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Catholic scientists converge in Chicago to ask big questions

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 22:02

Chicago, Ill., Apr 19, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists will focus on beginnings: the origin of consciousness, the origin of human language, the origin of the cosmos, and the origin of living things.

“Might there be other planets that harbor life – perhaps one of the recently discovered earth-like 'exoplanets'? Might there even be other universes?” reads an April 18 announcement of the event.

Almost 100 attendees are expected at the society's inaugural conference will be held April 21-23 at Chicago's Knickerbocker Hotel.

The society, founded in mid-2016, aims “to witness to the harmony between the vocation of the scientist and the life of faith.” It works to help foster fellowship among Catholic scientists and to provide a resource and discussion forum for those with questions about science and faith, while also adhering to Catholic teaching.

Marissa March, a physicist and researcher from the University of Pennsylvania, will speak to the conference on the topic “The Catholic Scientist in the Secular World: What is the meaning of our vocation and how does it distinguish us?”

For his part, Father Joachim Ostermann, O.F.M., a Canadian Franciscan who has served as a biochemistry professor, will speak about science in light of the Christian view of the human person.

Other conference speakers include Catholics like Vatican Observatory director Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J.; Karin Öberg, an astronomy professor at Harvard University; and Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University.

Non-Catholic speakers include Robert C. Berwick, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and John D. Barrow, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Barrow will discuss his views on the origin and evolution of universes, while Berwick will speak on the ideas he and Prof. Noam Chomsky have developed on the beginnings of human language and why they think no other animals have anything like human language.

Besides lectures, there will be meals, social occasions, and a membership meeting at the conference.

The Society of Catholic Scientists has several hundred members. These include top researchers in such astrobiology, evolutionary theory and super-string theory.

Members include American Catholic scientists as well as undergraduate, graduate or postdoctoral students pursuing research in a natural science. The society's president is Stephen M. Barr, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware. Its episcopal adviser is Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

The society held its first-ever Gold Mass at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s chapel on Nov. 15. It chose the term “Gold Mass” because it is the color of the hoods worn by those graduating with a doctorate in science and because St. Albert the Great, a medieval philosopher with a strong interest in natural sciences, was an alchemist who worked to turn base metals into gold.

That Mass followed the tradition of Masses for other professions, such as Red Masses for lawyers, White Masses for medical professionals, and Blue Masses for police officers.

The Society of Catholic Scientists website is

Georgetown begins to make amends for 1838 sale of enslaved persons

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 17:24

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One hundred and seventy-nine years ago, two Jesuit priests sold 272 persons at a slave auction. Their families were torn apart: many of them were shipped over a thousand miles to Louisiana, and many more were barred from practicing their Catholic faith by new slave masters.

Meanwhile, the Jesuit priests used the money they received from the sale to pay off debts for Georgetown University – the oldest Catholic university in the United States.

On April 18, Georgetown University and the Maryland Jesuits apologized for their roles in the slave sale and started their ongoing efforts to make amends for their actions.

“As a Catholic, the whole concept of reconciliation and forgiveness is so important to us,” Jeremy Alexander said to CNA. Alexander is a descendant of one of the slaves sold by the Jesuit order for the benefit of Georgetown University, as well as an employee of the institution in its Office of Technology Commercialization.

“To hear the Jesuits say they are sorry for the sins of their brothers, of what happened in 1838, it is – I am very grateful for that.”

“The priest who went up to say the apology – it really brought me to tears,” he said, adding that he was also deeply moved to hear in person that the school is sorry “for the acts of slavery, for that horrible time in America.”

“Through this and through prayer, the family has survived,” Alexander mused.

The morning opened with a Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope, presided by Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout of Washington and Fr. Robert Hussey, S.J., Provincial of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.

Afterwards, the school dedicated two campus buildings to Isaac Hawkins and Anne Marie Becraft. Hawkins was the first enslaved person listed in the documents outlining the 1838 sale. He was 65 years old at the time. Becraft, later known as Sr. Mary Aloysius, OSP, was a free black woman who lived in Georgetown and founded a school for black girls in the neighborhood in 1827. She later became a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first successful Catholic religious order established by women of African descent.

Prior to 2016, the halls had been named for the two Jesuit priests who orchestrated the sale: Fr. Thomas Mulledy, S.J. and Fr. William McSherry, S.J., both former presidents of Georgetown University. The 272 persons sold at the slave sale were sold for $115,000 – approximately $3.3 million in today’s value.

At the time, the Vatican did approve the sale, but placed many conditions upon it, mandating that families not be separated, that the money not be used to pay off the school’s debt, and that the new owners respect the religious practice of the slaves – many of whom were baptized as Catholics.

Fr. Mulledy and Fr. McSherry met none of these conditions: families were separated, money was used to pay off the school’s debts, and investigators from the Holy See found that many of the slaves were barred from attending Catholic churches and receiving the sacraments once they arrived in Louisiana.

Fr. Mulledy was later called to Rome to defend his actions surrounding the slave sale to the superior of the Jesuit order and asked to resign from his post at the time as head of the order in the United States. Later he was allowed to return to the United States, was given a second term as president of Georgetown University, and founded the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

Previously, the Maryland Jesuits had held slaves on its plantations in the state since the turn of the 18th century, and had sold slaves in 1817 and in 1835 and afterwards. After the 1838 slave sale, the order continued to own slaves on its plantations and continued to house slaves on the Georgetown University campus.

In September 2015, Georgetown University formed a working group to research the conditions surrounding the 1838 sale and the fate of the slaves owned and sold by the Maryland Province of the Jesuit order. Since then, the group has also held discussions within the Georgetown community and has started to reach out to the tens of thousands of descendants of slaves sold by the Jesuit order.

The group has also recommended, in addition to holding a reconciliation service and rededicating several of its buildings, that the university extend preferential admission status and additional financial support to descendants of the 272 persons sold in 1838. Additionally, the working group has suggested the establishment of a public monument to honor the memory of the 272 persons sold in order to benefit the university.

On Thursday the university’s president, John DeGioia, apologized for the school’s historical involvement in the slave trade. Fr. Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, also made a heartfelt apology to God and the descendants of the 272 slaves sold by the Maryland Jesuits.

“We cannot hide from this truth, bury this truth, ignore this truth. Slavery remains the original evil of our republic, an evil that our university was complicit in, a sin that tore apart families, that through great violence denied and rejected the dignity and humanity of our fellow sisters and brothers,” DeGioia said. “We lay this truth bare, in sorrowful apology, in communal reckoning.”

“We betrayed the very name of Jesus, for whom our least society was named,” Fr. Kesicki recalled of the 1838 sale at the liturgy of contrition.

“Now, nearly 200 years later, we know that we cannot heal from this tragic history alone,” he continued. “We have no right to [forgiveness]. It is yours to restore,” he said to the descendants present at the liturgy.

One descendant, Sandra Green Thomas, explained how the university’s involvement in the slave trade was part of a societal injustice perpetrated against an entire race, the effects of which are present today.

“All African-Americans have hungered and thirsted for the bounty of the promise that is America, the promise of the equality of man, the pursuit of happiness, those God-given and unalienable rights,” she said at Tuesday’s liturgy, “but for so many of us,” they only saw “the meagre scraps” of that bounty.

“To be denied those things that rightfully come from the labor of our bodies, to have our minds deprived of the tools to develop to their potential, to live under soul-crushing injustice, stress, and deprivation, surely these are sins against the word of God and therefore God Himself,” she continued.

“These people, the 272 men, women and children we remember today, endured all of these. Their descendants are still experiencing them today.”

Both university officials and descendants of the 272 slaves acknowledged that the school’s actions –  financial aid and granting priority admission to descendants of the slaves – and the liturgy and dedication mark only the beginning of a reconciliation process that must continue forward.

