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Supreme Court hears arguments in ‘Peace Cross’ case

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association, which will determine whether a cross-shaped monument honoring those killed in WWI is a violation of the First Amendment.


The Bladensburg Peace Cross is a 40-foot stone cross erected in 1925 in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has performed regular maintenance around the monument since 1961, as it is located on a median in the middle of a public road. This, the American Humanist Association has argued, is entangling government unnecessarily with religion.


Atheist and secular campaigners have contend that because of the cruciform shape of the monument, its display and maintenance on public land constitutes a public affirmation of religion.


Under questioning by the justices, the Supreme Court heard Wednesday that there was a legitimate, historical context to the monument, and that the cross shape was commonly used at the time to honor those killed in wars.


A lawyer representing the park commission pointed out that the court had previously ruled that in certain cases religious symbols may be appropriate to for public display, depending on context.


Members of the court appeared to acknowledge that attitudes have changed since the Bladensburg Peace Cross was first erected.


“History counts,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, who suggested that while a similar monument would not be appropriate in the modern context, that did not mean that all past monuments should be taken down.


Justice Elena Kagan agreed that for many people, a cross is a “very natural way” for people to mourn those who have died, and that it carries a different meaning in the context of World War I.


There are numerous other cross-shaped monuments on public land, including at Arlington National Cemetery.


The American Humanist Association and a small number of Prince George’s County residents filed suit against the park and planning commission and the American Legion in 2014, and argued that a cross-shaped monument on public land was a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.


The two cases were consolidated into one when the Supreme Court granted certiorari and agreed to hear the case.


The lawsuit was originally brought in 2014 and rejected by the District Court, which held that it was “uncontroverted” that the maintenance and display of the memorial was not “driven by a religious purpose whatsoever.”


In 2017, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the monument was unconstitutional. In November of 2018, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.


The monument’s construction was funded by mothers of the dead servicemen as well as the American Legion. The cross contains a plaque bearing the names of 49 Prince George’s County men who were killed in the war.


The American Legion’s logo is featured prominently on the cross, along with the words “valor,” “endurance,” “devotion” and “wisdom.”


Aside from the shape, there are no explicit references to any Judeo-Christian religion, such as Bible verses or other inscriptions, on the monument.


The American Legion hosts secular and patriotic events around the monument, but religious ceremonies have not been held at the peace cross in nearly nine decades.


A decision in the case is expected by June.

Virginia bishops speak out over 'appalling' Senate abortion vote

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 14:00

Richmond, Va., Feb 27, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Virginia’s two bishops issued a joint statement saying they were “dismayed and outraged” that the state’s two senators voted against passing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act on Monday evening.


Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond said in the statement issued February 25 that is was “appalling” and “beyond comprehension” that the bill could not find unanimous support in the Senate.


“It is a matter of common sense and basic human decency to require, as S. 311 would have, that any health care practitioner present when a child is born alive following an abortion give the same degree of care to preserve the life and health of the child as would be given to any other newborn,” the bishops said.


Virginia is represented in the Senate by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA). Both of whom voted against invoking cloture during the debate of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, effectivity sustaining a filibuster.


Kaine, a self-described “traditional Catholic” and the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president, has regularly supported legislation that would protect a woman’s right to abortion since his election to the Senate in 2012.


Early in his political career, Kaine was considered to be a pro-life Democrat, but his position on the issue has shifted as his career in politics has advanced. In 2016, NARAL and Planned Parenthood Action Fund each awarded Kaine a 100 percent rating in their Senatorial scorecards for his support of abortion.


Kaine has since described himself as being personally pro-life, but that he believes women should have the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Warner is a Presbyterian.


Virginia’s bishops as of now have not issued any sort of statement barring Kaine from receiving communion due to his votes in the Senate.


Last year, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, said that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) would not be able to receive the sacrament after the senator voted against a bill that would have banned abortion after the twentieth week of pregnancy.


Kaine also voted against that bill in 2018.

How going online might help you stop watching porn

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Feb 27, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Watching online videos leads many men to pornography addiction. But now one set of online videos aims to lead them out.

STRIVE is video series developed by Matt Fradd, author of “The Porn Myth,” in collaboration with Cardinal Studios, a Catholic media apostolate. The series, along with online discussion and accountability groups, aims to help men address pornography addictions through an intensive three-week experience.

The program aims to help men with practical approaches that address the root causes of pornography addiction.
“There are very specific things that you have to do in order to be mildly successful in overcoming porn and there are things that if you do then you are bound to fail,” Fradd told CNA.

Fradd said the program emphasizes “virtual accountability” between men participating in the program. He said communal responsibility is critical to successful recovery from pornography addiction.

“We want thousands of men doing it together. This isn’t isolated experience where you just go on a bunch of videos. It’s actually a journey with literally thousands of men, who you communicate with on a daily basis.”

The 21-day program allows men to participate anonymously, and will be offered four times a year, with an initial session beginning March 27.

During the three weeks, participants will watch videos, discuss them online, and take up penitential and sacrificial challenges to help combat pornography addiction.

A live-streamed video from Fradd will be released every seven days. Each week he will emphasize a particular theme: beginning to face pornography addiction, perseverance through dependency, and the means to succeed in the long run.

The men will also engage in daily challenges. Fradd said. Among them is a “sobriety plan,” a diagram of three concentric circles. He said the inner circle will include undesirable behaviors, like masturbation or pornography; the middle circle will contain near occasions of sin, like browsing the internet or moments of rejection; and the third circle will note healthy actions, like exercise or good sleep.

Fradd said the program aims to focus on more than spiritual practices, offering concrete solutions that can prevent a relapse into pornography use. He said spiritual exercises are beneficial, but true recovery from porn addiction needs to be encountered with practical and focused tools.

“Giving someone solely spiritual solutions to something that isn’t solely spiritual isn’t terribly helpful. It would be like encountering a person exhibiting signs of clinical depression and then telling them to [only] pray hard,” he further added.

Having spoken to thousands of men struggling with pornography, Fradd said his experience teaches him that community is an essential part of rehabilitation. Besides the group discussions, Fradd will personally communicate with men and respond to their questions during the program.

After the 21 days are over, men will be invited to join small groups of three to continue in accountability relationships.

“This is not something that you can do in isolation, hence the community aspect of the course. You must be accountable to somebody. There has to be somebody in your life that knows when you fall, that knows when you succeed.”

The program costs participants $49, but until March 27 it will be offered for $39.

Fradd said he aims to work with men who cannot afford the program in order to ensure they can enroll.

Pornography is a serious issue preventing men from living fully, Fradd said.

He said over the last 40 years, neurological, psychological, and sociological studies have documented the harms of pornography. Among other harms, he said, studies have linked pornography to erectile dysfunction and neurological damage.

The studies “are saying that pornography is detrimental to the health of the consumer, to our relationships, and to society as a whole. We could say that science is catching up to the truth the Church has always taught about the sacredness of sexuality, about why trivializing it can only lead to sadness and unhappiness,” Fradd said.


Brownback says Pakistan willing to improve religious freedom record

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 19:17

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2019 / 05:17 pm (CNA).- The U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom has applauded Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for showing a willingness to improve in the area of religious liberty, while recognizing that significant steps forward are still needed.

Ambassador Sam Brownback told the Associated Press that he met with Pakistan’s foreign minister on a tour of the Middle East last week, discussing U.S. concerns about religious freedom in the nation.

