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Supreme Court order affects thousands of refugees seeking US entry

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 14:01

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2017 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Grandparents and other family members are temporarily exempt from the travel and refugee bans implemented by President Donald Trump, the US Supreme Court said Wednesday.

The court also said that for the time being, a ban on entry by refugees already working with resettlement agencies may remain.

The Supreme Court did not explain its reasons in a brief order July 19. It said the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals must consider further arguments about who is included in the ban under Trump’s executive order. Supreme Court justices will hear further arguments about the executive order Oct. 10.

The Trump administration had argued that an exemption for close family members should not apply to grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and brothers- and sisters-in law.

A federal court in Hawaii said that definition of close family was too strict.

The ban bars travel into the U.S. for 90 days by nationals of Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Iran, all predominantly Muslim countries. It halts all refugee resettlement for 120 days. The first version of the ban, which had a broader impact, was announced in January, then blocked in federal court. A revised version was announced in March, then blocked by legal challenges.

In June the Supreme Court restored the ban, while saying those with “bona fide” links to the U.S. were exempted: close family members, employment, university admission, or relationships with other institutions.

Hawaii was among the challengers of the revised ban. It also argued that a refugee organization’s interactions with a refugee qualify as a bona fide relationship. About 24,000 refugees have formal assurances with resettlement agencies for relocation assistance.

However, the Supreme Court rejected that argument, thus allowing the U.S. government to halt efforts to grant entry to these refugees.

The order was not signed, though it stated that Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch would have granted the Trump administration’s request to put the lower court’s entire order on hold.

Trump had presented his order as a temporary anti-terrorism measure. The Trump administration has also lowered the cap on refugee admissions to 50,000 people per fiscal year. That cap was reached July 13.

In March the U.S. bishops had warned that security concerns could overshadow real human beings.

“Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life,” the bishops said. “They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: 'We are with you'.”
“It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity,” said the March 22 statement from the US bishops' conference's administrative committee.

Bishops to Trump: Don't abandon young people to deportation

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Undocumented young people brought to the U.S. by their parents contribute to American society and deserve continued protections from the Trump administration, said the U.S. Catholic bishops this week.

“These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas said July 18.

Young people who qualify under the program are “contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes,” said the bishop, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy was implemented in 2012 by the Department of Homeland Security to address the situation of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. at a young age. It provides more than 750,000 youth with a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization to work legally in the U.S.

Bishop Vasquez urged the Trump administration to continue the program and “to publicly ensure that DACA youth are not priorities for deportation.”

In late June, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, with the attorneys general of nine other states, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding the Trump administration end the DACA policy. The letter threatened to amend a lawsuit against another deportation deferral program in order to target the policy, Politico reports.

Bishop Vasquez, however, addressed the young people and their families: “the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you.”

“We recognize your intrinsic value as children of God,” he said. “We understand the anxiety and fear you face and we appreciate and applaud the daily contributions you make with your families, to local communities and parishes, and to our country. We support you on your journey to reach your God-given potential.”

Bishop Vasquez also said that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is not a permanent solution and called on Congress to find a legislative solution for these youth “as soon as possible.”

“My brother bishops and I pledge continuing efforts to help find a humane and permanent resolution that protects DACA youth,” he said. “Additionally, I note the moral urgency for comprehensive immigration reform that is just and compassionate. The bishops will advocate for these reforms as we truly believe they will advance the common good.”

According to Politico, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a gathering of 20 Democratic members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he can’t guarantee the Trump administration will defend the DACA policy in court. Attorneys have told him the program wouldn’t survive a legal challenge.



Is the single life a vocation? Maybe we're asking the wrong question.

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 05:02

Denver, Colo., Jul 20, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- From a young age, Catholics are taught to pray about and discern their vocations – whether they're called to marriage, to the religious life, to the priesthood, or consecrated single life.  

This can leave the lay single person feeling that they are in a vocational limbo of sorts, and it's become a topic of much heated and emotional debate in the Catholic blogosphere: have these people missed their vocation? Is the lay single state, chosen or by default, a vocation?

But actually, at the end of the day – does it matter?

Fr. Ben Hasse is a vocations director for the Diocese of Marquette, Wisc. He said addressing the topic of singleness in the Church can be difficult because of the emotions surrounding the issue.

“I have quite a few friends who would like to be married, so there's a much more emotional investment in the question because there’s more people who find themselves single” rather than having specifically chosen it, he said.

Recognizing the emotional weight of the topic, Fr. Hasse noted that there are many aspects to addressing the question of vocation and singleness that need to be taken into account, and that it can be difficult – and dangerous – to make generalizations about a population in the Church that is actually very diverse.

Being specific about singleness

Fr. Hasse said that he has found it’s helpful as a pastor to approach singleness very specifically – whether it's a college student who hopes to marry someday, or a widower who lost her husband last month, being single encompasses a wide variety of people and circumstances.

“Everybody will be single for at least part of their life. Nobody is born as a priest or married to someone or a consecrated religious, so everyone will pass through being single,” he said.

“It's important to distinguish between people who are single because that's kind of where you're at when you're 16, versus someone who has really felt God calling them to give their life in service to the Church as a single person,” or various other circumstances.

For example, a single 19-year-old college student is probably not necessarily living a vocation of singleness in any settled way, Fr. Hasse said, but a person in their 40s who finds joy in serving Christ in their everyday circumstances of work and life “is not someone I would say lacks a vocation.”

“It would be different from the way we usually use the word because it wouldn't be defined, and made concrete by vows or promises,” he said.

“But the single accountant or school teacher could certainly live their life and see the work of their hands as something they're offering to God, and live that in a very spiritually fruitful way, and I wouldn't say – now here's a person without a vocation.”

Your vocation is given at baptism

Jason Coito, Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told CNA that most of the debates surrounding singleness and vocation rely “on a very narrow definition of vocation, or confuses the term with what we refer to as 'states in life,'” he said.

He said when we become fixated on discerning our state in life, referred to in the Church as the primary vocation, “...we become so focused on the ranking of them, rather than looking at each day or the bigger picture and saying, here are all of these components of my life, now how am I called to live the promise of my baptism and of my life, and how do these things work together?”

It can be helpful instead to refocus these debates and conversations on the universal vocation to holiness that each Christian receives at their baptism, Coito said.

“I think this helpfully reframes the conversation and then asks us, 'How is God calling me to make a response to Him and to my brothers and sisters from within the state in life in which I find myself?'”

This respects every vocation, because it's a question anyone can answer on any given day in their life, regardless of their state in life, he said.  

“You do have a vocation. All baptized Catholics are called to live their lives as disciples of Jesus. This is the foundational call of our lives as Catholics,” he said.

“If you feel deeply called to get married, and you have prayerfully discerned and confirmed this call, then until you meet the person you feel called to get married to, you continue to live out your baptismal call, open to the people and circumstances that God puts in front of you each day. For those who are married, we do pretty much the same thing, except that we do this out of the sacramental relationship we have with our spouse,” he said.

In Lumen Gentium, one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI wrote about the universal call to holiness each Christian has:

“Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.”

Fr. Hasse reiterated the importance of the baptismal call to holiness, and said that this call is not something to “settle for,” but rather should be the primary focus of our lives as Christians.

“The call to holiness is not some second-string operation,” he said.

“It's not like – wow I really wish I had something important to work towards, but since I don't, sanctity will have to tide me over until the beatific vision.”

“So I think a reappropriation of the universal call to holiness, which is deeply, profoundly significant, it’s the one that matters in a sense, and we're all called to that,” he said.

The big lie: You are incomplete until you've made vows

Coito noted that one of the worst patterns of thinking that a Catholic can fall into when thinking about vocation is to believe that they are somehow less-than or incomplete until they are married, or are a priest or in a religious order.

When he taught high school religion, Coito said he would ask his students to recall the famous line from Jerry Macquire, when he tells his love interest (played by Renee Zellweger): “You complete me.”

“I would always tell them that from a Catholic perspective, that's ridiculous. It wasn't as though before marriage you were incomplete, or that a priest before his ordination is incomplete. God already made us whole and entire,” he said.

“We've been given everything as human beings that God intends us to have, so to begin to think of ourselves as somehow unfinished...we can joyfully be living out our vocation already right now.”

Part of this mentality has seeped in from the culture, he said, which tends to romanticize love and to view marriage as another achievement or milestone in life, rather than as a sacrament.

“I think it's important to address the mentality that if I'm not married or in a community or ordained that I’m this sort of 'Catholic arrested development' or 'suspended animation,'” he said.

The belief that marriage or religious life will also magically make us completely fulfilled is also a mentality that can set people up for disappointment, he noted.

“It ends up being a Disney sort of (mentality) of happily ever after, but it's much more Paschal mystery than happily ever after,” he said.   

Finding fulfillment: It's about self-gift

The reasons that there are more single people in the Church now than in other times in recent history are many and varied – an emphasis on education, a culture that values individualism, higher rates of divorce and economic factors are just some of the many reasons there are more singles in the pews.

But this doesn't mean that human nature has changed – we are still made for love, self-gift and service, Fr. Ben Hasse said.

“Trying to schedule events in our lives that will make us happy at some point that doesn't really work,” he said. “Happiness is richest and fullest kind of as a by-product of gifts of love and of service.”

“There's almost a way where you can attend to the basic dynamics of seeking to live a life of holiness, and that's the actually the path that’s going to leave you more and more disposed to receive his call,” he said.

In particular, acts of service can be a key way to find fulfillment regardless of one's state in life, he said.

“Look for opportunities to give of yourself,” he said. “It's also a good way to meet other people who have a similar disposition...doing that has very real potential to fill one's heart, and leaves you more and more receptive to (God's) call.”

