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Updated: 2 hours 33 min ago

Teen pleads guilty over plot to kill Pope during US visit

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 19:11

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 4, 2017 / 05:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, 17 year-old Santos Colon of Lindenwold, New Jersey pleaded guilty to charges related to a plot to kill the Pope.

The teen had reportedly devised a plot to kill Pope Francis and detonate explosives during the Holy Father’s visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in 2015.

The event was the last stop on Pope Francis’ six-day trip to the United States, during which he also visited New York City and Washington, D.C.

Hundreds of thousands of people were gathered at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the final papal Mass on Sunday, September 27th, 2015.

Colon was 15 years old at the time.

In the months leading up to the Pope’s visit, Colon thought he had made contact with a would-be sniper, when in fact he was engaging with an undercover FBI source, the Justice Department said in a statement.

“Colon engaged in target reconnaissance with an FBI confidential source and instructed the source to purchase materials to make explosive devices,” the department said.

FBI agents were able to quietly arrest Colon about two weeks before the Pope’s visit.

According to AFP news agency, the attack Colon was plotting was allegedly inspired by the Islamic State terrorist group, though it is unclear how connected he was to the group or whether he had made contact with any of their members.

Colon has pleaded guilty as an adult to one count of attempting to provide material support to terrorists. The charges filed against him as a juvenile have thus been dropped.

According to the Department of Justice, Colon faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. A date has not yet been set for sentencing.

It is likely that Colon will be treated in a secure psychiatric facility before serving his sentence, if convicted.


How a California bill is threatening faith-based codes of conduct

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 11:47

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 4, 2017 / 09:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A proposed California law has targeted faith-based employers’ codes of conduct in the name of reproductive health, the California Catholic Conference has said.

“The bill impacts all employers, but seems to attack and diminish the conscience and religious liberty rights of faith-based organizations,” Sandra Palacios, associate director for governmental relations at the California Catholic Conference, told CNA April 3.

“The bill targets and seeks to eliminate the ability of religious employers to enforce faith-based code of conduct standards,” she said. “As one of the most family-friendly religious employers in our state and across the nation, we welcome an opportunity for further dialogue on the bill with the author and her staff.”

Assembly Bill 569 would bar requiring an employee to sign a waiver or other document that “purports to deny any employee the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decisions,” its summary says.

It would also bar an employer from taking any adverse action against an employee based on the employee’s or employee dependent’s use of any drug, device or medical service related to “reproductive health” – which would include abortion, contraception and sterilization.

If an employer has an employee handbook, the bill would require it to notify employees of these legal rights in the handbook.

The office of bill sponsor Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher said the legislation would make it clear that employees cannot be required to signs codes of conduct that “restrict their reproductive choices.”

Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said women face repercussions for becoming pregnant and having children.

“A woman should never face repercussions in the workplace for her reproductive choices,” she said in a March 28 statement.

Palacios agreed that pregnancy should never be punished, but noted that pregnant women are already protected under employment law.

She said the bill in question would conflict with religious exemptions for faith-based employers, including the First Amendment protections of the U.S. Constitution. She cited the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which upheld a Lutheran church and school’s employment policy against an employee’s unlawful dismissal claim.

“As a religious employer, our ability to infuse our policies with tenets of our Catholic faith is currently protected by the First Amendment,” Palacios said. “It’s not unusual for private or religious employers to want to have policies that incorporate their tenets of faith. Religious employers currently operate under fundamental constitutional protections of free exercise and association.”

Current exemptions, for instance, allow a church to limit employment in most positions to those who share its faith.

“The employer should not or cannot infringe on the ‘privacy right’ of an employee to take the actions described, as long as they keep it private, but the employer has a right to expect those acts to not be publicly embarrassing or disrespectful to the employer,” Palacios continued. “This bill seems to pit the rights of religious employers to affirm public behavior against the rights of an employee to do whatever they want publicly without regard to the employer.”

The Catholic conference also warned against any possible amendments to change current definition of a religious employer.

Furthermore, the bill’s inclusion of dependents of employees was “unprecedented and questionable,” Palacios said.

In 2015, the Archdiocese of San Francisco attempted to revise employee handbooks to clarify expectations for teachers and staff at its Catholic high schools, prompting several large protests.

Last year, the California state government started to require health care plans to cover abortions, including the health care plans of churches and religious universities.


From Yale to the seminary: a neuroscientist's story

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 08:02

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Jaime Maldonado-Aviles thought that he would be spending his life behind microscopes at Yale as a neuroscientist. But his life has taken a dramatic turn, and he is now discerning the priesthood at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

“I have to seriously explore these questions,” Maldonado-Aviles said of a constant nagging he felt towards the priesthood.

“At different times, the question would come back: If I see myself at 90 years old, close to death, would I say to myself, ‘I should have entered seminary?’” he told the Washington Post.

Maldonado-Aviles was 34 and working at Yale as a neuroscientist in a post-doctoral position when he seriously began to explore the pull towards priesthood that he had felt his whole life.

He grew up in Puerto Rico and attended the National Institutes of Health, earning his doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh. He has studied everything from eating disorders to mice brains throughout his research career, and was offered a dream job in his home country of Puerto Rico working at a pharmaceutical university with tenure.

He turned the job down, and instead decided to enter six years of seminary.

While Maldonado-Aviles is a seasoned science scholar, he will spend the next couple of years learning another spectrum of education in seminary: Catholic theology and philosophy.

As for the argument that science and faith cannot coexist, Maldonado-Aviles doesn’t buy it, saying that he is excited to connect the dots between his passion for science and his exploration of Catholicism.

“The complexity and yet the order in which things work in our body and in our brain, it makes you think there’s more than just randomness,” he told the Washington Post.

“Theology has to learn from scientific advice. We are informed as to how life works. But science also has to learn from theology.”



Ex-convict: We need to end the stigma against felons

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 19:24

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2017 / 05:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Pope Francis and U.S. bishops insist upon helping ex-convicts re-enter society, advocates are pointing to a litany of obstacles – over 40,000 legal regulations – for such re-entry that need to be addressed.

“That's what we want...(to give) attention to,” Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy with Prison Fellowship, told CNA, “the important principle of closure.”

“You ask somebody that has done something wrong to square their debt. They do that, that's the right thing for that person,” he said of punishments for crime. “We should want that person to move forward up and away from their old life, and we're doing too much to prevent that in America today.”

DeRoche spoke at a “Second Chance Month” press conference at the National Press Club on March 30, joined by other advocates for criminal justice reform from organizations like the NAACP, Heritage Foundation, ACLU, and Americans for Prosperity.

Prison Fellowship, an outreach to prisoners and their families, has declared April 2017 to be “Second Chance” month. A senate resolution introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) calls for the same.

“With 95 percent of inmates set to be released one day and two-thirds of released inmates back behind bars within five years, too many Americans are caught up in a cycle of crime,” Portman said.

“I hope that we all can join together on a bipartisan basis during Second Chance Month and all year round to support those who are returning from prison and want a fair shot at living an honest and productive life.”

Pope Francis, in November, asked countries to consider clemency for “eligible” prisoners during the Year of Mercy. He asked for criminal justice “which isn't just punitive, but open to hope and the re-insertion of the offender into society.”

The Pope's visit to a Philadelphia, Pa. correctional facility in 2015 was inspiring, DeRoche admitted, and serves as an example for all Americans. “It was wonderful to see that Pope Francis went directly into a prison,” he said.

“Prison Fellowship believes that every American should take the opportunity…to visit a prison,” he said at the National Press Club, emphasizing that especially “elected leaders” should visit prisons.

“And many people who aren't aware of how involved the Christian church is [in prison ministry], they often ask 'why?'” DeRoche said. “And I say 'well it's one of the only things that Jesus actually commanded people to do.'”

Why are advocates pushing specifically for a “second chance” initiative? Former inmates face far too many barriers to living a normal life once they re-enter society, one former prisoner says, and such restrictions may well enhance their risks of re-entering prison.

Casey Irwin, who was convicted for bank fraud and drug-related offenses, now owns a million-dollar business. Yet for a while after her time spent in multiple prisons, she struggled to find her way in society.  

“I made poor choices,” Irwin said at the National Press Club. “I’m still a normal human being, and I need a place to eat, and I need a place to sleep, and I need a place to work. And so all those things have been difficult to obtain.”

“I can get a job, but it wasn’t going to pay me any money, and I wasn't going to ever move up. So I think that's a barrier for everybody,” Irwin told CNA of her efforts to find a job that would pay well and offer her career advancement opportunities.