“They’ve had a lot of difficulties as a nation on this topic on religious freedom so what I was there for was to talk about changing,” Brownback said.

He said the foreign minister intends to designate an official to take the lead on the concerns raised by the United States, and that the nation shows a “desire to change” for the better.

The ambassador met Feb. 22-23 with Pakistani government and religious leaders to discuss the promotion of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue and respect, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan.

“During these meetings, Ambassador Brownback emphasized the importance the United States places on religious freedom, the protection of religious minorities, and respect,” the embassy said.

“Ambassador Brownback discussed ways the United States could partner with Pakistan in promoting international religious freedom and inter-faith dialogue, seeking opportunities to protect persecuted Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths in South and Central Asia and throughout the world.”

In December 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named Pakistan as one of 10 “Countries of Particular Concern,” a designation given to states that engage in or tolerate egregious, ongoing religious freedom violations.  

That designation marked the first year that Pakistan had been placed on the list. The previous year, it had been placed on a “Special Watch List.” Being named a “Country of Particular Concern” can open the door to economic sanctions, although the U.S. has not taken this step against Pakistan.

Religious freedom advocates have increasingly drawn attention to the situation in Pakistan, where national blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim.

Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy law, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, spent eight years on death row on blasphemy charges after being accused of making disparaging remarks about the Islamic prophet Muhammad after an argument stemming from a cup of water. Amid strong international pressure, the Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her late last year.

Brownback also commented on what he saw as hopeful signs from several other nations that have been listed as Countries of Particular Concern for years. But promising words must be followed up by actions, he stressed, saying, according to the Associated Press, “[W]hat I really think we need to do is to start people on a process and on an engagement moving forward.”

The ambassador applauded the United Arab Emirates for hosting Pope Francis earlier this year, the first visit by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula. The nation also hosted the First Regional Conference of the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom: Interfaith Tolerance Education to Combat Extremism, at which Brownback delivered a keynote address.

However, he also cautioned that the country’s ban on conversion from Islam and death penalty sentences for apostasy remain obstacles to religious liberty.

Regarding Saudi Arabia, which has been designated by the U.S. as a Country of Particular Concern for the last 15 years, Brownback also saw signs of hope. He praised the nation’s leaders, saying their language is “substantially different” than in the past.

However, the ambassador also recognized the assassination of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey. Last November, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had determined Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the assassination. Brownback called the assassination “horrific” and said the country still has “a long way to go,” the Associated Press reported.

House Republicans seek new vote on Born-Alive Abortion bill

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Republicans in the House of Representatives are seeking a vote on a new version of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act following a Senate filibuster of the legislation on February 25.


The new iteration of the Born-Alive bill, H.R. 962, would require doctors and other medical professionals to give “appropriate care” to an infant born after an attempted abortion.


Health care providers that do not “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child” that they would give to a child born at the same gestational stage in other circumstances would face fines or up to five years in prison.


Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), the bill’s lead sponsor, told a press conference Tuesday that the Senate result was painful to watch.


“I was horrified last night, I will tell you. I was in the Senate chamber, and watched Democrats in the U.S. Senate vote down the Born-Alive act, and frankly, embracing what I think we all have to call it, which is infanticide,” Wagner said.


Wagner was joined at the press conference by Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), Michael Burgess (R-TX) and Roger Marshall (R-KS), as well as several representatives from pro-life organizations.


“The Constitution provides for every American to have to have the right to life, liberty, and equal protection under the law,” said Wagner. “I don’t believe that our Founding Fathers ever put an age limit on that equal protection under the law, or that life and liberty.”


Wagner pointed out that the 115th Congress passed the same bill with bipartisan support last year. She said the bill should be voted on by the current 116th Congress.


The Senate vote on Monday failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, but did have bipartisan support. Senators Robert Casey (D-PA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Doug Jones (D-AL) voted with Senate Republicans to make a 53-44 simple majority.


To bring H.R. 962 forward, Scalise has filed a discharge petition which would bring the bill out of committee to the floor of the House after 30 legislative days provided it receives 218 signatures of support, a majority of sitting members.


Scalise said it is important that all representatives place their views on the record, and he remains confident the bill will attract the necessary signatures.


“American families are shocked to hear that in many states, it is legal to kill a baby after it is born alive. Nowhere in America should that be legal,” said Scalise. “And yet, in almost half of the states in the country, a baby that is born alive doesn’t have the same legal protections as everyone else. That’s got to change.”


Smith told CNA following the press conference that there is a “trend of after-birth abortion” and that the abortion industry works to cover up “this heinous crime of killing babies after they are born.”


H.R. 962, he said, would encourage a culture of accountability now that doctors and clinic workers could face criminal charges and penalties if they were to cover up the live birth of an infant following an attempted abortion. A mother of the child is exempt from any prosecution.


“The clinic personnel will be on notice,” he told CNA. One of the provisions outlined in the bill allows for a mother to file civil action against an abortionist or clinic worker if her child were to be born alive after an abortion and then killed.


Smith suggested that Medicaid or other public programs could help pay for the medical costs associated with caring for an infant that survives an abortion.

After judicial setback, Iowa lawmakers pursue other pro-life goals

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 17:24

Des Moines, Iowa, Feb 26, 2019 / 03:24 pm (CNA).- An Iowa Supreme Court decision declaring abortion to be a fundamental right bars the way to appeal a ruling against a pro-life bill, Gov. Kim Reynolds has said, leaving some pro-life advocates focused on an amendment to the state constitution to bypass the court.

“This was an extremely difficult decision, however it is the right one for the pro-life movement and the state of Iowa,” Reynolds said Feb. 18 in explaining her reasons not to appeal a ruling against a bill to ban abortions when a baby’s heartbeat is detectable.

“After this decision and because of Planned Parenthood’s legal maneuverings, I see no path to successfully appeal the district court’s decision or to get this lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court,” said the governor, according to Iowa Public Radio.

The Jan. 22 ruling from Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert blocked a 2018 law, signed by Reynolds, which would have required an ultrasound before an abortion to determine whether a fetal heartbeat can be detected - usually around the sixth week of pregnancy. The legislation made some exceptions for pregnancies conceived through rape or incest, as well as fetal abnormality, or if a doctor determines that a woman’s life is in danger.

Last year the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a 72-hour waiting period for abortion, on the grounds that “a woman’s right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.” Huppert cited that ruling in his January 2019 decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court has little jurisdiction over issues affecting the state constitution.

Under current law, abortion is legal in Iowa until the 20th week of pregnancy. The heartbeat-based law was among the strongest abortion regulations in the country.

Pro-life lawmakers in the legislature responded to the decision by backing a constitutional amendment saying there is no right to abortion in the state constitution. That proposed amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 9, must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before going to a statewide vote.

Voters have passed similar amendments in Alabama and West Virginia.

The Iowa Catholic Conference testified in support of the amendment, saying it would make the state constitution “abortion-neutral.”

“Without this change, if or when Roe v. Wade is struck down or federal law is modified, abortion will remain a fundamental right in Iowa,” the conference said in its Feb. 10 newsletter. The state supreme court decision means strong scrutiny for “any regulation of abortion or efforts to restrict its public funding.”

At a Feb. 6 House hearing on the bill, Caitlyn Dixson, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, spoke in its favor.

“Iowa deserves to have laws that are able to change and evolve over time to reflect the thoughts of Iowans. The climate in Iowa today is pro-life,” she said, citing the legislative success of the heartbeat bill.

