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Children at risk from porn, trafficking, gender identity, summit hears

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Advocates for children, parents, and women’s rights all spoke out against growing threats of the sexualization of children at a summit on Wednesday. 

Panelists at the event, hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 9, addressed three areas—culture, education, and healthcare—where children are threatened by exposure to violent pornography, efforts to normalize sex trafficking, and a push to encourage them to question and alter their gender.

Parents are now “told that puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones may be the only way to prevent their child from committing suicide,” said Ryan Anderson, the William E. Simon senior research fellow at Heritage and moderator of the summit’s panel on healthcare.

Seventeen states have “passed laws banning medical professionals from helping a child to identify with their own body,” he added. And in all 50 states, doctors can prescribe testosterone for girls and estrogen for boys, and perform mastectomies on girls.

These procedures are being performed on children whose brains will not be fully developed until their mid-20s, Dr. Joseph Zenga, past president of the American Academy of Pediatricians noted, while observing that anti-smoking campaigns were predicated upon this fact.

“The brain does not mature until the mid-20s,” Dr. Joseph Zenga, past president of the American Academy of Pediatricians, stated on Wednesday. “This is malpractice as well as child abuse,” he said. “We are committing uncontrolled experiments on our children.”

The summit comes just months after the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released a document in June denouncing gender theory, titled “Male and Female He Created Them.” The document upheld the Church’s teaching on the natural sexual differences between men and women and human nature.

In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis wrote of the importance of accepting one’s body as a gift from God, rather than seeking to fundamentally change it.

“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation,” Pope Francis wrote.

Dr. Zenga also criticized gender theory as having “no basis in science.”

“There is no science that says you can be any gender you can want to be,” he said, yet doctors are now encouraging children to embrace their gender confusion—and they are being told they cannot counsel children against a sex change.

“Boys will always be boys, and girls will always be girls,” he said.

The Vatican also responded to gender theories in “Male and Female He Created Them,” saying that they teach “that one’s gender ends up being viewed as more important than being of male or female sex.”

This, in effect, creates “a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution, since such beliefs claim specific rights for the individual and across society.”

Walt Heyer, a “detransitioner” and founder of, said he’s received inquiries from people anywhere from several days after their gender-transition surgery to 32 years after surgery, expressing their regret and asking him for help. “People today in the hundreds, in the thousands, regret having been caught up in this madness,” he said.

Children are also threatened by the increasing availability—and graphic nature—of pornography, said Haley Halverson of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE).

“It is no longer a question of if children will be exposed to pornography; it is a question of when,” Halverson said on Wednesday. Children may either first be exposed through their friends, through using Google for school projects, or even playing age-appropriate video games, she said.

While “not everyone who is exposed has the same response,” she said, “for many, repeat exposure leads to a myriad of harms on adolescent development, relationships, and even sexual function.” There have been 40 peer-reviewed studies since 2011 revealing that porn harms a child’s brain structure and development, she said.

The violent nature of pornography also teaches impressionable young minds “that ‘no’ means ‘yes,’ and that violence is sexy,” Halverson said. Children also feel the need to “act out” the media they have received, and there is a “rising crisis of children who are sexually abusing other children.”

The NCSE has authored resolutions that have passed in 15 states calling pornography a public health crisis. In 2016, the Republican National Committee platform adopted at the convention also called pornography a “public health crisis.” 

There is also a new push in the U.S. to normalize and decriminalize sex trafficking, panel experts warned.

Decriminalization would include the exploiters of women, Halverson said, pimps, sex traffickers and buyers, and “would lead to an exponential boom” in commercial sexual exploitation.

Natasha Chart, a board member of the Women’s Liberation Front, described how she was almost caught up in the sex trade at 17 years old, and added that young women are vulnerable to being ensnared in an exploitative industry—but if they are desensitized to abusive sex through violent pornography, they may not have the awareness to say no.

“Are they going to have that fear if they’ve been watching violent porn since 2011?” she asked.

Yet some progressive non-profits have been working to normalize commercial sexual exploitation. One media guide that Chart referenced recommends usage of the terms “involved in the sex trade” or “trading sex” or “sex worker.”

People are now saying it’s “feminism to whitewash the commercial sexual exploitation of children,” she said.

Candidates announced for next USCCB president

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Oct 9, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has released the list of candidates ahead of its presidential and vice-presidential elections. The elections will be held during the conference’s General Assembly in Baltimore, which will be from Nov. 10-13. 

In a statement released Oct. 9, the USCCB confirmed that Archbishops Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Services, Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee, and Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit have all allowed their names to go forward. 

They will be joined on the ballot by Bishops Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield (IL), and Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend. 

The candidates were each nominated by their fellow members of the bishops’ conference in line with the conference’s statutes and bylaws.

The current USCCB president is Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Gomez has been serving as vice president since the last election in 2016. 

The first round of voting will elect the president by a simple majority of the bishops present for the election. If a candidate does not receive 50%-plus-one of the votes, an additional ballot is taken. If there is still no winner, a run-off between the two bishops with the most votes is held until a winner is determined.

Following the election of the president of the conference, the remaining nine candidates will form the ballot for the position of vice president, with the same electoral rules applying. 

Over the course of previous elections, the bishops have usually observed the informal custom of electing the serving vice president to the presidency. The most recent exception to this convention was in 2010, when then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan narrowly defeated the serving conference vice president Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon to become conference president.

The president and vice-president will each serve a term of three years. 

