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RICO suit against Buffalo diocese alleges conspiracy in sexual abuse cases 

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 13:55

Buffalo, N.Y., Aug 15, 2019 / 11:55 am (CNA).- Twenty-two plaintiffs filed August 14 a lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo, a province of the Society of Jesus, multiple priests, eight parishes, three high school, a seminary, among others, alleging “a pattern of racketeering activity” that enabled and covered up clerical sexual abuse.

The lawsuit was filed on the first day of a legal “window” allowing for sexual abuse lawsuits to be filed in New York even after their civil statute of limitations had expired.

Among the plaintiffs, who are not named, are several alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse. The lawsuit alleges specific instances of sexual abuse by priests, and claims that the diocese failed in its duty of care towards children by allowing abusive priests to have contact with minors through parishes and schools.

The suit says that priests named in the lawsuit, “used their positions of authority and trust over Plaintiff(s) to sexually abuse and injure them.”

“All the Defendant(s) knew and/or reasonably should have known, and/or knowingly condoned, and/or covered up, the inappropriate and unlawful criminal conduct activities” of sexually abusing priests, the lawsuit says.

Calling the diocese and affiliated organizations an “association in fact” for the purposes of federal racketeering laws, the suit alleged “common purpose” in “harassing, threatening, extorting, and misleading victims of sexual abuse committed by priests” and of “misleading priests’ victims and the media” to prevent reporting or disclosure of sexual misconduct.

The suit claims that the various diocesan persons and agencies are legal “alter egos” for the diocese, completely under diocesan control, and were used to “transfer, assign, commingle and conceal assets” totally $90 million dollars, and that the diocese violated federal racketeering laws by using the internet and mail to “deceive the public about the illicit sexual conduct rampant within the Diocese of Buffalo.”

“Within the Diocese of Buffalo there was a common communication network by which co-conspirators shared information on a regular basis. The Diocese of Buffalo used the common communication network for the purpose of enabling the criminal sexual activities of the priests within the Diocese of Buffalo,” the lawsuit says.

Two of the plaintiffs claim to be whistleblowers against the diocese. Described as former employees or volunteers, the suit alleges that they became aware of “wrongful contact” by some priests in the diocese and were terminated by the diocese after reporting it to Church authorities.

On that front, the diocese is alleged to have engaged in “interstate commerce,” and did so “concerning the investigation, slander, blacklisting, of victims and/or employees (whistleblowers) who sought to thwart, hinder or stop the illicit activity carried out by the Diocese of Buffalo, and its employees and priests.”

Federal racketeering laws, called RICO statutes, have been used in lawsuits against dioceses previously. In 1993, a New Jersey lawyer won a seven-figure settlement in a RICO-based lawsuit against the Diocese of Camden under the RICO act. Other lawyers followed, and RICO provisions have become used, to varying degrees of success, in lawsuits filed against other dioceses.

Offices of the Diocese of Buffalo were closed Aug. 15 for the Solemnity of the Assumption; diocesan spokespersons could not be reached for comment.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Northeast Province of the Jesuits said that it was “fully cooperating with all civil authorities and legal counsel on all matters regarding allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.”

“Any instance of abuse by a religious person is a profound violation of trust that causes pain and damage for the abused and their families, local communities and the Church at large. The Jesuits stand by all victims and encourage them to come forward to report any instance of abuse in their efforts to seek justice and healing.”

Legal experts have discussed in the last year, since the sexual abuse scandal stemming from allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick began, whether federal RICO statutes could be used to bring criminal charges against diocesan leaders, or to allege a criminal network of conspiracy involving mutliple dioceses.

Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania reportedly considered the possibility of bringing a RICO case against dioceses in that state after the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report last August, but no such charges have been filed.

Malone has come under fire in the last year, after his former secretary alleged in August 2018 that the bishop had omitted the names of some priests accused of abuse or misconduct from a list the diocese released last March.

The bishop has faced persistent calls for his resignation.

In April, Malone issued a statement defending himself against allegations of mismanagement and cover-ups.

The bishop said that he had not been part of any cover-up of clerical sexual abuse, and that he intended to be more transparent about clerical sexual abuse and its financial impact on his diocese.

Acknowledging that he had made mistakes, especially with his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors, the bishop offered an apology.

“Lessons have been learned,” Malone said April 11.

“I personally need to repent and reform, and it is my hope that this diocese can rebuild itself and learn and even grow from the sins of the past. I ask you to pray for me, pray for the Church, and pray for all those who suffered and suffer as a result of abuse as we go forward together to address the worldwide problem of child sexual abuse.”

South Carolina bishop named in New York abuse lawsuit

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 09:38

Charleston, S.C., Aug 15, 2019 / 07:38 am (CNA).- Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, SC, has been named in a sexual abuse lawsuit filed in New York. The accusations contained in the suit concern the bishop’s time as a pastor in the Diocese of Rockville Centre forty years ago.

The suit was filed after new legislation in New York came into force Wednesday, adjusting the statute of limitations for pursuing criminal charges and filing civil suits against sexual abusers or institutions.

According to a report carried by the Charleston Post and Courier, the suit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a young man over a period of years while he was serving as pastor of St. Martin of Tours parish in Amityville.

In a statement released by the diocese to local media, Guglielmone denied all the accusations and said that he was looking forward to establishing his innocence.

“I offer my prayers daily for those whose lives have been hurt or devastated by the actions of a member of the clergy or by any other persons, especially all abused children and other vulnerable persons,” Guglielmone said.

“It is particularly tragic when the abuse is at the hands of a priest in whom their spiritual care and well-being has been entrusted.”

According to the Charleston diocese, when first made, the accusation was initially determined not to be credible though civil law enforcement was notified of the claims. Following the re-presentation of the allegation, the Vatican was informed and had initiated a full investigation, with which Guglielmone is said to be “cooperating fully.”

It is not clear when the allegations were first made, and the diocese has not confirmed who is conducting the investigation.

The lawsuit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a boy for several years, beginning in 1978, when the boy was eight years old. The suit, filed by the now adult man, is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for “catastrophic and lifelong injuries.”

Guglielmone has served as Bishop of Charleston since his installation in March, 2009. Prior to that, he was assigned as rector of the cathedral in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

 

Following recent clerical sexual abuse scandals throughout the Church in the United States, Guglielmone released a list of 42 clerics “credibly accused” of sexual abuse over a period of decades. The diocese also said the bishop had held several “town hall” style meetings to meet with members of the faithful to hear their concerns and work towards healing.

Both the vicars general of the Diocese of Charleston released a statement of support for the bishop, calling him “a trusted leader of our diocese for more than ten years.”

Msgr. Richard Harris and Msgr. Anthony Droze both said that they had “utmost faith in [Guglielmone’s] truthfulness and in his innocence.”

The suit was filed after the passage of the Child Victims Act by the New York state government in January of this year.

The legislation opened a one-year window allowing adults in the state who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits against their abusers. The window opened six months after the passage of the law, coming into force on Wednesday, August 14.

Those who were sexually abused now have a one-year break in the state’s statute of limitations to pursue claims against their abusers and the institutions where the abuse took place.

Previously, a survivor of child sexual abuse had until the age of 23 to file charges or a civil claim. Now, with the passage of the law, survivors have up until the age of 28 to file criminal charges, and age 55 to file a lawsuit.

The Catholic dioceses of the state, Boy Scouts of America, and the state’s public schools have all said they are preparing for a potentially large number of abuse survivors to file lawsuits. 

San Diego bishop announces compensation fund, changes to social media policy

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:19

San Diego, Calif., Aug 14, 2019 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego announced Aug. 13 an Independent Compensation Program for victims of sexual abuse, set to begin in September.

He also called on all diocesan employees— not just those who are mandated reporters under the law— to contact the appropriate authorities if they “come to a strongly founded belief that a minor is being victimized sexually."

“I would suggest that if you are not a mandated reporter, but come across evidence which points in your mind to the existence of the sexual abuse of a minor either within the life of the Church or in their family or social lives, and you are unsure how to proceed, you consult with one of the experienced mandated reporters at your school, parish or agency to come to clarity on what you should do,” the bishop said.

“I would ask those of you here today who are not mandated reporters to keep in mind that both the moral law and the civil law urge you to report known or suspected instances of the sexual abuse of a current minor to child welfare services.”

The bishop announced the program and the new policies in front of 2,500-plus employees of the parishes, schools, and organizations in the San Diego diocese. Currently, under a change in California law passed last December, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse is 10 years after the last act or attempted act of sexual assault.

Kevin Eckery, Vice Chancellor of the San Diego diocese, told CNA that the bishop’s call to diocesan employees to alert authorities encompassed all forms of abuse.

“It includes all forms of physical or sexual abuse that might be encountered by church workers at school, in the parish or in the community,” he told CNA.

Eckery also clarified that the bishop was encouraging those who suspect abuse to go directly to law enforcement, but also to alert the diocese.

"Mandated reporters under California law are supposed to go directly to law enforcement," he said.

"So it's not a matter of waiting for approval or running it up the chain...for the non-mandated reporters, he was giving them complete license to do the same, to go directly to law enforcement or whatever the proper civil authority is. But in all cases we are anticipating that people will alert us so that we can track these reports at the diocese to make sure everything is followed up on."

Money for the victim compensation fund will come from diocesan funds and insurance; no parish funds will be used, nor money raised through the diocese’ annual appeal, the diocese said.

“Victim/survivors of abuse by a priest of the San Diego diocese will be invited to apply for compensation regardless of when the abuse occurred. Undocumented immigrants may also apply. There will be no statute of limitations,” the diocese said in a release announcing the program.