“It took an act of blatant judicial overreach to overturn the law, going directly against what Iowans want,” Dixson said.

She said the Iowa constitution itself recognizes “certain inalienable rights” including “enjoying and defending life.” She suggested that this contradicts the idea of “an unwritten ‘fundamental right to abortion’.”

Other legislative proposals in the state aim to restrict abortion provider funding and strengthen legal protections for the unborn.

One bill would increase the criminal penalty to life in prison for anyone convicted of intentional termination of a pregnancy, with the exception of an abortion. It would similarly call for life in prison for taking an action that one reasonably should have known would terminate a pregnancy, or terminating a pregnancy during the commission of a felony.

A different bill would deny state-administered federal funds to sex education programs run by any organization that performs abortions or regularly refers for abortion.

Both bills have passed out of subcommittee for further hearings.

A different proposed amendment declaring life begins at conception has passed out of a subcommittee Feb. 21 for consideration by a full Senate committee.

Republican Sen. Jake Chapman, the subcommittee head, said, “We're not going to stop. We will continue to fight for life.”

Such amendments have never successfully passed a statewide vote.

The heartbeat-based abortion ban did not take effect pending the legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the abortion provider Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic, which also performs abortions.

The bill also barred all persons from knowingly acquiring, providing, transferring, or using fetal remains in Iowa. This did not apply to medical diagnostic samples, or forensic investigations, or to fetal body parts donated for medical research after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Catholic bishops of the state had voiced qualified support for the bill’s “life-giving intent,” as well as its restrictions on fetal tissue and body parts.

Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa told CNA in May 2018 that Catholics might disagree about the strategy of supporting legislation that could be overturned by courts. He encouraged creative pro-life advocacy, saying Catholics should discern such questions carefully. He also encouraged Catholics to support the legislation if that is what their conscience tells them.

New marriage enrichment initiative aimed at military couples

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 05:05

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- A global marriage ministry is launching a new initiative to provide resources, encouragement and enrichment opportunities for military couples in Canada and the United States.

The project is part of Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME), in conjunction with the North American Military Services Outreach (NAMSO).

Worldwide Marriage Encounter, which originated in the 1950s with Spanish priest Father Gabriel Calvo, is a marriage enrichment program that offers weekend retreats to help couples foster communication skills, inspire family life, and promote friendships with other Catholic couples.

The military initiative was announced on Feb. 19 by Dave and Lucy Snyder, who first attended a WWME marriage retreat in 1977. They have held a range of leadership positions at WWME’s local and regional levels and been on the national board for a number of years.

Now a retired member of the U.S. Army, Mr. Snyder told CNA that the program hopes to create bonds between military couples and shed light on the specific challenges they face.

Military couples may find themselves encountering obstacles that other marriages do not experience, and they need to know they are not alone, he said, pointing to the support of priests and other families in similar situations.

“There is a good way to make it through our lives together and still be happy and faithful in our commitment,” he said.

At the website, military couples share their experiences through a blog; links offer resources, statistics and tips for building health relationships; and an online network connects Catholic military couples, offering fellowship and encouragement for one another, regardless of age or stage of married life.

This online experience is part of a bigger NAMSO program, which also includes one-day marriage retreats at the local parish or military base. These six-hour events enrich marriages through workshops and lectures dealing with communication, combined decision-making, prayer, and cooperative service to the Church, among other topics.

Also offered are “journey talks” – four-part programs that take people on a journey of self, as a couple, with God, and with others.

“This is what we call positive reinforcement strategy, whether it is in couple prayer or learning to be better listeners [or] learning how to serve our community as a couple,” Snyder said.

“It’s really a positive and uplifting program.”

A major component of the program is the building of relationships with other military couples.

“NAMSO's Marriage Enrichment program offers wisdom and insight from couples who have lived the military life and understand the unique challenges and circumstances that can put pressure on a military couple's relationship,” said a statement on the website.

Snyder stressed that military couples face unique circumstances, including long-distance relationships during deployment, ongoing relocation of families, and potential struggles after military tours that may involve PTSD or injuries.

Couples who have been through these experiences already are able provide valuable advice to younger couples, he noted.

“That’s why we use active and retired military,” because the shared experiences create an “awareness of the struggles that military couples go through,” he said.

“There is kind of kinship there that most, especially the retired ones, have gone through … and are much more aware of some of the pitfalls that can happen.”

Marriage is important for society, Snyder said, but today it faces many distractions. He expressed hope that the new website and the NAMSO retreats can reinforce family life and sustain the commitment of marriage for couples in the military.

“We want to ensure that couples have good strong goals for commitment in their marriage because of the importance of marriage in our Church and then in our society, as we want to raise good, healthy kids [and] provide role models to them of a good marital relationship,” he said.


In El Paso, Catholic bishops meet along the border to discuss migration

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 20:01

El Paso, Texas, Feb 25, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Catholic bishops from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are meeting in El Paso with immigration advocates, interreligious groups, and other leaders to show solidarity with migrants and to strategize action on migration.

A group of bishops known as the Tex-Mex Bishops Conference are meeting in a partnership with the Hope Border Institute, immigration advocates, other advocacy groups, and interreligious groups to “strategize new ways to strengthen the collective impact of the faith community on issues of migration,” a Feb. 22 media advisory from the Hope Border Institute said.

The bishops will gather with advocacy groups and the Catholic faithful for interreligious prayer and witness and a show of solidarity on the U.S.-Mexico border at the Anapra Fence the afternoon of Feb. 26.

Participants include Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso; members of the “Tex-Mex” bishops along the U.S.-Mexico border; Father Robert Stark, a regional coordinator of the Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section; representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute; and leaders with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Catholic Charities.

Organizers of the border fence gathering include the Hope Border Institute and the Corpus Christi Parish in the Ciudad Juarez neighborhood of Anapra, which borders the U.S. state of New Mexico.

The groups involved plan to release a joint statement “in solidarity with migrants” Feb. 27.

The Hope Border Institute is a community organization working in the region of El Paso, Texas; Cuidad Juarez, Mexico; and Las Cruces, N.M. It aims to bring Catholic social teaching perspectives to the region’s social situation. It works to deepen solidarity across borders and to transform the region through research, reflection, leadership development, advocacy, and other forms of action.

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA there are humanitarian challenges at the border but Catholic entities are “really stepping up to serve families and children who are coming.”

While Feasley is not among those attending the meeting, she said it is an important opportunity to visit an area where Catholic groups are working to “encounter, accompany and serve vulnerable immigrants who are coming.”

Catholic social teaching places great importance in recognizing “root causes” of migration as well as the right to migrate and the right not to migrate. A border visit is also a chance to hear the “human impact,” to see and hear firsthand from the people about why they are coming, and what obstacles they are facing.

The El Paso area is where two children died in U.S. officials’ custody, one in late December and another in early January, Feasley noted. She stressed the importance of the Church and its ministries being clear that it aims to serve immigrants and refugees in “a compassionate and humane manner.”

Feasley also noted that migration levels are “nothing like” those of the 1990s under President Bill Clinton and in the early 2000s under President George W. Bush, when they were very high.

The latest border meeting comes after several years of Catholic bishops’ work responding to the Trump administration’s policies and actions against undocumented migrants in the name of border security, following years in which the U.S. bishops gave mixed reviews to the Obama administration’s policy, which continued immigration raids and deportations while also giving some leeway for those brought to the U.S. as minors.