“We do not seek to move on with this apology, but to move forward with open hearts to respond to the urgent demands of justice still present in our time,” DeGioia said, citing Fr. Kesicki’s call to “move forward” and not “move on.”

Dr. Marcia Chatelain, a professor of history and African American Studies at Georgetown and a member of the working group, was blunt about the challenge facing the parties to reconcile and redress past wrongs: “How do you make repairs for something that’s irreparable?”

Nevertheless, she hoped that other universities and institutions involved in the slave trade would follow Georgetown’s example and start addressing their past. “American Catholics have a long history of ignoring their faith in order to conform with the demands of the culture,” she said.

“I think that when we think about race and racial justice we see that the Church has really failed in its responsibility of really benefitting from the institution of slavery and reproducing the systems of racial injustice.” Catholics should ask themselves if they see “churches as a place where justice is done or as a place that obstructs justice,” she added.

The university’s road to reconciliation, however, has been challenging in itself. Some of the descendants of the slave sale, like Delores Williams Johnson, noted their hurt and frustration with Georgetown for initially moving forward with reconciliation plans without contacting the descendants themselves. In response, Johnson, a descendant of Isaac Hawkins with roots in Louisiana, helped to co-found the Legacy of GU272 Alliance, a nonprofit group that helps locate and identify each descendant of the slave sale.

The goal of the organization, Johnson told CNA, is to “get everyone involved” and help the descendants come to a “mutual” view of how to proceed, not only with the university, but also with the other descendants. She stressed that Georgetown “can’t make demands for us” but instead has to work alongside the descendants, and the descendants with one another, to decide how to move forward.

Johnson pointed to the naming of Isaac Hawkins Hall as an example of this kind of misstep where Georgetown was initially “talking about us and not with us.” Initially, she said, the university was only going to call the building Isaac Hall, hearkening back to historical practices where slaveholders “didn’t have to call people by their first and last names.” The descendants, she said, pushed for Hawkins’ last name to be included, and eventually the university listened to this input and included Hawkins’ first and last names on the newly dedicated buildings.

These adjustments aside, Johnson said she was “hopeful” in the steps Georgetown was taking. “It gives us an opportunity as descendants,” she said, to learn what their ancestors had experienced, as well as to “continue dialogue with Georgetown.” Johnson stressed, however, that this dialogue will be “an ongoing, long-term process.”

While many of the descendants of the 272 slaves sold in the sale are just now forming a relationship with Georgetown University, others have rediscovered this connection long after forging a new tie with the university.

Jeremy Alexander was working for Georgetown University in its Office of Technology Commercialization when a distant cousin emailed him to let him know of connection to the Jesuit slave sale. Genealogical testing confirmed that he was a descendant of Anna Mahoney Jones, one of the persons sold by the Jesuits.

“It was an amazing find, I never expected that I would learn the names of my ancestors like Anna Mahoney Jones. And to know about this connection, it’s special to me,” he told CNA.

Like many other descendants of the sale, Alexander and his family are Catholic. He said this connection not only of history but of faith has been an important part to him in the reconciliation process.

“We never expected to hear anything, that we would get an apology. But to actually hear ‘we’re sorry,’ that means a lot to us. And hearing it from Georgetown University as well, it’s a step in the right direction. And knowing that – it just doesn’t end here, and they want to do more to help and show how sorry they are, and we’re looking forward to all the healing process.”

Alexander said he was also encouraged, not only by the apology, but also by the university’s plans to continue making amends and helping the descendants of those harmed by the sale.

“All we know is that my ancestors could only hope for the better for the next generation. That’s all that I can hope for my son, is that he can do better than what I am doing right now,” he explained. “And that’s what I look forward, to see the progress that Georgetown is going to make, that whole commitment to this healing process with the descendants. “

Supreme Court appears skeptical of state denying benefits to churches

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 16:42

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2017 / 02:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments about whether a state benefit program could exclude churches because of their religious status.

Several justices appeared skeptical of Missouri’s rationale for denying a church preschool access to a reimbursement program intended to encourage safety updates to playground surfaces.

Justices also debated the extent to which public services – including firefighting and security services – can constitutionally be offered to religious organizations.

Justice Elena Kagan stated that “there’s a constitutional principle” for religious institutions to be eligible for certain public programs.

“As long as you're using the money for playground services, you're not disentitled from that program because you're a religious institution doing religious things,” she said of the case at hand. “And I would have thought that that's a pretty strong principle in our constitutional law.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the most significant religious freedom case of this term so far.

At issue is whether a playground owned by a church and operated by its preschool can be denied access to a state benefit program simply because of the church’s religious status. Other properties of non-profits and secular institutions are eligible for the program.

Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, applied for the Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant program within the state’s department of natural resources, which would have provided reimbursements for making safety upgrades to its playground surfaces with material from used tires.

The state ultimately denied Trinity Lutheran participation in the program because it is run by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, after the church was initially ranked fifth out of 44 applicants to receive reimbursements. On the state’s list of eligible recipients, the church originally scored higher than the ultimate recipient of the grants, the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom has said.

Missouri’s state constitution forbids taxpayer funding or preferential treatment of churches, an amendment passed at the same time as the federal Blaine Amendment was proposed.

The Blaine Amendment forbade federal funds from going to churches or their schools, and was seen by many as a ban on taxpayer funding of Catholic schools, as the public school system at the time, in the 1870s, was largely Protestant. Other states have similar amendments.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that the amendment is a protection against the unconstitutional government establishment of religion, although the Eighth Circuit said in its ruling that Trinity Lutheran being reimbursed by the state would not be a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The state’s new governor, Eric Greitens (R), recently announced that religious groups will be eligible for grant programs from the natural resources department in the future, although Trinity Lutheran might not be retroactively eligible for its playground grant.

On Wednesday, David Cortman of the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom argued on behalf Trinity Lutheran. He said that the state had conceded its denial of funding was “not facially neutral” and was “based on their religious character,” thus making it “discrimination against religion.”

Inside the Court on Wednesday, the justices pressed Cortman on whether the playground would be used for religious purposes and if that effectively constituted state funding of religious ministry.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg promptly brought up the Court’s 1947 Eberson decision, which said public funding for maintenance of churches or church property was unconstitutional. Cortman replied that the decision also said that churches shouldn’t be deprived of all public benefits.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she believes “that this program is part of the religious ministry of this church.” She then asked if the playground surface reimbursement was an establishment of religion if play time at the preschool began with prayer, or if religious ministries took place on the playground.

The church’s case is for a “safe surface,” Cortman replied, and just because the playground might be used for religious purposes does not mean that it should be ineligible for the funds. If a church school receives public funding, that does not mean that it has to “just stop all religion in school,” he said.

The Supreme Court in Locke v. Davey drew a “narrow distinction,” he said, as that case focused on taxpayer funding of education of religious ministers.

Justice Sotomayor pressed Cortman to explain how the church’s free exercise of religion was being unconstitutionally violated, as it would not close its doors just because it had not received a reimbursement for the playground surface.

James Layton represented the state’s natural resources department, arguing in place of the new Missouri attorney general who recused himself in the case. Layton said that the state amendment is rooted in the 1820 Constitution, which was inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s Statute on Religious Freedom from 1786. It was “reenacted” in the latest version of the state’s constitution in 1945.

The state has “concerns” about the church’s eligibility for the program, he said, as a playground resurfacing funded by the state would be a “visible physical improvement on church property.” The church, he added later, admits it “uses the preschool to bring the Gospel to non-members.”

Justice Alito asked him if a Jewish synagogue or a mosque, threatened by vandals, asked for a public security detail, would that be a violation of the state’s constitution. Layton said it would, according to a traditional reading of the constitution.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Kagan followed up, asking him if emergency responses by fire departments or police officers to the school, or public health programs, would be allowed under the state’s constitution.