In addition to announcing the compensation program, McElroy also promulgated two new diocesan policies related to social media.

“It will be forbidden for any employee or clergy in the diocese to communicate privately with a specific minor whom he/she has come to know through ministry without copying that minor’s parent or guardian. Moreover, it will be forbidden for any cleric or employee to have any direct interaction on any personal media account with any individual minor whom they have met through their work in the Church,” McElroy said.

Eckery said the new social media policy was not a response to any specific incident of inappropriate communication between a diocesan employee and a minor.

"It's more based on a feeling of what's right," he said. "It's really meant to avoid problems, rather than address problems that exist."

"We'll promulgate [the new rules] in written form as soon as we have everybody informed on the software changes, the updates, just so that we don't tell people not to do something before we give them a solution."

The bishop also announced the creation of a Task Force, headed by diocesan Chancellor Marioly Galván and Director of Schools John Galvan to “focus upon designing pathways for our local Church to bring to our parents and families a deeper understanding of the pervasiveness, patterns and damaging effects of the sexual abuse of minors.”

Calif. bishop: Be society's conscience in face of campus abortion pill mandate

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 20:01

San Francisco, Calif., Aug 14, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- At a Mass marking Sunday's conclusion of a novena for the defeat of a California bill that would require public universities to provide free access to abortion pills for students, the Archbishop of San Francisco challenged parishioners to grow in charity by embracing works of mercy to the most vulnerable - those in the womb.

Confidence in God “gives us the courage to put our identity into action by imbuing our minds and values with the truth of the Gospel so that we may live our faith with integrity and so be vigilant to the Lord’s coming by serving as a moral conscious of our society,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in his homily at an Aug. 11 Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco.

“And we do so above all, by bearing witness to God by a life of charity, seeking the good of those who are most disadvantaged and defenseless and so fulfill our human vocation of eternal happiness with God in heaven.”

Catholics in California held a novena Aug. 3-11 for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe in order to defeat Senate Bill 24. The state legislature returned from summer recess Aug. 12.

SB 24 is a slightly-amended version of a bill introduced in California’s state legislature last year that was ultimately vetoed.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, a public supporter of abortion, vetoed the similar bill last September, saying it was was “not necessary,” as abortion services are already “widely available” off campus.

California’s current governor, Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said before his election that he would have supported the abortion pill mandate, but has not commented on the new version of the bill since he took office.

The bill would also create a fund to provide a $200,000 grant to each public university student health center to pay for the cost of offering abortion pills, with money coming from nonstate sources such as private sector entities and local and federal government agencies.

The bill would only take effect if at least $10.29 million in private funds are made available by Jan. 1, 2020, which funding has already been secured according to an Aug. 12 analysis of the bill by the State Assembly's appropriations committee.

Besides requiring college health centers to provide abortion pills free of charge, SB 24 would also require abortion counseling services to students, but it is “specifically written in such a way to exclude pro-life counseling,” according to the California Catholic Conference.

In his homily Archbishop Cordileone said the US “is a country that tolerates the destruction of human beings in their mothers’ wombs, and it exalts it by calling it choice while actually doing nothing to help a woman in a crisis situation to have the support that she needs to make a truly happy choice, a choice for life.”

The archbishop expanded on three lessons: identity, vigilance, and charity.

He said fathers of the Old Testament understood their identity as children of God and took courage in his providence. He said these people were rewarded for their trust, even if the answer to their prayers was not seen for generations to come.

“As the people of God, we are rooted in the certainty of a past historical saving event, which gives us the certainty of hope for God’s deliverance in his own time and in his own way,” he said.

“The fathers of the chosen people did not see this liberation. This was for a future generation, but they had confidence that God would fulfill his promise so they had the courage to do God’s will in the face of great hardship and uncertainty.”

Secondly, he said, Catholics must rise above worldly concerns and be vigilant in their identity in the faith.

“We are not to be duped by popular fashions, by political convention, or by the cultural pressure of the time,” he said. “Our values and our whole way of thinking is not to be conditioned by popular trends or pressure, but by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He said parishioners cannot act as the gluttonous and violent man in the Gospel’s parable of the unfaithful steward. He said adopting the values of society condones a culture of death.

Lastly, he pointed to Christ’s words on true wealth.

In order to store up riches in heaven, he said, Catholics should give alms to the poor and the most vulnerable. He said, under the Catholic faith, the action of giving alms can be demonstrated in numerous ways, such as participating in the pro-life movement.

“What can be a greater act of charity than to defend those who have no voice with which to defend themselves? It is precisely by such acts of charity on behalf of the poor, defenseless, and marginalized that we prepare ourselves for the life of heaven.”

Diocese of Scranton launches investigation into national shrine rector Rossi

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 18:14

Washington D.C., Aug 14, 2019 / 04:14 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Scranton has begun an investigation into allegations of misconduct on the part of the rector of the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washingon, D.C.

“Bishop Joseph Bambera, Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, has commenced the process of launching a full forensic investigation into the concerns that have been raised,” about Msgr. Walter Rossi, the diocese told CNA Aug. 14.

“Approximately one year ago, concerns were raised in the public sector regarding Monsignor Walter Rossi, a priest who was incardinated in the Diocese of Scranton but who has served more than 20 years at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.”

“The Diocese of Scranton referred those initial concerns to the Archdiocese of Washington, which investigated certain specific allegations and determined them to be unfounded,” the diocese added.

“Additional concerns have now surfaced, however, requiring a broadened investigation.”

“Bishop Bambera has spoken with Archbishop Wilton Gregory and they have agreed that the Diocese of Scranton and Archdiocese of Washington will work jointly and cooperatively on undertaking a comprehensive investigation,” the statement concluded.

Concerns were raised about Rossi to Archbishop Gregory Tuesday night, during a question-and-answer session at a Theology on Tap, held at the Public Bar Live in the Dupont area of Washington. The event was broadcast live on Facebook.

During that session, Gregory called for an independent, forensic investigation of some allegations against Rossi.

In the first question from the floor at the Aug. 13 event, Gregory was asked about Rossi, who has been the subject of media reports and public speculation in the last year.

“My question calls for accountability, which in the past you have committed to,” a young man asked, before bringing up recent media reports alleging abuse or the cover-up of abuse on the part of Rossi.

“I am not claiming that these allegations have been technically proven,” the questioner said, “but I am wondering why in that sort of situation he hasn’t been removed from active ministry until an investigation can be completed?”

Gregory responded “In our society, people can be ‘proven guilty’ by innuendo or by common conversation.”

“As far as I know, no one who has been a victim [of Rossi] has come forward and identified themselves and said specifically ‘I was harmed.’”

A follow-up question noted that Rossi has been accused of directing young men to Fr. Matthew Reidlinger, a priest friend of Rossi’s who is alleged to have sexually harassed them in phone calls and text messages. That accusation was made in 2013.

Gregory said he was unfamiliar with the allegation.
 
“That’s news to me. And I am not doubting it, but I have not heard about [this situation].”
 
“I suspect – I hope – that there is a forensic investigation. But in today’s environment, even a forensic investigation that either proves or disproves, will not satisfy the people. But I would like to see that, I would like to see a forensic investigation of those allegations.”

Gregory was then asked why Rossi remained in ministry at the Washington shrine; as the local archbishop, Gregory is the chairman of the board of trustees.
 
“It seems to me that the investigation has to come from his bishop, he’s a priest of Scranton.”

Acknowledging that Rossi is assigned to a Washington church, Gregory said that “the investigation has to begin with his bishop, that’s just how things are done.”

“Until that kind of investigation is done, a forensic one [with] outside investigators, I don’t know how we can make a decision [on the suitability of Rossi to continue in ministry in Washington] until those kinds of investigations are completed.”

The announcement from the Diocese of Scranton came in response to questions from CNA about whether Bambera would initiate the kind of investigation called for by Gregory.

The Archdiocese of Washington did not return CNA's calls for comment.

Attempts were also made to contact Rossi through the communications office at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. A spokesperson for the shrine directed all enquiries to the Diocese of Scranton.
 
Beyond the allegations mentioned at the Aug. 13 Theology on Tap, additional accusations have also been leveled against Rossi.

In an interview in June, former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano alleged that the nunciature in Washington had received “documentation that states that Msgr. Rossi had sexually molested male students at the Catholic University of America.”

Vigano also said that both the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and former Washington archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl were both “well aware of the situation,” and that Rossi had previously been proposed for promotion to bishop and been blocked.

When he began his remarks, Gregory told the crowd of around 200 young adults that he understood and shared the disaffection of local Catholics with the Church hierarchy in the wake of recent scandals which had left him “embarrassed.”

“I too am let down by the leadership in the Church. I’ve been embarrassed. I’ve been embarrassed as a Catholic, as a priest, as a bishop, because of the behavior of some of my fellow clerics.”

“I know that this past year has been an extraordinarily painful year for Washington because of the revelation of behavior of two former archbishops.”

“[Regarding] Theodore McCarrick, there are no words to explain the awful events that visited this local Church because of his behavior. And also Cardinal Wuerl, who while he was Bishop of Pittsburgh did many good things, but obviously there were things that he didn’t do that I suspect now he is regretful of.”

“I know [Wuerl’s] regretful, but they too add to the sorrow that we experienced, and the embarrassment,” Gregory said.

“There are no easy answers or simple solutions. All I can do as archbishop is to try to the best of my ability some sense of trust.”

Earlier in the evening, Gregory introduced himself to the crowd by noting that he preferred to be up front in his dealings: “Disclosure is always better than discovery,” he said.

