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US bishops laud attorney general's new religious freedom protections

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 15:46

Washington D.C., Oct 13, 2017 / 01:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following an announcement by the U.S. Attorney General detailing 20 principles of religious liberty for all government agencies and executive departments to follow, the U.S. bishops have praised the government’s reaffirmation of religious freedom protections.

“The Attorney General’s guidance helpfully reaffirms that the law protects the freedom of faith-based organizations to conduct their operations in accordance with their religious mission,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, in a statement.

“The guidance also reaffirms that the federal government should never exclude religious organizations from competing on an equal footing for government grants or contracts, and religious entities should never be forced to change their religious character in order to participate in such programs,” he continued.

“We appreciate the Attorney General’s clarification of these matters, which will protect faith-based organizations’ freedom to serve all those in need, including the homeless, immigrants, refugees, and students attending religious schools.”

The guidance was issued on Oct. 6 by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, responding to an executive order to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law.” The document highlights key issues surrounding religious freedom in the United States and points to the importance of religious freedom in the country, as well as existing laws and precedents which protect the fundamental right.

At the memo’s outset, the document notes that religious freedom “is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice.” The guidance reaffirms a broader definition of religious freedom, which has come under pressure as the previous Obama administration promoted the much narrower phrasing “freedom of worship.”


Read CNA's analysis of the new religous freedom guidance to learn more:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The government&#39;s new religious freedom guidance: What does it mean?<a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) <a href="">October 8, 2017</a></blockquote>
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How parishes can help address the epidemic of domestic abuse

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 05:02

Washington D.C., Oct 13, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic that many clergy and laypersons need additional training to address, says one priest who runs the country’s largest parish-based ministry to counter the problem.

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

Fr. Chuck said that many priests and deacons have little preparation to assist victims of domestic violence, and that more seminary training would be helpful for both preparing priests and raising awareness on the issue.  

 He said that “When I Call for Help,” a pastoral letter on domestic violence from the USCCB, is a helpful resource for clergy looking for more understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catholics have responded to this dire need in various ways, from organizing a prayer campaign for domestic abuse victims to working to spread awareness of the problem and educate clergy on how to properly deal with instances of abuse.

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

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

In recent years, the group has marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month by asking people to pray at 3 p.m. daily for domestic abuse victims, and has called for a day of prayer on Oct. 28, the feast of St. Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

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

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

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

Sometimes, Fr. Chuck said, priests are not well trained and do not know how to handle situations in which parishioners come to tell them about abuse. They may offer inadequate advice and solutions.

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

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

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

Still, sometimes priests do not attend these events, Fr. Chuck acknowledged, and raising awareness about the importance of the problem is key.

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

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

“We’re really behind on this,” he said of the Church’s efforts to combat the problem, but at the same time, “we’re making progress.”

An earlier version of this article originally ran on CNA Oct. 24, 2016.

The future of the US Church is missionary encounter, nuncio says

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 02:02

Jefferson City, Mo., Oct 13, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The American cultural situation poses great challenges, but these can be overcome through a missionary renewal following Pope Francis’ proposed “culture of encounter,” said the apostolic nuncio to the U.S.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre spoke Oct. 7 at an event marking the 50th anniversary of the Missouri Catholic Conference.

“Reading the history of the Missouri Catholic Conference, one cannot help but marvel at how the Spirit of God has been at work in you in the defense of Catholic school students, marriage and family life, in protecting the unborn, disabled and vulnerable members of society, and in your genuine concern for the poor and migrants,” he said.

“Today is a day to give thanks to God, but it is also a time to reflect on the future of your journey together.”

The archbishop spoke at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Jefferson City, Missouri for the anniversary celebration of the Catholic conference, which handles public policy for the Catholic Church in Missouri.

In his remarks, Pierre cited Pope Francis’ desire for a “synodal Church,” a Church that journeys together on the paths of history “towards the encounter with Christ the Lord.” He said the Catholic conference has been “building up the Kingdom of God by living and acting in a collegial way.”

He also surveyed American cultural changes, drawing on Boston College professor Hosffman Ospino’s keynote at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders held earlier this year.

The roles, expectations and practices of family life have been reconfigured; communal life has been eroded in favor of individualism, including in religious practice and Mass attendance; culture wars have led to “the demonization of those with whom we disagree”; and rising secularization has meant that 25 percent of Americans and about half of baptized Catholics under age 30 identify as having no religious affiliation, he noted.

“The challenges are great, but not insurmountable,” said Pierre, drawing on his experience as nuncio to Mexico.

He cited Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” as a key to understanding the Church’s missionary dimension.

“If something should rightly disturb us, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life,” the Pope said in his exhortation.

Similarly, Pope Francis told the U.S. bishops in a November 2016 video message: “Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of our traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges.”

Archbishop Pierre added: “If we are to propose God’s Word to the World, and the Holy Father reminds us that ‘no one is to be excluded from the joy brought by the Lord,’ then we must do so positively – with the joyful ‘Yes’ of our whole life! This is exactly what the Blessed Virgin Mary, the model missionary disciple, did with her life.”

The nuncio drew on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and its roots in the victory of Christian forces at the Battle of Lepanto despite being outnumbered and outgunned by an Ottoman fleet.

Archbishop Pierre said reflection on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary might help the faithful better understand the Church’s mission and help the Catholic conference better reflect on how the Gospel might have “a greater impact on the life and structures of individuals, the Church, and the world in a rapidly changing environment, marked by secularization, individualism, and isolation.”

“We learn from Mary that we find true joy in obedience to God’s Word – according to His plan and in His time. As disciples, at times, we want our vocation on our terms. Mary teaches us that everything must be surrendered to God. This lesson – which really involves our conversion – is best learned in silence and contemplation.”

Mary showed active engagement in the world, and could not keep her joy to herself.

The Nativity of Christ, because it was witnessed by people on the peripheries, such as shepherds, showed that the encounter with Christ at the peripheries opens new horizons. It prompts one to ask how Christ is present at the margins, like in prisons and jails or on death row.

Pierre praised the Missouri Catholic Conference’s work combating the “throwaway culture” and its creation of communities and conditions “in which every life and all of creation is valued.” The nuncio also stressed the importance of work on migration, work that promotes the common good, and the preferential option for the poor that is not merely social activism but “loving attentiveness.”

“The Church must go forth to meet people unafraid of encountering those families facing difficulty,” he said.

Pope Francis expressed “cordial greetings and good wishes” to those gathered, according to a message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State. The cardinal conveyed the Pope’s apostolic blessing “as a pledge of joy and peace in the Lord.”

“His Holiness prays that this anniversary will be the occasion not only of gratitude for the blessings and accomplishments of the past half century, but also of a renewed effort to favor the pastoral effectiveness of the Church’s mission in the State of Missouri amid the challenges and the opportunities of the present time,” Cardinal Parolin said in a message read by Pierre.


Iowa district judge praised for upholding three-day wait for abortions

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 16:23

Des Moines, Iowa, Oct 12, 2017 / 02:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Iowa judge upheld the state’s three-day waiting period for abortions last week, drawing praise from local pro-life organizations such as the Iowa Catholic Conference, who called the ruling a “positive move.”

“We are very pleased by the decision, because we think to allow women to have a reflection time before an abortion means that some of them will take that time to at least think about the decision that they are making,” stated Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, in an interview with CNA.

“Some of those women will decide in favor of life, so we were very pleased to see the judge’s decision and hope it will stand up if there are further appeals,” Chapman continued.

The act, which was passed last spring, requires a mandatory 72-hour waiting period and two consultations with doctors before receiving an abortion. It would also require the option of viewing an ultrasound and educational materials about risks associated with the procedure.

In May, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa sued against the Iowa Act, calling it a “malicious, politically motivated, anti-woman legislation.”

Judge Jeffrey Farrell of the Polk County District Court ruled against the petitioners Oct. 2, saying the law “complies with the constitutional standard” and did not place “undue burden” on women seeking abortion.

“The evidence at trial focused on the hardships women face when dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, but the public’s interest in potential life is an interest that cannot be denied under law. Both of these interests are important,” stated Farrell.

Following the court’s ruling, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a notice that they will appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Farrell's ruling states the act will go into effect after 30 days, unless the Iowa Supreme Court grants a stay or an injunction.

Iowa is not the only state to enforce waiting periods before abortions – 27 other states have similar postponement requirements, and have been met with similar controversy.

According to Chapman, one of the benefits of enforcing a waiting period would be to potentially help women who feel pressured to make a more informed decision. He also said it could prevent guilt or regret that some women experience post-abortion.

“I think if people look at what the actual facts are and the studies that have been done, there are certainly women who regret their abortions,” Chapman said.

According to Iowa Right to Life, studies have shown that within a few months after an abortion, 31 percent of women had regrets about their decision. The study also found that 55 percent of women expressed guilt, while 44 percent of women experienced nervous disorders.

“It certainly seems from the data that abortion can very much cause regrets for families – because remember, we are talking about the unborn child, we are talking about the woman herself, and we are talking about the people surrounding the mother. All of those can be affected by this decision,” Chapman noted.

“I think this is a very positive move from the court to recognize this and we are very supportive of this and hope it will stand up in court if it gets appealed.”

Farrell had also upheld in 2014 an Iowa Board of Medicine rule that would have effectively barred the use of a telemedicine system to dispense abortion-inducing pills. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed his ruling in 2015, ruling the ban unconstitutional.

A Boston mall chapel will house the relics of three saints

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 08:04

Boston, Mass., Oct 12, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Relics of St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. John Paul II will be coming to a Boston mall’s Catholic chapel, and a local priest hopes they will help mall patrons encounter the reality of Christian love.

“Our hope is that these relics will be a source of spiritual wealth for the Church of Boston,” Father James Doran, O.M.V., told CNA. “We hope that all the faithful who live and work in Boston and all those who travel there will know that right in the heart of the city they have access to the two greatest treasures the Church possesses: the Sacraments and relics of the saints.”

Father Doran is director of the St. Francis Chapel at Boston’s Prudential Center mall. The mall, located in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, hosts more than 75 shops and restaurants.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley will celebrate an Oct. 16 Mass there just after noon as part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, who run the chapel. Venerable Pio Bruno Lanteri founded the oblates in Turin in 1817.