Layton admitted that wouldn’t be denied, and Breyer then followed up, asking, “If it does not permit a law that pays money out of the treasury for the health of the children in the church, school, or even going to church, how does it permit Missouri to deny money to the same place for helping children not fall in the playground, cut their knees, get tetanus, break a leg, et cetera? What's the difference?”

Layton countered that the safety reason, and other health reasons, would not meet exceptions for public benefits for churches.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, the newest addition to the Supreme Court, did not ask many questions save for an exchange with Layton over government discrimination against religious groups in “selective” and “general” public programs.

After the arguments, Cortman was optimistic about the reception from the justices.

“I think the theme that came out was what we emphasized in our briefs, and that is if the government is going to open up some sort of a neutral benefit program, then it can’t discriminate against religious organizations simply because of their religious status,” he insisted.

“The government should be religion-blind just like it’s race-blind,” he added. “When the government’s engaging in safety benefit programs, it should want all kids to be safe. It shouldn’t matter what their status is, it shouldn’t matter where they decide to attend school, and I think that’s a principle here that the state violated.”


Costly weddings could be crippling for new marriages

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 05:27

Denver, Colo., Apr 19, 2017 / 03:27 am (CNA).- Noting the sharply increasing costs of weddings, marriage advocates have begun to urge couples to be less extravagant in their nuptial celebrations for the good of their relationships.

“We ran a survey [in early 2013] with a law firm that looked at reasons for not marrying, and the top reason for men was the cost of the wedding,” said Harry Benson, an official with the U.K.-based think tank The Marriage Foundation.

Benson said that the average price for the event in the United Kingdom is around $30,000, according to wedding magazines. Such expenses, he told CNA, are “definitely a barrier” to getting married.

“I think the celebrities have set the bar very, very high with all these hyped-up, high profile, highly photographed weddings, very extravagant events.” When couples want the “big, dream wedding,” he added, “often it’s very unrealistic.”

The Marriage Foundation was established by British judge Paul Coleridge, an expert in family law. Having seen a “stream of human misery pass through his doors,” Coleridge decided to launch the charity to promote strong marriages, Benson said.

Part of the promotion of strong marriages, he believes, is focusing more on the marriage than on the wedding.

Melissa Naasko, a Michigan-based wife, mother, and blogger at Dyno-mom, agrees. “If I was going to give a bride advice, it would be to focus more on the marriage and less on the wedding,” she told CNA.

Naasko advocates celebrations that won't break the budget and put burdensome financial stress on the married couple. She recalled planning the wedding of one of her friends a year ago, helping keep the cost reasonable.

When her friend got engaged, the first piece of advice she gave her was “never ever, ever buy a bridal magazine...because they’re all geared just to sell stuff.”

“Anytime you pick up a bridal magazine, they’re at least 60 percent ads. You’ll look and see that all the articles in it are sponsored articles.”

Avoiding wedding magazines – and shows such as “Say Yes to the Dress” – helps brides to “pay attention more to what their friends and their family are saying, and it becomes more about the people and less about the stuff.”

“There’s nothing wrong with having smaller weddings,” Naasko urged. “And the marriage obviously is the most important part of a wedding.”

“But one of the reasons it’s a social event, is because it’s the public aspect of our lives. Making the wedding itself about people always makes it less expensive.”

Not being influenced “by all the propaganda that surrounds the wedding mystique,” will ultimately benefit the couple, Naasko reflected.

Catholic commentator Matt Archbold added to the discussion in a blog post for the National Catholic Register in May 2013, noting that “big weddings…might just be causing heartbreak, damaging society, and hurting people's faith.”

Being engaged for more than a year, saving up the money to splurge on the big day, can put couples in a precarious moral situation, often involving cohabitation, which in turn is linked to higher rates of divorce.

“The dream of the lavish Hollywood style wedding is not only ridiculous but harmful to one's faith and society in general,” Archbold wrote.

Another factor that can put stress on couples is the societal pressure put on a fiancé to spend, on average, two months of his salary – $3500 to $5000 – purchasing an engagement ring for his beloved.

The two-month figure was first promoted decades ago by advertisers from the De Beers diamond and mining business, according to Business Insider writer Robin Dhar.

De Beers has effectively held a monopoly on the global diamond market for some 100 years.

Dhar wrote in March 2013 that “Americans exchange diamond rings as part of the engagement process, because in 1938 De Beers decided that they would like us to.”

The marketing campaign of the company that year pushed the idea that diamonds are a sign of love and affluence, and was massively successful in doing so.

Diamond rings are now given to 80 percent of American fiancées on their engagement – mostly because the company which has effectively monopolized the market for diamonds told men they should.

Adding to the financial strain of many couples in the U.S. is student loan debt. A May 2013 survey for the American Institute of CPAs showed that 15 percent of student loan borrowers have postponed getting married because of debt incurred from going to university.

Student loan debt in 2012 averaged nearly $25,000, a figure 70 percent greater than in 2004.

In his comments to CNA, Benson of The Marriage Foundation also touched on the rise in cohabitation, linked to the delay in getting married.

“The fundamental issue is that we’ve normalized cohabitation, which is much more unstable than marriage.”

He added that “deferring marriage is because we’ve effectively broken the link between marriage and childbirth.”

The Marriage Foundation is focusing its mission on educating couples about the benefits of getting married and having children, and helping them to realize they can have a wedding reception focused on what’s important, rather than on extravagant spending.

This article was originally published on CNA June 15, 2013.

Man in custody after Calif. shooting near Catholic Charities

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 18:00

Fresno, Calif., Apr 18, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A 39-year-old man is in custody following a shooting spree that left three people dead in Fresno, California on Tuesday, including one person who was killed in the parking lot of a Catholic Charities building.

The suspect, Kori Ali Muhammad, went by the nickname “Black Jesus,” according to NBC, and reportedly told police that he hated white people. The three people killed were all white men, police said.

Police said that Muhammad shot and killed a passenger in a Pacific Gas and Electric Company truck, before gunning down a man walking along a neighborhood street and another man in the parking lot of a local Catholic Charities building.

A Catholic Charities spokesperson said there does not appear to be any connection between the shooter and Catholic Charities, the Fresno Bee reported.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the shooting was unprovoked and appeared to be random. He added that Muhammad has a significant criminal history including drug offenses, weapons violations and making terrorist threats.

Police said that it is too early to determine whether to label the shooting an act of terrorism.

Muhammad was wanted in connection with the murder of a security guard at a Motel 6 last week. Police authorities said he yelled “Allahu Akbar” as he was being detained on Tuesday, ABC reported.

According to officials, Muhammad’s Facebook account showed animosity towards white people and government officials.


Family of Facebook murder victim: We forgive the killer

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 17:28

Cleveland, Ohio, Apr 18, 2017 / 03:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Mourning family members of a Cleveland man whose murder on Easter Sunday was posted online in a Facebook video said that despite their grief, they forgive their father’s killer.

“Each one of us forgives the killer. The murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him,” said Tonya Godwin Baines in a CNN interview.

She said that it was her slain father who taught her, through the example of his life, how to forgive.

“The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God. How to fear God. How to love God. And how to forgive.”

On Sunday afternoon, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. was shot and killed in Cleveland while walking home from Easter dinner with his family. Police said that the suspect, 37-year-old Steve Stephens, apparently chose his victim at random, and then uploaded a video of the murder to Facebook. The social media network later removed the video.

Following a nationwide manhunt, authorities were notified that Stephens’ car had been seen in a McDonald’s parking lot near Erie, Pennsylvania on Tuesday morning. Stephens shot and killed himself after a brief pursuit, police said.