Responding to a series of questions throughout the evening on the subject of the abuse crisis, Gregory praised the courage and witness of abuse survivors, pledging to stand with and behind them with “whatever resources we have.”

The Diocese of Scranton has not indicated a timeline for its investigation of Rossi, or stated whether the priest’s ministry will be limited while an investigation is underway.

 

Portland parish protests new priest’s policies

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 18:00

Portland, Ore., Aug 14, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in the Archdiocese of Portland staged a protest against their pastor during a June 30 Mass.

The Oregonian uploaded a video of the protests Aug. 11. The video shows elderly parishioners dressed in white, carrying signs into the assembly during the Eucharistic consecration, and attempting to shout down the pastor, Fr. George Kuforiji, during the Mass. Other parishioners are shown looking visibly uncomfortable at the disturbance.

The protests reportedly concern Fr. Kuforiji’s decision to remove unauthorised changes to the liturgy which had become common in the parish over previous years, and to take down a sign at the entrance to the church saying “Immigrants & Refugees welcome.” 

Fr. Kuforiji, himself a Nigerian immigrant who was ordained in 2015, was installed as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in 2018. 

Prior to his arrival, The Oregonian reported, St. Francis was known for “progressive liturgy” that “embraced folk music” during Mass.

After arriving at the parish, Kuforiji reportedly insisted on using only Church-approved liturgical texts during the Mass. The texts refer to God as “He,” “Lord,” or “King,” instead of the gender neutral terms “God,” and “Creator” that had become customary replacements during parish liturgies.

Kuforiji also stopped the practice of reading a “community commitment” after the recitation of the Nicene Creed.

The video shows protesters shouting their own intercessory prayers over the pastor’s voice, and reciting the community commitment during Mass as a form of protest against Fr. Kuforiji’s changes. Some parishioners have also reportedly refused to refuse to kneel during the Eucharistic consecration, in defiance of a recent instruction from Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample.

The protests began in late June, when some of the parish’s handmade vestments were found in a trailer slated for the dump. According to The Oregonian, Fr. Kuforiji insisted that he had not intended to throw away the rainbow-bordered chasuble and other liturgical garb, but had intended that the vestments be placed in a storage box. 

A parishioner, Albert Alter, found the vestments and accused Kuforiji of “trying to destroy the parish.” 

“I don’t know anyone that would come to a parish and go to the vestment closet and take all the vestments, still on hangers, and throw them into a trailer without somebody of authority having instructed them to do so,” Alter told The Oregonian. 

“We have been wanting real dialogue. I said that we are being abused. We are being abused in the Catholic Church by this priest, and by this archbishop,” said Melinda Pittman, a 30-year parishioner of St. Francis, filmed speaking at the lectern after Mass on June 30.

In the video, cries of “yes,” along with the sound of shaking maracas, are heard from the pews after Pittman states the parish is being “abused” by the priest. 

At the end of the speeches following Mass on June 30, a group of parishioners confronted the priest, who can be heard saying “we are reverencing God.” 

The demonstrators then linked arms and sang “We Shall Overcome,” a Gospel song typically associated with the civil rights movement in the U.S., in protest of the African-born priest. 

Another attendee supporting Fr. Kuforiji as a “holy priest,” was told “you don’t belong here” by others in the assembly. 

Tom Hogan, a 76-year-old parishioner of St. Francis and one of the few remaining parishioners who attended its grade school, told The Oregonian that many of the liturgical deviations at the parish were instituted by former pastor Fr. Donald Durand. 

Durand’s priestly faculties were withdrawn shortly after his retirement from active ministry in 2001. He has been accused of molesting more than a dozen preteen and teenage boys, some of whom were students at St. Francis Assisi School, and numerous lawsuits against him have reportedly been settled. 

Durand was pastor at St. Francis from 1970 until 1983. He has denied all allegations of misconduct. 

A statement from the Archdiocese of Portland said that the archdiocese is “happy to be working with Fr. George Kuforiji, Pastor of St. Francis Parish, to revitalize the parish so that it is able to better serve the growing population in the area as well as future generations of Catholics in Portland.” 

The Oregonian also reported that since late June, Mass attendance at St. Francis has dropped, and the entire choir quit and that Catholic Charities of Oregon took control of the parish’s St. Francis Dining Hall, which feeds local homeless people, in early August for a temporary, three-month period. 

“The Archdiocese of Portland is excited to work with the City of Portland, Catholic Charities of Oregon and the local community to re-establish St. Francis Dining Hall as a beacon of light and mercy serving those most in need,” the archdiocesan statement said.

Cheyenne police recommend charging two unnamed clerics for alleged child sex abuse

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 16:30

Cheyenne, Wyo., Aug 14, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Police in Wyoming have recommended that two clerics accused of sexually abusing male juveniles in the 1970s and '80s be criminally charged, the Casper Star-Tribune reported Wednesday.

A press release from the police said its investigation “stems from a case initiated in 2002 that was reopened in 2018,” the Casper daily reported Aug. 14.

The clerics whom the police have recommended charging were unnamed in the release.

In July 2018 the Diocese of Cheyenne announced that Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart had been credibly accused of sexually assaulting two boys after he became Bishop of Cheyenne in 1976, following an investigation of charges ordered by its current bishop.

In 2002, a Wyoming man accused the bishop of sexually abusing him as a boy, both during sacramental confession and on outings. The alleged abuse took place after Hart had become a bishop.

The Natrona County district attorney in 2002 had put forward a report saying there was no evidence to support the allegations that originated in Wyoming.

The Cheyenne diocese said in July 2018 that it “now questions that conclusion.”

According to the diocese, Bishop Steven Biegler, the present ordinary, had ordered a “fresh, thorough investigation” because the claims against Hart had not been resolved.

In December 2017, the bishop retained an outside investigator who obtained “substantial new evidence” and who concluded the district attorney’s 2002 investigation was flawed. The investigator concluded that Bishop Hart had sexually abused two boys in Wyoming.

The diocesan review board, after reviewing the report, concurred with the investigator, finding the allegations “credible and substantiated.” The diocese reported the alleged abuse to the Cheyenne district attorney in March 2018, and Cheyenne police opened an investigation.

The diocese said it reported the allegations of abuse as required by its own policy, the national Catholic Church policy, and Wyoming law.

In August 2018, the diocese announced it had found credible a third allegation of child sexual abuse committed by Bishop Hart.

“A third individual reported that he, too, was sexually abused by Bishop Hart in 1980,” the diocese said. This third person reported the abuse after the diocese's announcement there was “credible and substantiated” evidence that Bishop Hart had abused two Wyoming boys.

This third allegation was also reported to the Cheyenne Police Department.

Bishop Hart has denied accusations of abusing minors.

His first accusers came forward in 1989, when he was alleged to have abused boys while serving as a priest in Kansas City. Ten individuals named Hart in lawsuits related to child sexual abuse claims dating from the 1970s. These accusations were part of settlements the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph reached in 2008 and 2014, though Bishop Hart denied the accusations, the Missouri diocese said July 2.

Bishop Hart was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph in 1956, where he served until he was named an auxiliary bishop in Cheyenne in 1976, and appointed to lead the diocese two years later. He served as Bishop of Cheyenne until his resignation in 2001 at the age of 70.

In June the Cheyenne diocese released a list of substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against minors or vulnerable adults. The release listed allegations against 11 clerics who had served in the diocese.

 

What's the Assumption, anyway? A CNA Explainer

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Aug 14, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- On Aug. 15, Catholics around the world mark the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, commemorating the end of her earthly life and assumption into Heaven.

But while the feast day is a relatively new one, the history of the holiday – and the mystery behind it – has its roots in the earliest centuries of Christian belief.

The Catholic Church teaches that when Mary ended her earthly life, God assumed her, body and soul into heaven.

The dogma of the Assumption of Mary – also called the “Dormition of Mary” in the Eastern Churches – has its roots in the early centuries of the Church.

While a site outside of Jerusalem was recognized as the tomb of Mary, the earliest Christians maintained that “no one was there,” theologian and EWTN senior contributor Matthew Bunson told CNA.

According to St. John of Damascus, the Roman emperor Marcian requested the body of Mary, Mother of God at the Council of Chalcedon, in 451.

St. Juvenal, who was Bishop of Jerusalem told the emperor “that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven,” the saint recorded.

By the 8th century, around the time of Pope Adrian, the Church began to change its terminology, renaming the feast day of the Memorial of Mary to the Assumption of Mary, Bunson noted.  

The belief in the Assumption of Mary was a widely-held tradition, and a frequent meditation in the writings of saints throughout the centuries. However it was not defined officially until the past century.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII made an infallible, ex-cathedra statement in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus deus officially defining the dogma of the Assumption.

“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory,” the pope wrote.

The decree was seen as the formalizing of long-held Christian teaching.

“We have throughout the history of the Church an almost universal attestation of this,” Bunson said of the Assumption.

“We have this thread that runs throughout the whole of the history of the Church in support of the dogma. That’s significant because it supports the tradition of the Church, but it also supports a coming to a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Church of how we rely upon the reflections of some of the greatest minds of our Church.”

What’s also notable about the dogma, he added, is that it “uses the passive tense,” emphasizing that Mary did not ascend into heaven on her own power, as Christ did, but was raised into heaven by God’s grace.

Today, the Feast of the Assumption is marked as a major feast day and a public holiday in many countries. In most countries, including the United States, it is a Holy Day of Obligation, and Catholics are required to attend Mass.

Bunson explained that on major feast days, it’s important to mark the significance of the feast as especially vital by emphasizing the necessity of celebrating the Eucharist that day.