Soley utilizing acts of service as a way to find a spouse would be unhealthy, Fr. Hasse added, but serving alongside like-minded people, and finding others who share your values is a good way to find authentic community, in whatever form that may take.

What the Church has to say about single people

Pope John Paul II, who wanted to be known as ‘the Pope of the family’, wrote in his familial document “Familiaris Consortio” that those without a family must be able to find their family within the Church. In fact, the entire final section of this document is dedicated to single people.

This is a subject with which John Paul II would have been intimately familiar – by the age of 20, all of his immediate family on earth had passed away, and he surrounded himself with good friends that essentially became his family.

In the document,he wrote: “For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church-the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate-must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden.'”

The Catechism of the Catholic also recognizes “the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live – often not of their choosing – are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors.” (CCC 1658).

Practical advice from single Catholics

Still, it can sometimes be difficult for single people to know where they fit in the Church. Parishes are often structured around family life, which can make it challenging for single people to find community.

Judy Keane is a 40-something single Catholic and author of “Single and Catholic,” a book in which she interviewed numerous single Catholics of a wide variety of ages, circumstances and backgrounds about their experiences in the Church.

“Mother Teresa once said that the greatest poverty is loneliness, and feeling discounted by society,” Keane said.

“So I would say (to married people in the parish): approach single people, connect with them, take that initiative to introduce yourself, not make them feel like because they don't have a spouse and children in the pew with them that they’re no less a member of the parish community,” she said.

MaryBeth Bonacci is a Catholic author and speaker who has often written on the topic of being a single Catholic. She said she loves it when people in her parish help her feel included in their families and lives.  

“Some people would say 'Oh well she wouldn’t want to go to a 1-year-old's birthday party.' Yeah I would!” she said. “We don't have our exciting singles lives that you think we have, I'm at home eating cottage cheese and watching Simpsons reruns, it’s not that exciting.”

Bonacci said she's also had a friend at her parish who told her she was invited to her family's dinner any time. And she didn't wait to make good on the invitation – she followed up with Bonacci every day.

“She would call me every day at 3:00 and say, am I setting a place for you? And I didn't go every night...but she actually called every day, and said if you want to come, we'll set a place for you, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that.”

She added that she appreciates when parishes make an effort to create a cohesive community, rather than always segregating people into groups according to their states in life.

Both Bonacci and Keane said that they especially have noticed that there are many single elderly Catholics who are alone, whether they’ve never been married or have since lost their spouse.

“If you're having a family Sunday dinner, why not try to befriend an elderly single person who may have lost their spouse and say we’re having our family dinner, would you like to join us?” Keane said.  

It's also important to remember that God acts in unexpected says, and oftentimes frustration with one's state in life stems from a place of thinking about vocation or God’s will too rigidly, Fr. Hasse noted.

“If I'm talking to someone who says well most of my friends seem to have found their vocation and I haven’t, what do I do? I usually say man, the saints are people that God caught in all kinds of unexpected situations and places,” Fr. Hasse said.

“So there's lots of precedent for thinking God has passed me by or hasn't answered my prayers” but then he shows up in unexpected ways, he said.

Charlie Gard's family allowed permanent US residency

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 18:41

Washington D.C., Jul 19, 2017 / 04:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid the Gard family's legal battle in the U.K. to pursue experimental treatment for their infant son, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation granting them permanent residency in the states.

“We just passed amendment that grants permanent resident status to #CharlieGard and family so Charlie can get the medical treatment he needs,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) said in a July 18 tweet.  

The amendment was passed after Republican congressmen Trent Franks and Brad Wenstrup proposed legislation in favor of an additional treatment for Charlie, who suffers from a rare mitochondrial disease which paralyzes muscles and causes brain damage.

“Congressman Bradwenstrup and I have proposed legislation to grant lawful permanent status in the U.S. to Charlie Gard and his family, so they can at least pursue their best hope for Charlie,” Rep. Franks told Fox News July 11.

Charlie Gard has made headlines over the past few months as U.K. courts denied his parents the right to transfer him to other hospitals for treatment. The Gard family appealed to the EU court and was denied a hearing.

Claiming that prolonging Charlie's life would cause unnecessary suffering, British judges had ruled that London's Great Ormond Hospital could remove life support without the consent of the parents. The hospital granted Charlie an extension on life support so his parents may have a few more moments with him.

During the extension, a team of seven medical experts told the hospital that unpublished data on an experimental drug suggest a treatment which may improve the condition of Charlie’s brain. One of the experts is a neurologist and a researcher located at the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome – a Vatican hospital who's request to transfer Charlie to their facility was also recently denied.

Additionally, a U.S. specialist in mitochondrial diseases speculated in a video last Thursday that the experimental treatment, nucleoside therapy, has a success rate of at least 10 percent and a potential high of 56 percent.

Since experts have submitted new data that advocates for Charlie’s possible recovery, the Great Ormond Hospital has asked the courts to reopen the baby’s case that Charlie be transferred to the U.S. for nucleoside therapy, which his parents have successfully fundraised over $1 million for.

Charlie was diagnosed with Mitochondrial Depletion Syndrome – a fatal disease which progressively weakens the muscles and causes brain damage. The genetic disease is very rare, and Charlie is thought to be only one out of 16 people in the world diagnosed with the disease.

Despite Charlie’s low potential for survival, his parents have received U.S. and Vatican support for their right to fight for his life.

A statement was issued July 2 on behalf of Pope Francis, saying that the pontiff “prays for them, wishing that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end will be respected.”

Archbishop Chaput: Civilta Cattolica got American Christianity wrong

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 12:15

Philadelphia, Pa., Jul 19, 2017 / 10:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A prominent Catholic journal’s critique of American religion and politics got quite a bit wrong, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said yesterday.

Archbishop Chaput said the article was “an exercise in dumbing down and inadequately presenting the nature of Catholic/Evangelical cooperation on religious freedom and other key issues.”

Writing in a July 18 column at, he noted that Catholic-Evangelical cooperation was “quite rare” when he was a young priest.

“The divide between Catholic and other faith communities has often run deep. Only real and present danger could draw them together,” the archbishop said. “Their current mutual aid, the ecumenism that seems to so worry La Civilta Cattolica, is a function of shared concerns and principles, not ambition for political power.”

Prominent Jesuit-run journal La Civilta Cattolica on July 13 published an analysis piece co-authored by its editor, Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., and Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian pastor who is editor-in-chief of the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the daily newspaper of Vatican City.

The piece, titled “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism” made a number of claims, alleging that many conservative Christians have united to promote an “ecumenism of hate” in policies that contradict Pope Francis’ message of mercy.

The piece’s analysis of American Christianity noted various influences like Christian fundamentalism, the “dominionism” of Presbyterian thinker Pastor Rousas John Rushdoony, the Prosperity Gospel, inspirational writer Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, and the polemical lay Catholic site Church Militant. It attempted to link these figures and trends with political trends and figures like Republican strategist Steve Bannon and Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

Fr. Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa acknowledged that the erosion of religious liberty is “clearly a grave threat within a spreading secularism,” but said religious freedom should not be defended “in the fundamentalist terms of a ‘religion in total freedom,’ perceived as a direct virtual challenge to the secularity of the state.”

They claimed that “Evangelical fundamentalists” and “Catholic Integralists” are being brought together in a “surprising ecumenism” by “the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere.”

Their article noted the American trend of “values voters” whose political decisions prioritize abortion, same-sex marriage, religion in schools and other matters. Both of these Catholic and Evangelical factions, they claimed, “condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.” They charged that this collaboration also advances a “xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations” and thus an “ecumenism of hate.” These religious and political trends, they said, were based on “fear of the breakup of a constructed order and the fear of chaos” and “painting worrying scenarios beyond any realism.”

In Archbishop Chaput’s view, the article’s description of attacks on religious liberty as a “narrative of fear” might have made sense 25 years ago, but now sounds “willfully ignorant.” He charged that the article ignored the fact that “America’s culture wars weren’t wanted, and weren’t started, by people faithful to constant Christian belief.”

“So it’s an especially odd kind of surprise when believers are attacked by their co-religionists merely for fighting for what their Churches have always held to be true,” the archbishop said.

Without mentioning him by name, Archbishop Chaput cited the words of Tim Gill, a Colorado-based multi-millionaire businessman and political strategist who has poured millions of dollars into LGBT activism. Gill was a major funder behind the successful effort to recognize same-sex unions as marriages, while in recent years his grant-making has focused on limiting religious freedom protections he considers discriminatory.

Gill told Rolling Stone magazine that he now aimed to “punish the wicked.”

“In other words, to punish those who oppose the LGBT cultural agenda,” added Archbishop Chaput, saying that conflicts over sexual freedom and identity involve “an almost perfect inversion of what we once meant by right and wrong.”

The archbishop said Catholics must treat all persons with charity and justice, including “those who hate what we believe.”

“It demands a conversion of heart. It demands patience, courage and humility. We need to shed any self-righteousness. But charity and justice can’t be severed from truth,” he said, citing St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans and other biblical calls to “sexual integrity and virtuous conduct.”

For the archbishop, attempting to soften or detour around these calls would demean what Christians have always believed and “reduces us to useful tools of those who would smother the faith that so many other Christians have suffered, and are now suffering, to fully witness.”

Archbishop Chaput suggested that the article got points of American religion incorrect. American Baptists, for instance, see their faith as undermining the integration of Church and State.

“Foreign observers who want to criticize the United States and its religious landscape – and yes, there’s always plenty to criticize – should note that fact. It’s rather basic,” he said.

The archbishop praised religious liberty legal groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Becket, saying they are “heroes, not ‘haters’.”