The daughter of the Facebook murder victim has a message for the killer: I want him to know that "he's loved by God"

— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) April 18, 2017 On Monday night, Anderson Cooper spoke with Godwin Sr.’s children in a CNN interview, asking them if there was anything they would like to tell the suspect, who at the time was still at-large.

In addition to encouraging Stephens to turn himself in, Debbie Godwin voiced her forgiveness, saying, “(Y)ou know what, I believe that God would give me the grace to even embrace this man. And hug him.”

“It’s just the way my heart is, it’s the right thing to do. And so, I just would want him to know that even in his worst state, he’s loved...that God loves him, even in the bad stuff that he did to my dad...even though he’s going to have to go through many things to get better, there’s worth in him. And as long as there’s life in him, there is hope for him too.”

Though shocked and deeply pained by their father’s brutal murder, the children said they felt sorry for his killer.

“I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man. Because I know that he’s a sick individual,” Debbie said.

She added that she is able to forgive him because of her faith in God.

“I could not do that if I did not know God, if I didn't know him as my God and my savior, I could not forgive that man,” she said.


Two Arkansas executions called off, but five remain planned

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 17:24

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 18, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics in Arkansas and around the country continue to pray for death row inmates in the state, after courts on Monday blocked two executions in an eight inmate, 10 day flurry of executions planned by the governor.

“#SCOTUS upheld stays of execution last night in #Arkansas. But other 5 scheduled this week could still happen,” the Catholic Mobilizing Network, which works to end capital punishment, tweeted April 18.

Several courts handed down multiple decisions on Monday and early Tuesday morning, in a complex drama playing out as Arkansas seeks to execute eight men before its supply of midazolam, a sedative used in the lethal injection process, expires at the end of the month.

One inmate, Jason McGehee, had already been granted a temporary stay last week after a parole board recommended clemency. McGehee was convicted of the 1996 killing of John Melbourne, Jr.

Don Davis and Bruce Ward were both scheduled to be executed April 17, but the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed their executions.

Davis was convicted of the 1992 killing of Jane Daniel, and Ward of the 1989 killing of Rebecca Doss.

The men are claimed to have mental health problems, and the United States Supreme Court is due to hear oral arguments next week in a case involving a defendant's right to access independent mental health experts during their tiral. The state supreme court granted the stays in light of the pending federal case.

Arkansas appealed the stay on Davis, but did not pursue Ward's case.

In the early hours of April 18, the US Supreme Court denied Arkansas' application to vacate the stay on Davis' execution.

Neither of the men were put to death.

On Monday the Arkansas Supreme Court also made two decisions relating to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin and his decisions.

Griffin had on April 14 ruled that the state's supply of vecuronium bromide, an anesthetic which induces paralysis and which is the second of the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol, could not be used in the process.

The drug supplier, McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc., had stated that the drug manufacturer prohibits vecuronium for use in executions, and that Arkansas had purchased it under false pretenses. McKesson discovered that the drug was to be used for executions and demanded the state return the drug, promising a refund. The supplier said it refunded the state, which never returned the drug.

However, Griffin also attended a protest against capital punishment outside the governor's mansion on Friday.

On Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court forbade Griffin from hearing death penalty-related cases, and referred him to the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to discover if he violated a state code of judicial conduct.

It also vacated Griffin's restraining order against the state's use of vecuronium bromide.

Meanwhile, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated April 17 a federal judge's preliminary stay of executions which had been handed down April 15.

Federal judge Kristine G. Baker had ruled that the use of midazolam, a sedative, may violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

The sedative has been used in botched executions, and some medical experts have claimed it is not proven to be effective, thus exposing an inmate to the risk of severe pain as the other drugs are administered.

The eighth circuit appeals court rejected Baker's determination that the executions should be delayed to give courts time to consider whether the use of midazolam is a breach of the Eighth Amendment. The appellate judges wrote that “the equivocal evidence recited by the district court falls short of demonstrating a significant possibility that the prisoners will show that the Arkansas protocol is 'sure or very likely' to cause severe pain and needless suffering.”

One appellate judge dissented from the eighth circuit's decision.

After the US Supreme Court declined to reverse the stay on Davis' execution, Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, stated: “I am disappointed in this delay for the victim’s family. While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we will continue to fight back on last-minute appeals and efforts to block justice for the victims’ families.”

McKesson filed a complaint April 18 in Pulaski County Circuit Court seeking a restraining order and injunction to prevent the vecuronium it supplied from being used “for something other than a legitimate medical purpose.” The case has been assigned to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray.

In another case, Baker cancelled an April 18 hearing in which the lawyers for Marcel Williams, who is scheduled to be executed April 24, intended to argue that because of his obesity, Arkansas' lethal injection protocol is not likely to kill him and could cause organ damage. Williams was convicted of the 1994 killing of Stacy Errickson.

Baker cited the Eighth Circuit's reversal of her earlier stay in her decision to cancel the hearing.

Both Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, the chair of the US bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, have spoken out against the planned executions.

Arkansas' next executions are scheduled to be held the evening of April 20.

Supreme Court won't hear case of Central American asylum seekers

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 08:37

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2017 / 06:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of women and children from Central America who have been prioritized for deportation lost a legal battle Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal of a lower court’s ruling that prevented a federal judge from reviewing their expedited deportation orders.

The families were detained in Texas soon after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. They claimed asylum, but immigration judges ruled they lacked “credible fear” of persecution. They were placed in expedited removal proceedings and detained at a residential center in Pennsylvania, Reuters reports.

Expedited removal applies to non-citizens without valid documents for entry to the U.S.

The legal challenge claimed violation of the women and children’s right to due process under the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court let stand a ruling from the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

The families are composed of 28 women and 33 children ages 2-17 come from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The lead plaintiff in the case, Rosa Castro, fled El Salvador to escape rape, beatings and emotional abuse by her son’s father. Her son was six years old when they arrived in the U.S. In 2015. Another plaintiff, Lesly Cruz, fled Honduras to protect her daughter from sexual assault from gang members, court papers said.

Other families said they had fled to the U.S. to escape threats, violence and situations where police authorities were unable or unwilling to help them.

Twelve women and their children remain detained in Pennsylvania, while the others have been released under supervision.

Tens of thousands of Central American refugees and migrants enter the U.S. each year. Their numbers included a 2014 surge of nearly 70,000 unaccompanied minors.

Immigration enforcement has been ongoing in the U.S., but it has taken on more prominence under the Trump administration, which has planned to target more people for expedited removal.

In May 2016, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, then-chair of the U.S. bishops’ immigration committee, criticized immigration raids.

“Sending women and children back to Central America will not serve as an effective deterrent to migration because this is a humanitarian crisis and individuals from the region are being forced to flee for their lives,” he said.

In February 2017, the U.S. and Mexican bishops issued a joint statement on the right to migrate.

“We reiterate our commitment to care for pilgrims, strangers, exiles, and migrants affirming that all persons have a right to live in conditions worthy of human life. If these are not given, they have a right to migrate,” they said, citing Pope Pius XII’s 1952 apostolic constitution “Exsul Familia Nazarethana.”  


Lent is over. Now what?

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 05:18

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2017 / 03:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps have graced the shelves of U.S. stores for weeks in anticipation of Easter, but now that the actual Easter Season has begun, how should Catholics observe it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Catholics should party together.

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

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

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

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

US bishops: This Easter season, let yourself be filled with joy

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 22:31

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2017 / 08:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).-

Easter is a joyous reminder that Jesus’ Resurrection overcomes fear and doubt, the U.S. bishops said in their 2017 Easter message.

“Through Christ's passion, His burial in the tomb and His glorious resurrection, we come to realize the enormity of the Lord's sacrifice for us,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said April 17.