“What is more fitting than on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother to, once again, focus on her Son, on the Eucharist?” he asked.

 

A version of this article was originally published on CNA Aug. 15, 2017.

Why the 'fact-checking' of Christian satire worries this Catholic writer

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 05:01

Denver, Colo., Aug 14, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Did you know that Veggie Tales, the beloved Christian cartoon for kids, recently introduced a new character named Cannabis Carl in celebration of recreational marijuana?

They didn’t, actually. That was just a funny article from satirical Christian website The Babylon Bee.

Nevertheless, the story got fact-checked by the website Snopes, which assured parents: “For the time being, at least, 'VeggieTales' characters remain based on things mothers would approve of their kids consuming.”

That was the kind of fact-checking that did not bother the leadership of The Babylon Bee.

“...it was almost like we’d wear it like a badge of honor. It was like, ‘Oh, we got Snoped!’ and we would share it and kind of laugh it off,” Seth Dillon, CEO of Babylon Bee, told Fox News.

“But lately it’s taken a darker turn where they’re questioning what our motivation is for putting out, you know, misinformation, which is kind of silly and ridiculous,” he added.

The most recent fact check of the Babylon Bee by Snopes was of a satirical article that riffed off of a real-life story (as good satire often does) involving Georgia state representative Erica Thomas.

Last month, Thomas shared a story in a tweet and an emotional video, in which she claimed that a fellow customer in a Publix store had yelled at her to “go back to where I came from” after she was in the express lane with too many items. The alleged remark is similar to a controversial tweet from President Donald Trump aimed at four women of color in Congress.

Eric Sparkes, the accused customer who said he is also a Democrat, has admitted to calling Thomas “lazy” and an expletive word, but has denied making any comments suggesting she “go back” to anywhere.

The Babylon Bee’s satirical take on the story was headlined: “Georgia Lawmaker Claims Chick-Fil-A Employee Told Her To Go Back to Her Country, Later Clarifies He Actually Said ‘My Pleasure.’”

In their original fact-check of the piece, Snopes said: “we’re not sure if fanning the flames of controversy and muddying the details of a news story classify an article as ‘satire.’” Snopes called the story an “apparent attempt to maximize the online indignation" surrounding the real-world incident, and labeled it as “false.”

In a newsletter about the incident posted to Twitter, The Babylon Bee said that the fact-check went too far in questioning “whether our work qualifies as satire” and insinuating that the publication was “fake news.”

The Babylon Bee noted that the last time a story of theirs was labeled as “false” by Snopes, the Bee was threatened with “limitations and demonetization” by Facebook. After “making a stink” about the incident, Facebook relented, but Bee leadership said that the recent Chick-Fil-A article incident was “dishonest and disconcerting.”

“By lumping us in with fake news and questioning whether we really qualify as satire, Snopes appears to be actively engaged in an effort to discredit and deplatform us. While we wish it wasn’t necessary, we have retained a law firm to represent us in this matter.”

“The reason we have to take it seriously is because social networks, which we depend on for our traffic, have relied upon fact-checking sources in the past to determine what’s fake news and what isn’t,” Seth Dillon, CEO of the Babylon Bee, told Shannon Bream of Fox News, in an interview reported on by the New York Times.

“In cases where they’re calling us fake news and lumping us in with them rather than saying this is satire, that could actually damage us,” Dillon added. “It could put our business in jeopardy.”

The subheading on the Chick-Fil-A story fact-check has since been revised on Snopes, and now reads: “Many readers were confused by an article that altered some details of a controversial news story.” It labeled the story as “satire” and included an editorial note, saying that the fact-check had been revised for “tone and clarity.”

S.C. Naoum is behind the “Eye of the Tiber”, a Catholic satirical website that is “Breaking Catholic news so you don’t have to.” Naoum told CNA that he was concerned by the classification of The Babylon Bee’s satire as “fake news” by Snopes, because he worried it could lead to censorship of other satirical websites.

“It’s very concerning to me as a Christian satirist. In fact, it should also be a concern to all satirists, whether Christian or not. It should be a concern to anyone who enjoys reading satire,” he added.

“Once you allow an organization to cross the line of lumping satire in with fake news, I’m afraid that it’s not much of a leap to believe that censorship will soon follow,” he added.

“Fake news” became a buzzword in media and politics around the 2016 presidential election, when President Donald Trump used it against media brands that appeared to be unfavorable to him. The term has also been used to describe organizations that “published falsified or heavily biased stories...to capitalise on Facebook advertising revenue,” according to the New Daily.

Concerns about fake news prompted social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube to crack down on accounts that were renowned for sharing “misinformation.” In 2016, Snopes entered into a fact-checking arrangement with Facebook following the presidential election, an agreement that ended in February of this year, according to Snopes.

Still, Naoum said satirical sites should worry if they are beginning to be viewed as “fake news” instead of as comedic websites.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most satire websites today depend heavily on social media to help build their brands. If sites like Facebook begin to take down articles they deem to be fake news because another site said it’s fake, as opposed to satire, that could have an big impact on sites like Eye of the Tiber, Babylon Bee, and others to continue to operate,” he said.

Fake news and satire differ a lot in form and intent, Naoum added. While fake news intends to mislead people into thinking that falsities are true, satire uses humor as a tool to point to inform people.

“A lot of people think that fake news and satire are closely related, but they’re actually very different things,” Naoum said.

“Fake news is the intentional and deliberate use of deception to mislead its readers. Satire is the opposite—its purpose is to inform, not deceive, the readers of topics in the news by using a veil of humor.”

Kyle Mann, editor in chief of The Babylon Bee, said on Twitter Aug. 12 that Snopes’ new label of “satire”, rather than “true” or “false” labels, did not seem to be much of a step in the right direction, as it still appears to make a judgement on the articles labeled as such.

“This rating indicates that a claim is derived from content described by its creator and/or the wider audience as satire. Not all content described by its creator or audience as ‘satire’ necessarily constitutes satire, and this rating does not make a distinction between 'real' satire and content that may not be effectively recognized or understood as satire despite being labeled as such,” Snope’s description of its new “satire” label reads.

“...it's still pretty bad, insinuating that the content may still fall under some kind of nebulous ‘satire but not really’ category,” Mann said on Twitter.

Mann said he did not think the label was a bad idea for “fake news” sites that hide behind satire labels to avoid litigation, “but they're now using it for Babylon Bee stories, so we're back to where we were with the CFA piece: Snopes labeling us supposed satire wink wink.”

At fertility clinics, abandoned human embryos could number in the millions

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Aug 13, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The number of “abandoned” human embryos in the United States could number in the millions, and many fertility specialists are reticent to discuss the dilemma of what to do with frozen embryos, according to a recent NBC News report.

According to Christine Allen, a fertility doctor who runs a consultant business called Elite IVF, most fertility clinics fertilize far more eggs than they plan to use when performing in vitro fertilization, leading to the practice of indefinitely freezing surplus embryos— far more even than the process of IVF, which has a high failure rate, attempts to implant into a woman’s uterus.

“You see [some women] having 40, 50 or 60 eggs retrieved in a cycle and the embryologist gets the orders from her doctor to inseminate all of them — and the question isn’t asked if the patient even wants that many inseminated. Nobody’s going to have 30 kids,” Allen told NBC News.

Several fertility doctors told NBC News that many clinics consider embryos abandoned after patients stop paying storage fees and fail to respond to the clinic’s attempts to contact them.

Approximately one-third of all the frozen embryos at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers have been discarded or abandoned, NBC News reported. Storage fees for frozen embryos typically run from $500 to $1,000 a year depending on the clinic.

Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology require fertility clinics to report how many embryos have been abandoned at their clinics, NBC News says.

Though the embryos themselves take up very little space, the nitrogen tanks used to store them do. With modern techniques, frozen embryos could last as long as 100 years, doctors say.

Father Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told NBC News that couples who have previously IVF undergone should consider setting up trust funds for their embryos in order to ensure that the storage fees will be paid indefinitely.

Pacholczyk has said in the past that for embryos already created and frozen, no other obvious moral options seem to exist other than keeping them that way.

“Creating a trust fund for the frozen embryo shows a couple is taking responsibility for what they created,” Pacholczyk told NBC News.

“To me, the complexity of the situation about what to do with these excess embryos is a powerful reminder that when you cross moral lines, there’s a price to be paid.”

Although organizations have been set up to collect abandoned embryos for research purposes, Pacholczyk told CNA earlier this month that any research done with stem cells— even for commendable purposes, such as efforts to cure diseases— cannot involve the destruction of embryos, or the creation of embryos specifically for research.

[R]esearchers must use induced pluripotent stem cells, or other types of stem cells such as adult stem cells, rather than embryonic stem cells that have been destructively procured from human embryos,” he explained.

Moreover, embryos whose parents do not sign the necessary paperwork to allow the embryos to be used for research remain “stuck.”

The Catholic Church stresses that all human persons – including those in the embryonic state – have an invaluable human dignity.

In 1998, the U.S. bishops’ conference published a document explaining that “the Church has clearly and unequivocally judged [IVF] to be immoral.”
 
In the 2008 instruction Dignitatis personae, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted that the typical uses for already frozen embryos— the treatment of diseases, treatment for infertility, and even “prenatal adoption”— all present ethical challenges and leave the embryos “susceptible to further offense and manipulation.”

“The practice of multiple embryo transfer implies a purely utilitarian treatment of embryos,” the congregation wrote.

“One is struck by the fact that, in any other area of medicine, ordinary professional ethics and the healthcare authorities themselves would never allow a medical procedure which involved such a high number of failures and fatalities...The desire for a child cannot justify the “production” of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.”

