needs to be done,” she insisted.

Stutzman hopes her case “speaks in volumes” that “it’s not just my freedom, it’s everybody’s freedom, whether you’re religious or not” that is at stake.

“Rob has the freedom to act on what he believes about marriage and I’m just asking for the same,” she said.

How the possible Vatican-China agreement could be problematic

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Feb 18, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The archbishop emeritus of Hong Kong expressed serious concerns about a possible agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointing of bishops.

The agreement would essentially allow the government to pick candidates for bishops and put pressure on the Pope to veto them.

“Because how can you allow the initiative of selection of bishops in the hands of an atheistic government and totalitarian government? I want it to start from the Holy See,” Cardinal Joseph Zen said.

Cardinal Zen spoke to CNA of the possible agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government on the ordination of bishops there. The current Archbishop of Hong Kong has expressed hope that it will come about.  

Currently, Cardinal Zen explained, “the Vatican approves certain names of people” as candidates and the government does “pay attention” to these names, approving some of them.

“The Chinese government accepts this compromise instead of having more problems,” he said.

In the new proposal, however, episcopal candidates would be elected by the clergy, with the Pope having the final say of accepting or vetoing the candidates.

The problem, Cardinal Zen insisted, is that the government will inevitably meddle in the clergy’s election. “There is no real election in China,” he said.

The pressure would then be put on the Pope if he must repeatedly veto government-appointed candidates.

Hong Kong’s current archbishop, Cardinal John Tong Hon, has defended the new proposal, noting that the Chinese government must now recognize the Pope as the supreme head of the Church and insisting that the final authority on appointing bishops rests with the Pope.

“I would prefer the other way around,” Cardinal Zen insisted. The government has not shown promise that it would accommodate the Vatican’s past concerns, but rather has proven that it wants control over the church in China.

“Even after so much dialogue,” he said of the government, “still they were so unkind to the Church.” He pointed to the recent ordination of two bishops where Lei Shiyin, an excommunicated Chinese bishop “forced his presence to the ordination” and “took part” in it.

The incident was a “slap in the face of the Holy Father,” Cardinal Zen said. “How can the government allow such things? Or even to order such thing? It’s very unkind. It’s a way to say ‘we are still the masters’.”

The state has also meddled in the internal affairs of Catholic schools in Hong Kong, he said, which could prove especially detrimental in the future.

“As church we have full freedom,” he added, “but we have suffered a heavy drawback, which is they have taken away our right of running education. They have changed the law.”

While all schools are state-subsidized, the church under the old plan would “present the management committee” for the schools to the government, usually composed of teachers, parents, and alumni. This committee would be “approved” on formality. A new law has changed that, he said.

“We have no mechanism to intervene. Because until now, until the new law, we run the schools inside the system,” he said.

Now the Church would recommend only 60 percent of the management committee and wouldn’t even “have full control” over that percentage.

“So there is no guarantee anymore the school would go on according to our vision and mission,” he said.

The “underground” Catholic church in China “enjoys a certain amount of freedom” as opposed to the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, he said, as the government “tolerates” its underground existence as whole villages may be Catholic and priests say mass in homes.

“The majority of the priests and bishops in the official church, they may, in their heart, still very much united with the universal church, but they are under tight control,” he said.

And the situation “is not changing at all, because the system is already very well established at the national level,” he added. The current General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jingping is about “tightening control,” he said, and “there is really no foundation for any optimism.”

More state legislatures recognizing pornography is harmful

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 05:02

Richmond, Va., Feb 18, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Virginia could become the third state to officially recognize the harmful effects of pornography.

By a vote of 82-8, the Virginia House of Delegates on Feb. 2 passed a resolution recognizing that pornography leads to “individual and societal harms.”

The resolution says pornography is biologically addictive and hurts families. The use of pornography may normalize violence and abuse, lead to the hypersexualization of teenagers, and increase acceptance of risky behavior, the resolution said.

Nine delegates did not vote on the resolution, which now heads to the Senate for consideration.

The measure was introduced by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, a Republican from Prince William. The original wording recognized pornography as a “public health crisis,” but that language was changed, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Both chambers of the South Dakota legislature unanimously passed a resolution against pornography. The Jan. 31 vote in the House was 65-0, following a 35-0 vote in the Senate.

The South Dakota resolution used wording that recognized pornography as a public health hazard. The language was identical to that of a resolution the Utah legislature passed unanimously in March 2016.

Other countries are also considering the effects of widespread pornography.

In December 2016 the Canadian House of Commons unanimously approved a motion introduced by MP Arnold Viersen instructing health officials to examine the public health effects of violent pornography on adults and children.

Canada’s last major public study on sexually explicit material was the 1985 Fraser Committee Report.

“It is appalling that the last time Canada studied the impact of violent sexually explicit material was 30 years ago, before the invention of the internet,” Viersen said in March 2016. “This is a public health issue, it’s a women’s equality issue and it is time for Parliament to make this a priority.”

Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, backed the Canadian resolution. She citied research showing “neurologic changes to the brain that mimic drug addiction.” Other research indicated a link between pornography and increases in sexual dysfunction and even sexual violence.

“Once a social or health issue involves problems that affect individuals or groups beyond their capacity to correct, responsibility shifts from individual accountability to holding the forces and influences that cause it accountable,” Hawkins said in December.

She said it is “vital” for all countries with heavy internet use to study the effects of pornography on younger generations. She suggested there needs to be a public health campaign against “the use and normalization of pornography.”

About 27 percent of children are exposed to pornography even before puberty, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation said.

Pope Francis encourages meeting of popular movements in California

Fri, 02/17/2017 - 19:12

Stockton, Calif., Feb 17, 2017 / 05:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Friday sent a message of encouragement to the hundreds of religious and community leaders participating in a meeting of popular movements being held this week in California.

“It is the Church, the Christian community, people of compassion and solidarity, social organizations. It is us, it is you, to whom the Lord Jesus daily entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we can continue pouring out all of his immeasurable mercy and salvation upon them,” Pope Francis said in his Feb. 17 message to a regional meeting of popular movements being held in California.

“Here are the roots of the authentic humanity that resists the dehumanization that wears the livery of indifference, hypocrisy, or intolerance.”

The Feb. 16-18 conference being held in Modesto, about 30 miles southeast of Stockton, was organized with the support of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the PICO National Network.

The PICO network was a recipient of part of a $650,000 grant from George Soros' Open Society Foundations. Documents from the foundations posted to DCLeaks.com claimed the grant was part of a strategy to use Pope Francis’ U.S. visit to shift the priorities of the Catholic Church in the United States  “to be a voice on behalf of the poor and communities of color.”

“PICO and FPL have been able to use their engagement in the opportunity of the Pope’s visit to seed their position in the long-term project of shifting the priorities of the U.S. Catholic Church to focus on issues of injustice and oppression,” the memo said.

The conference aims to promote the structural changes for greater justice in racial, social, and economic areas.

 “It makes me very happy to see you working together towards social justice,” Pope Francis said in his message to the meeting. “How I wish that such constructive energy would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals. These are bridges that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.”

The Pope confronted the “invisible tyranny of money” as a disability and restriction to human dignity and the common good. He also discouraged corrupt acts which leads to the benefit of a few and to the ruin of many families.

“The economic system that has the god of money at its center, and that sometimes acts with the brutality of the robbers in the [Samaritan] parable, inflicts injuries that to a criminal degree have remained neglected. Globalized society frequently looks the other way with the pretense of innocence. Under the guise of what is politically correct or ideologically fashionable, one looks at those who suffer without touching them.”

Pope Francis said we must instead respond with change to a system that better reflects loving our neighbor as ourselves. Emphasizing the need for immediate action, he said it is our responsibility to pay attention to present realities, which if unchecked may develop a dehumanizing system that is harder to reverse.

“These are signs of the times that we need to recognize in order to act. We have lost valuable time: time when we did not pay enough attention to these processes, time when we did not resolve these destructive realities. The direction taken beyond this historic turning-point … will depend on people’s involvement and participation and, largely, on yourselves, the popular movements.”

The call for action comes at a time of immigration reform and a refugee crisis.

Pope Francis reiterated the question of the lawyer to Christ in the Gospel of Luke: “Who is my neighbor? … My relatives? My compatriots? My co-religionists?” He recognized that the lawyer's hope may have been for Christ to label neighbors and non-neighbors.

“Do not classify others in order to see who is a neighbor and who is not,” the Pope exhorted. “You can become neighbor to whomever you meet in need, and you will do so if you have compassion in your heart. That is to say, if you have that capacity to suffer with someone else. You must become a Samaritan.”

Recalling that those at the conference have a commitment “to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants,” Pope Francis affirmed this choice and shared reflections on “the ecological crisis” and that “no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist.”

“The ecological crisis is real,” he emphasized first. “Science is not the only form of knowledge, it is true. It is also true that science is not necessarily 'neutral' — many times it conceals ideological views or economic interests. However, we also know what happens when we deny science and disregard the voice of Nature. I make my own everything that concerns us as Catholics. Let us not fall into denial. Time is running out. Let us act. I ask you again – all of you, people of all backgrounds including native people, pastors, political leaders – to defend Creation.”

“No people is criminal and no religion is terrorist,” Pope Francis then said. “Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist. No people is criminal or drug-trafficking or violent.”

He recognized, however, that “there are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions – and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia.”

“The wounds are there, they are a reality. The unemployment is real, the violence is real, the corruption is real, the identity crisis is real, the gutting of democracies is real,” he continued, identifying the world’s suffering as a “gangrene” whose stench has become unbearable, leading to more hate, quarrels, and even a “justified indignation.”