In addition to the presidential and vice-presidential elections, the members of the USCCB will be voting for the new chairmen of six conference committees: the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, Committee on International Justice and Peace, Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, and the Committee for Religious Liberty.

Colorado dioceses announces independent reparations program for abuse victims

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 21:01

Denver, Colo., Oct 8, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Colorado announced Monday an independent reparation and reconciliation program that will provide for victims of clerical abuse in the dioceses who were minors at the time the abuse occurred.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila said in an Oct. 7 statement announcing the program.

“And while money can’t heal wounds, it can acknowledge the evil that was done and help restore peace and dignity to the survivors. We hope that this independent program creates a simple and non-adversarial means for survivors to have their stories heard and be provided with resources to aid in their continued healing.”

The program will be available to all victims of abuse by diocesan clergy in the dioceses of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo who were minors at the time when the abuse occurred. There is no statute of limitations in the program for the timing of the abuse.

“No matter how long ago the abuse occurred, we hope anyone who is still suffering in silence will be encouraged to come forward. If any survivor also wishes to meet personally with me, my door will be open,” Aquila said.

The Colorado Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program, or CIRRP, was designed in collaboration with the dioceses by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, who are administering similar programs in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California. It will be overseen by a committee of five people unaffiliated with the dioceses.

“Feinberg and Biros will have complete independence to determine the eligibility of individual claims and they alone will determine the amount of compensation offered to any survivor,” Aquila said. “The Dioceses have agreed to abide by Feinberg and Biros’ decisions and the compensation determinations are not subject to appeal by the survivor or the Dioceses.”

CIRRP is being offered as an alternative to victims in lieu of pursuing legal action against the Church in court, Aquila said, and is a voluntary program. While victims will be asked to share some personal information when filing their claims, it will be kept confidential by the program.

“Unlike civil litigation in the courts, this new program provides a process that is non-adversarial and protects victims’ privacy if they desire to remain anonymous. However, there are no restrictions if the survivor wishes to speak publicly about their abuse and participation in the program. Survivors do not need to retain a lawyer to participate and there are no fees for participating. Compensation for fully completed and documented claims can usually be paid within 90 – 120 days,” Aquila said.

To be eligible for the program, those filing claims must be reporting an incident of abuse that occurred when they were a minor by a diocesan cleric who was in active ministry at the time of the incident. Those filing claims about abuse incidents that occurred at the hands of members of a religious order, a priest of an out-of-state diocese, or a lay person will not qualify for the program. Those who have already reached a settlement with the diocese for their claim will not be eligible for the program.

“However, Claimants whose claims were dismissed or barred by a court on the grounds that the Colorado statute of limitations had expired and no other basis remain eligible to file a claim with the Program,” CIRRP protocol states.

Those who filed a claim with the diocese prior to the release of the program, but who had not reached a final settlement agreement, will be sent claim packets in the mail. Those who had not previously contacted the diocese prior to the program may register to file a claim online.

Registration for the program is open online from now until Nov. 30 while claim submission is open through Jan. 31, 2020. Claims not previously reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency will be reported to law enforcement through the program.

Claims will be considered eligible based on provided documentation and corroboration, findings by law enforcement, and credibility of the claim. Initial funding of the program will come from diocesan assets and not from donor funds designated for other ministries, schools or programs, the Archdiocese of Denver noted. The total cost of the program and total number of complaints remains to be seen.

The CIRRP program is similar to one administered in the Archdiocese of Denver for victims of abuse in 2006 by Archbishop Charles Chaput. The archdiocese states on its website that victim protection policies and protocols have been in place in Denver since 1991, and were again strengthened by the U.S. bishops' Dallas Charter in 2002.

There have been no known incidents of sexual abuse of a minor by a clergy member in the Archdiocese of Denver for 20 years, the archdiocese noted on its website, and there are no priests currently in active ministry with known and credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor.

“As a result, new cases of sexual misconduct by priests involving minors are rare today in the Catholic Church in Colorado,” Aquila said.

“Nonetheless, the Bishops undertake this program in their continued efforts to provide avenues for survivors of abuse to receive assistance to continue their healing.”

“The damage done to innocent young people and their families by sexual abuse in the past is profound. I realize, as you do, that no program, however well-intentioned and well-designed, can fully repair the damage done to victims and their families,” he added. “But I pray that this new program might provide another avenue toward healing and hope.”

US blacklists Chinese groups over repression of Uighurs

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 17:18

Washington D.C., Oct 8, 2019 / 03:18 pm (CNA).- The US Commerce Department on Monday added 28 Chinese organizations to a blacklist barring them from buying products from US companies, saying they co-operate in the detention and repression of Uighurs in the country's northwest.

The Oct. 7 Commerce Department filing said the groups are engaging in or enabling “activities contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States,” specifically “human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the [Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region].”

An estimated 1 million Uighurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang.

Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uighurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

The 28 groups added to the Entity List will be unable to buy from US companies without the approval of the US government. The groups are the Xinjiang public security bureau, 19 of its subordinates, and eight technology companies that produce video surveillance equipment, artificial intelligence, and voice recognition technology.

Announcing the additions, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the US “will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China.”

Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said, “there is no such thing as these so-called 'human rights issues' as claimed by the United States. These accusations are nothing more than an excuse for the United States to deliberately interfere in China's internal affairs.”

The Chinese government has said reports on the camps by Western governments and media are unfounded, claiming they are vocational training centers and that it is combatting extremism.