“And if their efforts draw Catholics, evangelicals and other people of good will together in common cause, we should thank God for the unity it brings.”

His column said the La Civilta Cattolica article was “rightly criticized” and “unfortunate comments,” voicing a broader warning against misunderstanding the political and religious situation.


Why religious leaders might be best at fighting extremism

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 08:01

New York City, N.Y., Jul 19, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious leaders, not secularists, are often in the best position to persuade violent religious extremists towards peace, the papal nuncio to the United Nations has said in response to an effort to prevent atrocities.

“The very existence of a plan directed toward religious leaders is also a humble recognition by the international community that those who are being incited by pseudo-religious motivations for violence aren’t going to be effectively persuaded out of it by secular argumentation from so-called infidels or by economic materialism,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza said July 14.

“They need, rather, valid religious arguments that show that extremists’ violence-inducing exegesis is unfaithful to the text and to the God they’re claiming to serve; they need persuasive counterarguments that plant the seeds of peace and eradicate the weeds of violence.”

Archbishop Auza is the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations. He spoke at the launch of a Plan of Action for religious leaders and other actors to prevent incitement to violence that could lead to atrocities.

The plan follows two years of consultations by Adama Dieng, the U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. Dieng told UN Radio that the plan had been designed to counter the kind of ideology that led to the Islamic State group’s genocide against the Yazidi people.

For the papal nuncio, the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity “requires the contributions and collaboration of each of us and all our communities and institutions.”
He noted that some religious leaders abuse their influence and authority “to spur or justify atrocities.” At the same time, many more religious leaders condemn these abuses and stress that “violence against others in the name of God is a great blasphemy against the name of God and the greatest disservice to religion itself.”

According to the nuncio, the United Nations’ plan and recommended practices can help religious leaders inoculate their congregations against “the half-truths that ideologues can use to incite them to hating rather than loving, and attacking rather than serving, their neighbor.”

Archbishop Auza noted that religion and violence can be delicate subjects.

“Acknowledging explicitly the religious dimension of some expressions of violent extremism is fraught with danger, and we can understand the reluctance of governments and international bodies to do so,” the archbishop reflected. “Thus, the most important contribution of religious leaders to this debate is to help people understand that acknowledging the religious dimension of some violent extremism, or more precisely the manipulation of religion for violent ends, does not mean equating religion, or a particular religion, or an entire religious community, with violence.”

“Understanding the motivations that lie at the root of terrorism and violence is complex and requires careful reflection and analysis, all the more so when there is a religious dimension to it,” he added. “Religious leaders are uniquely placed to offer such reflection. Pope Francis has helped to open up spaces for this reflection to occur so that religious leaders are able to contribute to the sensitive debate about religiously motivated terrorism.”

At the same time, the archbishop stressed that other bodies, like national governments, are more capable of stopping atrocities than religious leaders.

“There has been some focus recently on the role of religious leaders in preventing atrocity crimes — and this is good, because religious leaders have much to contribute — but, at the end of the day, religious leaders and organizations obviously do not have the resources by themselves to stop atrocities,” he said.

Religious leaders can influence behavior and mentalities, but do not control law enforcement agencies and armed forces. Rather, national governments and the international community have the primary responsibility “to act to protect the innocent from savage acts.”

Although the Holy See could not support all the elements of the United Nations’ action plan, Archbishop Auza said the plan is “a major, practical step forward” in fostering a culture and society consistent with the 2005 world summit on the Responsibility to Protect, a U.N. commitment to prevent genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity.

The latest action plan also notes the need for meaningful interreligious dialogue among religious leaders.

On this point, Archbishop Auza cited Pope Francis, who has called this dialogue “a necessary condition for peace in the world.”

In January the Pope told diplomats accredited to the Holy See that interreligious dialogue provides a paradigm to discuss differences, to grow in mutual appreciation of others’ perspectives, and to journey towards peace and other goals. The pontiff said that religiously motivated men and women can show adherents how to fight injustice, root out discord that can lead to war, renounce violence and vengeance, and transcend selfishness, hatred and lack of forgiveness.

Archbishop Auza emphasized this effort.

“That’s why the work of religious leaders and believers in general, and interreligious dialogue in particular, are crucial not just in preventing incitement to violence among susceptible coreligionists, but in fostering incitement to virtue and thereby creating the type of peaceful and inclusive societies in which atrocity crimes are ethically unimaginable,” he said.

Step outside the politics and encounter immigrants, bishop implores

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 05:05

El Paso, Texas, Jul 19, 2017 / 03:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A U.S. bishop on the border of Mexico hopes his new pastoral letter on migration will turn the hearts of Catholics to encounter their migrant brothers and sisters in a concrete way.

“It is first and foremost a reflection on the signs of the times by the light of faith,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso told CNA of his new pastoral letter on migration.

The letter is not meant to be “simply abstract,” he said, but “has to come down to the daily life and daily realities.”

Bishop Seitz’s letter on migration, “Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away,” was released on Tuesday.

He explained to CNA that the letter was prompted by reflection on the current situation for migrants in the U.S. At present in the country, there is a “great deal of fear in the midst of our migrant community,” he said.

“We had all hoped that maybe there would be a different tone when a new president came into office, and we really didn’t see much of a different tone” on immigration, he said.

It was by reflecting on this problem that his idea of a pastoral letter was born. The bishop hopes to teach Catholics and prod them to think about what Jesus said of the poor and the migrant.

“By sharing these reflections with people of faith, just by inviting them to step out of their preconceptions and the tendency that we have in this country to deal only with the level of politics,” the bishop hopes to encourage readers to “reflect from a standpoint of faith on what this might mean.”

“What does Jesus have to say about the poor, about the marginalized, about what they can actually teach us and how they are the really important ones in the Kingdom of God?” he reflected.

Bishop Seitz began his letter by stating some of the great challenges facing migrant communities in the U.S., and how the Church should respond to them.

“Since Jesus announced Good News to the poor, our Church has been called to stand with the suffering,” he wrote, saying that “migrants are living through a dark night of fear and uncertainty.”

“Recently we have witnessed indefensible, hateful words towards our neighbors in Mexico, the demonization of migrants, even of those children known as Dreamers, and destructive language about our border,” he said.

He also pointed to other problems – the breaking up of families by deportations, an increase in deportations of those without criminal records, and the detention of asylum seekers.

The journey north to the U.S. through Mexico is a dangerous one, Bishop Seitz said, with harsh desert conditions, drug trafficking, and smugglers all posing a danger to migrants. Yet once they reach the border, “increased militarization and more walls will only make this journey even more dangerous.”

“As God’s people here on the border, we are called to transform this desert, making refreshing pools of the burning sands of injustice and quenching the thirst of the oppressed,” he wrote.

The Diocese of El Paso has a long and storied Catholic history, he said, outdating the British colonies. Spanish migrants in the area held a Mass of Thanksgiving there in 1598, along with a feast with the local Manso indigenous tribe.  

“Life in the midst of an immigrant community is really much more pronounced,” Bishop Seitz told CNA, and has a “richness” to it “that I really couldn’t say I anticipated.”

The Catholic culture continues today, he wrote in the letter. “With our brothers and sisters across the bridge, we speak the same language. We wake up each morning to the same beautiful mountains, we dance to the rhythm of mariachis, and we share burritos and champurrado. With San Juan Diego, we stand together under the mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

And Catholic ideals of hospitality and “encuentro,” or encounter, are practiced today in the services provided by the Diocese of El Paso to migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The Pope talks about accompanying the migrant,” the bishop told CNA, and he “talks about recognizing their face” and asks that people “see them as a fellow human being, and even more than that, as a brother and sister.”

“It’s just amazing, when that is allowed to happen, how the perspectives and the attitudes of people change,” he said. This theme of encounter is the focus of a significant part of the bishop’s letter.

Yet Catholics also must work to meet the needs of migrants in a concrete manner at the parish level, he said. This includes denouncing the injustices of today like “family separation,” “for-profit immigrant detention,” and “the disparagement of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

And Catholics must also “address the plague of substance abuse afflicting our people” which is connected to “the drug trafficking destabilizing Mexico and Central America, driving migration to our border.”

Bishop Seitz emphasized the role of Catholic education in improving the lives of immigrants in the U.S., and promised to create a fund for tuition assistance at diocesan schools for children from migrant families.

He also recognized members of law enforcement for their “dedication and bravery in serving our community and protecting our country.” He exhorted them to uphold human dignity in their line of work and to uphold “the noble ideals in the Constitution of equal treatment under the law and due process.”

However, the bishop instructed parishes and schools to respectfully decline immigration officers access to churches in cases where there is no “imminent danger,” unless they have a warrant signed by a judge.


Two dozen Catholic pages blocked from Facebook without explanation

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 19:09

Denver, Colo., Jul 18, 2017 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the last 24 hours more than twenty Catholic pages, some with millions of followers, have been blocked by Facebook for unknown reasons.

Of the known affected pages, 21 are based in Brazil, and four are English-language pages, with administrators in the U.S. and Africa. Most of the blocked pages had significant followings - between hundreds of thousands and up to 6 million followers each.

One of the blocked English-language fanpages was “Jesus and Mary”, which had 1.7 million followers. The page’s main cover photo was of the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Page administrator Godwin Delali Adadzie, a Ghanaian, told CNA he was on Facebook around 8 p.m. Central July 17 when he was asked to upload a photo of himself because his personal account had been “suspected of suspicious activities,” he said.

After several minutes, he was allowed back into his personal account, which had notifications informing him that his “Jesus and Mary” page had been disabled. He said every person who was approved as an editor on his page had to go through the same process.

Adadzie said he reviewed Facebook's policies "and, honestly, I do not see any that I have violated in order for my page to be withdrawn."