In the face of this crisis, he said Christians have an opportunity to impact the world: “We also find an opportunity: that the light of the love of neighbor may illuminate the Earth with its stunning brightness like a lightning bolt in the dark.”

He ended his message in reference to the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi: “let us give everything of ourselves: where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, let us sow pardon; where there is discord, let us sow unity; where there is error, let us sow truth.”

In the course of his message, he thanked Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Bishop Armando Ochoa of Fresno, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Bishop David Talley of Alexandria, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“I would also like to highlight the work done by the PICO National Network and the organizations promoting this meeting,” Pope Francis also said. “I learned that PICO stands for 'People Improving Communities through Organizing'. What a great synthesis of the mission of popular movements: to work locally, side by side with your neighbors, organizing among yourselves, to make your communities thrive.”

Catholic thinker Michael Novak remembered with gratitude

Fri, 02/17/2017 - 16:38

Washington D.C., Feb 17, 2017 / 02:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The theologian, philosopher and Catholic commentator Michael Novak died Friday, drawing remembrances for his insights and influence on religion in public life.

“We are immensely grateful that he could end his academic life as he began it, as a member of our community,” Catholic University of America president John Garvey said, calling Novak a man of “great intellectual honesty.”

“Unlike some scholars, Michael Novak made it a point to reflect on new and different topics, always with a fresh and dynamic perspective,” Garvey said.

Novak died Feb. 17 at the age of 83.

He was a student at Catholic University of America in 1958 and 1959. In 2016 he was named a visiting fellow at the university’s The Arthur and Carlyse Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship. He taught special topics in management and lectured on human ecology.

The center’s director, Andreas Widmer, stressed Novak’s pioneering role in considering the intersection of faith and economics. He said he and his colleagues were touched by Novak’s “kindness and humility,” his generosity with his time, and his encouragement for others.

“You would never have known from working with him that this was a man who had counseled popes and changed the course of history,” Widmer said.

St. John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher considered Novak a friend, Catholic University of America said.

Novak was the author of numerous books, most prominently the 1982 work The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. He contended that democratic capitalism is “neither the Kingdom of God nor without sin,” but better than all other known systems of political economy.

“Such hope as we have for alleviating poverty and for removing oppressive tyranny — perhaps our last, best hope — lies in this much despised system,” he said.

The book was published around the world and had a particular impact among anti-communist dissidents in Eastern Europe. The book was illegally distributed in Poland by the Solidarity movement, the Washington Post reports.

His other books include Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter’s Questions About God, a 1998 work he co-authored with his daughter Jana.

Novak wrote on human rights, economic systems, the history of labor unions, U.S. ethnic history, and the role of churches in the modern world.

He was born to a Slovak-American family in Johnstown, Pa. on Sept. 9, 1933. His studies for the priesthood took him to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and he was ordained for the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1960. Within months of his ordination, he left the priesthood and was later laicized.

He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Stonehill College, a Bachelor of Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and a master's degree in history and the philosophy of religion from Harvard.

Novak worked as a journalist in the early 1960s, writing for the National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal before working for Time Magazine in Rome during the Second Vatican Council. He would go on to serve as an editor at Commonweal and Christian Century magazines, religion editor for National Review, a contributing editor for First Things magazine and editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.

According to Novak’s website, his political work included the 1968 campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy and speechwriting for Democratic vice presidential nominee Sargent Shriver during Sen. George McGovern’s unsuccessful 1972 presidential campaign. He became an opponent of the Vietnam War after initially supporting intervention.

He would turn away from left-wing politics and the Democratic Party to join the Republican-trending neoconservative school of thought. Under President Ronald Reagan, he was named as U.S. Ambassador to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations and served on the Board of International Broadcasting that oversaw Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Liberty.

He served in multiple academic positions, teaching at Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, and Ave Maria University. In the early 1970s, he helped design a new humanities program for the Rockefeller Foundation of New York.

He joined the American Enterprise Institute think tank in 1978, where he worked as a scholar until his retirement in 2010.

Among Novak’s many achievements were his work to launch many academic institutes and seminars, including the Tertio Millennio Seminar that aimed to bring together North American and Eastern European students to discuss Catholic social teaching.

George Weigel, one of Novak's collaborators, wrote in the National Review that "both Church and nation have lost one of their most imaginative and accomplished sons."

Weigel remembered Novak "first and foremost" as a teacher, who "offered a model of patient counseling and courteous listening that our students will long remember."

Novak's honors include the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

Ahead of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Novak went to the Vatican to argue that the war would be justified on the grounds of self-defense against Iraq’s then-leader Saddam Hussein. His remarks tried to counter some high-level Vatican critics of a war on Iraq.

Though Novak was careful not to criticize him personally, opponents of the war included St. John Paul II.