On Feb. 15 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said they are “deeply concerned” by Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border, part of the president’s attempt to secure full funding to build a border wall.

They said the wall was a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

“We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls,” they said, in a joint statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who heads the U.S. bishops’ migration committee.

In addition to humanitarian concerns, bishops have criticized the prospect of a wall interfering with daily Catholic life along the border. A wall in La Lomita Historical Park would significantly hinder access to a historic Catholic chapel owned by the Diocese of Brownsville.

Trump’s declaration said that the border situation “presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency.” He contended that the southern border is “a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics.”

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez rejected Trump’s evaluation of the border situation.

Born-Alive Abortion Survivors bill fails to beat Senate filibuster

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act has failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture and bring the legislation forward. The Senate voted of 53 to 44 to invoke cloture on Monday, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to halt a filibuster by Democratic senators.


The vote was almost entirely on party lines.


Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), the legislation’s lead sponsor, submitted the bill in early February using the Rule 14 process, which means the bill was brought directly to the Senate floor. After an initial attempt to pass the bill via unanimous voice vote was foiled by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Feb. 4, the process shifted to a roll-call vote.


Speaking on the floor of the Senate Monday, Sasse urged members from both parties to consider how little the legislation actually aimed to ensure.


“I urge my colleagues to picture a baby that’s already been born, that’s outside the womb gasping for air. That’s the only thing that today’s vote is actually about. We’re talking about babies that have already been born. Nothing in this bill touches abortion access,” Sasse said.


The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would have penalized doctors or other medical professionals who do not provide medical care to infants who are born alive following a botched abortion attempt. The bill does not restrict abortion rights.


Several Democratic senators spoke against the bill saying it would force doctors to provide care against the “reproductive rights” and “choices” of women.


Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) called the measure a “solution in search of a problem,” and that i could force doctors to provide “unnecessary” or even “harmful” care to patients. She was not clear if she was referring to the child or the mother as the “patient.”


Speaking after the vote, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said it was “unconscionable” that “protecting innocent, newborn abortion survivors is now a partisan issue.”


“Every infant that is born alive despite a botched abortion deserves the same proper medical care and treatment that doctors are required to give to other newborns,” Rubio said.


The Florida senator was an original co-sponsor of the bill.


Rubio said that the vote “made it crystal clear” that Democratic senators “support the legalization of infanticide” and “openly embraced the growing extremism” within their party.


Sasse told CNA on Feb. 1 that he did not think there was “any legitimate argument” that could be made against his legislation, and that he hoped that nobody in the Senate would oppose the bill.


The Nebraska senator brought the fast-track the legislation in response to comments by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that appeared to endorse neglecting infants who survived late-term abortions. Northam’s spokesperson later said that the governor was only referring to infants with “severe” birth defects or other disabilities.


Sasse said that objecting to his bill would be a sign of support for infanticide.


"(Members of the Senate) need to show what side they're on,” Sasse told CNA in February. “It's a pretty simple question: are you on the side of these vulnerable little babies, or are you on the side of Gov. Northam and his defense of infanticide?"


Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (WV), Bob Casey (PA) and Doug Jones (AL) all voted in favor of the bill, as did Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). The four senators are usually considered to be potential swing votes on abortion issues.


While uncommon, there have been many documented cases of infants surviving abortions. Former abortionist Kermit Gosnell is currently serving a life sentence after he was found to have murdered numerous infants who were born alive after surviving attempted late-term abortions.

Archbishop Gomez: 'Crisis of personal fidelity' at the heart of Church scandals

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 18:06

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 25, 2019 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles responded to the Vatican’s summit on abuse by stressing the need for a renewal of fidelity within the entire Catholic Church.

“This crisis in the Church is an issue of accountability and transparency. But most importantly, at its heart, this is a crisis of personal fidelity,” he said in a Feb. 24 statement. “It is a crisis of not following Jesus Christ and not living the way he teaches us to live.”

The archbishop, who serves as vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released his statement following the conclusion of a four-day Vatican summit that brought together heads of bishops’ conferences from countries around the world to discuss sexual abuse and child protection.

The summit discussed responsibility, transparency, and accountability, with video testimonies from sex abuse victims, working group discussions, a penitential liturgy, and a closing Mass with final remarks from Pope Francis.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement that concrete follow-up measures in the United States will include an intensification of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Young People – known as the Dallas Charter – which currently governs how U.S. dioceses are to handle sexual abuse allegations against priests.

Gomez, who heads the largest archdiocese in the United States, said that he closely followed the Vatican summit and was “inspired by Pope Francis’ commitment to eliminate the evil of child abuse from the global Church and the wider global society.”

He pledged that he and his fellow bishops will be working in the coming months on the important task of “improving how we handle allegations against bishops and continuing to ensure that children are protected in our parishes, schools and other ministries.”

“Reform and renewal must begin with the bishops and clergy,” he said. “But all of us in the Church are called to a new conversion, to renewal of our hearts and minds — so that we live our faith with greater integrity, new devotion, and new excitement.”

Gomez noted that a relic of St. John Vianney is currently in the Los Angeles archdiocese, as part of a national tour. Praying in front of the heart of Vianney – known for his sanctity as a parish priest – the faithful are praying for a renewal of holiness, particularly among priests and seminarians, and for healing of all those who have been hurt by a member of the Church.

“Let us continue to pray and work for the healing of those who have been hurt,” the archbishop said. He called for the upcoming Lenten season to be a time of rededication, for the whole Church, “to leading truly Christian lives, returning to Jesus and opening our hearts to the holiness and love that he calls us to.”

Opioid overdose rates rising among African Americans

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 14:09

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2019 / 12:09 pm (CNA).- While much of the opioid crisis of the last two decades has been associated with white Americans and prescription drugs, the number of African American fatalities from opioid overdoses is on the rise.

Mathew Kiang of Stanford University told NBC News that fentanyl-laced heroin on the East Coast is largely responsible for the rising opioid-related mortality in the African American population.

Drug smugglers lace heroin with fentanyl, creating a much more addictive – and lucrative – drug mixture, up to 50 times more potent than heroin alone. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent on the East Coast, where the most common form of heroin is a powder that can easily be mixed, as opposed to the black tar heroin more common on the West Coast. Street-level drug dealers are often unaware that the heroin they are selling has fentanyl mixed into it, NBC News reported.

Kiang is leading a four-person research team, which last week released a study in JAMA on opioid use across the country.

“Although opioid-related mortality has been stereotyped as a rural, low-income phenomenon concentrated among Appalachian or Midwestern states, it has spread rapidly, particularly among the eastern states,” the study found.

The result has been a spread of the opioid epidemic, from rural areas with largely white populations to urban areas with high black populations.

A previous study by Kiang and his colleagues found that the epidemic was largely fueled by prescription opioids given to treat chronic pain, which led people to eventually move on to heroin. That study, from earlier in 2018, found that the black community saw much lower opioid prescription rates than the white population, and had therefore not been hit as hard by the epidemic.

But over recent years, “rates of heroin use and prescription opioid misuse in blacks and whites have begun to converge,” Kiang’s team found. Their research determined that more than 350,000 Americans have died from “opioid-related causes” between 1999-2016.

Overdoses have also become the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50. Opioids are involved in over 60 percent of overdoses nationwide, the CDC noted, and opioid-related overdoses quadrupled between 1999 and 2015.