He has sent two appeals to Facebook but has yet to get a response.

Another blocked English-language page is “Catholic and Proud”, which had 6 million followers. Page administrator Kenneth Alimba of Nigeria told CNA his page was also blocked without explanation.

He has sent appeals to Facebook but is “not optimistic” about a response. He also told CNA that he noticed other Catholic Facebook pages that he runs, with fewer followers, are still online.

Another blocked English-language page is "Fr. Rocky," belonging to U.S. priest Fr. Francis J. Hoffman, executive director of Relevant Radio, whose page had 3.5 million likes. Fr. Hoffman could not be reached for comment by press time.

Facebook has yet to respond to requests for comment on the blocked pages. Facebook is the largest social network in the world, having recently reached more than 2 billion users.

While it remains unknown why these pages were blocked, some of the page administrators have said they wonder whether they are being censored.

In 2016, Facebook came under fire for allegedly censoring trends to news deemed "conservative."

On that occasion, Mark Zuckerberg rejected the allegations of censorship, and met with conservative U.S. leaders to assure them Facebook's neutrality.

In the past, user accounts have also been inadvertently blocked on Facebook due to system glitches, or numerous complaints against the page in a short time period. In these cases, Facebook restored the accounts after reviewing their content.


Brantly Millegan contributed to this report.

Senate committee considers Callista Gingrich nomination as Vatican ambassador

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 17:38

Washington D.C., Jul 18, 2017 / 03:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Callista Gingrich, nominated by President Donald Trump as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, laid out her priorities Tuesday at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Grilled on issues such as immigration, climate change, relations with Cuba and terrorism, Gingrich insisted that Trump has not cut discussion on the climate change and refugee debates, and voiced her commitment to fight human trafficking and promote human rights and religious freedom.

During the July 18 hearing, the committee also listened to remarks from three other Trump nominees: George E. Glass as U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, Carl Risch as Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, and Nathan Sales as the State Department’s counter-terrorism coordinator.

In her opening remarks, Gingrich voiced her thanks to President Trump for the nomination, and said she is looking forward to the possibility of collaborating with an institution that is active “on a global scale.”

The Holy See, she said, “is engaged on every continent to engage religious freedom and human rights, to fight terrorism and violence, to combat human trafficking, to prevent the spread of diseases like Ebola and HIV/AIDS, and to seek peaceful solutions to crises around the world.”

The Vatican and its various entities, she said, play “an active role” in troubled areas throughout the world, such as Venezuela, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The latter two nations were initially on the Pope's travel itinerary this year, but were dropped due to security concerns.

“The Catholic Church is a unique global network, overseeing the world's second international aid organization, operating over 25 percent of the world's healthcare facilities and ministering to millions in every corner of the world,” Gingrich said, and emphasized her commitment to continue building stronger bilateral relations between the two countries, despite points of disagreement.

It is well known that Trump and Pope Francis differ sharply on the issues of immigration and climate change. Asked by Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire how she plans to engage the Vatican on immigration given President Trump's recent legislation, Gingrich insisted that the issue is a “grave concern” for Trump, and one he sees as “a priority.”

The U.S. isn't “disengaging” on the issue, she said, and stressed the fact that the U.S. is one of the greatest providers of humanitarian aid as a potential point of collaboration on the issue.

“I think we can communicate our commitment to help those most in need,” she said.

When it comes to counter-terrorism efforts, Gingrich pledged collaboration.

And while opinions of diplomatic partners may differ in terms of policy, Gingrich said she looks forward to working with the Vatican “on those issues of our shared policy opportunities.”

The nominee was also questioned about her opinion of the Pope's 2015 environmental encyclical “Laudato Si” and how to foster dialogue on the issue with the Vatican given Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement earlier this year.

In her responses, Gingrich said Trump has “a great concern for our environment” and wants to make American an “environmental leader,” especially when it comes to promoting clean air and water.

“We will disengage and pull out of the Paris agreement, and either re-enter the Paris agreement or an entirely new agreement; one that is fair to Americans,” she said, and voiced hope that she can work with the Holy See as the U.S. seeks “a balanced policy; one that promotes American jobs, prosperity and energy security.”

When asked about the issue a second time by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who said he is less confident about Trump's commitment to the climate issue, Gingrich said that she personally believes that “climate change exists and that some of it is due to human behavior.”

“But I do believe that as President Trump pursues a better deal for Americans, we will indeed remain an environmental leader in the world,” she said.

Gingrich didn't know whether or not Trump has read the copy of “Laudato Si” given to him by Pope Francis during their meeting at the Vatican in May, and said that she has read “some of it” herself.

President Trump, she said, “wants the United States to be an environmental leader. We aren't backing off of that, but we are seeking the security of this country, to promote jobs for Americans and to have better prosperity, so the focus is slightly different, but we do want to be an environmental leader.”

Another topic Gingrich said would be key to her role is human trafficking, which she called “a horrific offense that threatens our global security.”

The issue has been a key priority for Pope Francis from the beginning, having specifically asked the Pontifical Academy for Sciences to study the issue after his election.

It has also been a priority for President Trump's daughter and high-profile adviser, Ivanka Trump, who after accompanying her father to his meeting with Pope Francis, met with victims of human trafficking helped by the Rome-based Sant'Egidio community.

When it comes to issues of global importance and partnerships in confronting them, Gingrich said that “it's so important that we reach out to places like the Holy See and to promote good in the world and to make it a better place to advance our peace and our freedom and our human dignity.”

President Trump announced his choice of Callista, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican in May.

She is the president of both Gingrich Productions in Arlington, Va. and the charitable non-profit Gingrich Foundation, and is a former Congressional aide.

Newt and Callista married in 2000, after having a six-year affair while Newt was married to his previous wife. Newt converted to Catholicism in 2009 and, in an interview that year with Deal Hudson at, explained how Callista’s witness as a Catholic brought him towards the faith.

He noted that he had attended Masses at the National Shrine where Callista sang in the choir, and she “created an environment where I could gradually think and evolve on the issue of faith.”

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2011, he also cited Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 visit to the U.S. as a “moment of confirmation” for him. At vespers with the Pope, where Callista sang in the Shrine choir, Newt recalled thinking that “here is where I belong.”

The couple worked on a documentary together that was released in 2010, “Nine Days That Changed the World,” that focused on Pope St. John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage to Poland when the former Soviet bloc country was under a communist government.

During the hearing, she referenced a second documentary film they recently produced titled “Divine Mercy: The Canonization of John Paul II.”

Should the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approve Gingrich after today’s meeting, her nomination will then move to the full Senate. If she is approved there, she'll likely arrive to Rome this fall, showing up as soon as September.


Would-be bride turns cancelled reception into feast for homeless

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 05:04

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 18, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Many couples spend thousands of dollars on their dream wedding. But what happens when you have to call it all off?

Faced with the question that no bride or groom would ever want to answer, Sarah Cummins and Logan Araujo had to decide what to do with the $30,000 non-refundable wedding reception they were left with after calling off their wedding for undisclosed reasons.

"It was really devastating," Cummins told the IndyStar. And besides getting some money back on the photographer, everything else seemed like sunk cost.

"I called everyone, canceled, apologized, cried, called vendors, cried some more and then I started feeling really sick about just throwing away all the food I ordered for the reception," she said.

After checking with Araujo, Cummins decided to invite people from four local homeless shelters to enjoy a fancy dinner and reception at the Ritz Charles in Carmel, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. She hoped to fill the 170 spots they had reserved for guests.

"For me, it was an opportunity to let these people know they deserved to be at a place like this just as much as everyone else does," Cummins said.

She even arranged bus transportation to the venue from the various shelters, and greeted the guests as they arrived. She almost didn’t go, thinking it might be too painful, but changed her mind after one of the homeless program directors said they couldn’t wait to meet her.

"Thank you for having us," one of the guests, a homeless veteran, told Cummins as he arrived. "It means more than you know."

Cummins’ mother, along with some of her would-be bridesmaids, were also in attendance.

The guests dressed in their best and dined on the on hors d'oeuvres of bourbon-glazed meatballs, goat cheese and roasted garlic bruschetta, and the main dish of chicken breast with artichokes and Chardonnay cream sauce.

Cummins’ generosity inspired others, including Matt Guanzon of Indianapolis, who donated some suits from his own closet and recruited others to do the same, including a tailor and a gown shop, which contributed suits, dresses, and accessories.

Not much had changed about the routine of the reception, besides cutting the cake in the kitchen, and removing the head table.

Ritz center development director Cheryl Herzog was so touched by Cummins’ generosity that she reached out to the IndyStar about the story.

"I was so touched that Sarah had taken a painful experience and turned it into a joyful one for families in need," Herzog said. "It is truly a very kind gesture on her part."

Guest Erik Jensen, from a local mission, said it was “a great time."

"It's just a really great opportunity for us, that was going to be a huge tragedy in her life," he said.

"It's a great opportunity to spread love. Being homeless is kind of a big loss for all of these guys. This is just a very nice thing to do."

Satanic monument in city park a really bad idea, Minn. Catholics say

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 02:08

St. Paul, Minn., Jul 18, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A proposed Satanic monument in a city-run veterans’ park has drawn strong opposition from Catholics in Minnesota, who have led prayer rallies and spoken before the Belle Plaine City Council.

Susie Collins was among the attendees of a rosary rally in Belle Plaine’s Veterans Memorial Park to oppose the monument. She told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the monument “is not the message of life and love, it is the message of death and decay.”

Other critics of the monument waved signs urging passersby to reject Satan. Several dozen people attended the rally, in a city with a population of about 7,000.