The Mass will launch public veneration of the relics, which will remain at the mall chapel.

Father Doran reflected on the character of the saints whose relics the chapel will house.

“These three saints in particular encountered modernity with the full force of Christian love, sometimes in confrontation but also in invitation,” he said. “The mall is a place where encounter and exchange happens, not just of material goods but personal goods even more importantly.”

“With the relics of these saints here we hope the faithful will find a place for contemplative refreshment, gospel formation and the challenge to take up in full freedom the responsibility and privilege of finding God in all things and living by the movements of the Holy Spirit and His gifts and not by blind market forces,” the priest continued.

St. Maximillian Kolbe had served as a missionary priest in Japan and ran a printing press in the face of Nazi occupation. In August 1941, he volunteered to take the place of an innocent husband and father about to be executed at a concentration camp.

The Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska saw apparitions of Christ and brought the devotion of the Divine Mercy to the world.

The pontificate of St. John Paul II, the first Polish Pope, included the collapse of the Soviet Union and the effort to evangelize around the world.

“What we learn from these great saints is especially relevant for our modern times, that is, to not be afraid,” Dolan commented. “Clearly, that was a theme of St. John Paul’s entire pontificate but manifested also in the lives of Faustina and Maximilian. Fear is the result of the absence of love.”

The relic of St. Maximillian Kolbe, hair from his beard, was obtained from his monastery in Poland. The relic of St. John Paul II is also a piece of hair, obtained by an Oblate priest in Rome, the Boston Pilot reports.

The third relic, a chip of bone from St. Faustina, came to the oblates as a surprise. They had been trying to obtain a relic of the saint, but could not meet the requirements of her convent.

A woman who was a frequent attendee at the chapel came forward with a relic of the nun she had obtained when St. Faustina was beatified. She said she felt God wanted her to donate it.

The Prudential Center chapel was founded in 1969. Staffed by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary since the early 1980s, it offers daily Mass, Confession, and Eucharistic Adoration.

“The chapel is known as an oasis of prayer, silence and mercy in the heart of the city,” Doran said.

Bishop Vasa on California fires: 'Our diocese has been hit hard'

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 05:01

Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct 12, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While firefighters in northern California are currently battling 17 wildfires in five counties, Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, one of the hardest hit areas, is typing updates and messages of support from his car, in between visits to evacuation centers.

“Our diocese has been hit hard, as you know well, and is in an ongoing state of uncertainty,” he said in his Tuesday message.

The fires, made worse by dry conditions and unrelenting winds, have already scorched at least 100,000 acres and have killed at least 21 people since the beginning of the week. Thousands more have been displaced, their homes and businesses destroyed.

Much of the area of the Diocese of Santa Rosa has been under mandatory evacuation, including the chancery and the local Catholic Charities office. One of the diocese’s Catholic high schools has been almost completely destroyed by a fire, and an elementary school has sustained significant damage.

“Most of our parishes are fine,” Bishop Vasa wrote. “The one exception is Cardinal Newman High School and Saint Rose elementary which share a campus.”

A “significant portion” of the high school was destroyed, he noted, along with the preschool building and the roof of the elementary school.

Graham Rutherford, principal of Cardinal Newman High School, sent a letter to parents and students, assuring them that all students and staff had been accounted for and were safe, and asked them to respect the evacuations and not go near the campus until officials have given the all-clear.

“Thank you for the many kind and generous efforts made by countless members of our community to help each other and to help others in this hour of need,” he added. “We are proud to see our school year motto, ‘One School: Undivided’ lived out with such compassion.”

Bishop Vasa also noted that he has visited several evacuation centers and spoken with many people whose homes and businesses have been destroyed.

“The sense of great helplessness is palpable,” he wrote. “When people ask how they can help I answer that I really do not know. I do know that prayers are the greatest source of solace and help.”

In his Wednesday message, he offered his prayers for those who had lost loves ones in the fires.

“We pray for your consolation and for eternal rest for your lost loved ones. Our hearts go out to all of you,” he said.

“At the same time, we acknowledge the sense of loss and suffering experienced by those who have lost their homes, or businesses, or places of employment. We pray that you do not lose hope, nor the sense of God’s presence and ultimate goodness. You must know that the hearts of the entire community, though it can neither feel what you feel, nor undo the loss, do go out to you.”

He also thanked the firefighters and police, both those from California and throughout the country who have offered their help.

“...I commend you for that patience and professionalism which I have seen so often and for which I commend you. As I very often advise. Persevere!” he said. “Thousands of volunteers are spending countless hours showing their desire to share in the suffering of those displaced by the fire. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. My prayers are with all of you as well.”

Christopher Lyford, director of communications for the Santa Rosa diocese, stopped by St. Eugene's Cathedral, which is being used as an evacuation center coordinated by the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa and other parishioners. Once there, he found a homeless man doing his best to comfort the distraught evacuees.

“A homeless man named Paul, who lives near the cathedral in a creekbed, happened by and offered some consolation through his gift of music” by playing the piano inside the shelter, Lyford told journalists. “The poignancy of the moment is not lost.”

Father David Jenuwine, Parochial Vicar of St. Apollinaris Catholic Church in Napa, California recounted some of his own experiences with the fires in e-mail comments to CNA in between helping out at evacuation centers.

On Monday, the first day of the fires, Jenuwine said he started smelling smoke around 4 a.m. and realized the area had lost power.

“When I figured out what was going on, I exposed the Blessed Sacrament around 5:00 am and started praying. People started showing up for morning Mass at 6:15 am. I went inside (again still dark - no power), and got ready for Mass” he said.

“Mass in complete darkness, knowing your friends and parishioners are in jeopardy, is an awe inspiring experience. The prayers took on an eminence and an importance,” he said.

The verse that “jumped from the page” of the day’s readings was: “Who is my neighbor?”

“I spoke briefly about that verse, and how that would be our clarion call for the next several days,” Jenuwine said. “Because without limit, right now, EVERYONE is our neighbor.”

Over the next two days, he said, the parish started taking in evacuees from the area and accepting food donations.

“The faces of the donors and the recipients reflected a surreal joy. Giving and receiving are both opportunities to share in the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity. And it is apparent in what we have witnessed over the past few days,” he added.

As of today, access to power and communications are back, but the fires are still far from contained, Jenuwine noted.

“I have to cut this short, because I’m needed at the Red Cross shelter to comfort those who have lost someone in the fires. Pray for us,” Jenuwine said.

“Many parishioners have lost everything. The overwhelming feelings of the loss of so many is offset by the overwhelming generosity of individuals giving food, bedding, clothes, and water.”

“Pray for us,” he added again. “Pray that the winds die down, and the fires can be abated. Pray that we have strength to persevere.”

Fr. Jenuwine’s parish has set up a Paypal donation page that is acting like “a rolling second collection” for fire relief, though Father noted the immediate issues of evacuations, shelter, food and water were being addressed before the exact recipients of the relief money could be determined.

Updates from Bishop Vasa and the Diocese of Santa Rosa can be found on the diocesan website as well as the diocesan Facebook page.

Don't ignore children suffering war and separation, Holy See tells UN

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 02:08

New York City, N.Y., Oct 12, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Armed conflicts brings out “the most vicious forms of violence against children” and the world must act to aid the young victims of violence and all unaccompanied children worldwide, the Holy See has said at the United Nations.

“Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such violent brutality: children used as soldiers, suicide bombers, sex slaves, and disposable intelligence-gatherers in the most dangerous military operations,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza lamented. “The deliberate destruction of their schools and hospitals in total disregard of international humanitarian law has become a strategy of war.”

Archbishop Auza, the apostolic nuncio heading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations, spoke Oct. 10 to the U.N. General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee, also known as the Third Committee. He spoke regarding the promotion and protection of the rights of children.

The Holy See and the Catholic Church have worked with the U.N. and others to oppose the use of children as combatants and violence against children. They aim to help relieve their suffering and “accompany them on the road to full reintegration with their families and society.”

“Children are first and foremost human beings with fundamental human rights,” Auza said. “They cannot be left voiceless and invisible. Their best interests must be recognized and respected. Their protection and integration must therefore be a primordial concern for all.”

He cited a 500 percent increase in the number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children from 66,000 in 2010 to at least 300,000 in 2016. The proportion of children among migrants and refugees is growing, the nuncio added.

“An estimated 535 million children live in countries suffering from conflicts, ethnic or religious persecutions, violence, natural disasters and extreme poverty,” he said. “Millions of desperate children are fleeing their home countries without the protection of their families. Parents are constrained to see their children leave without them, hoping that after a perilous journey they will find welcome and protection somewhere.”

Unaccompanied children are among the 250 million migrants who have crossed international borders, and 65 million of these are refugees.

“They have fled from their countries desperate to find safe haven from persecutions and violent conflicts,” Auza continued. “They have abandoned once fertile lands which are turning into deserts, or they simply want a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, most especially for their children.”

Auza recounted Pope Francis’ emphasis on the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to provide a basis to protect child migrants from homelessness and exploitation. Its legal obligations for states that adhere to it cannot be disregarded arbitrarily.

These include measures like proper identification and registration for children, the designation of guardians, and the rights to education and health care.

Specific efforts to protect child migrants include family re-tracing and reunification, education, and other long-term programs. There are child migrant advocacy efforts in schools and parishes. Many efforts also target the root causes of child migration.

“The Holy See and the Catholic Church throughout the world always strive to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate those who flee from adverse conditions, in particular children who are most vulnerable,” Auza said.

Six years ago, this Catholic college was the first to sue over the HHS mandate

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 17:59

Charlotte, N.C., Oct 11, 2017 / 03:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It has been six years since Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts school near Charlotte, North Carolina, filed the first lawsuit challenging the federal contraception mandate.

“It’s hard to believe it’s gone on for this long,” college president William Thierfelder told CNA Oct. 9.

Last week, the Trump administration announced revisions to the HHS mandate, a regulation introduced by the Obama administration that required employers to fund employee health care plans covering contraception, sterilization, and some drugs that can cause early abortions.

