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Cardinal Wuerl lays out plan for lay involvement in bishops' accountability

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Aug 13, 2018 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Donald Wuerl has laid out his vision for lay participation in new oversight structures as part of the ongoing response to recent scandals in the Church in the United States. He is one of several bishops pressing for collaboration between laity and bishops to ensure accountability in the Church hierarchy.

Writing on the website of the Catholic Standard, the magazine of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Wuerl said that there was a well-established theological framework for greater lay participation as the Church faced the “current challenging situation and seek some structural and authentically Catholic response.”

Referring to the widespread sexual abuse crisis at the beginning of the millennium, during which there was an outcry at the failure of dioceses to respond properly to allegations of abuse, the cardinal said bishops had acted to make meaningful changes.

“In 2002, when we faced the terrible crisis of clergy child abuse, the bishops produced the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Later that same year, the ‘Essential Norms,’ created to implement the Charter, were also approved, by both the bishops and the Holy See.”

In recent weeks the credibility of the Dallas Charter has been questioned by many commentators, who have pointed out the prominent role Theodore McCarrick played in drawing up its provisions and speaking out against abuse.

Others have noted that the failure to apply the Charter and Essential Norms to bishops as well as priests and deacons was deliberate. While this was done following legitimate questions about the authority of the U.S. bishops’ conference to pass binding rules for dealing with bishops, in hindsight it appears to have further tainted the work of 2002.

But Cardinal Wuerl said that much practical good was achieved in Dallas and in the years that followed, noting that even the most recent crises concern past and not contemporary allegations.

“It seems fair to say that the Charter worked and continues to work. Almost all of the cases of clergy abuse that we hear today are from a period of time prior to the Charter.”

Wuerl said that many of the Dallas reforms could be adapted or expanded to include the consideration of allegations made against bishops.

“A key component in the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is both the National Review Board that oversees diocesan compliance with the Charter, and the local diocesan review boards that review allegations with a view to determining their credibility. What would be helpful today is that the same type mechanism be now made available when dealing with allegations of abuse or misconduct by a bishop.”

The cardinal made the specific suggestion that one or more such boards be created, with membership including laity, men and women, as well as bishops. These could be established “either at the national level or at the regional or provincial level” and be charged with assessing the credibility of accusations made against bishops.

“It seems that at the service of both accountability and transparency, such boards that reflect the makeup of the Church, laity and clergy, would help to highlight this new level of accountability,” Wuerl wrote.

“The results or findings of these review boards would be presented to the Holy See’s representative, the Apostolic Nuncio. Thus there would be clearly the recognition that the final judgment rests with the divinely established head of the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome.”

Other bishops, like Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany, have made their own calls for increased lay participation in assessing allegations of bishops. In Bishop Scharfenberger’s case, he suggested a lay-led panel be formed, independent from the hierarchy, saying that “to have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised.”

In setting out his own proposal Cardinal Wuerl emphasized that the bishops and faithful were part of the one Body of Christ, and that bringing accountability would be a mutual endeavor.

Both proposals come ahead of the next general session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November, to be held in Baltimore.

Wuerl has previously said that it would be unacceptable for bishops to wait until then to propose responses to the crisis, telling the National Catholic Reporter that “We need to be doing things in anticipation of November so that when we get to November ... we would go into this meeting with a lot of work already done and a lot of testing of the ideas already in place.”

So far, the discussions have focused on how to involve laity in an eventual new structure or process, but others have questioned whether any process involving American bishops can be credible.

One canon lawyer who has worked on sexual abuse cases which involved American bishops in the process told CNA they were unconvinced.

“If there is going to be a proper tribunal [panel of judges] for a case against an American bishop, the last people I would want involved are other American bishops,” the canonist said.

“However good their intentions, I would always have concerns about their objectivity when dealing with these issues - because of personal connections and because the issue of sexual abuse is so charged in the American Church.”

Bishop Conley gives update on diocesan allegations, review policies

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 13:50

Lincoln, Neb., Aug 13, 2018 / 11:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a listening session at a local church in Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop James Conley updated members of his diocese on a review of policies for handling allegations of abuse and misconduct by priests.

“This transparency and objectivity I promise you will include a thorough review of our safe environment policies and procedures by an outside investigator,” he said Aug. 10 to those gathered at St. Wenceslaus Church in Wahoo.

The bishop responded to several allegations against priests in the Diocese of Lincoln that have recently been published online.

“These allegations have already resulted in the start of a thorough review of our policies and procedures regarding how we respond to allegations made against diocesan priests.”

Conley said that he has presented several cases to the Diocesan Review Board, and is continuing to meet with the board for further counsel. He has assembled a group of senior advisors – including staff members, a mental health expert, and officials from the Archdiocese of Omaha – to help evaluate allegations of abuse.

He has also held several listening sessions at parishes affected by recent allegations against priests.

Conley held a listening session at St. Peter’s parish last Monday to discuss the behavior of pastor Fr. Charles Townsend. He said the message from the 500 attendees was clear: “they desire transparency and objectivity, and that is my promise to you and all the faithful in the diocese as I move forward.”

The bishop had previously addressed the allegations against Townsend in an Aug. 4 letter, saying that last year he “received a report that Fr. Townsend had developed an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol.”

Upon receiving the report, he said that he immediately withdrew Townsend from ministry and sent him to a treatment center in Houston before allowing him to return to ministry.

Conley said that he attempted to act with integrity, telling the parishioners that the priest had gone away for health reasons. But while he did not cover up the situation or oblige anyone to keep silent about it, he said he regrets failing to act with more transparency.

“Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do. Because the young man had reached the age of majority, we did not tell his parents about the incident.”

In his Aug. 4 letter, Bishop Conley said that he had removed Fr. Townsend from ministry in order to consult with the diocesan review board, reported the incident to civil authorities, and met with the young man and his parents to ask for forgiveness.

At the Aug. 10 listening session, Conley said that Fr. Townsend has now resigned his pastorate.

“The matter has been reported to authorities and is being investigated,” he said. The investigations will look into Townsend’s behavior, as well as the response of Bishop Conley and his staff.

Conley said that he cannot comment further while the civil and Church investigations are underway, but will offer an update when they have concluded.

The bishop also discussed three other diocesan priests. He said that he is concerned by the behavior of Fr. Patrick Barvick, whom he had previously instructed not to be alone with women. He has asked the priest to step aside from the parish temporarily while he evaluates the situation.

Fr. Steve Thomlison has submitted his resignation as pastor of St. Stephen in Exeter and St. Wenceslaus in Milligan, Conley continued. The resignation came during a meeting “to discuss a past incident in the military that was a concern.”

Conley clarified that the incident did not involve an offense against a minor or a parishioner, and that Thomlison received an honorable discharge from the military.

“I am committed to getting Father the care he needs. Please join me in praying for Father Thomlison,” the bishop said.

He also addressed the case of now-retired priest Fr. James Benton, who was accused in 2002 of touching a minor inappropriately during a camping trip that had taken place during the early 1980s.

“That matter was fully investigated by the Lincoln Diocese. The allegations could not be substantiated,” Conley said.

In the fall of last year, Fr. Benton resigned his pastorate after being accused of sexually abusing two family members more than 25 years prior, he said.

Conley said the allegations were handled by the Diocesan Review Board and referred to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which returned the matter to the bishop to take action.

He said he prohibited Benton from exercising public ministry in the diocese and restricted him from being alone with minors. The priest is now retired.

Bishop Conley reiterated his commitment to transparency and encouraged anyone who has experienced abuse by a member of the diocese to file a report with law enforcement authorities.

“I want to repeat to you that I am sorry for the manner in which I have responded to allegations of improper behavior brought against Lincoln priests,” he said. “I hope you forgive me.”


J.D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, previously served as special assistant to Bishop Conley and director of communications for the Lincoln diocese. Flynn has recused himself from coverage of this story to avoid a conflict-of-interest. He was not involved in the assigning, reporting, editing or oversight of this story.

Pittsburgh bishop says not all grand jury accusations are 'substantiated'

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 11:30

Pittsburgh, Pa., Aug 13, 2018 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh has confirmed that some of the priests named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report into sexual abuse remain in active ministry. The report is expected to be released at 2 p.m. on August 14.