She still faces “many barriers” including in housing and employment, she said, noting that the societal stigma against someone with a criminal record is quite real when she applied for housing or for jobs after she had served her prison sentence and, in her words, paid her “debt” to society.

Just “the way people look at you” when they hear about a criminal record, she explained, “you tell people you're a felon and they think you killed five people.”

“That's their automatic reaction,” she said, and societal change needs to happen through peoples' minds, not legislation. “That comes from peoples' mindsets being changed about 'criminal people.'”

“I sold drugs to supplement my income for my rent, because I was in a place I couldn't afford. And she [the landlord] knew it. I knew it. But I needed a place to stay, so I'm like 'I'll take it,' knowing that I couldn't pay for it,” Irwin said. She was caught selling drugs and sentenced to prison again.

“One of those things was like how do I get ahead without criminal behavior? How do I get ahead without trying to skirt the system?” she said. “And so I had to really push through that, and take a low-paying job, and just allow myself to develop, where a lot of people who are in that criminal mindset, they don't think like that because they want it now, and right now.”

Her first big break came when a friend she had worked with referred her for a management position at Kentucky Fried Chicken. She was offered to be manager of a franchise.

“I was so excited,” she recalled, noting she had an opportunity for success “without having to look over my shoulder.”

Yet ex-convicts face tens of thousands of obstacles and restrictions – over 46,000 “collateral consequences” at the federal, state, and local level across the U.S., John Malcolm, a legal expert with the Heritage Foundation, noted at last Thursday's event.

In a report he co-authored in March on “collateral consequences,” he noted how some states have hundreds of consequences for persons with criminal records including barriers to specific careers. Employment barriers make up most of the consequences, he noted – 60 to 70 percent, according to the American Bar Association.

And a dozen states “restrict voting rights even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole,” Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, noted at the event.

The disparity can fall sharply along racial lines, too, he added. “Black Americans of voting age are more than four times more likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, with one out of every 13 black adults disenfranchised nationally.”

Why this pro-life congressman opposed the failed health care bill

Sat, 04/01/2017 - 13:57

Washington D.C., Apr 1, 2017 / 11:57 am (CNA).- When last week’s health care bill failed, it wasn’t just Democrats who fought it.

The GOP-led American Health Care Act drew bipartisan resistance for numerous reasons. One of the Republicans who opposed the proposal was Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus.

In a statement explaining his decision, Smith said that although the bill included positive pro-life protections, he ultimately could not give the legislation his support because of how other provisions would “likely hurt disabled persons, the elderly and the working poor.”

He cited concerns about how the House bill would have cut Medicaid expansion and canceled essential health benefits for children and pregnant women, as well as for those struggling with addictions and mental health issues.

The American Health Care Act would have made significant changes to the Affordable Care Act, the massive health care law passed in 2010.

However, the new health care bill failed to gain enough support to be sent to the House Floor for a vote, and was ditched at the last minute before a planned vote last Friday.

In a letter to members of Congress on Thursday, the U.S. bishops voiced their opposition to the proposed replacement bill, while at the same time making clear that the current health care law has serious flaws that need to be corrected.

“It was widely accepted that the AHCA contained serious deficiencies,” three leading bishops wrote. “Yet, other problems and barriers to access and affordability within the current health care system still remain.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the bishops’ pro-life committee; Archbishop William Lori, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, were all signatories of a March 30 letter for Congress calling for bipartisan health care reform that would help lower health care premiums and expand access, especially for undocumented immigrants.

With these ongoing problems of increasing premiums and “barriers to access” of health care, along with a lack of conscience protections for health professionals and protections against federal funding of abortion coverage, “lawmakers still have a duty to confront these significant challenges,” the bishops wrote.

While long pushing for health care reform, the U.S. bishops’ conference had ultimately opposed the Affordable Care Act, in part because it lacked legal safeguards against federal funding of abortion coverage.

The late Cardinal Francis George, then-president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, wrote at the time of the law’s passage that “there is compelling evidence that it [the ACA] would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion.”

Now, the bishops said in their letter, if full-scale reform is not possible, targeted legislation for specific policies – like the Conscience Protection Act – should be passed, they added. “We urge members of Congress to seize this moment to create a new spirit of bipartisanship and make these necessary reforms.”

In his explanation of opposing the bill, Rep. Smith singled out its proposed cuts to Medicaid and to the Medicaid expansion, noting that according to a Congressional Budget Office report, it would cut Medicaid funding by $839 billion over ten years.

It would also eventually curtail the expansion of Medicaid, a key part of the Affordable Care Act. Under current law, the federal government has increased Medicaid funding to states on the condition that they expanded the Medicaid rolls. It has been credited with expanding Medicaid coverage by 14.5 million since 2013, according to a March 2016 HHS report.

The House plan phased out that Medicaid expansion and would ultimate have cut almost a trillion dollars from Medicaid in ten years according to the CBO, Smith pointed out.

“For years, I have supported Medicaid expansion as a meaningful way of providing access to health care for struggling individuals and families living above the poverty line but still poor despite being employed,” Smith stated, noting that “80 percent of all Medicaid enrollees in New Jersey are families with at least one working adult in 2017.”

He added that in New Jersey, where his congressional district is located, “the bulk of Medicaid funds are spent assisting the disabled and the elderly,” and that most of enrollees in the state were new.

“These people are in need and deserve our support,” he said, pointing to opposition to the AHCA Medicaid changes from the U.S. bishops’ conference and disability advocate groups.

He cited the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, a coalition of over 60 groups who wrote that states, when left with the bill for Medicaid, would start cutting costs beginning with programs benefitting the disabled.

The consortium stated that “people with disabilities are particularly at risk because so many waiver and home- and community-based services are optional Medicaid services and will likely be the first services cut when states are addressing budgetary shortfalls.”

Smith also opposed the bill because it “cancels essential health benefits such as maternity and newborn care, hospitalization, pediatric services, and mental health and substance use treatment.” The Affordable Care Act mandated these services.

All this, he said, “will likely hurt disabled persons, the elderly and the working poor.”


'Be the soul' of the US, Pope's representative tells Catholics

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 21:27

Washington D.C., Mar 31, 2017 / 07:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ representative to the U.S. said that Catholics must be “be the soul of this country” in a panel discussion this week.

“We as Catholics – as Christians, and we are in the majority of this country – we should be the soul of this country,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, insisted at a panel discussion at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

“This is what the Pope says,” he continued, adding later that “the Church is, again, the soul of the world.”

The nuncio spoke at a Monday panel discussion on Pope Francis’ influence four years into his pontificate. John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown, moderated the discussion and began with a one-on-one conversation with the nuncio.

Later, other panel members joined – Kim Daniels, a member of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications and a founder of Catholic Voices USA; Ken Hackett, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See from 2013-17; and Maria Teresa Gaston, managing director of the Foundations of Christian Leadership Program at Duke Divinity School.

The conversation ranged from Pope Francis’ priorities for the Church to current affairs, including a tumultuous 2016 presidential election that ended in November.

“I think pro-life issues are central to our politics, and they should be, care for the voiceless and vulnerable, and particularly the unborn,” Kim Daniels commented on the recent election, which she said exposed a “crisis of solidarity” in the country.

“I think Catholics in general were looking for solidarity,” she said. “And I think that it’s a misplaced understanding of solidarity to say that it is ‘us against them’,” she added. “I think the Catholic understanding of solidarity is one that includes everybody.”

When asked what the Pope’s priorities are, Archbishop Pierre replied that it is “first of all, the Gospel” and “to announce the Gospel.”

Then, “if you want to be coherent with the Gospel,” he added, “you need to give priority to the poor, you need to respect life, life in all its dimensions.”

He quoted from Pope Francis’ address to the U.S. bishops during his 2015 visit to the U.S., where the Pope insisted:

“The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent.”

And to truly respect life – as “the social doctrine of the Church” teaches “that the human person is at the center” of society – the family must be included in any discussion of the human person, the nuncio added.

“When we speak of the human person, we cannot avoid speaking about the family. There is no human person without the family. If you separate the family, you destroy the person,” he said, responding to a reference made by moderator John Carr about the separation of immigrant families through deportation.

True evangelization, however, must begin with receiving the Sacrament of Confession, the nuncio insisted.

The Pope has emphasized that “the people need to be reached in their misery,” and “in their brokenness, in their sinfulness so that they may be evangelized,” he said, adding that “evangelization is forgiveness.”