The revisions considerably expand exemptions for religious groups and others with moral or ethical objections to the demands of the mandate.

Thierfelder said he is grateful that the current administration has acknowledged the original mandate as violating the right to religious freedom and is taking action to correct it.

Founded by Benedictine monks, Belmont Abbey College adheres to Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life and sexuality.

When the HHS mandate was unveiled in 2011, Thierfelder knew the college could not in good conscience comply.

“We actually filed in November 2011, and it’s kind of interesting how we became the first ones to sue the federal government, because you would think it’s the most unlikely of all places – this little Benedictine monastery and college in the south,” he said.

“We had some issues with other governmental agencies prior to the mandate coming out,” he explained. “And so when this mandate did come out, we were particularly sensitive to what it was saying…I think we knew where this was going to go, and we just said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this now, before it’s imposed on us’.”

Thierfelder knew several people at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and they discussed the possibility of filing a lawsuit. He had expected to be joined in his initial filing by numerous other plaintiffs, particularly Catholic employers. But for various reasons, other organizations were not ready to take legal action yet, so Belmont Abbey decided to move forward as the lone plaintiff.

Over the next year, however, additional lawsuits would start to pour in.

“When people saw this little Catholic college in the south with no resources suing the federal government, I think it sort of woke people up to say, ‘I guess we should do something too.’ And from that point, a couple of Protestant colleges were next…and then little by little it started, and then there was kind of an avalanche.”

Ultimately, more than 300 plaintiffs from across the country would file lawsuits challenging the mandate. These included dozens of religious charities, universities, and Catholic dioceses, as well as individuals, U.S. states, and for-profit companies whose owners opposed the mandate on religious grounds.

Thierfelder described the months that followed as a “legal chess game” with various lawsuits receiving different initial rulings based on whether they were in favorable or unfavorable court districts, and the varying strength of individual cases.

With re-filings due to legal technicalities, and several cases combining as they worked their way through the courts, the years that followed were filled with waiting and uncertainty.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Thierfelder said, “and I’m very, very happy about what just came out, although it’s not over yet.”

Belmont Abbey’s case, like many others, will now need to be considered by a court with the newly announced possibility for an exemption taken into account.

While the mandate revisions offer strong reason to believe that Belmont Abbey will receive a favorable resolution, Thierfelder said that in his mind, the big-picture battle is not over.

“I still see us at the beginning of this, because this was still a very narrow exemption, the way it was structured. So although this may be good for us, there may be other businesses and individuals who still have issues with this.”

He also noted that the Oct. 6 revision is an “interim rule” rather than a final rule. Additionally, several states and organizations have threatened legal action against the modifications to the mandate, and a future administration could always attempt to change the rules back.

“I think we’ve got to be pretty resolute. I’ve said this from the beginning…I really do believe you’ve got to have the complete resolution that you are willing to die for what you believe,” he said.

“In our country, I don’t think it’s going to come to that,” he said, “but having dealt with this for so long, and having seen the arguments on the other side … it really almost seems all or none. Either you get what you want or they get what they want, and there’s no in-between ground at this point. So it’s unfortunate, but that’s where we are.”

In general, the Belmont Abbey community has been very supportive of the college’s decision to take legal action against the mandate over the last six years, Thierfelder said.

“I think it’s been an education for everybody, in a lot of ways: how our government works, what religious liberty is. I think at the beginning, people thought, ‘Is the HHS mandate an important issue, and what it is really about?’ and I think what people started to see is that this is a detail, but it was really infringing on our religious liberty.”

Thierfelder also hopes that the general public recognizes religious liberty as a right inherent to every human being.

“Because organizations were continually discussed – be it a religious organization like Belmont Abbey College or Hobby Lobby or something else – it could seem like this was more about organizations somehow fighting for religious liberty, when in fact this is a right that every human being has,” he said.

Moving forward, the Belmont Abbey College president said he will continue to pay careful attention to religious freedom issues.

“I’ve really pushed for religious liberty. Not that from a Catholic perspective we can’t very readily defend our beliefs on contraception or abortion or any other important issue related to the human person and relationships. But I think the way to approach this is based on religious liberty, because it is an inalienable right that everybody has been given,” he said.

“We certainly could argue the individual detailed cases or facts that comes to us, but religious liberty is an issue we need to say focused on.”


Repeal of Clean Power Plan will hurt poor communities, Catholic leaders insist

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 14:04

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2017 / 12:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the Trump administration announced a repeal of emissions standards, Catholic leaders warned it could hurt poor communities and thwart long-term efforts to fight climate change.

“Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato si', calls us to action in caring for our common home. A national carbon standard is a critical step for the U.S. at this time,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated Oct. 10 after the Environmental Protection Agency announced a planned repeal of the Clean Power Plan.
Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced the repeal on Monday.

The Clean Power Plan, finalized in 2015 under the Obama administration, set goals for states to reduce carbon emissions from the utility sector, ultimately aiming to cut emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

President Obama announced the plan in August 2015, citing the need to curb pollution amid climate change and to reduce domestic health concerns such as asthma rates.

“By some estimates, a fully implemented Clean Power Plan could have prevented: 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths; 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children; and 2,700 to 2,800 hospital admissions,” the Catholic Climate Covenant, a national partnership that seeks to educate Catholics about Church teaching on the environment, said.

The plan was “an important step forward to protect the health of all people,” then-chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, stated.

However, in February 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the plan being put into effect. President Trump ordered a review of it with the possibility of rescinding the plan in his executive order on energy independence in March, and Bishop Dewane warned that the order “effectively dismantles the Clean Power Plan.”

Pruitt, in a March 30 letter to state governors, told them that in light of the Supreme Court’s stay on the plan, they did not have to abide by the goals and standards set by the plan.

“It is the policy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that States have no obligation to spend resources to comply with a Rule that has been stayed by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Pruitt wrote. “The days of coercive federalism are over.”

On Monday, Pruitt announced the plan would be repealed, to the disappointment of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant.

The chief fault of Tuesday’s announcement was that there is no sufficient replacement plan, Catholic Climate Covenant said.

Furthermore, coming on the heels of the U.S. pulling out of the international Paris climate agreement, where participating countries pledged to cut pollution and contribute to the Green Climate Fund, the repeal “solidifies the already troubling approach of our nation in addressing climate change,” Bishop Dewane said.

Recent Popes along with bishops from all over the globe “have all accepted the reality of human-forced climate change,” Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, stated on Tuesday. “And we know that our burning of fossil fuels is among the biggest contributors to this moral dilemma.”

The Clean Power Plan offered “flexibility to allow states to meet carbon reduction targets in meaningful ways,” he said. “This repeal now throws all of these potential gains into question.”

Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si', on care for our common home, specifically called for policies to reduce carbon emissions, he added.

In paragraph 26 of the encyclical, Pope Francis warned that “some of the negative impacts of climate change … will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption.”

“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy,” the encyclical stated.

Bishop: Trump's immigration principles will harm the vulnerable

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 18:41

Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2017 / 04:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After US President Donald Trump asked Congress to pass stricter immigration laws if they plan to grant legal status to certain undocumented immigrants, one bishop said Trump’s proposals would hurt the vulnerable.

“The Administration’s Immigration Principles and Policies do not provide the way forward for comprehensive immigration reform rooted in respect for human life and dignity, and for the security of our citizens,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the migration committee at the U.S. bishops’ conference, stated Oct. 10.

In an Oct. 8 letter to House and Senate leaders, President Trump pushed for the passage of stricter immigration laws and tougher enforcement, as part of Congress passing a version of the Dream Act.

The latest version of the Dream Act was introduced this summer by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). It would grant permanent legal status to young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, who do not have a criminal record, who have lived in the U.S. for at least four years, and who meet other requirements.

When Congress failed to pass such a bill several years ago, the Obama administration announced in 2012 a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to delay the deportation of eligible immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, giving them time to apply for a continued stay in the U.S.

However, on Sept. 5, Trump ended the DACA program, saying it was the duty of Congress to address the matter. Any DACA-related legislation that would address the issue of Dreamers residing in the U.S., he said in Sunday’s letter, must be accompanied by stricter immigration policies in the name of national security.

In the letter to Congress, Trump cited an investigation of U.S. immigration laws which he ordered and which recently concluded. That investigation, he said, discovered weaknesses in the immigration system that needed addressing in the name of national security.

Trump called for the completion of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The House in July approved a spending bill with $1.6 billion in border wall funding, but the Senate did not act on it. Currently, around 700 miles of the approximately 2,000 mile-long U.S.-Mexico border have a border fence.

Trump also supported stricter laws on the handling of unaccompanied minors who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. The number of unaccompanied minors coming from Central America rose sharply in recent years, peaking at over 50,000 in the 2014 fiscal year, falling in 2015 and rising once again to 47,000 in FY 2016. There have been around 38,500 unaccompanied children apprehended at the border in 2017, the administration said.

The administration in August ended a parole program for minors who were not eligible for refugee status to enter the U.S. Parents of such minors could have been eligible to apply for their child’s acceptance in the program, where they would have been vetted, if accepted, and granted legal entry into the U.S.

Also in Trump’s policy proposals to Congress were stricter standards for granting asylum, speeding up the removal of those denied asylum, hiring more immigration enforcement officials, attorneys, and judges, and requiring an E-Verify system for employers.

Bishop Vasquez said that the proposals for stricter immigration standards would hurt vulnerable populations such as refugees and unaccompanied minors.

The proposals “are not reflective of our country’s immigrant past, and they attack the most vulnerable, notably unaccompanied children and many others who flee persecution,” Bishop Vasquez said. “Most unfortunately, the principles fail to recognize that the family is the fundamental building block of our immigration system, our society, and our Church.”

Furthermore, he said, Congress should pass a version of the Dream Act immediately, regardless of whether other policy goals are fulfilled. Time is of the essence here, he said, because DACA protections will soon expire and young immigrants who benefitted from the program could lose their legal work permits in March 2018, being vulnerable to deportation and family separation.

However, Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said Trump’s proposals are more of a “wish list to be in negotiations” rather than a hard set of demands that must be met for any Dream Act to be signed into law.

“I don’t think that President Trump expects that Congress include every single of those 70 proposals in an immigration bill,” he told CNA.

