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Lawsuit claims Knights of Columbus broke $100m ‘verbal contract’

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 19:25

Denver, Colo., Aug 26, 2019 / 05:25 pm (CNA).- Jury selection began Monday in a lawsuit that accuses the Knights of Columbus of violating a verbal contract with a vendor who claims that the Catholic fraternal organization inflates its membership numbers, and has destroyed his business.

The lawsuit claims that the Knights of Columbus gave a software company, UKnight Interactive, a $100 million verbal contract to make it a designated web services vendor to KofC local and regional organizations.

UKnight alleges that its services would have provided local councils with a “complex interactive system” of linked websites designed to attract and engage members, increase fundraising, and increase sales of Knights of Columbus insurance policies.   

However, the company alleges that in 2016, the Knights of Columbus “fraudulently” denied the verbal contract, and later used the company’s proprietary design elements to seek contracts with other technology companies.

UKnight claims that Knights of Columbus executives “acted...maliciously” with the “specific intent” of destroying the company.

In a 2018 court filing, the Knights of Columbus disputed that account.

“The true nature of this action is that Plaintiff is a disappointed prospective vendor that offered the Order inferior and outdated website services that the Order refused to endorse. UKnight is now trying to accomplish through this lawsuit what it could not get through product development and sales negotiations,” the Knights argued.

The Knights said that Labriola has “raised preposterous legal claims in an attempt to force the other side to pay money that is neither owed nor deserved. One of these claims is that the Order supposedly gave UKnight an oral contract in which it would, on a single day, endorse UKnight’s services and thereby confer on UKnight a $100 million value.”

UKnight filed its lawsuit in January 2017. The suit was dismissed in July of that year, and UKnight refiled the lawsuit in January 2018.

The plaintiff, List Interactive, also known as UKnight Interactive, claims that “broken promises” by the Knights of Columbus have destroyed its business, which is owned by Colorado resident Leonard Labriola.

The Knights of Columbus say the lawsuit is over a simple business dispute that has been exaggerated for publicity.

In a February 2017 motion requesting that the suit be dismissed, the Knights argued that a “garden variety business dispute” had been “repackaged...to extort a settlement through damaging publicity having nothing to do with the Plaintiffs’ core allegations.”

UKnight and Labriola had “festooned their complaint with baseless, scandalous allegations that are designed only to inflame and attract publicity,” the Knights said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, seeks $100 million in damages, and a court order invalidating the Knight’s tax-exempt status.

Among the suit's claims is the allegation that the Knights of Columbus deceptively inflates its membership numbers in order to increase its life insurance ratings.

While Judge Brooke Jackson allowed UKnight to review membership data last year, the Knights have disputed claims that they inflate numbers.

“The Knights of Columbus has a long-standing, thoughtful, and well-conceived membership retention process in place that reflects sound practices and the values of the Order,” a spokesperson told Buzzfeed last week.

“One of those values is to ensure that members of the Knights provide mutual aid and assistance to fellow members of our organization.”

Labriola could not be reached for comment. But the plaintiff is no stranger to litigation.

In 1993, Eller Industries, a company owned by Labriola, attempted to revitalize the bankrupt Indian Motorcycle brand by purchasing the defunct company’s trademarks. Labriola signed a contract to purchase the trademarks in 1997, but a court battle began in 1998, after the brand’s legal custodian said that Eller had failed to obtain financing or meet the terms of its contract.

Eller’s contract with Indian Motorcycles was terminated by a federal judge on Dec. 7, 1998.

Labriola subsequently sued the brand’s custodian for $2.7 million, and in the midst of the lawsuit requested that two judges recuse themselves, accusing them of “corruption, duplicity, ineptitude, hubris, and abject indifference.”

In the same motion, Labriola accused Indian Motorcycle’s legal custodian of “brazen temerity” and “outright lies and distortions.” 

Before founding UKnight, Labriola founded at least three additional companies.

In 2002, he founded the Backyard Drills Foundation, which produced DVDs teaching sports skills.  According to a 2007 article in BizWest, the DVD sets were marketed through revenue-sharing fundraising arrangements with youth football leagues. Backyard Drills was dissolved in 2007.   

Two months after dissolving Backyard Drills, Labriola founded Quvico, a clean energy enterprise, which was dissolved less than a year after it was founded.

In September of 2007, Labriola founded Dinner Party Dot Com, LLC. The company was cited by the Secretary of State for failing to file required annual reports, and was dissolved in November of 2016.

According to the Colorado Secretary of State, UKnight Interactive was registered in 2011 as a trade name of LiST Interactive, a company founded by Labriola on the same day. In 2012 and 2015, LiST Interactive was cited by the Secretary of State for failing to file required periodic reports.

The UKnight lawuit has made several allegations dismissed by the court.

Among the dismissed claim's is UKnight’s charge that the IRS fraudulently maintains the tax-exempt status of the Knights of Columbus, allowing the organization to commit acts of racketeering forbidden by federal law.

Also dismissed is UKnight’s initial accusation that the Knights engaged in “racketeering,” in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

Jackson dismissed the suit’s first filing on July 28, 2017. His order determined that the plaintiffs’ RICO allegations were unfounded, and noted that the suit seemed actually to misunderstand racketeering laws. 

“If plaintiffs’ description of how jurisdiction under RICO works were correct it would mean that Congress could effectively override the Constitution,” Jackson wrote.  

Jackson also criticized UKnight and Labriola for the lawsuit’s “excessively aggressive phrasing and histrionics.”

Sources have told CNA that UKnight’s lawsuit is partially funded through LexShares, an online platform that connects plaintiffs with investors, who buy a stake in any settlement or judgment rendered in the suit.

Virginia governor appoints activist with history of anti-Catholic tweets

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 18:00

Richmond, Va., Aug 26, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Governor of Virginia has appointed a Democratic activist with a history of profane, anti-Catholic statements to an influential public body. 

On Aug. 16, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appointed Gail Gordon Donegan to the Virginia Council on Women, an advisory group for the governor and the state’s General Assembly, which also awards educational scholarships. Gordon Donegan is a Democratic activist from the city of Alexandria, Virginia.

On Friday, Donnegan’s past Twitter usage was reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which discovered numerous, repeated, jokes about Catholics, including several jokes about pedophilia. 

Donnegan offered apparent justification for her tweets, saying that her father was “severely beaten” in Catholic foster homes as a child, and that she was an atheist. She also claimed that her husband, who she said is an “ex-Catholic” is not offended by her tweets. 

Questionable content on Donnegan’s social media accounts dates back to 2010, when she tweeted “Abortion is morally indefensible to Catholic priests bcuz it results in fewer children to rape” [sic]. 

Later that year she tweeted “Saw a bumper sticker: ‘You can’t be both Catholic & Pro-Choice.’ Add: You can be a pedophile though!” 

On Ash Wednesday 2011, she tweeted “Go tell a Catholic they have dirt on their forehead,” along with the hashtag #waystooffend. 

Donegan also repeatedly tweeted a joke regarding a priest seeking to sexually abuse a child. In 2018, she said this was her “fave joke” [sic]. 

In addition to the Catholic Church, Donegan issued profane tweets at the Boy Scouts, Republican politicians, and supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president. 

Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses of Arlington and Richmond released statements condemning the tweets and questioning the governor’s decision to appoint Donegan.

The Diocese of Richmond’s spokeswoman Deborah Cox told local media that the tweets “are extremely offensive to Catholics and the Catholic faith.”

“We would expect anyone appointed to a council or commission for the Commonwealth to be respectful of all faith groups and civil in his or her public comments--including social media--given their status as a representative of the Commonwealth, appointed by the governor.”

Billy Atwell, the chief communications officer of the Diocese of Arlington, called the appointment “disappointing.”

“Ms. Gordon Donegan has a record of ridiculing Catholic beliefs and practices and trafficking in stereotypes that would disqualify her from this role had they targeted any other category of persons,” said Atwell. “Her statements are offensive to human dignity and fail to reflect the depth of character one would expect of a leader in our Commonwealth.” 