This was part of the impetus behind the Holy Father’s proclamation of a Jubilee Year of Mercy from December 2015 to November 2016, Archbishop Pierre continued.

People have been warning of a “huge crisis of the Sacrament of Reconciliation” in recent decades, he said, yet “suddenly, it seems that a lot of people are rediscovering” it, “which is absolutely necessary” for discipleship.

One of the challenges to evangelization is “polarization” in the world, noted Daniels, and Catholics must look to establish true unity with each other in order to evangelize today, she added.

“Our first step should be realizing that we can’t sow this kind of division,” she said. Catholics should “focus on the things we share, and that’s serving the voiceless and vulnerable, it’s resisting the throwaway culture, it’s respecting the family and the good that it does in society.”

“And that’s when we start looking at what we share, looking at what makes us distinctive as Catholics – the sacraments, our parish life, our life in community – and drawing on those resources to build unity,” she continued.

Archbishop Pierre suggested that one model for evangelization is Fr. Jacques Hamel, a French priest executed by ISIS terrorists last July at his morning Mass at a Normandy parish.

“It touched me, because he’s a priest, he’s the type of priest I’ve known,” said the nuncio, who is originally from France.

“He’s a man who’s a victim of the time, but also he’s a martyr,” he continued. “I come from Mexico, I have seen the church of martyrs through these years of persecution. It’s the making of the Church.” Archbishop Pierre was formerly the papal nuncio to Mexico before his move to the U.S. in 2016.

In October, Pope Francis approved the opening of Fr. Hamel’s cause for beatification by the diocese of Rouen, France.

Fr. Hamel “gave his life” under ordinary circumstances, at a daily Mass amidst a small congregation, the nuncio said. He was faithful to his calling.

“I see that person as really the sign of God for today,” he said. “And his death had a huge impact on the whole society.”

New book collects Mother Angelica's reflections on suffering

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 18:31

Birmingham, Ala., Mar 31, 2017 / 04:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new book released by EWTN Publishing offers spiritual advice and insight on suffering and spiritual burnout from the late Mother Angelica.

The work is composed of six “mini-books” written by Mother Angelica, which had previously been published by Our Lady of Angels Monastery in the 1970s. The reflections were written by Mother Angelica during Adoration.

Entitled “Mother Angelica on Suffering and Burnout,” the book addresses different types of suffering, from preventative and corrective suffering to interior and personal suffering.

In some cases, we are called to suffer as a witness to Christ, Mother Angelica says. In other cases, our suffering can be an act of repentance.

While everyone suffers, she notes, suffering itself does not make us holy. Rather, suffering is “wasted” when it is not united with love to Christ’s Passion. In this way, it is our response to suffering that can make it redemptive for us and for others.

The book also delves into Christ’s own suffering. It discusses the dryness of mind and heart that can sometimes arise in prayer, and how dryness can actually lead to greater humility and patience.

In addition, Mother Angelica talks about what she calls “spiritual hangovers” – the damage caused when one harbors resentment to the point that it begins to gnaw at the soul.

The book concludes with a reflection on the consolation found in Christ’s silent presence and the realization that Christ needs our gratitude and trust.

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation founded EWTN in 1981, and it has since become the largest religious media network in the world. She died March 27, 2016 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years-old.

CNA is part of the EWTN Family.

“Mother Angelica on Suffering and Burnout” can be ordered on the Sophia Institute Press website here.

In North Carolina, more changes for disputed bathroom law

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 11:32

Raleigh, N.C., Mar 31, 2017 / 09:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- North Carolina has modified its law on gender identity and the use of bathrooms and locker rooms, after facing pressure from LGBT activists and their allies in business, sports and entertainment.

But some say the changes take the wrong path.

“Every North Carolinian deserves to have their privacy respected in intimate settings like locker rooms and restrooms,” said Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, March 30.

“One of government’s essential duties is to protect the citizens it governs, not to create uncertainty about whether showers and locker rooms will still be safe for women and girls,” she said. “North Carolina's economy is booming, so the state should not let the NCAA and others dictate the state’s policies and sell out their citizens’ interests based on flat-out lies about an economic doomsday that never happened.”

Fiedorek charged that the legislature “failed families by giving into hypocritical bullies.”

The repeal bill removes the portion of the 2016 law H.B. 2 that had said that in public buildings and schools, people must use the restrooms and locker rooms that align with the biological sex on their birth certificate, rather than their self-perceived “gender identity.”

Supporters of the 2016 law said distinctions on the basis of sex are necessary for private areas such as restrooms and shower facilities. They warned that the ordinance would allow any biological male into the women’s restrooms, which could lead to instances of assault.

The law drew protests from influential corporations and entertainment figures, while the Obama administration’s Justice Department, operating under a new interpretation of anti-discrimination law, contended that it violated civil rights protections on the basis of sex.

The National College Athletics Association had moved its 2016-2017 championship events out of the state because of the bill.

H.B. 2 was passed in response to a Charlotte City Council Ordinance that would have, among other provisions, allowed individuals to use restroom facilities based on their self-perceived “gender identity.”

The 2016 measure had been signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, who was defeated in the 2016 elections by Democrat Roy Cooper. Gov. Cooper had promised to repeal the law.

The new governor, who is seeking anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, said the latest legislation was not his preferred solution.

The new modifications passed the House 70-48 and the Senate 32-16. It reserves to the state legislature the right to regulate bathroom access. It also bars local governments from passing any new nondiscrimination ordinances or amendments applying to private employment and public accommodation until the year 2020.


Catholics' mission in immigration debate: avoid false divides

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 20:09

Louisville, Ky., Mar 30, 2017 / 06:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As immigration debate continues under the Trump administration, one bishop has stressed the need for Catholics to make sure their political activity avoids false divisions and keeps faith with Christ.

“Catholics have a responsibility to enter into the discussion about immigration in a serious way, and we have a decisive mission to sanctify the discourse that permeates the political process,”said Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville.

He did not take for granted that Catholics are engaged in immigration discussion as Catholics.

“We have far to go,” he said.

Bishop Flores spoke at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. March 28 in a lecture titled “The Politics of Human Dignity, Catholics and Immigration.” He spoke amid heightened controversy over U.S. immigration policy under the presidency of Donald Trump, whose campaign focused on strong immigration restrictions and more limits on refugees.

For Bishop Flores, public discussion about immigration and immigrants shows American culture lacks the resources needed to engage in significant moral discussion.

“We churn like a perpetually stationary hurricane sitting in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

He described the debate as mainly “a perpetual battle of narratives.” The discussion doesn’t aim to find rational judgement about what is best to do about immigration. Each side presents its view of the facts, which fails to persuade the other side. Each side then appeals to its motivational sentiments, then finds fault among its rivals.

The Catholic approach, however, is “integrative” and takes into account various priorities within a larger context.

“Love of country and the pursuit of justice within a sovereign nation need not be seen as exclusive of charity and justice for a suffering immigrant population that is either already here, or is seeking entry,” the bishop said.

While American culture is very individualistic, a Catholic cannot say of others, “that is none of our nation’s concern.”

Bishop Flores cited a 2003 joint letter on migration from the U.S. and Mexican bishops which said persons have a fundamental right to find opportunities in their homeland. They should be able to live and raise their families, work, and enjoy security and education and other basic goods in their native land.

However, there are many places were these conditions don’t exist.

“Immigration tends to happen when people do not judge they have a chance to survive and raise a family in their native place,” Bishop Flores said. Immigration is often the most realistic human response to “a moment of crisis” involving hardship and fear.

“Today, immigrants are often pawns in a harsh power-game that involves governments on one side and criminality and corruption on the other,” he said. “In some parts of the world the distinction between the two is not so easy to see.”

Sovereign control of borders is a good thing, but it is not absolute, and “gives way in view of the right of persons to survive,” he stated.

Bishop Flores rejected an immigration policy based on “purely economic criteria.”

“The fact of global economic displacements, of war or lawless violence in numerous parts of the world must be addressed in a way that reflects a realistic response to a proximate threat to human life and its proximate goods,” he said.

The bishop stressed the foundational role of the family and the U.S. bishops’ longtime effort to oppose deportations that result in the separation of parents and children.

“If families are separated, the whole fabric of the culture unravels,” he warned. “The breakdown of the family structure vitiates the social good because it directly affects the formation of the young.”

Framing the discussion around crimes and misdeeds of some immigrants is often a rhetorical “short-cut” to genuine discussion. Rather, Bishop Flores advocated a generous response to immigrants that can also accommodate legitimate concerns for stopping criminal elements.

