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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 32 min ago

US House to vote on banning abortion after 20 weeks

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 02:24

Washington D.C., Sep 27, 2017 / 12:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Micah Pickering was born prematurely at 20 weeks. His eyes were “fused shut,” according to his mother, and his bones were still soft. He spent four months in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Yet Micah survived against the odds, and is today a healthy 5 year-old attending Kindergarten.

“When I look at a little baby, a 20-week baby, my heart is full. I’ve been that mom standing there begging God and doctors to let this precious baby live,” his mother Danielle said on Tuesday.

“I’ve been that mom who would do anything to see that child take their first steps and say their first words, and to start school.”

Danielle Pickering spoke at a press conference on Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol, announcing that the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will be voted on by the U.S. House on Oct. 3.

The bill, which has passed the House in previous sessions but has not passed the Senate, would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is deemed to be at stake.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said the group “welcomes the announcement.”

“This bill would not only save 20,000 lives every year, but would educate the public on the humanity of the unborn person and affirm the science of fetal pain early in development,” she said.

Studies are showing that unborn children as early as 20 weeks old can feel pain, and that a small percentage, with the right treatment, can survive outside the womb. These signs of viability, pro-life leaders say, demand that at least the rights of these babies must be taken into account in the abortion debate.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which was cited by the New York Times, a small number of babies observed who were born prematurely at 22 weeks gestation (or 20 weeks post-fertilization, as observed under the Pain-Capable bill) survived with few health issues.

When Micah was born prematurely, he couldn’t breathe, Danielle Pickering said, and she was told she couldn’t touch Micah’s skin. Yet “he was alive and he was fighting, and he wanted to live,” she said.

Micah “is the face of the pro-life movement,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, stated on Tuesday.

“If not for the tremendous love and heroism of his parents, he could have been yet another victim of the abortion culture and the culture of denial that drives us as a nation to look askance.”

Another reason for the bill’s passage is that studies show unborn babies can feel pain around the age of 20 weeks, supporters of the bill said.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, documented the research showing that unborn babies can indeed feel pain at 20 weeks post-fertilization, as well as exhibit defensive responses during invasive procedures in the womb as early as six weeks post-fertilization.

One 2013 study which used the procedure “functional magnetic resonance” to study pain responses of unborn babies found that “functional neuronal connections” in their brains “sufficient to experience pain already exist by 22 weeks post-fertilization.”

Additionally, “there is extensive evidence of a hormonal stress response by unborn babies as early as 16 weeks post-fertilization,” according to one study, the institute found.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday announced the bill would receive a vote. “Not only will passing this legislation keep a promise we made, but all the work is for the same goal – ending suffering, and helping people live,” he said.

It is expected to pass the House, which has in recent years already passed several significant pro-life bills including the defunding of Planned Parenthood and a bill that would set up additional protections against taxpayer funding of abortions.

President Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail to sign a Pain-Capable bill if one came to his desk, but the Senate has remained the chamber where the pro-life bills languish. Far fewer than 60 senators – enough votes to bring a bill to the floor for a vote – have consistent pro-life voting records.

This means that the 2018 mid-term elections could be critical, said Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“We are preparing for 2018 Senate elections,” Dannenfelser told CNA on Tuesday. “If we come up short, which is likely, short of a Micah miracle, what we’re doing is we’re building that Senate up to a 60-vote margin.”

There was evidence of significant public support for a five month abortion ban in 2013, after the trial of notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia and three convictions for first-degree murder in the killing of babies born alive.

A more recent Quinnipiac University poll from January 2017 showed the public evenly split between supporting and opposing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in the state they resided in.

Yet the bill is about more than public support, its supporters say. It is about protecting women and children from the evil of abortion.

“We want to be there for the woman, and we know that we need a law to protect the children,” Dannenfelser said on Tuesday.

“It is time that America recognizes and responds to the humanity” of unborn children, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said on Tuesday, “and the inhumanity of what is being done to them.”

 

Could this bill put an end to Down syndrome abortions in Ohio?

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 19:08

Columbus, Ohio, Sep 26, 2017 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Ohio bill hopes to stop abortions undertaken solely because an unborn child has Down syndrome.

“It’s very concerning to think that some lives would be judged as less valuable than others,” said Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, according to the Associated Press. LaRose is the sponsor of the Ohio Senate version of the bill.

Ohio Senate Bill 164 and House Bill 214 both aim to stop doctors from performing abortions “if the person has knowledge that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because” the unborn child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.

The bill would not punish any mothers who seek an abortion after a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis.

Doctors who violate the restriction by attempting to abort children because of their Down syndrome diagnosis would be charged with a fourth-degree felony, and the state medical board will be required to revoke their license. They would also be held accountable for legal fees and charges.

Down syndrome, or trisomy-21, is a common genetic disorder, caused when a child’s DNA contains an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. It affects roughly one in 700 babies born in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The condition can result in intellectual and physical delays and disabilities, and can result in increased risks of congenital heart defects, thyroid conditions, childhood leukemia and Alzheimer’s disease. Thanks to improved healthcare treatments and educational approaches, children born with Down syndrome now have a life expectancy of around 60 years, and more options for employment and independent living are available to them.  

According to a 2012 study on termination rates of people with Down syndrome, around 75 percent of expectant mothers whose babies have a confirmed prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis terminate the pregnancy. Roughly 5 percent of women receive the most sensitive and invasive Down syndrome test, but other, less invasive testing methods have improved their accuracy and broadened the number of women receiving some form of Down syndrome testing.

According to research coordinated by Massachusetts General Hospital, voluntary termination has contributed to a drop somewhere between 26 and 52 percent in the number of babies expected to be born with Down syndrome.

It is still unclear which prenatal tests the bill will consider to be proof of a Down syndrome diagnosis, or how this bill will impact prenatal testing in the state more broadly.

If passed, Ohio will not be the first state to ban abortion for reasons of ability or genetic factors. Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Dakota already ban sex-selective abortions, and Arizona bans abortion on the grounds of race. North Dakota bans abortion in cases of genetic abnormality. Indiana, Missouri, and South Dakota have also considered banning abortion after diagnoses of Down syndrome.

In June 2016, Pope Francis said that those who seek to “eliminate” disabled people “fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations.”

 

How should a Catholic evaluate health care policy?

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Sep 26, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Another effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act seems on the verge of failure, after three Republican senators stated that they would not support a pending Senate bill. As next steps for health care reform are considered, how should Catholics approach health care policy, according to Church teaching?

“The Church really, clearly teaches that health care is a right, that one has a right to be able to obtain such health care as is reasonably possible for one to obtain,” Dr. Kevin Miller, a professor of moral theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA.

On Monday, the Catholic Medical Association released a letter of public support for the latest GOP health care proposal, the Graham-Cassidy bill. In recent months, House and Senate Republicans have proposed several health care bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but none have been able to pass both houses of Congress. The Catholic Medical Association wrote the offices of U.S. Senators asking them to support the latest proposal.

However, by Monday evening, with Republican senators announcing their opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill, it seemed unlikely to pass the Senate, unless the bill was amended or senators changed their vote.

The Catholic Medical Association explained its support for the bill through the lens of several core Catholic principles of health care, saying that the bill would put those principles into practice.

The benefits of the bill, they said, included protections against taxpayer funding of abortions in health care plans via subsidies and tax credits, as well as blocking Medicaid reimbursements of abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

The bill would have also set up conscience protections for employers, and individuals in health care, against mandates that they “purchase policies that include morally offensive ‘preventive services’,” the Catholic Medical Association’s letter argued.

Also, by repealing certain regulations and limiting federal Medicaid funding for states, the bill transferred more power and decision-making in health care to lower levels in the Catholic principle of subsidiarity and “preferential option for the poor,” the group said.

According to the letter, “the ACA created literally dozens of boards and commissions and imposed thousands of pages of new regulations, many of them injurious to the work of Catholic health care providers and additions to the cost of care.”

The changes to Medicaid gave the opportunity for “public and private entities closest to the people to experiment with options that maximize the ability of patients to choose providers who share their convictions regarding Hippocratic medicine.”

Under the old Medicaid system, the letter said, states that chose to expand their Medicaid pools and receive more federal funding also were restrained by the government in the care they could provide to vulnerable populations.

However, leading U.S. bishops recently sent a letter on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to all senators, asking them to change the Graham-Cassidy bill “while retaining its positive features,” because it would result in harm to the poor and chronically ill.

The changes to Medicaid could cut coverage for people relying on the program, the bishops said, or it could burden some states with additional costs and responsibilities that they may not be equipped to handle. If a state is facing a budget deficit and federal Medicaid funds are cut, state programs for low-income populations could also be cut, the bishops said.

The pro-life provisions are laudable and must be kept if the bill is amended, the bishops added.

Miller explained that the bill raises important questions for American Catholics: when a Catholic is considering health care policy, what are the principles of health care that the Church teaches, and how should a Catholic understand statements by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as other Catholic groups?

When the U.S. bishops’ conference releases a statement on a “prudential application of the Church’s teaching,” there is “more leeway” to respect a statement without feeling obliged to assent to it, Miller said.

However, while bishops’ conferences themselves do not “share in the Church’s magisterium,” he said, typically they “draw from what is already the established teaching of the Church” on topics like human rights.

When Catholic groups of laity issue a statement on policy, he said, “less deference is required, because by definition you’re not dealing with the magisterium at that point.”

On the question of health care, “the Church really, clearly teaches that health care is a right,” Miller said, and Pope St. John XXIII clearly stated this in his encyclicals Mater et Magistra (1961) and Pacem in Terris (1963).