At the time, the Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Jim Nicholson had brought Novak to Rome for an embassy-sponsored lecture series, but Nicholson stressed that Novak did not represent the U.S. government or its embassies.

Novak is survived by three children and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Karen Laub-Novak.

Christian florist loses religious liberty case, will appeal to US Supreme Court

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 17:35

Seattle, Wash., Feb 16, 2017 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Washington state florist must pay fines and legal costs for conscientiously objecting to serving a same-sex wedding, as the state’s supreme court upheld a lower court’s decision on Thursday.

“It’s wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees,” Kristin Waggoner, senior counsel with the group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case before the Washington Supreme Court, stated Feb. 16.

“This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist,” she added.

In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., declined to serve the same-sex wedding of a long-time customer who had requested her service, citing her Christian religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.

After hearing of the incident, the office of the state attorney general wrote her that she was violating the state’s law by discriminating on basis of “sexual orientation,” and asked her to stop declining such weddings. Stutzman refused out of conscience.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the state of Washington eventually sued her and a lower court ruled against her, ordering her to pay a fine and legal costs.

She appealed her case to the Washington State Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s desicion on Thursday, saying that as a business owner Stutzman had to abide by the state’s anti-discrimination law despite her religious beliefs.

“The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the court’s opinion stated.

“We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case – refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding – constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the WLAD.”
 
The law “does not compel speech or association,” the court added, stating that it “is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations.”

Stutzman has announced that she will appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We stand to lose everything we worked for and own,” she stated back in October, noting that legal fees from the case could top $2 million by the end of the case.

Religious freedom advocates decried the ruling.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said it “shortchanges our nation's most fundamental freedom in favor of ideological conformity.”

With Stutzman facing the loss of her business and personal assets, “it’s no wonder that so many people are rightly calling on President Trump to sign an executive order to protect our religious freedom,” Waggoner stated.

“Because that freedom is clearly at risk for Barronelle and so many other Americans, and because no executive order can fix all of the threats to that freedom, we will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case and reverse this grave injustice.”

House votes to allow states to deny funding to Planned Parenthood

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The House voted Thursday to allow states to choose not to fund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers with federal dollars, repealing an Obama administration rule from December.

“As a registered nurse, I know that vulnerable women seeking true comprehensive care deserve better than abortion-centric facilities like Planned Parenthood,” Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who introduced the resolution, stated before its Feb. 16 passage.

Back in December, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that states cannot deny federal Title X family planning grants to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood simply because they perform abortions.

States, the administration said, could only deny funding to clinics that did not provide the services for which Title X funds are meant.

While federal dollars cannot directly fund abortions, pro-life leaders insist that taxpayer dollars going to the nation’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood free up resources for them to perform more abortions.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, called the rule a “parting gift to the abortion industry.”

Black introduced H.J. Res. 43 to repeal the rule, under the Congressional Review Act. The resolution passed the House on Thursday 229 to 188.

The move comes as pro-life groups are reporting poor care and abuses at Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide, from affiliates using taxpayer funds for abortion-related services to many clinics not providing prenatal care to clinics setting monthly quotas for abortions or abortion referrals.

“Planned Parenthood which, according to their latest annual report, performed 323,999 abortions in a single year, does not need or deserve taxpayer dollars,” Dannenfelser insisted.

“We look forward to swift passage of this resolution in the Senate so that it can receive President Trump’s signature,” she said.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie of The Catholic Association commented: "We applaud the House for voting to rescind a last minute Obama Administration regulation that allows states to take their tax payers’ hard-earned dollars away from the severely limited Planned Parenthood abortion centers and redirect them to comprehensive health care clinics ... Passing this resolution lets states fund the health clinics that are true lifelines for poor women."

Black claimed that states were for decades allowed to pick which health providers they thought were best to receive Title X funds, and that the Obama administration’s rule set “unprecedented new parameters” on states’ use of the funds.

In her state of Tennessee, she said, the state did not cut Title X funds but directed them to county health departments and community health centers.

"We thank Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)  for leading this measure to restore states’ freedom in choosing Title X providers," Christie stated. "The Obama Administration’s ruling defies states’ right to choose Title X providers, including the ability to exclude abortion providers like Planned Parenthood."

States are not cutting health grants, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, insisted, but are redirecting the funds “to other health clinics that provide women’s health care and don’t engage in abortion.”

In issuing its December rule, the Obama administration had claimed that the states’ actions against Planned Parenthood and other clinics had led to “limitations in the geographic distribution of services and decreased access to services.”

However, that was not the case, members maintained on Thursday.

“Prior to the Obama rule, 5 states had chosen to award their Title X funds to non-Planned Parenthood entities,” Smith said. “These five states – Tennessee, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Ohio – account for nearly $16 million in annual Title X funding and serve over 279,000 individuals a year.”