Donegan has since locked her Twitter account.

Northam’s office did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Northam’s judgment and fitness for office were questioned over a series of scandals. In January, he expressed support for a bill to legalize abortion until the moment of birth, even if the mother of the child were in active labor at the time. During a radio appearance in defense of the proposed measure, Northam appeared to support infanticide, says that if a baby were to survive an abortion, the child should be “made comfortable” while a decision were made about whether or not to provide care.

Shortly after these events, pictures emerged from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page. The page included a picture of a person in blackface standing next to a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam initially conceded he was in the picture while declining to identify which person was him. He later said he did not believe he was in the picture at all. He has resisted numerous calls to resign from state party officials.

No injuries a ‘blessing’ after fire destroys Catholic Charities shelter in N.J. 

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 15:55

Paterson, N.J., Aug 26, 2019 / 01:55 pm (CNA).- After a fire destroyed a Catholic Charities shelter in Paterson, New Jersey on Saturday, Catholic leaders are counting their blessings that no one was injured or killed in the blaze.

“Thank you to our working Straight and Narrow employees, who, when the alarm sounded, acted diligently and professionally. Our service recipients evacuated quickly and calmly, and none of our employees or clients were hurt,” Scott Milliken, CEO of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Paterson, said in a statement.

In the late morning on Saturday, August 24, “a small isolated blaze quickly turned into a five-alarm fire, sending plumes of black smoke into the air,” at the Straight and Narrow Catholic Charities three-story residence, Milliken said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, The New York Times reported.

Paterson, New Jersey is a city of approximately 149,000 people, located 15 miles north of Newark.

The shelter’s 200 residents were evacuated and placed in other diocesan shelters. Those who were receiving treatment for addiction recovery at the Straight and Narrow house were placed in locations where they could continue receiving treatment.

The building that was destroyed in the fire contained a women’s counseling office and a residence for 50 men, as well as some storage space. A building next door containing residential treatment for men and women and a detox hospital unit was not damaged by the fire, Catholic Charities reported.

Msgr. Herbert K. Tillyer, president of the board of Catholic Charities, told The New York Times that 59 women and 10 infants from a shelter next door were evacuated as a precaution, and that everyone had a safe place to sleep that night.

“The most important thing is no lives were lost,” Tillyer told The New York Times. “Thank God it happened during the day when everybody was doing things. That is the gift, the blessing in this terrible situation.”

He added that many who were evacuated now have nothing but the clothes on their back, but that they were receiving assistance from the Red Cross and Catholic Charities, as well as others in the “tight-knit” community.

In his statement, Milliken said that while it will take time to rebuild, the Straight and Narrow is dedicated to continuing to help those in addiction recovery.

Milliken also thanked the Paterson firefighters and other responding departments for their “quick action” and bravery that kept the fire from spreading, he said.

He also thanked the Straight and Narrow staff, as well as Bishop Arthur Joseph Serratelli of Paterson and Monsignor James Mahoney and other diocesan staff for their presence at the scene and their continued assistance, as well as local official officials and residents who offered to help.

“This city is strong, perseverant and has an amazing spirit.  We are proud to be the Diocese of Paterson,” Milliken said.

Anyone who is concerned about a loved one who may have been evacuated from the shelter may contact info@ccpaterson.org for more information.

Catholic Charities of Paterson is accepting online monetary donations to help with the long-term and immediate costs of regrouping and rebuilding after the fire.

“Thank you all for your kindness and willingness to help,” Milliken concluded. “We are proud of our city, Diocese and community and thank God no one was hurt.” 

 

Catholic Congressman standing down to put family first

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Aug 26, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), a practicing Catholic who has served in Congress since 2011, will be stepping down from his seat on September 23. He made the announcement in a post on his personal Facebook page. 

Duffy made the announcement Aug. 26, citing a desire to be with his family ahead of the imminent arrival of his ninth child as the reason he will leave Congress before the end of his term. 

“With much prayer, I have decided that this is the right time for me to take a break from public service in order to be the support my wife, baby and family need right now,” he said. 

“It is not an easy decision - because I truly love being your Congressman - but it is the right decision for my family, which is my first love and responsibility.” 

Duffy and his wife, television personality Rachel Campos-Duffy, announced in May that they were expecting their ninth child, saying “God isn’t done with our family yet!” In his Facebook post on Monday, he explained that new family developments, coupled with the difficulty of being in Washington for most of the week, contributed to his decision to quit. 

“As you all know, raising a family is hard work. It's especially true for one as large and busy as mine. Being away from home in Washington four days a week is challenging and for that reason, I have always been open to signs from God when it comes to balancing my desire to serve both my family and my country,” said Duffy. 

His ninth child, a girl, is due in late October. In the Facebook post, Duffy explained that they recently learned that she will “need even more love, time, and attention due to complications, including a heart condition.” 

Duffy thanked his constituents for “the faith and sacred trust you have put in me all these years,” and said he was especially thankful for the people who have prayed for his family. He encouraged people to continue praying. 

“I will miss being your Congressman, but I am also looking forward to having more time with my family, being home for more birthdays and hockey games, and having time to enjoy and care for our new baby girl, who is already so loved by our family,” he said.

The congressman’s district, Wisconsin’s 7th, is a reliably safe Republican district. Duffy was re-elected in 2018 with 60 percent of the vote. In the past, he has expressed his consistent support for President Donald Trump.

Duffy and his wife both participated in the reality television series, “The Real World,” broadcast on MTV. Campos-Duffy was on the show’s third season, which was filmed in San Francisco, and Duffy participated in the sixth season, which was filmed in Boston. The two met in 1998 while participating in a related TV project titled “Road Rules: All Stars.”

How these college freshmen found the faith through friendship

Sun, 08/25/2019 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Aug 25, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- The phenomenon is well-documented. When young Catholics go away to college, a troublingly high percentage of them stop practicing their faith. And many who stop going to Mass in college, never return.

Initiatives like FOCUS, and Newman Centers across the country, are all geared toward helping young Catholics stem the tide - to grow as Catholics in college, rather than wither.

Last Easter, three young men in Colorado were part of a different trend. They didn’t leave Catholicism in college. Instead, they became Catholics.

Jake Keller, a civil engineering major; Ian Horton, a finance major; and Anthony Ascolese, a natural resource management major, will be upcoming sophomores at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.
 
Keller and Ascolese began their freshman year in 2018 with little religious formation at all. Horton, who had been a committed atheist until 17, entered the University of Colorado at Boulder as a newly converted Protestant. He transferred to CSU during his second semester.
 
Ascolese told CNA that he grow up occasionally going to Baptist services with his grandmother, or to Mass with Catholic families, but that he had never givne much attention to faith. But when he began attending CSU, he connected with some  Catholic friends and was invited to some events at the Catholic student cener.

“[Growing up,] they have always invited me to [Catholic] stuff, and [they] invited me to the intramural fields that are on campus,” Ascolese said.

“I saw this big flag that said ‘Ram Catholic,’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, here they go again,’” he told CNA.

Initially, Ascolese said, he felt uncomfortable at Catholic events.

“I would just feel really out of place because I didn’t have much of a knowledge of God or anything like those traditional stories... So anytime I was there, like a Bible study or Mass, I felt really out of place.”

But he was joined at some of those events by other non-Catholics, among them Horton and Keller. That helped overcome the awkwardness.

Ascolese said the community was friendly and he soon realized that “religious people” could be “ordinary people.”

As he spent time in a Catholic circle, he grew more comfortable with the faith.

“I just kept growing and learning and hanging out with everyone and really falling in love with Mass. Everything about the Church was really coming together, and God was doing so much work through that,” he said.

Eventually, Ascolese attended a campus ministry retreat: “Ram Awakening.” There students participated in the sacraments, praise and worship sessions, and had religious discussions.

One of the major turning points, he said, was receiving letters of encouragement from his family and strangers during the retreat.