Paragraph 2288 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church also lists providing health care as among the obligations of a society to its citizens:

“Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.”

If one cannot work to obtain these essential things, Miller said, “you have a right to have these provided for you in some other way.” And, he said, “I think the same thing would easily apply to health care.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean one has a “right” to the “most advanced, most expensive forms of treatment,” Miller said, but it would probably mean one has a right to care “typically available to those who have kind of normal health insurance.”

The Church does not state how, specifically, health care must be made available to everyone, Miller said, and so the question to be decided is “what’s going to work?”

Also significant, the Church does not say that the state cannot be involved in the financing of health care, Miller said. “The Popes have sufficiently made it clear,” he said, “that at least sometimes, the state has a necessary role to play in these kinds of matters.”

He pointed to Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Centessimus Annus (1991) in which the Pope said that the state had, “under certain kinds of circumstances,” a role in providing “Social Security-type assistance for its citizens,” and this “would include in the area of health care.”

Governments in many countries are heavily involved in health care financing, and the Church has not spoken out against those policies, he said.

Although the Church does not endorse a certain system of health care, it teaches that such a just system should involve various sectors of society, and should make a “typical standard of health care available.”

If one cannot obtain this care, “then, morally-speaking, we have a problem,” he said.

Regarding the principle of subsidiarity of Catholic social teaching, it is “widely misunderstood,” especially in the health care debate, Miller said.

The Catechism explains that according to the principle of subsidiarity “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life in the community of a lower order...but rather should support it in case of need.”  Thought sometimes understood to mean that the federal government should simply stay out of the affairs of state and local governments, that is not necessarily true, Miller said.

Rather, “it’s a question of larger communities playing the role of helping smaller communities be ever more fully themselves,” he said, “providing them with assistance of various kinds” without “taking over.”

Again, he said, there are examples of countries where the government is involved “somewhat heavily” in the area of health care, and it is indeed “an option” under the Catholic principles of health care, provided the state does not mandate the provision of any care or procedures that would be immoral, like euthanasia or abortion.

 

Most children in orphanages aren't actually orphans. This group wants to help them.

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 05:20

Baltimore, Md., Sep 26, 2017 / 03:20 am (CNA).- Shannon Senefeld always assumed that children in orphanages are mostly orphans. Most people make that assumption.

When Senefeld found out this was not the case, she was shocked.

In fact, the vast majority of children in orphanages around the world – between 80 and 90 percent – have at least one living parent or other family member, usually someone who loves them and wants them, Senefeld told CNA.

In some cases, families may not have the knowledge or equipment to care for a child with a disability, and orphanages offer specialized services.

Far more often, however, families simply lack resources, such as funds for education or health care, and believe that their child will have better access to these resources in an orphanage.

It’s a problem that is largely unrecognized – by donors, government officials, and members of the general public. But Senefeld and her colleagues want to change that.

Senefeld is the Senior Vice President for Overseas Operations at Catholic Relief Services. Together with Lumos and Maestral International – two organizations that work to protect vulnerable children, especially in institutions and welfare systems – they have released a plan to reunite children in orphanages with their families.

The proposal, entitled “Changing the Way We Care,” would turn orphanages into family support centers, using existing resources to provide services that parents need to care for their own children, at home.

Earlier this month, their proposal was selected from nearly 2,000 entries as one of four finalists in the 100&Change competition, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation. The winning project, which will be announced in December, will win a $100 million grant, with the goal of making “measurable progress toward solving a significant problem” in the world today.

Senefeld explained that “a lot of children living in orphanages maintain contact with their family,” maybe visiting them once a year if they can afford it.

Many times, parents will send their child to an orphanage out of poverty-driven desperation, hoping to return when their financial situation stabilizes.

“They might be thinking it’s a temporary situation,” Senefeld said, but frequently, parents are never able to pull together the resources to get their child back.

Meanwhile, children in orphanages slowly lose ties with their communities. Studies show that children raised in institutions have substantially higher rates of social and emotional problems than other children, Catholic Relief Services said. Children in orphanages are six times more likely to be exposed to violence, and four times more likely to be sexually abused than children raised in families.

Further complicating the situation, many orphanages operate outside of government regulations, and lack sufficient record-keeping practices, which can make it difficult to track children and reconnect them with their parents.

International adoptions initiated by couples in the United States and most other western countries are subject to strict protocols, designed to ensure that children are legally and ethically available for adoption, and that the rights of natural parents have been respected. However, not all countries observe these protocols.

The ultimate solution to the orphanage crisis is family care, Senefeld said.

Family care is not only the best option for the child’s well-being, but also the most cost-effective option, she explained. “It costs about 10 times as much to raise a child in an orphanage as it does in a community setting in their home country.”

“We want to get those kids back into their family,” Senefeld stressed. For those who truly are orphans, this means finding other relatives, or placing them in foster or adoption care.

“What’s most important for us is that the child is in a family,” she said.

“Many of the orphanages are run by really well-meaning people,” Senefeld emphasized, adding that they often have developed expertise in specialized services for children with disabilities.

Catholic Relief Services hopes to connect caregivers directly with families, so they can use their expertise to train parents and to provide services in a community setting.

Also critical to the success of the project, Senefeld and her colleagues hope to work with governments to ensure that policies are put in place to prevent abusive practices, such as the trafficking of children.

“We want the government to actually support family-based care,” she said. In some countries, the government offers orphanages a stipend for each child. Catholic Relief Services would like to see those stipends redirected to foster care or similar models.

Donors are a critical part of the picture as well. Individuals, faith communities and governments need to be educated about how to best help vulnerable children, Senefeld said. Rather than funding the construction of new orphanages overseas, their donations can be more effective in directly meeting children’s needs in their own homes.

If Catholic Relief Services wins the 100&Change challenge, they hope to implement the family care model in seven different countries – Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon and Moldova – each with its own family, government, and cultural situations.

“People say, ‘That’s great, but it wouldn’t work in my country’,” Senefeld said. “This is a great way to show that this model works in a variety of different countries.”

In fact, the family care model is working in a number of different countries already. For example, with the support of the government, Catholic Church, and a number of other non-profit groups, Rwanda is on track to close all of its orphanages and place the children there in family care settings.

The $100 million grant would be a huge step in allowing for a larger, coordinated effort for a global shift toward family-based care for children currently in orphanages.

While Senefeld would love to see Catholic Relief Services’ proposal win the grant, she said that simply being chosen as one of the top entries has already been a significant victory in drawing attention to the situation. 

“For us, this has been a huge opportunity to just let people know,” she explained. “I think it was a hidden issue.”

Ultimately, she said, it’s a matter of achieving justice for the 8 million children growing up in institutions worldwide.

“It’s definitely challenging, but it’s definitely doable.”

 

New climate commission could advance human dignity, US bishops tell Congress

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The United States should create a commission to combat the harms of climate change and promote human dignity as a whole, the U.S. bishops said in a letter to Congress.

“The Church calls for courageous actions and strategies aimed at promoting an integral ecology that considers together the protection of nature, the need for equitable economic development and the promotion of human dignity, especially that of the poor,” the chairmen of two bishops’ conference committees said in a Sept. 15 letter to Congress.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops backed the Climate Solutions Commission Act of 2017, which would establish a bipartisan National Climate Solutions Commission. The bill, H.R. 2326, was introduced by U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

“This bill has the potential to inspire positive and concrete solutions towards protecting our common home,” said the bishops’ letter.

The joint letter was signed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chair of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

They characterized the legislation as “an important bipartisan step for protecting the environment and mitigating the harmful effects of climate change.”

Bishops Dewane and Cantu stressed the Catholic Church’s consistent emphasis on “the importance of pursuing environmental solutions that are beneficial to all people.”

They cited Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,” which stressed the urgent need for policies to reduce carbon dioxide and other polluting gases. During his September 2015 visit to the U.S., the Pope encouraged the U.S. Congress to work to “avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”

 

 

 

Trump administration announces changes to travel ban

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 18:42

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2017 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Just weeks before the Supreme Court was to hear a challenge to the Trump administration’s travel ban, the administration announced new restrictions to the ban on Sunday.

“Following an extensive review by the Department of Homeland Security, we are taking action today to protect the safety and security of the American people by establishing a minimum security baseline for entry into the United States,” President Donald Trump stated on Sunday.

“Our government's first duty is to its people, to our citizens – to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values,” Trump stated.
 
On Sunday evening, the Trump administration announced it was continuing the travel ban indefinitely just before it was set to expire, expanding the number of countries of restricted travel to eight, as part of “enhanced national security measures.” It also set new security standards for other countries to help the U.S. vet visa applicants and immigrants.

In March, President Donald Trump had signed an executive order “on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” It was a revision from his January executive
order on immigration.

In the revised order, foreign nationals from six countries would be temporarily barred from travelling to the U.S. except in special cases. The countries were Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and the Sudan.

Then before the travel ban was set to expire on Sunday evening, the administration increased the number of restricted countries to eight, dropping the Sudan and adding North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela. The policy will be continued indefinitely, and the new countries experiencing “certain travel limitations and restrictions” will be added to the list on Oct. 18.

The administration also announced that it would, “for the first time in history,” set up minimum standards for other countries to comply with, for vetting of visa applicants and immigrants looking to travel to the U.S.

President Trump said the revised policy would improve U.S. national security and establish “a minimum security baseline for entry into the United States.”