“According to HHS’s own 2015 Title X Family Planning Annual report, our state provided care under Title X to more than 75,000 Tennesseans,” Black stated. “That means we served even more citizens than more populated states like Michigan and Virginia.”

Messages from alleged Denver visionary not approved by Church

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 16:14

Denver, Colo., Feb 16, 2017 / 02:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- New claims that messages from alleged visionary Charlie Johnston have been approved by the Church are false, the Archdiocese of Denver clarified on Wednesday.

 

Mrs. Beckie Hesse, who posts on Johnston’s blog under the name “Beckita,” seemed to claim in a Feb, 7, 2017 blog post that Johnston’s alleged visions “have been fully approved by the Church.”

 

“In order to ensure that the faithful are correctly informed, it is necessary to publicly state that Mrs. Hesse’s claim is false,” the Archdiocese said in a statement in response to the post.

 

“The events of 2016/17 have shown that Mr. Johnston’s alleged visions were not accurate and the Archdiocese urges the faithful not to condone or support further attempts to reinterpret them as valid,” the statement concluded.

 

Charlie Johnston is a blogger who claims to have received visions and messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel and other saints for most of his life. He has blogged about his visions and predictions since 2014 on a Wordpress site entitled “The Next Right Step.”

 

His predictions include warnings of a worldwide civil war, as well as many political predictions, including that President Barack Obama would not finish his second term and the toppling of the U.S. government. He has also written about how to survive if the U.S. government were to start rounding up conservative Christians into detention camps.

 

Since 1998, Johnston has warned about “The Storm”, a period of major political and more upheaval, which he claims the world is in the midst of right now. He has predicted a rescue from “The Storm” at the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary by October 2017. As his many of his predictions regarding the election and other events proved inaccurate, Johnston announced after Inauguration Day that he was stepping aside from the public scene. Hesse has been posting from his blog this month.

 

Johnston has said his followers should not focus on his predictions, but instead on doing the will of God in the moment, hence the title of the blog.

 

But those same predictions garnered enough attention and followers that Archbishop Samuel Aquila with the Archdiocese of Denver launched an investigation into his writings and speeches. A special commission composed of two theologians and a canonist reviewed material from his blog, videos of presentations from various parts of the country, and an archive of his writings from as far back as 1998.

 

The findings of the commission, which were released in a statement in March 2016, urged extreme caution among the faithful when it came to Johnston’s messages, and also announced that Johnston would not be approved as a speaker for the Archdiocese.

 

“After reviewing the commission’s findings and in keeping with his pastoral office, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has decided to strongly advise the faithful to exercise prudence and caution in regards to Mr. Charlie Johnston’s alleged divine visions and messages. As has been demonstrated with other alleged apparitions, the danger exists of people placing greater faith in a prediction than in Christ’s words and promises,” the Archdiocese announced in a statement last year.

 

“For those who are disappointed by this finding, the archdiocese encourages them to seek their security in Jesus Christ, the sacraments, and the Scriptures. The faithful should also remember Christ’s words: ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (Mt. 24:36).”

At the Mexico border, Catholic bishops unite for migrants

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 16:02

Brownsville, Texas, Feb 16, 2017 / 02:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Along the U.S.-Mexico border, Catholic bishops of both countries stressed the right of people to migrate and the need for the Church to welcome them.

“In this difficult moment in our history we hear the cry of our migrant brothers and sisters whose voices reflect the voice of Christ Himself,” the bishops said in a joint statement.

“We reiterate our commitment to care for pilgrims, strangers, exiles, and migrants affirming that all persons have a right to live in conditions worthy of human life. If these are not given they have a right to migrate.”

Regarding the right to migrate, they cited Pope Pius XII, whose 1952 apostolic constitution “Exsul Familia Nazarethana” addressed issues of migration and refugees after the Second World War.

The bishops pledged to monitor the suffering of migrants on both sides of the border and voiced support for Catholic agencies and individuals that offer spiritual, legal and material assistance to migrants.

“In the Church there are no strangers, migrant families should feel at home in every church as their homeland,” the bishops said, citing St. John Paul II.

The biannual meetings of the bishops from the border dioceses of Texas and northern Mexico began in 1986 to help show the communion of the universal Church. The meetings have always kept a focus on the lives and pastoral needs of migrants.

The joint message that came from the latest meeting was titled “The cry of Christ and voice of the migrant moves us.” It was published in English and Spanish.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as immigrants and refugees sought for a place to live and work hoping for a compassionate human response,” the bishops said. “Today this history repeats itself.”

The bishops recounted visiting detention centers and respite centers for mothers and their adolescent and minor children. The condition of these places have been described as “intolerable and inhumane.”

They invoked Jesus’ words from Matthew 25, when he describes the Last Judgment welcoming those who will inherit the Kingdom of God “because I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was hungry and you gave me food.”