Aguilar at one point during the 2016 campaign supported Trump as a candidate, but withdrew his support in September during the campaign because of Trump’s “restrictionist” immigration speech and plan to deport undocumented immigrants without criminal records.

Aguilar also noted that in his letter to Congress, Trump proposed “allowing, basically, an immigration officer at the border to remove any unaccompanied minor back to their home country.”

The passage of the Dream Act is still on the table and has its supporters in both parties, Aguilar said.

“From my conversations in Congress and with some in the White House, I think there’s a general understanding that the consensus has to be based on legislation that provides relief to Dreamers, and then resources for some interior enforcement and some border security,” he said. Trump, he said, is “committed” to the passage of “legislation that provides relief to Dreamers.”

In other immigration policies Trump called for on Sunday, the President is not taking the extreme positions that some make him out to be taking, Aguilar said.

For instance, he said Trump is not calling for an end to green cards for family members of citizens or lawful permanent residents, but just wants them limited to immediate family members and not extended family.

Calling for an E-Verify system is “a way for employers to know that the person applying for the job has legal status,” Aguilar said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has already been outspoken about some issues that Trump addressed in his policy proposals.

Regarding the border wall proposal, Bishop Vasquez said in January that the construction of a wall “will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm's way,” making them “more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers.”

Bishops have also advocated for the U.S. to accept unaccompanied children coming to the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America, saying that many are fleeing violence in their home countries and that sending them back home could be akin to sending a child back into a “burning building.”

There is “abuse” within the system when it comes to asylum requests, Aguilar said, but “that doesn’t mean we have to reduce the limits of refugees.”

Rather, he said, policy should focus on accepting those who should be coming to the U.S., and securing the country against the entry of those who shouldn’t be entering.

“Making those rules more strict, making it harder, doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be a compassionate country and grant asylum to people who really deserve it,” he said of Trump’s proposal of stricter laws on the entry of unaccompanied minors.

“The idea is to ensure that those people who are getting asylum are people who really deserve it.”

Holiness: The fullness of the Christian life

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 17:01

Denver, Colo., Oct 10, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Fifty-five years ago, on October 11, 1962, Pope St. John XXIII began the Second Vatican Council at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The council was not called to resolve a dispute about doctrine or dogma. It was not called amidst controversy or division. Instead, Pope St. John XXIII said that the Holy Spirit inspired the Second Vatican Council to address one “major interest” in the midst of changing times and changing cultures: “that the sacred heritage of Christian truth be safeguarded and expounded with great efficacy.”

Indeed, the Second Vatican Council did not change the teachings of the Church at all. It drew out and clarified truths embedded in the fabric of the Gospel. It offered Christian responses to new challenges. It sought new ways to express the meaning of Christ’s Incarnation, and the meaning of our own lives.

As Pope St. John XXIII began the council, he reminded the Church that “the whole of history and of life hinges on the person of Jesus Christ. Either men anchor themselves on Him and His Church, and thus enjoy the blessings of light and joy, right order and peace; or they live their lives apart from Him; many positively oppose Him, and deliberately exclude themselves from the Church. The result can only be confusion in their lives, bitterness in their relations with one another, and the savage threat of war.”

The Second Vatican Council reminded the Church of certain truths about God, and about ourselves. It taught, as scripture teaches, that God is love. It taught that man is created with dignity, and beauty, and freedom – created in the image and likeness of God. And it taught that every single person is created for holiness.  

“Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation,” the council declared, “all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect.”

Holiness is not religious hobbyism. Holiness is not saccharine or inauthentic sentimentality. Holiness is not vitriolic or ad hominem internecine squabbling. Holiness is not a political agenda; holiness is not being liberal or conservative. Holiness is neither rigid moralism nor permissive relativism.

Holiness, the Second Vatican Council taught, is “the fullness of the Christian life” and “the perfection of charity.” Holiness is living in hope, and freedom, and truth. Holiness is intimate and real love for God, poured out into generous and real love for one another.  

Holiness is the fullness and joy of our humanity – sharing in God’s inner life, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Holiness is a gift from the Lord. But the Second Vatican Council taught that all who wish to be holy “must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image, seeking the will of the Father in all things.” This isn’t easy. In fact, it is the work of a lifetime. But it is the only work that finally matters.

I write about holiness inadequately, because I live holiness inadequately. St. Paul wrote that he was “chief among sinners.” Surely, I am not far behind. Few of us are. But I am convinced that the Second Vatican Council was right: that Christ can “conquer the reign of sin,” and that through his mercy, we can leave sin behind. Through his power, we can choose love. Through his grace, we can receive the gift of holiness, and live fully and freely, in joy, in this life and the next.

The message of the Second Vatican Council is that we can become saints, and that the world needs saints. That our families need saints. That our country needs saints. That our Church needs saints. That Christ’s love, working through us, can bring peace and light to people who need it. That our holiness can transform the world.

Fifty-five years ago, as he began the Second Vatican Council, Pope St. John XXIII encouraged the Church “earnestly and fearlessly to dedicate ourselves to the work that needs to be done in this modern age of ours, pursuing the path which the Church has followed for almost twenty centuries.”

In that same spirit, may we earnestly and fearless dedicate ourselves to the call the council declared so clearly: the call that each one of us should become a saint.


Why did Twitter reject this pro-life ad?

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 16:52

Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2017 / 02:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A political advertisement for pro-life Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has been blocked by Twitter for statements about Planned Parenthood selling fetal body parts for medical research.

“I’m 100 percent pro-life. I fought Planned Parenthood, and we stopped the sale of baby parts, thank God,” Blackburn says in her video.

Twitter blocked the ad, telling the Blackburn campaign that the comment was “deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.”

The tech company said the advertisement would be reinstated if the comment was removed.

Blackburn encouraged her supporters to join her in “standing up to Silicon Valley” by sharing the video. Although the video cannot be part of a paid promotion on Twitter, users can link to the video on the site and retweet Blackburn’s post of the video.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">.<a href="">@Twitter</a> shut down our video ad, claiming it&#39;s &quot;inflammatory&quot; &amp; &quot;negative.&quot; Join me in standing up to Silicon Valley → RETWEET our message! <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Marsha Blackburn (@VoteMarsha) <a href="">October 9, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

Blackburn is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee which will be left open by the retirement of current senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Earlier in the two-and-a-half-minute video, Blackburn claims that the “left calls me a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative,” criticizes the Senate’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and affirms her support of Second-Amendment rights and the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.

After investigative reporting by the Center for Medical Progress which revealed Planned Parenthood’s practice of taking money from medical research companies in exchange for aborted fetal tissue, Blackburn chaired a Republican-run House panel to investigate the organization and fetal tissue research more broadly.

After their investigation, she and her panel urged Congress to stop the funding of Planned Parenthood.

The practice of fetal tissue donation is legal in the United States if the donating company makes no profit off of the transaction. Planned Parenthood has since announced that it would no longer donate aborted fetal tissue for reimbursement.

Pro-life activists criticized Twitter’s move to refuse promotion of the ad.

“We are profoundly disappointed, but not surprised that Twitter continues to censor pro-life speech,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life advocacy organization, Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement.

“While we have observed that this censorship seems to be applied selectively to pro-life groups, Twitter's move has broad, chilling implications for all sorts of advocacy and political speech. We hope anyone seeking to engage in political speech will join us in denouncing the censorship of Rep. Blackburn,” Dannenfelser said.  

“Such heavy-handed tactics only backfire on those who use them.”


The dangers of spiritualizing your psychological problems

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 16:17

Denver, Colo., Oct 10, 2017 / 02:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Maria had been struggling with some depressive and anxious thoughts for a while, although at the time, she didn’t recognize them as such. Probably because she was 14 years old.  

When she shared her struggles with someone in her Catholic community, the woman told Maria that she was worried that “the devil was working his ways” in her, and used that to pressure her into going on a week-long retreat out of state.

“Sure, retreats are great,” Maria told CNA. “But pretty sure I just needed a therapist at that point in my life. And pretty sure I had already given valid reasons for why I wasn't interested in buying a plane ticket for a retreat.”

When Catholics experience spiritual problems, the solutions seem obvious -  talk to a priest, go to confession, pray, seek guidance from a spiritual director. But the line between the spiritual and the psychological can be very blurry, so much so that some Catholics and psychologists wonder if people are too often told to “pray away” their problems that may also require psychological treatment.

When body and soul are seen as unrelated

Dr. Gregory Bottaro is a Catholic clinical psychologist with the CatholicPsych Institute. He said that he has found the over-spiritualization of psychological issues to be a persistent problem, particularly among devout Catholics.

“Over-spiritualization in our time is usually a direct consequence of Cartesian Dualism,” Bottaro told CNA in an e-mail interview.

“Decartes is the philosopher who said: ‘I think therefore I am.’ He separated his thinking self from his bodily self, and planted the seed that eventually grew into our current thinking that the body and spirit are separate things. Acting as if the body doesn’t matter when considering our human experience is just as distorted as acting like the spirit doesn’t matter,” he said.

Because of this prevalent misconception about the separation of our body and soul, people both in and out of the Catholic Church often feel a stigma in seeking mental help that isn’t there when they need to seek physical help, he said.

“We shouldn’t think any less of getting help for mental health than we do for physical health. There are fields of expertise for a reason, and just as we can’t fix every one of our own physical wounds, we can’t always fix every one of our own mental wounds. It is virtuous to recognize our need for help,” Dr. Bottaro said.

Virtuous, but not always easy.

Just pray

Michele is a young Catholic 20-something who was used to being social and involved in various ministries within the Church. But a move to a new city left her usually-bubbly self feeling lonely and isolated.

“I felt like a failure spiritually because shouldn't my relationship with God be enough? But, I would come home from work and cry and just lay in my bed. It was hard for me to motivate myself to do anything,” she told CNA.

When a friend, also involved in ministry, called to catch up, Michele saw it as a chance to reach out and share some of the feelings that had been concerning her.

“I don't remember exactly what I said, but she told me what I was feeling was sinful. I shut down and said I was exaggerating and made up some story about how everything was fine,” she said.