While we may feel unworthy of this love, he said, “Let us not be afraid. Let's allow ourselves to be taken – even seized – with Easter joy.”

Cardinal DiNardo, who heads the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, reflected on Mary Magdalene’s fear and doubt as she stood by the Tomb of Jesus Christ.

“There, it was Jesus who rescued Mary from her fears and darkness by calling her name,” the cardinal said. “Jesus calls out to each of us by name today as He did the very first Easter Sunday. His promise fulfilled. His word brings life, ‘I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine’.”

“Jesus waits for you and me, embracing us in our moments of greatest need and desire,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Welcome the love of God into your life. Share it those around you, especially the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers.”

Cardinal DiNardo’s message was recorded in a video posted to the Facebook page of the U.S. bishops’ conference.


Kansas project helps clients escape the predatory loan cycle

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 18:10

Salina, Kan., Apr 17, 2017 / 04:10 pm (The Register).- In 2015, Shannon found herself swimming in debt from a title loan. She faithfully made the $200 monthly payments. Unfortunately, the entire $200 went to interest.

“I kept paying the interest on it and wasn’t getting anywhere,” she said.

None of it went to pay down the original $900 loan.

“The first time I took a loan out, I was behind on rent,” Shannon said. “Then something else came up and it got out of control. I could never see getting myself out of the hole. I thought the loan would be a burden that would be over me forever.”

The Kansas Loan Pool Project, which began in 2013, has assisted 127 people get out of predatory debt. The program is a collaboration with Sunflower Bank in which the predatory debt is refinanced into a traditional loan. In all, more than $80,000 worth of debt has been refinanced through the program.

Shannon came to Catholic Charities of Northern Kansas because she heard about the predatory debt relief program via word of mouth.

Her loan ballooned from the original $900 title loan to nearly $1,300 from the interest and service charges.

It was April 2015 when Shannon first sat in the office of Claudette Humphrey, Director of Stabilization Services at Catholic Charities. Humphrey oversees the KLPP, which helps those like Shannon who are trapped in a cycle of payday lending.

“Most people who go to a predatory lender go to pay a necessity such as rent, mortgage, a car payment or to repair a vehicle so they can continue to work,” Humphrey said.

She said payday or title loans are marketed as a one time ‘quick fix’ for people facing a cash crunch. When the client cannot pay the loan back, they ‘re-loan’ with an additional service fee. Payday loans are balloon notes, with up to 391 percent APR. Title loans are secured with the vehicle’s title, with an average interest rate of 260 percent.

Once a client completes the appropriate paperwork and is approved to participate in the Kansas Loan Pool Project, the client begins monthly coaching with KLPP staff. Each office of Catholic Charities: Hays, Salina and Manhattan, has staff to assist with predatory debt relief. The first order of business is a budget.

“For people who live paycheck to paycheck, budgeting isn’t something they’ve used previously,” Humphrey said. “They often pay the bills they can. We look at a budget to see where exactly the money is going.”

Shannon said grasping her budget was difficult in the beginning.

“When we started, I couldn’t even go out to eat with a friend, my money was so messed up,” Shannon said.

“If she went out to eat, she’d have extreme guilt,” Humphrey added. “She knew she used the money she alloted for the water bill, and now there was no way to pay the utility bill.”

Shannon filled out paperwork, including a budget, as Humphrey assisted her in paying off her original loan. The monthly payment went from $200 per month, which covered only the interest, to $88 per month. The loan was paid off in 18 months.

The process hasn’t always been easy. Figuring out her household budget took some time.

“I would come in and could only account for some of my money,” Shannon said. “(The budget) made me more aware of how much I spent on pop at the quick shop.”

With guidance from Humphrey, Shannon said she learned how to adapt her spending habits.

“She asked if I could buy a 12-pack (of pop) and keep it at my house,” Shannon said. “Before, when I would go grocery shopping, I would try to stock up for the month. Now I go once a week, and I spend less overall on groceries.”

She’s also learned to decipher between a need and a want, especially in a social situation when friends are spending money.

“I’ve learned I can go out and enjoy myself and have a glass of water, not have to have a few beers,” Shannon said.

During their monthly meeting, Shannon and Humphrey review the budget, update her employment status, and also review future goals.

“I want to get a savings account started,” Shannon said. “I would never have thought about saving because I like to spend money.”

But the meetings with Humphrey have helped her to see how saving will help prevent returning to a predatory lender.

In addition to helping Shannon get out of her predatory loan, Catholic Charities has a pilot program that grants small loans up to $1,000.

“Rather than go to a payday loan to get a battery or alternator fixed, we have started to give loans to prior clients to prevent them from getting another predatory loan,” Humphrey said. “It’s the same terms as our other loans. This is to keep people from going (to get a payday loan) in the first place.”

Shanon is one of three people in the pilot program.

“You can’t go to the bank for a $130 loan,” she said.

Shannon said the $24 monthly payment to cover the cost of a new car battery is manageable, especially since she paid off the previous payday loan.

“Because she’d been a great client and had paid her loan payments on time, came to all of her meetings and did everything we asked, she was a perfect candidate for the pilot program,” Humphrey said.

Shannon hopes she can start saving the amount she pays for the loan.

“If I save it, when the battery goes out, I’ll have (the money I need),” she said. “The (KLPP) payment was $88; that’s $1,000 a year I’d have in a savings account. That’s a lot to have in case something happens.

“Before, I would think ‘I have this extra $88, I can go out to eat or get a new pair of pants.’ I’m now more conscious about wanting to have money saved up to do things.”

Shannon has her daughter and granddaughters living with her. She said the information she learned during her sessions with Humphrey are lessons she is passing along to her family.

“My daughter is now trying to look where she wants to spend her money and thinking about saving money,” Shannon said.

Humphrey said financial acumen is something that is often learned in one’s family.

“What we know is what we pass down,” she said. “I have two of the greatest parents in the world, but we were extremely poor. They didn’t mean to not teach us, but they were too busy trying to figure out how to keep the lights on. When we went into the world, we didn’t know how to manage money.”

Seeing Shannon improve her personal situation, and help her family, is rewarding.

“She has done a wonderful job,” Humphrey said. “With the program, Shannon has developed a different way of looking at money. It’s difficult to understand how to make money work for them instead of just working for the money.”

“I tell my clients, ‘You can’t do better until you know better.’ This program is about helping people know better.”


This article first appeared in The Register of the Catholic Diocese of Salina and is re-printed at CNA with permission.

Missouri reverses course, makes churches eligible for some state grants

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 18:01

St. Louis, Mo., Apr 17, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Missouri has announced that it will start allowing religious groups to be eligible for certain state grants, although the decision may not affect a religious freedom case before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

“We commend Governor Greitens for reversing a policy of discrimination against religious groups applying for neutral and widely-available grants to do important work for the state of Missouri,” said Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, on Friday.

She responded to an announcement from the state’s new governor, Eric Greitens, that religious groups will now be eligible for grants from the state’s department of natural resources.

It is unclear whether the decision will affect the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, which is scheduled for oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The case centers around a playground owned by a Missouri church and used by its preschool. The playground is used by both members and non-members of the church.

In order to make upgrades to the playground’s surface as a safety measure, the church applied for a grant through a state program that provides materials from used tires to resurface playgrounds.

However, the playground was ruled ineligible for the state grant because the church, which runs the preschool, is a religious group. The state’s constitution includes an amendment barring religious groups from receiving taxpayer funds.

“The safety of all children matters, whether they attend a religious school or a nonreligious school,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel David Cortman stated on Thursday. ADF is representing the church before the Court.

“The state of Missouri denied the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center’s access to a public program that would have made their playground safer – and did so on the basis of religious status, a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent,” Cortman said.