“A great many immigrants that I know are seeking permission to stay in the United States because they are fleeing the very same kinds of criminal elements and activities that we rightly do not want causing harm here,” he said.

“One of the tragedies of the mutually exclusive narratives, and of our anemic discourse is that we do not currently have a legal way to distinguish between immigrants who are fleeing criminals, and immigrants who are criminals.”

Bishop Flores recounted the story of a 16-year-old Honduran teen whose parents were either dead or gone. The teen had been deported from Mexico and had sought entry to the U.S. five times, for fear of deadly gangs.

“He wanted to have a life, he said, a job, maybe a little house and get married,” the bishop recounted. “And if he didn’t make it to the U.S., he would try to live in Mexico. At least there, he said, you can have a life. I think of this young man often.”

The bishop said he wanted to tell the teen’s story not to stir sentiments, but to let people know that there are hundreds of thousands like him who live “at the edge of human society.”

“They are the ones told there is no room for you here, and there is no room for you anywhere else,” Bishop Flores said. “He is just one young man. But our political activity as Catholics must keep faith with him if we are to keep faith with Christ.”

Pence casts tiebreaking vote as Senate advances pro-life measure

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 17:27

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2017 / 03:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote in the Senate Thursday to advance a measure allowing states to once more have the freedom to avoid funding Planned Parenthood clinics with federal “family planning” grants.  

The vote was “a victory for all Americans who don’t want to see their tax dollars subsidizing the abortion industry and its ghoulish trafficking in aborted baby’s organs,” Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, stated on Thursday.

At issue is a rule created by the Obama administration last December which forbade states to withhold Title X “family planning” grants to Planned Parenthood clinics on account of the fact that they perform abortions. States had been instead looking to fund other health clinics.

On Thursday, the Senate was voting to advance a joint resolution of disapproval that already passed the House. It would cancel the HHS rule.

With Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) joining Democrats in opposing the repeal, the vote was evenly divided 50-50 before Pence broke the tie and voted for its advancement.

It was the “first abortion-related vote in the Senate” since 2015, according to the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

“We are so grateful that Vice President Mike Pence, who began the battle to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion corporation when he was a Congressman, traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to cast the tie-breaking vote in defense of human dignity and babies lives,” Ferguson stated.

Back in December, the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that states could only withhold Title X “family planning” funds from health centers if the clinics failed to adequately provide the range of services the funding was meant for, like contraceptives, pregnancy tests, and infertility treatments.

Thus, the fact that Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider could not be the factor for states withholding Title X funds from their clinics.

According to Planned Parenthood’s most recent fiscal year report from 2014-15, the organization performed over 323,999 annual abortions. It received over $550 million in federal, state, and local funds in that year, or “government health services grants & reimbursements.”

The organization has drawn controversy for its role in the trade of fetal body parts from aborted babies, obtained by tissue harvesters and ultimately used for purposes like medical research.

The Center for Medical Progress had aired a series of undercover videos, starting in the summer of 2015, from conversations they had with Planned Parenthood officials. The videos showed doctors discussing prices for fetal tissue with actors posing as tissue harvesters.

The organization was investigated by states, but has not currently been charged for illegal sales of tissue – reimbursement at “reasonable” levels for expenses like operating costs is allowed by federal law. However, a House Select Investigative Panel released a report in January detailing some abuses within the organization.

For instance, Planned Parenthood officials had admitted that clinics had not followed the organization’s procedures on important matters like fetal tissue transfers or ensuring that abortion procedures were not illegally altered for the purpose of tissue harvesting.

Another investigative report released around the same time by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute showed that, according to federal audits, Planned Parenthood clinics had overbilled Medicaid reimbursements and other public health funds by a total of over $130 million.

In some cases in Nebraska and New York, public funds including Medicaid reimbursements had paid for abortion-related claims and services at Planned Parenthood clinics, according to audits.

States should be free to disperse Title X funds to clinics they believe provide true health care, especially in light of Planned Parenthood’s recent controversies, insisted Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

If the resolution is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, it would “undo former President Obama’s parting gift to the abortion industry,” she stated.

“Never again will the federal government thwart efforts by states that – acting on the will of the people – want to fund real women’s health care, not abortion.”


US bishops turn up the heat on Trump's environmental order

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 11:26

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2017 / 09:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops have criticized President Donald Trump’s recent executive order which rolls back environmental protections, noting their concern that it offers no alternative for effective environmental stewardship.

“The USCCB, in unity with Pope Francis, strongly supports environmental stewardship and has called consistently for ‘our own country to curtail carbon emissions,’” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“This Executive Order places a number of environmental protections in jeopardy and moves the U.S. away from a national carbon standard, all without adopting a sufficient plan for ensuring proper care for people and creation,” the bishop said in a March 29 statement. “Yesterday’s action means that, sadly, the United States is unlikely to meet its domestic and international mitigation goals.”

On March 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that revokes a half-dozen executive orders from the Obama Administration targeted at halting the progress of climate change and regulating carbon emissions. Under particular scrutiny are the policies put in place by Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce emissions from power plants – one of the largest sources of pollution and greenhouse gasses in the United States – by 32 percent from 2015 to 2030. Other rules set for re-examination are rules regarding fracking and those restricting greenhouse gas emissions from oil and natural gas operations.

The new order will also roll back the Environmental Protection Agency’s “social cost of carbon” calculations that had previously guided rule making surrounding environmental concerns.

President Trump has not yet taken a public stance on withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, but the new order, without additional regulations to take their place, will effectively remove the policies the United States had put in place to meet its commitments.

While the U.S. bishops do not specifically support any one set of policy or technical approaches to climate change, they have offered their support for several of the Obama Administration’s carbon emission standards in recent years. Bishop Dewane reinforced in his statement that while the Clean Power Plan is not the only means of addressing climate change or reducing carbon emissions, he is concerned by the Trump Administration’s failure to present an alternative plan in its place.

The bishop also echoed previous statements by EPA officials and other environmental experts that environmental policies can both protect the environment and foster growth. “An integral approach can respect human and natural concerns and still achieve these aims, if properly done,” he said.

Bishop Dewane pointed to states that have already made steps towards doing both under the previous Clean Power Plan, adding that “this momentum ought to be encouraged and not hindered.”

He pointed to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter Laudato si as highlighting the importance of protecting the environment for the sake of all humanity.

“With this recent order,” the bishop commented, “the Administration risks damage to our air, our waters and, most importantly, our people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, without proposing a concrete and adequate approach to meet our stewardship obligations as a nation.”


Archbishop Gomez: English wasn't America's first language

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 05:02

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In recent months, national debates over immigration and deportation have reached a fever pitch in the wake of President Trump's election.

But for Archbishop Jose Gomez, both Catholic principles and the history of America as a home to people from a variety of backgrounds means that the immigration debate has higher stakes than just law enforcement or national sovereignty.

“For me, and for the Catholic Church in this country, immigration is about people. It is about families,” the archbishop said in a March 23 talk at the Catholic University of America.

“We are talking about souls, not statistics.”

Born in Monterrey, Mexico, the archbishop explained that he too was an immigrant, even though he has been an American citizen for more than 20 years. He pointed out that his family has been living in what is now Texas since the early 19th Century, and his family's relationship to both America and immigration reaches back generations.

He also explained that his archdiocese – the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – is not only the largest, with around 5 million Catholics, but the most diverse.

Within the archdiocese, Mass is celebrated and parishioners ministered to in more than 40 languages, from nearly every country in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

“The Church is alive here – and active,” he said. “And we are really a Church of immigrants.”
Nearly one million of these immigrants who live within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are undocumented.

Archbishop Gomez argued that this issue of large numbers of undocumented persons is something his adopted country desperately needs to address. This is incredibly important, he said, not only for immigrants and their families, but for America as a whole.

“Everybody right now knows that our immigration system is totally broken and needs to be fixed,” the archbishop said. However, while the United States has a right to secure its borders and enforce its laws, it also has to take responsibility for creating and benefiting from the situation that lead more than 11 million people to come to the country without documentation, he said.

“For many years our country did not enforce its immigration laws,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Why not? Because American businesses were demanding 'cheap' labor. So government officials looked the other way.”

The archbishop argued that “we need to recognize that we all share some of the blame for this broken immigration system.”

“Business is to blame. Government is to blame,” Archbishop Gomez said. “And you and I – we have responsibility, too. We 'benefit' and depend every day on an economy that is built on the backs of undocumented workers. It is just a fact. Immigrants grow our food, they serve us in our restaurants; they clean our rooms and our offices, they build our homes.”