The Satanic Temple, based in Salem, Mass., had proposed to place its own monument in the city park. The monument, a black cube inscribed with pentagrams with an upside-down soldier’s helmet on top, was approved by the city.

In May city officials said that the application for the monument met the criteria of city policy. It has not yet been installed.

Lucien Greaves, a co-founder the five-year-old Satanic Temple, said his organization does not believe in the supernatural but sees Satan as a “metaphorical construct” of “the ultimate rebel against tyranny.” It claims 10,000 members worldwide, the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis’ newspaper The Catholic Spirit reports.

The group tried to organize a “Black Mass” at Harvard University in 2014 before a student group moved the event off-campus. It has created an after-school program based around its beliefs and worked to install a Satanic statue at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

A smaller group of supporters of the monument, from Minnesota’s Left Hand Path group, also demonstrated on Saturday. The group includes Satanists.

Koren Walsh, a member of the group, said the presence of the monument would show “all faiths have a voice in the city of Belle Plaine and the state of Minnesota,” the Minnesota CBS affiliate WCCO reports.

The protest of the monument was organized by the Pennsylvania-based group America Needs Fatima, a lay-run non-profit that says it promotes the message of Our Lady of Fatima.

The proposed Satanic monument adds to a previous controversy at the park concerning a two-foot-tall statue of a soldier praying over a grave marked with a cross. The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation had objected to the statue, which was initially put up without city approval by the Belle Plaine Veterans Club. The foundation objected that the cross on a public veterans’ memorial could create the impression that the city only cares about Christian soldiers.

According to the foundation, it aims to place its own memorial to honor non-religious service members, including “atheists in foxholes and other free-thinkers who have served their country with valor and distinction.”

The city council initially sought to remove only the cross, then removed the statue entirely in January. In April, its location in the park was then designated a free speech zone by the city council, allowing the statue to return. The city council voted to allow private organizations to place memorials featuring religious symbols in the designated area as long as they met certain requirements related to material and size.

On Monday the city council was set to debate a resolution to remove the free speech zone, and thus preventing either the praying soldier or the Satanic monument from being placed in the park.

Local Catholics had spoken out against the Satanic monument.

Father Brian Lynch, pastor of Our Lady of the Prairie Church, was joined in prayer at the park by more than 50 Catholics at the park June 3.

“Sometimes these things which are evil can really, maybe, wake some people up,” Fr. Lynch said, according to The Catholic Spirit. “We really have to take our faith seriously and live it.”

He testified against the proposed monument before the city council in early June. He cited atheistic Satanists’ use of Satan “as a symbol of the rejection of moral authorities and the constraints on human behavior these authorities teach and support.” He said they also use inverted pentagrams as a symbol “almost exclusively associated with opposition to God and goodness.”

According to Fr. Lynch, the presence of Satanic symbols would have a negative effect on the public and violate several sections of the city code, including laws against committing offenses against decency or public morals in parks or public lands.

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said both freedom of speech and religious freedom have legitimate limits.

“With rights come responsibilities,” he said, adding that more people should be shocked by the Satanist advocacy.

“You’re invoking Satan,” he said. “Traditionally, Christians have understood that when you invoke demons, you’re cursing yourself and your community.”

What Civilta Cattolica's analysis of US Christianity missed

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 18:44

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2017 / 04:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An analysis piece in La Civilta Cattolica alleging an “ecumenism of hate” between Catholics and Evangelical Fundamentalists is seriously flawed in its presentation of religion in public life, experts said.

Speaking about the article, which claims religious and political elements of society should not be “confused,” Elizabeth Bruenig, a writer on Christianity and politics, said: “this is a departure from most of the historical writings the Church has produced on how Catholics should think about politics and religion.”

On Thursday, the journal La Civilta Cattolica published an analysis piece co-authored by its editor, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., and Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian pastor who is editor-in-chief of the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano.

The piece made a number of claims, alleging that many conservative Christians have united on political issues like immigration and have ultimately promoted an “ecumenism of hate” in policies that would allegedly contradict Pope Francis’ message of mercy.

With the U.S. motto “In God we trust,” adopted in 1956, the authors stated that “for many it is a simple declaration of faith,” but “for others, it is the synthesis of a problematic fusion between religion and state, faith and politics, religious values and economy.”

This “problematic fusion” has manifested itself in recent years with the “Manichean” rhetoric of politics “that divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil,” the authors said, drawing examples of this from the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

This rhetoric is rooted in the evangelical-fundamentalist movement beginning in the early-20th century, which continued through other problematic interpretations of Christianity like belief in the “prosperity gospel” and in the dominion of man over creation, beliefs “that have been gradually radicalized,” the authors said.

Furthermore, this Christianity feeds off of conflict where “enemies” are “demonized,” which would today include Muslims and migrants who are not welcomed into the U.S., the authors wrote.

Pope Francis, by contrast, has advocated for “inclusion” and “encounter,” and has been opposed to “any kind of 'war of religion,’” they wrote.

Thus, for Catholics, religion and politics should not “confused” lest Christians promote a fundamentalist theocracy which is being pushed in this case, the authors said.

However, religious experts have pointed out inaccuracies, exaggerations, and false summaries of Church teaching within the article.

Dr. Chad Pecknold, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that although the authors alleged that many American Christians have a “Manichean” outlook on politics, of good versus evil, “the authors themselves sound quite Manichaean in their absolute opposition to their caricature of Christian conservatives in America.”

“The authors make a great number of errors, both historically, descriptively, and in their diagnosis of what ails America, and Christian conservatives more specifically,” he continued.

A chief flaw of the piece is its suggestion that religion and politics should be separated, Bruenig added. While distinctions should be made between the eternal, spiritual realm and the temporal one, the piece is “ahistorical and very un-Catholic” in how it approaches the relationship between religion and politics, she said.

Fr. Spadaro and Figueroa wrote that “the religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other.”

The article also says that “[Pope] Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women.”

This compartmentalization of faith and politics is part of flawed Enlightenment thinking, Bruenig said.

“The notion that politics and religion should basically function in separate domains is one of the original liberal Enlightenment positions on politics, and there’s a reason that most of the leading thinkers of the liberal Enlightenment were severely anti-Catholic,” she stated.

“There’s nothing special about the realm of governance that would cut it off from moral considerations, or give it its own special brand of irreligious moral consideration,” she continued, saying that politicians “are still beholden to the same moral precepts that they are in every other decision they make in their lives.”

Such a claim flies in the face of centuries of Church teaching, Bruenig continued.

P.J. Smith, who writes at the website, agreed that the article contradicted Church teaching on the relationship between faith and politics which was put forth by Bl. Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Ven. Pius XII, who wrote that the Church has the authority to speak on matters of economics and politics.

“More to the point, Spadaro and Figueroa set themselves against Pope Francis himself when they articulate a bizarre liberal atomization of man,” he wrote. “According to Spadaro and Figueroa, in church, man is a believer; in the council hall, he is a politician, at the movie theater, he is a critic; and he is apparently supposed to keep all of these roles separate.”

Smith cited Pope Francis who, at an April conference on Bl. Paul VI's 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, said that no system, whether it be the family, economy, or work, “can be an absolute, and none can be excluded from the concept of integral human development which, in other words, takes into account that human life is like an orchestra that performs well if the various instruments are in harmony and follow a score shared by all.”

Furthermore, valid critiques can be made of the current administration and the political order “from a Christian position,” Bruenig said, exploring the policies of the administration that do not conform to Church teaching. This would have been “a much stronger argument,” she said.

However, “instead of saying that those are not Christian activities to be undertaking and they’re governing badly,” the authors “said they have confused a religious element with the political one.”

Furthermore, some of the claims made in the piece about U.S. Christianity are inaccurate, Pecknold and Bruenig said.

For instance, as an example of what’s wrong with the Catholic-Evangelical ecumenism, the piece cites the website cheering the election of President Donald Trump as an answer to the prayers of Americans, comparing him to the Roman Emperor Constantine whose military victory enabled the legal acceptance of Christianity throughout the empire.

This is an example of the flawed understanding of religion and politics, the authors said.

However, this is “a fringe publication” that the authors cited, Pecknold said, and not one that is representative of Catholics in the U.S.

The article warned about a “mingling of politics and religion” that is expressed, at times, in a Manichean rhetoric of good versus evil to justify political policies. Trump, for instance, acts in such a way by decrying the “very bad.”

However, Bruenig said, “Trump himself is almost comically indifferent to religion, and can’t even really explain what Presbyterians – what he’s supposed to be – believe.”

A CNN report had noted that, according to two Presbyterian pastors who met with Trump just before his inauguration, he apparently was uncertain that they were Christians until they affirmed to him that they were.

Also, although the article mentions the “prosperity gospel” and “dominionism” as problematic strains of U.S. Christianity today, it ignores a major tradition, Smith wrote.

It fails to “engage with the liberal tradition within American Catholicism, exemplified by the Jesuit John Courtney Murray, which might have provided an interesting strand in their argument—not least because it remains the dominant strand in American Catholicism,” Smith wrote.

Stephen White, a fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., wrote in the Catholic Herald that the authors’ critique of the Christian Integralists purports to be an accurate summary of mainstream religious problems, but is rather a critique of only a small population of Christians.

“Fundamentalism is not the mainstream of American Protestantism, nor does it have the influence in American politics that the authors imagine it does,” he said.

He wrote that “the suggestion that there’s some close affinity between the Biblical literalism of fundamentalism, on the one hand, and the God-wants-you-to-be-rich hucksterism of the Prosperity Gospel,” is false.

“America’s maddeningly complex religious landscape needs thoughtful analysis and critique,” he wrote, adding that such nuance is lacking in the piece.

Kids in a time of climate change – what's a Catholic to do?