“The amount of love I felt from them, even just reading a piece of paper. You can really see how genuine and loving every letter was, even though I didn’t know any of the people staffing it. It shows how happy, joyful, and loving they were for me being there. It was really amazing,” he said.

“I think three days after that, I went over to the Church and met with Jessica Harris who leads RCIA at St John [XXIII Catholic Church].”

Keller has a similar story. He told CNA that he and his family and attended nondenominational services a few times each year.

At Colorado State University, Keller was invited to attend some religious events by some Catholic friends from high school. He said the events began as an opportunity to reconnect with old friends, but the faith soon became his point of interest.

“I started to become more in touch with God, praying a lot more, and believing a lot more. After joining their Bible study [and] doing a bunch of stuff with the Church, I eventually went on this retreat called Ram Awakening, we have at CSU,” he said.

“That retreat really changed me. I learned a lot about suffering and how that can make your life better,” he further added.

Keller said he especially struggled with the clergy sex abuse scandals and the Church’s stance on marriage and abortion. He said, through discussions with friends, he was better able to understand these issues.

“[The scandals] was the main thing holding me back. I guess just trying to think about priests not as someone who is representing God but someone who God is acting through. It’s hard to look up to someone but also understand that they are still human and they’re imperfect,” he said.

“Going through with them, I wasn’t doing it alone. It helped me look past the scandals in the Church because I am not doing it alone and there are other people doing it with me. Working through community helped a lot.”

Holton was a staunch atheist for about ten years; as a teen he devoured the work of intellectual atheists like Christopher Hitchens. But when he was 17, he became focused on researching and understanding Christianity. After reading books by authors like Thomas Aquinas and GK Chesterton, he realized, to his surprise, that he accepted Christianity.

A new believer, Holton said he didn’t know where to fit in among Christians when he began attending college. He said that one day he visited the Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, just off campus in Boulder. There, he said, a priest answered a lot of his questions about faith, and set him in the direction of Catholicism.

“From then on, I recognized that I appreciated Catholicism more than Protestantism because it was far more beautiful, interesting, and, most importantly, that is when I realized it was true.”

He started RCIA in Boulder, but he transferred to CSU in Fort Collins, where he is from.

There, he said he discovered a rich and active Catholic community among the youth. He said he was further inspired to the faith by Fr.Rocco Porter, the pastor of St. John XXIII Catholic Church near the university.

Holton said he is inspired by discovering the traditions of the Church and participating in Mass, noting he has had a strong connection to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Latin Mass. He said he’s realized, through the impact of the saints and Catholic intellectuals, that the Church has been the most influential institution in the world’s history.

“I love to know that I’m part of the faith and the Church that Jesus himself founded.  And to know that I’m participating in the original sacrifice of the Mass that’s been going on for 2000 years.”

“I love to couple the Bible with the Sacred Tradition that we have of how we do love Mary [and] how we do venerate the saints,” he said. “Not only do we have [these saints], we have 2000 years of some of the best philosophers and theologians the world has ever seen.”

The three men said that through RCIA, they were able to grow closer to Christ together, pray for each other, and discuss the intricacies of the faith.

Ascolese said it is exciting to have a group of men who shared in each other’s enthusiasm and kept each other accountable.

“We talked about God, but we were also there to be there for each other and love each other. You could really see the good from that, like God was just with us during that time,” he said. 

“When I knew I wanted to become Catholic, saying prayers and working with Jake...and God was working through my prayers and that really helped me too, seeing something was working.”

Ascolese recalled the power of prayer: One night all of the men went to Qdoba in place of Bible study. Keller had not yet decided to become Catholic. But after their conversation at Qdoba, he received a text from Keller about his conversion.

“When I got to my dorm room I got a text from him saying ‘hey, can you send me [the RCIA] number.’ which was wild to me, because I was just praying about that stuff,” Ascolese said.

All the men said they felt supported by their parish and the RCIA program but added that it has been a challenge to face ethical questions, including abortion and gay marriage, with other students on campus.

When asked about additional tools parishes should offer to support new Catholics, Horton said there should be mentorship opportunities or an apologetic course.

“I think what parishes can do to support new converts would be to have a bit of spiritual mentorship by either a priest, an RCIA leader, or a theologian,” he said.

“I am in favor of apologetics,” he said. “I think it is very important in this day and age when most young people leave the Church because of questions about science and genesis.”

All three men are excited and joyful for their encounter with new faith. They said the experience has not only challenged each other to entertain intellectual properties of the faith but it also has encouraged them to embrace a life of virtue. 

The change in his lifestyle has been a thrill, said Anthony, “seeing the difference of having God in your life can do for you, especially in the truest form through Catholicism. You can see so much good from it and the suffering you do get ultimately leads to good.”

 

Kentucky Supreme Court hears religious freedom case over LGBT shirts

Sat, 08/24/2019 - 09:00

Frankfort, Ky., Aug 24, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The Kentucky Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Friday in the case of a Christian business owner who is facing punishment for declining to print shirts for a LGBT Pride festival because of his faith.

“The right to decide which ideas to express is core to human freedom. The Commission violated that freedom by ordering Blaine Adamson to print messages that violate his religious beliefs,” Jim Campbell, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case before the Kentucky Supreme Court, stated after oral arguments in the case on Friday.

Blaine Adamson, owner of the Lexington, Kentucky-based print shop Hands On Originals, was sued for declining to print T-shirts promoting a Lexington Pride festival in 2012. His business had been requested by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, but Adamson declined to print the shirts because he believed that to do so would violate his Christian faith. He did refer the group to other companies.

In 2014, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission ruled that Adamson violated an anti-discrimination ordinance, and ordered him to print the shirts and undergo diversity training.

Adamson challenged the decision and won in a Kentucky court in 2017; the case has since been appealed to the state supreme court, and oral arguments before the court were heard Aug. 23.

Speaking to reporters and supporters after oral arguments, Adamson said that “I will work with any person, no matter who they are, and no matter what their belief systems are. But when I’m presented with a message that conflicts with my faith, that’s just something I cannot print.”

“I don’t walk into my business every morning and leave my faith at the door,” he said. “For the last seven years, the government has tried to punish me for declining to print a message that went against my conscience.”

In oral arguments, Campbell emphasized to the court that Adamson’s company Hands On Originals “serves everyone,” but reserves the right not to print certain messages it deems inappropriate or that would otherwise conflict with Adamson’s Christian faith.

Campbell said that Adamson, in his initial conversation with representatives of the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization who were looking for a shirt promoting the Lexington Pride Festival, only declined to print the shirts after he asked and learned what would be printed on the shirt.  

Campbell argued that this constituted a “substantial burden” on Adamson’s religious beliefs, as defined by the Supreme Court in Holt v. Hobbs.

The Commission required Mr. Adamson to violate his religious beliefs, and its mandate that he attend diversity training says that it’s “wrong” for him to operate his business according to his religious beliefs, Campbell argued.

Opposing Adamson, and representing the Commission, attorney Edward Dove said that Hands On Originals “practices censorship” according to Campbell’s admission.

“That’s why we have a public accommodation ordinance,” he said, to protect against people enduring discrimination as they seek to enjoy goods.

“They can do anything they want in the name of religion and censor any message they don’t like, which would affect the free speech argument in the country,” he said of Hands On.

Justice Michelle Keller asked Campbell how far the government could go to mandate that the shirts for the Pride festival be printed, asking if a disclaimer could be put on shirts saying the messages do not reflect the views of Hands On.

Adamson and other business owners have a constitutionally-protected “individual freedom of mind,” Campbell said, with an “individual dignity” to protect free expression.

HHS conscience rule essential for freedom say Catholic healthcare groups

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Aug 23, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Medical professionals do not give up their right to conscience protections upon accepting a job, Catholic healthcare organizations have argued in support of new rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

In legal briefs filed Aug. 21 on behalf of four non-profit organizations, including the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Catholic Medical Association, the groups argue that medical professionals should not be forced to perform procedures or refer patients for procedures to which they are morally opposed. 