The Washington Post reported Oct. 5 that women in Kazakhstan who say they had been detained in Xinjiang said they were forced to have abortions, had contraceptive devices implanted involuntarily, or were raped.

According to an Oct. 8 article in NPR based on interviews conducted in Kazakhstan with relatives of Uighurs and Kazakhs  detained or imprisoned in Xinjiang, detainees are increasingly being sentenced and transferred to formal prisons.

In July, Xinjiang officials said the re-education camps have been successful, with most of those held having been reintegrated into Chinese society.

Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz said detainees were allowed to “request time off” and “regularly go home,” the AP reported.

While they are not permitted to practice their religion during their “period of study”, he said, they may do so at home.

The officials did not provide figures to back up their claims, and they have been met with scepticism outside China; David Brophy, senior lecturer in modern Chinese History at the University of Sydney, said to the Wall Street Journal “How much of this employment involves forced relocation to elsewhere in China? How much of it is taking place in education camps that have now been repurposed as heavily surveilled factories?”

Uighurs can be arrested and detained under vague anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

In August 2014 officials in Karamay, a city of Xinjiang, banned “youths with long beards” and anyone wearing headscarves, veils, burqas, or clothes with the crescent moon and star symbol from using public transit. That May, universities across the region banned fasting during Ramadan.

Meanwhile, US officials are stepping up their criticism of China's detention of Muslims in Xinjiang, and other religious freedom abuses.

Speaking to CNA at the Vatican last week, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said the State Department is particularly concerned with the Chinese government's use of advanced technologies, like facial recognition and a social credit score system, to marginalize people of faith in the society.

"That system is starting to be exported to other places, other authoritarian repressive regimes ... I think that is why [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] talks about it, and it is certainly why I talk about it," Brownback said.

John Sullivan, deputy US secretary of state, said at a panel held last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that “the United Nations, including its member states, have a responsibility to stand up for the human rights of people everywhere, including Muslims in Xinjiang. We urge the UN to investigate and closely monitor China’s rights abuses, including the repression of religious freedom and belief.”

“We cannot be the only guardians of the truth nor the only members of the international community to call out China and demand that they stop,” Sullivan stated.

He concluded: “I would like to take the opportunity to commend those who have already joined us in standing up for the rights of the more than one million members of ethnic and religious minority groups the Chinese government is abusing. We invite others to join the international effort to demand and compel an immediate end to China’s horrific campaign of repression.”

'Words matter' bishops say as Supreme Court hears LGBT cases

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 16:40

Washington D.C., Oct 8, 2019 / 02:40 pm (CNA).- The bishops of the United States have urged the Supreme Court not to "redefine a fundamental element of humanity" by reinterpreting sex descrimination laws. 

The bishops' intervention came as the court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a trio of cases that could decide whether or not federal workplace nondiscrimination law extend to protect sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Two of the cases presented on Oct 8— Bostock v. Clayton County, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda—involve employees who were fired because of their sexual orientation. A third, Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC,  involves a man who lost his job after announcing his intention to undergo so-called gender transition surgery.

During the session, the justices considered whether the cases constituted sex discrimination or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. They also considered whether or not Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids sex discrimination in the workplace, also applies protections to sexual orientation and gender identity.

If the Court interprets that sex discrimination protections extend to sexual orientation or gender identity, the decision would have a widespread effect on cases throughout the country.

Leading U.S. bishops urged the court not to redefine “sex” to mean “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, Bishop Robert McManus, of Worcester, who chairs the USCCB’s Religious Liberty committee, Bishop Frank Dewane, of Venice, chairman of the Domestic Justice and Human Development committee, and Bishop James Conley, of Lincoln, who chairs the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said that the law must be interpreted in line with the meaning of the text.

“Words matter,” the bishops said. “‘Sex’ should not be redefined to include sexual inclinations or conduct, nor to promulgate the view that sexual identity is solely a social construct rather than a natural or biological fact.”

“Title VII helps ensure the dignified treatment of all persons, and we as Catholics both share and work toward that goal,” the bishops wrote. 

“Redefining ‘sex’ in law would not only be an interpretive leap away from the language and intent of Title VII, it would attempt to redefine a fundamental element of humanity that is the basis of the family, and would threaten religious liberty.”

Franciscan University of Steubenville president Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, also stated in an amicus brief submitted to the Court in the Harris case that, if the Court defined “sex” to mean “gender identity,” then that could open the door to the school being forced to change its sex-specific dorms, bathrooms, and locker rooms, and its medical personnel having to perform objectionable medical procedures.

Among the issues discussed was the issue of sex-specific bathrooms, and whether non-discrimination statutes could require transgender persons to be able to use the bathroom of the gender opposite their biological sex.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that if the Harris case was decided in favor of Stephens, that question was “inevitable.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said multiple times during arguments that most people would consider it injurious having to share a bathroom with a person of a different biological sex.

Another topic discussed was men identifying as women being allowed to participate in women’s sports. Justice Samuel Alito said that debate would be revisited in the future.

Chief Justice John Roberts noted that several states have enacted statutes forbidding discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, but many of them have also carved out religious exemptions. There are currently 23 states which have enacted such anti-discrimination laws.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco said that with the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and related legislation, Congress and states have found religious exemptions when forbidding discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, if the Supreme Court redefines existing nondiscrimination law in Title VII, he said, they would be giving “complete victory” to one side in the debate without letting the public debate the matter and settle it—as they have done already at the state level.