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 06:31

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2017 / 04:31 am (CNA).- Travis Rieder and his wife Sadiye have one child.

She wanted a big family, but he’s a philosopher who studies climate change with the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. One child of their own was all the world could environmentally afford, they decided.

In his college classes, Rieder asks his students to consider how old their children will be by 2036, when he expects dangerous climate change to be a reality. Do they want to raise a family in the midst of that crisis?

Many scientists concur that the earth is currently in a warming phase - and that if the earth’s average temperatures rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius, the effects would be disastrous.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries within the United Nations, aims to address just that. Signatory countries agreed to work to keep the global temperature from increasing by two degrees through lowering their greenhouse gas emissions, and to work together on adapting to the effects of climate change that are already a reality.

But reproductive solutions, such as the ones proposed by Rieder, are wildly controversial for the ethical and moral questions they raise.

Penalizing parents

In his book “Toward a Small Family Ethic,” Rieder and two of his peers advocate for limited family size because of what they believe is an impending climate change catastrophe.

They suggest a “carrots for the poor, sticks for the rich” population control policy, which they insist is not like China’s harsh one-child policy.

For poor developing nations, they suggest paying women to fill their birth control and widespread media campaigns about smaller families and family planning. For wealthier nations, they suggest a type of “child tax,” which would penalize new parents with a progressive tax based on income that would increase with each new child.

“(C)hildren, in a kind of cold way of looking at it, are an externality,” Rieder told NPR. “We as parents, we as family members, we get the good. And the world, the community, pays the cost.”

While it might sound strange, the idea that climate change and overpopulation morally necessitate couples to limit their family size (or to have no children at all) is not new.

Since the 1960s, some scientists have been advocating for smaller families for various reasons – overpopulation, climate cooling, the development of Africa – and now, global warming and climate change.

And while the idea isn’t new, neither are the moral and ethical concerns associated with asking parents to limit their family size for the sake of the planet.

Should Catholics limit their family size?

Ultimately, Catholics ethicists said, while environmental concerns can certainly factor into lifestyle choices, those who would ask people to completely forego children simply due to their carbon footprint are approaching the topic from the wrong perspective, not realizing the immeasurable worth and dignity of every human person.

“The proposals (on limited family size)...need to be assessed with a perspective as to the very nature of the human person, marital relationships, and society,” Dr. Marie T. Hilliard told CNA.

Hilliard serves as the director of bioethics and public policy at The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), a center designed specifically to answer the moral bioethical dilemmas that Catholics face in the modern world.

What’s problematic about the policies proposed by Rieder and other scientists is that they ask married couples to frustrate one of the purposes of their sexuality, Hilliard said.

“(T)he procreative end of marriage must be respective. Couples cannot enter into a valid marriage with the intent of frustrating that critical end, and one of the purposes of marriage,” she said. If couples are not open to the possibility of a child, “it frustrates at least one of the two critical ends of marriage: procreation and the wellbeing of the spouses.”  

Dr. Christian Brugger is a Catholic moral theologian and professor with St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. He clarified that while the Church asks couples to be open to life, it does not ask that they practice “unlimited procreation.”

“The Catholic Church has never held – and has many times denied – that responsible parenthood means ‘unlimited procreation’ or the encouragement of blind leaps into the grave responsibilities of child raising,” he said.

“It does mean respecting marriage, respecting the moral principles in the transmission of human life, respecting developing human life from conception to natural death, and promoting and defending a social order manifestly dedicated to the common good.”

Considering the common good can include considering the environment, as well as a host of other factors that pertain to the flourishing of the human person, when couples are considering parenting another child, Brugger said.

But he cautioned Catholics against the moral conclusions of scientists whose views on life and human sexuality differ greatly from Church teaching.

“Catholics should not make decisions about family size based upon the urgings of these activists,” he said.  

“Why? Because they hold radically different values about human life, marriage, sex, procreation, and family, and therefore their moral conclusions about the transmission of human life are untrustworthy.”  

“(P)opulation scare-mongering has been going on in a globally organized fashion for 70 years. The issues that population activists use to promote their anti-natalist agendas change over time...But the urgent conclusion is always the same: the world needs less people; couples should stop having children,” he said.

And many worry that legislated policies encouraging and rewarding smaller families could open up a host of ethical and moral problems.

Rebecca Kukla of Georgetown University told NPR that she worries about the stigma such policies would unleash on larger families. She also worried that while a “child tax” might not be high enough to be considered coercive, it would be unfair, and would favor the wealthy.

Hilliard agreed.

“(A) carte blanche imperative to limit family size can lead us to the dangers the (NPR article) cites, as discrimination and bias and government mandates can, and have, ensued,” Hilliard said.

Women in particular would bear the brunt of the resulting stigmas of such policies, Brugger noted.

“(W)omen will and already do suffer the greatest burden from this type of social coercion. Women have always been the guardians of the transmission of human life. They share both the godlike privilege of bearing life within them and the most weighty burdens of that privilege. Anti-natalist demagoguery is always anti-woman, always,” Brugger said.

All things considered, the Catholic Church would never take away the right and responsibility of parents to determine their family size by supporting a policy that would ask families to limit their size because of climate change, he said.  

It’s not people, it’s your lifestyle

William Patenaude is a Catholic ecologist, engineer and longtime employee with Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management. He frequently blogs about ecology from a Catholic perspective at

The idea that we must choose between the planet or people, he told CNA, is a “false choice.” The problem isn’t numbers of people – it’s the amount each person is consuming.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 1960 the United States produced some 88 million tons of municipal waste. In 2010 that number climbed to just under 250 million tons—and it may have been higher had a recession not slowed consumption. This jump reflects an almost 184 percent increase in what Americans throw out even though our population increased by only 60 percent,” he wrote in a blog post about the topic.

There is a similar trend in carbon emissions, which increase at a faster rate than the population.

“We can infer from this that individuals (especially in places like the USA) are consuming and wasting more today than we ever have, which gets to what Pope Francis has been telling us about lifestyles, which is consistent with his predecessors,” Patenaude told CNA.

Climate change has been one of the primary concerns of Pope Francis’ pontificate. While not the first Pope to address such issues, his persistence in addressing the environment has brought a new awareness of the urgency of the issue to other Church leaders.

In May 2015, Pope Francis published “Laudato Si,” the first encyclical devoted primarily to care for creation.

In it, the Holy Father wrote that the earth “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”

But never does the Pope ask families to have fewer children. Instead, he urges Catholics to address pollution and climate change, to make simple lifestyle changes that better care for “our common home” and to work toward a better human ecology.  

“It seems that voices that urge fewer children aren’t interested in new and temperate lifestyles. In fact, they are implicitly demanding that modern consumption levels be allowed to stay as they are – or even to rise. This seems selfish and gluttonous, and not at all grounded in a concern for life, nature, or the common good,” Patenaude said.

Furthermore, the good of any individual person outweighs the damage of their potential carbon footprint, he said.

“The good and dignity and worth of every human person is superseded by nothing else on this planet. If we don’t affirm that first, we can never hope to be good stewards of creation, because we will never really be able to appreciate all life,” he said.

“On the other hand, one way to affirm the dignity of human life – collectively and individually – is to care for creation. Because as I noted earlier, creation is our physical life-support system, and so to authentically care for it is to care for human life.”

Dan Misleh is the executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant, which was formed in 2006 by the United States Catholic Bishops in order to help implement Church social teaching regarding climate change.

Misleh agreed that while reducing the consumption of fossil fuels is “imperative” to reducing negative effects of climate change like droughts and rising sea levels, that does not mean mandated population engineering and smaller families.

“As for population, places like the U.S., Japan and many European countries have both high carbon emissions and relatively low population growth and birth rates. So there is not a direct correlation between low-birth rates and fewer emissions. In fact, the opposite often seems to be true: countries with the highest birthrates are often the poorest countries with very low per-capita emissions,” he told CNA.

What is needed is a true “ecological conversion,” like Pope Francis called for in Laudato Si, Misleh said.  

“(P)erhaps we Catholics need to view a commitment to a simple lifestyle not as a sacrifice but as an opportunity to live more in keeping with the biblical mandate to both care for and cultivate the earth, to spend more time on relationships than accumulating things, and to step back to appreciate the good things we have rather than all the things we desire.”


This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 27, 2016.


In new school, Byzantine spirituality meets Montessori method

Sun, 07/16/2017 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Jul 16, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With the goal of encountering children on a more personal level to meet their academic and spiritual needs, a Montessori school influenced by the Byzantine Catholic tradition is opening in Denver, Colorado.

Pauline Meert, who co-founded Sophia Montessori Academy along with Irene O'Brien, said the two “wanted to combine Montessori and Catholicism because it just made so much sense.”

Meert said the school aims to help children fulfill their God-given potential, and that “the Montessori message really makes that possible for each child, not just for a classroom as a whole, but for each individual.”

Students in Montessori schools work in periods of uninterrupted time – ideally three hours – having the freedom to choose from an established range of options. The Montessori Method uses hands-on techniques in presenting concepts to individual children, rather than a group oriented, lecture-based approach to learning. The student's involvement in his or her own work then gives the teacher the freedom to spend time with each child and cater to each of their needs.

Sophia Montessori of Denver is in its final stages of its development, pending licensing and a few business inspections. But classes for children aged between three and six are expected to start in the fall of this year, and both Meert and O'Brien hope the school, currently with 11 families enrolled, will grow in number and into the high school level.  

When asked about the origin of the school's idea, Meert discussed her connection to children and her dream helping bring about a child’s full potential. She began her Montessori training in high school, and later envisioned Catholic teaching and the Montessori Method together.