“We cannot afford to continue the failed policies of the past, which present an unacceptable danger to our country,” Trump stated. “My highest obligation is to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and in issuing this new travel order, I am fulfilling that sacred
obligation.”

The March executive order on immigration had directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to investigate whether “additional information would be needed from each foreign country” to issue
visas and admit immigrants.

Then in July, the administration said it came up with new minimum standards for other countries, with regard to the vetting of visa applicants and other immigrants. The standards related to the issuing of electronic passports, “sharing criminal data” and helping identify
potential security threats to the U.S. looking to enter.

The administration gave countries 50 days “to work with the United States to make improvements” to their existing standards.

According to the administration, the eight countries remaining on the restricted travel list “remain currently inadequate in their identity-management protocols and information-sharing practices or present sufficient risk factors that travel restrictions are required.”

The countries can be removed from the list once they comply. Iraq, however, did not comply with the standards but Trump “determined” that “entry restrictions are not warranted.”

Iraq was originally on a list of countries with restricted travel in the President’s first executive order on immigration in January, but was not listed in the revised executive order in March, reportedly because of a deal with the U.S. to accept Iraqi nationals living in the U.S. who had been given a final order of removal from an immigration judge, in exchange for being removed from the list.

A challenge to the constitutionality of the previous order was scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on Oct. 10 in oral arguments. However, the court canceled those arguments after
Sunday’s revisions were announced.

Bishop Joe Vasquez, chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration and refugee services committee, had voiced serious concerns before about the travel and refugee bans. The immigration executive order had also shut down refugee admissions for 120 days and set a cap on refugee admissions for FY 2017 at 50,000, less than half of the 110,000 set as a goal by the previous administration.


Bishop Vasquez said he was “deeply troubled by the human consequences of the revised executive order on refugee admissions and the travel ban,” saying it “still leaves many innocent lives at risk.”

“The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” he said. Yet the current refugee resettlement process is secure, with “the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States.”

Lawyers and advocates for Muslim immigrants said on Monday that the administration’s new travel ban still constitutes a “Muslim ban” since most of the eight countries’ populations are Muslim-majority, and that Trump had on the campaign trail proposed a ban on Muslims seeking to the enter the U.S.

There are also reports that the administration will consider lowering its cap on refugees even more in the next fiscal year, to below 50,000. The new quota is expected to be announced by the
end of September.

How do we heal racial tensions? Start by admitting errors, US bishop says

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 18:12

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2017 / 04:12 pm (CNA).- To address the longstanding racial divide within the United States – and within the Catholic Church in the country – Catholics should learn more about the history of that divide, and honestly engage with that history, and with others attempting to tackle similar issues themselves.

“Don’t whitewash the misdeeds and silence of our history,” said Bishop Edward Braxton, of Belleville, Ill. in a Sept. 21 lecture at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Braxton urged participants to teach children the history of the Catholic Church – including parts of the history which are painful or shameful – “not to belittle those people, not to harshly judge them as bad people, but to understand but they are all people of our own era and history and if they have blind spots so do we.”

The bishop's talk was one of two held at the university on the theme of the racial divide in the United States and the Church. The first talk, which focused more on how to address the racial divide, was part of a “teach in” sponsored by the university’s National Catholic School of Social Service, and a second talk, part of the campus Theology on Tap program, discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and how Catholics can respond to racism.

Bishop Braxton, originally from Chicago, is the bishop of Belleville, Ill., outside of his hometown, and one of nine African-American bishops in the United States.

The bishop’s talks discussed what he described as the “flaw at the foundation” of racial relations in America – particularly within the American Church – and how it lead to many of the tensions seen today in American politics.

Bishop Braxton pointed to the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, which in 1857 ruled that African-Americans could not be citizens. That opinion was penned by Chief Justice Robert Taney – a Catholic.

The bishop also noted that some American bishops in the years leading up to the Civil War actively opposed abolition efforts. Furthermore, early American bishops and religious organizations, such as Bishop John Carroll and the Jesuits, owned slaves themselves

These actions, the bishop said, beg the question “Is there a flaw at the foundation?” of racial relations. He added that many Catholic churches and religious orders remained segregated after slavery’s end.

This history has impacted both the African-American Catholic community and the Church’s efforts to evangelize within the broader African-American community, he said. On top of that, the Church’s previous efforts to address the racial divide, such as the 1979 pastoral letter “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” have yet to be fully implemented.

Knowing this “painful, shameful history,” Bishop Braxton said, is necessary for the Church to help the country heal its racial divides in the future. “We can’t rewrite history. We must acknowledge it and never repeat it,” he told the crowds.  

Pointing to the shortfalls and blind spots of those who came before is not judgment, he said, nor does admitting flaws pose a threat to the universal teachings of the Church. “We don’t know what we would have done in the 1840s or ’50s or ’60s,” Bishop Braxton reminded listeners, and even saints “have blind spots.” Instead, acknowledging the full truth and history can help us to appreciate the fullness of the task ahead of us and make us more attentive to the moral blind spots and shortfalls of our own age.

With the need for a comprehensive education on race in mind, Bishop Braxton urged Catholic schools – seminaries in particular – to educate children and future priests on American and Catholic history regarding race, and urged all Catholics to learn more about African-Americans who have open causes for canonization.

While education is a key component in mending the racial divide, so too is engaging and listening to others involved in similar efforts, Bishop Braxton said. He urged Catholics at both talks to “Listen. Learn. Think. Pray. Act.” and shared his own experiences dialoguing with members of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Before discussing the movement itself, Bishop Braxton noted that he does not believe that “Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter are necessarily incompatible.”

However, he continued the “point of Black Lives Matter is that some in the African American community face existential threats that cannot be ignored.”

Pointing to those concerns in particular – such as the increased likelihood for African Americans to face violence during routine police interactions, while other offenders like Dylan Roof can be apprehended without being shot – does not negate that other issues of human dignity exist, he said. “In this instance, while all lives matter, their lives are in peril.”

He also explained that while there are Catholics within the Black Lives Matter movement, and that not all members hold the same views, many within the movement are cautious when dealing with the Church because of some of its history.  

Some members perceive the Church as being opposed to addressing the racial issues the movement sees as a problem, he said. In addition, Bishop Braxton explained that many – though not all – members of the movement have fundamental differences with the Church on matters of sexuality, marriage and abortion.

Bishop Braxton challenged the movement to address the issue of abortion in particular, affirming the life of the unborn child, and noting that the “alarmingly” high number of abortions within the African-American community brings “an abrupt end to the nascent black lives in their mothers’ wombs. Those lives also matter.”

By listening and learning from the members of Black Lives Matter within his community, Bishop Braxton said that he was also able to explain the richness of the Church’s social teaching and its applicability to issues of race, poverty and discrimination. “I also pointed out that Catholic beliefs on marriage, the meaning of human sexuality and the dignity of human life from conception to natural death are not mere cultural norms or social issues,” he added. “These beliefs represent what the Church holds to be fundamental moral principles, natural law, biblical revelation and the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Overall, conversations like this have been fruitful and can provide a way for engagement in addressing the racial divide, Bishop Braxton offered. “They did not lead to agreement on every point, but they lead to a focus on the need to be open to hear those with whom we disagree with an open mind and an open heart.”  

 

 

In Maine, abortions could become more dangerous for women

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 12:21

Portland, Maine, Sep 25, 2017 / 10:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A lawsuit seeking to challenge a Maine law allowing only doctors to perform abortions has drawn criticism from pro-life advocates who warned it could endanger women’s health and safety.

“I’m gravely concerned about the health and safety of the mother,” Suzanne Lafreniere, director of public policy for Diocese of Portland, told CNA.

Lafreniere predicted that allowing non-doctors to perform abortions will worsen medical complications in communities that lack immediate help from a local hospital or doctor who knows the procedure well.

Maine law currently allows abortions to be performed only by physicians. About three-quarters of U.S. states have similar laws, though two other states in the region, Vermont and New Hampshire, do not.

The plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit are the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, four nurses, and abortion provider Maine Family Planning. The defendants named in the lawsuit are Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and several district attorneys. Mills’ spokesman said her office had not been served with the suit and had no comment on the case’s merits.

The outcome of the suit could open the possibility for advanced-practice nurses, physician assistants, or nurse midwives to perform abortions.

Lafreniere described the lawsuit as “a desperate attempt to increase abortions in the state of Maine.”

She said that the number of surgical abortions has been declining in Maine, and that the abortion lobby is doing “everything it can to increase its business, to be perfectly honest.”

Dr. Raegan McDonald-Moseley, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood, contended that the current abortion requirements are “outdated,” don’t keep women safe, and aren’t grounded in research, the Associated Press reports.

However, Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, said that requiring only doctors to perform abortions “establishes a high standard of safety for patient care.” Allowing non-doctors to perform abortions would “further isolate abortions from other gynecological care,” he told CNA.

According to Forsythe, the number of doctors who provide abortion services has continued to shrink. “Doctors don’t want to get into the business,” he said. “The abortion industry and population controllers have been desperately looking to increase the number of abortionists.”

He suggested this phenomenon is another example of the incorrect assumptions of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide. The court wrongly assumed “that doctors from the Mayo Clinic and from medical schools across the country would be eager to be abortionists.”

Lafreniere said the effort could spread to other states.

“They have announced that this is a test case, and if they win in Maine they will continue to proliferate these types of lawsuits in other states where the law requires a doctor to perform abortions,” she said.

Forsythe agreed, describing the lawsuit as “a direct and tragic result” of a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down health and safety regulations for Texas abortion clinics.