During Wednesday’s arguments, Justice Stephen Breyer told John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy for Alliance Defending Freedom who represented Harris Funeral Home, that the “other side” would argue that the Civil Rights Act was passed as part of the civil rights movement.

This entire movement, he continued, fought for protection for those who had suffered grievous discrimination; that same protection would have been extended to others who have suffered discrimination, namely individuals identifying as LGBTQ.

The court, Breyer summarized as the position counter to Bursch’s, has moved away from that interpretation over the years, towards a strict textual interpretation of sex discrimination. Breyer asked how that would not be a departure from the meaning of Title VII that it extended civil rights protections to vulnerable individuals.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor followed by asking “at what point” the court would step in to prevent “invidious discrimination” against whole groups of people, who are fired simply because of “who they are” and “merely because they’re a suspect class to some people.”

“We can't deny that homosexuals are being fired merely for being who they are and not because of religious reasons,” Sotomayor said.

“At what point does a court say, ‘Congress spoke about this, the original Congress who wrote this statute told us what they meant. They used clear words. And regardless of what others may have thought over time, it's very clear that what's happening fits those words.’ At what point do we say we have to step in?” she asked.

Justice Samuel Alito said that, although Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and forbade sex discrimination in the workplace, it had not updated that language to include protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Congress had not yet passed the Equality Act, Alito said, which would make sexual orientation and gender identity a protected class. If the Court were to change the interpretation of Civil Rights Act to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, “we will be acting exactly like a legislature.”

In the Harris case, Justice Roberts asked if the funeral home’s sex-specific dress policy presented discrimination on the basis of sex, or on the basis of Mr. Stephens’ transgender status.

David Cole, representing the emplyee fired by Harris Funeral Home, said that in his case a sex-specific dress code requiring him to dress like a man when he identified as a woman was harmful. Title VII was supposed to make one’s sex “irrelevant” to their success at work, he said, but Stephens was fired for being “insufficiently masculine,” which is “sex discrimination,” he said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged that the textual evidence of the case is “close,” and asked if a judge should consider the consequences of “massive social upheaval” of interpreting new protections in an existing law.

Project Rachel founder to receive Evangelium Vitae Medal

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 21:01

South Bend, Ind., Oct 7, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame announced Sunday that Vicki Thorn will receive the 2020 Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal in recognition of her pro-life efforts.

Thorn, founder of Project Rachel and executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, will receive the award at an April 25, 2020 banquet and Mass.

The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture presents the award annually to champions of the pro-life movement. The winner receives a $10,000 prize and a specially commissioned medal.

“Vicki Thorn has dedicated her life to caring for women and men who have been wounded by abortion,” O. Carter Snead, director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, said Oct. 6.

“Her work is a living witness to the unconditional love and mercy that lies at the heart of the Culture of Life. We are pleased to honor her with the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal,” he said.

In 1984, Thorn founded Project Rachel as a response to the psychological and emotional traumas which often follow abortion. Overseen by the United States bishops conference, it is now an active ministry in at least 165 dioceses throughout the U.S. It also functions in 25 other countries.

According to the Rachel Project website, the loss of a child by abortion can produce such effects as insomnia, depression, low self-esteem, and substance abuse. These effects occur in some women immediately, but more commonly they occur over the following 5-12 years after a terminated pregnancy.

Post-abortion syndrome is very common, the website states, but the negative effects of abortion are broadly ignored among the public. “Consequently, many women think that their grief reactions are somehow abnormal and believe that there is nowhere to turn for help,” the website says.

The project offers those struggling from post-abortion trauma with a network of informational, medical, and spiritual resources. Under the program, beneficiaries will have access to mental health professionals, spiritual directors, educational material, and intercessory groups. The goal of the project is to provide these women with forgiveness, healing, and hope.

“Vicki Thorn’s work has been a source of healing for women and men whose lives have been touched by abortion,” said Father John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame.

“I’m grateful to the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture for recognizing Ms. Thorn for her service to the Church and to the work of mercy on behalf of a Culture of Life,” he said.

In 2008, Thorn and her husband William were inducted into the Pontifical Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Thorn was also given the People of Life Award in 2009 from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“In awarding Vicki Thorn the prestigious Evangelium Vitae Medal, Notre Dame recognizes her important service of the Gospel of life,” said Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

“She has helped thousands of women who have had an abortion to accept St. John Paul II’s invitation in Evangelium Vitae to ‘not give in to discouragement and not lose hope.’ Project Rachel reminds us all that the Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of life, is also the Gospel of mercy. I offer sincere thanks to Vicki especially for assisting so many women and men to experience God’s love and forgiveness and to become, in the words of St. John Paul II, ‘eloquent defenders of the right to life,’” he said.

The medal is named after St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae. In past, the medal has been awarded to Mother Agnes Mary Donovan and the Sisters of Life, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and the Knights of Columbus, and Congressman Chris Smith - co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

Richard Doerflinger and Helen Alvaré, previous recipients of the Notre Dame medal, commended the decision to award Thorn.

“Vicki represents the kind of creative, brave, kind, tenacious woman who keeps the movement strong,” said Alvaré. “She puts the ‘respect’ in the ‘Respect Life’ brand.”

“Vicki not only championed the cause of post-abortion reconciliation and healing, she has lived to see it become an essential aspect of the Catholic Church’s pro-life ministry in the United States and around the world,” said Doerflinger.