Bishop Zubik made the announcement while speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 10. At the same time, the bishop stressed that there is “no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse.” He also pledged to meet with parishioners in the days following the report’s release to underscore how and why an allegation was found to be unsubstantiated.

Canon law provides that, whenever an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is received by diocesan authorities, the bishop is obligated to hold a preliminary investigation to determine if there is a “semblance of truth” to the claim. This standard, canon lawyers say, is minimal and only determines if the accusation is not “manifestly false or frivolous.”

If the accusation is not demonstrably false, the case is sent to Rome for further consideration at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who determine how the canonical process should proceed.

While Bishop Zubik said he would not comment on specific individuals or allegations until the report was released, he underscored that all those priests still in active ministry named in the report had had their cases re-examined by the diocese’s independent review board – in each case finding the accusations remained unsubstantiated.

Seeking to illustrate that some claims could simply be false, Zubik made reference to his own experience. In 2011, he said, a man accused him and several others of past sexual abuse after being denied a parish volunteering position because of his criminal record. Local law enforcement, the diocesan review board, and Vatican authorities were all informed.

Fortunately for the bishop, the accuser had previously sent him an email threatening retaliation. The local district attorney investigated and dismissed the allegations, calling them “offensive.” 

In that case, it was fortunate that there was clear evidence of malicious intent by the accuser, Zubik said, but that is not always the case.

“I often say to myself, ‘What if that email wasn’t there?’” he told the Post-Gazette. Without such clear proof, it would have been a matter of I-say-he-says and Zubik said he “could swear on a stack of Bibles I didn’t do what I was charged with” but it might not have been enough to stop a presumption of guilt.

“Maybe that’s where my sensitivity comes to people who have been accused, to say just because somebody’s been accused doesn’t necessarily mean they're guilty.”

Zubik also pointed out that it was not always easy to come to a firm assessment of an allegation.

“What if the activity that was reported was not child sexual abuse? Or what if it was by third-hand source, and with every effort to try to reach out to the victim, the victim never came forward? Well, how could you see that as substantiated?”

The bishop’s remarks echo concerns raised by some of those named in the report, who have challenged their inclusion in the final publication, saying that they have been denied due process of law and risk permanent damage to their reputations. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed, delaying publication and ordering the names of those appealing to be redacted while they hear further legal arguments.

It is not known if any of the Pittsburgh priests referred to by Zubik have participated in the legal appeals which have delayed the release of the report.

Teens are requesting plastic surgery to look like Snapchat filters

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 18:56

Boston, Mass., Aug 12, 2018 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- Social media is increasingly making teens dissatisfied with their appearance and obsessed with achieving a filtered version of “perfection,” even going so far as to pursue plastic surgery, say medical professionals.

Dr. Neelam Vashi, director of Ethnic Skin Center at Boston University’s School of Medicine, published an article analyzing the new trend in Jama Facial Plastic Surgery last week.

“A new phenomenon, dubbed ‘Snapchat dysmorphia,’ has patients seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves…with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose,” she said.

Among Snapchat’s more popular features are its facial filters, which change users’ appearance in a phone camera. New filters are offered regularly. Some change a person’s face to look like animals, superheroes, or inanimate objects. Others create a more subtle, modified version of the users themselves – smoothing their skin, whitening their teeth, narrowing their face, enhancing their lips and eyes.

Before photo-editing was readily available for the public to use, Vashi wrote, people idolized the often-unrealistic beauty of celebrities, who were the only people with easy access to photo-editing technology.

But now that the general public has access to this technology, she said, it has altered their expectations of beauty. Instead of bringing photos of celebrities to plastic surgery consultations, patients are bringing in pictures of themselves, with specific angles or lighting.

“I just see a lot of images that are just really unrealistic, and it sets up unrealistic expectations for patients because they’re trying to look like a fantasized version of themselves,” she told Inverse.

According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, more than half of clinicians in 2017 saw patients asking to “look better in their selfies.”  

Dr. Laura Cusamano, a postdoctoral fellow at Potomac Behavioral Solutions in Arlington, Va., works with patients struggling with body image and has seen the same trend. She said the idealization of celebrities has morphed into users of social media idealizing altered images of themselves.

“In recent decades, American media has propagated a distorted view of beauty, privileging certain body types, skin tones, hair colors, and facial features. Beauty ideals have come in the form of celebrities, whose ‘perfect’ images are often Photoshopped,” she told CNA.

“With the advent of social media, the ability to alter one's appearance is literally at one's fingertips. Applications like Snapchat provide the opportunity for users to discover the ‘perfect’ image of themselves to share with their peers and the world.”

Cusamano voiced concern that Snapchat Dysmorphia may lead young people to compare their bodies not only with digitally altered images of themselves, but also with similar images of family and friends. This could lead to eating disorders, self-esteem problems, and other issues, she said.

She also worries that the new trend may push ill individuals further into Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in which individuals suffer from “excessive preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in their physical appearance.”

“They become obsessed with what they consider to be imperfections, and they often spend a great deal of time trying to examine, improve, or mask their supposed flaws,” she said. The disorder is associated with anxiety and depression, as well as shame and low self-esteem.

Cusamano said nearly 75 percent of people with the disorder seek surgery, cosmetic treatment, and dermatological work. She said these individuals may also encounter suicidal ideation.

When asked about how to correct this trend of Snapchat Dysmorphia, she said people should pay attention to how social media is affecting their life, noticing whether they find themselves becoming jealous of other users.  

People may need to take a temporary break from social media or follow accounts designed to spread positive messages about the human body, she said.

Cusamano also stressed the importance of recognizing the dignity of the human person.

“Remembering that you are created in the image and likeness of God and asking God to help you see yourself as He sees you is a wonderful way to work on transforming your self-image,” she said.


Abuse accusations bring scrutiny for McCarrick's charity fund

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 18:41

Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s roles included service on the boards of at least two foundations that gave over $500,000 combined to his personally overseen fund at the Archdiocese of Washington over a decade’s time.

While the archdiocese says no irregularities have been found, CNA’s examination of tax records provides more insight into the archbishop’s areas of influence.

“Archbishop McCarrick established the ‘Archbishop’s Fund’ in January 2001 for his works of charity and other miscellaneous expenses and it continued in his retirement,” the Archdiocese of Washington told CNA.

“The account was audited annually along with other archdiocesan accounts. Nothing irregular was ever noticed,” the archdiocese continued. “When the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was first disclosed in June, Archbishop McCarrick consigned the fund to the Archdiocese of Washington and the money will be used for archdiocesan charitable purposes.”

The archdiocese did not respond to questions about how much money had passed through the fund, nor specifically identify what charities or expenses it had supported.

In June, Pope Francis removed the 88-year-old churchman from ministry after an allegation he sexually abused a minor almost 50 years ago was ruled credible. In late July he resigned from the College of Cardinals, and the pope ordered him to adopt a life of prayer and penance pending a canonical process. Other allegations of sexual abuse and coercion have since been raised, and have brought to the public eye past legal settlements involving alleged misconduct while head of two New Jersey dioceses.

After he was removed from ministry, the archbishop said he has no memory of the abuse, believes in his innocence, and is sorry for the pain of his accuser and for any scandal the charges cause to others. McCarrick served as Archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006, but the archdiocese said it has received no allegation of misconduct against him.

Two Catholic-focused foundations have now cut ties with McCarrick: the Virginia-based Loyola Foundation, which generally makes grants for overseas Catholic mission activity; and the Minnesota-based GHR Foundation, whose focuses of global development, health and education include inter-religious action, strengthening Catholic women’s religious communities, and urban Catholic schools.

Archbishop McCarrick sat on the Loyola Foundation’s board for more than two decades. It gave $20,000 to $40,000 per year to the archbishop’s fund for at least 10 years, starting in the foundation’s fiscal year 2006 to 2007. The grants totaled at least $310,000, according to a CNA review of tax documents.

“Grants specifically designated by Archbishop McCarrick were made to the Archdiocese of Washington, a recognized 501(c)(3),” the foundation’s executive director Greg McCarthy told CNA. “The Loyola Foundation has no evidence of any unethical behavior, or any undisclosed conflict of interest in his role as board member.”