The Congregation also quoted a 1996 address by Pope St. John Paul II in which he made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons.”

Pope Francis has said that there is no outcome that can justify the use or destruction of embryos for scientific purposes – including research aimed at curing diseases.

“Some branches of research, in fact, utilize human embryos, inevitably causing their destruction. But we know that no ends, even noble in themselves, such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society, can justify the destruction of human embryos,” he said during his general audience May 18.

 

 

 

These are the six US states with one remaining abortion clinic

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 19:15

Washington D.C., Aug 13, 2019 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Amid efforts in many states to pass pro-life legislation and challenge the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, six states— Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia— have reached the point of having just one abortion clinic remaining active.

Despite this, federal judges have blocked several states’ most recent efforts to restrict abortion, a number of which were set to go into effect this summer.

Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the Federal District Court in Jackson, Mississippi on May 24 temporarily blocked a Mississippi law that prohibited abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which would have effectively banned abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. The law was set to go into effect July 1.

Mississippi still has just one abortion clinic remaining— Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

North Dakota’s governor signed into law in April a bill that outlaws the common abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation,” also known as “dismemberment abortion,” but the law is not currently being enforced sue to legal challenges.

The state also passed a law requiring physicians to tell women that they may reverse a medication abortion, a requirement which is also facing legal challenges. The state’s lone abortion clinic, Red River Women’s Clinic, is suing to block the new laws.

In Missouri, an eight-week abortion ban, which Gov. Mike Parson signed in May and was set to take effect Aug. 28, is being challenged in court.

The state’s lone abortion clinic, a Planned Parenthood located in St. Louis, failed to meet the state requirements for relicensing, but the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is allowing the clinic to continue performing abortions until Oct. 28, when the next hearing to determine the clinic’s final status is scheduled.

Federal Judge David J. Hale of the Western District of Kentucky in March blocked a law that would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat in Kentucky. EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville is the last abortion clinic in that state.

Other states’ attempts to pass “heartbeat bills” that ban abortion following the detection of a fetal heartbeat have run into similar judicial hurdles. Due to the existing legal precedent of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion, legislation that restricts abortion prior to fetal viability is generally found to be unconstitutional.

Women’s Health Center of West Virginia in Charleston is that state’s last clinic. South Dakota’s last clinic is Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls.

District Court Judge Kristine Baker of the Eastern District of Arkansas 6 blocked new abortion regulations Aug. 6 in that state while legal challenges play out in court, saying that women would “suffer irreparable harm” if the laws were to be enforced.

The laws in question would ban abortions in Arkansas after 18 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergency. They would require doctors who perform abortions to be board-certified or eligible in obstetrics and gynecology, and they would prohibit abortions based solely on a Down syndrome diagnosis for the baby,

Arkansas’ laws had been set to go into effect July 24. In the meantime, the state only has one surgical abortion clinic— Little Rock Family Planning Services— but Planned Parenthood Little Rock still performs medical abortions.

Gomez: 'White America' is a myth

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 19:00

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 13, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Los Angeles wrote this week that the white nationalism which motivated a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, is a sign that the U.S. has lost touch with the Christian ideals of the nation’s founding. He called Christians to give witness to the common humanity of all people.

“In the 22 dead in El Paso, and the two dozen more wounded, in the children left with no parents, in the shattered security of a peaceful border town, we are left with some hard questions about what our nation is becoming,” Archbishop Jose Gomez wrote in his Aug. 13 column.

The perpetrator of the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso, in which 22 people were killed at a Walmart, is reported to have posted online a white nationalist manifesto shortly before his attack.

His post lamented a “Hispanic invasion” in the U.S., decried intermarriage between Hispanics and white Americans, and criticized Democratic and Republican politicians, while noting that some Republican policies might reduce “mass immigration.”

“If ‘white nationalism’ is on the rise, it is a sign of how far we have fallen from the Christian universalism of our nation’s founding ideals,” Gomez wrote.

The archbishop, who is an immigrant to the United States from Mexico, added that  “El Paso hit me in a personal way. My family is Mexican and American, and we trace our roots back to the early 1800s in what is now Texas; I lived much of my adult life there, including my five years as Archbishop of San Antonio,” he added.
 
“But El Paso is more than personal. With El Paso a line has been crossed in our nation.” 
 
“In recent years, we have seen the evil of African Americans being targeted in racist terror attacks, notably with the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. With El Paso, for the first time, a massacre has been carried out in the name of stopping Mexican migration,” Gomez noted.

“In Jesus Christ, there is no Mexican or black, no Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean or Filipino, no Russian or Italian, African or Salvadoran, no migrant or native-born,” the archbishop wrote, adding that human dignity must always be respected.

“The humanity of others is never negotiable. Men and women do not become less than human, less a child of God, because they are ‘undocumented.’ Yet, in our nation, it has become common to hear migrants talked about and treated as if they are somehow beneath caring about.”

Gomez noted other instances of “white nationalism and domestic terrorism,” including the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, church bombings during the Jim Crow era, and the lynching of Mexicans in Texas in the 1920s.

“The myth that America was founded by and for white people is just that — a myth,” he wrote.

“This land was born as an encounter of cultures, first with Native Americans. Hispanics arrived in Texas in 1519. Asians started arriving in California about 50 years before the pilgrims made it to Plymouth Rock.”

Noting that Spanish was spoken in North America well before English was, Gomez added that “this country has always been renewed, again and again, by successive waves of immigrants from every nation on earth.”

In response to racism, the archbishop said, Catholics “need to help our society to see our common humanity — that we are all children of God, meant to live together as brothers and sisters, no matter the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the place we were born.”

“The way we honor the lives taken at El Paso is to live with true Christian love — and to live for the vision of America that their killer denied,” Gomez concluded.

“And let us implore our Blessed Mother to intercede for us, that we may build an America that is still a beacon of hope for peoples of every country, who look to this nation for refuge, for freedom and equality under God.”

 


 

 

 

 

New green card rule ‘undermines family unity’ bishops say

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Aug 13, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has voiced opposition to a new “public charge” policy that could deny visas and green cards to immigrants who use, or are deemed likely to use, various public welfare programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, or housing assistance. 

The rule was announced on August 12 and is expected to be formalized on Wednesday when it is published in the Federal Register.

“Ultimately, we believe that this rule is in tension with the dignity of the person and the common good that all of us are called to support,”  said Bishops Joe S. Vasquez of Austin and Frank J. Dewane of Venice (FL) in a statement released by the USCCB website Tuesday. 

Vasquez is the chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration, and Dewane leads the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. 

The rule is set to go into effect on October 15, and will not penalize immigrants applying for green cards or visas public benefit previously used. The penalties will only be applied to people who used public assistance after that date. 

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, explained Monday that anyone who applying for either legal status or a green card must show that they will not be a “public charge.”

“Our rule generally prevents aliens who are likely to become a public charge from coming to the United States or remaining here in getting a green card,” said Cuccinelli on Monday during a briefing. 

“‘Public charge’ is now defined in a way that ensures the law is meaningfully enforced. Those who are subject to it are self-sufficient under the rule of public charge is now defined as an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months,” he said.

In an appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition on Tuesday, Cuccinelli went further in his defence of the new rule, paraphrasing the famous inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty. 

"Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge," he said, while insisting that “no one has a right to become an American who isn't born here.”

In their own statement, the bishops said that the new rule would mean families in difficulty could not get the help they need. 

“This rule will undermine family unity and lead many lawful immigrants to forgo vital assistance, including enrollment in nutrition, housing, and medical programs,” said the bishops. 

“Families already in the U.S. will be faced with deciding whether to access critical assistance programs for which they qualify, knowing that in doing so they could jeopardize their ability to stay here with their loved ones. And, it will reduce the ability of many to reunify with family in the U.S.,” they added.

The bishops warned that the anticipation of this rule change has already created a “culture of fear” in immigrant communities.

Cucinelli defended the policy as “the same sort of requirements that we’ve had in the past, for well over a century,” and said “What we're looking for here are people who are going to live with us either their whole lives or, ultimately, become citizens, who can stand on their own two feet.”

Programs such as disaster relief, food pantries, and homeless shelters, or programs that are for  the benefit of children, such as school lunch programs, WIC, CHIP, or Medicaid received by people under the age of 21 or by pregnant women, will not count against someone’s green card or visa application. 

Additionally, an applicant’s English skills and health will also be considered during an application for permanent residency or legal status. 

Cuccinelli denied that the regulation was aimed at one ethnic group in particular, saying “If we had been having this conversation a hundred years ago, it would have applied to more Italians.”

Tennessee legislators discuss abortion bill in hopes of overturning Roe v Wade

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 15:57

Nashville, Tenn., Aug 13, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The Tennessee Senate judiciary committee held a second day of hearings Tuesday in a 'summer study' session of a bill regulating abortion.

In its current form, the bill would define an unborn child's viability as starting from conception. Legislators who support the proposal hope it would find sympathetic ears at the US Supreme Court.

House Bill 77 (Senate Bill 1236) was passed by the state House in March, but the Senate judiciary committee voted 5-3, with one abstention, on April 9 to defer it to “summer study.”

SB1236 would have banned abortion from the detection of a fetal heartbeat, usually around six weeks of pregnancy. It was opposed by the state's bishops, and Tennessee Right to Life, over concerns it would not stand up to judicial scrutiny.

In choosing to send the bill to summer study, the committee chairman, Sen. Mike Bell said it had “the best of intentions,” The Tennesseean reported.