“Far from resting on her laurels, she is now a leader in showing how the Church’s vision of human sexuality is supported by the findings of medical science, helping young people to turn away from behaviors that lead to the tragedy of abortion,” he added.

Indiana bishops say death penalty does not help convicts or victims

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 18:29

Indianapolis, Ind., Oct 7, 2019 / 04:29 pm (CNA).- Ahead of a scheduled reinstatement of the death penalty for federal inmates, the bishops of Indiana are calling on U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration to reverse the decision.

“The federal government’s decision in July to end a 16-year moratorium on executing federal inmates is regrettable, unnecessary and morally unjustified,” the bishops said in a joint statement Oct. 4, released through the Indiana Catholic Conference.

In the Catholic Church in the United States, October is celebrated as Respect Life Month, with activities and prayers focused on respecting life from conception to natural death.

“As we observe Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church, we, the Bishops of Indiana, in as much as federal executions are conducted in our State, ask President Trump to rescind the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to resume capital punishment later this year. We respectfully implore that the sentences of all federal death row inmates be commuted to life imprisonment.”

On July 25, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was making plans to “resume capital punishment after a nearly two decade lapse, and bringing justice to victims of the most horrific crimes.”

The statement added that the Attorney General would be directing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of five federal death row inmates, all of whom have been convicted of murdering, and in some cases also raping or torturing, children and the elderly.

“Each of these inmates has exhausted their appellate and post-conviction remedies, and currently no legal impediments prevent their executions, which will take place at U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute, Indiana,” the Department of Justice stated in July. The decision came despite several states placing moratoria on their state death penalties in recent years.

It also came one year after Pope Francis modified the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that capital punishment is “inadmissible.” Previously, the Catechism had stated that the death penalty was admissible for guilty parties “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

Federal executions in the U.S. are rare, with only three occurring in the modern era and the last one being in 2003, the Death Penalty Information Center reports. The federal death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia, but revised federal death penalty statues were reinstated in 1988.

The Indiana bishops are not alone in their opposition to the end of the moratorium on the federal death penalty. When the Trump administration announced that executions would resume in July, numerous U.S. bishops voiced their opposition to the change.

In their statement, the Indiana bishops noted that “In seeking to end the use of the death penalty, we do not dismiss the evil and harm caused by people who commit horrible crimes, especially murder. We share in the sorrow and loss of families and victims of such crimes. And we call upon our faith community and all persons of good will to stand with the victims and to provide spiritual, pastoral and personal support.”

However, they added, their support of a moratorium on the death penalty comes from a respect for all human life. “Capital punishment undermines the dignity of human life. Taking human life is justifiable only in self-defense, when there is no other way to protect oneself, another innocent person or society from extreme violence or death,” the bishops said. “In the case of incarcerated prisoners, the aggressor has been stopped and society is protected. Hence, it is no longer permissible to take the life.”

Besides being morally problematic, the Indiana bishops said, the death penalty “neither helps the victims who survive, nor does it mitigate the loss of a loved one” and also takes away the guilty party’s chance for “reconciliation and rehabilitation.”

The bishops added that the death penalty is unequally applied to minorities, the poor, and those with mental health problems, and that it always carries with it a risk that an innocent person is being put to death.

They also expressed concern for the authorities that are tasked with carrying out the death penalty.

“Moreover, its application also impacts those who are associated with it, particularly correctional officers and those who are obligated to participate in taking a human life. The psychological and spiritual harm that these persons experience is real,” they said.

“We join our brother bishops of the United States in calling for an end to the death penalty. Twenty-five states no longer use it as a form of punishment. We ask the federal government to continue its moratorium until it can be rescinded formally as a matter of law.”

Federal use of the death penalty is scheduled to resume Dec. 9, when Daniel Lewis Lee’s execution is slated to take place. Lee, a member of a white supremacist group, was found guilty in 1999 of multiple offenses, including the murder of a family of three, according to the Department of Justice.

Red Mass opens Supreme Court term with religious liberty and abortion on the docket

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 17:15

Washington D.C., Oct 7, 2019 / 03:15 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Washington, D.C. exhorted Supreme Court justices to “rejoice” in the Holy Spirit at the annual Red Mass on Sunday in D.C.

In his homily, celebrant Archbishop Wilton Gregory noted that “Saint Luke wrote the passage that we just heard saying that Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.”

“May each one of you rejoice in a spirit of integrity, courage, and wisdom each day of this new year of legal justice and human compassion,” he said to those in attendance, who included Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas, along with recently retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, Attorney General William Barr and Solicitor General Noel Francisco, according to SCOTUSBlog.

The annual Solemn Mass of the Holy Spirit at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is celebrated at the beginning of the U.S. Supreme Court term. Commonly called the Red Mass, it takes its name from the liturgical red vestments that worn. Marking the beginning of the judicial year, God’s blessings are invoked for the upcoming term along with prayers for wisdom for the justices and other members of the civic and legal communities.

In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said that those “blessed” with the Holy Spirit “find reasons to take heart and comfort in facing the tasks that are theirs.” He asked “for a generous outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all who serve us in the realm of our legal structures.”

The archbishop also exhorted those present to pray to the Holy Spirit for strength with “awareness of our human weaknesses.”

Sunday’s Mass kicked off a Supreme Court term that could cause substantial ripple effects on religious freedom and abortion laws in the U.S.