Meert said the school has been four years in the making, but that she added the Byzantine spirituality aspect within the past year after she became a parishioner at Holy Protection Parish in Denver.

“The Byzantine faith is going to be the foundation,” she said, noting that the day will begin with a form of the Jesus prayer.

Montessori schools often begin the day with the “silence game,” in which children learn how to be calm and quiet in a time period of about 30 seconds to two minutes. Many schools have interpreted this freely, but she expressed a desire to tie this into the Byzantine's Jesus Prayer.

“The beauty about being Byzantine is that we do that through the Jesus prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on us, your children,’ she said, “You know because it’s kind of hard to call them sinners right away.”

The school will also have the kissing of icons and will teach according to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

“The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a very hands-on way of teaching the children about who Jesus is in time and space: through the parables, through infancy narratives, and through learning the nomenclature of the church.”

Children want to be a part of the world of adults and understand the liturgy, she said, and so the teachers aim to give them direct experiences related to the tabernacle and liturgical seasons.

“If we just tell them to be quiet and read a book during mass and during liturgy then we are not meeting their needs. They just want to know, they just want to be a part, they want to be welcomed by the church.”

She said many people would be surprised at the theological discussions she's had with four-year-olds as well as the harmony created in the classroom. The environment is “surprisingly peaceful and calm, even though there are 20 three-to-six year-olds together.”

Meert also described the trust needed to allow children the freedom to make choices within prescribed limitations. “Three year-olds can do so much!” she said.

Meert defined this freedom as “not the freedom to do whatever you want, but…the freedom that Saint Thomas Aquinas talks about – having freedom within responsibility, within boundaries and within awareness of other people.”

In her interview with CNA, she also voiced her hope to establish afternoon classes for homeschooled kids and support for parents.

“We want to give parents tools and support. Some of the Montessori approach is common sense, but sometimes it's a little trickier and parents just need extra support (or) someone to bounce ideas off of,” she said.

“We really want to be that support with those tools, and create a community that is often missing in our life.”

As US hits refugee cap, bishops ask Trump administration to do more

Sun, 07/16/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Jul 16, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the United States government’s cap on refugees having been reached for the year, the nation's bishops have issued a plea to the Trump administration to increase the limit in a time of a global refugee crisis.

“Now, these vulnerable populations will not be able to access needed protection and will continue to face danger and exploitation,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin July 14.

“Pope Francis reminds us that ‘refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity.’ We must be mindful that every refugee is more than just a number, they are a child of God.”

Speaking in his role as chair the US bishops' conference Committee on Migration, Bishop Vasquez said he reacted with sadness to the news that the new refugee admissions cap of 50,000 people had been reached for this year.

“While certain refugees who have ‘bona fide relationships’ will still be allowed to arrive, I remain deeply concerned about the human consequences of this limitation and its impact on vulnerable refugees such as unaccompanied refugee children, elderly and infirm refugees, and religious minorities,” the bishop said.

The bishops’ conference added that this year’s cap was “historically low.”

Bishop Vasquez urged the cap for the next fiscal year to be increased to 75,000 individuals.

In March 2017, Bishop Vasquez and the U.S. bishops criticized an executive order of President Donald Trump that reduced the numbers of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. to 50,000 from 110,000 per year.

His latest statement repeated those words, saying such a limit “does not reflect the need, our compassion, and our capacity as a nation.”

“We firmly believe that as a nation the United States has the good will, character, leadership, and resources to help more vulnerable people seek refuge,” he said. He voiced the Catholic Church’s continued willingness to serve refugees and show solidarity with them.

Bishop Vasquez said the Church would welcome and accompany them “on their journey to protection and safety.”

There are about 22.5 million refugees seeking protection around the world.

Holy Homebrew: Catholic priest wins brewing's highest honor

Sat, 07/15/2017 - 18:02

Fort Worth, Texas, Jul 15, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Long blessed by Catholics as a “healthful drink for mankind,” one Texas priest has managed to take beer to new heights – winning the highest award in the United States for home-brewed beverages.

“It’s surreal,” Fr. Jeff Poirot told the Fort Worth Star- Telegram. “After we were done screaming from excitement when we won, it was hard to put it into words what winning the Ninkasi means to us.”

Yet, for the brewing priest, his hobby doesn’t detract from his vocation.

“This is a hobby, and it’s a hobby I’ve done all right with. So I would never want it to eclipse what I do ... because my role as a priest takes precedence,” he told the newspaper.

“You can have a busy life. You can have commitments with family and work, but you can still do something you love.”

Fr. Poirot serves as pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Fort Worth, and brews with his homebrewing partner Nick McCoy, who is also a Catholic. Together one of their beers has won the 2017 Ninkasi Award from the American Homebrewers Association, and is the highest award for the best drink judged in the annual National Homebrew Competition.

Together their beer was chosen as the best drink submitted among all 33 categories of beers, meads, and ciders submitted for the competition. Over 8,500 beers were submitted in the competition.

Submitting under then name “Draft Punk,” a play on the French Electronic duo Daft Punk, Fr. Poirot and McCoy's brew club also won first place in the Specialty IPA and Trappist Ale and Strong Belgian categories at the National Homebrew Awards in Minneapolis. This was the third year Fr. Poirot and McCoy have entered beers into the competition.

The winning beer, a Belgian Quadrupel, drew its inspiration from the Trappist tradition.

Generally winners of the Ninkasi award go on to open their own shops or to write books, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Fr. Poirot and McCoy will be staying where they are.

“For me, I always want to balance [brewing] with being a priest, because being a priest is primary, first and foremost for me,” Poirot told the newspaper.

Court sides with NY archdiocese in major religious liberty decision

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 19:00

New York City, N.Y., Jul 14, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal court ruled Friday that the Archdiocese of New York had the right not to hire a diocesan school principal in a First Amendment religious freedom decision.

“The court saw right through this blatantly anti-Catholic lawsuit, agreeing with the Supreme Court that the church, not the state, should pick religious leaders,” Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket, which represented the archdiocese in court, stated July 14 in reaction to the decision.

The case before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals involved St. Anthony’s school in Nanuet, N.Y., 35 miles north of New York City.

The school had decided in 2011 not to renew the contract of its then-principal Joanne Fratello because of her alleged “insubordination” shown to the pastor of St. Anthony’s parish.

Fratello later alleged that the contract decision was a case of sex-based discrimination, and she filed a lawsuit against the school and the archdiocese. She said that she had been hired in a lay capacity, and thus the archdiocese would not be exempt from a discrimination lawsuit under the “ministerial exception.”

The “ministerial exception” forbids the government from intervening in the employment of a minister by a church, as part of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The exception was upheld in 2012 in the Supreme Court’s Hosanna-Tabor decision, which clarified that the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School’s decision to fire a teacher who had the title of “minister” and who worked in a ministerial capacity could not merit an employment discrimination claim.

Regarding Fratello’s claim, the archdiocese argued in court that she had indeed been hired on a ministerial basis and that their decision not to renew her contract was protected under the ministerial exemption.

Becket clarified that Fratello was given a “lay” contract for her job as a principal not because her job was a secular position, but because she was not a religious who had taken a vow of poverty. A diocesan priest would have received a similar contract for the job, Rassbach explained.

On Friday, two judges for the Second Circuit and one district court judge upheld a district court decision that favored the archdiocese.

“We conclude that the plaintiff?s claims are barred because she is a minister within the meaning of the exception,” the opinion said.

“Although her formal title was not inherently religious, the record reflects that, as part of her job responsibilities, she held herself out as a spiritual leader of the school and performed many religious functions to advance its religious mission.”

Judges cannot ultimately determine whether ministerial cases constitute true discrimination, the opinion stated.

“Judges are not well positioned to determine whether ministerial employment decisions rest on practical and secular considerations or fundamentally different ones that may lead to results that, though perhaps difficult for a person not intimately familiar with the religion to understand, are perfectly sensible – and perhaps even necessary – in the eyes of the faithful,” the opinion said.

“In the Abrahamic religious traditions, for instance, a stammering Moses was chosen to lead the people, and a scrawny David to slay a giant.”

The Hosanna-Tabor case presented several standards to determine one’s ministerial capacity, the judges said, including the “formal title” of their job, the use of that title by both the subject and employer, and the “religious functions” of the job.

Fratello met these conditions as a minister, they wrote, as she performed a myriad of religious duties as a principal and had even touted her own “strong Catholic faith” when she applied for the position.

Her religious duties included organizing and leading public prayer over the school loudspeaker, helping plan school Masses and religious assemblies, and encouraging students to attend Mass and grow in their spiritual lives.

In her evaluation by the parish pastor at the end of her first term as principal, Fratello was reviewed on her ability to establish a “Christian atmosphere” at the school, how well she had fostered a “comprehensive religious education program,” and whether she had promoted “a strong program of evangelization.”

According to the archdiocese’s administrative manual for the archdiocesan schools, a cover letter written by the late Cardinal Edward Egan of New York stated that the school principals had “accepted the vocation and challenge of leadership in Catholic education.”

In conclusion, the judges stated that “although Fratello?s formal title was not inherently religious, the record makes clear that she held herself out as a spiritual leader of the School and performed many important religious functions to advance its Roman Catholic mission.”

“The ministerial exception thus bars her employment?discrimination claims because she was a minister within the meaning of the exception,” they said.

Fratello’s lawyer had drawn controversy for a scathing reply he had authored in response to an amicus brief filed on behalf of the archdiocese by the Orthodox Church of America.

He wrote that “organized religion” is a threat to “enlightened rationality,” and called the Roman Catholic Church “the most powerful church on earth.”

The American founders, he said, were “people of the Age of Enlightenment” and believed that “that organized religion and religious dogma are dangerous to a society, and what a society needs is enlightened rationality.”