In October 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump declared the U.S. opioid crisis a public health emergency, calling federal government agencies to reallocate grants and focus resources on fighting the crisis though various avenues, including preventing drugs from entering the country and treatment for those with addictions.

Across the country, the Church has worked in recent years to respond to the opioid crisis at a local level.

In Vermont, parishes reach out to victims, but also their families, Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vt. explained in a 2017 press conference.

“Oftentimes we are kind of limited in what we can do on a state level,” he acknowledged. “But at our parishes, and in our agencies in our parishes, we can continue to reach out to addicted families,” he noted, stressing, “not just those who are in recovery, but also their families.”

This also involves finding foster parents for children of addicted parents, particularly those whose parents have overdosed and those who suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

Ultimately, Catholics must “recognize that it’s not just the addicts; it’s the whole family that suffers,” he continued.

Catholic Charities in the Galveston-Houston archdiocese is “already on to this question,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said at the U.S. bishops’ 2017 spring meeting, and is providing “the kinds of charity and help and counseling for them and their families that Catholic Charities by its professional expertise brings.”

Bishop Edward Malesic of Greensburg, Pa. published a pastoral letter on the opioid crisis in June 2017. In his diocese in Western Pennsylvania, over 300 opioid-related deaths had ravaged the communities in the previous year.

In his “Pastoral Letter on the Drug Abuse Crisis from Death and Despair to Life and Hope,” Bishop Malesic called the crisis “a plague that has come into the homes and families of every city, town, and even the rural areas of our diocese.”

He stressed the need for Christian hope in God’s providence, and called on Catholics to reach out and prayerfully accompany those struggling with addiction.

The bishop also announced initiatives the diocese was taking to respond to the crisis, including educational initiatives at the parish level and developing family recovery groups.

In March 2016, Massachusetts bishops also issued a statement in response to the state’s rising drug-overdose crisis, after the rate of overdose deaths had reached record levels there.

“We encourage our sisters and brothers who are suffering addiction or the addiction of loved ones to turn to their faith community for support, counsel and compassion, and we pray that those most affected will receive the physical, emotional and spiritual help that they need,” the state’s bishops said.

Last year, Catholic Charities received a nearly $1 million grant to treat opioid addiction in the rural New York counties of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster, about 70 miles mother of New York City. Many people in the area have few means of transpiration and are unable to access treatment.



New poll shows more Democrats, younger Americans identify as pro-life

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Recent poll shows a 17-point increase in the number of Americans who identify as pro life, up from 38 percent earlier this year. The results follow a month in which several states passed expansive new pro-abortion measures.


According to the Marist/Knights of Columbus poll, released February 25, equal percentages of Americans now identify as pro-life and pro-choice. This is the first time since 2009 that the number of self-identified pro-life Americans is equal to or greater than the number calling themselves pro-choice.


Barbara Carvalho, director of The Marist Poll, said the figures suggest that recent efforts to remove legal restrictions on the procedure, and widen the availability of abortion up to the point of birth, may have led to more people identifying themselves as pro-life.


"Current proposals that promote late-term abortion have reset the landscape and language on abortion in a pronounced – and very measurable – way," she said in a press release.


The numbers represent a significant change following a similar poll in January, with the largest shift in opinion registered among Democrats and people under the age of 45.  


The number of Democrats calling themselves pro-life increased by 14 percentage points since January. Marist found that more than a third of Democrats (34 percent) say they are pro-life, up from one in five only a few weeks ago.


Over the same period, the proportion of Democrats identifying as pro-choice dropped from 75 percent to 61 percent. Political independents are split almost equally on the subject, with 46 percent saying they are pro-life and 48 percent pro-choice.


Young people also registered a broad change in opinion on abortion over the last month.


The February poll also showed a 19 point jump in pro-life identification among people under 45 years old. Forty-seven percent of people under the age of 45 now say they are pro-life, compared to 48 percent who say they are pro-choice.


One month ago, only 28 percent of people under the age of 45 said they were pro-life.


Since January, the number of Americans who identify as pro-choice has dropped from 55 percent to 47 percent. The number of Americans who identify as pro-life increased from 38 percent in January to 47 percent in February.


Since the release of a similar poll in January,, New York and Vermont have both passed bills removing most restrictions on abortion and allowing abortion to take place throughout a pregnancy.


A similar bill in Virginia failed in committee. During a hearing, the bill’s sponsor admitted there was nothing that would prevent an abortion from being performed while a woman was in active labor.


Both the January and February poll results showed that Americans are broadly opposed to late-term abortions at the center of several new laws in several states. An overwhelming margin of respondents—71 percent to 25 percent—said that they believed abortion should not be legal during the third trimester. This figure includes 60 percent of Democrats.


Only 18 percent of respondents said that they believed abortion should be legal until the moment of birth.


Eighty percent of Americans, up five points over last month, said they believed abortion should be limited to the first trimester of a pregnancy, including 65 percent of pro-choice respondents.


The poll surveyed 1,008 Americans between Feb. 12 and Feb. 17 with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Head of US bishops after Vatican abuse summit: 'Intensify the Dallas Charter'

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 16:14

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2019 / 02:14 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has promised “unyielding vigilance” and an intensification of the Dallas Charter following the Vatican summit on the sexual abuse of minors.

“We owe survivors an unyielding vigilance that we may never fail them again,” DiNardo said. “How then to bind the wounds? Intensify the Dallas Charter.”

The cardinal, who heads the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, released a statement Feb. 24, at the conclusion of a four-day Vatican summit that brought together heads of bishops’ conferences from countries around the world to discuss sexual abuse and child protection.

The summit discussed responsibility, transparency, and accountability, with video testimonies from sex abuse victims, working group discussions, a penitential liturgy, and a closing Mass with final remarks from Pope Francis.

“These have been challenging, fruitful days,” DiNardo said in his statement. “The witness of survivors revealed for us, again, the deep wound in the Body of Christ. Listening to their testimonies transforms your heart. I saw that in the faces of my brother bishops.”

During the gathering, Pope Francis called for “concrete and effective measures,” and presenters spoke about “a code of conduct for bishops, the need to establish specific protocols for handling accusations against bishops, user-friendly reporting mechanisms, and the essential role transparency must play in the healing process,” DiNardo said.

These efforts include intensifying the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Young People – known as the Dallas Charter – which currently governs how U.S. dioceses are to handle sexual abuse allegations against priests, he said.

“Achieving these goals will require the active involvement and collaboration of the laity,” the cardinal stressed. He highlighted the need for prayer, expertise, and ideas from the laity, and their efforts to ensure that policies are followed and effective.

“All of the models discussed this week rely upon the good help of God’s people,” he said.

DiNardo said that he and the U.S. bishops were affirmed in the ongoing efforts and will prepare proposals for the upcoming U.S. Bishops’ Conference assembly this June.

“There is an urgency in the voice of the survivors to which we must always respond,” he said, adding, “I am also aware that our next steps can be a solid foundation from which to serve also seminarians, religious women, and all those who might live under the threat of sexual abuse or the abuse of power.”

While the “agony of Good Friday” can cause “a sense of isolation and abandonment,” we can trust in God’s promise of healing, encountering the Risen Christ as we bind the wounds that have been caused, the cardinal said.

He thanked those who have prayed for the success of the Vatican summit in recent days and stressed reliance on Christ, saying, “In Him alone is all hope and healing.”