Michele waited several more months before seeking help through Catholic Charities, where she was connected to a therapist. She found out that she had attachment disorder, which, left untreated for longer, could have turned into major, long term depression.

Derek is also a young 20-something Catholic who was also told to pray away his problems. He was suffering from depressive episodes, where he wouldn’t eat and would sleep for 15 hours a day. His friends’ advice was to pray. It wasn’t until he attempted suicide that he got serious about seeking psychotherapy.

Sarah, also a young Catholic and a former FOCUS missionary, had a similar experience. For months, she confessed suicidal thoughts to her pastor and spiritual director, who gave her advice based on the discernment of spirits from St. Ignatius of Loyola. But eventually the thoughts became so intense and prevalent that Sarah called every mandatory reporter she knew, and was admitted to the hospital on suicide watch.

“I think part of it is - if someone is trained in something, that’s how they want to fix it,” Sarah told CNA.

“If you’re trained in spirituality then you want to use spirituality to fix it. And you absolutely should include spirituality. However, you can’t just pray it away. These are real problems and real medical things. There are events in people’s lives that have happened, and they need to work through that both spiritually and psychologically, and a priest or youth minister can’t do both. They need to get you to someone who’s able to help,” she said.

The negative stigma attached to seeking mental help is magnified in the Church because of the “pray it away” mentality, Sarah added. Once prayer doesn’t work, people can feel like spiritual failures, and many people in the Church will distance themselves from someone who is mentally ill.

“I can’t be a fully functional young woman who’s working through something and needs help with it,” she said. “It’s either - I’m ok or I’m not.”  

A Catholic psychologist’s perspective  

Dr. Jim Langley, a Catholic licensed clinical psychologist with St. Raphael’s counseling in Denver, said he tends to see opposite ends of the spectrum in his patients in about equal numbers - those who over-spiritualize their problems, and those who under-spiritualize them.

“Part of the problem is that in our culture, we have such a medically-oriented, science-oriented culture that we’ve sort of gotten away from spirituality, which causes a lot of problems,” he said.

As human beings, our minds and our souls are what set us apart from other created things, Langley added, making those aspects of our being most vulnerable to evil attacks.

“I know a priest who would explain it like this: Evil is like a germ, and it wants to get in just like bacteria does in our body. And where does bacteria get in? It gets in through our wounds. So if we have a cut on our hand, that’s where bacteria wants to get in and infect us. On the spiritual side, it’s the same thing. Where we have the most sensitive wounds tend to be in our sense of self and our psychology, and so that’s where evil wants to get in at us.”  

People who tend to ignore the spiritual aspect of their psychological problems cut themselves off from the most holistic approach of healing, Langley added.  

“The main reason is because it really is God who heals, and almost any psychological issue you’re dealing with is going to have some sort of a spiritual component connected to it, because it has to do with our dignity as a human person.”

And while it can be challenging to make people see the spiritual component of their problems, it can also be a challenge to help other people recognize that their spiritual issues might also have a psychological component, he said.

Some devout Catholics see it as preferable to say they are suffering from something like the dark night of the soul, rather than to admit that they have depression and may need medication and counseling, he said.

“In some ways in our Catholic community, it’s cooler to have a spiritual problem than it is to have a psychological problem,” he said. “The problem with over-spiritualizing is that you cut yourself from so many tools that psychology and even your faith could have to help you to be happy.”

Many of the things psychologists do to help their patients includes teaching them “recipes” for happiness, Langley said - re-training their thought patterns, providing practical tools to use when anxiety or depression kick in.

But a person who doesn’t recognize an issue as also having a psychological component may be resistant to these methods entirely, including spiritual methods, he said.

Catholics who are concerned about seeking psychological help should seek a Catholic psychologist or psychiatrist who can talk about both the spiritual and psychological aspects of healing, Langley said.

“People who don’t practice from a Catholic or spiritual perspective can do a pretty good job, but it’s like they’re doing therapy with their hand tied behind their back, because they’re missing out on a whole array of things you can do to help a person.”

Therapists who aren’t practicing from a Catholic perspective could also do some unintended harm in their practice, Langley noted. For example, men who are addicted to pornography may be told by a secular therapist that pornography is a healthy release, or couples struggling in their marriage may sometimes be encouraged by secular practitioners to divorce.

It’s really a false dichotomy, Langley added, to categorize problems as strictly spiritual or psychological, because oftentimes they are both, and require both psychological and spiritual treatment.

“So much of good therapy is helping a person get back in touch with their sense of dignity that God created them with...and as they get more in touch with it, they are actually just more open to God’s love and they’re more open to making changes in their life that might be helpful.”

What needs to change?

The Catholic experience of mental illness varies. Some found their experience of a mental illness diagnosis in the Church very isolating, while others said it was a great source of healing and support.

Langley said that for the most part, he has a great relationship with the clergy in his area.

“Most of our referrals come from priests,” he said. “I hardly ever see a priest that is overly convinced that something is spiritual. I think priests really do a pretty good job of saying when something is more psychological.”

Some of Langley’s favorite clients are those who are seeking spiritual direction at the same time as therapy, he said, because between therapy and spiritual direction, the person seeking help is usually able to find the right balance of psychological and spiritual strategies that work.

Others said they felt the relationship between psychologists and Catholic clergy or other leaders could be stronger.

A licensed marriage and family therapist in California, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that priests and mental health professionals should be working together to support those struggling with mental illness, to make them feel more welcome, and to let them know what resources are available.

“The faith community hasn't done a great job reaching out for support for those within the community with mental illness, and the mental health community hasn't done a good enough job making itself available to the faith community,” he said.

Several Catholics who have had mental illness also said they wished that it were something that was discussed more openly in the Church.

“I have thirsted for greater support in the Church,” said Erin, who has depression and anxiety.

“That is my biggest struggle as a Catholic with mental illness: not necessarily focusing too much on the spiritual aspects, but people not knowing how to address any other aspect.”

She had some suggestions for Catholics who find out their friend has a mental illness.

“As Christ would do, and as Job's friends failed to do, please, please just walk with me. And if I bring up something spiritual, feel free to talk about it. If you think I'm shutting you out, ask. If I randomly start crying, hold my hand,” she said.

“Finding support in my one friend (who also has a mental illness) has done worlds of good for me. Imagine what could happen if Christians became more vulnerable about their mental illness. What a support system that would be!”

Michele said in sharing her story about seeking therapy, she has been surprised at how many Catholics have gone through similar experiences.

“I try to be very open about it now because a stigma should not exist.”

Catholic psychologists in your area can be found by searching at or at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

Some names in this article have been changed for the protection of privacy.

This article was originally published on CNA July 1, 2016.

Robert George reflects on Trump admin's latest religious liberty moves

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 17:59

Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2017 / 03:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two sets of announcements by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services issued Friday both promise to broaden religious freedom protections in the United States.

The first announcement, by the HHS department, broadens the religious freedom exemptions to the department’s contraception mandate, which has been facing federal lawsuits from conscientious objectors since its introduction in 2011.

The second announcement was a memo issued by the Department of Justice, in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained in a detailed twenty-point memo, the legal principles all government agencies should consider when dealing with religious freedom concerns.

Neither announcement will automatically resolve religious freedom cases currently within the court system.

In an Oct. 6 interview with CNA, Robert George, a professor of constitutional law at Princeton University and visiting professor at Harvard University, explained the implications of these two announcements for religious freedom supporters throughout the country.


According to the administration this has been a pretty big day for religious freedom. Can you provide a general reaction and walk us through an overview of what the new HHS mandate adjustment and DOJ rules mean for religious freedom?

Well I think this is a big day for religious freedom. I see much greater value in the guidance that been issued today than in the executive order on religious freedom from a few months ago, which I was very disappointed in, as you know. I felt that order was essentially meaningless. The guidance today I think is genuine and I think it is very likely to make a positive difference. The administration goes clearly on the record and instructs all relevant agencies of government that the [Religious] Freedom Restoration Act applies even where a religious assurance seeks an exemption from a requirement that the entity confer benefits on third parties.

This is point 15 of the 20 key principles for Religious Liberty issued by the Justice Department.

And this is a big point in dispute between the two sides in this debate over religious freedom. And the administration comes down squarely in favor of what I certainly believe is the correct view.

Another key point that the guidance makes clear in point 19 is that religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employer's religious precepts. Now I interpret that to mean that an employer may, if the religious employer chooses, for religious reasons choose to employ only members of its own faith. But it also means that the employer, if it chooses on the basis of its religious faith, can choose to hire people who are not of the same faith, but limit those employment opportunities to prospective employees whose conduct is in line with the moral teachings of the faith. Now this is very important. It means for example that a Catholic school could say, “We don't insist on hiring only Catholics to be teachers in the school. Perhaps we insist on Catholics as teachers of religion, since it's a Catholic school. We are perfectly happy to hire a math teacher, social studies teacher, and literature teacher who are Hindu or Protestant or Jewish or Mormon or Muslim.”

But, even if they choose to do that [a Catholic employer] can choose to employ only people from their own faith or other faiths who live their lives in line with Catholic moral teaching. So if for example the school says, “We do not want to employ people who are living in a cohabiting partnership outside of marriage,” under this guidance, under point 19 as I interpret it, the employer is entitled to do that, and that's protected as a matter of the employer's religious freedom. This is a very important point.

You know, I do have a question about point 20 that has to do with the first word and the point – that what is "generally." The point says, "generally, the federal government may not condition federal grants or contracts on the religious organization altering its religious character beliefs or activities." What I don't know is what the exceptions are. I assume "generally" is meant to state a rule, but to contemplate that there are exceptions to the rule. So I think we need clearer guidance from the administration and from the Justice Department about the conditions under which the federal government may legitimately condition federal grants or contracts on their religious organization altering its religious character beliefs or activities. Since it's presented as a conditional norm not as an absolute norm we really need some clarity about what the conditions are, or what the exceptions are. And I cannot find that clarity in in the material released today. But I do think we need it.

I’m glad you brought up the Executive Order and its shortcomings. Could you briefly explain what your concerns with the order were, for those who are unfamiliar?

There was very little in the March executive order that was actually operative in such a way as to protect everybody's religious freedom.