For the bishops, the U.S.-Mexico border region has a culture of its own.

“The border cities consider themselves to be sister cities and friends, because they share the same land, the same faith, the same traditions, the same culture in solidarity,” they said. “We bishops shall continue to follow the good example of Pope Francis; we shall seek to construct bridges rather than the walls of exclusion and exploitation.”

Pope Francis had blessed a cross at the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez during his February 2016 visit. This cross has become “a sign of unity between the countries,” the bishops said.

At the same time, the bishops described the “anguish” of those who have to live on the peripheries of society. Many migrants face extortion in the workplace, fear the constant threat of deportation and separation from family and friends.

“Over the years we have seen first-hand the suffering that is caused by a broken immigration system caused by political structures and economic conditions that result in threats, deportations, impunity and extreme violence,” they said.

The current presidential administration is making these realities evident, according to the bishops.

“We can sense the pain of the separation of families, loss of employment, persecutions, discrimination, racism, and unnecessary deportations that paralyze the development of persons in our societies and the development of our nations leaving them of hope,” they said.

The bishops described immigration as a global phenomenon driven by economic and social conditions. Poverty and insecurity makes families feel that migration is the only way to survive.

“The migrant has a right to be respected by international law and national law as he or she faces the violence, criminality and inhuman policies of governments as well as the world’s indifference.”

Migrants are often subject of punitive laws and mistreatment by authorities, both in their home country, the countries they pass through, and at their destination.

“It is essential that governments adopt policies that respect the human rights of migrants and undocumented residents,” they said.

The bishops invoked the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe and asked everyone to join them in prayer.

How should the US react to human rights abuses in Ethiopia?

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:44

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2017 / 10:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- One member of Congress is hoping for a “serious policy review” by the Trump administration of the United States' relationship with Ethiopia, citing human rights abuses by the government there.

“To truly stop violence abroad, Ethiopia must stop violence at home,” Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the House subcommittee on Africa and global human rights, stated at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday.

“Since 2005, untold thousands of students have been jailed, have been shot during demonstrations or have simply disappeared in the last 11 years,” Smith stated Feb. 15. “Ethiopia’s next generation is being taught that the rights that democracy normally bestows on a country’s citizens don’t apply in their country.”

Smith and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) introduced a House resolution (H. Res. 128) Wednesday “highlighting the crisis in Ethiopia due to government violations of the human rights of its citizens,” Smith stated.

“With this resolution, we are showing that the United States remains committed to universal respect for human rights, and that we will not tolerate continued abuse of those human rights by Ethiopian security forces,” Coffman said.

There has been a “steady erosion” of democracy in Ethiopia since 2005, the congressmen maintained.

Government dissidents have been jailed, citizens have been tortured and killed by the government's security forces, and freedom of the press has been infringed upon. Ethnic groups have been the victims of violence perpetrated by the government.

Peaceful protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country were met with hundreds of killings and tens of thousands of arrests by security forces in 2016, Human Rights Watch said in its recent report on the country. Citizens released from jail claimed they were tortured while in custody.

“Instead of addressing the numerous calls for reform in 2016, the Ethiopian government used excessive and unnecessary lethal force to suppress largely peaceful protests,” Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated in the report released in January.

One protest in the Oromia region resulted in the police using tear gas, rubber bullets, and rounds fired into the air to break it up, claiming that the crowd was getting out of hand. An ensuing stampede killed 50. The Inter-religious Council of Ethiopia, on which Catholic leaders sit, called for prayer and peace amid the protests and asked government leaders to listen to the people.

The recent protests in the Amhara region of the country have showed a sense of “identity” on the part of embattled citizens, and their “need to survive,” Tewodrose Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America, a refugee who came to the U.S. in 1982, noted.

“The U.S. and the West cannot sympathize with a government that kills people,” Seenaa Jimjimo, a human rights advocate who was born and grew up in Ethiopia, insisted in her statement at Wednesday’s press conference.

Amidst protests, a state of emergency was declared by the state in October and is “being used as a method to crack down even further on basic human freedoms,” Coffman said.

Thus, the resolution is the “first step by our representatives to let the Ethiopian government know that the U.S. policy is changing, that their continued human rights violations on innocent civilians will not be tolerated,” Tirfe stated.

“We invoke the Global Magnitsky Act,” Gregory Simpkins, staff director of the House subcommittee on Africa, said on Wednesday of the law which enables sanctions against specific “entities and persons who violate the human rights of people.”

Ethiopia has acted as a key ally in fighting international terrorism, Smith noted, but if it fails to protect human rights at home then extremism could fester within its own borders.

“What Congressman Smith and I are asking is for the Congress of the United States to join together and pass this resolution condemning the Ethopian government for its human rights abuses,” Coffman stated.

“And I think it’s important for all Americans to care about human rights to encourage their member of Congress to co-sponsor this resolution so that we can pass it in the Congress.”