Trustees may make “limited discretionary grants” to qualified 501(c)(3) charities, and foundation policy requires all grants to comply with IRS requirements, he explained.

“The Loyola Foundation would have no reason to question grants made to the Archdiocese of Washington, a major diocese in our country,” McCarthy added. “Our expectation is that the archdiocese accepted such grants and exercised appropriate oversight so that spending was within archdiocesan moral, legal and ethical bounds.”

The foundation’s publicly available tax documents include grant application guidelines which say its average grant is about $10,000.

The Minnesota-based GHR Foundation made nine grants of $25,000 each, totaling $225,000, earmarked for the “former archbishop’s fund” or the “former archbishop’s special fund,” from 2006 to 2014, tax records say.

Archbishop McCarrick sat on the foundation board of directors from 2006 until 2016. Since then he has served as director emeritus, which a spokesman characterized as “only an honorary role.”

The GHR Foundation spokesperson said McCarrick was not active in his final years as a board member nor as a director emeritus.

“We are reviewing any type of actions while he was a board member,” he said. “We are taking this very seriously and are conducting a review.” The foundation said it would share information “if we find anything that we feel is not what was intended for GHR funds.”

The foundation has given several other five-figure grants to the Washington archdiocese, plus a 2008 grant of $400,000 to the Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary of Washington as a one-time grant “honoring Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.”

Beginning in 2007, the GHR Foundation gave $1 million a year for seven years to the Papal Foundation, which McCarrick had co-founded in 1988. The Papal Foundation supports projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See.

The GHR spokesman could not address questions about foundation grants to the former archbishop’s special fund but said the foundation is looking into the matter.

“We just want to make sure that the funds were used in a way that intended to support our values,” he said.

The spokesman said that to his understanding McCarrick’s role as a leader in interreligious dialogue fit well with the foundation’s inter-religious activities, adding “he is a leader in Christian-Muslim relations.”

CNA contacted McCarrick’s civil lawyer Barry Coburn, who said he had “no comment at this time.”

Both the Loyola and GHR foundations said they have removed the former cardinal from any role.

After the Holy See asked McCarrick to cease all public ministry, the Loyola Foundation released McCarrick from his board duties in a July letter, said McCarthy, the foundation’s executive director.

“He is no longer a board member and serves in no other capacity. No one has replaced him,” McCarthy said. “Our foundation encourages a full, complete and transparent review of all the allegations made against Archbishop McCarrick, with legal follow up within both civil and canon law, if appropriate.”

The GHR Foundation spokesman told CNA that when the first allegations came out “we immediately suspended him.”

“Obviously we were shocked and saddened. This was news to us,” the spokesman added. “Then as additional allegations came out we acted promptly and removed him from his honorary role. We have severed all ties to former Cardinal McCarrick.”

Like many church and civic leaders who had worked with McCarrick, McCarthy too said the Loyola Foundation did not know of abuse incidents.

“As a Catholic entity focused on the needy, our energies are spent on trying to help our brothers and sisters in Christ,” McCarthy said. “No one on our staff or on the board was even remotely aware of the incidents reported. May God help any who may have been wronged.”

The GHR Foundation was launched in 1965 by Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst, founders of the architecture design and construction companies that would become known as the Opus Group. In 2016, the foundation website says, it gave over $20.7 million in grants to 100 organizations around the world.

It has been a major donor to Catholic Relief Services, on whose board McCarrick once served. It has given large grants to religious sisters and groups like the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.

The foundation supports urban Catholic schools in Minneapolis-St. Paul; other efforts in the Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese; and Catholic universities like Marquette University, St. Catherine University and the University of St. Thomas, where the foundation’s founders earned their degrees.

The GHR Foundation’s CEO and chair, Amy Rauenhorst Goldman, has served as a consultant on trade negotiations and investment strategies. She is a trustee and vice-chair of the board of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and a member of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Board of Visitors.

The foundation board is composed of members of the Rauenhorst family and others such as Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association.

The Loyola Foundation was established in 1957 by Albert G. McCarthy, Jr. and his wife Kathleen to assist mission work in developing countries. Its 2015-2016 biennial report said it gave out over $1.6 million in grants in 2016.

Foundation leadership includes members of the McCarthy family as well as other leading Catholics. One long-serving board member is Father William J. Byron, S.J., past president of both University of Scranton and Catholic University of America. He also served as rector of the Georgetown Jesuit Community, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. and an interim president of Loyola University New Orleans.

McCarrick’s own career included time as a university leader and service on diplomatic missions and advisory roles for both the U.S. State Department and the Holy See. He has served on pontifical councils for Promoting Christian Unity, Justice and Peace, Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and for Latin America. Similarly, he served in the office of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

He chaired U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees on Domestic Policy, International Policy, Migration, and Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

In August, watch this meteor shower named for a saint

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Aug 10, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Star-gazing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when Catholics think of St. Lawrence, the early Christian martyr who was cooked to death by the Romans on an outdoor grill.

But every August, Catholics have the chance to see a meteor shower named in his honor.

The Perseids meteor shower, also called the “tears of St. Lawrence,” is a meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which drops dust and debris in Earth’s orbit on its 133-year trip around the Sun. (The comet poses no immediate threat to Earth, at least not for several thousand years.)

As Earth orbits the Sun, it hits pieces of left-behind debris from the comet, causing them to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

This creates a prolific meteor shower that can best be seen in the Northern Hemisphere from late July to early August, usually peaking around Aug. 10, the feast of St. Lawrence.  

During its peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour.

The name “Perseids” comes from the constellation Perseus, named for a character in Greek mythology, and the radiant of the shower or the point from which it appears to originate.

The name “tears of St. Lawrence” came from the association with his feast day and from the legends that built up around the Saint after his death.

Saint Lawrence was martyred on Aug. 10, 258 during the persecution of the emperor Valerian along with many other members of the Roman clergy. He was the last of the seven deacons of Rome to die.

After the pope, Sixtus II, was martyred on Aug. 6, Lawrence became the principal authority of the Roman Church, having been the Church's treasurer.

When he was summoned before the executioners, Lawrence was ordered to bring all the wealth of the Church with him. He showed up with a handful of crippled, poor, and sick men, and when questioned, replied that "These are the true wealth of the Church."

He was immediately sent to his death, being cooked alive on a gridiron. Legend has it that one of his last words was a joke about his method of execution, as he quipped to his killers: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”

Catholics began calling the meteors the “tears of St. Lawrence,” even though the celestial phenomenon pre-dates the saint.

Some Italian lore also holds that the fiery bits of debris seen during a meteor shower are representative of the coals that killed St. Lawrence.

Anyone in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to view the “tears of St. Lawrence” best on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12 this year. The meteors will shower from various points in the sky rather than from one particular direction.

For the best viewing, it is recommended to go to a rural area away from light pollution.

Vice President Pence and Cardinal Parolin discuss Nicaragua

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin about the situation in Nicaragua, expressing support for the Church’s efforts in that country.

During the conversation, which took place by phone Aug. 10, Pence recognized that the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been a leading force in efforts at mediation and dialogue over the past year. Pence lauded the Church for its work to protect human rights and religious freedom, and to promote good-faith negotiations to bring peace to the area.

Nicaragua has been in a state of unrest for months following widespread opposition to President Daniel Ortega. There have been series of protests against Ortega since he announced changes to the country’s social security and pension systems. These changes were abandoned after protests turned violent.

Hundreds of people have been killed as police and paramilitary forces attempt to assert control.

In the phone call, both Pence and Parolin condemned the continuing violence, and reaffirmed their support for the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference and its work to support democracy and human rights.

Following expressions of empathy with protesters, the Church in Nicaragua has been accused by Ortega of attempting to subvert his government. In the past few months, churches around the country have been attacked, and a bishops have been assaulted

In late July, the United States pledged $1.5 million to Nicaragua to assist human rights organizations and independent media in the country.

In a speech at the recent Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held by the State Department in July, Vice President Pence spoke out strongly about the situation in Nicaragua and against the government’s actions.

“The government of Daniel Ortega is virtually waging war on the Catholic Church,” said Pence.