To the extent that there was much operative, it had mainly to do with the interpretation and application of the Johnson Amendment, which forbids political advocacy of certain sorts by churches.

I said at the time that the Johnson Amendment, while problematic both constitutionally and as a policy matter, was not among the top 20 items on a list of genuine concerns about religious freedom. It's very rarely, if ever, enforced. It does have something of a chilling effect which is why would like to get rid of it. But, to those who have not been chilled by it, have by and large been left unmolested by the government. So it was not a problem in desperate need of fixing.

There were a lot of other things like the protection of employers against being forced to hire people who were in same-sex partnerships, for example, where the employers faith judged those kinds of partnerships to be immoral, or other sorts of sexual partnerships – perhaps co-habiting opposite sex partners without benefit of marriage.

That was nothing in there to protect employers in those domains. So, what what we see today goes in the right direction on a number of those issues, including you know those two areas – points 15 and 19 – that I already called attention to.

Now I know that the preparatory materials for the guidance points, says that this guidance does not resolve any specific cases. It offers guidance on existing protections in religious liberty and federal law.

Of course there are cases that are pending. So the proof will be in the pudding. We need to know whether those government officials – including those in charge of litigation matters who have cases pending that jeopardize the life of religious employers. We need to know whether they will interpret these guidance points in ways that will cause them to relent in attempting to limit the freedom of those employers. I certainly hope that they will, but this is by its own terms, this guidance does not dictate to any official that he or she resolved a specific case in a particular way. It says that it doesn't do that. It says, "this guidance does not resolve any specific cases."

So since that's true, we'll need to know how officials interpret the guidance and apply the guidance to specific cases. That will be the proof. That will be the proof in the pudding.

We'll see whether these cases are resolved in ways that are respectful of religious freedom, or whether these guidance points are treated as if they're meaningless and officials carry on with cases in the way that some have been carrying on with these cases: in ways that limit the religious freedom, or attempt to limit the religious freedom, of these employees.

There's some important points that have been well-established, but it's good to have them reiterated since they remain controversial. Point three is an example of that: the freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations. There's there's a view that's been circulated by people who are in truth enemies of religious freedom, although they would not admit to being that – but they are.

There's a view that says religious freedom rights extend only to individual persons and not to organizations like churches, schools, religiously based social service providers, and so forth. This guidance in point three makes very clear that this administration's position is that freedom of religion extends to religious organizations and not just individuals, so that's good. It's not new, but it's good.

Switching gears to the changes to the HHS mandate: how does this adjustment impact the longstanding battle over mandate we’ve been seeing for the past six years?

Of course, your best source of your best source of information on that is the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom. I would certainly myself defer to what the lawyers there said because it's their case and they have been completely on top of this, and they're excellent lawyers. As you know I'm a member of the board of the Becket Fund, and a member of what's called the Corporation of the Becket Fund as well.

I think our lawyers have done a fantastic job in these cases including Little Sisters of the Poor case, so I would really defer to their judgement.

I will say this though: I believe an authentic, faithful, honest interpretation of these guidelines by the government officials who have responsibility for that litigation would it cause them to basically concede to the Little Sisters, and to acknowledge that to the extent that the regulations purport to impose upon religious organizations a requirement that they provide, or in any way to implicate themselves in providing contraceptives or abortifacient efficient drugs in violation of religious teaching, that the government would simply concede the government has no right to do that. The regulations cannot be enforced against those religious entities. But again, the proof will be in the pudding.

We'll see whether the public officials to whom this guidance is addressed apply the guidance in that way. That's the point again about the guidance itself not resolving specific cases. So we'll see.

There's other point that's worth making, just to step back from all this for a while.

Even as late as the middle 1960s there were still jurisdictions – including Massachusetts and Connecticut – that prohibited the sale, distribution, and even use of contraceptives. Those were longstanding laws put on the books by Protestant majorities in the 19th century to protect public morality.

The reason that efforts to repeal those laws consistently failed in the legislatures of Connecticut in Massachusetts and some other states, although they succeeded in some states, the reason they failed in other states is that some of the legislatures felt that the widespread availability of contraception would would weaken the public morality and open the floodgates to promiscuity, adultery, divorce, family abandonment, and all the things that comes in the wake of a collapse of sexual morality. The Supreme Court struck down the anti-contraception laws in 1965 in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut and in 1972 in the case of Eisenstaedt v. Baird and they did that at the request of liberals who insisted that contraception was a deeply private matter in which the public had no right to intrude.

The Supreme Court found a so-called right to privacy, according to the justice system the right to use contraception, because it was a private matter. One cannot help but notice how liberals have changed their tune. They no longer regard contraception as a private matter: once they broke down the laws against contraception on the grounds that it was an allegedly private matter, they suddenly shifted back to treating it as such a public matter that they're going to force people in general to pay for other people's private contraception. They're even willing to force religious conscientious objectors like the Green family and Hobby Lobby and a Little Sisters of the Poor to make themselves complicit in one way or another in providing other people's allegedly private contraceptives.

So, one cannot help but perceive a rather huge dollop of hypocrisy in the way the contraception issue has been treated by the progressive movement to from the middle 1960s to the middle 2010s.

If it's private, leave it private. If it's not private, then they had no business asking the Supreme Court to strike down laws prohibiting it in the name of a putative right to privacy.

They really should make up their minds whether it's private or not private.

Another change is that the mandate now protects those with non-sectarian conscience objections to the mandate. Can you speak to the importance of this expansion for those who object to these issues for non-religious reasons?

Yes. Many people do not derive their moral convictions from a religion, and many religious people believe that even apart from divine revelation there are moral truths that can be known by the disciplined application of reason even apart from what might, in addition, be known by religious authority by virtue of the teaching of a church or a body of scripture or what have you.

In both cases it's sometimes described as natural law.

It appears that in this guidance, it's acknowledged that conscience formed on the basis of non religiously based, or not necessarily religiously based, on a moral reflection deserves conscience protection in the same way that religiously based moral convictions deserve conscience protection.

Back to the DOJ update … Can you comment on the DOJ guidance on how to address all religious freedom objections. What other cases or situations can this apply to outside of the contraceptive mandate or providing potentially abortifacient procedures? What are some of the other kinds of cases that the DOJ guidance might impact?

Yes, I mean I knew one thing would be in those states that have moved to assisted suicide, I think the guidance system provides some promise of protecting religiously based health care-providing institutions like Catholic hospitals or other religiously affiliated medical institutions from being forced to participate in assisted suicide or, for that matter, in abortion. The same with individuals as well as institutions: doctors in state facilities for example who cannot in conscience participate in assisted suicide or abortion in places like Oregon that have taken the step of embracing assisted suicide.

It could be that if there are some states or municipalities that move in the direction of banning male infant circumcision – there's a movement that strongly is pushing for bans on male infant circumcision– the movement is called the intactivist movement– if such laws are adopted I think that this would strengthen hands of Jewish organizations and Muslim organizations that will seek to preserve the right on a religious basis to have their male infant children circumcised. We've seen this in Europe: some some jurisdictions in Europe have banned male infant circumcision and their movement is alive here in the United States. One can easily imagine certain jurisdictions, certain municipalities, maybe a state, banning circumcision, so it could become important in that area.

These protections will protect not only Catholics and other Christians, but members of non-Christian faiths as well.

What else should our readers know about these two religious freedom updates?

Probably the most important thing to remind people in closing is that the principles are designed to guide public officials but, they don't dictate results. The same is true of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, by the way. It simply gives the religious claimant today in court and requires that the government prove that its imposition on a religious claimant is supported by a compelling state interest and represents the least restrictive or least intrusive means of prosecuting that interest. It doesn't dictate the result.

So while I welcome and I think all friends of religious liberty and of conscience should welcome this guidance, we need to hold off cheering until we see how the guidance is actually interpreted and applied by public officials. It's when we see actual cases being resolved – whether those cases are in litigation or whether their decisions about whether to bring a case or how to bring a case – until we see actual cases. Until we see the guidance actually applied to concrete disputes we won't know whether to cheer. So what that tells us is there's a human element. Rules don't apply or interpret themselves. Human beings interpret and apply rules. So we need to see the human beings in the bureaucracy interpreting and applying the rules and then we'll see whether there's anything worth cheering about here.

But I think if these principles are faithfully and authentically interpreted, it will mean a very desirable set of protections for religious freedom. Protections that are now many years overdue due to the assaults on religious freedom during the Obama administration.

Don't rush to judge Columbus, anthropologist encourages

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 12:33

Providence, R.I., Oct 9, 2017 / 10:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The controversies surrounding Christopher Columbus are sometimes misplaced and should not overshadow Columbus’ Christian motives in his voyages, a scholar of religious studies and anthropology has said.

“In recent times, Christopher Columbus has become the symbol for everything that went wrong in the New World, so much so that it has become difficult to celebrate the holiday commemorating his discovery of the New World,” Carol Delaney, a visiting scholar of religious studies at Brown University, told CNA.

“I have been dismayed by the lack of knowledge about the man by those who are rushing in judgment against him and changing the day that commemorates his extraordinary achievement.”

“While we may not agree with the scenario that motivated Columbus, it is important to understand him in the context of his time,” she added.

Delaney, who holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago, is author of the 2011 book “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem,” which examines Columbus’ religious motivations for his voyages.

Her book warns against misjudging Columbus’ motivations and accomplishments “from a contemporary perspective rather than from the values and practices of his own time.”

In her view, some criticism “holds him responsible for consequences he did not intend, expect, or endorse” and blames him for “all the calamities” that befell the “new world” he was once celebrated for discovering.

Columbus has been a major figure for Catholics in America, especially Italian-Americans, who saw his pioneering voyage from Europe as a way of validating their presence in a sometimes hostile majority-Protestant country. The Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, took his name and voyage as an inspiration. At one point in the nineteenth century there were efforts to push for the voyager’s canonization.

In 1892, the quadricennial of Columbus’ first voyage, Leo XIII authored an encyclical that stressed Columbus’ desire to spread Catholic Christianity. The Pope stressed how Columbus’ Catholic faith motivated his voyage and supported him amid his setbacks.