“But to be successful in the fight to protect the unborn, strong conviction is not enough. We must also have the proper legal and constitutional strategy. I can assure you the left will use every legal means at their disposal to ensure abortion remains legal, unrestricted and readily available. We must do likewise to prevent it.”

Bell told the bill's sponsor, “I can assure you your bill is not dead.”

Sen. Mark Pody, its sponsor, has amended SB1236 effectively to declare viability as beginning from conception: “A pregnancy is presumed to exist and to be viable upon finding the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) using a test that is consistent with standard medical practice.” Some court rulings, such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, have linked governments' ability to regulate abortion with the viability of the child.

The summer study was held Aug. 12-13, and attracted hundreds of spectators on both sides of the problem. The committee is hearing testimony from both pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

Bell suggested during the study Aug. 12 that the committee believes the viability definition “acts as an argument that would resonate with the (Supreme) Court,” according to The Tennesseean, and some pro-life advocates suggested the Ninth Amendment's unenumerated rights as a route for overturning Roe v. Wade.

“We want a vehicle to lead the Supreme Court to consider, I hope, overturning or at least chipping away at Roe v. Wade,” Sen. Kerry Roberts told CBS News.

But Jim Bopp, an attorney with the National Right to Life Comittee, told the legislators that “To enact legislation we have to live in the real world. We have precedent we cannot avoid with a clever legal argument."

He called the proposed definition of viability “irrational,” adding: “It makes us look foolish. And I do not want to look foolish."

During the study Aug. 13, Bell made a point of telling a mother attending the hearing that she needn't take her crying child out, saying that children are welcome in Tennessee.

During the summer study, the committee did not vote on the bill; the measure will not be voted on until the state legislature reconvenes in January 2020.

Earlier in the year, when HB77 remained a 'heartbeat bill', Gov. Bill Lee indicated he would sign it should it reach his desk. His deputy, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, had criticized the bill on the grounds that it would be overturned in the courts.

Though the Tennessee bishops and other pro-life groups opposed the bill, they voiced support for another bill, the Human Life Protection Act, that would automatically ban abortion in the state in the event that Roe were overturned.

Tennessee currently prohibits abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, and requires a woman to wait 48 hours before receiving an abortion.

In 2014, voters in the state approved an amendment to the state constitution that said, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or the funding of an abortion.”

Bishops call for support for HHS rule change

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Aug 13, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Public consultation closes Tuesday on a new rule to protect doctors’ and healthcare workers’ right to object to abortion and so-called gender reassignment procedures.

August 13 is the last day on which the Department of Health and Human Services will receive feedback on the proposed change to the interpretation of section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Working with the USCCB’s pro-life committee, the bishops’ conference has created a special website to help Catholics contact the department and express support for the regulatory change.

The Catholic Benefits Association, which advocates for religious liberty protections in insurance regulations, urged its supporters last week to respond to the bishops' initiative.

The change recognizes that “the government's enforcement of the nondiscrimination requirements must be consistent with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," the organization's CEO, Douglas Wilson, said in an email Aug. 8.

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act forbids federally funded healthcare programs from discrimination on the basis of sex. Under the current guidelines, issued under President Obama in May 2016, “sex” is defined as including “termination of pregnancy” and “gender identity,” meaning that doctors who refuse to recognize abortion or sex-change operations as appropriate medical care can face prosecution for sex discrimination.

In May, the Trump administration announced it was considering changing regulations related to section 1557, removing the expansive definition of “sex,” clarifying that section 1557 cannot be used to compel doctors to perform abortions or sex-change operations, and requiring that non-discrimination protections be interpreted in line with First Amendment freedoms.  

At the time of the announcement, the USCCB pro-life committee, led by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, issued a statement “applauding” the proposed changes and saying the bishops were “grateful” the administration was taking the “important step.”

“These modifications follow the legislative intent of the Affordable Care Act to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in health care,” the statement said.

“The proposed regulations would help restore the rights of health care providers – as well as insurers and employers – who decline to perform or cover abortions or ‘gender transition’ procedures due to ethical or professional objections. Catholic health care providers serve everyone who comes to them, regardless of characteristics or background. However, there are ethical considerations when it comes to procedures.”

Eight states and multiple healthcare providers challenged the Obama-era regulations in federal district court in the case Franciscan Alliance v Burwell, filed in December 2016. That case resulted in Judge Reed O’Connor issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the regulations, finding that the expanded definition of sex discrimination likely encroached on religious freedom. The federal government did not appeal the injunction.

The USCCB’s Office of the General Counsel submitted its own comments August 1, calling the current interpretation of section 1557 “erroneous” and arguing that it violated key civil liberty protections, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Commendably—and appropriately, given the nationwide injunction and the government’s confession of error—the proposed regulations correct this earlier misinterpretation,” the general counsel wrote on behalf of the bishops.

The proposed new rule is open for public comment until midnight Tuesday.

Pittsburgh parish cancels festival after security warning

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 10:56

Pittsburgh, Pa., Aug 13, 2019 / 08:56 am (CNA).- A Pennsylvania parish has cancelled a scheduled festival in response to a security threat received by the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

In an Aug. 13 statement, the diocese said that in late July it received a “disturbing,” handwritten letter that said “Cancel August 14-17 Festival Security Problem is Huge.”

Our Lady of Grace Parish in Scott Township, a Pittsburgh suburb, was the only diocesan parish scheduled to hold a festival Aug. 14-17.

“Although there was no direct threat, the letter raised grave concern due to the appalling chain of mass violence that our nation has experienced. Father David Bonnar, the priest-administrator, was immediately notified, and he immediately notified law enforcement. The sender has not been identified, so Father Bonnar announced today, with deep regret, that the festival has been canceled,” the diocesan statement said

The annual festival is a significant source of revenue for the parish.

“The loss of income to Our Lady of Grace Parish and School, and to vendors who were scheduled to work at the festival, pales in comparison to the loss of lives in Dayton, El Paso, Squirrel Hill and too many other places. The diocese supports the decision not to risk becoming another name in that tragic litany. But we mourn the loss of carefree community that should be the hallmark of these joyous events,” the diocese said.

The parish is located less than 15 miles from Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, at which a gunman killed 11 people while shouting anti-Semitic slurs Oct. 27.

“As we are all devastated by this morning’s massacre at Tree of Life Congregation, my heart and prayers are especially lifted up for our Jewish sisters and brothers and the law enforcement officers who rushed into harm’s way,” Pittsburgh’s Bishop David Zubik said after that shooting.

“May God free us from fear and hatred, and sow peace in our lives, our communities, and in the world,” the bishop added.

Future of Michigan pro-life program in jeopardy as funding threatened

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 05:28

Lansing, Mich., Aug 13, 2019 / 03:28 am (CNA).- Lawmakers in Michigan are considering ending public funding for a program that counsels pregnant women on alternatives to abortion, prompting concern from the Michigan Catholic Conference, which has been advocating for the program since its inception five years ago.

The program, administered by a nonprofit called Real Alternatives, began in Pennsylvania in 1996 and has since helped thousands of women, across several states, facing unplanned pregnancies by providing counseling and material resources such as baby formula and other necessities. The program expanded its operations to Michigan beginning in June 2014 with the backing of the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC).

Two Democratic Michigan state senators introduced amendments to the state budget this year to block funding for Real Alternatives, which failed to pass. The funding for the program— $700,000 in total— is still included in the legislature’s budget for 2020.

Despite this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the state’s new governor who took office in Jan. 2019, has so far not included funding for Real Alternatives in her most recent budget, according to a July 22 editorial in The Detroit News.

David Maluchnik, communications vice president for the MCC, told CNA that the MCC is continuing to advocate for funding for the program to be included in the state budget.

“We’ve already succeeded in beating back efforts to line-item the funds from committee and on the Senate floor,” Maluchnik told CNA via email.

“As out-of-state, pro-abortion organizations have spent at least six figures to defund the program, MCC continues to speak with administration officials and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as budget discussions continue.”

According to Real Alternatives’ estimates, the Michigan program has served 8,240 women at 31,958 support visits since 2014. The state has appropriated $3.3 million to the program since its inception.

“Citizens want to help these women. This is the fastest way to lower abortions,” Real Alternatives founding CEO Kevin Bagatta told CNA.

“Citizens are happy that their taxpayer monies are being used to help their fellow citizens in an unexpected pregnancy.”

If a woman is alone and poor, she may struggle with the pressures of an unexpected pregnancy, he said. What the Real Alternatives program does is provide a counselor, who helps the woman from conception until 12 months after the baby's birth, training her how to take care of the baby and herself.

The counselor acts as a mentor— like a big sister, he said, or maybe even the mother they never had— to help to relieve some of the stress and pressures of pregnancy. He noted that it is primarily a counseling program, not a medical program, although the program offers referrals for medical needs, and saves the state of Michigan money that it might have otherwise spent on additional medical care for pregnant women.

All together, he said, the program has served close to 400,000 women across all the states where it operates since its founding 24 years ago. Over the years, he said, numerous clients come back having finished a nursing degree to volunteer at the very center that helped them.

In Michigan, Real Alternatives uses a network of 15 pregnancy support centers, as well as several Catholic Charities affiliates, to provide its services to women.

According to the Michigan state health department, Real Alternatives is receiving $700,000 in funding for FY 2019, with $650,000 of that coming from federal grants and $50,000 from the state general fund.

Pennsylvania and beyond

Bagatta was one of the original founders of Real Alternatives, which was founded and is still headquartered in Pennsylvania. He said the Pennsylvania program alone has served over 308,000 women since its inception, and has inspired pro-life groups in other states to start similar programs. He said they've helped about 14 states so far to start similar programs whereby the state helps to fund the pregnancy support network.

“We're really no different from domestic violence and rape crisis programs,” he explained.

“In those programs you have a certain client, a woman who's vulnerable...and what this program is it's, again, another vulnerable client, the woman who's in an unexpected pregnancy.”

Bagatta noted that research done in the 1980s found that about 80% of women who had procured an abortion who were surveyed said that they would not have gone through with the procedure if just one person had taken the time to help them.

In 1996, then-Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey put funding in the state budget for alternatives to abortion services. Bagatta said this was the first time that a state used government funding for pregnancy centers and Catholic Charities to promote childbirth as an alternative to abortion for women facing unintended pregnancies.

Today, Real Alternatives runs the Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Michigan programs from their base in Harrisburg. They helped to start a similar program in Texas.

In 2013, Real Alternatives was asked by the Michigan Catholic Conference to help to explain the program to then-Governor Rick Snyder, who put money in the budget to start the state’s program.

Catholic Charities affiliates in the various states are staffed with licensed social workers and trained counselors.

Under the George W. Bush administration, the program was accepted as meeting the requirements to use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) money from the federal government, which states may use as they see fit. This means many of the state programs are funded with federal dollars; Pennsylvania’s program, like Michigan’s, also is funded by some state revenue. Usually the program is accepted in a state with a pro-life governor, Bagatta said.

“Every state gets TANF money. So if you're a pro-life governor, you can have this program and use your TANF money to do a program like we have in the multiple states that we administer.”

In Michigan, half the clients are served through Catholic Charities affiliates in Kalamazoo, Southeast Michigan, West Michigan, and Washtenaw, in addition to three pregnancy centers.

Catholic Charities affiliates are able to dedicate staff specifically for this program as a result of the funding received, Bagatta said, and the funding model provides an incentive for the centers to serve more clients and open specific pregnancy resource programs.

Attempts to defund Real Alternatives

The program is not without its critics, however. Early in 2019, a group called the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the governor and attorney general stating that after pledging to administer 8,000 visits and serve 2,000 people in Michigan in Real Alternatives’ first year of operation, the program “only managed to oversee a mere 785 visits and serve only 403 women.”

The Campaign for Accountability also stated that the abortion rate in Michigan had remained “about the same” during the time that Real Alternatives had been active in the state.

The Campaign for Accountability is run by the Hopewell Fund, a nonprofit whose executive director and project director formerly worked for the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood.

“You wouldn't think the work to help women, so that she doesn't have to choose an abortion, would be controversial. But it is,” Bagatta said.

“We're surprised that in 2019 there are groups that don't want us to be funded, there are groups that don't want the program to succeed.”

Previously, in September 2017, Pennsylvania’s auditor general recommended ending the state’s contract with Real Alternatives because, in his estimation, the organization had used Pennsylvania state money to expand its operations in other states, in violation of the group’s agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

Real Alternatives responded in a statement at the time, saying that the Program Development and Advancement Agreement is a second, voluntary contract whereby service providers “hire Real Alternatives to grow its model Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program.”

Real Alternatives said that while service providers are fully reimbursed for their services, many of them voluntarily agreed to provide 3% back to Real Alternatives— which then became private funds— in order to help to spread the program to other states. This allowed Real Alternatives to, in their words, “scrupulously” comply with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services requirements that Pennsylvania state dollars not be used in other states.

Real Alternatives said this process had been audited four times in the past with no issues, and ultimately successfully sued the state of Pennsylvania, claiming the auditor general was overreaching his authority by seeking to audit Real Alternative’s use of those private funds.

Future uncertain

Maluchnik of the Michigan Catholic Conference reiterated that Real Alternatives provides needed care for women who would otherwise choose abortion.

“[The program] not only provides support and care, it provides formula and [referrals for] pre- and post-natal meds; it gets clothing and shelter to mom and baby where there may otherwise be none; it helps with parenting tips when there’s no one to talk to; it offsets threats to infant mortality and gives young children and mothers a healthy start and a brighter future.”

“In the end, pulling the rug from under low-income women and her unborn or infant child at a time when they’re most vulnerable would constitute a heartless, calculated political maneuver. We’re praying it does not happen.”

Federal court: Women's-only shelter not required to admit men

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 02:09

Anchorage, Alaska, Aug 13, 2019 / 12:09 am (CNA).- A federal court has issued a preliminary injunction protecting a women’s overnight shelter in Anchorage from the city’s demands that it house biological males.

“All Americans should be free to live out their faith and serve their neighbors—especially homeless women who have suffered sexual abuse—without being targeted or harassed by the government,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson in a statement.

Downtown Hope Center is a faith-based facility in Anchorage that offers overnight women’s-only homeless shelters. These women have sometimes suffered abuse, and the center ensures that they will have a safe place to sleep, without being near men.

The center requires overnight visitors to be female at birth, at least 18 years old, sober, and demonstrative of safe behavior.

In January 2018, a biological male who identifies as a transgender female came to the center. The individual, identified as “Jessie Doe” in court documents, was turned away for being visibly intoxicated. Officials at the Downtown Hope Center encouraged him to go to the hospital to receive treatment for an open wound above his eye, and he eventually agreed.

The next day, Doe returned, but was again turned away, this time due to a failure to arrive in time for weekend admission, according to the center’s policies. Officials at the homeless shelter later learned that he had been banned from a different homeless shelter for starting a fight.

A few days later, Doe filed a complaint with the Anchorage Equal Right Commission against the shelter, saying it was a public accommodation that had discriminated against him on the basis of sex and gender identity.

However, Downtown Hope Center maintains that homeless shelters are exempt from the city ordinance on public accommodations, and that Doe was turned away for violating other policies.

In her Aug. 9 ruling, U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Gleason denied the city’s request that the lawsuit be dismissed. She issued a preliminary injunction preventing the city from enforcing the ordinance against the shelter while the case is being decided in court.

Anderson applauded the ruling.

“Downtown Hope Center serves everyone, but women deserve a safe place to stay overnight. No woman—particularly not an abuse survivor—should be forced to sleep or disrobe next to a man,” she said. “The court’s order will allow the center to continue in its duty to protect the vulnerable women it serves while this lawsuit moves forward.”

Mississippi bishops encourage aid for families affected by ICE raids

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 20:01

Jackson, Miss., Aug 12, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Mississippi’s Catholic bishops are speaking out against last week’s extensive Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that targeted workers at food processing plants, rounding up and detaining nearly 700 undocumented immigrants.

Nearly 400 of those detained — some of whom left children behind on the first day of the new school year— have not yet been released.

“We can stand in solidarity to provide solace, material assistance and strength for the separated and traumatized children, parents and families. Of course, we are committed to a just and compassionate reform to our nation’s immigration system, but there is an urgent and critical need at this time to avoid a worsening crisis,” Bishops Joseph Kopacz of Jackson and Louis Kihneman of Biloxi said in an Aug. 9 joint statement together with representatives of the state's Episcopal, Methodist, and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America communities.

ICE agents carried out raids on seven sites in Mississippi Aug. 7, rounding up as many as 700 undocumented workers. Officials have announced that around 300 of those detained have been released on humanitarian grounds, many of them parents who are now reunited with their children, CNN reports.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Jackson is asking for donations— both monetary and also items such as diapers, baby formula, household and school supplies, and hygiene kits— to help families affected by the raids.

“To say that immigration reform is a contentious and complex topic would be an understatement. As Christians, within any disagreement we should all be held together by our baptismal promises. Our baptism, regardless of denomination calls us to unity in Jesus Christ. We are his body and, therefore, called to act in love as a unified community for our churches and for the common good of our local communities and nation,” the Christian leaders said in their joint statement.

They echoed USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who wrote a letter to President Trump last month saying that ICE raids “cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities.”

“We can stand in solidarity to provide solace, material assistance and strength for the separated and traumatized children, parents and families. Of course, we are committed to a just and compassionate reform to our nation’s immigration system, but there is an urgent and critical need at this time to avoid a worsening crisis,” the Christian leaders said.

CNN spoke to Father Odel Medina at St. Anne Catholic Church in Carthage, about 50 miles northeast of Jackson, who said around 50 members of his congregation were detained in the raids. He called the raids a “disaster” for his parish, CNN reports.

Analysis: The pastoral approach of Archbishop Charles Chaput

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 17:50

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 12, 2019 / 03:50 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Charles Chaput is not a cardinal. He has never been an officer at the U.S. bishops’ conference. He has never lived in Rome, and, in an international Church, he is not a polyglot.

Chaput’s resume is not typical of most influential figures in the Church’s hierarchy.

But when Chaput turns 75 and submits his resignation to Pope Francis next month, his admirers and his fiercest critics are likely to agree that the archbishop’s 31 years as a diocesan bishop have shaped, in significant ways, the voice of the Church in the U.S.

In light of that, the archbishop’s approach to episcopal ministry offers lessons worth noting, both for bishops who agree with him, and those who don’t.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should make clear my own bias: I love Archbishop Chaput. I met my wife at a lecture he gave, and the archbishop has been very kind over the years to my family. He gave me my first job in canon law and diocesan administration, and he has invested in my professional, intellectual, personal, and spiritual development. Some of the happiest years of my professional life were spent working for Chaput in the Archdiocese of Denver, where, among many other talented colleagues, I worked alongside the National Catholic Register’s Jeanette DeMelo, Real Life Catholic’s Chris Stefanick, the estimable Fran Maier, and then-auxiliary Bishop James Conley.

It is also worth noting that Chaput was an early supporter of Catholic News Agency, and is a board member of EWTN, of which CNA is a service.