“The Supreme Court created substantial confusion in the Texas decision, by issuing a vague and ambiguous opinion that states and courts have had difficulty understanding and applying,” he said. “The court created substantial confusion as to the legal standard for abortion laws for legislators and judges.”

 

 

Michigan lawsuit could imperil religious adoption agencies

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 05:02

Lansing, Mich., Sep 24, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Faith-based adoption agencies won't be able to adhere to their religious mission in Michigan if a lawsuit challenging state law succeeds, critics say.

“This suit challenging Michigan's law is mean-spirited, divisive and intolerant,” the Michigan Catholic Conference said Sept. 20.

“It is counter-productive toward efforts to assist vulnerable persons and to promote a variety of opportunities for differing families. It is imperative for the state law to be defended from yet another egregious attack on religious faith in public life.”

The conference defended the law as necessary “to promote diversity in child placement and to maintain a private/public partnership that would stabilize the adoption and foster care space for years to come.”

The federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday, is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. It charges that the state law allows groups to use a religious test in carrying out public services like foster child or adoption placement. It contends this is unconstitutional and violates both the equal protection and establishment clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The 2015 law, which was passed with the backing of the Michigan Catholic Conference, prevents state-funded adoption and foster agencies from being forced to place children in violation of their beliefs. The law protects them from civil action and from threats to their public funding. When the law was passed, about 25 percent of Michigan’s adoption and foster agencies were faith-based.

These agencies have worked in the state for decades and have helped place thousands of vulnerable children, the Michigan Catholic Conference said.

David M. Maluchnik, a spokesperson for the Michigan Catholic conference, told the Wall Street Journal that the law aimed to protect “the right of these agencies to operate in accordance with their religious mission.”

“We play a primary role in providing homes for loving families looking to adopt or foster a child,” he said.

The law requires agencies that decline to place children with same-sex couples to refer the couples to other providers.

ACLU attorney Jay Kaplan contended that the law allows agencies to discriminate and puts a child in a situation between “finding a permanent loving home or staying in the system.”

Kristy Dumont, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she and her civilly recognized spouse Dana Dumont had wanted to adopt in Ingham County but were turned down by Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services.

Maluchnik said that there are many Michigan agencies that would place a child with the couple. He questioned why the plaintiffs sued rather than go to another agency.

Before the law was passed, Bethany Christian Services warned that future policies could force faith-based agencies to “choose between their desire to help children and families and their fidelity to their religious principles,” the Michigan-based MLive Media Group reported in 2015.

My cousin the martyr: meet Blessed Stanley Rother's large family

Sat, 09/23/2017 - 18:58

Oklahoma City, Okla., Sep 23, 2017 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- They came from Illinois and they came from Wisconsin. They came from Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

They came from Minnesota--three or four buses worth. At least 16 cars made the drive down from Nebraska.

The many, many, first, second and third cousins of Father Stanley Rother descended on Oklahoma City like the Boomers of old descended on the Oklahoma plains when there was free land for the claiming. But this time, they came to watch one of their own become “Blessed” in the eyes of the Church.

Fr. Stanley was born in 1935, and grew up with his parents and four siblings in the rural farming town of Okarche, Okla. He became a priest in 1963 and was martyred in 1981 in Guatemala at the age of 46, after serving as a missionary there for 13 years.

He was beatified on Sept. 23 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. His two surviving siblings, Sister Marita and Tom Rother, as well as hundreds of extended relatives, were in attendance at the Mass, along with 14,000 of the faithful.

Doris Horne was in charge of mobilizing the Nebraska contingent. Many Rother relations are from the small town of Humphrey, Nebraska, while others have settled in the Columbus, Ohio area.

“There are 140 of us from my Grandmother Smith-Fuchs side here, from six states,” she told CNA as she sat amongst many of them at the Cox Convention Center before the beatification Mass for Fr. Stanley Rother, her second cousin.

Horne’s parents were first cousins to Fr. Stanley’s parents. Although she never met Fr. Stanley, Horne said she remembered his parents coming to visit. She was also able to make a pilgrimage to his mission in Guatemala on the 25th anniversary of his death.

“Everyone down there loved him, and the churches were packed” for the occassion, she recalled. “He was so loved down there.”

“I don’t know how to put it into words, but it’s an honor. We pray to him all the time, and I’m just honored to be part of the family,” she said.

Cousins have always been an important part of life for Fr. Stanley Rother, who came from a German Catholic family. The first wedding he ever celebrated was that of his cousin Kay Rother and her husband.

These days, Kay volunteers a lot at Holy Trinity parish in Okarche, Okla., where Fr. Stanley went to church and school. She said it’s probably a good thing Fr. Stanley wasn’t alive to witness all of his beatification happenings.

“With all this going on, he would not want it,” she said with a mixture of humor and bemusement, gesturing to the small crowd of journalists and distant relatives descending on the otherwise quiet parish grounds the day before the beatification Mass.

Stanley was a humble, quiet person and would have loathed being the center of attention, Kay explained.

“He wouldn’t like all the hubub,” she said. “He was very quiet and humble, and he didn’t brag on what he did.”

Besides being a cousin and the celebrant of her wedding, Fr. Stanley is dear to Kay for another important reason: she credits his intercession for saving the life of her daughter, Amber.

Several years ago, when Amber was just in her early twenties, she had a brain aneurysm rupture. The first hospital said there was nothing to be done except to take her upstairs and harvest her organs. Another hospital said if Amber lived, she’d spend her life in a vegetative state.

That’s when Kay’s husband called on Stan.

“My husband said don’t worry about it, I’m going to the cemetery. So he went to the cemetery and said ‘okay Stan, time for you to work.’ And three days later she opened her eyes, and today you’d never know it,” Kay said. Amber is healthy, and happily married, with one child.

Fr. Stan is a big reason she’s spent the past 30 years volunteering at the parish. Even in the midst of the beatification chaos, Kay was trying to fix the air conditioning in the church that had stopped working “today of all days.”

“I just felt like I owed it to him. It’s the least I can do,” Kay said, doing her best to hold back the tears.

When Fr. Stanley was killed in 1981, his heart remained interned at the altar in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. His body was flown back to Okarche, where it was buried in Holy Trinity’s cemetery until just a few months ago, when his remains were moved to a temporary resting place in the archdiocese, pending the completion of a shrine in his honor.

But his headstone still marks the original plot in the Holy Trinity Cemetery. “Padre A’plas”, it reads, the name for Father Francis in the native Guatemalan language of Tzutuhil, which he had learned to speak fluently.

Lee Rother and his family visited the cemetery the Friday before the beatification Mass, to honor Fr. Stanley, as well as the other Rother relatives buried there. As he walked through the grounds, Lee recalled fond memories of the people whose gravestones he passed. He must have known at least half of the people buried there.

Lee himself has settled in Minnesota, along with many of the other Rother relatives. He told CNA that he has given talks on Fr. Stanley, his third cousin, and is inspired by his faith.

“How he lived, how he served God and his people--he had a tremendous, deep faith in him,” he said.

This was something Fr. Stanley passed on to the Guatemalans he served.

“That parish flourished after he died, because he gave them a faith that they could lean on in the midst of their oppression,” he said, his excitement about his cousin palpale.

“It’s a tremendous thrill, it’s so exhilarating to have a relative who’s being beatified by the Catholic Church,” he said. “The best thing that’s ever happened to the Rother family.”

Kathy Rother is a cousin of Father Stanley’s who knew him growing up. Her family lived just a few miles down the road, and she went to school with Stanley and his siblings.

Kathy fondly remembered Stanley as a kind, brotherly figure, someone who once stopped the bullies on the bus from picking on her.

“The big boys would like to pick on the little kids because they were bored. They’d pull their hair or take your lunchbox,” Kathy said.

“I remember one time I was the butt of the jokes... and I remember looking around for one of my older brothers to rescue me, and they didn’t, but there was Stan sitting there and he patted the empty seat next to him, and I sat there and they left me alone, the boys just backed off,” she said.

“it wasn’t like Stan was a sissy, he was very self-contained, he knew what was right, and it wasn’t right to be picking on little kids,” she said. “He was very much looked up to.”

Kathy still remembers getting the news of her cousin’s untimely death. “That cut me to the heart”, she remembered, her eyes tearing up. But then, look what came of it, she added, smiling.

And he’s still there for her, though this time its through his prayers in heaven, rather than rescuing her from bus bullies.

“Many times I’ve called on Stan (in prayer),” Kathy said. “And he comes through.”