In recent decades, some critics have stressed the negative aspects of Columbus’ voyage and European colonization of the New World, noting that European colonists’ arrival brought disease, violence and displacement to natives. Columbus Day holidays and parades have drawn protests from some activists.

Some U.S. localities have dropped observances of Columbus Day, while others have added observances intended to recognize those who lived in the Americas before Columbus sailed.

Delaney, however, questioned interpretations that depict Columbus as a gold-hungry marauder who did not care for the natives.

She said Columbus was motivated by the belief that all people must be evangelized to achieve salvation and by the belief that he could ally with the Great Khan of Cathay and secure enough gold to support an effort to retake Jerusalem.

“There was no intention of taking land or enslaving the people of the Khan, ruler of one of the greatest empires at the time,” Delaney said.

On his first return voyage to Spain, Columbus brought several natives who were not enslaved. Rather, they had been baptized and educated.

“One became his ‘adopted son’ and translator on future voyages, two were adopted by the (Spanish) king and queen,” she said.

After Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria ran aground on his first voyage, Columbus left 39 men on an island in the Caribbean with special instructions.

“He told them they should not go marauding, should not kidnap and rape the women, and should always make exchanges for food and gold,” Delaney explained.

“When he returned with more ships and people he found that all of the men whom he'd left behind had been killed. Unlike the priest who accompanied him, Columbus did not blame the natives, but his own men; clearly, they had disobeyed his orders.”

Delaney acknowledged that Columbus on later voyages enslaved some natives who resisted Christianization. At the same time, he also punished his own men who perpetrated misdeeds against the natives.

The scholar has also questioned uncritical treatments of the Spanish friar Bartolomeo de las Casas, who is sometimes compared favorably to Columbus.

While las Casas is now remembered primarily as a defender of the rights of native Americans, she said this came later in life. The friar also owned slaves, endorsed slavery, and operated plantations. He also helped suppress a native rebellion

Columbus never owned slaves and yet is “reviled and blamed for everything that went wrong in the Indies,” Delaney said in her book.


This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 13, 2014.

Why this young woman spoke up against 'Men for Choice'

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 18:02

Washington D.C., Oct 8, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Men are often told they have no voice in the abortion debate, yet an ongoing program, “Men for Choice”, seeks to amplify the voices of men in order to support abortion.

One young woman, concerned about the program's ability to silence the voices of all who speak up for the unborn, and in particular women who have been mistreated because of abortion, decided to stand up and voice her opinion on the men’s abortion advocacy.  

“People are always talking about choice, but it’s only one choice,” said Kate Bryan, a resident of Washington, D.C. “That’s what I feel about Men for Choice: they’re really only pushing for one choice and if you don’t stand with them, you shouldn’t have a voice.”

Bryan and a friend protested against an event promoting Men for Choice, an ongoing program coordinated by NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national abortion advocacy organization. Together, they carried signs reading “Real Men Don’t Exploit Women” and “Real men feed their babies they don’t kill them.”

She and a friend attended a Sept. 26 rally of Men for Choice in the nation's capital, and said she plans on protesting future Men for Choice events. Bryan said she was motivated to protest for her pro-life beliefs, as well as her interest in supporting women’s voices and pushing back against what she described as the “exploitation” of women.

Bryan said she finds it “interesting” that the pro-abortion organization is trying to promote men’s support for abortion, given that it can open up “so many opportunities for abuse, coercion.” Bryan pointed to several examples of coerced abortion and the pressure some women faced from family and partners to get an abortion.

Bryan also participated to help educate attendees on the facts of abortion procedures. “Most people go into events with minds made up on abortion,” Bryan told CNA.

However, many of the women she talked to at the event didn’t know basic facts about abortion procedures, at what ages these procedures are performed, and NARAL’s policies on abortion. She said that several of the women she talked to expressed disbelief and then surprise as they came to accept these facts.

“I don’t know if we changed anybody’s mind, but at least we challenged people to think,” Bryan said.  

The experience was different, however, when encountering the male protestors, Bryan stated. “The majority of men that were walking past mocked us,” she recalled. “We weren’t doing anything, just standing out there with our sign, and we were happy to talk to people.”

Despite some of the more tense interactions, Bryan said she’s glad she protested.  “Abortion doesn’t lead to freedom. It’s not empowering to women.” Bryan said she would like to see more “real choices” for women, like community support for pregnant women, better workplace protections, and family leave.

“I really feel passionate about empowering women and giving them opportunities and helping them find true freedom,” Bryan stressed. “Women deserve better, men deserve better and children in the womb certainly deserve better.” 

Archbishop Lori: Religious liberty protections 'a victory for all Americans'

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 18:45

Baltimore, Md., Oct 6, 2017 / 04:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty says that expanded religious liberty protections in the federal contraception mandate are a “victory for the First Amendment, and a victory for all Americans, even those who don’t agree with the Church’s” teaching on contraception.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced revisions to the contraception mandate provisions of the Affordable Care Act Oct. 6, considerably expanding exemptions for religious groups and others with moral or ethical objections to providing contraception in employee health plans.

In comments to CNA, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who has led the bishops’ religious liberty efforts since the formation of the committee in 2011, said the announcement was “very welcome news.”

“I think it restores a balance that was lacking,” the archbishop said. “It permits us to do our ministries” without violating Catholic moral principles, he added.

The U.S. bishop’s conference has consistently opposed the contraception mandate since it was announced in 2011. While Lori praised expanded religious liberty protections, he told CNA that “as important as the announcement is, it’s a regulation that could be changed by a future administration.”

He said the bishops would continue to work for “a more permanent solution” to the ethical challenges posed by the contraception mandate.

“We’ll also see more challenges to our religious liberty,” Lori told CNA. “We’ll continue seeking a more robust understanding and implementation of RFRA laws.”

RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is a federal statute limiting the government’s ability to “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion. Since being signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, 21 states have enacted similar provisions.

Lori told CNA that “in addition to the various challenges we face on religious liberty at the federal and local levels, the biggest thing we need to do is effectively catechize, evangelize, and teach about religious freedom. That is job number one” for the bishops’ religious liberty committee, he explained.

“On the one hand, we face specific legal challenges,” he said. “On the other hand, we face a society losing sight of the beauty, goodness, and dignity of religious liberty.”

The archbishop said that Americans risk “frittering away” freedom of religion if they do not actively work to protect it.

“Will we have a just society without protecting religious liberty,” he asked.

In June, the U.S. bishops voted to permanently establish the religious liberty committee within the structure of the bishops’ conference. It had previously been an ad hoc committee, which, by conference rules, could only remain active over a defined period of time.

“The bishops recognized that is important for us to teach, catechize, and address these issues,” Lori said. “I was very gratified by that decision.”

Lori also said that domestic religious liberty challenges should raise awareness of religious persecution around the world.

“It’s said that nearly 70 percent of the world’s population lives under some restriction of their religious freedom. That ought to be sobering for us in the West,” he said.

“We need to be in great solidarity of prayer with those suffering religious persecution,” he said, adding hope that American Catholics would support initiatives promoting religious liberty internationally.

The archbishop explained that protecting religious liberty domestically could itself have global effect. “By protecting our freedom, and keeping the flame of freedom burning brightly, we serve as a sign of hope” for persecuted religious believers around the globe, he said.

New religious freedom protections draw praise from experts

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 18:38

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the Trump administration announced new exemptions to the contraceptive mandate and a religious freedom guidance, experts said both actions offered concrete protections of religious freedom.

“Today the Trump administration made two commendable decisions in support of the bedrock American principle of religious liberty,” Dr. Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, told CNA, calling the actions “cause for much celebration.”

On Friday morning the administration followed through on two promises made in President Donald Trump’s May 4 executive order on religious liberty – relief from the HHS mandate for religious and conscientious objectors, and a Department of Justice guidance to federal agencies on implementing religious freedom protections found in existing federal law.

The administration first announced on Friday an expansion of religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, over which many non-profit groups and some for-profit businesses had sued the federal government.

“Groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who dedicate their lives to the indigent elderly, can finally expect the restitution of their conscience-rights in court,” Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor with The Catholic Association, stated on Friday.

The HHS had interpreted the Affordable Care Act to include a mandate on cost-free coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause early abortions in health plans.

Although many religious groups were opposed to contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs, the religious exemptions from the mandate were so narrow that only churches and their integrated auxiliaries were safe from having to comply.

This meant that many religious charities and universities had to comply with the mandate’s demands. The Obama administration offered an “accommodation” to objecting non-profits to comply with the mandate, but charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor said this still forced them to be complicit in the provision of objectionable coverage.

Under the interim final rules released Friday, non-profits, small businesses, and even some publicly-traded companies can apply for a religious exemption to the mandate, if they establish that complying with the mandate would violate their religious beliefs.

The new rules “substantially expand the scope of that religious exemption,” Greg Baylor, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said.

Large “publicly-traded” companies wouldn’t be eligible to claim a “moral” exemption from the mandate, but secular non-profits and small businesses would be – which benefits groups like the March for Life, which is a pro-life organization opposed to the mandate on conscience grounds, but a group that is “not inherently religious.”

In establishing such broad new exemptions, the new rule “practically amounts to a revocation of the mandate,” Franck told CNA.

And the “accommodation” offered to non-profits, where their insurer or third party administrator provided the objectionable coverage, is now voluntary, the Department of Health and Human Services announced.

Prominent U.S. bishops praised the HHS announcement on Friday as a “return to common sense.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, said in a statement that the new rule “recognizes that the full range of faith-based and mission-driven organizations, as well as the people who run them, have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.”

“We welcome the news that this particular threat to religious freedom has been lifted,” they stated.

The Becket Fund, a religious freedom law firm that defended the Little Sisters of the Poor in court against the mandate, praised the “common sense, balanced rule,” but added that the litigation is ongoing in mandate cases.

In the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor against the mandate at the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court in a rare move in the middle of the case ordered both the plaintiffs and the government to submit briefs detailing if, and how a solution could be crafted that provided for cost-free coverage outlined in the HHS mandate, while at the same time maintaining the religious freedom of the non-profits that sued the government.