The cases concern the Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule, first announced in May. The rule mandates that institutions receiving federal money be certified that they comply with more than two dozen laws protecting conscience and religious freedom rights, including a doctor’s right to refuse to participate in abortion or so-called gender reassignment surgery. 

Several suits were filed by state attorneys general against the rule, with California AG Xavier Becerra calling it dangerous to American lives and part of “a war being waged on access to health care across our country.”  

Herrera wrote that “hospitals are no place to put personal beliefs above patient care,” and that “refusing treatment to vulnerable patients should not leave anyone with a clear conscience.”    

After the “significant litigation,” HHS announced last month that the rule would not come into effect until November 22. 

Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, said in a statement last July that the rule is simply an enforcement mechanism for policies that have existed for years. 

“The rule gives life and enforcement tools to conscience protection laws that have been on the books for decades,” he said in a statement provided to CNA. 

“Protecting conscience and religious freedom fosters greater diversity in the healthcare space. We will defend the rule vigorously.”

The briefs were filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the four organizations in the cases City and County of San Francisco v. Azar, and State of New York v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Conscience rights are not limited based on one’s professional status. The argument that too many health care workers’ consciences would be protected under the HHS Conscience Rule shows a misunderstanding of the fundamental rights we have historically protected—beginning with the guarantees of the First Amendment,” the submissions argue. 

These conscience rights are “paramount,” they said, no matter what a person’s job may be, and that “decades of Supreme Court caselaw teach that complicity in an act creates an unconstitutional conscience burden.” 

Removing conscience rights from medical professionals would force them to sacrifice their “core convictions,” said ADF Legal Counsel Denise Harle.

“That’s why protecting the freedom to live and work consistent with one’s conscience is critical: It is at the heart of what motivates many who enter the medical field, a profession full of individuals who dedicate their lives to healing and doing no harm,” she said. 

Harle said she believes the rule is “constitutionally sound” as well as “consistent with related federal laws.” 

ADF also observed that Congress has passed multiple laws, with the support of both major political parties, that protect health care professionals from being forced to violate their consciences. These protections, however, are not often supported on the state level--as evidenced by the lawsuits and how 13 state attorneys general previously denounced conscience protection regulations. 

Kevin Theriot, vice president of the ADF Center for Life, said in a statement that the rule was “commonsense” and simply worked to enforce existing conscience protections. 

“Despite clear constitutional principles assuring respect for conscience, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and health care providers have faced discrimination and even have lost their jobs because of their commitment to saving life,” said Theriot. 

“The government may not pick and choose which views deserve protection.”

New West Virginia bishop addresses scandals head-on at installation Mass

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 18:43

Wheeling, W.V., Aug 23, 2019 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- After nearly a year without a bishop, due to the scandal-ridden former Bishop Michael Bransfield, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia has a new shepherd, who was installed at a Mass yesterday on the feast of the Queenship of Mary.

Hundreds of Catholics, hopeful for a fresh start, came from throughout the diocese to fill the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling for the 2+ hour Mass and glimpse their new leader, Bishop Mark Brennan. Thousands more tuned in to the event via a Facebook live stream posted by the diocese.

“It's a new beginning. We hope it's a new beginning,” Joe Herrick, a Catholic who attended the Mass, told a local Fox News affiliate.

“We're very hopeful for the future. I'm really praying Bishop Brennan will be able to lead us and mend the flock together so we can be one.”

Brennan, who gave the homily, did not hesitate to address the tumultuous year that both the diocese and the universal Church have experienced.

“My friends, the ‘people walked in darkness’ and ‘dwelt in the land of gloom’. Those words of Isaiah, referring to enemy armies oppressing the kingdom of Israel, are an apt description for how many Catholics in this country have felt over the past year and how many West Virginia Catholics have felt for even longer,” Brennan said on Thursday, Aug. 22 at his installation Mass.

While he did not specifically name Bransfield, Brennan spoke of the diocese’s “painful past” and the “crisis” it now faces as a result of the scandals.

“The scandals we have learned about have caused painful disappointment, confusion, anger and distrust of Church leaders,” he said.

In September 2018, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston while an investigation was launched regarding allegations of financial and sexual misconduct against him. Archbishop William E. Lori was appointed apostolic administrator of the diocese in the interim.

Bransfield, who had been bishop of the diocese since 2004, reportedly sexually harassed, assaulted and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his time there. He is also reported to have used diocesan funds to make large financial gifts to other bishops and to pay for personal luxuries. According to a report from the Washington Post, concerns about Bransfield’s finances were raised as early as 2012 and were evidently ignored for years by some bishops who were the recipients of these gifts.

In July 2019, after assessing the investigation into Bransfield by Lori, the Vatican announced sanctions against Bransfield, including that he is no longer allowed to participate in public Masses or to live within his former diocese. He is also expected to “make personal amends” for his wrongs, Pope Francis said in a communique.

“Behavior has consequences, and there are consequences to bad behavior in the past that will have to be dealt with,” Brennan said in his homily. “That is one of my responsibilities and I assure you that I will meet it.”

But still, there is hope, the new bishop added. “...Isaiah’s message to an oppressed people does not end in the darkness. Hear it again: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone,’” he said.

“My friends, it takes no humility on my part to admit that I am not the light,” Brennan said, provoking laughter from the congregation. Instead, he said, it is the light of Christ that will lead the diocese out of these “dark times” and into a future of hope.

“The light of Christ beckons us to move now from the painful past toward him, not in denial but in confidence that the Lord will supply us with the wisdom and strength to do things better, to live our faith with greater integrity and to reflect more brightly, as far as our human weakness and limitations will permit, his own enduring light,” he said.

Brennan acknowledged numerous groups of people whom he said have already been lights in the darkness, including parents who continue to catechize their children, Catholic school and religious education teachers who do the same, parish priests who faithfully administer the sacraments, as well as diocesan chancery workers and faithful young people.

“Christ’s light has been shining in the darkness through all of them and, as St. John says in his Gospel, the darkness has not overcome it. I thank God for these faithful West Virginia Catholics,” he said.

The scandals may also have driven some people away from the Church, Brennan said, but he encouraged Catholics in the diocese to look to their roots circa the Civil War - when West Virginia seceded from Virginia in order to remain in the Union - for inspiration to remain united in faith.

“When the dark clouds of secession were rolling over the State of Virginia in the spring of 1861, the people of these western mountains chose to remain in the United States of America. They would not break their unity with Ohio and Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky. They petitioned Congress to admit them as the State of West Virginia, which Congress did in 1863,” he said.

“Many of their sons—the ancestors of some here present — fought to maintain the integrity of the Union.”

He urged Catholics of today to fight for that same unity in the Church.

“Unity with one another and with God is what the Lord wants for us— and what, in our hearts, we truly desire,” he said.

“One man told me not long ago that he stopped going to Mass in his parish because of the recent scandals but then he asked himself: who was he helping by doing that? No one. Who was he hurting? Himself. He has since returned to Mass, still eager to see the Church address its failings and bring about lasting reform but conscious that walking away doesn’t help,” he added.

“As Simon Peter said to the Lord when some disciples were leaving Jesus because of hard teachings, ‘Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.’” The Blessed Virgin Mary is another example of someone who said “yes” to the Lord despite difficult circumstances, Brennan said.

“...like Mary, we can let God fulfill his purpose in us and not let the darkness return to cover the earth. We can right the wrongs of the past and move on to make Christ known, helping our neighbor in need and remaining united in faith and love,” he said.

“West Virginia Catholics: cherish your faith and the holy Church that has nurtured it,” he added.

“Make Mary’s ‘yes’ to God your own and work with me and your brothers and sisters to let the light of Christ be a light brightly visible in the mountains and valleys, the city streets and country roads of this beautiful part of God’s creation: West Virginia.”