After AG report, Michigan dioceses clarify cooperation in reporting abuse

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 06:37

Lansing, Mich., Feb 23, 2019 / 04:37 am (CNA).- Catholic dioceses in the state of Michigan are reaffirming their commitment to reporting sex abuse, while asking for clarifications about recent claims made by state Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Nessel claimed in a recent update that dioceses are “self-policing,” using non-disclosure agreements and “failing to deliver” on their promises to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.

In response, the Archdiocese of Detroit said the update made “broad generalizations” that call for clarity.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit does not self-police,” the archdiocese said Feb. 21. “We encourage all victims to report abuse directly to law enforcement.”

“Clergy with credible accusations against them do not belong in ministry,” it continued. “Since the attorney general’s investigation began, the Archdiocese of Detroit has not received notification from that office regarding credible accusations against any of our priests. Should we become aware of such a complaint, we will act immediately.”

“Since 2002, the Archdiocese of Detroit has not entered into any non-disclosure agreements, unless specifically requested by a survivor of abuse, as required by the Catholic Church in the United States. In addition, the archdiocese does not enforce any non-disclosure agreements signed prior to 2002. We encourage all abuse survivors to share their stories.”

Other dioceses made similar points, and some said they had not yet been asked to stop internal investigations.

At a Feb. 21 press conference, Nessel gave an update about the Catholic clerical sex abuse investigations in Michigan begun in August 2018 under her predecessor, Bill Schuette. In October 2018 law enforcement conducted simultaneous raids on the offices of the state’s seven Roman Catholic dioceses.

Nessel said these raids involved close to 70 officers and special agents and 14 assistant attorneys general.

“We did not depend on the dioceses to turn over documents, which is what primarily happened in other states,” she said. Investigators are reviewing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, including Church procedures regarding abuse allegations and investigations.

“Unfortunately, the reality is there are predators in the priesthood that are still out there and we feel as though they have to be stopped and we need to ensure this doesn’t happen again and bad actors are consistently held accountable,” she said.

Nessel estimated the investigation will take about two years, suggesting over 1,000 sex abuse victims could be found. She did not discuss how her office estimated that number, the Michigan news site reports.

State authorities have received 300 tips since the launch of the investigation. The attorney general said a report will be released at the end of the investigations. She contended that the Church was currently “self-policing” and said this should stop.

“If an investigator comes to your door and asks to speak with you, please ask to see their badge and not their rosary,” Nessel said. “Victims may believe that they cannot or should not report abuse to us because the Church is going to handle it. That's simply not true.”

She cited reports from victims that they were encouraged to agree to settlements and sign nondisclosure agreements. Those who have signed such agreements have the right to speak to law enforcement, she said. Even if alleged abuse falls beyond the statute of limitations, a report can be useful in other prosecutions.

“We can, and we will, follow the trail of abuse where it’s occurred.”

First-degree criminal sexual conduct has no statute of limitations for criminal prosecution under state law. All other levels of criminal sexual conduct have a limit of 10 years from the time of the crime or from the time the victim turns 21, whichever comes later.

The attorney general’s update drew different reactions.

“We were surprised by some of the statements made this morning,” said Candace Neff, communications director for the Gaylord diocese, which pledged continued cooperation and assistance for the investigation.

“We are very grateful for the assistance of the attorney general in this process,” Neff said, adding that the diocese has not received a request to cease all internal review processes.

“We hope to receive clarification on this request soon,” she said.

Neff said the diocese looks forward to the attorney general’s final report and shares the goals of intending “to respond with compassion for victim-survivors, to properly prosecute offenders, to prevent anyone from being abused in the future, and to bring about healing for those who have been harmed in the past.”

Col. Joe Gasper, head of the Michigan State Police, said the best agents have been assigned to this “exceptionally complex and complicated” case.

“We have high standards within the Michigan State Police and I can assure you we won’t be cutting any corners … and let the citizens of Michigan down,” he said, according to “We take all leads seriously. It’s critically important that we hear directly from you when you have information to provide.”

Gasper said that cooperation of Church officials varies from diocese to diocese.

The investigators’ clergy abuse hotline is at (1-844-324-3374) and available at the website

Nessel’s office has sent letters to every parish in the state asking them to tell parishioners about the investigation.

The Detroit archdiocese noted its support for mandatory sex abuse reporting laws and its education efforts of its mandated reporters. It said it has worked to help parishes publicize the state’s sex abuse tip-line.

The archdiocese said it places no time limits on reports of sex abuse of minors by priests, deacons and other personnel. The archdiocese added that the attorney general’s office has not asked it to stop internal review processes.

“These internal investigations are required under Church law, and their purpose is to restrict or remove from ministry anyone who has committed sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult,” it said.

In September, Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing said that the diocese would name priests with credible sex abuse allegations after a review from an external agency. The attorney general’s raid on diocesan offices put that review on hold, since it took possession of all clergy files, the Lansing State Journal reports.

A spokesman for the Lansing diocese said the diocese will cooperate with the investigation and with the request that internal reviews be put on hold. At the same time, he said, the diocese will conduct its own review after the investigation.

The diocese’s general counsel was recently hired after seven years with the attorney general’s office. The diocese said its general counsel “promptly reports alleged crimes to the attorney general and local prosecutors” when alleged victims report to the diocese rather than legal authorities.

“The diocese welcomes this review of our handling of abuse cases. We are confident in our processes. We have and will continue to reach out to law enforcement with these matters,” the Lansing diocese said Feb. 21. “We know of no one active in ministry in our diocese who has abused a child. The last known event of abuse of a minor occurred prior to 2002.”

“There is no place in the Church for anyone who would harm a child. It is important that anyone committing these crimes is brought to justice. We continue to pray that Christ will bring healing to all victims and to his Church,” said the Lansing diocese, encouraging anyone with knowledge of any kind of abuse to contact protective services or the police.

The Diocese of Marquette said no one presently in ministry is known to have abused a child. It encouraged individuals to report all sex abuse of minors, “no matter when the abuse occurred,” to local law enforcement and to the state attorney general’s office. The diocese is committed to “fully cooperating” with the state investigation and has “fully complied” with requests for information, it said.

In a short statement the Kalamazoo diocese affirmed continued cooperation with the investigation and encouraged anyone with information of suspected abuse to report it to the attorney general. It offered prayers for victims.

The Grand Rapids diocese similarly said it is continuing to cooperate with the investigation and reports all sex abuse allegations to law enforcement. It has not been notified by the attorney general of any credible accusations against its priests and will take “immediate action” if it is.

Some dioceses noted their past efforts at cooperation. The Detroit archdiocese said that in 2002 it turned over past case files involving clergy misconduct and committed to turning over all new allegations “regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred.” The Gaylord diocese said it “voluntarily reported all known allegations of sexual abuse of minors involving clergy of our diocese” 16 years ago.

'Unplanned' gets unexpected R rating

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 19:11

Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2019 / 05:11 pm (CNA).- The movie “Unplanned,” which tells the true story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s conversion into a pro-life activist, has been given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, a decision the directors fear could have been motivated by the pro-life message of the film.

The rating was announced Friday, Feb. 22.

"We had hoped that (the rating) would be different, but due to the political climate, and the fact that we're in Hollywood, it doesn't surprise us," co-director Chuck Konzelman told CNA.

Co-director Cary Solomon agreed, adding, “we’ve made a pro-life film in a pro-choice town. We’re very aware of that.”