Faithful martyr and missionary Father Stanley Rother beatified in Oklahoma

Sat, 09/23/2017 - 16:16

Oklahoma City, Okla., Sep 23, 2017 / 02:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma priest martyred in Guatemala, was beatified Saturday during a Mass in Oklahoma City attended by over 20,000 people. Pope Francis named him blessed in a letter that cited his “deeply rooted faith,” his “profound union with God,” and his “arduous duty to spread the word of God in missionary lands, faithfully living his priestly and missionary service until his martyrdom.” His feast day is set for the anniversary of his death, July 28, 1981, which the papal letter described as “the day of his heavenly birth.” Blessed Stanley Rother served indigenous people of his Guatemala parish at a time of civil war. He returned to his home state of Oklahoma after a death threat, then returned knowing the dangers. Before his last Christmas, the priest wrote to a parish in Oklahoma about the dangers in Guatemala: “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger,” he said. Armed men broke into his rectory, intending to abduct him. He resisted and struggled, but did not call for help, so others at the mission would not be endangered. He was shot twice and killed. At a time of great social and political turbulence, the priest lived as a disciple of Christ, “doing good and spreading peace and reconciliation among the people,” Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect for the Congregation of Saints, said in his homily. “Unfortunately, this immediate recompense on this earth was persecution and a bloody death, in accord with the Words of Jesus: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit,” said the cardinal, citing the words of the Gospel. Celebrating the Mass with Cardinal Amato were Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley, dozens of bishops, scores of priests and thousands of laity, including some from Guatemala. The Mass took place at Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center. Family of Fr. Rother were also in attendance. Sister Marita Rother read the first reading, from the Book of Sirach. Though Blessed Stanley faced difficulties in his seminary studies, he showed great dedication to the manual labor he was familiar with from his youth on his family farm near Okarche, Okla. After volunteering for the Guatemala mission Santiago Atitlan, the priest learned Spanish. He even the local language of the Tz’utujil Mayan Indians so well that he could use it in his preaching. He would spend 13 years of his life there, diligent in visiting newlyweds and baptizing and catechizing their children. He was vigorous in both religious and social formation, drawing on his experience to work the fields and repair broken trucks while also building a farmer’s co-op, a school, a hospital and the area’s first Catholic radio station. Blessed Stanley even took action after a major earthquake in 1976. “With courage he climbed the ravines in order to help the very poor, pulling the wounded out of the ruins and carrying them to safety on his shoulders,” Cardinal Amato said. Cardinal Amato recounted the civil conflict in Guatemala. From 1971 to 1981, there were numerous killings of journalists, farmers, catechists and priests, all accused falsely of communism. “This was a real and true time of bloody persecution of the Church,” the cardinal said. “Fr. Rother, aware of the imminent danger to his life, prepared himself for martyrdom, asking the Lord for the strength to face it without fear.” “He continued, however, to preach the gospel of love and non-violence.” Both the priest’s mission and the aid he gave to the victims of violence were seen as subversive, explained the cardinal, who added: “a good shepherd cannot abandon his flock.” “In the face of kidnappings and violence Fr. Rother felt helpless because he did not succeed in changing the situation of reconciliation and forgiveness,” Cardinal Amato continued. “He often cried in silence to a Carmelite nun who asked what to do if he were killed.” “Fr. Rother responded: ‘Raise the standard of Christ Risen’.” Others spoke about Blessed Stanley. Oklahoma City Archbishop emeritus Eusebius Beltran voiced gratitude to God for the beatification of the first native-born priest and martyr of the United States. “His death was a tragedy for Oklahoma and for Guatemala. However, through his death, his saintly life has become known well beyond the boundaries of Guatemala and Oklahoma and the faith of all those who are now familiar with his life is greatly strengthened, and the Church continues to flourish,” Archbishop Beltran said. Archbishop Coakley said that the priest “chose to remain with his people” and “gave his life  in solidarity.” “Pray that Church will experience a new Pentecost and abundant vocations, aided by the intercession of Bl. Stanley Rother,” he said. The Mass was multi-lingual, incorporating Spanish, Comanche and the Mayan language of the indigenous people Fr. Rother served. The offertory was dedicated to the Guatemalan parishes where Blessed Stanley Rother served, in order to help meet their needs and sustain the faith there. The Catholic Foundation of Oklahoma is managing donations through the webpage http://stanleyrother.org/mass

Vatican at UN: Nukes won't save us – let's seek a better path

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 22:02

New York City, N.Y., Sep 22, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nuclear weapons are a force for instability and any claims they promote peace are chasing illusions, the Holy See's Secretary for Relations with States told leading diplomats seeking a nuclear test ban treaty.

“While having no illusions about the challenges involved in achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, the challenges posed by the status quo ante of growing tensions, continuing proliferation, and new modernization programs are far more daunting,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher said.

“Nuclear arms offer a false sense of security. The uneasy peace promised by nuclear deterrence has time and time again proved a tragic illusion. Nuclear weapons cannot create a stable and secure world. Peace and international stability cannot be founded on mutually assured destruction or on the threat of annihilation.”

The U.K.-born archbishop's words came in remarks to the 10th Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, held at the United Nations in New York City. The Holy See signed the treaty in 1996.

“The rising tensions over North Korea’s growing nuclear program are of special urgency,” he said. “The international community must respond by seeking to revive negotiations. The threat or use of military force have no place in countering proliferation, and the threat or use of nuclear weapons in countering nuclear proliferation are deplorable.”

“We must put behind us the nuclear threats, fear, military superiority, ideology, and unilateralism that drive proliferation and modernization efforts and are so reminiscent of the logic of the Cold War,” he said.

Putting the treaty into force is even more urgent considering contemporary threats to peace, he said, citing continued nuclear proliferation and some nuclear states’ major new modernization programs.

Archbishop Gallagher said political analysis that relies on nuclear weapons is misleading. The supposed peace based on a balance of power and “threats and counter-threats, and ultimately fear” is “unstable and false.” He called for the replacement of “a logic of fear and mistrust” with “an ethic of responsibility” that would foster multilateral dialogue and consistent cooperation between all members of the international community.

The archbishop said the Holy See is troubled by “the continued lack of progress” in making sure the treaty enters into force. The two decades since the treaty’s launch have been a lost two decades in achieving “our common goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”

The Holy See welcomes the opportunity to join other states that have ratified the treaty in appealing to remaining states whose ratification is necessary, he added.

“In ratifying this treaty, these States have an opportunity to demonstrate wisdom, courageous leadership, and a commitment to peace and the common good of all,” he said.

The comprehensive test ban is “a critical component to broader nuclear disarmament efforts.”

He cited Pope Francis' Sept. 25, 2015 speech urging the U.N. General Assembly “to work for a world free of nuclear weapons” and for a full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that aims for “a complete prohibition of these weapons.”

“An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as ‘nations united by fear and distrust,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis has also written to Elayne Whyte Gómez, president of the U.N. conference seeking a nuclear weapons ban, urging the international community to go beyond nuclear deterrence and adopt “forward-looking strategies to promote the goal of peace and stability and to avoid short-sighted approaches to the problems surrounding national and international security.”

On Thursday, the Holy See was among the first to sign and ratify a new treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. Archbishop Gallagher signed on behalf of the Holy See and Vatican City at the U.N. in New York, Vatican Radio reports. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Weapons has over 40 signatories and it will take effect 90 days after at least 50 nations formally ratify it.

That treaty bars the development, production, testing, acquisition, possession or stockpiling of nuclear weapons or other nuclear devices. It also bars the use or threat of use of these weapons. Most nuclear powers did not take part in the negotiations.

Denver event hopes to change how society views homeless people

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 20:00

Denver, Colo., Sep 22, 2017 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- When volunteers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development counted the number of homeless people in Colorado one night last year, they found more than 10,000.

Christ in the City, a Denver-based outreach program, hopes to positively impact some of those people – not just with food or shelter, but with friendship.

The organization sees one of its primary goals as getting to know homeless people on the streets.

Young adult missionaries walk the streets of Denver in teams of three. They seek to encounter the homeless people who are often ignored. Over time, as they have conversations and meet regularly with the people on the streets, friendships develop.

“The people society usually ignores are called by name, treated with authentic love, and are reminded of their innate dignity. Their posture becomes more upright, their eyes begin to shine, and their hearts are softened as missionaries treat them with the tender care Christ modeled,” the organization said in describing its mission.

Currently, Christ in the City has 24 missionaries, ages 18-27. The organization operates in Denver, but has had requests to expand in the Archdioceses of Lincoln, Neb., and Philadelphia, Penn.

Also critical to the group’s approach is formation of the missionaries and efforts to help change the way society views the poor.

On Saturday, Oct. 7, Christ in the City will host “A Night of Encounter,” an event that will offer a glimpse into what it’s like to serve the homeless not only in their material needs, but through friendship.  

Hosted by Holy Name Parish in Englewood, Colo., the event will include an outdoor cocktail hour at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m.

Missionaries will sit with guests, who will have the opportunity to hear their stories of encountering homeless people on the streets of Denver.

Tickets for “A Night of Encounter” can be purchased at: http://christinthecity.co/annualcelebration/

Villanova 'culture warrior' professor accepts Douthat debate invitation

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 18:55

New York City, N.Y., Sep 22, 2017 / 04:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- New York Times columnist Ross Douthat invited Villanova theologian Massimo Faggioli to a debate, and Faggioli has said that he would be open to the idea.

“I am really looking forward to meeting him in person, as soon as is possible. I don’t know if this event is going to happen, in what form. I am totally open to it,” Dr. Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University, told CNA of Ross Douthat’s invitation to a debate.

Douthat, a Catholic, is an author and op-ed columnist at the New York Times, writing on religion, politics, morality, and culture. Faggioli is a theology professor, church historian, and Catholic commentator at Villanova University. Douthat and Faggioli have both been referred to as “culture warriors,” one a conservative, the other a liberal.

In a Sept. 20 column, “Expect the Inquisition,” Douthat noted two recent examples of priests or theologians losing academic positions or speaking engagements because of online campaigns opposing them.

Instead of “conflicting inquisitions, liberal and conservative,” Douthat proposed more “serious argument” and “respectful debate” amongst academics, theologians, and bishops.

In particular, Douthat invited Faggioli – with whom he has previously engaged in online debates, most notably in October of 2015 during the Synod on the Family – to a debate. “I myself am only a train ride away from Professor Faggioli’s Villanova and would happily allow him to educate me on my theological deficiencies on a platform of his choosing,” he said.

Faggioli told CNA on Thursday that he would be open to such a debate.