He noted that while undocumented persons may be living here in violation of the law, “we aren’t putting business owners in jail or punishing government workers who didn’t do their job.”

“The only people we are punishing is the undocumented workers,” he charged. “They are the only ones.” While some punishment, such as community service or other requirements to stay in the United States may be appropriate, Archbishop Gomez commented, it is unfair to the families of nearly 11 million people to deport people with families – some of whom have been here for years.

“That is not fair. It is cruel, actually,” Archbishop Gomez said. “These are just ordinary moms and dads – just like your parents – who want to give their kids a better life.”

To balance love, laws, justice, and mercy, Catholics should consider principles that focus on the human person. The first principle, he said, is to recognize that “every immigrant is a human person, a child of God,” regardless of their legal status or background. The second Catholic principle to consider is that"immigration should keep families together.”

Archbishop Gomez pointed out that over a quarter of deportations break up families, and overwhelming majority of these deportations do not apply to violent criminals.

“I do not believe there is any public policy purpose that is served by taking away some little girl’s dad or some little boy’s mom. We are breaking up families and punishing kids for the mistakes of their parents. And that’s not right.”

While some common place policies could quickly resolve the issues surrounding immigration, Archbishop Gomez argued that the real conflict has more to do with ongoing questions about America – questions like what it means to be an American and what America’s mission is in the world.

The archbishop noted that almost all Americans are of immigrant heritage. “But immigration to this country has never been easy.” He pointed out that immigrant groups like the Irish have faced discrimination and hardship.

Yet, the history of America owes much to its immigrant – particularly Hispanic – roots, which long predate the arrival of English settlers, the archbishop said.

“For me – American history begins with Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Archbishop Gomez reflected. Before the founding fathers were born or before the Revolutionary War was fought, Spanish and Mexican missionaries and Philippine immigrants were settling in what is now the United States, celebrating the nation’s first Thanksgiving and establishing churches.”

“Something we should think about: the first non-indigenous language spoken in this country was not English. It was Spanish. We need to really think about what the means,” he said.

What it means, in his opinion, is that we “can no longer afford to tell a story of America that excludes the rich inheritance of Latinos and Asians.”

Conceptions of American identity that don’t incorporate the rich history of these groups, he said, are not only incomplete and inarticulate, they are not as well-set to adjust to the changing landscape of the United States. America is changing, and if America wants to be great, he argued, it needs to speak to the conscience and realities of the United States.

“That is what’s at stake in our immigration debate – the future of this beautiful American story,” Archbishop Gomez concluded. “Our national debate is really a great struggle for the American spirit and the American soul.”

Planned Parenthood investigators reject 'bogus' felony charges

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 18:07

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 29, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The undercover journalists whose work appeared to implicate Planned Parenthood officials in the illegal sale of unborn baby body parts now face 15 felony charges in California, but one insists the allegations are phony.

David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress characterized the allegations as “bogus charges from Planned Parenthood’s political cronies.”

“The public knows the real criminals are Planned Parenthood and their business partners like StemExpress and DV Biologics – currently being prosecuted in California – who have harvested and sold aborted baby body parts for profit for years in direct violation of state and federal law,” he said March 28.

California Attorney General Xavier Beccerra has charged that Daleiden and his co-investigator Sandra Merritt filmed 14 people without their consent in Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco and El Dorado. The two are also charged with conspiracy to invade privacy.

Beccerra said his office “will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”

“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” he said Tuesday.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan funding watchdog, appear to show that Beccerra has received several minor donations from Planned Parenthood, totaling some $6,000 in the last 20 years.

In the current case, court papers claim the undercover investigators’ surreptitious recording of officials involved in Planned Parenthood and other sections of the abortion industry were illegal. An affidavit filed in San Francisco Superior Court justified the conspiracy charges on the grounds the investigators used pseudonyms, fake California drivers’ licenses, and a front medical research company, Biomax Procurement Services, in order to secure a booth at the National Abortion Federation’s 2014 conference in San Francisco.

Daleiden compared the California charges to Texas charges that had been filed against him and dismissed in June 2016, including a charge he had used a fake California driver’s license to access a Texas Planned Parenthood building.

“They tried the same collusion with corrupt officials in Houston, Texas and failed: both the charges and the district attorney were thrown out,” he said.

The Center for Medical Progress videos gave great momentum to efforts to end state and federal taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives about half a billion dollars in federal funds annually, about 40 percent of its operating budget. While this money is forbidden by law from funding abortions, critics charge that these rules may not always be followed, and that any federal funding frees up other money for abortions.

In January 2017, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives Select Investigative Panel investigating fetal tissue procurement released its report declaring that there are abuses and possible criminal violations in the area. The procurement of fetal tissue for profit is illegal.

Although a dozen states opened investigations into the organizations involved, they did not find legally admissible evidence of wrongdoing.

Backers of Planned Parenthood have charged that the videos were deceptively edited, a charge Daleiden has strongly contested, releasing the full videos to support his claim.

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Mary Alice Carter said that the California charges show “the only people who broke the law are those behind the fraudulent tapes.” Carter denied that Planned Parenthood has done anything wrong.

Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation charged that the videos resulted in a “flood of hate speech, threats and violence” to abortion providers.

Daleiden, however, defended his work.

“We look forward to showing the entire world what is on our yet-unreleased video tapes of Planned Parenthood’s criminal baby body parts enterprise, in vindication of the First Amendment rights of all,” he said Tuesday.

On March 29, the Center for Medical Progress released its latest video, which involved Dr. DeShawn Taylor, a past medical director of Planned Parenthood who served as an abortion provider at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.

The video appeared to show Taylor saying her facility's treatment of babies who show “signs of life” after an abortion depended on “who’s in the room.”

The release of the investigation’s first video took place in July 2015. It and subsequent videos have drawn a massive response from Planned Parenthood and its allies. A 2015 grant listing from the Open Societies Foundation, published after a foundations’ computer system was hacked, found a planned $7-8 million campaign to respond to the videos. The Hewlett Foundation and the Democracy Alliance were named as other partners in the campaign.


What happens when babies survive abortion? A doctor's alarming response

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 17:40

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new undercover video shows an Arizona abortion clinic doctor saying her facility's treatment of babies who show “signs of life” after an abortion depended on “who’s in the room.”

Dr. DeShawn Taylor, who runs an abortion and Ob/Gyn clinic in Phoenix, Ariz. and who was formerly the medical director at Planned Parenthood Arizona, was filmed undercover saying that according to Arizona law “if the fetus comes out with any signs of life” at an abortion clinic, “we’re supposed to transport it … to the hospital.”

However, when asked on camera, if at her clinic “is there any standard procedure for verifying signs of life?”, she didn’t answer with a specific procedure, but rather said: “I mean, the key is you need to pay attention to who’s in the room, right? Because the thing is the law states that you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise so it’s really tricky.”

Arizona law mandates that clinics call emergency services if a fetus survives an abortion or has signs of life such as breathing, heartbeat, “umbilical cord pulsation”, or “definite movement of voluntary muscles.”

Additionally, if an abortion is performed after 20 weeks gestation, there must be “at least one person who is trained in neonatal resuscitation … present in the room” to provide emergency care to a “viable fetus.”

The undercover video was filmed by members of the Center for Medical Progress and is the latest in their Human Capital Project, a series of investigative videos on the fetal tissue trade that first aired in 2015.

David Daleiden, the project lead for Center for Medical Progress, was charged with 15 felonies by California Attorney General Xavier Beccera on Tuesday, related to his work on the undercover videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood and tissue procurement officials.

Beccera is a former Democratic member of Congress. He and former state attorney general Kamala Harris – now a U.S. senator – received thousands of dollars from Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups in their congressional elections, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Members of the Center for Medical Progress, posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company, approached current and former Planned Parenthood officials at a George Tiller Memorial Networking Reception in October of 2014, and secretly taped their conversations.

One of the former officials was Taylor, who worked at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and was the medical director at Planned Parenthood Arizona before moving to her own abortion and Ob/Gyn practice in Phoenix, where she was at the time of the conversation.

She said her clinic received abortion referrals from Planned Parenthood, and performed an average of 30 abortions per week.

Posing as representatives of BioMax, CMP asked Dr. Taylor how they could collaborate on the transfer of fetal tissue from abortion clinics in the Phoenix area.