Cincinnati Catholic raised 'red flags' about priest over a year before rape indictment

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:45

Cincinnati, Ohio, Aug 23, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- A Cincinnati news station is reporting on the contents of a letter, sent to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer in August 2018, accusing them of ignoring “red flags” related to a priest now indicted on nine counts of rape.

"What are we to do with these 'red flags' about Father [Geoff] Drew?" the parishioner wrote, addressing auxiliary Bishop Binzer.

"They were brought to your attention on many occasions and your response was to place Fr. Drew in a parish with the largest Catholic grade school in the state! I can't be the only one to see the irony in this."

Fr. Geoff Drew was arrested Aug. 19 on allegations dating back 20 years, which concern Drew’s time as music minister at St. Jude parish, prior to his ordination as a priest. The accusations concern abuse said to have taken place over two years, when the reported victim was 10 and 11 years old. If convicted, the priest could face life in prison.

The priest entered a “not guilty” plea at his Aug. 21 arraignment.

Because she considers the priest a flight risk, Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz set Drew’s bond at $5 million. He remains incarcerated.

Local news station WCPO reported that in the letter in question, a longtime lay leader at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish told Schnurr he had failed to deliver on his promise of being "unequivocally committed" to children and that the church had ignored "red flags" about Father Drew.

WCPO reported that the author of the letter is a mother of three children who attended St. Maximilian Kolbe in Liberty Township, where Drew was pastor from 2009 to mid-2018.

CNA reported earlier this month that complaints were raised to at least one archdiocesan official about Drew’s inappropriate behavior with teenage and pre-teenage boys as early as 2013. Complaints were made to auxiliary bishop Joseph Binzer, who is the archdiocesan vicar general, in 2013 and 2015.

Binzer referred the complaints to law enforcement, who found no evidence of criminal activity. Binzer did not, however, notify the archdiocesan personnel board or Archbishop Dennis Schnurr about the multiple complaints he had received against Drew. The allegations were also reportedly not recorded by Binzer in the priest’s personnel file.

In early 2018, Drew applied for a transfer to St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Green Township, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese. As head of priest personnel, Bishop Binzer was in charge of the process that considers requests and proposals for reassignment, in conjunction with the priest personnel board. Neither the board nor the archbishop were made aware of the multiple complaints against Drew, and the transfer was approved.

Archbishop Schnurr released a public letter Aug. 17, 2018, following the announcement of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, which detailed hundreds of cases of historical clerical sexual abuse. Schnurr wrote that there were no active cases of clerical abuse of minors anywhere in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and that the archdiocese is “committed to transparency."

Schnurr’s letter— as well as Drew’s successful transfer— prompted the St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioner to write hers, WCPO reported.

The archdiocese referred the letter to the Butler County Prosecutor's Office, which determined that Drew’s behavior was inappropriate but not criminal, WCPO reported.

One month after Drew’s arrival at his new parish, a parishioner at his previous church resubmitted a 2015 complaint made about the priest. The complaint was again reported to Butler County officials, but this time it was also brought to the attention of Archbishop Schnurr.

The priest was asked to restrict his involvement with the school and was assigned to meet regularly with a “monitor,” but school faculty and administration were not told about these restrictions, or the reasons for them.

The archdiocese removed Drew from ministry last month, after allegations surfaced that he had sent a series of inappropriate text messages to a 17-year-old boy. The archdiocese then confirmed a history of similar allegations against Drew.

Drew worked as music minister at the parish of St. Jude in Bridgetown, Ohio, from 1984-1999. During that time he was also a music teacher at Elder High School until 1991. He entered seminary in 1999, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2004.

The archdiocesan statement, issued Aug. 19, emphasized that neither the archdiocese, nor Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr were aware of the rape allegations at the time of Drew’s removal last month.

Despite the long history of allegations made against the priest, Archdiocese of Cincinnati spokesman Mike Schafer told local reporters that archdiocesan officials were “stunned” by the rape charges.

“We were stunned," Schafer said Aug. 21. “Just stunned.”

Following the initial reports of Drew's removal from ministry, Bishop Binzer resigned from the USCCB’s committee on child and youth protection, which advises the bishops’ conference on all matters related to safe environment policy and child protection. Binzer was removed from some of his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and could face an internal Church investigation for his handling of the allegations.

 

Christian filmmakers win right to sue against Minnesota human rights law

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:00

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 23, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A federal court has reversed a decision dismissing a lawsuit brought against the Minnesota Human Rights Act. In a decision issued Friday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated claims that the law violates free speech and freedom of religion in a case brought by two Christian filmmakers who refused to make same-sex wedding videos.

The case was brought by Carl and Angel Larsen, the owners Telescope Media Group, both of whom are devout Christians. The Larsen’s intended to expand their business by filming weddings, but were told by state officials that if they produced films celebrating marriages in accord with their own beliefs, they would also have to create films promoting same-sex marriage.

Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Larsens, called the decision a “significant win.”

“The government shouldn’t threaten filmmakers with fines and jail time to force them to create films that violate their beliefs. Carl and Angel work with all people; they just don’t create films promoting all messages,” Tedesco said in a statement.

“All creative professionals should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment.”

The initial suit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis and appealed to the 8th Circuit in October, 2018. The Larson’s told the court that they “gladly work with all people—regardless of their race, sexual orientation, sex, religious beliefs, or any other classification.” 

Because they are Christians, the Larsons said they only decline requests for their services that conflict with their religious beliefs, including any that, in their view, “promote any conception of marriage other than as a lifelong institution between one man and one woman.”

The 2018 Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits vendors from “to intentionally refusing to do business with, to refuse to contract with, or to discriminate in the basic terms, conditions, or performance of the contract because of a person’s . . . sexual orientation.”

According to the state’s argument, the law regulates the Larsen’s business conduct and not their speech, and they would need to make both traditional marriage and same-sex wedding films, or none at all in order to comply, otherwise they could face tens of thousands of dollars in penalties and up to 90 days in jail.

In the decision published Aug. 23, the 8th Circuit held that the First Amendment prevented the Larsons from being compelled to “mouth support for views they find objectionable,” and that their film productions are a form of free speech protected by the Bill of Rights, saying that “the videos they do wish to produce will convey a message designed to affect public attitudes and behavior.” 

The judges also cited the Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a Christian baker refused to create custom wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

“If Minnesota were correct,” the judges wrote, “it could use the MHRA to require a Muslim tattoo artist to inscribe ‘My religion is the only true religion’ on the body of a Christian if he or she would do the same for a fellow Muslim, or it could demand that an atheist musician perform at an evangelical church service.” 

The decision orders the District Court to review the case again, and to consider if the Larson’s case merits a preliminary injunction against the state law.

Arizona bishops welcome tuition break for undocumented students

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 15:00

Albuquerque, N.M., Aug 23, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Arizona’s Catholic bishops issued a statement Thursday in support of a change in policy that will offer a discounted college tuition rate to resident high school students who are undocumented immigrants. 

“We are glad that these undocumented students, who were brought here through no fault of their own, will now have more opportunities to better their lives after they graduate from our high schools and eventually become productive members of our society,” said the statement, which was co-signed by the state’s four bishops. 

The new policy, announced Aug. 22, sets the state college tuition rate for non-legal resident students at $16,000, which is $5,000 more than the in-state rate for legal Arizona residents. The tuition rate for out-of-state students is $30,000. Previously, undocumented students had to pay the out-of-state rate. 

“Today's action allows these students, as well as other Arizona high school graduates who have left the state, to join immigrant students who are in the DACA program and pay a much lower tuition rate that reflects the actual costs at our public universities,” the bishops said. 

Several states offer in-state tuition to undocumented students who graduated from a high school in the state. 

The announcement came on the same day that Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, issued a statement condemning a newly-published Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security rule that concerns the care and custody of immigrant children. 

That new rule allows for families, including minors, to be detained for longer than the previous 20-day limit allowed under the Flores settlement. 

Vasquez said the rule is “unlawful and inhumane” and will harm “countless children.” 