“For months, Nicaragua’s bishops have sought to broker a national dialogue following pro-democracy protests that swept through the country earlier this year. But government-backed mobs armed with machetes, and even heavy weapons, have attacked parishes and church properties, and bishops and priests have been physically assaulted by the police.”

According to a statement released by the White House, Cardinal Parolin and Vice President Pence both “condemned the violence which has claimed hundreds of lives and increasingly targeted the Church, and reaffirmed their support for the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference and the entire faith community which has stood firm in support of human rights, democracy, and freedom.”

Cardinal O’Malley orders inquiry into Boston seminary, places rector on ‘sabbatical’

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 15:57

Boston, Mass., Aug 10, 2018 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Séan O’Malley has announced a major investigation into St. John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston, following allegations made by two former seminarians. The cardinal also announced that the rector of the seminary, Monsignor James Moroney, had been placed on immediate leave to allow for a “fully independent inquiry.”

The announcement was made by Cardinal O’Malley on Friday afternoon, August 10.

In a prepared statement, the cardinal said that he had learned of the allegations earlier that week, after posts by the former seminarians appeared on social media. The Archdiocese has not confirmed the exact nature of the allegations.

"Earlier this week I was informed that two former seminarians of St. John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston had posted allegations on social media sites including the Archdiocese’s Facebook page that during their time at the seminary they witnessed and experienced activities which are directly contrary to the moral standards and requirements of formation for the Catholic priesthood," O'Malley said.

The cardinal, who also serves as the President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, stressed that he has not yet been able to either prove or disprove the allegations, but that the matter was being treated with the utmost seriousness.

“As Archbishop of Boston, with responsibility for the integrity of the seminary and its compliance with the Church's Program for Priestly Formation, I am committed to immediate action to address these serious matters.”

In addition to announcing Msgr. Moroney’s “sabbatical,” Cardinal O’Malley said that he has appointed Rev. Stephen E. Salocks to serve as Interim Rector of St. John's. Father Salocks currently serves as a professor at the seminary.

The investigation into the allegations is being led by Bishop Mark O'Connell, Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, Dr. Francisco Cesareo, President of Assumption College and President of the USCCB National Review Board, which advises the USCCB on matters of child and youth protection policies and practices, and Ms. Kimberly Jones, CEO of Athena Legal Strategies Group.

Laying out the remit of the inquiry, O’Malley said he had directed them to examine “the allegations made this week, the culture of the seminary regarding the personal standards expected and required of candidates for the priesthood, and any seminary issues of sexual harassment or other forms of intimidation or discrimination.”

The inquiry will be staffed by Mark Dunderdale, the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Professional Standards and Oversight.

The cardinal said he had instructed the inquiry team to report back to him “as soon as possible” with their findings and a set of recommendations ensuring proper standards of behavior in accord with Church teaching at all levels of seminary life.

“The allegations made this week are a source of serious concern to me as Archbishop of Boston,” O’Malley said. 

“The ministry of the Catholic priesthood requires a foundation of trust with the people of the Church and the wider community in which our priests serve. I am determined that all our seminaries meet that standard of trust and provide the formation necessary for priests to live a demanding vocation of service in our contemporary society.”

Tennessee executes first prisoner since 2009, despite plea by bishops

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 14:00

Memphis, Tenn., Aug 10, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Tennessee carried out its first execution in nearly a decade on Thursday evening. Governor Bill Haslam allowed the lethal injection to proceed at a maximum-security Nashville prison, despite controversy over the drug cocktail used and past pleas from the state’s three Catholic bishops, who argued that the death penalty was contrary to human dignity and respect for life.

Billy Ray Irick, 59, was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m. Aug. 9 after an execution that took about 20 minutes. Irick was sentenced to death in 1986 for the rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Kay Dyer, whom he had been babysitting. Irick confessed to her murder and was found guilty after a six-day trial.

After initially declining to say any last words, Irick then apologized for his crimes, saying, "I just want to say I'm really sorry and that, that's it." His lawyer stated his last meal was a burger, onion rings, and a soft drink, and that he was able to meet with prison chaplains before his execution.

In July, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis wrote a letter to Gov. Haslam asking for him to put an end to the death penalty in the state. The bishops urged him “to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions planned for later this year,” saying that “the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life.”

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who did not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote.

Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church last week to say that the death penalty was now “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” due in part to various improvements in modern prison systems and their ability to keep the public safe.

Irick’s supporters argued that his execution should be stayed due to his past mental health issues, and concerns over the drugs used in lethal injections. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the execution on these grounds in a decision by Justice Elena Kagan.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from Kagan’s decision, saying that she was concerned the method of execution could cause Irick to experience severe pain, and that this could constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Going forward with the execution, Sotomayor said, would mean the United States has “stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism.”

Significant concerns had been expressed about the drugs to be used in the execution, particularly midazolam, a sedative. Lawyers have argued that the drug does not effectively render the inmate unconscious, and that they are able to feel the effects of the other two drugs in the cocktail.

The drugs previously administered in lethal injections have become increasingly hard for states to acquire, as companies have either stopped producing the drug or refused to sell them for use in executions.

Tennessee currently has 60 inmates on death row. The last execution carried out in the state was in 2009, when Cecil Johnson Jr. was executed for the murder of three people in 1980. Including Irick, seven people have been executed in Tennessee since the year 2000.

A year after Charlottesville, Virginia bishops pray for end to racism

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 13:35

Arlington, Va., Aug 10, 2018 / 11:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Virginia offered prayers for peace and a renewed sense of human dignity ahead of the one-year anniversary of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

“Racism is a sin. As the U.S. Bishops wrote in 1979 – ‘a sin that divides the human family,’” said Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond in a statement.

“Prayer – individually and as a faith community – is a start in addressing racism and to help heal from the effects of racism, but it cannot be an occasional act and it shouldn’t be confined to one day,” the bishop said.

“I pray that during this time when we are challenged by divisions that we commit to praying, listening, learning, thinking and working for peace, justice and an end to racism.”

On August 11-12 last year, a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., was planned to protest the city’s removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a local park – one of several Confederate monuments removed throughout the country after a 2015 church shooting in Charleston.

The rally drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. A counter-protest, including a diverse coalition of religious leaders and members of the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements, was formed. At least 30 people were injured in clashes between the protesters and counter-protesters.

On Aug. 12, a man linked to white-supremacist groups drove a car into the counter-protest, injuring 19 and killing one, 32-year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the incident “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute,” and promised to “protect the right of people, like Heather Heyer, to protest against racism and bigotry.”

Catholic bishops denounced the violence but also explicitly condemned the racist ideology amidst the “Unite the Right” gathering.

Shortly after the violence in Charlottesville, the U.S. bishops announced the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism to respond to ongoing social tension. The committee was formed to explore ways the Church can address the root causes of contemporary manifestations of racism, and to hold public conversations about racism and race-related problems.

Unite the Right is planning an anniversary rally in Washington, D.C. this weekend.

Bishop Knestout voiced his hope that the one year anniversary of the events in Charlottesville “will not be approached with provocative rhetoric but provide an opportunity for prayer and dialogue about racism, and the action needed to overcome it.”

“It is my sincere hope that all remain safe in these coming days and throughout the weekend, and may the Holy Spirit be a source of strength and comfort for the families and friends who continue to mourn the loss of a loved one,” he said, encouraging members of the diocese to pray for the intercession of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States, for unity and peace in the country.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington also issued a statement leading up to the Charlottesville anniversary.

“I call upon all Catholics and people of good will to pray for peace in our nation, and for an end to the division that is caused by racism and prejudice,” he said.

“We must shine a light on injustice, be advocates for those who are victims of discrimination, and continue to affirm the dignity of every human person as we are all created in the image and likeness of God,” the bishop continued.

“We pray to our Lady, Queen and Peace, for unity and harmony in our communities, in our nation, and our world, recalling that it is only through her Son, Jesus Christ, that true healing and peace are ours.”

Diocese of Greensburg issues apology for past failings, promises to release names of accused priests

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 12:00

Greensburg, Pa., Aug 10, 2018 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Greensburg has issued an apology and pledged to release the names of priests accused of sexual misconduct over the last 70 years. The names will be released following the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse allegations in six Catholic dioceses, expected within the next week.