DIY execution? Arizona’s 'bizarre' new death penalty policy

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 18:37

Phoenix, Ariz., Feb 15, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It’s an odd time for death in the United States.

 

While there is a new push for death via euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, there is also a push against the death penalty in several states.

 

This movement against the death penalty has made it increasingly difficult for states to access the drugs required for lethal injections. In response to that difficulty, the state of Arizona’s Department of Corrections has unveiled a unique solution that would effectively allow lawyers to kill their own death row clients.

 

The new policy, among other things, contains a clause that allows for defense attorneys to obtain lethal drugs to execute their own clients. These drugs would be subject to approval by the department director.

 

However, these drugs are extremely difficult to come by legally. Current state execution protocol stipulates the use either of two barbiturates, pentobarbital or thiopental for lethal injection. Thiopental is no longer manufactured in the U.S., and is illegal to import, while manufacturers of pentobarbital refuse to provide the drug for executions.

 

The difficulty in acquiring these drugs has led to the experimental use of less-effective drugs, sometimes with gruesome results.

 

“This is a bizarre notion that calls for actions that are both illegal and impossible,” Dale Baich from the office of The Federal Public Defender in Arizona told Arizona Central.

 

“A prisoner or prisoner's lawyer cannot legally obtain these drugs or legally transfer them to the Department. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, we cannot imagine a way to obtain the drug. Those that obtain controlled substances illegally, go to prison.”

 

The unusual policy comes at a time when many states are reconsidering the death penalty, and at a time of significant decline in executions. Thirty death sentences were imposed in 2016, the lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. In 1996, death penalty sentences peaked at 315.

 

Leaders in the Catholic Church both in the United States and abroad have also been in front of the push to abolish the death penalty.

 

Pope Francis has spoken against the death penalty several times, including in his address to the United States Congress in 2015, when he called for the end of the death penalty “since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said.

 

He also called the death penalty “unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person” in his message to the Sixth World Congress against the Death Penalty in 2016.

 

Many bishops have also been outspoken about their opposition to the death penalty. In Sept. 2016, as California considered a ballot measure that would end the death penalty, Archbishop Jose Gomez said, “It is time for us to end the death penalty – not only in California but throughout the United States and throughout the world.”

 

“In a culture of death, I believe mercy alone can be the only credible witness to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.”

 

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia released a joint statement last month calling for the abolition of the death penalty in their state after an execution.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty may be used “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” However, it adds, such cases today “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

Citing pro-life momentum, thousands demonstrate to defund Planned Parenthood

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 14:27

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2017 / 12:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 10,000 pro-life advocates gathered at some 227 protest locations in 43 states and the District of Columbia on Saturday to call for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

“This weekend was huge, but it was not the end,” said Mark Harrington of the pro-life group Created Equal. “We have momentum on our side. Now is the time to press forward.”

“The time has come to defund America’s abortion giant,” Harrington told CNA Feb. 14. “Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion chain, killing over 300,000 babies each year, and nearly half of their billion-dollar budget comes from our tax dollars.”

The protests, organized under hashtags like #ProtestPP, were headed by the leaders of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Created Equal and the Pro-Life Action League.

Organizers reported a crowd of about 200 supporters in Pittsburgh, 300 in Orange, Calif., 400 in Cincinnati, and 450 in St. Paul, Minn., to name a few.

“Abortion, to me, is the greatest evil of our time,” Delia Tyagi, a 36-year-old demonstrator from Arlington, Va. told Reuters. “Planned Parenthood has wronged women in a lot of ways. I feel like we have the momentum to finally defund them.”

Harrington characterized Planned Parenthood as “an independently wealthy entity.”

“Planned Parenthood’s business model is centered on abortion,” he said. “Women have other options for seeking primary care, contraception, STI testing, and cancer screening.”

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the U.S. While direct federal taxpayer funding for abortion is generally barred under law, it receives federal funding in Medicaid reimbursements and Title X programs for family planning and preventive health services.

The politically powerful organization took a heavy hit in 2015 with the release of investigative videos appearing to show it engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts for research. Despite a well-funded publicity campaign to counter the allegations, the issue has not gone away.

In January 2017, a report from the House Select Investigative Panel said that abuses and possible criminal violations are taking place in the fetal tissue trade between abortion clinics and tissue harvesters.

David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, had organized the undercover investigation. He addressed the Orange, Calif. rally.

“I’m confident that together, if we keep the faith, take the next right step, at the end of the day we will soon see a day when there will no longer be a price tag put on human life,” he said, according to Reuters.

Demonstrations of support for Planned Parenthood also took place the same weekend, sometimes at the same locations as the pro-life protests.

Planned Parenthood supporters sometimes outnumbered the pro-life demonstrators. Its leaders told Reuters that their supporters have been energized by the election of President Donald Trump, citing the hundreds of thousands of marchers who demonstrated in Washington and across the country the day after the inauguration in support of women’s rights and legal abortion.