By giving the film an a R-rating, Konzelman said that he believes the MPAA is inadvertently supporting the belief that “anything that has to do with abortion is an act of extreme violence.”

"Ironically, that's (also) our viewpoint," he said.  

In the United States, a film that is rated R by the MPAA is restricted to those over the age of 17 unless accompanied by a parent or another adult guardian. The MPAA said “Unplanned” earned the rating due to “some disturbing/bloody images.”

Solomon told CNA that he found it to be “absurd” that Unplanned was given an R-rating when several, far more violent, movies to be released later this year were given PG-13 ratings.

Despite the R-rating, “Unplanned”’s  directors told CNA that Christians should not worry about seeing the film alongside their children.

"For us, R means 'recommend.' Because the bottom line is that this is real life,” Solomon told CNA.

“It's time for Christians to come to the reality of the fact that (abortion) is going on. If a rating is going to keep them from even looking at this subject, then shame on us,” he added.

Konzelman agreed, and told CNA that there is no nudity or profanity in the film that would merit an R-rating.

“They're not even mentioning violence, other than the violence directly associated with the termination of an unborn human being. That's it. That's all that's in there," said Konzelman.

Unplanned is based on Johnson’s 2012 book of the same name. Johnson quit her job at Planned Parenthood in October of 2009, one year after being named employee of the year, after she had been asked to assist with a late-term abortion.

In the film, multiple scenes depicting an abortion clinic involve blood or post-abortive women. The directors told CNA that the MPAA objected in particular to a scene that depicts Johnson bleeding on a bathroom floor after taking an abortion pill.

The directors said they would not change that particular scene, or anything else in the film, as they felt it would be disrespectful to Johnson’s personal story.

“We're not going to change it. It's a true-life story. To change it just to appease the MPAA or a Hollywood entity is not going to happen. We told the true-life story of Abby Johnson, and these are the things that are happening,” said Konzelman.

Solomon told CNA that in real life, Johnson nearly bled to death in her bathroom after self-administering the second drug in an abortion drug protocol.

“For us to avoid that, for the sake of appeasing the MPAA, would make the story untrue,” said Solomon.

Even if the filmmakers sought to make changes to get a lower rating, it would be quite difficult as "(the MPAA) pretty much objected to everything, including black and white images of a sonogram,” said Konzelman.

To make any changes would require that the filmmakers “gut the entire movie,” which they said they did not want to do.

Johnson herself had two abortions prior to her ideological conversion. Since then, she has founded the organization “And Then There Were None,” which seeks to assist abortion industry workers with finding new jobs outside the industry. Since the group was founded, nearly 500 clinic workers have left the industry.

After Johnson left her job at Planned Parenthood, she converted to Catholicism. She and her husband are now expecting their eighth child.

“Unplanned” stars Ashley Bratcher as Abby Johnson. During filming, Bratcher discovered that her own mother had planned on having an abortion when she was pregnant with her, but changed her mind minutes before the procedure was to begin.

“Unplanned” was written and directed by Konzelman and Solomon, who also wrote “God’s Not Dead” and “God’s Not Dead 2.” The movie was partially funded by Michael Lindell, a born-again Christian and the founder of the company MyPillow.

“Unplanned” is the first-ever R-rated film distributed by PureFlix, and will be released in theaters nationwide on March 29.


'Protect Life Rule' to strip Planned Parenthood of some federal funds

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 18:08

Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2019 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- After the Trump administration finalized new federal rules on Friday, by which abortion clinics will be ineligible to receive Title X Program funding. Planned Parenthood is expected to be stripped will be stripped of about $60 million in federal funds due to the rule change.

The finalized version of the “Protect Life Rule” was announced in a  Feb. 22 press release from the Department of Health and Human Services. Title X funding was not cut as a result of the new rules, which impact eligibility requirements.

“Today, the Trump administration took an imperative first step in the right direction by preventing Title X funds from being misused by those who promote and profit from abortion,” March for Life President Jeanne Mancini told CNA.

“Abortion is not healthcare, yet for decades the federal government has voluntarily supported abortion by subsidizing the industry with hundreds of millions of tax dollars every year,” Mancini said.

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

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

Previous regulations, written during Bill Clinton’s presidency, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said the new rules move Title X closer to “its originally intended purpose--the provision of family planning services, not abortions.”

Smith said that Title X funding was “never” meant to promote abortion services.

“I am grateful that the Trump Administration has affirmed human life and dignity with this pro-child rule,” Smith said in a Feb. 22 statement.

President Donald Trump announced in May 2018 that his administration had proposed a rule that would block Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X funds.

“For decades, American taxpayers have been wrongfully forced to subsidize the abortion industry” through Title X funds, Trump told the crowd.

He said then that this new rule is “another promise” he had kept to the pro-life movement.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a Feb. 22 statement that she was thankful Trump took “decisive action to detangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood.”

Dannenfelser, like Smith, wrote that she felt as though Title X had strayed from its original intentions as a family planning program.

“The Title X program was not intended to be a slush fund for abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, which violently ends the lives of more than 332,000 unborn babies a year and receives almost $60 million a year in Title X taxpayer dollars. We thank President Trump and (HHS) Secretary Azar for ensuring that the Title X program is truly about funding family planning, not abortion.”

Planned Parenthood is still eligible for federal funds that are not part of Title X. Last year, Planned Parenthood received over $500 million in federal funding.


Little Rock diocese welcomes Roe-triggered abortion ban in Arkansas

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 13:03

Little Rock, Ark., Feb 22, 2019 / 11:03 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Little Rock has said that a law signed Tuesday banning abortion in Arkansas in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned is a step toward a future without the procedure.

“Act 180 is a welcome addition to the law in Arkansas and happily anticipates the day when our society can be free from the scourge of elective abortion on demand,” Catherine Phillips, diocesan respect life director, told CNA.

Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) signed Act 180 Feb. 19. The legislation had passed the Senate 29-6 earlier this month.  

The 1973 US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade found that a woman had the right to seek an abortion in the United States. If the Supreme Court decision is overturned, then the law would automatically ban abortions in Arkansas except in cases of medical emergencies.

Phillips said the law is important because it takes a pro-life stance, especially amid a push for pro-abortion protections in other states. She pointed to a January law in New York that decriminalized the procedure and stripped it of most safeguards.

“It is important in comparison with what has been done recently in states like New York. Regrettably, other states are passing laws to perpetuate and expand abortion, but Act 180 stakes out a national position that supports life,” she said.

“Act 180 affirms that Arkansas disagrees with the finding of Roe v. Wade and stands for the position that life begins at conception and should be protected from that moment.”

Arkansas is the fifth state to ban abortion in case Roe is overturned. Trigger bans are also in effect in Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Mississippi. Similar bills have been introduced in Kentucky and Tennessee, and legislators in Oklahoma have signalled their intent to do the same.

President Donald Trump has promised to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. Were Roe overturned, states would be again free to outlaw abortion, which has led to Republican-leading states acting to ban abortion in case Roe is overturned, and Democratic-leaning states, including Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Mexico, working to enshrine abortion protections.

Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the bench.

Before the Arkansas Senate’s Feb. 7 vote on the bill, its sponsor, Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, said the bill reflected the state’s pro-life intentions.

"The state of Arkansas is clearly a pro-life state and our citizens have spoken clearly time and time again that we should protect the lives of unborn babies," said Rapert, according to Arkansas Online.