The diocese published a 17-page document on Thursday August 9, apologizing for past failures by the Church to protect children, and explaining the steps the diocese has taken to prevent future abuse.

“Admittedly, there have been occasions where the Church and the Diocese of Greensburg have faltered in their protection of children, young people, and vulnerable adults. For those, the Diocese of Greensburg apologizes to the survivors and their families and continually offers assistance to help them heal,” said the document.

In a letter included in the document, Bishop Edward Malesic wrote that while terrible mistakes had been made, the Church had learned from them.

“The people of the Diocese of Greensburg should know that we have learned from the mistakes made in the past,” he wrote.

The bishop also emphasised that the the Church remained active in its local ministries, and that much good work was being done serving the poor and the sick, and preaching the Gospel.

“I can assure you that the Church in the Diocese of Greensburg today has evolved far beyond the Church described in media reports. One of the safest places to be as a young person today is the Catholic Church.”

Malesic has led the diocese since July of 2015. The Diocese of Greensburg was founded in 1951, four years after the beginning of the period covered by the grand jury investigation.

The diocese also announced it will provide free counseling for all survivors of abuse by church personnel, regardless of where it happened or when it happened, and encourages any survivors to come forward, even if their abuser is not named in the eventual report.

The diocese said that some of the names to be released “may be familiar,” as their cases were made public and were covered by the media. None of the priests listed in the report are serving in public ministry, Bishop Malesic told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Greensburg joins the Dioceses of Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Erie in pro-actively releasing a statement or list of names ahead of the official release of the grand jury report.

Harrisburg and Erie have already released the names of men accused of abuse, misconduct, or other inappropriate activity in documents on their websites. Both Pittsburgh and Greensburg said they intend to wait for the report to be released before they make their lists public. 

The grand jury report follows an lengthy investigation of child sexual abuse or the covering up of child sexual abuse by priests, deacons, seminarians, or laypersons within six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses over the last 70 years. The report, which is over 800 pages long, reportedly names approximately 300 priests accused of abuse or of covering up abuse.

The investigation has already resulted in the conviction of one priest from the Diocese of Greensburg, John Sweeney, for the sexual assault of a 10-year-old student during the 1991-92 school year. That priest was removed from ministry in 2016 before his arrest in 2017.

The Diocese of Greensburg said information about this case was not immediately made public at the request of law enforcement, although it was made clear to the priest that he was being removed from ministry due to allegations of child sexual abuse. The diocese stressed that normally such information would be immediately released to the public. The diocese also said it had “fully cooperated” with the grand jury investigation.

“The Diocese of Greensburg is saddened by our past failures — grievous failures — and we are horrified by the conduct that we ourselves would have never condoned and committed by men who, in many cases, many of us never knew,” said the document.

“But, we are also aware that our Diocese has moved forward from this past and evolved in combatting this evil, and we are proud of the work that we have undertaken over the last 30 years to establish a safe environment for our children and our youth in the Diocese of Greensburg.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered that the grand jury report be published no later than August 14.

What's driving the growth of Catholic churches in the Bible Belt?

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 02:27

Charleston, S.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 12:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the thick of the Bible Belt, the famously evangelical Protestant region in the southeastern United States, some Catholic Masses are filling to standing-room only.

Meanwhile, many Baptist, Methodist and Lutheran churches are struggling to keep enough people in the pews to justify opening their doors.

It has widely been reported that the U.S. as a whole is losing its religion, with Protestant mainline churches seeing the most decline over the past 15 years. But two key factors are contributing to Catholic growth throughout the south: a boom in the Hispanic population, and the southern migration of Catholic retirees and families from the Northeast.

St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Bluffton, along the southern coast of South Carolina, particularly illustrates this shift along the Bible Belt — the congregation grew by a massive 70 percent in just 10 years, and now claims 10,000 registered members. Even though South Carolina is gaining in population, the growth of this parish outpaces even that of the state, according to local newspapers.

“Sunday Masses are crowded as latecomers squeeze into pews or stand in the back of the church. Twelve Masses are held Friday evening through Sunday — two of which are in Spanish. And work is underway on a new parish life center for community events,” Kasia Kovacs reports in The Island Packet.

Hispanics made up about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016, with especially large representation among youth and young adults: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. is expected to continue growing during the next decade.

At St. Gregory’s, Masses for major holidays like Christmas and Easter are said in both English and Spanish, and seminarians in the state are required to be fluent in Spanish before their ordination. The parish celebrates Las Posadas and other traditional Hispanic celebrations, and food trucks at parish events now feature empanadas and gorditas.

“Having this summer experience, and seeing how it comes together — seeing how the Hispanic community and English community collaborate — it really is a single entity,” seminarian Tom Drury told The Island Packet.

Parishioner Jenny Bermejo, who moved to the area as a child with her family in 2004, said that St. Gregory’s has provided them with community and the familiarity of home.

“We were still pretty new to South Carolina, so hearing Mass in Spanish really brought us a sense of home,” Bermejo said.

St. Gregory’s pastor Monsignor Ronald Cellini told The Island Packet that his Hispanic parishioners are often more active in church life in the United States than they were back in Mexico, Guatemala or Colombia. The rural area of Bluffton reminds them of home, and they are putting down roots — they are not transient migrants who will leave in a few years.

“The Bluffton Hispanic community is here — it’s not a migrant community,” he said. “Kids grow up here. They’ve been here, they’re staying here.”

In response to these shifting demographics and the influx of Hispanic Catholics throughout the United States, the U.S. bishops have called for a meeting called the V Encuentro- Fifth Encounter- a national gathering of U.S. Hispanic leaders and ministers to consult with Hispanic Catholics and respond to their pastoral needs.

The first Encuentro was held in 1972, and the most recent was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.

This year, the V Encuentro will be held in Grapevine, Texas Sept. 20-23.

Lawsuit filed against new government asylum rules

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Immigration activists have made a legal challenge to the government’s criteria for migrants seeking asylum on Tuesday, saying that the grounds outlined were too narrow and should be expanded.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies filed suit on behalf of a dozen individuals who say they left their home countries after experiencing “horrific persecution,” including the murder of family members. These people were denied asylum in the United States.

The lead plaintiff, identified only as “Grace,” is a native of Guatemala who says she came to the United States after two decades of physical and sexual abuse by her husband. “Grace” faces the possibility of deportation back to Guatemala, where her lawyers say her life is at risk.

Previously, a person could claim fear of gang violence or domestic abuse as a reason why they should be granted asylum into the United States. In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a new policy, stating that these factors “generally” do not constitute a suitable reason.

In a June 11 decision by the attorney general relating to a particular case referred to as A-B-, he ruled that “generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”

While Sessions said that he did not “minimize the vile abuse” that particular woman had endured, “the mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes—such as domestic violence or gang violence—or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”

Catholics have spoken out strongly against the new policy.

At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general assembly in June, USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston condemned the new policy in his opening address to the bishops.

DiNardo said that the policy would risk the lives of women, and that “unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors.”

The ACLU argues that the updated policy is an “attempt to subvert decades of settled asylum law” and is a “fundamental misunderstanding of domestic violence.” The plaintiffs are arguing that the new policy effectively restricts asylum claims to those fleeing persecution either by the government, or that the government actively condoned the persecution.

This, they argue, goes against the established legal standard that the local government merely be “unwilling or unable” to offer protection.

In May, administration officials said that individuals and people-smuggling organizations were exaggerating the threat of violence they faced in an effort to exploit the system and gain entry to the United States.

Sessions said that the June changes would restore "sound principles of asylum and long-standing principles of immigration law."

Under immigration law, a person seeking asylum must prove that they are subject to persecution in their home country due to their race, nationality, religious beliefs, political views, or membership in a certain social group. Over time, the definition of “certain social group” has been expanded to include women who are fleeing domestic violence in countries where there are few legal avenues for a woman to prosecute or even escape her abuser.

Over the past year, the number of people seeking asylum who fail the first step, known as the “credible fear screening,” has increased. People who fail the credible fear screening are subject deportation back to their country of origin.