“This rule will have heartbreaking consequences for immigrant children – those whom Pope Francis has deemed ‘the most vulnerable group’ among migrants,” said Vásquez in the statement, which was published on the USCCB’s website. 

“It is an attempt by the [Trump] Administration to circumvent existing obligations and undermine critical protections for these children. This rule will jeopardize the well-being and humane treatment of immigrant children in federal custody and will result in children suffering long-lasting consequences of being held for prolonged periods in family detention.”

The new rule will take effect 60 days after its publication.

Children before politics say parents as Catholic adoption agency heads to court

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 19:30

Lansing, Mich., Aug 22, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Parents of five adoptive children were present in court on Thursday in support of a Catholic adoption agency in Michigan that is threatened with closure by a new state policy.

“Political grandstanding should never come at the expense of vulnerable children,” stated Melissa Buck, who with her husband Chad has adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Michigan.

Buck was speaking out against a new state requirement that adoption agencies match children with same-sex couples—regardless of the agencies’ religious mission—in order to receive state funding.

“No one has ever been kept from adopting or fostering a child in need because of St. Vincent’s religious beliefs,” Buck stated on Aug. 22 after oral arguments in Buck v. Gordon, the challenge to Michigan’s new policy, at the Western District Court of Michigan in Grand Rapids.

Kristy and Dana Dumont, a same-sex couple seeking to adopt a child out of foster care, said they were referred elsewhere by St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services in 2016 and 2017 when they tried to adopt children through them. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the two organizations on their behalf.

St. Vincent is one of the oldest adoption and foster care agencies in the state, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the agency.

The State’s health department opened investigations into the complaints. Then on March 22, 2019, the state’s new Attorney General, Dana Nessel, settled with the ACLU and required all adoption agencies to match children with qualified same-sex couples in order to receive state funding.

Nessel, a self-identified lesbian, once represented a same-sex couple April DeBoer and Jane Rowse in their fight to marry and adopt children; the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court as part of Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 decision that mandated the legal recognition of same-sex unions as civil marriages nationwide.

The settlement reversed a 2015 state law that protected religious-based adoption agencies from having to match children with same-sex couples if they were morally opposed to doing so.

Becket filed a lawsuit on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities as well as people who have benefitted from their work—Shamber Flore, a former foster child placed with a family by St. Vincent, and Melissa and Chad Buck, a married couple who adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent.

After oral arguments on Thursday, Buck shared her personal story of working with St. Vincent to adopt five children with special needs.

“It’s the best and the hardest thing we’ve ever done, and there were challenges that we weren’t equipped to face on our own—but we were never alone. St. Vincent was there for us every step of the way, at all hours of the day or night, for anything we needed, even if it was for just a shoulder to cry on,” Buck said.

“We chose to foster and adopt through St. Vincent because the faith and values that motivate their ministry make them the very best at what they do, particularly finding homes for the children who need it most.”

There are currently more than 13,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system, and more than 600 children “age out” of the foster care system each year without having been adopted.

Becket said that in 2017, St. Vincent “recruited more adoptive families than nearly 90 percent of the other agencies in its service area.”

Lori Windham, senior counsel for Becket, wrote in an op-ed for The Detroit News that “already, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Buffalo, and the state of Illinois have forced faith-based adoption agencies to close, and several more agencies are entangled in court battles, all amid a nationwide adoption and foster care crisis.”

“That crisis is only growing worse as with children flooding into the system, their lives the collateral damage of an opioid epidemic,” Windham wrote.

Bishops praise proposal to clarify religious exemptions for federal contractors

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 18:15

Washington D.C., Aug 22, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- Leaders at the U.S. bishops’ conference have praised a U.S. Labor Department proposal to clarify protections for religious employers seeking federal contracts.

“Faith-based groups should have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field as they seek to partner with the federal government to provide critical social services,” said the heads of three committees for the U.S. bishops.

Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, FL, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, signed an Aug. 21 statement about the proposed changes.

“These proposed rules protect religious liberty, a core constitutional right, by clarifying existing religious exemptions consistent with federal law and recent Supreme Court precedent. We are grateful to the Administration for taking this step, and we look forward to filing more detailed public comments with [the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs],” they said.

The Labor Department announced the proposed rule changes Aug. 15 in the federal register and asked for public comment.

Under existing law, religious nonprofit organizations that enter into contracts with the federal government are exempt from the requirement that federal contractors not discriminate on the basis of religion in employment decisions.

The Labor Department wrote that some organizations, including for-profit companies that have a religious mission, have provided feedback saying they are reluctant to participate as federal contractors because of uncertainty regarding the scope of existing religious exemptions.

In light of recent Supreme Court decisions such as Masterpiece Cakeshop and Trinity Lutheran, the department proposed to clarify that the religious exemption “allows religious contractors not only to prefer in employment individuals who share their religion, but also to condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor.”

Among other changes, the department wrote, the proposal is intended to make clear that the existing religious exemption covers not just churches, but also employers that are “organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose.”

It is also intended, the department said, to make clear that religious employers can “condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government,” provided that they do not discriminate based on other protected bases such as race, sex, or national origin. Companies will also still be bound by the state laws of the jurisdictions in which they are located.

Secular groups such as Lambda Legal reacted to the proposed changes with concern, fearing that the rules would allow companies to “opt-out” of civil rights laws and discriminate against religious minorities and the LGBT community.

But Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel of the Becket Fund, told The Washington Post that the new rules give religious groups greater clarity on what exemptions they can legally seek in their hiring practices after the Obama administration expanded protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

“When a religious group says ‘Hey, we need you to be a Christian and adhere to Christian teachings,' federal law has recognized that’s not discrimination,” he said.

Ex-Philly pastor arrested for charges of embezzling roughly $100,000 of church funds

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:50

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 22, 2019 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- A priest in Downingtown, Penn., a suburb west of Philadelphia, was arrested yesterday for stealing roughly $100,000 in church funds over six years to fund his New Jersey beach house and sexual encounters with men among other personal expenses, authorities have reported.

Rev. Joseph McLoone, 56, was removed as pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Downingtown and placed on administrative leave in early 2018, shortly after his secret account of stolen funds, which he had named the “St. Joseph Activity Account”, was discovered by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“Monsignor McLoone was the only signer on this account and he acted alone with respect to all of the account’s activity,” the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a statement released Wednesday.

“Off book accounts are in violation of standard Archdiocesan financial control practices and procedures. This bank account was frozen in February 2018 and a review of parish financial records was then undertaken by personnel from the Archdiocesan Office for Parish Services and Support,” the statement added.

According to the Reading Eagle, investigators reported after a year-long investigation that McLoone used his secret account to siphon off the entire collection taken up at the parish each year on the feast day of All Soul’s Day in November, for a total of $39,543 over six years.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, some of the rest of the money came from McLoone doubling his stipends for weddings, funerals and other special Masses. Authorities report that he spent at least $3,000 of the money on men with whom he had sexual relationships, including one New York prison inmate.

“Those expenses were related to relationships with adults that represented a violation of ‘The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries’ established by the Archdiocese. None of this activity involved other members of the Saint Joseph Parish community,” the archdiocesen statement noted.

McLoone made “regular withdrawals” from the account and spent “thousands” of dollars in New Jersey, where he has a beach house, the Eagle Reader reported.

Money from regular Sunday collections, donations to the parish capital campaign, and school and PREP tuition fees do not seem to have been stolen by McLoone, the archdiocese said.

In total, McLoone is charged with embezzling between $98,000-$125,000 in funds from the parish during his time there.

“Father McLoone held a position of leadership, and his parishioners trusted him to properly handle their generous donations to the church,” District Attorney Chief of Staff Charles Gaza said in a statement, reported by the Inquirer. “Father McLoone violated the trust of the members of St. Joseph’s for his own personal gain.”

The charges against McLoone include dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and other related counts, the Reading Eagle reported.

The priest maintains his innocence.

“The Chester County District Attorney’s Office is overreaching,” Melissa McCafferty, McLoone’s attorney, told the Inquirer. “They filed these charges based off speculation, conjecture, and innuendo.... They won’t be able to prove them.”

McLoone was sent to the parish in 2011 after the previous pastor, Msgr. William Lynn, was convicted of covering up clerical sex abuse in 2012. Lynn’s conviction was overturned three years ago, and he is awaiting a retrial.

The archdiocese said it has pledged to “pursue full financial restitution” to the parish for the reportedly stolen funds, and said that it shared this information along with other updates on the case throughout the past year with the parish during the investigation.

“These charges are serious and disturbing,” the archdiocesan statement said. “The Archdiocese and the parish will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as the criminal matter enters its next phase. Pending the outcome, Monsignor McLoone remains on administrative leave. Information regarding his arrest will be shared with the Saint Joseph Parish community.”

McLoone now awaits a hearing before a district court judge for the charges.

In first-ever event, UN commemorates religious victims of violence

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 13:01

New York City, N.Y., Aug 22, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The United Nations General Assembly has designated Aug. 22 as the first-ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

“On this Day, we reaffirm our unwavering support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief. And we demonstrate that support by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement.

The General Assembly condemned acts of violence against religious minorities and reiterated its support for the right to freedom of religion, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Over the past few months, we have seen increasing numbers of attacks against individuals and groups targeted simply because of their religion or belief,” Guterres said. “Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched.”

He particularly noted the worrying trend of attacks targeting places of worship, and minority religious communities being attacked because of their faith.

“We must resist and reject those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred,” he said.

The United Nations is working on a new initiative to counter hate speech as well as a new action plan to safeguard religious sites, Guterres said.

In recent years, observers have voiced alarm at ongoing religious-based persecution in countries around the world.

In its annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded that “despite two decades of tireless work to bring an end to religious-based discrimination, violence, and persecution, innumerable believers and nonbelievers across the globe continued in 2018 to experience manifold suffering due to their beliefs.”

A report earlier this year commissioned by the British Foreign Office found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and that persecution against them is on the rise.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the UN for recognizing the serious threat posed by contemporary religious persecution, while highlighting the need for further action.

“All people have the right to peacefully live out their faith, and we can never forget those who have faced persecution for doing so,” said Kelsey Zorzi, president of the United Nations’ NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief and international director of advocacy for global religious freedom at ADF International.

She welcomed the UN’s decision to create a day commemorate victims of religious persecution, while adding that “remembrance alone is not enough.”

“Religious persecution is on the rise around the world. We therefore urge all countries to ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” she said.

Tony Perkins, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Family Research Council, also called for additional action to prevent religious persecution across the globe.

“Commemorating victims of violence based on religion or belief is critical, but that’s only the beginning of the world’s work to achieve justice for the survivors of past tragedies, like the genocide of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq by ISIS,” he said.

“We must also recognize and work together to halt the continuing ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and Christians in Burma and violence against Christians in Nigeria by Boko Haram.”

White House criticized for push to allow indefinite detention of migrant kids

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 19:49

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2019 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- The White House announced on Wednesday that it would look to terminate court-approved limits on detention of migrant children and families, allowing for indefinite detention. The announcement drew strong criticism from a leading Catholic immigration group.

“These changes would expand the number of children who will be detained and are in direct opposition to the child-friendly provisions in the Flores agreement,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).

Gallagher added that the action “would destroy long-term child protection standards created by our government and the courts.”

The White House’s new rule will seek to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, a court-approved national policy on the treatment of migrants by U.S. government agencies. The new rule must be approved by a federal judge before it can go into effect.

“To protect these children from abuse, and stop this illegal flow, we must close these loopholes. This is an urgent humanitarian necessity,” President Donald Trump stated.

Under previous court rulings, the administration said it had to allow most migrant children and families to leave detention centers after 20 days; a new proposed rule, the “Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children,” would remove time limits and allow for indefinite detention.

The rule would ensure the care and safety of children in detention and protect them from smugglers, the White House said in its announcement; smugglers have been taking advantage of the previous policy by promising migrants a quick release if they were to be apprehended by U.S. law enforcement, and by bringing children and adults together to pose as migrant families at the border, the White House said.

In a press conference, Kevin K. McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, emphasized that the facilities holding families under the new rule are “campus-like settings with appropriate medical, educational, recreational, dining, and private housing facilities.”

However, CLINIC, established by the U.S. bishops in 1988, called the administration’s proposal last September an “abomination.”

Gallagher said on Wednesday that “clinical studies demonstrate that the mitigating presence of parents does not negate or lighten the serious and adverse effect of detention on the physical and mental health of children.” The organization has also said that the administration’s policy would allow it to set the conditions for migrants in detention centers with lesser independent oversight, threatening the due process of migrants.

In June of 2018, a group of human rights officials at the United Nations stated of the U.S. policy of detaining children and separating families at the border that “detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture.”

The number of “family unit aliens” apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has soared in Fiscal Year 2019, the White House says, increasing by more than 300 percent; more than 430,000 “family unit aliens” have been apprehended in FY 2019.

'Fertility fraud' scandals raise broader questions about IVF, ethicist says

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Lawmakers in three states have passed laws to criminalize “fertility fraud” following a series of scandals in which fertility doctors impregnated women with their own sperm without their knowledge or consent. But amid renewed discussion of the fertility industry, one ethicist told CNA that the laws do not go far enough.

On June 4, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law Senate Bill 1259, making the use of reproductive material from an unagreed upon donor a form of sexual assault, and could require an offending doctor to register as a sex offender. The bill was unanimously passed by both the Texas House and Senate, and went into effect on July 1. 

The Texas law is unique in classifing donor-deception as sexual assault. 

Legislation in Indiana, passed in May of this year, made it a felony for someone to misrepresent a medical procedure, device, or drug, including reproductive material. A plaintiff may also sue the medical professional for damages. Similar laws were passed in California in 2011.

The Indiana law passed after it was discovered that a fertility specialist, Dr. Donald Cline, had used his own sperm to father at least 61 children in the 1970s and 1980s. The estimated 36 mothers were unaware that he was the source of the donor sperm.

In 2017, eight years after he retired, Cline was sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence, and surrendered his medical license. He pled guilty to two counts of felony obstruction of justice, though his professional conduct was not yet a crime in Indiana. 

Cline’s case is not unique. Doctors in 12 states and several countries have been found to have fathered children with women who did not consent to being inseminated with their own doctor’s sperm. 

Dr. John Di Camillo, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that scandals only served to highlight the deeper problems with the fertility industry.

“Interventions that bypass or replace the conjugal act, on the other hand, such as in vitro fertilization, are always contrary to human dignity,” Di Camillo said.

While it is understandable that a woman or couple would feel violated by a doctor’s betrayal of their trust in the selection of the sperm donor, Di Camillo told CNA that “the very act of seeking a sperm donor is already a betrayal of any child that might be conceived.”

The child has the right to be born from and within a marriage, where the child’s biological parents are identifiable,” he said.

Such cases of abuse, he said, were rooted in society’s changing views on the nature of childbearing, as well as from the “morally corrupt” practice of in vitro fertilization. 

“When a child is no longer understood as a gift that a married couple receives as the direct fruit of their act of mutual self-giving love, and is instead perceived as a product that can be obtained human procreation becomes exposed to an endless chain of ethical abuses,” he said.

While the fertility industry continues to grow, the availability of commercial DNA testing has meant many previously unknown cases of abuse have come to light.

Sixteen years ago in Texas, Eve Wiley discovered, at the age of 16, that she had been conceived with donor sperm. She tracked down the man who she thought was the donor, and developed what she described as a “beautiful father-daughter relationship.” The man even officiated her wedding. 

After taking a consumer DNA test in 2017 and again in 2018, she learned the truth: the man was not her father. In fact, her father was Dr. Kim McMorries-the doctor who had inseminated her mother. 