Opponents of Trinity Lutheran’s case insist that the state’s constitution bars churches from receiving taxpayer funds as a measure prohibiting the unconstitutional establishment of religion.

However, supporters of the church insist that the amendment was drafted during a time of anti-Catholicism and was meant as a measure to prevent Catholic schools from receiving the public benefits that the largely-Protestant public school system received.

Today, religious freedom advocates say the amendment is used by secularists to cut off all religious groups from state funding.

Then last week, Gov. Greitens said that churches and religious groups were now eligible for public grants from the state’s department of natural resources for purposes such as improving recreational facilities and field trips.

“Before we came into office, government bureaucrats were under orders to deny grants to people of faith who wanted to do things like make community playgrounds for kids,” Gov. Greitens stated, adding “that’s just wrong.”

“We have hundreds of outstanding religious organizations all over the state of Missouri who are doing great work on behalf of kids and families every single day. We should be encouraging that work. So, today we are changing that prejudiced policy,” he continued.

The state’s Catholic Conference praised the announcement.

“We applaud the Governor’s move to make sure these non-sectarian DNR grants and programs are available to all children without religious discrimination,” Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, stated.

The announcement is “an important step for the state of Missouri away from anti-religious Blaine Amendments,” McGuire insisted.

However, the statement did not officially mean that Trinity Lutheran was retroactively eligible for grants for its playground.

“Just as today’s announcement from the governor states, his new directive doesn’t resolve the discriminatory actions that were taken against Trinity Lutheran’s preschool and the attempt to deny Trinity Lutheran its constitutionally protected freedom to participate equally in society,” Cortman stated.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for this week, although the Supreme Court last Friday reacted to Gov. Greitens’ announcement by ordering the church and the state to determine whether or not his new policy would affect Trinity Lutheran’s eligibility for the playground grants.

The deadline for both parties to submit their letters to the Court is by noon on Tuesday, April 18.

“As people across the nation celebrate Holy Week and Passover, Alliance Defending Freedom looks forward to advocating for the equal treatment of all Americans of faith at the Supreme Court,” Cortman said.


Catholics heartened by stay on flurry of planned executions in Arkansas

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 16:49

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 17, 2017 / 02:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As judges halted the planned executions of eight inmates in 10 days in Arkansas, Catholics around the country pointed to messages of mercy and life in the Easter Triduum.

“After the darkness of Good Friday has come a great light,” Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, which works to end the death penalty, stated.

After the executions were halted, Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock said, “I would like to thank everyone who has prayed and worked so hard to prevent these scheduled executions from taking place. Let us continue to pray and work for the abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas and throughout the country.”

After not executing anyone since 2005, Arkansas had scheduled eight executions in 10 days, starting April 17, Easter Monday. The state’s supply of the drug midazolam, a sedative used in the lethal injection process, will expire at the end of April.

However, on the evening of April 14, a state circuit court judge halted the planned executions with a temporary restraining order. Federal judge Kristine G. Baker followed up on April 15 with a preliminary stay of executions. The state is appealing her ruling.

The state supreme court also halted the execution of one of the inmates, Bruce Ward. His lawyers claim he is mentally disabled and unfit for the death penalty.

Opponents of the death penalty insisted that Arkansas was unjustly rushing its execution process and clamored for a halt to the executions.

“A drug’s expiration date should not be the contingent factor for the expedited execution of these 8 men,” Catholic Mobilizing Network had stated. “There is no way this unprecedented number of executions can be carried out without complications.”

Bishop Taylor and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, have both spoken out against the planned executions.

The Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Ark. planned a novena from April 9 to April 17 for those set to be executed, and for clemency to be granted in their cases.

Before the executions were halted, Bishop Dewane had contrasted the practice with the message of the Easter Triduum, the holiest time of the Church’s liturgical calendar.

“On Good Friday, Christians around the world recall the agony of Our Lord’s Passion, as He became the ‘spotless victim’ for us, taking upon Himself all our sins and bearing their weight on the cross. On Holy Saturday, we remember how Jesus descended into Hell to set prisoners free,” Bishop Dewane stated April 13.

“And, through the liturgy of Easter Sunday, we join the Lord in His triumphant Resurrection by which He conquered sin and death for all peoples and for all time,” he continued.

“So often, the images of Christ’s saving action stand in contrast with the activities of the world. Beginning on Easter Monday, the state of Arkansas is prepared to give us a striking and distressing example.”

“The schedule of executions was not set by the demands of justice, but by the arbitrary politics of punishment,” he said.

Catholic Mobilizing Network said it gathered more than 157,000 signatures calling for the executions to be stopped. Clifton said the network “is grateful for everyone who used their voice to stand for life this Lent.”

A rally, at which Bishop Taylor was present, was held outside the state capitol April 14 calling for the executions to be stopped.

Arkansas’ schedule of executions was unprecedented in recent history, the Death Penalty Information Center noted.

Since states resumed executions in 1976 after the Supreme Court suspended use of the death penalty in 1972 and then reinstated its use four years later, only twice have eight inmates been executed within a single month. Arkansas planned to complete the executions in 10 days.

The state would use a three-drug lethal injection protocol. First, midazolam, a sedative, would be given to render an inmate unconscious. Then vecuronium bromide would be given to paralyze them. Finally, potassium chloride would be administered to stop the inmate’s heart.

Arkansas had run out of its supply of potassium chloride in January, but Governor Asa Hutchinson said they would be able to procure a supply for the executions.

However, Pulaski County circuit Judge Wendell Griffin ruled April 14 that the second drug, vecuronium bromide, could not be used in the process.

The drug supplier, McKesson Corporation, had stated that the drug manufacturer prohibited vecuronium for use in executions, and that Arkansas had purchased it under false pretenses.

McKesson said the Arkansas Department of Corrections “purchased the products on an account that was opened under the valid medical license of an Arkansas physician, implicitly representing that the products would only be used for a legitimate medical purpose.”

According to its complaint filed with the Pulaski County court, McKesson discovered that the drug was to be used for executions and demanded the state return the drug, promising a refund. The supplier said it refunded the state, which never returned the drug.

Mckesson has said it will continue its “efforts to facilitate the return of our product and ensure that it is used in line with our supplier agreement.”

As for the first drug, midazolam, it has been used in botched executions in the past. Some medical experts have claimed it is not proven to be effective as an anesthetic, thus exposing an inmate to the risk of severe pain as the other drugs are administered.

“This Easter season it is clear the Spirit is calling all to respond with mercy and justice to the egregious attacks on life like those in Arkansas and throughout our country,” Clifton stated.

She pointed to the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty, an initiative of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, as something that “allows all people of good will to better educate, advocate, and pray for an end to the use of the death penalty.”

Study finds religious persecution spread to more countries in 2015

Sat, 04/15/2017 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Global religious persecution spiked from 2014 to 2015, the Pew Research Center noted in a new report released this week.

“Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years,” the latest annual Pew Research Center report on “Global Restrictions on Religion” began.

In 2015, there were “very high” or “high” levels of animosity shown towards religious groups in 40 percent of countries, the report noted, either through restrictive government laws targeting religious groups or violence or harassment toward adherents of specific religions by other members of society.

The 2015 percentage was up six points from 2014, when 34 percent of countries reported such levels of hostility to religious groups.

Pew's report drew from various sources on global religious freedom, both from the U.S. government (annual international religious freedom reports of the State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom), the European Union and United Nations, and other non-governmental organizations.

The report was part of the “Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project,” funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.

Certain countries and regions of the world showed especially high hostility towards religious groups. Russia, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and Nigeria all showed both government harassment of and social animus toward certain religious groups.