In May of 2016, the Court vacated the federal circuit court decisions on the mandate, ordered the federal government not to fine the plaintiffs, and instructed all parties to come to a solution that provided the contraception coverage while respecting the religious freedom of the plaintiffs. The cases are currently still at the federal circuit court level.

“14 or 15 months later” after the Supreme Court asked for a solution, “what we see today is really the resolution of that process,” Rienzi said.

With the HHS announcement, the government now “admits the prior version of the mandate broke the law,” Rienzi said, referring to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Under the 1993 law, the federal government must not substantially burden one’s deeply-held religious beliefs unless it establishes that to do so is in its “compelling interest” and is the “least-restrictive means” of fulfilling that interest.

The government essentially admitted on Friday that there were indeed less-restrictive means of ensuring cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs than forcing the non-profits to comply with the mandate through the “accommodation,” Rienzi said.

“I assume those lawyers at DOJ will cooperate and go into the courtrooms and admit that the federal government broke the law, and that the Little Sisters and other groups are entitled to a final injunction to give them lasting protection against this kind of treatment,” he said.

Also on Friday, the Department of Justice announced a religious freedom guidance that was ordered by President Trump in his May 4 executive order on religious freedom.

The 25-page guidance outlines religious freedom protections in existing federal law that federal departments and agencies are to incorporate into their functions. It states that “Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice.”

The guidance is significant and establishes solid protections for religious freedom at the federal level, Professor Robert Destro of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law told CNA.

“We’ve never had anything this far-reaching before,” he said, noting that the guidance puts religious freedom on the level of freedom of speech.

It also takes principles of religious freedom and applies them to many federal levels, Destro said.

For instance, U.S. attorneys at the Department of Justice in litigation must “conform all the arguments that the government is making across the country” to the religious freedom principles outlined in the guidance, he said.

This would apply to ongoing court cases, including the DOJ’s position on the current religious freedom case before the Supreme Court of Masterpiece Cakeshop. It would also apply to “other cases where the arguments were already written,” Destro said.

The guidance also informs regulations, grants, contracts, and diversity training. Agencies like the State Department, where many employees have historically been reticent to talk about the role religion in international problems, could be affected by this, Destro said.

Regarding its application to federal contracts, the guidance could influence cases where religious charities are in danger of losing federal contracts due to their employment practices or their religious mission.

“It really gives faith-based organizations and others with religious objections an argument to make when they’re in discussions with a federal agency about accepting a grant or a contract,” Baylor told CNA.

The guidance also reiterates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in that it “does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of religious beliefs,” Joshua Mercer, co-founder of, told CNA.

This is significant because certain Catholic colleges did not receive religious exemptions from the contraceptive mandate, Mercer said, yet the government should have honored their religious objections. “It’s up to our bishops to decide a university is sufficiently Catholic or not, not our federal government,” he said.

It could apply to conscience protections for health care professionals, Baylor noted. The Obama administration, under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act mandated that doctors had to provide gender-transition procedures even if they conscientiously objected to doing so.

“There has been a nationwide injunction against that rule, and the federal government has indicated that it plans to reconsider the rule,” Baylor noted.

However, he added, “this guidance strengthens the hand of those who would argue that this sort of thing violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment.”

Ultimately, the guidance is “pretty far-reaching, and it’s going to take a good deal of time for the agencies to conform their practice to what’s being required,” Destro said.

“This may have an impact that we don’t see” in informing federal agencies how they should operate, Baylor said.


The government's new religious freedom guidance: What does it mean?

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 17:31

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017 / 03:31 pm (CNA).- All eyes were on the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, as the Trump administration announced a major broadening of exemptions to the federal contraception mandate, prompting cheers from religious freedom proponents nationwide.

Less noticed was another critical development in the U.S. religious liberty landscape: Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued government-wide legal guidance outlining 20 principles of religious liberty that, the Department of Justice says, should govern all administrative agencies and executive departments in their work.

Sessions had been instructed to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law” by an executive order signed by President Trump in May.

The 25-page document released by the attorney general will please many religious liberty advocates. Its bold language highlights the crucial role of religious freedom in American life. It could also have an impact on pending legal disputes across the country.

Early in the memo, the guidance asserts, “Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice.” Religious freedom proponents have argued for this definition avidly in recent years, amid fears that the idea was being eroded, especially as the phrase “freedom of worship” often replaced “freedom of religion” in the Obama administration.

The document goes on to state that religious liberty extends not only to persons, but to organizations, and that religious freedom is not surrendered when an individual participates in the marketplace or interacts with government – two key points argued in the HHS mandate debate over the last six years.

This second point – that individuals do not have to remove themselves from civil society in order to retain their right to religious freedom – could also have implications in several high-profile lawsuits, largely revolving around the freedom of service providers such as florists, cake bakers, and photographers to decline same-sex weddings, based on their religious beliefs about marriage.

Six of the 20 religious liberty principles in Sessions’ document are dedicated to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

Enacted in 1993, RFRA is one of the primary legislative pillars upon which religious freedom arguments have rested in the last two decades. It says that the federal government may not substantially burden the free exercise of religion, unless there is a compelling state interest in doing so, and it is carried out in the least-restrictive manner possible.

RFRA applies only to the federal government, although in recent years, similar laws have increasingly been proposed or passed in state legislatures.

The guidance explains that RFRA “applies to all sincerely-held religious beliefs,” and the government does not have the authority to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious conviction. It affirms that in evaluating RFRA claims, courts must use what is known as “strict scrutiny” – the highest level of judicial review, under which only the most serious of government interests are permitted to infringe upon a fundamental constitutional right.

It also says that the law “applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a legal obligation requiring the adherent to confer benefits on third parties,” making it clear that RFRA applies in cases such as the HHS mandate.

The document takes a firm stand in insisting that RFRA be taken seriously and interpreted robustly. It’s worth noting that this is a return to ideas widely held just 25 years ago: when RFRA was enacted in 1993, it has nearly unanimous support from both parties and was signed into law by Bill Clinton.

Also significant, the guidance explicitly affirms the right of religious organizations to “employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” This is a victory for faith-based employers, among them Catholic schools who have faced opposition for asking employees to sign codes of conduct agreeing to abide by Catholic teaching on issues such as sexuality.    

Today’s guidance also confirms that government cannot interfere with the autonomy of religious organizations. This idea was reinforced by the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC – a rare unanimous ruling in 2012 in which the court upheld the “ministerial exception” that allows religious organizations to hire and fire ministers without interference from the government.

Finally, the document released by Sessions said that religious organizations must have equal footing in applying for federal aid or grant programs – they may not be denied participation in these programs when the money is going toward activities that are not explicitly religious in nature.

This has been an important issue in the weeks after Hurricane Harvey with a group of Houston churches suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency, claiming they had been denied disaster relief grants due to their religious status.

The principle was also at play earlier this year, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Lutheran church that was seeking to make safety improvements on its playground through a state reimbursement program. The church had initially been turned away because of its religious affiliation.

Now that the attorney general has issued the guidance, it is up to each agency and department to implement the principles as they make employment decisions, develop regulations, administer programs and write up contracts and grants.

The fight over the proper role of religious liberty in the nation is far from over, however. The document has already been criticized by its opponents as oppressive to women and the LGBT community.

The broad effect of the guidance will continue to unfold in the coming months. Challenges to it will undoubtedly arise as well. The ultimate outcome remains to be seen. But in the meantime, religious liberty proponents can find encouragement in some of the strongest language on the issue coming from a presidential administration in decades.


How the US can protect human rights in China

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 15:01

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration should act to address “severe violations of religious freedom” in China, a bipartisan congressional commission said Thursday.

“Efforts to shutter and harass Protestant Christian ‘house churches’ and the demolition of renowned Tibetan Buddhist institutes of learning, Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, are particularly concerning developments,” the committee chairmen said in an Oct. 5 letter to US President Donald Trump.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) co-chairs the commission, which includes senior-level officials of the executive branch, U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives. The commission issued its annual report on human rights issues in China on Thursday.

“Nothing good happens in the dark,” Smith said in a statement on the report’s release. “That is why the Administration should shine a light on the Chinese government’s failures to abide by universal standards, shine a light on the cases of tortured and abused political prisoners, shine a light on China’s unfair trade practices and still coercive population control policies.”

“Chinese authorities are ruthlessly targeting human rights lawyers and advocates; clamping down on foreign NGOs, media outlets and Internet companies; restricting religious freedom particularly in ethnic minority Tibetan and Uyghur areas and forcibly repatriating North Korean refugees to near certain persecution and even death,” Rubio added.

The report urged the U.S. government to make diplomacy for religious freedom a priority. Countries that severely restrict religious freedom are likely to face domestic instability and could threaten regional stability, it noted.

The commission said its report documents “the Chinese government and Communist Party’s continued efforts to silence dissent, criminalize activities of human rights lawyers, control civil society, suppress religious activity, and restrict the operations of foreign media outlets, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) over the past 12 months”

“Chinese authorities continued to implement a ‘‘universal two- child policy’’ and persisted in actively promoting coercive population control policies that violate international standards,” the report charges. “Tellingly, the family planning bureaucratic apparatus remains intact. The Chinese government’s population control policies have contributed to the country’s demographic challenges, including a rapidly aging population and shrinking workforce that threaten to further slow China’s economic growth.”

The report notes the “missing girls” problem reportedly caused by sex-selective abortion and recommended the consideration of an appointment of a special advisor at the U.S. State Department to address the social and economic issues created by the Chinese government’s population control program.

It recommended projects “that protect women and their families from the most coercive aspects of the population control policies.” Congress should continue to link U.S. contributions to the U.N. Population Fund for use in China with “the end of all birth limitation and coercive population control policies in China.”

With China designated a “country of particular concern” because of its restrictions on religious freedom, the Trump administration should “strategically employ the sanctions and other tools” associated with that designation to bolster religious freedom protection in China, the report said.

Further, the administration should re-establish a working group of experts from government, universities, religious groups, and other NGOs “to develop an effective multiyear plan to promote and protect religious freedom in China.”

The commission urged “the Administration to develop an action plan that will facilitate interagency coordination on human rights,” noting that “that the desire for freedom, justice, and democratic openness are not alien to China or its people.”