The case will be heard by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

NJ bishop: Independent avenue for reporting abuse is needed

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:01

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 9, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In light of a scandal involving one of its former bishops, Theodore McCarrick, the Diocese of Metuchen is working to establish an independent avenue for victims to report abuse conducted by Church leaders, including bishops.

"I continue to be saddened and ashamed... by reports of the abhorrent events we have been learning about in regard to Archbishop McCarrick - I know you must be, too. Our efforts to evangelize, and spread the Good News of Christ, have been hobbled by these atrocities,” Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen said in an Aug. 7 letter.

“I am praying for all those who have been hurt and praying that God’s mercy will bring healing and consolation,” he stated. “I am also working to address how we can ensure that similar abuses, especially of seminarians or young priests, would not happen again, particularly by those in positions of authority over them.”

Archbishop McCarrick was Bishop of Metuchen from 1982 to 1986.

The Archdiocese of New York announced in June that it had concluded an investigation into an allegation that McCarrick had sexually abused a minor in the early 1970s, finding the claim to be “credible and substantiated.”

Since that announcement, media reports have detailed additional allegations, charging that McCarrick sexually abused, assaulted, or coerced seminarians and young priests during his time as a bishop. The Metuchen diocese and the Archdiocese of Newark disclosed that they had received three allegations of  sexual misconduct with adults by McCarrick, and had reached settlements in two cases.

McCarrick resigned as a cardinal July 28.

Bishop Checchio said that “The case of Archbishop McCarrick demonstrates that the culture of the Church is changing and that no one is exempt from its censure – regardless of a person’s rank or status, or the number of years that have passed since an incident occurred. As I have done in the past, I continue to urge anyone who has been abused to bring the situation to the attention of law enforcement officials. Also, I want to reiterate that the Diocese stands poised and ready to help any who have been abused.”

The bishop said he is heartbroken “for our faithful people, and the clergy and religious of our Diocese, as we face another tragic situation within the Church that we love. Nonetheless, I am grateful that the processes the Church has in place regarding child sexual abuse have been shown to work.”

To address the abuse of seminarians or young priests “I have begun to bring together a senior team of advisors to examine reporting processes,” he said. “Clearly, the safety of an independent reporting structure that allows for anyone to bring an allegation forward without the fear of retribution of any kind is needed.”

“Accountability on all levels helps to ensure that a healthy, wholesome environment prevails to form and train our future priests. I know that I do not have to reiterate to the people of this Diocese that proper priestly formation is central to renewal in the life of the Church.”

He reflected that the Metuchen diocese is “seeing a new springtime with men studying for the priesthood. We are blessed with the most seminarians we have had in 25 years. They are good men, striving to make over their hearts like the Good Shepherd’s own caring heart.”

While at one time the decision to become a priest would have been lauded by society at large, “that is not the case now,” Bishop Checchio said. “Our young men seek to join in this life of service to God and His people at a time when it would be easy to ignore the call and choose another path. Yet, they choose to listen to the quiet call of the Lord …  I thank God for them, as I thank God as well for you, who support these dedicated young men in their response to God's call in these challenging times.”

The bishop asked for prayer “as the Church faces so many challenges in our world today. We know that the Holy Spirit protects the Church by ensuring the truth of the presence of Christ who is its keystone, its heart and its foundation. The Holy Spirit wraps the Church in this protection in spite of our sinfulness.”

“Despite the failings of the past, however, we remain steadfast in hope. This hope anchors our faith in the credibility of this sinful yet holy Assembly of Believers, a living paradox of unity in diversity, as we endeavor to build the Kingdom of God established through the incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is 'the same yesterday, today and forever.'”

Bishop Checchio concluded, saying, “In the midst of the trials we currently face, I do not want to miss pointing out that Christ is still at work in His Church!”

“This summer, in addition to my weekend visits to parishes for Mass, I have been taking advantage of the lighter weekday schedule to visit some vacation bible schools, religious communities of sisters, nursing homes, prisons and some parishes for daily Mass. It is an honor to be with you, and it is evident that people everywhere are still yearning to see Christ in us – a willingness to place their hope in the many ministries and initiatives through which the Lord Himself uses our humble humanity to touch us with His grace.”

“We must never forget that, in every age, the antidote to the ills that beset the Church is for men and women everywhere to rise up in sanctity. Let us not lose our vision: to 'keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith.' To Him be glory and praise forever.”

New study shows ‘alt-right’ views linked to infrequent church attendance and divorce

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Newly released data shows that those Americans who only occasionally go to Church services are more likely to hold so-called “alt-right” views, compared to those who regularly attend or never go at all.

The Demography of the Alt-Right, a demographic analysis released Aug. 9, breaks down the cultural, social, and economic factors which seem to overlap with a tendency toward white nationalism and “alt-right political views.”

The analysis identified three key attitudes which it says are held by people affiliated with racist and alt-right groups. It then examined what circumstances and characteristics people holding these views tend to have in common. The traits with the highest incidence among those with racist views were found to be infrequent Church attendance, divorce, low income, unemployment, and identification as a political independent - all of which were present in about 18 percent of “alt-right” respondents.

The identifying “alt-right” attitudes used by Hawley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, were a strong sense of “white identity,” a belief in the importance of “white solidarity,” and a sense of “white victimization.”

Hawley gathered data from the 2016 American National Election Survey. Among survey respondents, 28 percent expressed strong feelings of white identity; about 38 percent expressed strong feelings of white solidarity; and about 27 percent felt that whites suffer a meaningful amount of discrimination in American life. A much smaller minority, about 12 percent of respondents, expressed all three opinions.

Of the 12 percent who had all three attitude markers of the “alt-right,” 18.03 percent attended religious services “once or twice a month.” 10.86 percent of those with those attitude markers said they “never attended” services, and 12.28 percent said they attend weekly. 

Hawley noted that the leadership of far-right radical groups “appears to be less religious and socially conservative than earlier far right movements - though parts of the white nationalist movement have always expressed antipathy toward Christianity and other organized religions.”

He also said that while traditional religious beliefs and activities are often associated with “reactionary views” on social issues, “most major religious groups in the United States promote an explicitly egalitarian worldview that stresses the equal dignity of all persons, and all are officially anti-racist.”

There was, he concluded, “not always a clear pattern when it came to frequency of worship and racial attitudes.”

The 12 percent of respondents with alt-right views were also more likely to be divorced than either to be married or have never married at all – 18.24 percent, compared to 10.37 percent who are married and 11.24 who have never been married.

While considering theories that the breakdown of traditional family structures and values had contributed to the rise of far-right identity politics, Hawley said that there was no “compelling evidence that the breakdown of traditional family norms is leading to a new interest in right-wing radicalism.”

“However,” Hawley noted, “the results for divorce are more interesting. On every one of these questions mentioned earlier, for example, divorced respondents were consistently one of the highest scoring groups. This may seem curious, as there is not an obvious connection between being divorced and feelings about race. It is possible that the experience of divorce makes one feel more alienated and negative in general.”

The analysis was presented by the Institute of Family Studies. Its release comes only days before a Unite the Right rally will be held in Washington, D.C., on August 11-12.

The rally will mark the first anniversary of the of the 2017 Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., during which white supremacists marched through the streets, displayed Nazi flags, and shouted racist slogans. Clashes with counter protestors resulted in more than 30 people being injured, and a woman was killed when one man linked to white-supremacist groups rammed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators.

In response to last year’s events, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in 2017 that “Charlottesville matters,” calling it a “snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed.” He lamented the rise of far-right and racist attitudes and the “collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country.”

The National Park Service has confirmed that a permit has been issued to Unite the Right organizer John Kessler to demonstrate outside of the White House on Sunday night. That rally is expected to draw an estimated 400 people. Meanwhile, several permits have also been issued to counter-protesters at different locations around Washington. Some estimates suggest that several thousand people could arrive to protest what is expected to be an overtly racist and provocative display.

In November 2017, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C., issued the the first pastoral letter on race by a senior American bishop in almost thirty years. Entitled “The Challenge of Racism Today,” the letter denounced racism “in whatever form” as “ultimately a denial of human dignity.” 