When asked about abortion procedures for ensuring intact baby body parts for tissue harvesters, Taylor noted that “part of the issue is, it’s not a matter of how I feel about it coming out intact, but I got to worry about my staff and peoples’ feelings about it coming out looking like a baby.”

She was then asked about using digoxin, a feticide sometimes used to kill the baby before an abortion procedure, which could render the fetal tissue unsuitable for harvesting.

Taylor said, “that really presents an issue because in Arizona, if the fetus comes out with any signs of life, we’re supposed to transport it … to the hospital.” Digoxin, she said, ensures the baby is dead after an abortion procedure.

Taylor was asked if her clinic had a procedure for determining if a baby showed signs of life after an abortion. She replied that “the key is you need to pay attention to who’s in the room, right?”

She continued, explaining the law’s requirements as a reason for why she mostly uses digoxin to ensure the baby is dead in an abortion.

“Because the thing is, the law states that you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise so it’s really tricky,” she said, adding that “most of the time we do dig[oxin], and it usually works. And then we don’t have to worry about that because Arizona state law says if there’s signs of life, then we’re supposed to transport them. To the hospital.”

“Yeah, it’s a mess, it’s a mess,” she said.

Daleiden accused Taylor of breaking the law.

“This footage shows a longtime Planned Parenthood abortion doctor willing to sell baby parts for profit, use criminal abortion methods to get more intact body parts, and even cover up infanticide. This doctor was trained by Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, and encouraged by her to participate in the fetal body parts market.”

Taylor clarified in the video that she no longer worked at Planned Parenthood, but had her own clinic.

“Well I used to work for them [Planned Parenthood Arizona], and then I left them, and so they’re still recovering,” she said to laughter, when asked why she sees referrals from Planned Parenthood.

Also in the video, she expressed her concern when a dead baby is delivered intact after an abortion procedure. “Arizona is so conservative, I just don’t even want to send a full fetus to – for cremation, or any of that,” she said.

Taylor also went into graphic detail on obtaining intact body parts from abortion procedures, especially through induction.

She noted that “we’re going to start the procedure before we get to that point” of where the baby’s head comes out with enough dilation. “So it’s really like, in order to get you an intact calvarium, the patient’s really going to have to go into labor,” she added.

“So, ideally, you know the patient would have dilated in the E-phase enough that it’s all just going to come out,” she said.

She joked about going to the gym to better perform more strenuous late-term abortions.

“Research shows that dig[oxin] doesn’t make the procedure easier in someone who is well-trained, but I have to tell you anecdotally, my biceps appreciate when the dig works,” she said of procedures where digoxin kills the baby in an abortion.

“So I remember when I was a fellow and I was training and I was like ‘oh, I have to hit the gym for this … I need to hit the gym,” she said. When asked “at what age does it start getting really difficult?” she responded “at 20 weeks [gestation].”

Pro-lifers were appalled at the revelations in the video.

It “once again lays bare the inhumanity of abortion,” stated Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List.

“The abortionist may laugh as she describes the force needed to dismember a five-month-old unborn child struggling to survive, but even the staff are not immune to the terrible sight of aborted children and babies possibly born alive and left to die.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) argued for a ban on abortions performed after 20 weeks gestation – the late-term abortions described in Taylor’s “gym” comments.

“Science has shown that children as young as 20-weeks-old can feel pain, yet these same children are subjected to horrific abortions, being crushed and dismembered,” he said.

He also insisted on federal legislation protecting infant survivors of abortion.

“Some babies, though miraculously, survive a botched abortion and instead of receiving life-saving care, are left to die on a hospital table. It’s time to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. We cannot be a nation that does this to our children,” he said.

Phoenix mother: St. Charbel cured my blindness

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 13:01

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 29, 2017 / 11:01 am (National Catholic Register).- When a Phoenix mother lost her eyesight due to a rare medical condition, she feared she would never be able to see her four children again. But then St. Charbel came to her aid.

Dafne Gutierrez suffered from benign intracranial hypertension (BIH), a condition that causes increased pressure in the brain. In 2012, the increased pressure caused her to lose vision in her right eye. Three years later, in November 2015, the Catholic mother lost sight in her left eye, as well.

Phoenix’s local CBS affiliate, KPHO, quoted Gutierrez’s plea to God:

“For me, I was like, ‘Please God, let me see those faces again. Let me be their mother again.’ Because I feel like [my kids] were watching me, taking care of me 24/7.”


Phoenix Mother: St. Charbel Cured My Blindness

— N. Catholic Register (@NCRegister) March 25, 2017


For more than a year, Gutierrez struggled to adjust to her disability, which now included occasional seizures, as well as blindness. Then, in January 2016, when Phoenix’s St. Joseph Maronite Church announced that the relics of St. Charbel Makhlouf (also spelled “Sharbel”) would be visiting the church, Gutierrez’s sister encouraged her to visit and to pray for the saint’s intercession.

Although she is not a member of the Maronite rite, Gutierrez visited the church Jan. 16, prayed before the relics, went to confession and was blessed with holy oil by the pastor, Father Wissam Akiki. Gutierrez recalled that, immediately afterward, her body felt “different.”

The following morning, she rose and returned to the church for Sunday Mass. Again, she experienced a different sensation.

And early in the morning Jan. 18, Gutierrez awoke with a searing pain in her eyes. She remembers how much they burned. And when her husband turned on the lights, she said the brightness hurt her eyes. She claimed, at 4 a.m., that she could see shadows; but her husband insisted that was impossible because she was blind. He later described what he called “an odor of burned meat” coming from her nostrils.

According to The Maronite Voice, the newsletter of the Maronite Eparchies of the U.S., “That morning she called her ophthalmologist, and she was evaluated the next day. Her exam showed that she was still legally blind, with abnormal optic nerves. Two days later, she saw a different ophthalmologist, and her vision was a perfect 20/20, with completely normal optic nerves. Subsequently, she saw her original ophthalmologist one week later, and her vision was documented to be normal, with completely normal exam.”

No Medical Explanation

Dr. Anne Borik, a board-certified internal medicine physician who later testified regarding Gutierrez’s healing, was called in by the Church to review the case. Earlier this month, Borik – a member of St. Timothy’s Roman Catholic parish nearby, but who attends St. Joseph Maronite frequently – talked by phone with the Register about her findings. She explained that the brain condition Gutierrez suffered from causes the optic nerve to constrict. Once the optic disc – the spot at which the optic nerve enters the eyeball – is damaged, it’s too late to fix. Because, when the pressure in the brain reaches high levels, as it did in Gutierrez’s case, the optic nerves become strangulated.

“Unfortunately, once the blindness occurs,” said Borik, “it’s irreversible.”

Images of Gutierrez’s optic disc revealed significant damage: “We have pictures,” said Borik, “to confirm that the optic disc was chronically atrophied. There was significant swelling, or papilledema.”

But after Gutierrez’s vision returned, Borik reported, there was no evidence of the aberrations that were evident on earlier images. “In the post-healing pictures,” Borik said, “her optic disc is back to normal. Her vision is completely restored. She has no more seizures. That is why I, as a medical doctor, have no explanation.”

A medical committee, led by Borik, undertook a thorough review of Gutierrez’s medical records, as well as repeated examinations. The committee wrote, “After a thorough physical exam, extensive literature search and review of all medical records, we have no medical explanation and therefore believe this to be a miraculous healing through the intercession of St. Charbel.”

Unexpected Healing Strengthens Faith

Borik is enthusiastic about the healing, telling the National Catholic Register, “It has changed my practice! It has changed how I relate to patients. Now,” she said, referring to her relationship with those entrusted to her care, “prayer is such an important part of what we do.”

Father Wissam Akiki, pastor of St. Joseph Maronite Church, had a devotion to St. Charbel, and he installed a large picture of the saint in the parish shortly after his arrival in 2014. Then, in 2016, he arranged to bring St. Charbel’s relics to his parish as part of a U.S. tour.

Father Akiki remembers when Gutierrez showed up to venerate the relics. Father Akiki approached her. “I heard her confession,” he told the National Catholic Register. “We prayed together, and I said to her daughter, ‘Take care of your mom, and your mom is going to see you soon.’ Then, in only three days, she called the church to report that she could see.”

Father Akiki acknowledged that Gutierrez’s healing has strengthened the faith and changed the face of St. Joseph Maronite Church. “People are coming here to pray, traveling from Germany, Bolivia, Canada, Australia, Jerusalem.”