On Tuesday, the Court will hear oral arguments in a trio of cases—Bostock v. Clayton County, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC—that will decide if federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination on basis of sex also apply to claims of discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

For decades, federal courts have applied the language of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as it was written, recognizing that it protected against sex discrimination in the workplace but said nothing about sexual orientation or gender identity, or “SOGI” cases.

However, recent decisions in the Second and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeals have interpreted Title VII to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

If the Court agrees and expands the scope of Title VII to include these protections, it could possibly open up religious employers to more anti-discrimination lawsuits and affect sex-specific policies in workplaces and a variety of organizations.

Such a change could mean that, for example, a homeless shelter might have sex-specific rooms to protect female abuse survivors from having to share a room with men. However, some public anti-discrimination ordinances have required shelters to accommodate men identifying as women, who request to share a room with women.  

Other social services or jobs might require sex-specific employment policies as well, such as domestic violence counseling which would pair female counselors with vulnerable women who are victims of abuse.

Religious employers with codes of conduct in place may conflict with the lifestyle choices of some employees, and give rise to new cases under a revised interpretation of Title VII. Some Catholic schools require teachers to live their public and private lives in accordance with Church teaching, so as not to cause scandal to the community. If a teacher at such a school contracted a same-sex marriage in public violation of Church teaching, however, the school might be faced with the decision to terminate their employment—and thus invite an anti-discrimination lawsuit—or retain them in violation of the code of conduct.

Title VII allows religious organizations to give priority to potential hires who share the beliefs and mission of the organization, but the scope of its religious exemptions are still being debated in the courts.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in their own amicus brief, submitted with other religious groups in support of Harris Funeral Homes, stated that expanding Title VII protections to include “gender identity” could have a seismic effect on other conflicts outside of the workplace, and within religious institutions.

“Such an interpretation will affect the ability of churches and faith-based schools and charities to hire and retain employees who, by word and conduct, accept or at least do not contradict the church’s religious message,” the brief stated.

Another religious freedom case that the Court will hear this term involves a 19th-century “Blaine Amendment” statute in the State of Montana.

In 2015, the state enacted a scholarship program for students to attend a primary or secondary school, either private or public. However, the state constitution prohibits the appropriation of public funds “for any sectarian purpose.”

In the latter half of the 19th century, U.S. Congressman James Blaine led an effort to pass federal legislation barring taxpayer dollars from funding “sectarian” schools—which at the time targeted Catholic parochial schools, as the public school system was largely Protestant. Although Blaine’s legislation failed, many states, including Montana, enacted similar amendments to their constitutions.

The religious freedom issue at play in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue is whether the state’s scholarship program can pay for students to attend religious schools. The Court’s decision could affect how similar amendments would apply in the future to the access of religious groups to publicly-funded programs such as historic preservation grants, school vouchers, and social services.

Last week, the Court also agreed to hear a challenge this term to Louisiana’s abortion law; the law required abortionists to have admitting privileges at local hospitals in case of complications arising from an abortion.

Louisiana’s law was struck down by a district court, but a panel of judges on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, ruling 2-1 that the law would not result in the closure of abortion clinics as critics said it would, and thus its requirement would not create an unconstitutional “undue burden” upon women’s access to abortions in the state.

In February, the Court had issued a temporary stay on the law going into effect before it agreed last week to hear the challenge to the law.

The Supreme Court struck down most of Texas’ abortion law in the 2016 decision Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt; the Fifth Circuit panel of judges acknowledged that ruling but drew distinctions between Texas’ abortion law and Louisiana’s. If the Court upholds this ruling, it could create some space for certain state regulations of abortion clinics in the future.

Federal appeals court considering Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 13:06

Jackson, Miss., Oct 7, 2019 / 11:06 am (CNA).- A federal appeals court is considering a Mississippi law ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law was signed in 2018 but is not currently in effect.

The law allows abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy only when the mother's life or a major bodily function is in danger, or when the unborn child has a severe abnormality and is not expected to be able to live outside the womb at full term. Exceptions are not granted for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Under the law, physicians knowingly in violation can lose their state medical licenses, and receive a civil penalty of up to $500 if they falsify records about the circumstances of the procedure.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the legislation March 19, 2018, saying, “I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child, and this bill will help us achieve that goal.”

The law was immediately challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which argued that the Supreme Court has held that states may not restrict abortion before the unborn baby is viable - around 23 or 24 weeks.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued a temporary injunction against the law one day after it was passed. He issued a ruling against the law in November 2018.

Mississippi state attorneys are appealing to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Arguments in the case are being heard Oct. 7.

In defending the law, the state argued that it has an interest in protecting the life of the unborn, as well as maternal health. State attorneys have pointed to an increased risk of complications for the mother when abortion is performed further into the pregnancy. They have also made a case that unborn babies are capable of feeling pain prior to viability.

“We are saving more of the unborn than any state in America, and what better thing we could do?” Bryant said upon signing the law, noting that he anticipated lawsuits, but that “It'll be worth fighting over.”

The legislation was also applauded by the bishops of Mississippi for protecting unborn human life.

Prior to the passage of the 2018 law, Mississippi barred abortion at 20 weeks into pregnancy. It also requires that those performing abortions be board-certified or -eligible obstetrician-gynecologists, and that a woman receive in-person counseling and wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion.

Only one abortion clinic remains in Mississippi. Jackson Women’s Health Organization performs abortions up to 16 weeks, the Associated Press reports.