CNA obtained a statement Wuerl plans to issue in advance of Sunday’s rally, in which the cardinal will remind Washington-area Catholics that “in the face of groups whose message we deplore and even as they exercise their First Amendment right, we must stand firm in our convictions.  We cannot let these messages that we reject somehow change us. Rather, we must continue to stand up for a good and just society, speaking the truth in love.”

The 'nones' – why some Americans are forgoing religious labels

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 14:01

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Among the growing share of religious “nones” in the U.S., a majority say that questioning religious teachings is one important factor in their lack of religious affiliation.

A Pew Research analysis released Aug. 8 explored the reasons that people give for being “nones.”

As of 2014, roughly 23 percent of U.S. adults said their religion is “nothing in particular,” according to Pew, an increase from 16 percent in 2007.

Pew’s new analysis – based on a survey conducted in late 2017 – asks more than 1,300 religiously unaffiliated adults about why they do not identify with a religion. The vast majority of religious “nones” were raised in a religion, but have since fallen away.

Sixty percent of respondents said questioning “a lot of religious teachings” was an influential factor in their lack of religious affiliation. Nearly half said they dislike positions that religious groups take on social and political issues.

Forty-one percent said they do not like religious organizations, and 34 percent said they do not like religious leaders. Just over one-third said they do not believe in God, and a similar percentage said religion is irrelevant in their lives.

The data indicated some differences among subgroups of unaffiliated individuals. Among atheists, nearly 90 percent said that not believing in God was a significant factor in their lack of religious affiliation. In contrast, just 37 percent of agnostics gave the same answer, and 21 percent of those who are “nothing in particular.”

Sixty-three percent of atheists said religion is irrelevant to them, compared to 40 percent of agnostics and 26 percent of those who are “nothing in particular.”

Other answers saw more consistent responses. About half of all subgroups said they dislike the positions churches take on social or political issues. Between 31 and 42 percent of each subgroup said they dislike religious leaders.

Asked about the single most important reason they are not affiliated with a religion, atheists pointed to their lack of belief in God, while agnostics cited their questioning of many religious teachings. Among those who are “nothing in particular,” no single reason predominated.


Food and Drug Administration signs controversial contract with fetal tissue provider

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 09:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Legislators, pro-life groups, and ethicists have condemned a new government contract to obtain human tissue from aborted children for use in medical research and in the creation of “humanized mice.”

The Food and Drug Administration signed a $15,900 contract to acquire human fetal tissue for use on mice on July 25. The contract was signed with Advanced Bioscience Resources Inc., a California based not-for-profit. It is the eighth contract between the FDA and ABR since 2012, seven of the contracts appear to relate to the same or similar programs.

The fetal tissue used in such research is obtained from elective abortions, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

The fetal tissue the FDA intends to purchase would be injected into mice with compromised immune systems in order to create a “chimeric animal” with an immune system like that of a human being.

ABR was mentioned in a series of videos secretly filmed by the Center for Medical Progress, released in 2015, accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue obtained through abortions. At that time, Politico reported that, in one video, a former medical director for Planned Parenthood said that the abortion provider had been “using ABR for over 10 years – a really long time.”

Pro-life groups have condemned the contract. The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a statement calling the deal “unconscionable” and said that contracts with organizations like ABR makes the FDA “directly complicit in these abortions.” CMP suggested that the contracts imply that unborn children are “worth more to the U.S. Government dead than alive.”

There are numerous ethical concerns, not only with the purchase of aborted fetuses but with a lack of respect for their dignity, a Catholic ethicist told CNA.

“The FDA contract with Advance Bioscience Resources appears to be problematic on a number of different levels,” Dr. Jozef Zalot, staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center said Aug. 8.

“The use of fetal tissue and cells for medical research is ethically very complicated in any situation,” he explained, saying that any research conducted with these tissues is “simply wrong.”

Scientists attempting to make new discoveries through the use of aborted fetal parts are “treating the aborted persons not as ends in themselves, but as a mean to some other end,” said Zalot.

“This violates their dignity and it demonstrates a very dangerous utilitarian perspective on human life.”

Zalot also told CNA that he is concerned that the government, along with American taxpayers, could be complicit in abortion if taxpayer money used to “sustain and grow a market for the remains of aborted children.”

“This creates a serious concern for Catholics, who are effectively funding not just the research but the underlying immoral practices that provide the biological materials necessary for the research.”

The FDA released a statement defending the contract and the research, saying that the agency is “committed to ensuring that its research is conducted responsibly, conforms with all legal requirements, and meets the highest ethical standards,” and noting that this type of research is a “very small fraction” of the agency’s work.

The FDA further defended the use of aborted remains in research, saying the practice “has led to a better understanding of a number of conditions and diseases that affect millions of Americans.”

At least one member of Congress was upset with the new contract. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Co.) tweeted on Tuesday that the FDA was using federal money to create demand for aborted fetal remains, and that “Taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund this grotesque practice.”

Speaking to CNA, Congressman Lamborn said it was “unconscionable” for a government agency to contract with an organization collecting and selling tissue from aborted children.

“There is absolutely no excuse for the FDA to use federal dollars to procure ‘fresh’ fetal tissue for research. Advanced Bioscience Resources’ unethical practices of fetal tissue harvesting have been well documented in both House and Senate investigations.”

The congressman said that as a state legislator he had authored a law prohibiting the sale of fetal body parts, and had written a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

“I have voted to end taxpayer funding of this grotesque practice, and will continue fighting for the dignity of the unborn. Unborn children are worth more than the sum of their parts.”

'Building the Benedict Option': How skillet cookies can lead to community

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 05:20

New York City, N.Y., Aug 9, 2018 / 03:20 am (CNA).- When Christian author Rod Dreher published The Benedict Option last year, it generated a flurry of debate and comments throughout the Catholic and Christian blogosphere on theories of what authentic Christian community is, and what it is not.

But Leah Libresco would rather get down to brass tacks.

Well, actually, she wants to get down to skillet cookies.

She debuted her new book, Building the Benedict Option - a practical guide for building Christian community based on the ideas formed by Dreher - by taping her phone to the wall of her apartment kitchen and whipping up dessert on her stovetop while answering questions via Facebook live.

Among the first of those questions was - why a skillet cookie?

It was something easy Libresco served during one such community-building event that she hosted herself, when she invited several job-hunting friends over for a resume and cover letter writing event, which opened and closed with prayer and included, yes, the eating of a skillet cookie.

“It’s a cookie the size of a skillet, so I don’t know how much justification it really needs,” Libresco told her audience, “but the actual reason for a skillet cookie is what I want people to do when they’re reading my book is I want them to put down the book. I don’t want you to finish it the first time you read it, I want you to put down the book and invite people over to your house.”

The skillet cookie requires minimal prep work and effort on the part of the host, making community-building seem more achievable and taking the pressure off of being Pinterest-perfect, Libresco said.

In his book, The Benedict Option, Dreher notes that the title was inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict” that would save moral society. This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”

Critics of the book and the idea have worried the Benedict Option encourages a sort of “head for the hills” mentality among Christians, who see the failings of the present world as irredeemable and therefore flee to the hills surrounding monasteries to prop up what Christian culture they can, leaving the rest of society to rot.  

But as Libresco understands it, what the Benedict Option really means is building what she calls “thick communities” of Christians and friends in any place and circumstance, who can love and pray for each other and can “abbot” each other, in the way that monks are held accountable by their abbots simply because they live with them and are always running into them.

“That’s really my reason for the book,” Libresco told CNA. “There’s a lot of fruitful discussion happening about community but my focus is narrower - it’s not about what you can do when you successfully all manage to move to one neighborhood, or when you set up a school or something like that - it’s wherever you are for the next two weeks or two months, what can you do in that time frame to pray and be with others.”  

It’s about creating opportunities in your life to interact with your faith community more, so that you can love them and pray for them better, she said. It’s about inviting people over and feeding them and praying together even if you think your apartment is too small or your kitchen too messy or your schedule too busy.