Following the healing, Father Akiki planned to erect a shrine to St. Charbel at his parish, with a two-ton sculpture of the saint cut from a single stone and imported from Lebanon. The shrine will be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Father Akiki expected that the dedication of the shrine March 26 would draw crowds, including Maronite Bishop A. Elias Zaidan, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted and many local dignitaries.

Bishop Zaidan attributed Gutierrez’s recovery to the intercession of St. Charbel. “May this healing of the sight of Dafne,” he wrote in The Maronite Voice, “be an inspiration for all of us to seek the spiritual sight, in order to recognize the will of God in our lives and to act accordingly.”

Cristofer Pereyra, director of the Hispanic Office of the Phoenix Diocese, told Fox News that Bishop Olmsted spoke with the doctors and reviewed the case. “The bishop wanted to make sure there was no scientific explanation for the miraculous recovery of Dafne’s sight,” Pereyra reported.

The greatest change, of course, has been for Gutierrez and her children. Since her eyesight was restored, Dafne’s life has changed dramatically: She can once again check her children's homework, watch them at play with friends, and manage her household chores without extra assistance.

Her prayer was answered.

Who Was St. Charbel?

Born Youssef Antoun Makhlouf in the high mountains of northern Lebanon in 1828, St. Charbel (also spelled Sharbel) was the youngest of five children in a poor but religious family. His baptismal name was Joseph; only when he entered a monastery at the age of 23 was he given the name Charbel, after an early martyr. He studied in seminary and was ordained a priest in 1858. For 16 years, Father Charbel lived with his brother priests; theirs was a communal life of prayer and devotion to God.

In 1875, Father Charbel was granted permission to live a hermit’s life. In his rugged cabin, for the next 23 years, he practiced mortification and sacrifice – often wearing a hair shirt, sleeping on the ground, and eating only one meal a day. The Eucharist was the focus of his life. The holy priest celebrated daily Mass at 11 a.m., spending the morning in preparation and the rest of the day in thanksgiving.

Father Charbel was 70 years old when he suffered a seizure while celebrating Mass. A priest assisting him was forced to pry the Eucharist out of his rigid hands. He never regained consciousness; and eight days later, on Christmas Eve in 1898, Father Charbel died. His body was interred in the ground without a coffin and without embalming, according to the monks’ custom, dressed in the full habit of the order.

For the next 45 nights, a most unusual event occurred: According to many local townspeople, an extraordinarily bright light appeared above his tomb, lighting the night sky. Finally, after the mysterious light persisted, officials at the monastery petitioned the ecclesiastical authorities for permission to exhume Charbel’s body. When the grave was opened four months after Charbel’s death, his body was found to be incorrupt. Twenty-eight years after his death, in 1928, and again in 1950, the grave was reopened, and his body was also found to be without decay.

Numerous medical researchers were permitted to examine the remains, and all confirmed that the saint’s body was preserved from decay. For 67 years, the body remained intact, even when left outdoors unprotected for an entire summer – although it consistently gave off a liquid that had the odor of blood. Finally, though, Charbel’s body followed the natural course. When the tomb was again opened at the time of his beatification in 1965, it was found to be decayed, except for the skeleton, which was deep red in color.

The inexplicable restoration of Dafne Gutierrez’s eyesight is not the first healing credited to St. Charbel. Dr. Anne Borik reported that there have been hundreds – perhaps thousands – of miracles attributed to the saint.

Pope Francis is said to have a deep devotion to St. Charbel. Last Christmas, Borik reported, the Holy Father asked to have a relic of St. Charbel sewn into the hem of his vestments.


This story was originally published at the National Catholic Register.


A lot more than just pensions could be decided in this Supreme Court case

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Supreme Court case about pension plans of religious hospitals could decide something much bigger – whether religious groups are legally part of churches.

“There’s really a big problem if you decide ‘church’ is sort of narrowly ‘worship’,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“That’s really something that a church should be deciding, whether they just worship or whether they go out and serve other people outside of the four walls of the sanctuary,” Rassbach told CNA.

The Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, a consolidation of three cases involving the pension plans of religious hospitals like Advocate and St. Peter’s HealthCare System in New Jersey.

The employers are looking to move the plans, regulated like other plans of for-profit corporations, into a religious category exempt from some of those regulations.

The law in question, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, regulates pension plans of for-profit corporations, requiring the employers to hold an additional amount of funds in reserve. Setting up these reserves could be cost-prohibitive especially for community hospitals, some of whom “are not going to be able to do that,” Rassbach said.

“If Advocate and hundreds of other religious hospitals around the country were forced to follow for-profit rules, money currently used to serve the poor and inner city communities would be lost and many would be forced to shut down,” the Becket Fund argued.

Congress has recognized a religious exemption for pension plans of churches, and entities like St. Peter’s Hospital in New Jersey applied for this exemption after operating their pension plans according to the federal regulations for years. The plaintiffs bringing the suit, employees of the health care networks, claim their pension plan agreements are being unfairly altered.

The religious exemption applies to plans “established” and “maintained” by churches. In the case of St. Peter’s HealthCare, decided by the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court ruled that since the Catholic Church (through a diocese or parish) did not “establish” the pension plans, they were not eligible for the ERISA religious exemption, even if a “church agency” like a religious order set up the plan.

St. Peter’s is a non-profit health care system sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen. The court conceded that it has Catholic ties, like daily Mass offered at the hospital, Catholic devotionals present there, and many board members who are appointed by the local bishop.

“But can a church agency, in addition to maintaining an exempt church plan, also establish such a plan? The District Court concluded that it cannot. We agree,” the appeals court decided.

It also conceded that for years, plans set up by “church agencies” were recognized by the courts as religiously exempt: “In the decades following the current church plan definition’s enactment in 1980, various courts have assumed that entities that are not themselves churches, but have sufficiently strong ties to churches, can establish exempt church plans.”

“However,” the court added, “a new wave of litigation, of which this case is a part, has sprung up in the past few years and has presented an argument not previously considered by courts – that the actual words of the church plan definition preclude this result.” New lawsuits are shedding light on the “plain text” of ERISA that churches and only churches can set up pension plans that meet the religious exemption, the court said.

There are around 100 similar lawsuits involving religious hospitals – many of which are Catholic, Rassbach noted. New litigation is “taking from the poor to give to the rich class-action lawyers,” he argued.

Not only did the courts recognize that these religious entities were eligible for the pension exemption, but the IRS did as well, he maintained.

This question was raised in Monday’s oral arguments, where Justice Stephen Breyer pressed James Feldman, representing the respondents suing the health care networks, on whether orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor should be recognized as part of churches.

Justice Breyer asked “if it's a legitimate organization like, let's say the Little Sisters of the Poor, really affiliated with the church,” if they would be recognized as part of a church.

The U.S. bishops’ conference and religious freedom legal groups like the Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom have sided with the health care networks in the case, saying that it is a religious freedom issue.

In their amicus brief siding with the St. Peter’s HealthCare and Dignity Health, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that while Catholic health care providers may not be officially part of a church or parish structure, their plans should meet the religious exemptions under ERISA.

“Indeed, charity has always been a core component of the Catholic Church’s activities, ‘as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel’,” the USCCB said, quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.”

This charity is lived out “through myriad Catholic ministries” like health care providers, they added, which should be treated as part of the Church.

And these charities may or may not be directly affiliated with Catholic dioceses and parishes or with the Holy See, they continued, “yet, as a matter of Catholic theology, the various ministries that the Church recognizes as Catholic ministries are all part of the Church” even though “they may be (and often are) civilly, structurally, and financially independent entities.”

These employers must be given a religious exemption, the bishops’ conference added, saying that “long before” the ERISA regulations were enacted for pension plans, “Catholic charitable organizations provided their workers with generous benefits.”

“In recognition of that reality (which is not unique to the Catholic Church), and to avoid imposing potentially crushing new obligations on such organizations, Congress has long exempted the benefit plans of church-affiliated organizations from the sometimes burdensome requirements of ERISA,” they continued.

And the Court must recognize this, they concluded, or this could bring about more problems in determining which religious groups are treated as part of a church.


What does it take to renew marriage? This archdiocese plans to find out

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 05:02

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 29, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced a new initiative on marriage and family life: a three-year course which will be offered to both the clergy and lay people throughout its parishes.

“There is a serious need to shift our previous approach to marriage and family life which ignores the consequences of poor catechesis and the lack of personal encounter to a more evangelical and relational approach,” the archdioceses said in a press release.

The extensive program, titled Remain in My Love, will direct its focus at a different target audience every year for three years. The outreach will begin in May 2017 and will end in December 2019.