In Rochester, moms' group prays for vocations to come from among their families

Sun, 10/06/2019 - 18:06

Rochester, N.Y., Oct 6, 2019 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- A newly-formed group of Catholic mothers in Rochester, New York has committed to praying regularly for the flourishing of vocations from within their own families.

“We have to pray for our kids, for their vocations, to hear God’s call, what He’s asking of them,” said Janene Loughran, one of the organizers of the new Mothers of Lu prayer group in the Diocese of Rochester.

The idea began in June, at a picnic with families and seminarians in the diocese. Fr. Peter Van Lieshout, one of the co-directors of vocations for the diocese, told them about the Mothers of Lu in Italy, a group of moms in the late 1800s who would gather regularly in their small village and pray for priestly vocations to come from their own families. In the 65 years that followed, more than 300 priests and religious vocations came from among their children.

“[Fr. Van Lieshout] put it to the families at the picnic: Praying for vocations in general is great and we need to do that. [But] we also need to challenge ourselves to do more,” Loughran told CNA.

Several of the moms reflected on the priest’s words and felt strongly called to following the footsteps of the Mothers of Lu.

“We all have a responsibility,” Loughran said. “There’s a shortage of priests everywhere. Our diocese is no exception, so what more can we do? It’s not what more can the vocations director do, what more can the diocese do, what more can the bishops do? The vocations will come out of families.”

This initial reflection led to a desire to create their own local group of mothers, praying for the vocations of their children.

While the Mothers of Lu in Italy all lived in the same village and could easily meet at the local church each week to pray together, the moms in Rochester found themselves much more spread out. They decided to meet once a month for adoration and the Mothers of Lu prayer, and they promise to pray individually each week in front of the Blessed Sacrament. They also receive communion on the first Sunday of each month for the intention of having priestly and religious vocations from among their sons and daughters.

The women reached out within their own networks – the local homeschool, Catholic school, and Catholic mom communities – and the group grew through word of mouth. A few priests expressed interest as well, and ran bulletin articles about it.

Shauna Walczak, a local mother who is expecting her fifth child next year, was one of the women who helped create the group. She told CNA that following in the footsteps of the Lu Mothers is beautiful because “we are asking God and the Blessed Mother for a holy home where our children can be free to properly discern their vocations.”

In addition to parents’ natural responsibility to help their children get to heaven, she said, the recent scandals in the Church highlight the need to foster prayer and devotion to the Eucharist at the center of families and homes.

“In essence, we are not only praying for our children’s vocations, but also pray for the healing of our communities through adoration and love of the Eucharist,” she said.

The first meeting was held in July. After three months, the group now has about 40 members, from different parishes in the diocese. Some of the moms have young children, while others have children in college or older. One mom has a son who is currently a seminarian for the diocese. Several grandmothers also attend the prayer meetings.

“We’re not expecting to see results in a month of a year. This is something that is going to take time and patience and trust,” Loughran explained.

Loughran and Walczak both clarified that their goal with the Mothers of Lu group is not to discourage or downplay the vocation of marriage.

“We fully recognize that God has already determined their vocations, we are just clearing the path with our prayers to make their discernment easier,” Walczak said. “It helps us as parents to have open hearts to whatever God’s will is for their lives, and helps us to focus on making our homes Christ-centered.”

“Everybody has a call. Everybody has a vocation. We’re just supporting what that is and helping our kids them recognize that they do have a vocation, and it’s important for them to listen to God,” Loughran added.

She stressed that vocational discernment should be a part of every young adult’s life, as they look to see where God is calling them.

“If they know that we will support them and we’re going to encourage them through this – whether it’s to be a priest, to be a religious sister, to be married – any of that really takes some time on their part to listen to God,” she said. “And that’s not something that kids do easily in today’s society. I think they need the encouragement of their parents and friends.”

“Having friends whose parents who are also praying for the same intentions helps them too, to create more of a community of support,” she continued. “Somebody else is also discerning religious life or priesthood - you’re not the only one. It just creates more support for the kids.”

Loughran said she tries to create a family environment in which her six children – ranging from college-aged to a one-year-old – are intentional in thinking about vocations.

“Talking about it is natural. We have a lot of friends who are priests, we have uncles who are priests, it’s a natural part of our family life,” she said, adding that the family spends time with religious sisters as well.

In addition, Loughran said her family spends time together in adoration, “just teaching our kids how important it is to just set time apart in your life for the quietness to hear God, what he’s asking of you.”

Particularly with all of the noise and distractions in the modern world, she said, learning how to pray is a critical part of vocational discernment.

“There’s nothing else like time in front of the Blessed Sacrament to hear what God is asking.”

Similarly, Walczak and her husband try to foster a home environment that is supportive of vocational discernment. They talk with their children about the lives of the saints, and how different religious orders serve the Church and the world in different ways. They perform simple works of mercy together, such as visiting the sick, praying for the dead, and donating food to a local food pantry. They discuss the importance of having hearts open to God’s will, and they regularly invite priests over to dinner, so that their children can see more closely the vocation of men who have given their whole lives to Christ.

Although it has only been a few months, Walczak said she already seen fruits from the Mothers of Lu group in her own family.

“Not only has it brought me and my husband closer to our Lord and challenged us to focus on our children’s vocations, but our children are expressing their own desire to spend more time with our Lord,” she said. “Our children see that my husband, Jonathan, and I have a love for the Eucharist, and that we desire to go to adoration often, just to spend time with Jesus.”