Abortion backers have also run significant fundraising campaigns following the Trump election. As of late December, Planned Parenthood told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian that it had received over 300,000 donations since the election, 40 times its normal donation figures.

For their part, hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates had attended the March for Life in Washington on Jan. 27, which included an unprecedented address from Vice President Mike Pence.

Advocates of defunding Planned Parenthood said legislators had better funding options.

Harrington cited a Chiaroscuro Foundation report saying that over 1,000 federally qualified health centers in the U.S. offer similar services for women without providing abortion. He suggested these should be funded instead.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood is the right thing to do,” Harrington said. “Now it’s down to Congress and President Trump to fulfill their promise to defund Planned Parenthood, and do it now.”

He said the protests shouldn’t be seen as “a one-time effort” but “a daily commitment to defeat Planned Parenthood once and for all.”

 

Why we need a religious freedom move from Trump – and soon

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 08:00

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2017 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump must sign an executive order with broad protections for religious freedom, or global consequences could soon follow, Catholic leaders insist.

To sign an executive order establishing broad religious freedom protections is “one of the most important things President Trump could do early in his administration,” said Dr. Jay Richards, a professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America.

“This isn’t just a Christian issue,” he told CNA, but rather a “Constitutional issue.” Current threats to religious freedom could be “solidified” if no such executive order is signed soon.

President Trump recently announced that he would uphold a 2014 executive order from President Obama, barring federal contractors from engaging in practices deemed to be discriminatory against LGBT employees, with no religious exemptions attached for organizations that have religious objections to gay marriage or adoption.

Thus, religious groups might not be able to contract with the federal government if they publicly uphold traditional marriage, or if they refuse to hire someone who is openly in a same-sex relationship and does not abide by their code of conduct.

A coalition of religious leaders, including the then-president of Catholic Charities USA Fr. Larry Snyder, wrote President Obama in 2014, asking him for an exemption for religious organizations.

The order essentially elevated LGBT persons to a “protected class,” thus threatening employers who are religiously opposed to this lifestyle by withholding federal contracts or funding because of so-called “discrimination,” Richards explained.

Recently, a draft of another order which would establish broad conscience protections was leaked to the press, but that order has not been issued or signed. This draft was “just perfect,” Dr. Richards thought, because “it would undo a lot of the damage” wrought against religious freedom from the Obama administration.

That order wouldn’t just affect federal contractors, he explained, “but any entity that receives federal funding or is eligible for student loans.”

“So if something like this doesn’t happen, it would not be very long – in fact I would predict it would be probably within the year – that Christian and Catholic colleges would start being essentially coerced into accepting this kind of officially-mandated view on these transgender questions,” he said.

Obama-era regulations and rules would be enforced by government agencies. Schools and colleges could be “threatened with the revocation of student loan eligibility” if they religiously object to federal government mandates on marriage and sexuality.

Now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is trying to gather signatures asking the president to sign a religious freedom executive order. They cite “unprecedented” threats to religious freedom to insist on the order’s importance.

“Religious freedom in America has suffered years of unprecedented erosion. President Trump can correct some of this within the executive branch,” a USCCB action alert stated.

Along with a religious exemption to the LGBT executive order for federal contractors, the petition asks for “relief” from the HHS contraception mandate for the Little Sisters of the Poor and for other employers that are suing the government over the mandate and its “accommodation.”

An order should also include protections for religious schools to publicly affirm their beliefs on marriage and keep their accreditation, the continuance of the tax-exempt status for religious organizations that support traditional marriage, and conscience protections for doctors and hospitals refusing to perform abortions, they said.

“Any Executive Order should make it clear that religious freedom entails more than the freedom to worship but also includes the ability to act on one's beliefs. It should also protect individuals and families who run closely-held businesses in accordance with their faith to the greatest extent possible,” the bishops’ conference stated.

Regarding the freedom of Catholic charities to minister to undocumented immigrants without being threatened by federal authorities, Richards said “the language is not there explicitly” in the proposed order.

For grants to Catholic social services who serve refugees and immigrants, “it would shield Catholic entities doing that on religious grounds” and “would at least mean that Catholic ministries couldn’t be threatened with the revocation of their non-profit status or government grants, simply because they’re exercising their religious freedom.”

There are various threats to religious freedom today, Dr. Richards said, from mandates that public school students must have access to locker rooms and bathrooms of their self-identified gender identity to private business owners who face lawsuits and fines for declining to serve same-sex weddings out of conscience.

President Obama’s executive order “essentially federalized all these” threats to religious freedom, Richards said.

If nothing is done to protect religious freedom, any entity that receives federal funding could be cut off from it for failing to abide by certain government mandates. “I would expect these things to continue to happen,” he added.

 

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