Some of the most common instances of hostility included “mob violence” waged against people for their religious beliefs or violence conducted in the name of religion, and also “government harassment and use of force against religious groups” Pew explained.

Certain regions fared worse than others on religious tolerance. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa featured the highest median levels by far of both “government restrictions on religion” and “social hostilities involving religion,” Pew reported.

However countries in sub-Saharan Africa showed the “largest increase” in the median levels of government restrictions in 2015, Pew noted, and both Europe and sub-Saharan Africa showed marked increases in “social hostilities involving religion.”

In Europe, there were many reports of harassment or violence against Muslims and Jews, continuing a pattern of both anti-Semitism on the continent and verbal or legal harassment of Muslims as the European Union deals with an influx of refugees from Muslim-majority counties like Syria and Iraq.

For instance, Switzerland showed an increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, including the desecration of a Muslim cemetery and an assault of an Orthodox Jew where one perpetrator shouted “Heil Hitler!”

Mosques and Muslims were targeted for vandalism or violence in the wake of the January, 2015 terror attacks on the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo and on a kosher market in Paris.

“France's Interior Ministry reported that anti-Muslim incidents more than tripled in 2015, including cases of hate speech, vandalism and violence against individuals,” the report noted.

Thirty-two countries in the continent showed “social hostilities toward Muslims” in 2015, more than the 26 countries reported in 2014. Meanwhile, the number of European countries where there were social hostilities shown towards Jews remained high.

“The widespread harassment of Jews is notable because about eight-in-ten of the world's Jews live in just two countries – the United States and Israel – but Jews continue to be harassed in a relatively large number of nations (74 in 2015),” Pew stated.

However, government officials also showed hostility to religious groups either through restrictive laws or rhetoric.

France and Russia in particular showed a spike, with over 200 “cases of government force against religious groups,” the report noted. These were mostly due to laws aimed at specific religious groups targeting the public exercise of religion, from France’s burqa ban to Russia’s treatment of some Muslims and groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremists, jailing them without due process.

Some governments have been particularly restrictive of religious freedom for years, like those of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and Uzbekistan, the report noted. Others have more recently shown greater hostility, like Iraq, Eritrea, Vietnam, and Singapore in 2015.

Some of the government restrictions on religion were supposedly in reaction to terrorism. For instance, Muslim women in Cameroon and Niger were barred from wearing full-face veils after militants wore those veils to conceal bombs.

Both Christians and Muslims saw a sizable increase in the number of countries where they experienced harassment in 2015. Christians “were targeted by the highest number of governments in the Asia-Pacific region, where 33 countries harassed Christians in 2015,” the report said.

Nebraska prays for pro-lifers injured in vehicle accident

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 17:51

Lincoln, Neb., Apr 14, 2017 / 03:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Lincoln is praying for several pro-life witnesses who were struck, unintentionally, by a vehicle as they were praying outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city on Friday afternoon.

“Please join the Diocese of Lincoln, Bishop Conley, and those involved in praying for those who were injured, and for the driver of the vehicle,” the Lincoln diocese said in an April 14 statement. “And please join us in praying for a culture of life, an end to abortion, in union with those who were injured today.”

The driver of a white pickup “veered to the right when he tried to stop for a vehicle slowing in front of him,” the Lincoln Journal Star reports.


LPD says hit was unintentional. A car was slowing down in front of him, so he veered and didn't see the group of people outside #LNK

— Nichole Manna (@LJSNicholeManna) April 14, 2017  

Three or four persons were struck by the pickup.

According to the diocese “the roads were quite slick in that area, and traffic was heavy. There is nothing to suggest the accident was intentional. Those who were hit are receiving medical attention now. The injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.”

“Bishop Conley, along with other priests who were present, were able to pray with those who were injured.” As many as 200 were present at the prayer vigil.

It's the law: once again, states can stop funding Planned Parenthood

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 16:03

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2017 / 02:03 pm (CNA).- Pro-life leaders applauded President Donald Trump for signing a repeal of what they called President Obama’s “parting gift to the abortion industry.”

“Today we thank President Donald Trump for restoring states' freedom to direct taxpayer dollars away from abortion providers in favor of supporting community health centers that deliver comprehensive women’s care, and already outnumber abortion providers 20 to 1,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said Thursday.

In December, President Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that states could not deny federal funds to health clinics simply on the grounds that they provided abortions.

The funding program, Title X, consists of “family planning” grants for services like contraception, pregnancy testing, and infertility treatments.

Those federal grants, dispersed by the states, had to go to clinics that provided the “family planning” services, HHS said, and could not be denied to any clinic that provided those services.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced H.J. Res. 43 to the U.S. House of Representatives, which nullified the HHS rule. The measure passed the House easily and then passed the Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence as the tie-breaking vote.

President Trump signed the resolution into law April 13.

Susan B. Anthony List thanked Rep. Black and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), saying they “led this effort in Congress.” When the measure was introduced, Rep. Black had said that her state of Tennessee had tried to stop giving Title X grants to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in order to redirect those grants to other health providers.

The HHS had explained that the rule was created in reaction to states that tried to stop funding abortion providers.

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser added that “prioritizing funding away from Planned Parenthood to comprehensive health care alternatives is a winning issue.”

She pushed for Congress to take up more legislation to strip Planned Parenthood and abortion providers of other federal funds like Medicaid reimbursements. She said they should “redirect” federal funds to other health providers that do not perform abortions.

“The resolution signed today simply ensures that states are not forced to fund an abortion business with taxpayer dollars,” Dannenfelser said ahead of the signing of the bill.

“Rather, states have the option to spend Title X money on comprehensive health care clinics that better serve women and girls,” she said.

Bishop Conley: Eucharistic adoration can transform our Church

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 08:59

Lincoln, Neb., Apr 13, 2017 / 06:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Eucharistic adoration offers a powerful chance to encounter Christ’s love in silence and humility, and that experience can transform our hearts, both individually and as a Church, said Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb. in a new pastoral letter.

“Love is selfless sacrifice, and sacrifice is the language of love. Love is the gift of ourselves to our beloved. And Christ made a gift of himself – he gave us his body and blood – poured himself out for our salvation, when he conquered death by dying and rising again,” Bishop Conley said. “Christ gave us his body and blood, as an act of love, so that we could know the love of God.”

“Before he conquered death forever, in a sacrifice of love, Jesus gave himself to the Church in the gift of the Eucharist,” the bishop reflected.

His pastoral letter “Love Made Visible” was released for Holy Thursday, when the Catholic liturgy marks the Last Supper. The letter reflects upon the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and draws on the writings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the Eucharist.

“In the Eucharist, the apostles received a share in Christ’s own identity: they became a part of his passion and death, and they became a part of his Resurrection,” Bishop Conley said. “The Eucharist unified the apostles to Jesus Christ in the bonds of his sacrificial love.”

Bishop Conley cited Pope Benedict XVI: when Jesus Christ changes the bread and wine into his body and blood, “he anticipates his death, he accepts it into his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love.”

Receiving Jesus Christ’s body and blood allows his disciples in the Church to “be unified to him in love.”

“In the Eucharist, we are made sharers in Christ’s mission of love,” Bishop Conley continued. “In the Eucharist, we are called to make disciples of all nations, so that all people will know the freedom of life in the love of the Lord.”

This mission must be renewed daily through a deepening of love for God, and the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of this renewal, he said.

“The Eucharist is at the center of every good work that the Church undertakes,” the bishop said. In the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus has given himself to us “so that as we follow him, we can be unified to his life, and he can be present, with us, at all times, until the end of the world.”

Bishop Conley praised Eucharistic adoration as “a particularly powerful encounter with the Lord.” The silence of adoration teaches true humility.