“One way Ross Douthat described the Benedict Option is that it’s kind of like a ratchet effect of going one step beyond whatever you’re doing now, and I like that description,” Libresco said. While she would see her Christian friends for coffee after Mass, “we might talk about the sermon, but there we were, friends not praying with each other.”

“So for me some of that ratchet effect is just when I’m with a Christian friend, I ask if there’s anything if I can pray for them for, or ask if they could pray for me, or ask if they’d like to pray together. It’s just like one small notch more in being generous and vulnerable with each other than you’re doing by default,” she said.

In her book, Libresco addresses in practical ways just about every fear or hesitation one could have in event-hosting. House too small? Don’t know what to cook to feed the masses? Don’t want to cook to feed the masses? Don’t know what kinds of things to do or pray together? Libresco has you covered.

“The book is meant to be very detailed,” Libresco said. “For people who think, ‘I just don’t know if it’s possible for me,’ I hope they’ll look at the chapters that are kind of explicitly labeled as a cheat sheet. I think there’s something there that you can adapt no matter what your circumstances are.”

Libresco said she has planned and hosted a variety of Benedict-Option-style events, with some of them being less explicitly Christian, such as a resume and cover letter writing night, and others very explicitly Christian, such as a rosary procession with Marian icons around Central Park to celebrate the new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.

Asked how the people of Central Park reacted to the unusual procession, Libresco laughed: “I live in New York City, I am never ever the weirdest thing that anyone sees.”

When planning Benedict Option events, Libresco said she just makes sure she is up front with her friends about what will be occurring at the event, such as prayer or a Marian procession, so that no one is surprised and those who are uncomfortable can opt out of any activities in which they would not like to participate.

“I think it makes sense to not limit [these events] to only one category, that you make some broader for all of your friends and you can have some that are more specific,” Libresco said. “We have board game nights, and not all my friends want to come play board games, and that’s fine, and I don’t think that means that I exclude or dislike those friends.”

One of the biggest things Libresco has learned in event-planning is to make events specific. It makes them special, and less skippable, if you’re having dinner for the feast of St. Dominic, rather than having dinner on a Wednesday night, she said.

“It makes it rare so that people aren’t just like, ‘Well I could do dinner, I could not, it’s ultimately replaceable.’ No it's not, it's a feast, it's once a year. If you’re free, come, if not, you’re waiting until next year,” she said.

The biggest mistake one could make reading Libresco’s book is to think of it as a dogmatic, ultimate answer to the problem of community, she said.

“The goal was not to hand you a best event or best practices completely in a box and you just implement it at people,” she said. “The question is how do you leave room for your friends to meet their needs, to leave room for the Holy Spirit, and I think that’s the main thing, there are many ways to love our friends,” she noted.

“The more programmatic it feels... the more any of it feels like it is dogmatism about exactly how to throw a dinner party, the more you’ve gone round the twist a little bit.”

Her hope, Libresco said, is that she provides some concrete and practical tips and encouragement for her readers, who then put down their books and invite people over.

“Set yourself a three-week deadline, and do something with someone, take some small chance that you wouldn’t have otherwise taken during that period of time,” she said.

“And that could be a larger thing like inviting people over to watch ‘Of Gods and Men’, about martyred vowed religious, or maybe it’s that you who feel nervous about being Christian in public and so you pray the rosary [in public]. Do one more thing, take that ratchet step, be generous with your faith and leave room for the Holy Spirit to prompt  you to give what other people need in those three weeks after you start reading the book.”


Former Pennsylvania chief justice backs delay of grand jury report

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 18:30

Harrisburg, Pa., Aug 8, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- The former chief justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has warned that the release of a grand jury report into allegations of sexual abuse and coverups by the Catholic Church in that state could violate the constitutional rights of those named in the report.

In an Aug 6 column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ronald D. Castile wrote that the state’s Supreme Court initially halted the report’s release because of “important constitutional issues,” including “questions regarding due process, fairness, and deprivation of personal reputational rights.”

“After reviewing the Supreme Court opinion, I agree that important constitutional rights are at risk of being denied because of issues pertaining to procedural aspects inherent in the Grand Jury Act and the impact on individual reputational rights.”

Article 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution enshrines a person’s right to possess and protect their good reputation, placing it on the same footing as life and liberty.

Several individuals named in the report, including some priests, objected to being included in the document. They argued that the grand jury report links their names to terrible crimes or cover-up efforts, but that they had not been afforded the chance to respond to allegations made against them, or given the benefit of due process of law.

Castile agreed, criticizing “the inability of many of the named clerical members of the Catholic Church to defend themselves against allegations contained in the report.”

A source close to the grand jury investigation told CNA that while named individuals had been allowed to send in written statements during the investigation, they were not given the chance to appear in person, answer questions directly, or question other witnesses.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered on July 27 that a redacted version of the report be published no later than August 14.

Castile, who spent 20 years as a prosecutor in the state of Pennsylvania and served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 2008-2014, said that the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the release and order the redaction of some names had his support.

“I agree with the court's action, and I agree with its decision to assign all the parties concerned immediate hearings on the constitutional issues identified in the process and the substance of the report.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been critical of the objections and pressed for the full report to be released as soon as possible. He even wrote to Pope Francis, asking him to tell intervene and order those appealing against the report’s release to “abandon their destructive efforts to silence the survivors.”

Castile said that the attorney general should have an equal concern for protecting the rights of all Pennsylvania citizens, and that the release of “quasi-official accusations of misconduct against many named but uncharged individuals” who have not had the chance to defend themselves was not appropriate.

The former chief justice stressed that an important function of a grand jury report is to recommend ways to address issues brought up in the course of the investigation, but that the Supreme Court’s decision allowed for any such recommendations to be published in a way that did not infringe constitutional rights.

The 800-page report is expected to name 300 priests accused of sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a period of decades. The dioceses are Pittsburgh, Erie, Allentown, Harrisburg, Scranton, and Greensburg.

The Diocese of Harrisburg and Diocese of Erie have already released the names of all clerics credibly accused of abuse, and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh has committed to doing the same.

While Castile said it is important that victims of abuse receive justice, and that the recommendations of the grand jury investigation should be made public, he said that justice also requires protecting the rights of individuals and the presumption of innocence.

“What is called for is exactly what the Supreme Court has ordered,” Castile said, “a rational discussion of the issue by all sides in order to address the important constitutional questions that have arisen in the grand jury report.”

Dolan praises St. Dominic at KofC convention

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 17:54

Baltimore, Md., Aug 8, 2018 / 03:54 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of New York encouraged Catholics to imitate the patient and persistent prayer of St. Dominic, during a homily Aug. 8 at the 2018 Knights of Columbus convention in Baltimore.

“Jesus prefers patient, persistent, persevering, pestering prayer! St. Dominic claims this creates within us a readiness, a space, to receive God’s answer.  We would say such constant prayer exercises our ‘faith muscle,’ which tends to get flabby,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

The cardinal pointed to St. Dominic’s dedication to the rosary and contemplation of the Gospels as daily practices worthy of imitation, comparing St. Dominic’s perseverance with that of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel.

Dolan also commended the amount of prayer that takes place at the Knights of Columbus’ annual convention, which includes daily Masses, a Eucharistic adoration chapel, and invocations before every event.

Aug. 8 is celebrated in the Church as the memorial of St. Dominic, the 13th century founder of the Order of Preachers, known as the Dominicans, who spread devotion to the rosary.

“This towering saint gives us an abundance of attributes to celebrate: his preaching, so renowned that his spiritual sons are called ‘the order of preachers’; his intellect, the spring that gave us scholarly giants such as St. Albert and St. Thomas Aquinas; his zeal, as St. Dominic was non-stop in his teaching, preaching, travel, and work, all for Jesus and His Church,” said Dolan.

However, he reminded the Knights that prayer was “what generated the renowned preaching, scholarship, and evangelical energy of St. Dominic.”

After the Mass, the Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, Jean-Clement Jeanbart spoke briefly about a pilgrim icon of Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians, which was then blessed by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

Lori’s blessing was the kickoff to the Knights’ Marian icon prayer program. The archbishop invoked St. Paul’s words, “though we are afflicted in every way, we are not crushed; though perplexed, not driven to despair; though persecuted, not forsaken; though struck down, not destroyed.”