The first year will specifically address the staff members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, and will focus on the theme of “renewing our mission in service to married couples and families.”

“These gatherings will help us rediscover our shared mission to support, heal, and strengthen the married couples and families who have been entrusted to our care in the local Church of Philadelphia,” reads the archdiocesan website.

“As the pastoral arm of his leadership and ministry in the service of all the Archdiocese, a reinvigorated…understanding of marriage and family life becomes a lens through which to encourage the same understanding in our parishes and institutions.”

Year two will begin in January 2018, and will cater to the staff of archdiocesan institutions such as parishes or schools. Their theme will focus on “renewing our mission of pastoral care of married couples and families.”

“It will be designed as an opportunity for growth and transformation as well as mutual support, encouragement and discussion fueled by study materials, dynamic presentations, and beautiful videos.”

The third and final year is aimed at all married couples and families within the archdiocese, beginning in January 2019. This program will highlight the goal of “rediscovering the mission of marriage and the family.”

“Married couples and families of the Archdiocese will be invited to encounter the splendor of what Christ has revealed about marriage and family life through large and small group gatherings.”

Each year is made up of three sessions, covering theological material such as the sacramentality of marriage, the goods of marriage, and the family as the domestic church. The classes will underscore the institution of marriage, the threats to marriage, and the mission of the family in the world.

In addition, the participants will also be involved with a 12-session small group class called CanaVox. These small group sessions will read and discuss relevant topics about marriage and the family through Church documents and current events.  

“The project, for all three years, moves in two directions, inviting a committed investment on the part of all.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is hoping that this new program will reach out to couples after their marriage, as a continuation of the conversation that marriage prep started. Pope Francis has also recently spoken out about marriage, calling for better marriage prep, and pointing to the need for a “new catechumenate in preparation for marriage.”

Remain in My Love will aim to “reinvigorate our understanding, practices and celebrations of Christian marriage and family life,” to “every member of the clergy, lay faithful, and to every parish and institution” within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

More information about Remain in My Love can be found at

San Francisco archdiocese to be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 02:08

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 29, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the centennial year of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco will consecrate his archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“I am confident that the archdiocese will receive many graces through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary if we are spiritually prepared and properly disposed,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “For this act of consecration to bear fruit, we must prepare ourselves spiritually and with catechesis for this significant day.”

Archbishop Cordileone said the consecration comes in response to “numerous requests from the faithful.”

The Oct. 7 consecration falls on the same day as the archdiocese’s Annual Rosary Rally, which takes place on the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.

It comes in the 100th year since the 1917 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three young children in Fatima, Portugal. The apparitions took place from May 1917 to Oct. 13, 1917 when tens of thousands of people who had gathered near Fatima witnessed the sun dance.

The Virgin Mary apparition delivered a message to the children, asking for prayer and reparation for sins throughout the world.

The archdiocese website has a section dedicated to the upcoming consecration that includes Marian prayers and explanations of Our Lady of Fatima.

It describes the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a devotional name for the internal life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, including “her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her virginal love for God the Father, her maternal love for her son Jesus, and her compassionate love for all people.”

The archdiocese website lists several activities and suggested prayer intentions for each month leading up to the consecration. It is holding art contests and writing contests for students and has plans for a Marian retreat May 6.


How California Catholics hope to fix the teacher deficit

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 22:02

Sacramento, Calif., Mar 28, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The California Catholic Conference has announced that it is sponsoring a bill to help attract and retain teachers in response to the state's shortage of K-12 educators.

“Additional measures are needed in order to assure that our new teachers are given the appropriate preferential option that supports their development and commitment in their noble profession,” the conference said in a March 16 statement.

This “in turn translates to better service and better education of our youth.”

The conference, tied to the state's Catholic conference of bishops, is the official voice of the Church in California's legislative arena. It is proposing a bill which would give greater tax breaks to new teachers in the process of receiving their permanent credentials.  

Besides paying back student loans and serving at the lower end of the salary scale, new teachers must “enroll in costly induction and professional development programs aimed at converting their preliminary credential to a permanent or 'clear' credential.”

California has suffered from a lack of educators since the recession hit in 2007. The conference says easing a teacher’s financial difficulties would incite greater quality and quantity of new blood to the profession.

The state requires teachers to complete the “clear” credential within the first five years of being employed, but schools or districts are not required to pay for these programs. Local educational agencies have an average annual fee of $2,000, and universities or colleges may charge up to $5,000 yearly to complete the induction programs.

New teachers are forced to pay out-of-pocket, and the legislative groups says the financial strain ultimately affects their students.

The bill, AB 516, would either give teachers working towards a “clear” credential a tax credit or a deduction for professional expenses. Newly accredited teachers would have the option to either claim up to a $500 credit or deduct $2,500 from their state income taxes to balance the fees required for these programs.

Over 310,000 teachers were employed in California, but after the economic recession in 2007, it has dropped to less than 296,000 in the 2014-2015 school year. According to the Learning Policy Institute, a study in 2013 reveals that California's student-teacher ratio was 24 to 1 and is the highest ratio in the nation compared to the national average of 16 to 1.

The conference cited a study from the Learning Policy Institute that “the number of intern credentials, permits, and waivers it has issued” has nearly doubled between 2013 and 2016. These permits are issued to teachers who have not yet finished their permanent credential. The study also stated that the greatest growth occurred “in emergency-style permits known as Provisional Intern Permits (PIPs) and Short-Term Staff Permits (STSPs),” which are only issued when classrooms have an immediate need.

California not only needs an increase of teachers but a better system “to support, develop and retain qualified teachers,” the conference added.
“The most effective way to achieve this goal of offering a good education is to have qualified and prepared teachers in the educational work force committed to their profession.”

US Anglican ordinariate expands to include prominent Texas parish

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 17:54

Houston, Texas, Mar 28, 2017 / 03:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See directed last week that the oldest Catholic parish of the Anglican Use, located in San Antonio, will be transferred from the local archdiocese into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.

“Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church and its school, the Atonement Academy, have been transferred to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, effective March 21,” read a statement. The ordinariate of St. Peter's chair is a special ecclesial jurisdiction for Catholics in the United States and Canada who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition or whose faith has been renewed by the Ordinariate.

“At the direction of the Holy See, all parishes of the Pastoral Provision are to be incorporated into the Ordinariate,” read the March 21 communique.

Our Lady of the Atonement parish had been founded in 1983 as part of the “pastoral provision” established by St. John Paul II to allow former Anglicans to form Catholic parishes within existing United States dioceses. Until last week, the parish was part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

Subsequently to the pastoral provision, Benedict XVI established ordinariates, which effectively provided former Anglicans with their own dioceses within the Catholic Church.

“With the establishment of the North American Ordinariate in 2012 and the ordination of its first bishop in 2016, the Holy See now expects all Pastoral Provision parishes in the U.S. to be integrated into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter,” the ordinariate's statement explained.

“The Ordinariate expresses its deepest gratitude to the Archdiocese of San Antonio for welcoming and caring for Our Lady of the Atonement since its inception, and for the Archdiocese’s ongoing commitment to the Church’s care for the unity of Christians. Through continued collaboration in the coming months, the Archdiocese and the Ordinariate will remain dedicated to supporting the natural evolution of this Pastoral Provision parish into the Ordinariate.”

While the ordinariate's statement only includes Our Lady of the Atonement by name, the transferral would also presumably apply to the Congregation of Saint Athanasius, a pastoral provision parish located in a Boston suburb and heretofore part of the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Vatican's directive that Our Lady of the Atonement should be transferred to the ordinariate is the outcome of several months of conflict between the parish and the San Antonio archdiocese.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio had in January begun proceedings to remove Atonement's pastor, Fr. Christopher Phillips, who had been pastor from the parish's founding.

In a Jan. 19 letter the archbishop cited “pastoral concern” about Fr. Phillips relating “to expressions in the life of the parish that indicate an identity separate from, rather than simply unique, among the parishes of the archdiocese.” Another priest was appointed administrator of the parish, and Fr. Phillips was asked “to dedicate some time to reflect on certain specific concerns.”

Late in 2016, Fr. Phillips had sought to join the ordinariate.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, the ordinariate's spokesperson, Jenny Faber, indicated Fr. Phillips will remain at the parish as pastor emeritus, and a new pastor will be appointed in due time.

The Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter includes more than 40 parishes and communities. Its ordinary, Bishop Steven Lopes, was appointed in November 2015 and had previously served as an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The North American ordinariate is one of three such bodies; it has counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia.