Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2017 / 02:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the 115th Congress is underway, a pro-life group is touting a new means of holding pro-life members accountable – a scorecard.
“The Scorecard will help ensure accountability of Members to their constituents while identifying true defenders of the unborn in U.S. Congress,” March for Life Action announced on Wednesday.
“At March for Life Action we aren't just looking for politicians who vote pro-life - we are looking for pro-life champions in the mold of Henry Hyde,” Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the pro-life group March for Life Action, stated.
Hyde was a congressman who successfully inserted into federal policy a prohibition on Medicaid dollars funding abortions. The Hyde Amendment has been supported by members of Congress in both parties for 40 years.
Other advocacy groups, including National Right and Life and Planned Parenthood Action, use scorecards to inform voters of how members of Congress vote on various issues.
March for Life Action hopes to not only record pro-life votes, but also to record initiatives by members such as sponsorship of pro-life bills and speaking out about a pro-life matter on the House or Senate floor.
McClusky noted that “we aren't just looking to maintain the pro-life status quo by only tallying votes.”
A stream of pro-life legislation is expected to come up in Congress after the change of presidential administrations.
President-elect Donald Trump made promises on the campaign trail that he would sign pro-life legislation into law, including the defunding of Planned Parenthood by federal tax dollars because it is the nation’s largest abortion provider. However, he had also praised Planned Parenthood early in 2016 as doing “very good work” for women.
Vice president-elect Mike Pence enjoys the backing of pro-life groups for his pro-life record as a congressman, from 2001 to 2013.
One of the first bills expected to come up in Congress is the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would expand prohibitions of federal funding of abortions and solidify the Hyde Amendment’s policy, which has been passed every year by Congress as a rider to appropriations bills, as permanent federal law.
“We are hoping our first score will be on the House of Representatives putting forth and passing No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act during the month of January,” McClusky said. A Knights of Columbus/Marist poll from earlier in 2016 showed 62 percent of Americans opposing taxpayer funding of abortion.
That poll also demonstrated that 78 percent of respondents “support substantial restrictions on abortion” and want it limited to at least the first term of pregnancy.
Other bills that are expected soon include a pain-capable bill banning abortions when the unborn baby has been found to feel pain, at around 20 weeks of pregnancy. The House has previously passed a pain-capable bill and voted to defund Planned Parenthood, but both initiatives failed to receive the necessary votes to move through the Senate.
Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While the hustle and bustle of Christmas ends for many people on Dec. 26, throughout Christian history Christmas lasts for twelve days – all the way until Jan. 6.
This feast marking the end of Christmas is called “Epiphany.”
In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. It focuses primarily on this revelation to the Three Wise Men, but also in his baptism in the Jordan and at the wedding at Cana.
In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, Theophany – as Epiphany is known in the East – commemorates the manifestation of Jesus' divinity at his Baptism in the River Jordan.
While the traditional date for the feast is Jan. 6, in the United States the celebration of Epiphany is moved to the next Sunday, overlapping with the rest of the Western Church’s celebration of the Baptism of Christ.
However, the meaning of the feast goes deeper than just the bringing of presents or the end of Christmas, says Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, a Melkite Catholic priest and founding executive director of the Virginia-based Institute of Catholic Culture.
“You can't understand the Nativity without Theophany; or you can’t understand Nativity without Epiphany.” The revelation of Christ as the Son of God – both as an infant and at his baptism – illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas season, he said.
“Our human nature is blinded because of sin and we’re unable to see as God sees,” he told CNA. “God reveals to us the revelation of what’s going on.”
Origins of Epiphany
While the Western celebration of Epiphany (which comes from Greek, meaning “revelation from above”), and the Eastern celebration of Theophany (meaning “revelation of God”), have developed their own traditions and liturgical significances, these feasts share more than the same day.
“The Feast of Epiphany, or the Feast of Theophany, is a very, very early feast,” said Fr. Carnazzo. “It predates the celebration of Christmas on the 25th.”
In the early Church, Christians, particularly those in the East, celebrated the advent of Christ on Jan. 6 by commemorating Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. By the fourth century, both Christmas and Epiphany had been set as separate feasts in some dioceses. At the Council of Tours in 567, the Church set both Christmas day and Epiphany as feast days on the Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, respectively, and named the twelve days between the feasts as the Christmas season.
Over time, the Western Church separated the remaining feasts into their own celebrations, leaving the celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate primarily the Visitation of the Magi to see the newborn Christ on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, the Eastern Churches' celebration of Theophany celebrates Christ’s baptism and is one of the holiest feast days of the liturgical calendar.
The celebration of the visitation of the Magi – whom the Bible describes as learned wise men from the East – has developed its own distinct traditions throughout the Roman Church.
As part of the liturgy of the Epiphany, it is traditional to proclaim the date of Easter and other moveable feast days to the faithful – formally reminding the Church of the importance of Easter and the resurrection to both the liturgical year and to the faith.
Other cultural traditions have also arisen around the feast. Dr. Matthew Bunson, EWTN Senior Contributor, told CNA about the “rich cultural traditions” in Spain, France, Ireland and elsewhere that form an integral part of the Christmas season for those cultures.
In Italy, La Befana brings sweets and presents to children not on Christmas, but on Epiphany. Children in many parts of Latin America, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain also receive their presents on “Three Kings Day.”
Meanwhile, in Ireland, Catholics celebrate “Women's Christmas” – where women rest from housework and cleaning and celebrate together with a special meal. Epiphany in Poland is marked by taking chalk – along with gold, incense and amber – to be blessed at Mass. Back at home, families will inscribe the first part of the year, followed by the letters, “K+M+B+” and then the last numbers of the year on top of every door in the house.
The letters, Bunson explained, stand for the names traditionally given to the wise men – Casper, Melchior and Balthazar – as well as for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” or, “Christ, bless this house.”
In nearly every part of the world, Catholics celebrate Epiphany with a Kings Cake: a sweet cake that sometimes contains an object like a figurine or a lone nut. In some locations lucky recipient of this prize either gets special treatment for the day, or they must then hold a party at the close of the traditional Epiphany season on Feb. 2.
These celebrations, Bunson said, point to the family-centered nature of the feast day and of its original celebration with the Holy Family. The traditions also point to what is known – and what is still mysterious – about the Magi, who were the first gentiles to encounter Christ. While the Bible remains silent about the wise men’s actual names, as well as how many of them there were, we do know that they were clever, wealthy, and most importantly, brave.
“They were willing to take the risk in order to go searching for the truth, in what they discerned was a monumental event,” he said, adding that the Magi can still be a powerful example.
Lastly, Bunson pointed to the gifts the wise men brought – frankincense, myrrh and gold – as gifts that point not only to Christ’s divinity and his revelation to the Magi as the King of Kings, but also to his crucifixion. In giving herbs traditionally used for burial, these gifts, he said, bring a theological “shadow, a sense of anticipation of what is to come.”
Revelation of God
Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo explained to CNA the significance of the feast of the Theophany – and of Christ’s Baptism more broadly – within the Eastern Catholic churches.
“In our Christian understanding in the East, we are looking at creation through the eyes of God, not so much through the eyes of Man,” Fr. Carnazzo said.
In the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, he continued, there is special divine significance.
With this feast day, the pastor explained, “God has come to reclaim us for himself.” Because of original sin, he continued, humanity has inherited “a human nature which has been dislocated from its source of life.”
Sin also effected parts of creation such as water have also been separated from their purpose and connection to God’s plan for life, Fr. Carrazzo said, because its original purpose is not just to sustain our bodies, but our souls as well.
“With the fall, however, it has been dislocated from its source of life, it is under the dominion of death- it doesn’t have eternal life anymore. So God comes to take it to himself.”
“What Jesus did was to take our human nature and do with it what we could not do – which is, to walk it out of death, and that’s exactly what He did with His baptism.” As it is so linked to the destruction of death and reclaiming of life, the Feast of Theophany is also very closely linked to the Crucifixion – an attribute that is reflected in Eastern iconography of both events as well.
The feast of the Theophany celebrates not only Christ’s conquering of sin through baptism, but also God’s revelation of Christ as his Son and the beginning of Christ’s ministry. “The baptism of the Lord, just like the Nativity, is not just a historical event: it’s a revelation,” Fr. Carrazzo said.
To mark the day, Eastern Catholics begin celebrations with Divine Liturgy at the Church, which includes a blessing of the waters in the baptistry. After the water is blessed, the faithful drink the water, and bring bottles of water to bring back to their homes for use and not only physical but spiritual healing, he explained. Many parishes hold feasts after Liturgy is over. In many Middle Eastern cultures, people also fry and eat awamat – dough that is fried until it floats, and then is covered in honey.
During the Theophany season, priests also try to visit each home in the parish to bless the house with Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany. Fr. Carrazzo invited all Roman Catholics to come and become familiar, “to be part of a family” and join in celebrating Eastern Catholic traditions.
Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The year 2016 marked a major decline in the number of executions and sentences to capital punishment in the United States, a new report says.
Last year there were 20 executions in the U.S., the lowest level in 25 years. The peak was in 1999, when 98 persons were executed.
Thirty death sentences were imposed in 2016, the lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. In 1996, death penalty sentences peaked at 315.
“America is in the midst of a major climate change concerning capital punishment. While there may be fits and starts and occasional steps backward, the long-term trend remains clear,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Dec. 16.
“Whether it’s concerns about innocence, costs, and discrimination, availability of life without parole as a safe alternative, or the questionable way in which states are attempting to carry out executions, the public grows increasingly uncomfortable with the death penalty each year,” Dunham said.
You will find more statistics at Statista
Georgia had nine executions, Texas seven, Alabama two, and one each in Missouri and Florida, the report from the Death Penalty Information Center said.
The report charged that those executed in 2016 largely represented defendants with mental health problems, inadequate legal representation, or insufficient judicial review.
Sixty percent of the 20 people executed last year showed “significant evidence” of mental illness, brain impairment or low intellectual functioning.
The popularity of the death penalty also hit new lows.
The Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of Americans favored capital punishment for convicted murderers, an apparent one-year drop of seven percentage points, and down from a peak of 80 percent in 1995. About 42 of Americans said they opposed it, according to a 2016 poll.
Voters in three states voted to retain the death penalty or place it in the state constitution. However, the report said local elections showed support for prosecutor candidates who are less aggressive in pursuing the death penalty.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, factors contributing to the decline of executions included pharmaceutical industry measures to prevent states from using their drugs for use in executions and European Union regulations to prevent export of the drugs. A court order also directed the Food and Drug Administration to prevent the illegal importation of execution drugs.
Minneapolis, Minn., Jan 5, 2017 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two Minnesota parents are facing charges of child neglect after they prayed over their severely ill son rather than seeking medical attention just prior to the child’s death.
A criminal complaint says the couple, Sarah Johnson, 38, and Timothy Johnson, 39, found their son Seth, 7, unresponsive and covered in vomit one morning in March 2015.
The parents told authorities they had decided to pray over Seth and treat him with vitamins and honey the night before his death rather than call 911 because they had “issues with doctors.”
The Johnsons said in social media postings that have since been deleted that they relied on their strong faith to overcome their son’s death, according to local news reports.
But should the Johnson’s attempt to use a religious freedom defense in court, it almost certainly will fail, a legal counselor told CNA.
“No religious freedom statute or law has ever been successfully used in that way,” said Kellie Fiedorek, who serves as legal counsel for the group Alliance Defending Freedom.
“First of all, both child abuse and domestic abuse are both crimes, and those who engage in that kind of behavior will be prosecuted,” Fiedorek said.
“And secondly, the government has a well-documented compelling interest in ensuring that children are safe and protected...so that will always supersede any religious teaching or religious belief or any kind of belief that would try to allow that kind of abuse or contact to happen,” she added.
Religious freedom jurisprudence considers the government's “compelling interest” as one of several factors in determining if the right to religious liberty is being exercised properly or abused.
Autopsy reports state that the child was suffering from numerous medical ailments including open sores and bruises all over his body. According to court documents, in the weeks leading up to his death, Seth had stopped sleeping, took hours to eat meals, and would occasionally shake and throw himself down the stairs. His cause of death was listed as pancreatitis and possible sepsis.
Seth first joined the family as a foster child at the age of 3, and was adopted by the Johnson’s when he was 4. Prior medical records showed that Seth was a healthy and “thriving” child with no pre-existing conditions.
In a statement, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said despite a yearlong investigation, Seth’s illness and death could not be linked to the actions or inactions of the Johnsons.
Therefore, the highest possible charge authorities were able to bring against the Johnsons was one charge each of child neglect resulting in substantive bodily harm, which would result in a gross misdemeanor.
Washington D.C., Jan 5, 2017 / 01:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Church can be a force for healing race relations, said the U.S. bishops’ task force on racism and peace in a newly released report.
“We find ourselves at a critically important moment for our individual communities and our nation as a whole,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta said in the report’s introduction. “The Church has a tremendous opportunity and, we believe, an equally tremendous responsibility to bring people together in prayer and dialogue, to begin anew the vital work of fostering healing and lasting peace.”
Efforts to “root out racism” and “create healthy dynamics in our neighborhoods” are long-term projects, said the archbishop, who had served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004.
He wrote the introduction to the report of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, released Jan. 5.
The report follows several high-profile incidents in past months in which African-American men died during encounters with police officers. Several deadly ambushes of police officers also added to tensions.
“A statement from the full body of bishops on racism is more important than ever,” the report said.
The task force had held listening sessions with bishops from communities that had suffered violence and unrest. It interviewed key individuals including law enforcement and a student who demonstrated in Ferguson, Missouri and Charleston, S.C.
The task force said prayer is essential. It encouraged bishops to initiate opportunities to pray for peace in their communities throughout the year at Masses, rosaries, and interreligious work. It recommended dialogues with local community members, including religious leaders, law enforcement officers and youth, about issues that move towards concrete action. The task force also discussed funding opportunities for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Archbishop Gregory chaired the task force with several other bishops. He had summarized the report in a presentation at the U.S. bishops’ fall general assembly.
“The Church is at her absolute best when she is a bold and prophetic voice for the power of the love upon which our faith is based, the love of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said.
The report included the Prayer for Peace in Our Communities, released in September 2016.
“Fill us with your mercy so that we, in turn, may be merciful to others,” the prayer asks God. “Strip away pride, suspicion, and racism so that we may seek peace and justice in our communities.”
“Surrounded by violence and cries for justice, we hear your voice telling us what is required: ‘Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God’.”
Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan 5, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A lawmaker in Utah says the damage internet pornography can cause means people should be able to sue pornography companies.
“To pretend that this is not having any impact on our youth, on children’s minds as they’re developing, as their attitudes towards sex and the opposite sex are being formed, I think is foolish,” Utah State Sen. Todd Weiler said, according to the Utah news site KSL.com.
Weiler has proposed to allow lawsuits against companies that put pornography on the internet. He especially aims to aid underage children and teens who become addicted to pornography.
He compared the proposal to the 70 years of legal action taken against tobacco companies.
“I’m concerned that the average age of first exposure to hardcore sex videos on the Internet is now the age of 11,” he said.
“It’s not government coming in and saying what you can and can't watch. It’s just basically a message to the pornography industry that if someone in Utah can prove damages from the product, that they may be held liable financially.”
The legislator said the first 30 cases brought under the proposal would likely not win. He thought lawsuits would eventually succeed.
He is also authoring a bill to help public libraries filter pornography on Wi-Fi connections.
Weiler sponsored a resolution the Utah legislature passed in March 2016 that recognized pornography as “a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.”
The resolution charged that pornography perpetuates “a sexually toxic environment” and contributes to the “hyper-sexualization” of young children and teens. It cited pornography’s potential impact on brain development and functioning, its potential to harm users’ ability to form intimate relationships, and its potential to lead to “problematic or harmful sexual behaviors and addiction.” The resolution charged that pornography “treats women and children as objects.”
The legislature said that pornography has a detrimental effect on the family linked to “lessening desire in young men to marry, dissatisfaction in marriage, and infidelity.”
San Diego, Calif., Jan 5, 2017 / 12:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- January 21. That’s the date when Californians will come together at three events across the state for pro-life advocacy and encouragement.
San Diego will host its Fifth Annual Walk for Life in the historic Balboa Park at 6th and Laurel at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 21. The event theme is “Real People, Real Stories.”
Speakers include Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego; communicator and Oklahoma Wesleyan University professor Dr. Marc Newman; Patti J. Smith of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign; Catholic priest Fr. Augustinos Torres; and Rev. Dr. Andrew Cuneo of St. Katherine of Alexandria Orthodox Church of Carlsbad, Calif.
The free San Diego event will also include Christian worship music, exhibitors, a one-mile full walk starting at the park’s Founder’s Plaza, and an optional short walk of one-quarter mile. The event website is sandiegowalkforlife.org.
In Los Angeles, the city’s Jan. 21 pro-life event OneLife LA will start at the historic La Placita Olvera church at 12 p.m. with a walk to City Hall.
At City Hall at 1:30 p.m., attendees will hear featured speakers like Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza, Telenovela star and co-founder of the Vida Initiative Karyme Lozano, author and speaker Chris Stefanick, exonerated death row inmate Kirk Bloodsworth, and musician and speaker Christopher Duffley. Food will be available for purchase.
A 5 p.m. Requiem Mass for the Unborn will be said at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
One Life LA’s website is oneLifeLA.org.
In San Francisco, the Walk for Life West Coast will meet at Civic Center Plaza. A Silent No More Awareness Campaign will begin at 10:45 a.m., while information booths for pro-life groups will open at 11 a.m.
A pro-life rally will begin at 12:30. Speakers include Pam Tebow, mother of college football star Tim Tebow; Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women’s Rights without Frontiers; abortion survivor Melissa Ohden; and Pastor Clenard Childress, Jr. of BlackGenocide.org.
The Walk for Life West Coast website is www.walkforlifewc.com.
Washington D.C., Jan 4, 2017 / 07:38 pm (CNA).- While the number of Americans who describe themselves as Christians has declined in recent years, more than 9 in 10 members of Congress profess to be adherents of the faith.
A strong 91 percent of incoming Members of Congress describe themselves as Christian, an analysis of the 115th Congress has said.
About 67 percent of Republicans in Congress are Protestant, while 27 percent are Catholic. Among Democrats, 42 percent are Protestant and 37 percent are Catholic.
The Pew Research Center analyzed religious self-identification in Congress using data from CQ Roll Call and compared it to its own studies of American religious self-identification.
Only about 21 percent of Americans as a whole identify as Catholic, while 71 percent of Americans identify as Christian, according to the Pew Research Center.
Among Protestant Members of Congress, Baptists had the largest denominational representation, numbering 72. They were followed by Methodist, Anglican/Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran.
Only two of the 293 Republicans in the new Congress are non-Christian, both of them being Jewish. Of the 242 Democrats, 28 are Jewish, three Buddhist, three Hindu, two Muslim, and one Unitarian Universalist. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is the only Member of Congress to self-describe as religiously unaffiliated, while 10 Democrats declined to state any religious affiliation.
The religiously unaffiliated are the most underrepresented in Congress. While the Pew Research Center says about 23 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, they make up only 0.2 percent of Congress.
In the 87th Congress, which met from 1961 to 1962, 95 percent of members identified as Christian. That body was 75 percent Protestant and only 19 percent Catholic. In the new Congress, 56 percent of members are Protestant and 31 percent Catholic.
Washington D.C., Jan 4, 2017 / 04:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Abuses and possibly criminal violations are occurring in the fetal tissue trade between abortion clinics and tissue harvesters, concluded the special House panel investigating the matter on Wednesday.
“It is my hope that our recommendations will result in some necessary changes within both the abortion and fetal tissue procurement industries,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), chair of the House Select Investigative Panel, said upon release of the panel's final report.
“Our hope is that these changes will both protect women and their unborn children, as well as the integrity of scientific research,” she said.
The investigative panel released its 471-page final report Wednesday. This came weeks after Democrats on the panel released their 112-page report claiming that Planned Parenthood was not guilty of any wrongdoing and that the panel's investigations into the fetal tissue trade were hindering positive benefits from research conducted on fetal tissue.
In the summer of 2015, the investigative group Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover interviews conducted with high-ranking Planned Parenthood officials and current and former members of tissue procurement companies.
The videos showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing clinics' roles in the transfer of fetal tissue of aborted babies to tissue companies for reimbursement.
Fetal tissue may be used for purposes like medical research but in abortions it must be obtained with the consent of the mother and may not be transferred for “valuable consideration,” but only for “reasonable” compensation for costs like operating and transfer.
The House launched investigations into the situation to see if laws had been broken by tissue companies or abortion clinics. In October, the House voted to bring about the Select Investigative Panel to look into the matter further. Rep. Blackburn was picked to chair the panel.
Wednesday's report summarized various findings of the panel over the last year, from investigations and testimony in the fetal tissue trade, that resulted in the panel making over a dozen criminal and regulatory referrals.
Consent forms to use the remains of the aborted child for research were allegedly not obtained from mothers by abortion clinics.
One of the panel's hearings “revealed substantial concern about the consent process for the donation of human fetal tissue used by abortion clinics and tissue procurement businesses (TPBs),” the report stated. “Evidence revealed that self-interested staff, whose pay depends on the numbers of specimens donated, were assigned to obtain consent from patients.”
Violations of privacy were also found by the panel to have allegedly occurred in transactions between abortion clinics and tissue procurement companies.
The possibly illegal exchanges of a patient’s health information between abortion clinics and the tissue procurement company StemExpress violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the report said, and the panel referred the matter to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Also, the University of New Mexico established a relationship with a nearby abortion clinic that could have violated federal and state laws, the panel alleged.
The clinic, Southwestern Women's Options, was said to provide fetal tissue to the university for research as students and fellows performed abortions at the clinic. Clinic abortionists were reportedly given “volunteer faculty” status at the university where they benefited from things like insurance coverage and access to school facilities yet did not have to teach classes.
This was “giving their relationship the components of an exchange of fetal tissue for valuable consideration,” the report stated.
Also, “the close relationship” enabled various alleged abuses to occur, like “allegations of shoddy clinical practices, including failure to utilize a consent form for fetal tissue donation and improperly combining consent for tissue donation with consent for the underlying abortion procedure,” the report noted.
Other abuses the panel alleged had to do with clinics and tissue harvesters illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. In one case, a Planned Parenthood clinic and the tissue procurement company claimed the same expenses in tissue transactions, although only one party seemingly would be able to claim the operating costs so as not to illegally profit from the transaction.
Planned Parenthood for America officials also admitted to not following the organization's own internal procedures on fetal tissue transactions, and on abortionists affirming they had not illegally altered the abortion procedure for harvesters to more easily obtain intact tissue.
Also on Wednesday, the pro-life research group Charlotte Lozier Institute and the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom released a report of their own relying on dozens of audits of Planned Parenthood clinics and state family planning programs.
The report alleged “waste, fraud, and abuse” in Planned Parenthood's participation in Medicaid billing, resulting in clinics over-billing over $130 million in Medicaid and other public health funding.
Rep. Blackburn concluded her time as the panel's chair by thanking her fellow pro-life members. “It was an honor to Chair the Select Investigative Panel. I want to thank my colleagues who are strong pro-life leaders and have worked tirelessly over the past year,” she said Wednesday.
Other panel members insisted that the report’s recommendations – like ensuring that informed consent is obtained before tissue procurement and that privacy of medical information is respected – should be followed. Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) stated that “we must protect the unborn, and every citizen’s God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Atlanta, Ga., Jan 3, 2017 / 07:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An amendment from the 1870s that was once used to target Catholics is now being invoked in Georgia once again to challenge a scholarship program allowing children to attend religious schools.
And the use of the amendment is deeply unacceptable, religious freedom advocates say.
“Georgia’s program is helping low-income children. It would be a terrible mistake to use a bigoted law from the nineteenth century to hurt schoolchildren today,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief supporting the state’s program in December.
“This law is a ghost from Georgia’s past. It shouldn’t be dredged up to haunt education in Georgia today,” Windham continued.
In 2008, Georgia established the GOAL Scholarship Program, funded by voluntary taxpayer donations, for students to attend private and religious schools. The donations are tax-deductible dollar-for-dollar up to a certain amount – $1,000 for single filers, or $2,500 for a married couple filing jointly.
The program helps children of low-income families attend private schools they otherwise might not be able to afford, Becket Fund says.
In January of 2016, the state hit its cap in taxpayer donations for private school scholarships on the first day, for the second year in a row, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported.
However, opponents have challenged that program in court on the grounds that it violates the state’s constitution. The case is currently before the state’s Supreme Court.
The constitutional clause in question is the state’s version of the Blaine Amendment, which dates all the way back to the 1870s.
Named after then-Speaker of the House James Blaine, the Blaine Amendment was originally intended to bar Catholic schools from receiving state funding, instead of the largely Protestant public school system. It was part of the anti-Catholic fervor of the time.
Efforts to pass it at the federal level failed in 1875 but around 41 states – including Georgia – have their own versions of the Blaine Amendment, Diana Verm, legal counsel for the Becket Fund, told CNA.
Georgia’s constitution states that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution.”
The amendment was “passed at a time of overwhelming animus toward Catholics,” Verm said, and it was passed with the intent to discriminate against Catholics.
Today, it is invoked on secularist grounds in many states to prohibit religious institutions – schools, charities, and hospitals – from receiving government funds. Its supporters claim that such funding violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which forbids Congress from making “no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
State laws should be “neutral towards religion” Verm argued, and should not actively discriminate against religious institutions.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a four-person plurality opinion in Mitchell v. Helms, stated that “Consideration of the [Blaine] amendment arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general, and it was an open secret that ‘sectarian’ was code for ‘Catholic.’”
“In short, nothing in the Establishment Clause requires the exclusion of pervasively sectarian schools from otherwise permissible aid programs, and other doctrines of this Court bar it,” the justices continued. “This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now.”
Dallas, Texas, Jan 3, 2017 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal judge has ruled against the Obama administration’s mandate that health professionals must carry out gender reassignment surgeries, even if they have medical or religious objections.
“The regulation not only forces healthcare professionals to violate their medical judgment, it requires them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs,” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas said in a Dec. 31 decision granting a temporary injunction against the Obama administration.
“Tragically, the regulation would force them to violate those religious beliefs and perform harmful medical transition procedures or else suffer massive financial liability,” the judge added.
Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, discrimination on the basis of sex is explicitly barred for some federally funded health care programs. The Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services ruled that the provision bans discrimination on the basis of “termination of pregnancy.” The agency also said discrimination on the basis of gender identity is a form of sex discrimination.
Critics of the mandate argue that there are many reasons that a doctor might decline to perform gender reassignment surgeries, including purely medical reasons. Doctors must be free to exercise their judgement in deciding the medically appropriate course of action.
Several studies have found that the majority of children experiencing gender dysphoria will outgrow it by adulthood.
“Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood,” found a report by the science and technology journal The New Atlantis.
Furthermore, it added, “compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.”
Johns Hopkins University, once a pioneer in sex reassignment surgery, has since ended the practice, finding that it was actually damaging to those who undergo it.
The plaintiffs challenging the rule included the Christian Medical and Dental Association and the Franciscan Alliance, which is a hospital network founded by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. The states of Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kentucky and Kansas also joined the suit.
Judge O’Connor sided with the plaintiffs, saying that the new law used the term “sex” to refer to “the binary, biological differences between males and females.” Before the passage of the 2010 law, he said, “no federal court or agency had concluded sex should be defined to include gender identity.”
The judge said the plaintiffs presented “concrete evidence to support their fears that they will be subject to enforcement under the Rule.”
He contended that the case was in essence a question of whether the Department of Health and Human Services can redefine the term “sex” and impose “massive new obligations” on healthcare professionals and U.S. states.
Matt Sharp, legal counsel with the religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom, said the ruling was in line with previous court decisions against Obama administration efforts to require individuals and institutions to provide procedures and surgeries that violate their deeply held beliefs.
The decision indicated the court believes the Obama administration “has been essentially rewriting federal law,” Sharp told CNA Jan. 3.
Others had filed challenges against the same federal rule.
On Dec. 29 the Diocese of Fargo and the Catholic Benefits Association, which includes 880 Catholic hospitals, filed a lawsuit against the rule, also charging that it would force doctors and hospitals to perform abortions.
Their suit, filed in North Dakota District Court, characterized the rule as part of a “multi-agency effort to redefine the term ‘sex’ in federal anti-discrimination laws.”
“Catholic hospitals provide compassionate care to everyone, regardless of status. Patients experiencing gender dysphoria deserve no less,” said Douglas Wilson, chief executive of the Catholic Benefits Association. “The prime ethic of any healthcare provider is do no harm. These regulations do the opposite.”
The Obama administration has sought to include gender identity as a class prohibited by sex discrimination in other rules and agencies.
A May 2016 Department of Education directive that public schools should allow students to use the bathroom that matched their self-declared gender identity was blocked after 13 states sued.
Sharp noted that Judge O’Connor had previously ruled against Obama administration rules on schools and gender identity.
“When Congress spoke it was clear they had in mind the biological differences between males and females when they talked about banning sex discrimination,” Sharp told CNA.
Washington D.C., Jan 3, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that women who get abortions show no signs of increased mental health problems after having an abortion – and that in fact, it's women who are denied an abortion that suffer more greatly.
But pro-life organizations and other researchers have responded that the study doesn't show the whole picture, and that these findings don't mean that women don't regret their abortions. They also counter that similar studies involving an exorbitantly higher number of women have shown the opposite results, and that everything needs to be taken into account.
“I confess I'm not that surprised at what it uncovered, and it's important for abortion opponents to neither instantly vilify the study nor to fear what it can tell us,” Mark Regnerus, associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin told CNA.
“A sober assessment is in order.”
The study, called the “Turnaway Study” was conducted by researchers from University of California – San Francisco and tracked 956 women from 21 states for more than five years. The women – all of whom had sought abortion – were interviewed once a week after seeking out an abortion, and then every six months for that five year period.
Antonia Biggs and Diana Greene Foster, two of the researchers who wrote the study, told CNA in a statement that in their study, women who were denied abortions had more mental health repercussions – like anxiety, lower self-esteem and less life satisfaction, in the short-term than women who had abortions. The study also found that by six months these rates of mental health consequences were similar. Both groups of women had “ similar levels of depressive symptoms over the entire five year period,” of the study the researchers commented.
“We found no evidence of increases in mental health problems after having an abortion,” they added.
Critics, however, say that the relatively short length of the study doesn’t account for women who come regret their abortion many years later, nor does it mean that a lack of depression or other mental health effects means that women don’t experience regret.
Ana-Maria Dumitru, director of Medical Students For Life, told CNA that other studies have come to opposite conclusions. Dumitru pointed to a study by Dr. D Paul Sullins of the Catholic University of America published earlier in 2016 followed more than 8,000 women for over 13 years.
“The Sullins study confirmed that even after controlling for over twenty possible variables, there's still a clear, significant increase in the relative risk of mental health disorders for women who have abortions.” These risks, she added were compared to both live birth and miscarriage outcomes. Other studies from New Zealand and Norway also showed similar increased risks of mental health issues for women who have abortions, she added.
Regnerus helped explain some of the design of the study to CNA. He said that while abortion is not his area of study, there were some reasonable interpretations and qualifications to be made of the findings from a social sciences perspective. He said the basic design of the study was “competent,” since the researchers were able to track nearly 1,000 women over the five-year time span, and that the findings were “illuminating.”
He added that it’s reasonable to expect that women who do not see abortion as wrong would experience abortion differently. “Some, of course, may come to think differently about their abortion weeks, months, or even years later. Others seem not to,” he said.
Regnerus also noted that “no study can do it all,” and that there are some indirect effects between abortion and emotional consequences that the study could not assess. The professor also pointed out that regret and depression “are two different things,” and the study doesn’t delve into women’s regret about their abortions “and that's fine because it's not a study of regret.”
The professor also pointed to flaws in the study that might be overlooked by most casual readers. Regnerus noted that there was “a good deal of sample selection bias – only 32 percent of women approached actually participated, leaving us to wonder if there are differences between they and the 68 percent who didn't.”
Furthermore, the study was unable to keep track of 42 percent of the original participants. Regnerus added that while these kinds of sample selection bias and challenges in collecting data are difficult to avoid in studies, particularly on a subject like abortion, they do introduce unknowns into the study.
Regnerus said that the study's focus on near-term emotions such as anxiety or self-esteem “are too tangled up in the emotions of the event, the circumstances surrounding pursuing an abortion,” and said he thought it was a “leap for the authors to draw sensible conclusions” from such data.
What was more noteworthy, he commented was the study’s tracking of depression over the five year period, which remained constant. “The ability to track the direct effect of abortion on depression longer-term,” he noted, “is this study's contribution.”
“It is unreasonable to presume that every abortion conducted in the United States – and elsewhere, for that matter – will make the woman who sought it troubled or sad over the long run,” Regnerus added.
“It does for plenty, no doubt. We hear about it. On the other hand, we hear of accounts to the contrary.”
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life said that in her experience, even in cases where there is regret and suffering, those feelings can lead to more positive states of healing.
“Abortion takes the life of one and often wounds the life of another,” Mancini told CNA. “Some women only come to discover such deep wounds after many years, sometimes decades,” she said, pointing out again that the study only covered a five-year span.
“My personal experience in working with women who regret abortion is that when a woman honestly faces the truth of what’s happened, she suffers tremendously, but this in turn is the first step to finding real and lasting hope and healing.”
Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 2, 2017 / 07:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For the estimated 5,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, parish participation can be difficult.
From homilies to retreats, normal Church events can be inaccessible to those with auditory disabilities, unless specific accommodations are made in advance.
Dr. Tomas Garcia Jr., who has been deaf since childhood, knows these challenges well.
And now, he’s helping shed light on some of those challenges in his ministry as one of the newest deacons for the archdiocese.
Deacon Garcia is the director of ministries at Holy Angels Catholic Church of the Deaf in Vernon, California. In addition, he is an associate professor of American Sign Language at East Los Angeles College.
He is also bilingual and as a permanent deacon will be able to reach out to serve other Catholics with auditory disabilities in Los Angeles.
“I was born with a hearing loss and progressively began losing more at a rapid pace,” he told CNA. “By the time I reached school age, I was profoundly deaf.”
While his family grieved when they learned of his disability, Deacon Garcia believes it brought them all closer to God.
At eight years old, Deacon Garcia attended Bible study classes with his grandmother.
“I always thought she was also taking me because she wanted me to recover from my hearing loss,” he said.
“Eventually, I realized she saw that I had the call.”
That call was fulfilled in June, when Archbishop José H. Gomez ordained Garcia and 12 other men to the deaconate.
“The deacon is service sacramentalized,” said Dr. William J, Shaules, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ associate coordinator for diaconate formation.
“Deacon Garcia and his wife have heightened our awareness of service to the deaf community. Not only what it means, but what it actually looks like.”
Deacon Garcia interprets the liturgy in American Sign Language, Spanish, and English for parishioners. Before his ordination, he interpreted for priests during workshops, blessings, and retreats.
Holy Angels Catholic Church of the Deaf works to serve the needs of those with auditory disabilities. Latinos make up 95 percent of its parishioners. Most of these families are monolingual speakers of Spanish.
The parish is one of the few places Spanish-speaking parents and their deaf children can go to Mass together and all understand the liturgy.
“There’s a great need for the deaf faithful to experience the Sacraments in their own language,” Deacon Garcia said.
He recalled going to a youth retreat at the parish when he was in high school. Before attending, he could only follow the liturgy by reading the Roman Missal. When he saw two priests at the retreat sign with American Sign Language, he said, “I could laugh and cry, and truly feel as I belong to this community we call the Body of Christ.”
Though a parish may have a sign language interpreter during the Mass, Deacon Garcia said, “at Holy Angels Catholic Church of the Deaf, everyone signs.”
“The deaf feel at home and they can form loving, lasting relationships with members of their community through a common language.”
In 2005, Deacon Garcia received his first cochlear implant and in 2010, his second. He made it a point, “to participate in the Spanish track and to try to do so without an interpreter.”
Eventually, Deacon Garcia learned to participate in a Spanish program and not rely on an interpreter. He is now able to help parishioners feel more comfortable receiving some of the sacraments in American Sign Language or Spanish.
The parish also streams the Liturgy of the Word online, to accommodate people in the archdiocese and around the nation.
Pope Francis drew attention to persons with disabilities at the Vatican’s Jubilee for the Sick and Disabled, held June 9-12.
“People with disabilities are a gift for the family and an opportunity to grow in love, mutual aid and unity,” the Pope tweeted for the occasion.
Deacon Garcia said the Pope’s jubilee was “a powerful testament to remind ourselves of the need to reach out and ‘encounter’ those on the margin of society, or even, at the margin of our parishes.”
He explained that many of those who are deaf have not seen God’s mercy and grace made visible; many struggle with their deaf identity; and many experience discrimination in all forms.
“These people,” he said, “need to be comforted, healed and strengthened by the Eucharist…something that can happen if people reach out to them and invite them into the Father’s home.”
This article was originally published on CNA June 19, 2016.
Denver, Colo., Jan 2, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square and around their television sets to pray for Pope John Paul II as he passed away on April 2, 2005. They remembered the more than 26 years he served as the Holy Father; the courage he had in fighting communism; his immense love; and his adventurous spirit.
But that was eleven years ago.
The generations of young people who grew up during the papacies of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis might only know St. John Paul II for his canonization, which took place April 27, 2014.
The recent documentary Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism hopes to educate these younger generations on the heroic life of the Roman Pontiff – telling the stories they cannot find in their textbooks.
“One of the reasons we set out to make this film is to kind of cement the legacy of Pope John Paul II,” David Naglieri, the film’s writer and director, told CNA.
“There’s a generation now that’s graduating college, entering the workforce, that didn’t necessarily live through all these events with the fall of Communism. Perhaps they didn’t … have the chance to see Pope John Paul II in person.”
Like a real life super-hero movie, the 90-minute film focuses on the saint’s role as an integral part in the fall of communism in central and eastern Europe – except St. John Paul II did not use destructive weapons to take down some of the world’s toughest leaders.
Rather, he used prayer and solidarity to encourage those oppressed by communism in Poland to keep their hope and will alive.
According to Naglieri, this documentary is unlike any other John Paul II film.
“What helps separate our film from past works is that we looked at the entire span of central and eastern Europe and how his message not just impacted Poland, but other countries as well,” he said.
“And then we tried to connect it to the modern day and to see how John Paul’s legacy continues to impact those who are striving for freedom in Europe.”
The film reveals the events in St. John Paul II's life through a timeline, which helps show how God’s providence guided the saint his entire life.
The late Pope grew up in Krakow, and became its archbishop in 1964. The documentary explains how he returned to the city for nine days in 1979, the year after his election as Bishop of Rome, instead of his intended two.
An interview in the documentary with Dr. Norman Davies, a historian of Poland, explains how the government’s distribution of antennas during the 1980 Olympic games led to the spreading of St. John Paul II’s message behind the Iron Curtain.
The film even tells the story of how President Reagan and the Pope met six days before the president’s famous ‘tear down this wall’ speech in 1987.
Filled with striking stories and interviews such as these, the documentary shows who truly held the power during this difficult time in the world’s history.
Naglieri said the film was an 18-month project from beginning to end, and that “we traveled to Poland and other central European countries several times during the making of it. ”
The documentary features interviews with Reagan’s National Security Advisor from 1981-82, the Prime Minister of Poland, the Archbishop of Lviv, a former Director of the Holy See Press Office, as well as journalists, historians, authors, and professors.
Narrating the documentary is Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Christ in Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’. Joe Kraemer, known for his work on multiple ‘Mission Impossible’ movies, composed the documentary’s original music.
This article was originally published on CNA June 15, 2016.
Denver, Colo., Dec 31, 2016 / 07:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
This quote from British author Evelyn Beatrice Hall (often misattributed to Voltaire) might sound rather foreign on many college campuses throughout the country today, who in many ways seem to prefer to be defended from the First Amendment rather than to defend it.
Earlier this year, students at Emory University in Atlanta protested that their safety was threatened by chalk messages showing support for Donald Trump for president. The president of the University agreed.
In early March, two student government representatives at Bowdoin College faced impeachment proceedings for attending a fiesta-themed party with mini sombreros, since the event was deemed an example of “ethnic stereotyping.”
In April, North Carolina’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest proposed a policy for the state’s public university system that would punish “those who interrupt the free expression of others," such as hecklers during a speech.
The rise of a culture designed to protect students from words and ideas that seem threatening has some experts questioning the effect that this hyper-sensitivity could be having on higher education and society at large.
Defining the terms
In a long-form piece in The Atlantic in Sept. 2015, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt explored this phenomenon that they dubbed “The Coddling of the American Mind.” Words like ‘microaggressions’, which are small, seemingly harmless words or actions that can be perceived as threatening, and ‘trigger warnings’, which are alerts that professors are expected to issue for potentially offensive or provocative material, haved moved from obscure terms to everyday language on campus, they said.
“This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion,” they wrote.
Another recent piece in the Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf explored a new scholarly paper by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, who say that this new cultural phenomenon is different from previous cultures that have come before it, such as cultures that valued dignity or honor when faced with an aggrievance.
Now, the new cultural norm is “victimhood culture”, which values immediately and publicly airing one’s grievances, in hopes to “provoke sympathy and antagonism” toward the initial offender by “advertising (one’s) status as an aggrieved party,” Friedersdorf wrote.
A Catholic college perspective
While many public universities are in the throes of grappling with the consequences of victimhood culture, some Catholic liberal arts schools say they have not seen the same cultural shift on their campuses.
Anne Forsyth is the Director of College Relations and Assistant to the President at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), a Catholic liberal arts school in Santa Paula, California. She said she found it concerning when, for the first time a few years ago, she started hearing about “free speech zones” on college campuses.
“I remember thinking 'What is this? The whole country is a free-speech zone, what are they talking about? This is America, we all have the freedom to speak'.”
But while she was aware of the culture of victimhood picking up speed on other college campuses, Forsyth said the student body of Thomas Aquinas seems to be untouched by the phenomenon.
“What we see here is endless conversation on all subjects, on which people can really disagree,” she said.
The reasons for the differences are complex, she added. One of the reason is the Christian faith of most of the students, she said, and that “where charity and love prevail, hopefully things will go a little bit better, so hopefully feelings won't be so hurt, people won't seem so doctrinaire, and those things are somewhat muted.”
Other reasons are likely the differences in pedagogy and curriculum, she said. Every class at TAC is in the form of a conversation-based seminar where the students are able to engage with their subjects on a level that wouldn’t be as possible in a large lecture class of hundreds of students, she said.
This engagement allows students to be able to grapple with differing opinions and ideas in ways that other students may not be being equipped to do, she said.
“I think it’s the advancing of an idea different or contrary to your own is what is triggering this (victimhood cultures), precisely because they just don't have the tools to deal with it,” she said.
The school also takes steps to reduce “emotional reasoning” in the classroom by requiring students to address each other during discussions as “Mr.” or “Miss”, she added.
“We're trying to minimize the personal part of it,” she said. “Not that everybody doesn't have a personal stake in these arguments or discussions, because we do, but we don't want to be personal about it in the point of feelings.”
Thomas Aquinas College also provides students with a classical education, with required courses in areas of philosophy, theology and literature that used to be the bread and butter of higher education.
What's God got to do with it?
Dr. William Fahey is the president of Thomas More College, a small, Catholic liberal arts school in New Hampshire. He said that the recent articles about “victimhood culture” are identifying something that’s been happening for several decades in higher education and the culture at large.
“If you have what Benedict XVI called ‘the emancipation of man from God’ in the public square, then it means certain things are going to be absent, certain things are going to become more prominent,” he said. “So if you're not allowed to talk about God at the center, then you can't have traditional ethics, you simply can't. You can't have virtue, you can't have justice, you can't have transcendent things because they actually require some sense of the transcendent.”
“So it’s no surprise if you have a college or university or a country where there is either no discussion allowed or a very perverse discussion of God allowed, you can't have ethics, you can't have real solidarity, because there's nothing that unites everyone,” he added.
If there is no God, Fahey said, then the only thing that matters is gaining power, and many students have realized the power that comes with claiming victimhood status in today’s world.
But like Thomas Aquinas College, the student body at Thomas More has also not experienced the cultural shift seen at larger public universities for various reasons.
“We have a very traditional Catholic culture here that unifies everyone and we have a sense of justice, so if someone actually feels aggrieved, the categories for understanding that are virtue ethics, you could only understand your irritation as something significant because you perceive there's a violation of justice here, not merely annoyance,” he said.
Thomas More College is also a unique model in that is has less than one hundred students, allowing the student body to become a very tight-knit Catholic community.
“It would be comical at Thomas More College to talk about being marginalized, because one small single Catholic community, we're united in our faith, so we're not going to be prey to the same kind of feeling of alienation that most people in modern society and certainly most college students feel,” he said.
Also similarly to Thomas Aquinas College, Thomas More requires students to take many courses in the humanities and literature, which allow them to see the world through many different perspectives, he said.
“Someone who might be feeling marginalized is going to have a tough time seeing that as significant when they're reading tragedy and hardship, vice and virtue, they're reading kind of the broad sweep of human experiences across many different time zones, many different cultures, many different races,” he said. “And you realize, ‘Huh, there is something called humanity, and it’s foolish to say I'm going to define myself and my actions by (a more narrow category).’”
A Catholic psychologist weighs in
Dr. Gregory Bottaro is a clinical psychologist practicing with Catholic Psych Institute in Connecticut. He said that while it’s necessary and important to recognize that some people have experienced real trauma in their lives, the solution is not to shut themselves off to any experience that might be uncomfortable for them.
“The reality is that real trauma happens,” he said. “If you have somebody who’s been raped and they’re hearing a story about (rape)...a trigger warning essentially can be a positive thing to give people a heads up that we’re approaching an area that may trigger something for you, but the fact of the matter is that we are going to approach it,” he said.
“So that’s the intent, to just give people the awareness that if there’s something here you may have struggled with, get ready, get yourself ready for what we’re about to do.”
But when awareness takes the form of censorship of differing opinions, then it’s gone too far, he said. For example, trigger warnings, which can be used as an appropriate way to alert someone that certain material may trigger something for them, are often used as an excuse to not engage with material at all.
“The problem is that people take them as permission to avoid or stay away from the material that’s being warned about,” he said.
One of the fundamental definitions of overall health, Dr. Bottaro added, is flexibility, and that applies whether one is referring to biological, physical, spiritual or emotional health.
“Flexibility is an intrinsic quality of overall health, and that means that you can have the ability to talk to different kinds of people, have different opinions, dialogue with different people with different perspectives or different cultural views, different world views, and that’s ultimately what’s healthy,” he said.
Therefore, the inability to handle differing opinions could be a sign of psychological sickness or disorder.
A Catholic worldview can be extremely helpful for people encountering differing ideas and opinions, because they are grounded in something fundamental, Dr. Bottaro said.
“A Catholic worldview gives us a stable foundation that goes to the very root of what it is to be human,” Dr. Bottaro said. “So if our foundation is at the deepest root, then we don’t have to be afraid to dialogue with other people from different perspectives, we don’t have to be afraid of what other people might say to us, because we’re grounded on the deepest foundation possible.”
“And that’s ultimately what’s missing in our culture, that’s why they need these safe spaces, because they don’t have any kind of deeply rooted foundation, they’re not grounded, and so they need to stop people from saying scary things because it’s going to knock them off balance,” he added.
Some secular universities and institutions are recognizing the “culture of victimhood” as a threat to the First Amendment right to the freedom of speech, and are taking action. A new group at Princeton University, called the “Princeton Open Campus Coalition”, wrote in an open letter to the University’s president that they “are concerned mainly with the importance of preserving an intellectual culture in which all members of the Princeton community feel free to engage in civil discussion and to express their convictions without fear of being subjected to intimidation or abuse.”
Arizona lawmakers also decided to take action against victimhood culture by passing a bill to prevent colleges and universities from restricting free speech in a public forum. The bill was signed into law in May.
However, Dr. Fahey said, until secular universities and society as a whole once again recognize God and some sense of the transcendent as the center, then there’s no way to escape the rising culture of victimhood as an institutionalized part of society.
“The culture of victimhood can't really come out of a religious society,” Dr. Fahey said.
“I would go so far as to say that if you have an authentically religious culture of any of the traditional religions, you're not going to have this sense of victimhood.”
“In the United States, the religious tradition is Christianity. If you don't recognize that and have some sympathy for the other great religions, then you're never going to escape this problem, instead you're going to build an office to deal with victimhood, and in that action, as long as you have that office, you’ve now made it part of your culture, you've now made it systemic.”
This article was originally published on CNA April 29, 2016.
Denver, Colo., Dec 30, 2016 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- It happened on the most ordinary day, in the most ordinary of places.
A woman stood by herself in the back of an airport lounge, flipping distractedly through a magazine while she waited for her flight. Suddenly, she was approached by a 5’0” woman in a blue and white sari.
“Hello. My name is Mother Teresa. I just wanted to give you my card.”
The religious sister passed her a business card and gave her hand a gentle squeeze before turning and boarding a flight. The woman stared at the card. And then, a smile.
This is one of hundreds of testimonies about the life and holiness of Mother Teresa of Calcutta included in the new book “A Call to Mercy” (Image, 2016). The 384-page book published just weeks ahead of the Calcutta sister’s Sept. 4 canonization.
The book gives an exclusive peek into the first and secondhand oral and written testimonies that built Mother Teresa’s cause for sainthood. In total, the sainthood cause for the Missionary of Charity foundress included 17 volumes – or nearly 7,000 pages – of testimonies.
Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause and editor of “A Call to Mercy,” told CNA that such testimonies are typically unavailable to the public for decades following a canonization.
“This is the first time we’re using testimonies like that in such an organized manner and such a large number,” said Fr. Kolodiejchuk. “All that material will be available maybe in another 50 years. But in the meantime, if you read the examples you’ll see just what Mother did.”
“Some of them are extraordinary, but for the most part Mother is doing ordinary things. Like she herself used to emphasize; Ordinary things with extraordinary love.”
Since Mother Teresa’s canonization coincided with Pope Francis’ Jubilee of Mercy, “A Call to Mercy” also has a special focus on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The book is divided into 14 chapters covering the 14 works of mercy. Each chapter includes a selection of Mother Teresa’s writings and testimonies related to a specific work of mercy.
“People will see – or have a good idea – firsthand or at least secondhand about how Mother herself lived the works of mercy,” Fr. Kolodiejchuk said.
A chapter on bearing wrongs patiently includes the testimony of a Missionary of Charity sister who was tasked with bringing Mother Teresa to the airport. The sister had just managed to usher Mother Teresa to the car when another sister ran to Mother Teresa and informed her that one of the children in their care was dying. The Missionary of Charity recalled being flooded with impatience.
“I’m not saying anything, but my body language, my tutting and sighing, says it all,” the sister recalls. “Mother…didn’t tell me off at all or point out my dreadful behavior. She just lovingly put her hand on my arm and said, ‘I will come, but I need to see this child’.”
Mother Teresa went to the child, a young baby, and prayed before tucking a Miraculous Medal into the child’s shirt. She then proceeded to the car to go to the airport.
“She didn’t point out how rude I was being; she embraced me and held me in my rudeness,” the sister reflected. “With all my faults, in that moment, she took care of me too.”
For many, the simplicity of this testimony and many others may come as a surprise. But not to Fr. Kolodiejchuk.
“Most of the examples…are just very ordinary,” Fr. Kolodiejchuk told CNA. “Almost all of them – we can do those kinds of things. The little thoughtfulness to your neighbor, paying attention to those in need, beginning in your own family.”
For Fr. Kolodiejchuk, the testimonies also paint a fuller picture of the simple affectivity of the saint, whom he knew personally and worked alongside for nearly two decades.
“Someone would meet Mother just once and it would change their life,” he told CNA. “Or they saw her walking by and it was a moment of conversion. She had this graced capacity to really affect people.”
“She radiated holiness and she had the witness of her life behind it.”
This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 25, 2016.
Washington D.C., Dec 30, 2016 / 10:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Maggie* was in high school, she stayed after class to talk to ask a teacher what to do about a very personal concern she felt her physician was not taking seriously.
What she learned led to the discovery of a brain tumor, and treatment for the growth, which had been affecting the teen for years. The tools she needed to find and treat this growth came from an awareness of her fertility and natural cycles.
“It wasn’t so much that I was trying to avoid pregnancy or get pregnant – it’s that there was something legitimately wrong with my body,” Maggie told CNA.
By the time she was in her late teens, Maggie had noticed that her cycles had never regulated, and had no idea what that meant except that it wasn't normal. While for the first years after a young woman begins to menstruate her cycles are of varying length and heaviness, they typically regulate within a few years. But several years after her own cycles began, Maggie was concerned that they never had settled into a normal pattern – in fact, she sometimes would have as few as one cycle a year. In addition, she also faced rounds of headaches.
One day, Maggie approached her college-level biology teacher, who also happened to be a practicing Catholic, looking for an explanation for her concerns and asking what to do. The teacher told her to ask her pediatrician, but also put her in touch with her church’s fertility instructor to see what could be done.
Maggie said her pediatrician immediately assumed that she was pregnant: an impossibility, because she was not sexually active. When the pregnancy tests came back negative, the doctor responded, “‘I don’t know what your problem is’ and brushed me off,” she recalled.
Meanwhile, the local parish’s natural family planning (NFP) instructor saw the teen’s distress and put her in touch with a Catholic fertility physician who could teach Maggie how to observe and chart the signs of her fertility.
“A sign of health in a woman is a normal, regular cycle,” Dr. Lorna Cvetkovich, a gynecologist and obstetrician at Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., explains. “We know what a normal cycle looks like,” she continued, “so at any time the parameters fall outside of those, then that’s a clue that maybe they’re not ovulating, they may have a luteal phase defect, they may have fibroids. It can show you all sorts of things.”
For women whose cycles fall within a normal range, normal bodily processes present themselves in a predictable pattern.
In the first part of a woman’s cycle, called the follicular phase, hormonal signals from the pituitary gland trigger the follicles (egg-containing structures within the ovaries) to prepare an egg for ovulation and to secrete estrogen into the woman’s body. This rise in estrogen levels triggers changes in the kind of fluid the cervix secretes, as well as thickening the uterine lining, making them more able to support the conception process.
After ovulation a woman's body secretes progesterone, which causes a sharp increase in a woman’s basal, or resting, body temperature, as well as a preparation of the uterine lining for possible implantation. If a pregnancy occurs, the basal body temperature and hormone levels may continue to rise, whereas if pregnancy does not happen, the resulting dip in hormones triggers a drop in temperature, menstruation, and the beginning of a new cycle.
In a healthy woman who is not pregnant, this cycle will repeat every 21-35 days.
These changes can be observed by any woman, and can be used by married couples as a valid method to achieve or delay pregnancy, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, which teaches that it is immoral to disrupt this natural cycle with the use of contraceptive pills, implants, barrier methods, or by having incomplete intercourse. Using these observations to help in the discernment of family size is known as natural family planning.
However, the same observations and data – commonly collected into charts for easier analysis – can be used to help diagnose gynecological issues such as ovarian cysts and growths in the uterus, called fibroids, as well as hormone deficiencies and other abnormalities affecting bodily functions. The information can also be essential in pinpointing issues surrounding pregnancy, such as the exact date of conception, infertility, and miscarriages.
This information is such a valuable insight into a patients health and symptoms – and an invaluable tool for doctors practicing reproductive medicine. “I just think it’s invaluable, and I don’t really know how people practice [gynecology] without having the charting,” said Cvetkovich. “There’s just so many uses, and it adds so much to your evaluation of the patient.”
Cycles and Diagnosis
Disorders in other bodily systems – such as the endocrine system – can manifest in a woman’s menstrual cycle and her chart. “Thyroid plays a role in almost every function of the body, so it may show up as a sign in the cycle,” explained Cvetkovich.
For Christine, charting her bodily signs helped her to catch an issue with her thyroid that might otherwise have been missed. After charting for four years, she started noticing that some months there was no ovulation that could be detected by temperature or with chemical tests for the hormones that trigger ovulation.
“I had what looked like a really long cycle, and then eventually, what to the uninformed observer would look to be a light period. But because I knew I hadn’t peaked, I was able to identify it as estrogen breakthrough bleeding and not a real cycle,” she explained.
“It seemed like my body was trying to ovulate, and not really getting there.”
She approached her doctor, explaining she was not ovulating and that she would like to find the cause for something that was out of the ordinary. The doctor then ordered comprehensive blood tests, and found that some of her thyroid-stimulating hormone levels were elevated beyond normal – in fact, her levels were twice as high s they had been a year ago.
After receiving treatment, her cycles returned to their normal pattern.
“I didn’t have a lot of signs or symptoms of hypothyroidism, aside from missing ovulation,” Christine noted, saying she wouldn't have picked up on the disorder had she not been charting. “ I wouldn’t have realized there was an issue,” Christine she added, reflecting on the fact that she probably would not have even received the treatment she needed.
“Whenever I’m sharing my experience with NFP with somebody, I’m always quick to point out not only all of the standard benefits, but that it enabled me to know my body and know there’s a problem that so many people wouldn’t be aware of."
How Fertility Awareness Helped to Find a Tumor
After a local NFP instructor put Maggie in touch with physicians familiar with fertility awareness, she became more aware of what was going on in her own body. She learned to observe her basal body temperature and cervical fluid signs – and noticed that while sometimes she had a more typical menstrual cycle and her chart showed the usual peaks and dips of a healthy young woman, at other times her cycle was irregular and her temperature was more elevated.
Even though she was not sexually active, “my body was acting like it was pregnant,” Maggie said. The doctors at the Catholic fertility clinic sent Maggie out for blood work, which showed a high level of prolactin – a hormone present during pregnancy and breastfeeding. She took this information back to her pediatrician, and then to an endocrinologist, who ordered an MRI scan of her brain.
“There was a tumor pressing into my pituitary, pressing into my frontal cortex,” Maggie explained.
“When I first heard the word ‘tumor’ I freaked out,” she related, but thankfully, “it wasn’t cancerous,” but a benign growth which explained both her irregular cycles and some of her headaches.
Maggie received the treatment she needed to shrink the tumor, and told CNA that “things are pretty much normal now.” While the tumor is still there – “it’ll never really go away, unless I get surgery," she related; “what’s happened at this point is that it’s checked.”
While since receiving treatment she has no need to monitor as rigorously all of her signs and symptoms, knowledge of her fertility and its signs has given Maggie tools she can use use if the tumor starts to grow again.
“I have this, and I know these are indicators to know [if] something is wrong with my prolactin.”
Fertility – 'A Public Health Issue'
Cvetkovich suggested this level of awareness can be useful for any woman looking to take care of their health.
“I think that anytime you put someone more in tune with your body, they’re just going to know that things are wrong earlier. I think that’s what it’s all about, knowing what’s normal for you, and being in tune with it.”
She commented that many of her fellow physicians, as well as the general public, have grown accustomed to relying on hormonal contraceptives to address disorders, a practice she said “makes people very distant from their bodies and from their cycles.”
“We’ve lost the idea that having a normal monthly cycle is health – that’s normal. Being fertile is normal. I think that’s where NFP brings us back to, really: to reality.”
Maggie agrees, saying that some of her initial struggle in receiving treatment was a result of people “missing the point that fertility isn’t sort of an accessory to being a human woman – it’s an integral part of how our bodies work.” Awareness of how women’s bodies work, and how to tell when they’re not working correctly, is important for everyone.
“It’s a public health issue.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
This article was originally published July 31, 2015.
Denver, Colo., Dec 29, 2016 / 02:32 pm (CNA).- What do a grilled cheese sandwich and the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe have in common?
Both bore what appeared to be images of Mary. One was determined to be authentically miraculous, the other was not. Not to spoil any secrets, but it’s not Our Lady of the Grilled Cheese that converted Mexico and continues to draw millions of people on pilgrimage every year.
But have you ever wondered just how the Church determines the bogus from the divinely appointed?
In his recent book, “Exploring the Miraculous,” Michael O’Neill gives readers a crash course of sorts in “Miracles 101” - including common questions about the importance of miracles, an explanation of the approval process, and descriptions of the various types of miracles found within the Catholic Church.
“This is a very rare book in that it tries to cover the entire spectrum of miracles within the Catholic Church,” O’Neill told CNA.
Catholics by definition are people who have to believe in at least two miracles, O’Neill said - that of Christ’s incarnation and his resurrection, two pillars on which the Catholic faith rests.
For modern-day miracles, belief is never required of the faithful. The highest recognition that the Church gives to an alleged miracle is that it is “worthy of belief.” Investigations of reported miraculous events – which include extensive fact-finding, psychological examination and theological evaluation – may result in a rejection if the event is determined to be fraudulent or lacking in super natural character.
Or the Church may take a middle road, declaring that there is nothing contrary to the faith in a supposed apparition, without making a determination on whether a supernatural character is present.
But while official investigations can take years, the mere report of a miracle can bring Catholics from long distances, hoping to see some glimpse of the divine reaching into the human.
And it’s not just the faithful who find miracles fascinating.
“It's important for atheists and skeptics, those people who don’t believe, they’ve got to have an explanation for the inexplicable,” he said. “There’s something for everyone.”
The universal nature of the experience of the miraculous is also what draws people from all belief spectrums to these stories, O’Neill added.
“We all pray for miracles of one sort or another. They can be these really sort of small things like praying for an impossible comeback in a football game, or it can be a lost wallet or wedding ring,” he said.
“But they can also be these really big things, such as our loved ones, they fall away from the faith and we want them to return, or somebody from our friends or our family is very sick and we desperately implore God’s help for them. It’s something that everybody experiences.”
O’Neills own fascination with miracles started in college, when for an archeology assignment he studied the miraculous tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Marian apparition to which he’d inherited his mother’s devotion. He had heard stories about miracles associated with the image, both from within his own family and from the larger Church, and he wondered how much truth there was to the tales.
He also started learning about the larger tradition of miracles within the Church, and was struck by how the Church has carefully investigated thousands of claims over the years, only to select certain ones that it eventually deems as of divine origin.
“I thought that was fascinating that the Church would stick its neck out and say these things are worthy of belief,” he said.
Although he continued his engineering studies throughout college, a piece of advice at graduation from Condoleezza Rice, who was serving as vice provost at Stanford University at the time, stayed with him.
“She asked what we were going to do after graduation, and her advice was to become an expert in something,” he said.
“And I thought about what would be a great thing to study? My mind went back to all those hours I’d spent in the library and my promise to return to it someday and I said you know what? I want to be the expert on miracles.”
For a while he kept his studies private - he didn’t want to be seen as the guy who was obsessed with weird things like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But eventually, he realized that many people were interested in miracles and found them helpful for their own faith.
“It’s a way that people feel connected to God, they know that God is a loving father watching out for them, so it’s one of those things - a miracle is a universal touchstone,” he said.
“No matter how strong we think our faith is or want it to be, we always want to know that God is there for us, and miracles are that sort of element that bridges the gap between our faith and our connection with God.”
In his book, O’Neill provides descriptions and examples of every basic category of miracle within the Catholic Church, including healing miracles from saints in the canonization process, biblical miracles, apparitions, locutions (audible messages from God or a saint), miraculous images, Eucharistic miracles, incorrupt bodies (those that either partially or fully do not decompose after death), and stigmata (the wounds of Christ appearing on some living people).
The most popular kind of miracle, and O’Neill’s personal favorite, are Marian apparitions - when Mary appears in a supernatural and corporeal way to a member of the faithful, most often with a message.
There have been about 2,500 claims of Marian apparitions throughout history, and a major one that many people are currently curious about are the alleged apparitions happening at Medjugorje, about which the Church has yet to make a definitive decision of validity. Curiosity about Marian apparitions was also a large part of what spurred O’Neill to create his website, miraclehunter.com, where he files information about miracles in their respective categories and provides information on their origin story and whether or not they have been approved by the Vatican.
“The Vatican didn’t have a resource where you can find out what’s approved and what’s not, and what messages are good for our faith and what ones we should stay away from, so I tried to create a resource for the faithful for that,” he said. He’s now been running the website for 15 years.
O’Neill also loves Eucharistic miracles, because unlike several other types of miracles, whose validity are largely determined by faithful and reliable witnesses, science can be applied.
“They can check to see if it’s really human blood, and what type of blood, and in some cases you have heart muscle in these hosts that have turned into true flesh,” he said.
One of O’Neill’s favorite Eucharistic miracles occurred in Argentina while Pope Francis was still a bishop there.
It was August of 1996, and a priest in Buenos Aires, Fr. Alejandro Pezet, discovered a host in the back of his church, and so he took it and placed it in some water in the tabernacle to dissolve it. Over the next few days, days he kept an eye on it, and it grew increasingly red. The priest decided to present the case to Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, who ordered that the host be professionally photographed and eventually examined by a scientist in the U.S., who was not told the origin of the specimen he was testing.
The tests showed the sample to be heart muscle with blood type AB, the same blood type found on the Shroud of Turin.
“The scientist was an atheist and he said, why did you send me this heart muscle, what was the point of this? And they said it was a consecrated host, and actually that atheist scientist converted to Catholicism as a result of that study,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill also notes in his book that when considering miracles, it’s important to not go to extremes.
“The question of the role of miracles in our life of faith is an important one and requires avoiding two extremes: an overemphasis and credulity regarding the supernatural on the one hand and a denial of the possibility of divine intervention and a diminishment of the role of popular devotion on the other,” he wrote. Either way, obedience to the magisterium of the Church and their teachings on particular miracles is key.
Miracles are an important asset for the faith because of their ability to connect people with God, either as first-time believers or as long-time faithful who need a reminder of God’s presence.
“I like to think of miracles as a great way to engage young people, to get them excited about the faith,” he said. “They shouldn’t be the centrality of anybody’s faith, but it’s a way to open the door for people...so I think miracles can play a huge role in evangelization.”
This article was originally published on CNA May 8, 2016.
Washington D.C., Dec 29, 2016 / 09:51 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “To defraud anyone of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven.”
This statement from Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum” is jarring, especially in an economy that appears to have as much to do with Church teaching as spiders do with spelling bees.
But the Church's view on wages and compensation has a long history reaching back centuries – and remains relevant today to employers and employees alike – say businesspeople and theologians seeking to find a moral response to today's changing economic landscape.
“The Church starts really from the perspective of the human person, and wants to see why the relationship between the employer and the employee is more than just an exchange of money for a certain part of time,” said Fr. Dominic Legge, OP, who teaches systematic theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception.
“It’s a personal relationship, and that means that there are rights and duties on both sides of that.”
The Church's stance on wages as bound to the concept of justice reaches back centuries. Teachings against defrauding workers of wages can be found in Catholic Catechisms for families as far back as the 1600s, and the principles of justice within Catholic teaching reach back even further, to the Bible itself. The development of Catholic thought on how wages and compensation for work should be considered is rooted not in laws of supply and demand, but in the human person and natural law.
“It’s not just reducible to the market. Just because the market would allow you to pay someone less does not mean that you have a right in justice to do that. Nor does it mean that it is just, for a laborer, to charge an extravagant amount of money for his work,” Fr. Legge told CNA.
He explained that the teaching surrounding the just payment of workers received substantial attention as part of St. Thomas Aquinas’s work elaborating upon the nature of justice. What's striking, he said, is that St. Thomas Aquinas uses just wages as the first “and most obvious” example of what justice actually is.
However, the the concept of just compensation is clearly not the most obvious example of justice to contemporary thinkers, “which is a way of telling us that the way we think about wages now is very different from the way that someone like Aquinas in the Middle Ages thought about it,” Fr. Legge said.
Instead of viewing it as a situation where the employee, the business and the state were the only parties involved in making a person’s livelihood, the Church’s thought on just wages also incorporated all of the relationships and institutions an employer and employee interacted with.
“There’s a much richer texture to human life, and the Church has always respected the place of family, private organizations, the family, local organizations, the Church.”
Fr. Legge said that until the 19th century, “you often had people who were tied to their employment, their employer through lots of bonds – family, community, history.”
In many circumstances, employees were incorporated into their employer’s family structure and physical needs were taken care of both by their employer as well as by community supports, such as the parish. “We wouldn’t imagine that the person providing daycare would be lodged in the family home, and would remain there even after the children are grown,” he said.
How the nature of work changed
This interplay of different supports for workers, however, is largely absent from contemporary approaches to work.
“Once you get to the Industrial Revolution, work changes radically for the worker,” said Fr. Thomas Petri, OP, Dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate conception.
Shifts in labor and mass-production made it more difficult for some to see the dignity of work and the importance of the worker as a person.
“There’s a problem in markets when workers are depersonalized,” he told CNA. “It takes away in some way the dignity of the worker and makes work into some sort of a monotonous, humdrum thing.”
In part as a response to the changes facing the world during the Industrial Revolution, Pope Leo XIII wrote “Rerum Novarum,” outlining the Church’s teaching on the proper relationships between people, the state, labor and capital. Along with discussing the role of private property, unions, and a worker’s duties to their employer, Pope Leo XIII emphasized the importance of an employer’s duties to their employees.
The document, Fr. Petri said, aims “to remind people that work still has dignity,” as well as to serve as a reminder to all that business should serve the common good.
It also states that while “the state has to be involved in the adjudication of just wages,” Fr. Petri said, “there has to be communal support for the person.” The Pope emphasizes that institutions like the family, the Church, other institutions along with the state can help provide a living for workers.
“Minimum wage isn’t the only thing that can help support families,” Fr. Petri said.
While the state has a role in making sure all its citizens receive what they need for a good and virtuous life, “it seems to me that the Church’s social justice teaching suggests that this should also work in business,” he said.
Fr. Petri pointed to examples of company towns that provided housing, the provision of healthcare or education benefits, or employee-ownership of companies as examples of ways a business could expand its provision for its employees.
However, while the Church’s teaching, both in “Rerum Novarum” and other documents, does not provide strict prescriptions for all the ways employers can provide for their employees, not all contracts or forms of payment are morally acceptable.
“Just because an employee agrees to work for a certain wage does not therefore make the wage inherently just,” Fr. Petri said.
“Sometimes people work for a pittance because they’re socially forced to or they have no other opportunities for a greater income. Leo XIII speaks about that as an evil.”
He pointed to many companies' practice of hiring of undocumented workers for very low wages as an example of this kind of mistreatment. To compound the issue, Fr. Petri said, illegal immigrants can't speak up about their mistreatment without fearing for deportation or other consequences.
In cases were businesses are acting immorally, “I think the government has a right to exert legislative authority in those cases where it’s clear that they are mistreating their workers,” Fr. Petri said.
“That’s what unions were supposed to do, that's why unions were started.”
He added that citizens can both approach legislators to take action as well as avoid patronizing companies that do not provide just compensation for their workers.
What should things look like now?
And business leaders themselves can and should put these principles into practice today, said Bill Bowman, Dean of the Busch School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America.
“The purpose of business is the human person. It's not to trade the human person like any other commodity,” he told CNA.
Bowman said that the Church shies away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach, instead setting principles around which an employer can balance people’s needs – such as a city's expensiveness or an employee’s family size, with the needs of the company is able to sustain itself. The result is that all businesspeople should be able to provide their workers with a just wage if they look towards innovative solutions.
He suggested that every businessperson should look carefully at what “a just wage really look like for this particular city where we're working. What would it look like for this employee, with a big family or a person with no family at all. If what we really want to do is provide enough money so that you can live a life and maybe put a little away on the side.”
“To just say 'well I can't afford it,' is, to me, to unnecessarily give yourself a 'get out of jail free' card.”
For entrepreneurs or startups facing tight budgets, Bowman noted that employers could work with employees to step up base pay with a company's growth or other “innovative” solutions he has seen from employers such as incorporating family size into bonuses or covering certain expenses like college tuition.
He directed business leaders to look to the Church's “rich doctrine” and writings on wages and business, such as in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, papal encyclicals, and a short document called “The Vocation of the Business Leader,” put out by the Church's Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace, among other sources of Church teaching on the topic.
“As a Catholic business man or woman, he or she should really be challenging themselves to orient their businesses in this way,” he said.
Bowman also criticized companies who avoid considering how they can better provide just wages to their employees. He said that companies, particularly large ones with shareholders, should not frame paying their employees a just wage as a “competitive disadvantage.”
“If a company clearly can afford to pay it, its idea of a 'competitive disadvantage' is largely nonsense,” he said.
“What it generally translates to is 'my share price might go down a bit and that's going to hit me in the wallet. Well, the Church has completely rejected the idea that a business is about shareholder returns.”
In addition to it being the right thing to do, providing just compensation to workers is a sound business strategy, Bowman said. He's found in practice that providing employees with the compensation they need to take care of their families properly decreases both an employee’s likeliness to leave and their sloppiness on the job, which are “enormous” costs to business.
“The return on investment of these programs is enormous,” he said, adding that within a year in some cases, the programs “paid for itself.”
Above all, employers should keep in mind the role the Church has laid out for laypeople in prescribing its moral directions on wages and work, Bowman said: to figure out how to implement Church teaching in daily life. By taking to heart this approach, businesses and their employees can focus back on virtues and the goal of business in the first place.
“We understand that the purpose of business and the purpose of everything else in life is really the human person.”
This article was originally published on CNA June 22, 2016.
Denver, Colo., Dec 27, 2016 / 10:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Bayaud Enterprises was started in 1969 in Denver, Colorado, they had one thing on their mind: employment.
But not just any kind of employment. They wanted to seek out individuals with chronic mental illness and psychiatric disabilities to find them permanent jobs and an independent lifestyle.
Flash forward to 2016, and Bayaud Enterprises has aided over 7,000 individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment find full-time jobs, housing, and benefit acquisition instead of relying on local boarding and care homes.
“We think there is a real connection between people living independently and working...it provides dignity to the individuals,” executive director of Bayaud Enterprises David Henninger told CNA.
“The neat thing about employment is you really get to see a person blossom,” Henninger said, adding that the impact of finding permanent work for someone with a disability is life-changing.
Henninger has been with Bayaud Enterprises since its founding in 1969, and has been its executive director since 1973.
Although it was originally started as a Colorado-state run program through the Mental Health Institute at Ft. Logan, Bayaud evolved by starting its own program that helped patients after they left mental health centers.
“In a psychiatric hospital setting, you often see people initially at their worst – at the bottom of the barrel in terms of where they are,” Henninger said.
“As part of their recovery from a mental illness, the impact of work is really huge, in terms of ego and self-worth,” he said.
Bayaud Enterprises created a diverse work program that includes subcontracted work from the local business community. They hold ten different federal contracts in the state of Colorado and work with organizations such as the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and local hospitals and hotels.
In addition, they own a secure document shredding business with over 5,000 customers across the front range. Instead of sending the shredded paper to a landfill, Bayaud Document Services compounds the paper into bales and sends it to recycling.
With such a diverse range in businesses, Bayaud is able to place every individual seeking work at the appropriate level of employment. Henninger noted that Bayaud has aided individuals with “all sorts of ability,” from people with higher education degrees to people who have been diagnosed with aspergers.
“We outplace about 400 people a year into competitive jobs that aren’t related to Bayaud – and success stories there abound,” Henninger stated.
Henninger recalled one man in particular who came to Bayaud without permanent housing. He was placed as an administrative assistant in a small insurance company and worked there for several years.
“The owner of the insurance firm really liked him...when the owner decided to retire, he actually turned the business over to this individual and that individual is now running a small insurance company and has hired his own employees,” Henninger noted.
Bayaud Enterprises continues to serve over 1,200 individuals in Colorado every year through their employment services and benefit acquisition services. By offering resource navigation, they are also able to help individuals secure additional benefits such as social security, disability, medicaid, food supplement services, housing, and transportation.
“When people approach Bayaud, they are unemployed. So, people are finding some differences in their own personal lives that are significant,” Henninger stated.
Bayaud Enterprises is also focused on remaining community-centric by being involved in local community and emphasizing permanent employment and housing. They have cultivated relationships with local homeless shelters, such as the Samaritan House, by placing homeless residents in long-term jobs.
Their program also boosts local economy by generating annual payrolls of about $5 million every year.
“Our longevity of 10+ years of all of our staff says that they believe in our mission of providing hope and opportunity and choice...we do make a difference and we see it,” Henninger continued.
“Really, these jobs become transformational.”
This article was originally published Feb. 23, 2016.