Faggioli noted that he would not want a debate that would resemble a “boxing match,” but rather “just two individuals there to present a much bigger debate.”

“I think it’s much bigger than Ross and Massimo. But it’s certainly a step forward from two years ago, when there was a much harsher exchange,” he said. Faggioli said he would be open to meet “at Villanova, or at Commonweal, or wherever that can happen.”

“We have to find a way to meet and talk,” Faggioli said, “but there’s a lot of noise that is really part of the environment. And that is still violent. That’s the problem. And we have to find a way to neutralize those violent voices who have no interest of exchange of ideas.”

“What’s a bit disturbing,” he added, is that “if you read the comments that their readers post on their column or their messages against me following Douthat’s article yesterday, that is scary, honestly,” he said.

In an interview with CNA, Faggioli questioned Douthat’s ability to comment on theological and ecclesial issues. “It is striking that he’s commenting with this cavalier attitude on important issues with a fundamental lack of knowledge, I would say.”

“And about what’s going on in Francis’ pontificate, it seems to me that he has a very sketchy idea with very little knowledge of the real people appointed by Francis, what they have published, what they have said, their curriculum, who they are,” Faggioli said.

Although Douthat’s recent column was “a bit less arrogant, a bit less aggressive, looking for a dialogue with people like me with whom he has disagreed for a couple of years now,” he said, “there’s the same lack of knowledge and of curiosity for what this Pope is doing.”

“He doesn’t know, he doesn’t read what the other people are doing. And it’s deeply, deeply unfair and false to make a caricature of them as the bolshevik of Pope Francis,” he said.

Douthat and Faggioli have recently clashed over response to “Building a Bridge,” a book by Fr. James Martin, SJ, addressing LGBT issues in the Church.  Fr. Martin was recently disinvited to address seminarians at Theological College, a seminary in Washington, DC, after outcry and protests from online groups Faggioli has called “cyber-militias.”

In a September 18 essay published by La Croix, Faggioli criticized the “campaign of hatred and personal attacks” against Fr. Martin, and said that “this sort of vitriol is profoundly changing the communion of the Catholic Church.”

“It signals a new kind of censorship that uses verbal violence to intimidate individual Catholics, as well as institutions within the Church,” he said.

In his September 20 column, Douthat responded that “Professor Faggioli’s sudden concern about online campaigns was interesting to me, because it was just a short while ago that the professor was himself busy organizing an online campaign against myself.”

Douthat was referring to an October 2015 letter to the New York Times, written by Faggioli and more than 50 other academics, objecting to a column by Douthat. Among the signatories was Nicholas P. Cafardi, a civil and canon lawyer who served as chairman of “Catholics for Obama,” and characterized President Barack Obama as “pro-life” in 2012.

In the criticized column “The Plot to Change Catholicism,” Douthat speculated that the Pope sided with the proposal of Cardinal Walter Kasper that the divorced and remarried be allowed to receive communion, without first receiving a declaration that their first marriages were invalid. Pope Francis picked synod delegates who would be sympathetic to such a position, Douthat said.

In subsequent comments on Twitter, Douthat criticized supporters of the so-called “Kasper proposal” at the synod. “If you take a view the church has consistently rejected, you don't get to whine when the ‘h’ word comes up,” Douthat said, adding, “Own your heresy.”

The response letter questioned Douthat’s credibility. “Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject, the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is,” the letter stated.

In response to that letter, Bishop Robert Barron defended Douthat, writing at the Word on Fire website: “If a doctorate in theology were a bottom-line prerequisite, we would declare the following people unqualified to express an opinion on matters religious: Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis, William F. Buckley, W.H. Auden, or to bring things more up to date, Fr. James Martin, George Weigel, and E.J. Dionne. In point of fact, it is often the case that those outside of the official academy often have the freshest and most insightful perspectives, precisely because they aren’t sequestered in the echo-chamber of politically correct faculty lounge discourse.”

While no debate has been scheduled, CNA has learned that details for the possibility of a debate are being explored, and may soon be announced.  

Faggioli told CNA, “As long as it’s not a debate like Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman; I don’t want this to become a personal thing. But I’ll be happy to meet with him and discuss with him.”

Douthat also affirmed his openness to a debate. “I meant what I wrote,” he told CNA. “I’m happy to debate him when our schedules, as fathers of young children, will allow for it.”

Douthat told CNA that serious conversation about issues is important for Catholics. In his September 20 column, he wrote, “There is no way forward save through controversy. Postpone the inquisitions; schedule arguments instead.”

If Douthat and Faggioli meet for a debate, controversy may well point a way forward.

 

Why Catholic News Agency? Our mission

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 18:07

Denver, Colo., Sep 22, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- Five days after he was elected Pope, John Paul II met with journalists from around the world. The Pope was a scholar, a man of letters, and an actor. He understood the power of words and images, and he understood the power of media.

In his own country, Poland, John Paul had seen the state-run Communist media obscure the truth to create confusion and cement power. He had also seen the underground media – the resistance – risk lives and freedom to tell the truth. John Paul II knew that words and images could sow the lies of Satan, or bring the freedom that comes from living in truth.

When he met with them, he told journalists that they should use the freedom of the press “to grasp the truth,” and to help readers, listeners, and viewers “to live in justice and brotherhood, to discover the ultimate meaning of life, to open them up to the mystery of God.”

The Pope told reporters that they should try “to grasp the authentic, deep and spiritual motivations of the Church's thought and action,” and “to elevate…the spirit and the heart of men of good will, at the same time as the faith of Christians.”

The mission of Catholic media is to seek the truth, and to share it, especially in light of eternal and enduring truths. We use words to reveal the Word himself, Jesus Christ. St. Paul says that encountering that Word transforms us, by “the renewal of our minds.”

Less than a month ago, I began working as editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, an apostolate dedicated to discovering the truth, and reporting it. Our team of writers, producers, and editors is committed to using our craft for the sake of the Gospel, to revealing the truth, and to helping Catholics understand the events of world through the lens of faith, guided by enduring truths of the Gospel. We want to help Catholics see, judge, and act in the world as it really is.

The public square in the United States has become chaotic. Our political culture is often vindictive and small-minded, preferring power politics to the common good. Media often incites conflict, rather than reporting facts. Public discourse has becoming a shouting match. It has become difficult to know what is true.

Our mission is to point to the truth. We want to inform, to educate, and to inspire. We want to point to what is good, so that it can be supported and replicated. We want to point to what is evil, so that Catholics can respond. We want to point to the Church’s work in the world, and we want to explain the factors that influence the Church’s life and ministry. We want to point to the ways that God is moving in the world.

We want to help Catholics to know the truth, to believe it, and to practice it.

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US bishops: Newest health care proposal fails moral test

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 13:08

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2017 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Leading U.S. bishops have applauded pro-life provisions in the newest GOP health care proposal, but said that substantial changes are needed in other areas to make the bill morally acceptable.

“Without significant improvement, this bill does not meet the moral criteria for health care reform outlined in our previous letters,” four committee chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote to U.S. senators on Thursday.

They asked the senators “to think of the harm that will be caused to poor and vulnerable people.”

The four bishops who wrote the letter to the U.S. senators were Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the bishops’ pro-life activities committee; Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the ad hoc religious liberty committee; Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the migration committee; and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the domestic justice and human development committee.

Senate Republicans introduced the Graham-Cassidy health care proposal last week as the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers to repeal the current Affordable Care Act and replace it with another health care law.

Under the proposal, the old individual and employer health insurance mandates of the Affordable Care Act would be repealed, as well as the Medical Device Tax. Patients with pre-existing conditions would still be protected, the senators sponsoring the bill said.

States would receive more freedom and flexibility to innovate health care policies and lower costs, the senators claimed. The proposal would replace the expansion of Medicaid payments to the states with a “per capita cap” on the federal Medicaid payments based upon the population of the respective states.

However, these changes to Medicaid would “fundamentally restructure this vital program” and “result in deep funding cuts and lost coverage for millions of people,” the bishops wrote.

The bill would also replace other federal subsidies and grants to the states – like ACA premium tax credits and cost-sharing reduction subsidies – with block grants to states, the bill’s sponsors said. This would help reduce the inequality between the states that chose to partake in the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and those that did not. Just three states received “37 percent of Obamacare funds,” the senators claimed.

However, “while flexibility can be good at times, these block grants will result in billions of dollars in reductions for those in health care poverty,” the bishops wrote.

States facing budget deficits may be forced to cut more programs benefitting low-income citizens if they do not receive the additional aid from the federal government, the bishops said.

Pro-life provisions in the bill are laudable, they noted, especially those protecting against taxpayer funding of abortions in health care, and redirecting Medicaid dollars away from abortion providers like Planned Parenthood toward other health clinics that do not provide abortions.

“The legislation does correct a serious flaw in the Affordable Care Act by ensuring that no federal funds are used for abortion or go to plans that cover it. This improvement is praiseworthy, and it is essential that any improved final bill retain these key provisions,” the letter said.

“We also applaud that Graham-Cassidy redirects funds from organizations that provide abortion,” the bishops said.

Looking ahead, the bishops told the senators to avoid being hasty in passing a comprehensive health care bill that could affect the coverage of millions of Americans.

“The Senate should only proceed with a full report concerning just how many people will be impacted,” the bishops said of the changes to Medicaid.

“Decisions about the health of our citizens – a concern fundamental to each of us – should not be made in haste simply because an artificial deadline looms,” the bishops said. Members of Congress should pass a bill with bipartisan support, one “that addresses the life, conscience, immigrant access, market stability and affordability problems that now exist.”