And while I am insistent that CNA, and this analysis, treat him fairly and objectively, I am also proud to acknowledge that Archbishop Chaput is my friend.

The first Native American to become a diocesan bishop, Chaput spent nine years in Rapid City, South Dakota, 14 years as Archbishop of Denver, and eight years in Philadelphia, where, in 2015, he hosted Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families.

Chaput is the author of two bestselling books, a regular contributor to secular and religious publications, and his weekly column, his talks, and his homilies are “must-reads” for a broad swath of bishops and priests, for pastoral workers and intellectuals, and for a large following of practicing Catholics.

The archbishop has been a leader from the floor at the U.S. bishops’ conference; he has served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; and he has been a member of the Vatican’s permanent council of the synod of bishops.

More quietly, the archbishop has served as a mentor to priests, deacons, and religious across the country. Countless lay people, religious, and clerics cite his influence in the discernment of their vocations or apostolates. And his first auxiliary is Archbishop Jose Gomez, who now leads the largest U.S. diocese, and is poised to be elected president of the U.S. bishops’ conference in November.

Chaput’s reputation in the media is rather polarized. By critics, he has been portrayed as triumphalist, reflexively conservative, impatient with disagreement, and a kind of ideological foil to Pope Francis. One critic even characterized him recently as a “devout schismatic.” Supporters paint a different picture, saying that Chaput is doctrinally orthodox, intellectually engaging, humble, self-effacing, and pastorally available. 

But love him or loathe him, Church-watchers generally agree that among U.S. bishops, Chaput has been more effective than most at achieving his vision, and leaving a legacy.

As his career as a diocesan bishop comes near its end, it is worth noting three aspects of Chaput’s approach to leadership that have characterized his ministry as a bishop.

Lay collaboration

A sometimes overlooked aspect of Chaput’s ecclesial career is his formation as a Capuchin. But Chaput attended a Capuchin seminary high school, professed vows in the order at 23, and became a Capuchin provincial superior before he was 40; the archbishop is a Capuchin Franciscan. And the long emphasis within that religious order on collaboration between lay and ordained brothers seems to have shaped the archbishop’s vision of diocesan leadership.

Chaput has frequently emphasized the “co-responsibility” of laity and clergy for the Gospel, and encouraged Church leaders to call upon the expertise of laity. While he has most often mentioned the importance of lay voices in public life, his episcopal ministry has involved the cultivation of lay leaders in ecclesial contexts, the delegation of ecclesiastical functions to lay advisers and staff collaborators, and the encouragement of lay-led and administered apostolic projects.

During Chaput’s time in Denver, the archbishop supported the formation of lay-led apostolates like Endow, the Augustine Institute, and FOCUS, while also welcoming lay-led ecclesial movements like the NeoCatechumenal Way to his diocese, and appointing a lay chancellor and other senior lay officials within diocesan institutions. In Philadelphia, he is known to have expanded the role of the lay-led archdiocesan pastoral council, while hiring laity for open leadership positions.

The Second Vatican Council notes that laity can “be called in various ways to a more direct form of cooperation in the apostolate of the Hierarchy,” adding that laity “have the capacity to assume from the Hierarchy certain ecclesiastical functions, which are to be performed for a spiritual purpose.”

It is obvious to those who have worked in the Church that bishops have understood and assented to that teaching in different ways. Some bishops, most comfortable in the company of clerics, continue to fill senior leadership positions almost exclusively with priests. Others seem to talk about “lay collaboration” as a kind of virtue signal, leveraging the term to indicate progressive positions on ecclesial questions, or, on the other hand, to be uncomfortable with an emphasis on lay collaboration because of those same connotations.

Chaput’s approach to lay collaboration, according to several of his current and former staffers, is neither ideological nor forced. It is collaboration, they say, borne of a sense of equality in dignity among clerics and laity, and a sincere trust that the Holy Spirit can move as significantly through the laity as through those entrusted with mitres and croziers.  

Chaput told me once, shortly after I began working for him, that among a bishop’s most important tasks is to help people discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in their own lives, and to help remove obstacles as they follow God’s call. Other staffers say he has told them similar things, and offered similar advice.

The effect of that approach, according to observers, has been that on some issues, including clerical sexual abuse, Chaput’s dioceses have generally been recognized as being ahead of national trends on consultation, transparency, and accountability. Chaput’s collaboration with lay experts is frequently credited with untangling the Gordian knot presented by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s legal and financial difficulties. And the effect of encouraging lay apostolic projects outside the chancery is evidenced in the fruitful national reach of apostolates like FOCUS.
 
Public engagement

Chaput drew attention last week for a column he published after mass shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio.

The column, which evoked his own experiences in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine shooting, said that “assault rifles are not a birthright, and the Second Amendment is not a Golden Calf.” It called for greater restrictions on the sale of firearms. But, in making a point about fighting the deep causes of a “culture of violence,” the archbishop wrote that “only a fool can believe that ‘gun control’ will solve the problem of mass violence.”

It was the last quote that made the headlines. Local television stations, and then national publications, led with the quote, and a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer said the archbishop had “foolishly missed the mark,” before accusing him of racial insensitivity.

Chaput is a lightning rod for controversy, and neither the archbishop nor Church observers are surprised when his weekly column garners national attention.

In short, it is not news when Chaput is in the news.

In 2010, the archbishop told reporter David Gibson that “I don’t have a whole lot of concern about what people think of me.”

“To me, NOT to say something is really very destructive, because silence implies consent,” he added.

“So I feel obliged to talk. A lot.”

The archbishop is a frequent commentator on American public life, on issues that reach well beyond internal ecclesiastical affairs. He is not shy to express opinions on political issues, on film and television, on family life and economic justice. And he is not hesitant to make unlikely allies.

In Colorado, Chaput made headlines for speaking engagements he arranged with then-Congressman Jared Polis, who is now the first openly gay American to be elected a state governor. The unlikely pair had common cause on immigration reform, and worked together to forge alliances on the issue. He has engaged with Pennsylvania politicians in a similar way.

The effect of Chaput’s engagement with culture is that his influence on the lives of ordinary people extends far beyond the boundaries of his diocese. Livestreamed Facebook homilies are credited with his popularity among younger Catholics. Writing in secular journals and magazines is often seen as a factor in the archbishop’s credibility with non-Catholics, and the catalyst for Chaput’s recognition as a focal point of engagement among Catholics and evangelicals, Mormons, and Jews.

The hallmarks of Chaput’s speeches and columns are citations from a broad and deep bibliography, the framework of a Catholic worldview, and a clear and digestible series of points.

While bishops are both free and encouraged to engage meaningfully on topics of importance to the Church, few actually do, and even fewer give evidence of having done the necessary homework. But the reach of Chaput’s engagement is evidence that bishops can successfully engage culture as both pastors and public intellectuals, and are likely find an eager audience when they do.


Pastoral availability

In 2015, Philadelphia Magazine reported that “Chaput has long been known to have an ‘open-door policy’ of sorts with emailers.” Church-watchers note the same thing.

Pastoral availability, it seems clear, is not the kind of thing that is subject to theological viewpoints or ideological positions. But it is, by many accounts, the mark of a good priest, and is often the defining characteristic of a priest’s legacy.

Those who have worked in parishes know that the parish priests who are most fondly remembered are those who made time to visit a sick relative, to listen after a loss, to patiently accompany a parishioner through a personal struggle or a period of difficulty.

By the metric of pastoral availability, Chaput’s legacy as a bishop will likely receive high marks.

Chaput is well-regarded among staffers, priests, and a broad circle of friends and acquaintances for his availability by email, a phone call, or a short visit.

It is not uncommon, staff members say, for the last email received of the night, and the first received the next morning, to be from Chaput.

Nor is it uncommon for the archbishop to forward to staff members emails from Catholics seeking advice, or looking for solutions to problems, and to follow up later on how the matters were resolved.

When he celebrated his last Mass in Denver before his move to Philadelphia, Chaput stood at the door of his cathedral shaking hands for hours. Some of those who waited on line were surprised when their archbishop remembered their names, and something about their stories. When he arrived in Philadelphia, he greeted his new subjects in the same way, and after his resignation is accepted, he is expected to do the same.

In Philadelphia, he is also praised for making “surprise visits” to parishes, announcing only to a parish pastor that he intends to be present for Sunday Mass, and visiting with Catholics after Mass often for hours.

The archbishop has also been recognized for making available pastoral care in styles or forms that are not his personal preference. Though he has admitted that the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is not his personal liturgical preference, he established a quasi-parish in Philadelphia for the Extraordinary Form and a personal parish in Denver for the same. He has, at the same time, welcomed charismatic communities, ecclesial movements, religious orders, and other apostolates of evangelization, catechesis, and pastoral life, without presuming to impose one model of spirituality or ecclesial life on his dioceses.

Of course, anyone who engages in public life needs thick skin. And Chaput has sometimes been criticized in Philadelphia for terse responses to those who disagree with him. He has also, it is worth noting, reportedly received his share of vulgarities and hate mail.

Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of a bishop’s availability to his people, using the oft-quoted image of a bishop “smelling like his sheep.” As bishops face mounting pressure to spend time on their legal problems, or on complex financial challenges, the pope has also reminded them to make themselves available to their people, and to spend the time and energy required to attend to them. Chaput, according to those who know him best, seems to have made that priority the defining characteristic of his ministry as a bishop.

Chaput is said to delight in defying expectations, and he has not yet announced what he will do in his retirement. Nor is it certain when the pope will accept his resignation. But whenever Chaput’s resignation is accepted, a mantle of episcopal leadership will be passed. Whether bishops will have the courage to take up that mantle remains to be seen.

 

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