“As we kneel before our Creator-God, we are confronted with the power and the mystery of God’s love,” he continued. “And it is from this silence and humility that we experience a deep communion and friendship with God.”

On June 18, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Bishop Conley will re-dedicate the Bishops’ Chapel at Lincoln’s Cathedral of the Risen Christ as a perpetual adoration chapel. He prayed that the chapel would become “a source of renewal in the hearts of all Catholics, and in our families, and in the world.”

He also encouraged pastors and Catholic schools to provide more opportunity for Eucharistic adoration.

In Bishop Conley’s words: “Kneeling before Christ in the Eucharist, the hopeless find hope. The weak find strength. Captives find freedom. The afflicted find comfort. The mourning find consolation. The lonely find friendship. Sinners find mercy.”

“Kneeling before Christ in the Eucharist, all of us find love. And love is what we are longing for,” he said. “Before Christ in Eucharist – love made visible – each one of us discovers that the enduring, satisfying, life-giving answer to the questions of our lives is Love: love poured out from Jesus, and love poured out from us into the world, as missionaries of Christ’s salvation.”

He praised the longtime practice of Eucharistic adoration in the Lincoln diocese.

“We are blessed with priests and religious who love and promote Eucharistic adoration, with college students who make holy hours in the middle of the night, and with families who kneel before the Eucharist together – with mothers and fathers who teach their children to pray before Jesus.”

Bishop Conley said he wrote the pastoral letter “because God has been impressing upon me lately how important our lives of prayer are, and especially prayer in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”

He said in a statement: “increasing our devotion to Eucharistic adoration could be transformative in our Church – there is just no telling how much God can do.”

Eucharistic devotion is especially important in a time when technology can distract, he said. “Sitting in silence with the Lord is refreshing, life-changing, and heart-changing.”

“The truth is that sitting in silence with the Lord is necessary for a fruitful Catholic life. I want all Catholics to know that we don’t need to be afraid to spend time in silence with Jesus – that He’s waiting to love us and transform our hearts and lives.”


US bishops back religious freedom for adoption, foster care providers

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 16:33

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2017 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Three chairmen of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference have voiced strong support for a measure that would restore certain religious freedoms to child welfare providers.

The recently introduced Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017 would prevent the federal government, and any state receiving federal funds for child welfare services, from taking adverse action against a provider that, for religious or moral reasons, declines to provide a child welfare social service.

Under the previous administration, several faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services because of beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

In the case of Illinois, more than 3,000 children were displaced after religiously affiliated adoption and foster care services had to close their doors. Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois decided to cut ties from their affiliated Catholic diocese and operate as a separate Christian non-profit in order to maintain consistent services for the children.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln expressed their support for the Inclusion Act in letters to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) in the U.S. Senate, who introduced the bill.

"The Inclusion Act would remedy this unjust discrimination by enabling all providers to serve the needs of parents and children in a manner consistent with the providers' religious beliefs and moral convictions," the bishops said.

“Our first and most cherished freedom, religious liberty, is to be enjoyed by all Americans, including child welfare providers who serve the needs of children. The Inclusion Act protects the freedom of all child welfare providers by ensuring they will not be discriminated against by the government because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions,” they wrote.

The Bishops also stressed that the Inclusion Act respects the religious freedom of parents who are looking to place their children into adoption or foster care services.

“Women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose an agency that shares the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions. The Inclusion Act recognizes and respects this parental choice.”

Pope Francis dismisses from clerical state priest who stole $300k

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 06:05

Manchester, N.H., Apr 12, 2017 / 04:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has dismissed a New Hampshire priest from the clerical state, after the priest was convicted of stealing some $300,000 from the local diocese, a hospital and a deceased priest's estate.

“On February 28, 2017, Pope Francis decreed Edward J. Arsenault dismissed from the clerical state, and dispensed him from all obligations subsequent to sacred ordination, including that of celibacy,” the Diocese of Manchester said in a statement last week.

“By virtue of this decree, Edward J. Arsenault has no faculties to act, function, or present himself as a priest.”

In 2014, Arsenault was sentenced to four years in prison. He was ordered to repay $300,000 in restitution, according to local media reports.

Arsenault was convicted of writing checks from the dead priest’s estate to himself and of billing a hospital for consulting work he never did, according to the Associated Press.

He admitted to spending the money on travel and expensive restaurants for himself and a male partner. He pleaded guilty to three charges of theft in 2014.

Last week, Arsenault was moved to house arrest. He is up for parole in February next year, the Associated Press reported.

As a priest, Arsenault had previously worked for the Manchester diocese. He helped to handle a clergy sex abuse scandal in the state and to implement new child protection policies.


With united voice, thousands of Catholics visit Texas capitol

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 18:58

Austin, Texas, Apr 10, 2017 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Over 4,000 Catholics visited Texas’ capitol in Austin, including  bishops from the state's 15 dioceses, to meet with legislators and discuss legislation under consideration.

“It's important that we present a united voice,” Helen Osman, communications consultant for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, told CNA April 10.

“It took many hours of coordination, but the Texas legislators knew that the Church was present in the Capitol on April 4 – and we were there not in self-interest, but for the good of all citizens in the state of Texas,” she added.

“Our motivation – to speak on behalf of the vulnerable and the poor, for human life and dignity – gives our voice a gravitas that many special interest groups lack.”

For Catholic Advocacy Day, each of Texas' 181 legislators received a visit from a team of “Catholic advocates” who live in his or her district.

They focused on issues grouped under the topics of protecting human life; children and families; health and human services; justice for immigrants; protecting the poor and vulnerable; and criminal justice.

“The team had a list of bills that were prioritized by the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops since they were relevant to the bishops’ agenda, had been reviewed by the Catholic conference, and were active in the legislative process,” Osman said.

“We also held a rally outside the Capitol, where the bishops addressed all participants,” she added.

Osman said the group was among the more favorably received groups of capitol visitors.

“We bring a spirit of joy and generosity to our conversations, and the legislators appreciate that!” she said.

“These events can persuade a legislator to consider changing his or her position on important legislation. Catholics can effectively exercise their call to be faithful citizens by working with their bishops through their state Catholic conferences. “

Pro-life bills under consideration address partial-birth abortion, “wrongful birth” lawsuits, mandatory reporting for abortion complications, and efforts to increase penalties for abortions coerced by human traffickers. There is a bill concerning parental choice in education and several bills concerning foster care. The Texas bishops oppose a bill that targets sanctuary cities for immigrants, while they support a “targeted, proportional and humane” bill that would increase punishment for unlawful immigrants who commit violent crimes and also guarantee their deportation by authorities.

Some criminal justice bills concern accurate instructions to jurors in death penalty cases and the establishment of a special anti-human trafficking unit in the state’s Department of Public Safety. The Texas Catholic conference backs a bill that would provide better access to mental heath and substance abuse treatment, as well as a bill to establish a state grant to match donations to organizations that provide mental health programs.

On environmental issues, the conference opposes a bill that would limit a local community’s ability to control the export of its groundwater, on the grounds it violates subsidiarity. It also opposes a bill that would repeal the contested case process for environmental quality permits, on the grounds that it “limits the community's ability to protect health considering potential environmental hazards.”

Osman encouraged Catholics to look to their bishops for guidance.

“The bishops use their state Catholic conferences to research and monitor active legislation, and to convey the Church’s moral guidance.”

Ahead of the event, Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Dallas said it was an exciting opportunity to visit legislators.

“We are able to stand in solidarity as people of faith to meet with our local legislative leaders in order to work together for the common good,” he said, according to the Dallas diocese’s website.

Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said the event was an “exciting opportunity” for Catholic constituents.

“They are able to stand in solidarity with their bishops, and meet their local legislators who are interested in hearing their point of view on these important issues,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.