 

'Zero tolerance' on child abuse must apply to laity too

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 11:38

New York City, N.Y., Sep 22, 2017 / 09:38 am (CNA).- In his September 20 remarks to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis stated the important point that “the Church, at all levels, will respond with the application of the firmest measures to all those who have betrayed their call and abused the children of God.” That reaffirmation of the Church's commitment to child protection cannot be said too often or too strongly.

The Holy Father then went on to say something new and very significant: “The disciplinary measures that the particular Churches have adopted must apply to all those who work in the institutions of the Church... Therefore, the Church irrevocably and at all levels seeks to apply the principle of 'zero tolerance' against the sexual abuse of minors.”

This is an unambiguous call to action. The Church in the United States has been a world leader in child protection, and we have an opportunity now to lead again.

Since its adoption in 2002, the Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has been the foundation for the Church's immensely successful efforts to provide a safe environment for children in our institutions and to ensure accountability for the implementation of those efforts. As successful as the Charter has been, however, it has always been missing a very significant piece -- on its face, it only applies to cases of misconduct by clergy and not by laypeople.

For example, the term “sexual abuse” is defined in the Charter by reference to a canon law provision that applies only to the clergy. The definition is ambiguous, and fails to provide sufficient guidance about what behaviors are proscribed. This leaves diocesan officials to rely on an ad hoc standard of their own creation or on potentially differing opinions of theologians, civil or canon lawyers, or review board members.  

This is not a good practice -- “sexual abuse” cannot mean one thing in one diocese and a different thing in another, one thing when it applies to clergy and another when it's a lay person.

The Charter's definition of “child pornography” suffers from the same problem. The only guidance in the Charter is a reference to a Vatican document that has an empty and unhelpful definition that is limited to conduct by clerics. An ambiguous standard for this heinous crime isn't acceptable, and it must apply to laity as well.  

In addition, although the Charter discusses procedures for handling cases involving the clergy, it says nothing about how to handle cases about lay persons. And most importantly, while the Charter clearly applies the “zero tolerance” policy of permanently removing an offending priest or deacon, there is no defined penalty for lay persons who have committed an offense.

This is a very significant gap. We must assure everyone that no person, lay or cleric, will be permitted to be with children if they have committed an offense. Failing to do so leaves an erroneous impression that sex abuse is uniquely a problem with the clergy, which ignores all the evidence of the incidence of sex abuse and unfairly stigmatizes our priests and deacons.  

This omission could have an impact on the credibility of our child protection programs. The annual audit requires information about background check and training of lay people and detailed information about clergy abuse cases, but no information is gathered about cases involving lay people. Including the laity explicitly under the Charter will ensure a greater level of accountability and trust.

One would expect that every diocese has already adopted policies that cover lay people as well as clergy. We certainly have in the Archdiocese of New York. But local policies don't send a strong enough message. The Charter is the public expression of the United States Church's full commitment to child protection. It is imperative that we make absolutely clear that the same rigorous standards apply to all who work with children, across our entire nation.

This is not hard to do. Clear and usable definitions of “sexual abuse” and “child pornography” can be developed that unambiguously cover laypeople. We can draw on the vast experience reflected in state and federal law, which define numerous sexual offenses with great detail and specificity. Uniform disciplinary procedures for handling lay cases do not have to be developed at the national level, since those will be shaped by local personnel policies and laws. Nor do we have to worry about inconsistency with canon law, since that only applies to clergy cases.

It can also be stated plainly that all allegations will be immediately reported to law enforcement and full cooperation will be given to the authorities. All dioceses probably already do this -- in the Archdiocese of New York we have strong protocols for cooperation with law enforcement. But again, a strong statement in the Charter will demonstrate our commitment across the nation.

Most important, after the Holy Father's mandate, it is vital that the “zero tolerance” policy clearly applies to the laity. There can be no room for doubt about that.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been working on a revision of the Charter, and it has not yet been finalized. The Holy Father's timely call to action now gives the Church a great opportunity to be proactive and ensure that our rigorous policies apply equally to all who work with our children.

 

Edward Mechmann, Esq., is the Director of Safe Environment for the Archdiocese of New York. His opinions are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Archdiocese of New York.

 

Ending human trafficking requires everyone's efforts, archbishop says

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 02:47

New York City, N.Y., Sep 22, 2017 / 12:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At a United Nations gathering in New York City, a Holy See official stressed the need for a multi-pronged approach in fighting human trafficking and aiding victims.

“The issue of trafficking in persons can only be fully addressed by promoting effective juridical instruments and concrete collaboration at multiple levels by all stakeholders,” Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher told global leaders at a United Nations event on Tuesday.

Archbishop Gallagher is the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States. He spoke at a High Level Leaders Event hosted by U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, entitled, “A Call to Action to End Forced Labor, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.”

The archbishop emphasized the importance of “multi-pronged strategies” to prevent more of these crimes and aid the affected victims, and he noted the special role of women and religious personnel in offering an avenue of trust.

“Experience has shown that many victims are wary of trusting law enforcement authorities, but that they confide their stories more easily to religious personnel, especially religious sisters, who can build their trust in the legal process and provide them safe haven and other forms of assistance.”

Ending this “modern slavery” has been a major priority for Pope Francis, said Archbishop Gallagher, and the Catholic Church is collaborating “with both the public and private sectors, including with government authorities.”

Grace Williams, executive director of Children of the Immaculate Heart in San Diego, agreed that women in the Church have an important role in working with trafficking victims.

William’s organization serves women who have been victims of human trafficking. Focusing on rehabilitation, Children of the Immaculate Heart offers opportunities for education, counseling, recreational therapy, and housing.

She explained that their program enables a greater level of trust for victims because the staff members are nearly all women.

“It provides them with a safe environment,” Williams told CNA. “It’s easier for them, in the beginning, to trust” and to open up about their experience.

Due to traumatic past experiences, one of the clients at the organization is unable to ride alone with a man in the car, said Williams, noting that the woman cannot use ridesharing services like Uber for this reason.

Having primarily women on staff is particularly important when it comes to professionals, such as case managers, therapists, and doctors, she said.

Sharing office space with Saint Anne Catholic Church in San Diego, Children of the Immaculate Heart also works closely with parish priests to provide spiritual counseling and advice.

In his address, Archbishop Gallagher said that the Church has played a major role in helping victims heal, but stressed that collaboration is needed on all fronts to “halt these heinous crimes,” he said.

“The global nature of the crimes of forced labor, modern slavery and human trafficking require from all of us a commensurate response of collaboration, fraternity and solidarity.”

Pope Francis has spoken out against human trafficking repeatedly during his papacy. Just a few months after becoming Pope, he called for a group of experts to meet at the Vatican in order to discuss ways to fight human trafficking.

In speeches and homilies, the Pope has referred to human trafficking as “a disgrace” and a “shameful wound... a wound unworthy in a civil society.”

“It is not possible to remain indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold like goods,” he said in a 2014 message.

“I think of the adoption of children for the extraction of their organs, of women deceived and forced to prostitute themselves, of workers exploited and denied their rights or a voice, and so on. This is human trafficking!”

 

Archbishop Chaput: Fr. Martin deserves respectful criticism, not trash-talking

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 22:02

Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 21, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Some of the verbal attacks on Father James Martin, S.J. have been “inexcusably ugly,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has said in response to reactions to the controversial priest.

“Fr. Martin is a man of intellect and skill whose work I often admire. Like all of us as fellow Christians, he deserves to be treated with fraternal good will,” the archbishop said.

“It’s one thing to criticize respectfully an author’s ideas and their implications. It’s quite another to engage in ad hominem trashing.”

Writing in a Sept. 21 essay on the First Things website, the archbishop said that everyone who claims to be Christian has “the duty to speak the truth with love.”

“Culture warriors come in all shapes and shades of opinion,” the Archbishop of Philadelphia said. “The bitterness directed at the person of Fr. Martin is not just unwarranted and unjust; it’s a destructive counter-witness to the Gospel.”

Fr. Martin, media personality and editor-at-large of the Society of Jesus’ America Magazine, serves as a consultor to the Secretariat for Communication at the Vatican.

He has been the focus of controversy since the publication of his 2017 book “Building a Bridge,” which outlined how he thought the Catholic Church and the LGBT community should relate to each other. His book received the endorsements of several senior Catholic Church leaders, but also criticism from leaders like Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Some critics have faulted his book for avoiding discussion of the Church’s teaching on sexuality and for its lack of engagement with Catholics who identify as LGBT and accept Church teaching on chastity and other issues.  Others have expressed concern that his public lectures about the book have repudiated Catholic teaching.

Several Catholic organizations had canceled speaking invitations they had extended to the priest. His most recent canceled appearance was at the Theological College, a seminary affiliated with the Catholic University of America. The seminary cited “increasing negative feedback from various social media sites.”

Archbishop Chaput reflected on reaction to that controversy, saying professor and Catholic commentator Massimo Faggioli was right to worry about the vitriol that is “profoundly changing the Church,” Faggioli wrote in an essay in La Croix’s online international edition.

The professor had noted the archbishop’s own rebuke of groups like the Lepanto Institute and Church Militant ahead of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

However, Archbishop Chaput questioned Faggioli’s claim that these “conservative cyber-militias” were fostered by a generation of bishops appointed under Popes John Paul II and Benedict, who in Faggioli’s words re-shaped “the U.S. episcopate in the image of the ‘culture warrior’.”