McMorries had told Wiley’s mother that he was using donor sperm from California. Her mother had requested a donor from far away, as she was concerned that her potential child could eventually date a half-sibling if a local donor were used. 

Wiley has since been featured on national television programs, and spoke in committee hearings in favor of the Texas law. 

While Di Camillo is supportive of the Indiana and Texas laws, he told CNA that they do not do enough to address the source of the problem: the fertility industry. 

“I would certainly support any legislation outlawing this type of deception as a form of incremental legislation curbing abusive sequelae of the abusive practice of IVF,” he said. 

“The bigger issue is that in vitro fertilization and all forms of assisted reproduction involving donor gametes should be outlawed altogether. The root of the moral problem needs to be addressed.”

Florida bishops: Serial killer's execution is 'unnecessary'

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 11:30

Tallahassee, Fla., Aug 21, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops is pleading for Gov. Ron DeSantis to stop the execution of Gary Ray Bowles, who confessed to murdering six men during a six month period in 1994.

“As we approach the date of Gary Ray Bowles’ scheduled execution, we urge you to grant a stay,” said an Aug. 14 letter, signed by Michael B. Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the state’s bishops.

Bowles’ execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 22. He was first sentenced to death in May 1996, after pleading guilty to the murder of Walter “Jay” Hinton, and then re-sentenced to death in 1999 after his initial death sentence was overturned. While in prison for Hinton’s murder, he was convicted of three other murders, and sentenced to two life sentences.

When Bowles was arrested for Hinton’s death, he admitted that he had killed a total of six people. As Bowles’ crime spree spread from Jacksonville, Florida to Montgomery County, Maryland, he was dubbed the “I-95 Killer.”

He killed men in three states, two of which presently use the death penalty. At the time of the crimes, the death penalty was legal in all three states.

Bowles met most of his victims in gay bars, and offered to have sex with them in exchange for money. He would then beat and strangle the men to death, and rob them. At the time he was arrested, he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

The letter said that while Bowles’ “violent actions” ended the lives of six people, and caused “great grief” to their loved ones, “each of us is more than the worst thing we have done.”

“Mr. Bowles is more than a man who committed multiple murders,” said the bishops’ conference.

“He is a human being who survived many years of childhood abuse and, after escaping his stepfather’s violence as a young teenager, endured years of homelessness and child prostitution.”

“Neuroscientific research has found that such traumatic experiences severely affect a child’s developing brain, and thus affect subsequent behavior,” the letter added.

The bishops’ conference wrote that Bowles does not pose a danger to society as long as he remains in prison without parole, and that the death penalty is not necessary. Instead, “premeditated, state-sanctioned homicide of Mr. Bowles would only perpetuate the cycle of violence that victimized him, and which he later perpetuated.”

“Killing him will only further erode the sense of the sacredness of human life and implicate us all – the citizens of the State of Florida – in his death.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, Florida Catholics, as well as others opposed to the death penalty, will be gathering at locations around the state, including the governor’s mansion and across the highway from the Florida State Prison’s Execution Building. They say they will be praying for  Bowles, his victims, the families of the victims, and for an end to the death penalty.

If Bowles is executed, he will be the 99th person sentenced to death in Florida since the state reinstituted its death penalty in 1976. His will be the second execution presided over by DeSantis, a practicing Roman Catholic.

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

Minnesota archbishop reflects on the significance of a pastoral heart

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 06:00

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 21, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St Paul and Minneapolis reflected in a recent interview on several major milestones: his 60th birthday, 30 years as a priest, and 10 years as a bishop.

In an interview with the Catholic Spirit, the archbishop emphasized the importance of a pastoral heart in the priestly vocation.

“Being a pastor of a diocese is a little bit like being a pastor of a parish. It’s the same desires that you have for being able to make Christ known, being able to serve people, being able to bring the presence of Christ not only through the sacraments but also through God’s word,” he said.

The archbishop celebrated Mass on July 1 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in honor of the 30th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Hebda will also commemorate his 60th birthday on September 3, and 10 years of being a bishop on December 1.

Born in Pittsburgh, Hebda entered Saint Paul Seminary after he graduated from Harvard and received his JD from Columbia Law School. He was ordained in 1989 and, seven years later, he began his role at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, where he served until he was appointed bishop in 2009.

He said it was initially tough to leave behind a college ministry, where he had been placed as Director of the Newman Center at Slippery Rock University two years prior to his assignment in Rome. However, he said a priest must have a pastoral heart no matter the assignment.

“A priest has to bring a pastoral heart to whatever task is before him. Even if it’s an administrative position, he has to bring to that a pastoral heart,” he said.

“I came to recognize, though, that it was in the work that I was doing (at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, responsible for interpreting Church law), even though it was very technical, legal work, that I was being given an opportunity to really participate in Christ’s priesthood.”

In any vocation, he said, the most important thing is to place God above all else. He said this fosters acts of service for others.

“I think [God] wants us to put him first in our lives. We love God and we love our neighbor. It’s a way in which we’re also going to have our hearts expanded so that we can serve others, too,” he said.

The archbishop has led Minnesota’s largest archdiocese through a turbulent period. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015 amid many abuse claims that had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

Hebda announced in May of last year a $210 million settlement package for victims of sexual abuse.

He is also leading the archdiocese toward a 2021 synod to address pastoral concerns and discern the call of the Holy Spirit.

In preparation for the synod, the archdiocese will have 20 prayer events and spiritual talks. The first one will kick off on September 24. Hebda expressed hope that the process will lead the archdiocese to a richer connection to the Holy Spirit.

“My hope is that we might, together, be able to detect the presence of the Holy Spirit. That we would find reassurance in that. We would be reinvigorated by that realization, as well,” he said.

“I also am trusting that the process will help us to identify priorities for moving forward in a way that’s reflective not only of my own thinking but also the thinking of the faithful of the archdiocese, whether it be our priests, whether it be our lay faithful, whether it be men and women in consecrated life, it will all have a chance to shape the next steps we take as an archdiocese.”

Archdiocese to break ground for Bl. Stanley Rother shrine in November 

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 02:01

Oklahoma City, Okla., Aug 21, 2019 / 12:01 am (CNA).- The shy and unassuming Blessed Father Stanley Rother, a missionary priest and martyr from a farming family, would likely be surprised to learn that the largest Catholic Church in Oklahoma will bear his name.

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced that it will be breaking ground for the Blessed Stanley Rother shrine in November. The $40 million shrine will seat 2,000 and be the largest Catholic church in the state once it is complete.

The project is the “signature element” of the archdiocese’s first-ever capital campaign, the archdiocese told Oklahoma News 4.

Besides the main church, the shrine site will include a prayer chapel devoted to Bl. Stanley Rother, where he will be buried, religious education and ministry classrooms, and a museum and pilgrim center with artifacts and stories about Rother’s life.

“Padre Francisco”, as Rother was affectionately called at the mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala where he served, was shot and killed by masked gunman early in the morning on July 28, 1981, in the midst of the country’s civil war. Rother had refused to call for help, not wanting to endanger anyone else at the mission.

The five-foot-ten, red-bearded missionary priest was from the unassuming town of Okarche, Okla., where the parish, school and farm were the pillars of community life. He went to the same school his whole life and lived with his family until he left for seminary.

In June 2015, the Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted to recognize Fr. Stanley Rother as a martyr. Pope Francis recognized his martyrdom in early December 2016, and on Sept. 23, 2017, Rother was beatified at a Mass in Oklahoma City.

“The groundbreaking for the shrine will be a significant moment in the life of the Church in Oklahoma and for the broader community,” Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City told News 4.

“The shrine is being built to honor Blessed Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma original and the first U.S.-born priest and martyr ever beatified. It will be a place of pilgrimage where the faithful will come from near and far to honor Blessed Stanley at his final resting place and to seek his intercession for their many needs. It will be a place of welcome, serving all people.”

The groundbreaking for the shrine is set to take place at 3 p.m. on November 3 in Oklahoma City.

 

 

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