He said that “our American democracy” could be “undermined if religious groups religious groups can propagandize and indoctrinate school children without the constraint of a loyal American citizen and educator (e.g., a lay school teacher or principal) insisting that secular curriculum be properly taught.”

Florist takes religious liberty case to US Supreme Court

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 18:32

Yakima, Wash., Jul 14, 2017 / 04:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Flower shop owner Barronelle Stutzman is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to protect her from a Washington state court ruling that could destroy her financially because her religious beliefs prevented her from serving a same-sex wedding ceremony.

“If the government can ruin Barronelle for peacefully living and working according to her faith, it can punish anyone else for expressing their belief,” said Stutzman’s attorney Kristen Waggoner, a senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

“The government shouldn’t have the power to force a 72-year-old grandmother to surrender her freedom in order to run her family business. Anyone who supports the First Amendment rights that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to all of us should stand with Barronelle.”

“Our nation has a long history of protecting the right to dissent, but simply because Barronelle disagrees with the state about marriage, the government and ACLU have put at risk everything she owns,” Waggoner charged.

The attorney said the court decision not only endangered Stutzman’s business. It also endangered her family’s savings, her retirement fund, and her home.

Waggoner said her client, who is Southern Baptist, faced “burdensome penalties” simply for exercising a right of free expression.

The legal petition was filed July 14 with the U.S. Supreme Court. The complaint contends that the Washington courts’ reasoning is so broad that it “extends to nearly all speech created for profit” and is “particularly hazardous.” Also dangerous is the “extreme nature” of the punishment for the store owner, which threatens to bankrupt her personally.

The state courts ruled that she must pay penalties and attorneys’ fees for declining to make floral arrangements for a customer who wanted her to create designs for a same-sex ceremony. Her fines and fees could surpass $2 million.

“This Court’s review is needed to prevent the state from silencing professional speech creators with dissenting religious views,” the petition asks the Supreme Court.

In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., declined to serve the same-sex wedding of a long-time customer who had requested her service. She cited her Christian religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman. She recommended her customer to another nearby floral shop.

Stutzman said she and her client have been friends for years.

“There was never an issue with his being gay, just as there hasn’t been with any of my other customers or employees,” she said July 14. “He just enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him.”

“But now the state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life’s work and savings, which will also harm those who I employ. I’m not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn’t promised me and every other American: the right to create freely, and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference.”

After hearing of the incident, the office of the state attorney general wrote her that she was violating the state law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and asked her to stop declining such weddings. Stutzman refused out of conscience.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the state of Washington eventually sued her. A lower court ruled against her, ordering her to pay a fine and legal costs.

She took her case to the Washington State Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld the lower court’s decision in February. It said that as a business owner Stutzman had to abide by the state’s anti-discrimination law despite her religious beliefs.

Waggoner said the case was similar to a Colorado cake shop owner Jack Phillips, who declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and also faces “burdensome penalties.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is asking the high court to consolidate Stutzman’s case with Phillips’ case.

Black Catholic congress emphasizes unity, action

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 16:41

Orlando, Fla., Jul 14, 2017 / 02:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 2,000 participants from across the country gathered in Orlando, Fla. last week for the 12th National Black Catholic Congress, exploring themes of racism and reconciliation, and hearing speakers who stressed the importance of being active to work for change.

Held July 6-9, the congress drew its theme from the prophet Micah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God.”

A preamble with principles for a pastoral plan of action, unveiled at the gathering, elaborated on this theme.

“We believe the Holy Spirit, who is Lord and Giver of Life, is upon us,” the document said. “Because of this, we recommit ourselves to live our Baptism as Catholics, be ‘authentically Black and truly Catholic’ and seek leadership in our Church on all levels.”

“We commit ourselves to act justly by living in proximity with those who are suffering and neglected,” it continued. “Specifically, we seek to promote the dignity and life of everyone person from the unborn to natural death. We commit ourselves to dismantle racism in all forms, which is an obstacle to justice and evangelization. We also commit ourselves to address the challenges of mental illness, mass incarceration, domestic violence and others.”

The document voiced a commitment to finding creative ways to share the faith, supporting local Catholic schools, and promoting the canonization causes of the five black men and women being considered for sainthood.

It reaffirmed the universal call to holiness through all vocations in the Church, and recognized a need to listen and respond to young adults in the community.

The National Black Catholic Congress, which is held every five years, stems from an 1889 meeting between President Grover Cleveland and a group of nearly 100 black Catholic men. The gathering was organized by journalist Daniel Rudd.

The 12th congress comes at a time of continuing unrest and racial tension in many parts of the country, ignited in 2014 with the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

In his keynote address, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana addressed themes of unity and reconciliation.

“When Pope Francis speaks, he doesn’t speak to nations, races and tribes. He speaks to humanity, invited to be disciples of Jesus,” the cardinal said. “There is no Gospel for Africans. There is no Gospel for Americans. There is no Gospel for Italians or Europeans. There is one Gospel for all of us, created in the image and likeness of God.”

None of God’s children should be marginalized or excluded, said Cardinal Turkson, who is the prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Other speakers at the gathering included Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois; Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley, director of the Ph.D. Program at Howard University School of Social Work; Public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama; and Father Maurice Emelu of Nigeria, founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries, Inc.

Topics ranged from family life, young adults and vocations to Catholic social teaching, mental health and theology of the body. Unity, reconciliation and responses to violence were prominent themes throughout the conference.

Rather than simply a 5-day conference, the event was intended “to generate ideas that encourage creativity, freedom and innovation,” which can then be put into practice locally and regionally in the coming months.

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a Day of Reflection will be held Aug. 5 at the Basilica of St. Mary to discuss ways to implement the ideas that came out of the congress.


Bishop lauds bill to fight human trafficking

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 18:40

Washington D.C., Jul 13, 2017 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An upgrade to a key anti-trafficking bill passed the U.S. House on Wednesday, and has been praised by one U.S. bishop as “an important step” in the fight to abolish modern-day slavery.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, called H.R. 2200 “an important step Congress can take to help prevent human trafficking and protect victims as it provides important service provisions that will aid victims.”

The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention, Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2017 makes upgrades to existing legislation, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. The new bill is named after Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave in 1818 but escaped to freedom and who spent his time thereafter fighting to abolish the institution of slavery in the U.S.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House global human rights subcommittee, is the author of the act, with Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), ranking member on the committee, being the bill’s lead sponsor.

The proposed legislation would increase funding for existing anti-trafficking programs in the U.S. and abroad by over $500 million.

Grants will be given to educational programs for students and teachers on how to detect and avoid the trafficking of young people for work or sex. Also, the U.S. government is encouraged under the bill to have employees stay at hotels that have taken concrete steps to prevent trafficking on their property.

Additionally, funding will go to victim assistance like temporary housing, legal advocacy, and mental health treatment.

Funding for victims is important, Rep. Bass insisted, because trafficking victims can be quite young and helpless.

“The majority of underage trafficking victims are girls in foster care, where the average age of a girl entering into sex trafficking is 12 years old,” Bass noted. “One of the major reasons girls cannot escape is because they do not have housing.”

Human trafficking is a global problem that claims almost 21 million victims worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization. Many victims are women and children. Trafficking includes many forms of forced labor and sex slavery.

Fewer than 10,000 trafficking convictions per year are made, according to the State Department. Trafficking spans many industries, such as Indonesians working in slave-like conditions on fishing boats, debt bondage in Afghanistan, and forced prostitution in the U.S.

The International Labor Organization estimates that $150 billion a year in profits in the U.S. alone is the result of forced labor.

“Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said at a Wednesday press conference at the U.S. Capitol. Trafficking is a “national problem,” he added, and requires “a national effort to solve it.”

One chief aim of the the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, authored by Rep. Smith, was to introduce an annual report by the State Department where countries would be ranked in a tier system based on how they met minimum standards set by the law for fighting and preventing trafficking.

The State Department had legal tools at its disposal, like sanctions, to push the countries with the worst records on trafficking to improve.

The Trafficking In Persons report is also updated under the new bill. Countries on the Tier 2 Watch List, the level just below the worst offenders on Tier 3, may only stay on the watch list for a limited period of time before falling to the Tier 3 level if they do not improve their record on fighting trafficking.

Also, countries using child soldiers may not partner with the U.S. military until they discontinue the practice, under the new bill.

Bishop Vasquez stated his support for the proposed legislation on Tuesday, and advocated for citizens to contact their member of Congress to support it as well.

“The Catholic Church has a longstanding role in the prevention of human trafficking and the rehabilitation of victims,” he explained in a letter to members of Congress.

The bill’s actions to support victims of trafficking are especially important, he said, as well as those actions which aim to cut trafficking from economic supply chains.  

“As Pope Francis has stated: ‘[Trafficking] victims are from all walks of life, but are most frequently among the poorest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters,’” he said.

“I believe that these exploited individuals deserve the care and support of our communities and our government and that such support will help them heal and become survivors.”

Members of Congress reiterated on Wednesday the importance of the bill funding prevention efforts, helping victims, and strengthening prosecution of traffickers.

In particular, they insisted, Americans must be aware that trafficking occurs in their own communities and on easily-accessible websites.

“If we call ourselves anti-trafficking advocates, we cannot give a free pass to the websites that sell our women and children,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said on Wednesday, pointing to a Washington Post story explaining how the site is “creating and soliciting illegal sex ads.”

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) noted how authorities in her home state, acting undercover, posted a sex ad which “in less than two days” garnered “over 100 responses to purchase these girls for sex.”

“Every human life is of infinite value,” Rep. Smith said on Wednesday. “We have a duty to protect the weakest and most vulnerable from harm.”