Arkansas currently bans abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy. A bill has been introduced in the legislature to drop the limit to 18 weeks.

Vermont bishop: Abortion bill tests limits of human brokenness

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 05:14

Burlington, Vt., Feb 22, 2019 / 03:14 am (CNA).- With a bill to legalize abortion for any reason until birth advancing in Vermont, the local Catholic bishop has stressed that defending unborn babies is a matter of human rights.

“Do we really want to allow this? Do we really want to test the limits of where human brokenness can take us? Please God, no,” Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington said in a Feb. 15 statement.

Coyne cited his previous comments from January, saying the bill goes beyond Roe v. Wade and “does not recognize a viable life at any stage of pregnancy.”

“This bill will legalize infanticide. This is wrong,” he said.

The Vermont House of Representatives passed H. 57, called the “The Freedom of Choice Act,” on Feb. 21 by a vote of 106-36.

The bill had at least 90 co-sponsors in the House and has strong support in the state Senate. It claims to “safeguard the right to abortion” by ensuring it is not “denied, restricted, or infringed.” It bars the prosecution of “any individual” who performs or attempts to perform an abortion.

If it becomes law, the bill would strengthen the position of legal abortion in Vermont even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision Roe v. Wade and other precedents that mandate legal abortion nationwide.

Coyne said that advocates of the legislation claim that it will not be abused.

“But that is not what this bill says,” he added. “It says anyone has the right to kill her unborn child right up to the moment of birth, without any restriction or protection.”

While backers frame it as an issue of “women’s rights and healthcare,” he objected that the bill “allows abortions to be performed by non-physicians in non-medical settings” and “removes any rights or protections a woman might have in situations of coercion or malpractice.”

The legislation asserts that “every individual” has a fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization, that “every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or to have an abortion”, and that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.”

The bill would apply to all branches of the state government and municipal governments.

Arguing against the bill, Coyne said opposition to legal abortion is a matter of both religion and reason.

“The Catholic Church stands for the protection of all life from the moment of conception until natural death, and therefore opposes abortion in all instances,” said the bishop.
This is “not just a matter of faith,” but “an issue of human rights.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Ann Pugh, (D-South Burlington), said Wednesday night that legislation will “reinforce a woman’s right to reproductive health care freedom.”

“The most unrepresented person or thing in the world or here in Vermont is a viable fetus that has not yet been born,” said bill opponent Rep. Robert Bancroft, R-Westford, the news site WCAX reports. “But it feels pain, it feels love and, unfortunately, we don't regard it as anything until the day it is born.”

Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life, told the Washington Times that under the proposed law, notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell could not be prosecuted.

“Planned Parenthood says trust us, and everybody loves Planned Parenthood here. They’ve dominated the state for decades,” she said. “But they’re not thinking, or they don’t care, that somebody could just move here tomorrow and undercut Planned Parenthood for price and run a Gosnell-like clinic.”

In 2013 Gosnell was convicted of three first-degree murders of babies who were born alive at his Philadelphia abortion clinic, which was kept in an unsanitary state and had not been visited by a state regulator in years. One former employee said he saw his staff snip the necks of about 100 babies born alive.

Gosnell was also convicted of involuntary manslaughter for a patient at his facility, a mother who died of a drug overdose.

Eileen Sullivan, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said Gosnell “ran a criminal enterprise, not a health care facility.”

“His case makes clear that we must enforce the laws already in existence that protect access to safe and legal abortion,” she said, according to the Washington Times. Sullivan contended that abortion regulations “would limit patients’ options and lead them to seek treatment from criminals like Gosnell.”

A January 2011 grand jury report on the Gosnell case found that inspections of his clinic identified violations but never required corrections up through 1993. With the 1995 transition to a governor who supported legal abortion, the report said, “officials concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women’ seeking abortions.”

Other legislation strengthening legal abortion has passed in New York and Massachusetts. Such legislation is under consideration in the New Mexico legislature.

Covington Catholic student sues Washington Post over Nathan Phllips story

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 12:39

Covington, Ky., Feb 21, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- Attorneys for Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann announced they filed a $250 million dollar lawsuit against the Washington Post after the newspaper reported that Sandmann harassed a Native American man following the March for Life.

The suit alleges that the Washington Post “engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann.” They are seeking “compensatory and punitive damages.”

“This is only the beginning,” said the attorneys in a statement. Sandmann is being represented by attorneys Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry from the law firm Hemmer DeFrank Wessels.

The attorneys said are seeking $250 million as that was the amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid when his company, Nash Holdings, bought the Washington Post back in 2013.

A short video published to Twitter in January appeared to show Sandmann, who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, standing in close proximity to Native American activist Nathan Phillips and smirking while Phillips changed and played a ceremonial drum.

Phillips was in Washington, D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples’ March, and the incident occurred near the Lincoln Memorial. Phillips told the media that the students had swarmed him, and had repeatedly chanted “build the wall” or “build that wall.”

The video quickly went viral, and many people called for the suspension or expulsion of Sandmann and his classmates as a punishment for their seemingly disrespectful behavior.

Sandmann’s diocese, as well as his high school, initially published statements condemning the behavior in the video.

As the weekend progressed, however, additional video was discovered that showed a far more nuanced context to the encounter between Phillips and Sandmann.

The new footage showed that Sandmann and his classmates had been harassed by members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, and began a counter-chant of their student section chants in an effort to drown out the Black Hebrew Israelites. The students denied chanting “build the wall,” and that chant could not be heard on various videos of the incident.

Additionally, video showed that Phillips had wandered into the crowd of Covington Catholic High School students - not the other way around - and had began beating a drum in Sandmann’s face.

In a statement released the day after the video went viral, Sandmann said that he had smiled in an effort to diffuse the tension of the situation and show that he was not a violent person.

The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School both withdrew their statements condemning the students. Bishop Roger Foys of Covington spoke to Covington Catholic students and apologized for his premature response to the incident.

A third-party investigation into the Covington Catholic students came to the conclusion that they had not instigated the encounter and that there was no evidence of them making any offensive or racist statements.


California bill would remove reporting exemption for priests in confessional

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 11:00

Sacramento, Calif., Feb 21, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A state senator in California introduced a bill Wednesday which would seek to force priests to violate the sacramental seal of confession in suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. Clergy are already mandatory reporters in the state of California, but there is a legal exemption for material disclosed in the confessional.


Senator Jerry Hill announced Bill 360 in the California senate on Feb. 20.


“Individuals who harm children or are suspected of harming children must be reported so a timely investigation by law enforcement can occur,” Hill said in a statement announcing the bill.


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


The Code of Canon Law states that “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” A priest who intentionally violates the seal incurs an automatic excommunication.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “every priest who hears confessions is bound under severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him,” due to the “delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons.”


Despite the centrality of the sacramental seal to Church teaching and discipline, Hill insisted that there should be no recognition of the privileged nature of confession in the law.


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


A spokesman for the California Catholic Conference told local media that the bill clearly targeted essential religious freedoms.


"Getting the government in the confessional has nothing to do with protecting children and has everything to do with eroding the basic rights and liberties we have as Americans," said Steve Pehanich in a statement for the conference reported by local news outlets.


The California bill is not the first attempt to compel priests to violate the sacramental seal. A Royal Commission investigation into child sexual abuse in Australia last year recommended that legal exemptions be removed for clergy who learned about abuse in the confessional.