The archbishop, himself an appointee of Pope John Paul II, emphasized the Christian duty to speak truth with love.

He also added that Fr. Martin is not above criticism.

“The perceived ambiguities in some of Fr. Martin’s views on sexuality have created much of the apprehension and criticism surrounding his book. There’s nothing vindictive in respectfully but firmly challenging those inadequacies. Doing less would violate both justice and charity.”

“Clear judgment, tempered by mercy but faithful to Scripture and constant Church teaching, is an obligation of Catholic discipleship – especially on moral issues, and especially in Catholic scholarship,” he added.

The archbishop compared contemporary contentiousness to the widespread unrest ahead of the Protestant Reformation.

“The details of our moral and ecclesial disputes are very different from those of five centuries ago – none of the Reformers, Protestant or Catholic, could have imagined what they would loose or where it would lead – but the gravity of our arguments is just as real, and the results will be just as far-reaching.”

“If we’ve learned anything over the past five hundred years, we might at least stop demonizing each other,” he said. “On matters of substance, bad-mouthing the other guy only makes things worse.”

How the JPII Institute helped alumni 'become more fully and radically human'

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 18:27

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2017 / 04:27 pm (CNA).- Alumni of the early years of the Washington, D.C. “session” of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family say it gave them a strong formation for the New Evangelization.

“What struck me as I read about the institute and its goal: it was to go deeper into understanding the teachings of the Church,” said Dr. John Brehany, director of institutional relations for the National Catholic Bioethics Center and an alumnus of the institute’s D.C. campus.

The institute aimed to see Church teaching “as life-giving,” he told CNA, and “to understand it, not to apologize for it, and to bring it to more effective dialogue.”

After the 1980 Synod on the Family, the publication of Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio “on the role of the Christian family in the modern world,” and the series of weekly audiences he gave on the human person, marriage, and the family – now known as “Theology of the Body” – the Pope established the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Pope St. John Paul II planned to announce the formation of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family on May 13, 1981, but he was shot in St. Peter’s Square on that day and the announcement was delayed for over a year.

The Washington, D.C. campus of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family was started in 1988, offering a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.).

Today, the campus offers degrees of a Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.), Doctorates of Sacred Theology (S.T.D.), and specializations in Marriage and Family and Person, Marriage, and Family (Ph.D.).

The original mission of the institute, as some of the early alumni saw it, was to bring the rich teachings of the Church on marriage, the family, and the human person into an engagement with the modern world, but never from an uncharitable or apologetic standpoint.

Pope St. John Paul II “would often say the future of the world and of the Church passes through the family,” said Fr. John Riccardo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and popular Catholic speaker, who attended the D.C. campus from 1999-2001.

“And so the mission of the institute was to respond to what John Paul II called the crisis of modernity, actually, which was the degradation and the polarization of the dignity of the human person,” he told CNA.

This crisis was occurring both in Communist Russia but also in the West with “rampant materialism.”

Pope St. John Paul II’s establishment of the Rome institute came after “a rolling wave, it seemed, of dissent” from Church teaching in the 1960s, especially in the wake of Bl. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, Brehany said.

In that period of time before the institute was founded, there had been much apology for and regret over Church teaching, he said. The institute “was a confident, very constructive approach to understanding and sharing the teachings of the Church on marriage and the family.”

Dr. Mark Latkovic, a professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, was in the original graduating class of the D.C. campus.

As the campus was founded in 1988, only several years after the founding of the Pontifical Institute in Rome, it attracted world-class theologians – something that did not go unnoticed by prospective students.

Some of the early faculty and lecturers included renowned scholars like William May, a moral theologian who had renounced his original dissent from Humanae Vitae; Scripture scholar Fr. Francis Martin; philosophy professor Ralph McInerny; then-president of the Rome Institute and future-Cardinal Carlo Caffara; and theologian Fr. Benedict Ashley, OP.

“The faculty who were there in those first years were top-notch,” Brehany recalled, adding that the rigorous curriculum gave him a solid foundation for when he later pursued his Ph.D. in health care ethics at St. Louis University.

“I think it was the highest-quality education I received anywhere,” he said.

In 1988, Latkovic had just received his Master’s degree at Catholic University and was preparing to study for his Ph.D. there when he received mail from the new John Paul II Institute, which was about to begin enrolling students.

“The faculty they had assembled was probably the best faculty you could ever have in one place in the world. There’s no way I could have gotten this faculty if I went to Oxford, or I went to Notre Dame,” he said.  

Latkovic felt called to attend the institute and took a “leap of faith,” joining the first graduating class. He studied under Fr. Ashley for two years as a graduate assistant, earning his S.T.L. in 1990. The Knights of Columbus covered his tuition.

“I never met a man like him before,” Latkovic said of his teacher, the late Fr. Ashley, “conversing with modern science inside-out. And so we were constantly in the classroom engaging current theories in science, sociology. He was literally an encyclopedia, an encyclopedia of knowledge.”

Brehany agreed that Fr. Ashley was a transformative teacher. “He did a lot of work in essentially understanding what was going on in modern science, acknowledging a lot of the data, but interpreting that data in light of a sound philosophy and faith,” he said.

When Fr. Riccardo attended the institute several years later, May and Fr. Martin were still on the faculty, along with Dr. Kenneth Schmitz, Jill Atkinson, and David Schindler, Sr.

They were “people that really transformed my mind,” he said. “They really solidified everything in my life that I understood in a way that I think I’d never understood before, why God’s plan for happiness, for the human person, just makes sense.”

Although the faculty were all faithful to Church teaching and to the mission of the institute, there was a positive diversity of opinions among them, the alumni said, which contributed to rich discussions and debates.

“We were exposed to so many different viewpoints,” Latkovic said, of Dominicans and Jesuits, of New Natural Law theorists and traditional Thomists. “There was just great dialogue and conversations across different disciplines.”

The original curriculum of the institute was quite theology-heavy, alumni said, and yet from the standpoint of Catholic theology and anthropology, they engaged with many current theories and arguments in the sciences.

“The institute was always very theological, and always very scientific in its approach to these disciplines,” Latkovic said. “There was very much a broad spirit, an openness to so many currents of thought,” he said, “and I don’t see how the institute could have been anything less, because John Paul II himself was a Thomist and a phenomenologist.”

“There were a number of disciplines that surrounded the topic of marriage and family, but it was all oriented to engaging the world,” Brehany said.

Fr. Riccardo said that in his time at the institute, the curriculum dealt with the practical issues that prepared him for a life of ministry.

“The Scripture is never abstract. And moral theology, quite frankly, is not abstract,” he said. “I would not describe what we got there, by any stretch of the imagination, as abstract. It was one of those things where I couldn’t wait to first apply this to my own life, and then to run to tell others.”

Fr. Ashley in particular led his students to engage with many different scientific texts.

“We were reading sociology,” Latkovic said, “we were reading modern scientists, we were reading different people, Christian, non-Christian, Protestant,” but always “through the lens of the Catholic tradition, St. John Paul II’s theology, and so on.”

That experience helped Latkovic develop a course on technology while teaching at seminary, something he probably would not have done without his prior education from Fr. Ashley, he said.

“He had a deep interest in science, and a variety of fields in science,” Brehany said. “He was very much rooted in the world of many practical issues.”

It was all in the spirit of “engaging modernity, engaging the culture,” Latkovic said, which he has carried with him into his teaching at Sacred Heart seminary today, “trying to see the good fruits, the good things that are out there.”

The institute prepared its first students to evangelize the society they lived in, yet many of the social problems in the years after Familiaris Consortio and the foundation of the institute are still present today.

“I think that the John Paul II Institute as founded, it seems to me that the vision and goals are even more relevant today than when they came into being,” Brehany said.

The original mission of the institute is still needed, he said, “a confidence that the teachings of the Church are true and well-founded, a constructive approach to appreciating them more, and taking that understanding out, taking that faith out in a very constructive manner, and doing it with excellence.”

“The whole legacy of the program is giving us the tools, the way of thinking properly” to face current-day problems, Latkovic said. “I don’t see John Paul II’s thought being limited to one particular era.”

“We’ve had troubled families, we’ve had to administer pastoral care to families for centuries. Not much has changed there. But I see John Paul II’s thought as part of the perennial philosophy,” he said.

Alumni of the institute now teaching bioethics and moral theology, or ministering to married couples or living in religious life, have counted the deep theological curriculum, the professors, and their engagement with contemporary issues as formation for their respective vocations.

“I did feel prepared intellectually to engage with anybody,” Brehany said, but “the spirit was to do it constructively” without apologizing for the Church’s teachings.

Fr. Riccardo draws upon his time at the institute in his priestly ministry.

“I can still remember a day really studying and praying with John Paul’s words,” he recalled. “I literally felt like my spine got strong, as I was just praying with truth, and understanding what it is the Scriptures are revealing and what God’s plan is,” he said. “I just felt like the Lord started to heal me in all sorts of areas of my life”

That has carried over into his ministry to others. “I’ve just seen example after example after example of marriages that have been healed, simply because of what I got there [at the institute] and what I’ve been able to pass on.”

Mother M. Maximilia Um, F.S.G.M., provincial superior of the Franciscans of the Martyr St. George, earned a Masters in Theological Studies (M.T.S.) at the institute from 2003-05. The institute taught her about the human person and relationships, which she says helps her in her vocation as a mother superior.

It also helped her foster a contemplative outlook on life, she said. She recalled the words of her professor David L. Schindler as he spoke to the new class on why they were at the institute.

They were there to “become more fully and radically human,” she said.

 

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