Walczak said her daughters, ages 8 and 4, have been joining her a weekly “girls’ night” at adoration when their schedules all allow.

“It has brought great graces to me to watch them be themselves with our Lord in the Eucharist, and to see them desire to pray and participate in adoration,” she said.

Fr. Van Lieshout said that as a priest, he is encouraged and edified by the Mothers of Lu group.

“What I like most about this approach is that it is so much more than just praying for vocations,” he told CNA. “Hopefully all faithful Catholics pray that Christ grant to his Church an increase in priestly and religious vocations. But these women are, in effect, saying to Our Lord: ‘Let me and my family be a part of the solution, if it be in accord with your will. Change me and my family so that we can be generous in responding to the needs of the Church’.”

He added that he sees in the Mothers of Lu a certain image of the Blessed Mother.

“Just as Christ the High Priest became Incarnate through the ‘Fiat’ of Mary, it seems to me that God, in a parallel way, can cause priestly and religious vocations to flourish through the generous prayers of a mother.”

Newborns' removal after refusal of optional shot raises parental rights concerns

Sat, 10/05/2019 - 18:46

Chicago, Ill., Oct 5, 2019 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- Concerns over parental rights violations are being raised as a group of families in Chicago files a lawsuit saying their newborns were wrongly taken from them when they declined a voluntary Vitamin K shot.

Among the couples filing the suit are Brian and Angela Bougher. The Boughers’ fifth child, Glori, was born February 2018 at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.

The couple is opposed to the Vitamin K shot routinely given to newborns in the U.S. to prevent rare but serious internal bleeding. They told the Chicago Tribune that “if God created every baby with a certain amount of vitamin K, then that’s what they need at birth.”

Barring any difficulties with delivery, the Boughers did not want their newborn to receive the Vitamin K shot. According to their lawsuit, they checked with several hospital officials before the due date, and were told they could decline the shot and complete a form noting their religious objections to it.

But once the baby was born, Angela says a doctor called her beliefs “stupid” and “wrong” and then removed her newborn baby from her for about 12 hours and called the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to report parental neglect.

Babies are often born with low Vitamin K levels. Because of this, Vitamin K has been given regularly to newborns in the U.S. since 1960, to prevent Vitamin K deficiency bleeding, a rare but fatal condition which can occur in a baby’s intestines or brain.

In 2015, the Illinois DCFS classified the Vitamin K shot as medically necessary and, refusal was considered an indicator of parental neglect.

But last year, that policy was rescinded, to ensure that the government was not overstepping the boundaries of parental rights. “Making that kind of determination falls outside the confines of our statutory and professional mission and judgment,” acting director Beverly Walker said in a memo at the time.

Angela told the Chicago Tribune that she was shocked and traumatized when her baby was taken away from her.

“I felt a little bit like a prisoner,” she said. “It was like they had condemned me and I had done something wrong and atrocious, but I didn’t know what that was so I couldn’t really fix it, and no one would really talk through the issue.”

The Boughers are among several parents with similar experiences who filed a lawsuit on Sept. 23 against the Department of Children and Family Services, several of the agency’s officials, and a number of local hospitals and doctors.

The families are seeking monetary restitution and punitive damages for their traumatic experiences and hope to prevent other parents from undergoing a similar situation.

Lucia Silecchia, a human rights law professor at The Catholic University of America, told CNA that the parents and their children were robbed of essential bonding moments.

“The parents in this case were deprived of a critically important bonding time with their new infant. Their daughter, likewise, missed out on early hours in the embrace of her parents and with the full nourishment of her mother,” she said.

Silecchia said this case differs from other controversial cases where parents have declined vaccines or chemotherapy, because the threat of harm from declining the shot is very low.

“First, unlike the vaccine cases, this does not involve a threat to public health and welfare such as that which can result from the spread of infectious diseases,” she said. “Second, unlike the cases in which parents decline blood transfusions or chemotherapy for their ill child, this case did not involve a child who was ill in any way.”

“Absent a threat to public health or a specific harm to an ill child, the interest of the state seems to be weaker. Here, the parents faced dramatic consequences for failure to consent to a routine course of treatment that their child may or may not have needed.”

Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, also voiced concern about the case, saying it “has the gravest consequences for the rights of parents and the autonomy of the family.”

In an Oct. 2 statement, Boquet said hospital officials knew the shot was determined to be medically non-necessary, and that while they may have believed their actions were right, “[t]hey robbed Brian and Angela of their natural rights, and established the state as the final arbiter.”

The priests stressed that parents have a fundamental right to care for their children in the way that they believe is best.

“This is a human rights issue; parents should not be excluded from making critical decisions that impact the health and future of their children,” he said.

EPA tells churches to cut mercury but says restrictions on power plants unnecessary

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 20:00

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is asking houses of worship to eliminate mercury products, while at the same time saying that restrictions on mercury emissions at power plants are no longer necessary.

In a booklet of environmental recommendations that was published on Oct. 2, the EPA encouraged houses of worship to assess their aging facilities for environmental sustainability and for any public health hazards. 

“Churches and houses of worship play a vital role in American society, and we are providing them with voluntary recommendations for effective and affordable measures to protect the health of their congregations and staff,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated upon release of the booklet during Children’s Health Month.

Some of the possible health risks in older religious facilities might include mold, lead paint or plumbing, and equipment that contains mercury, such as thermometers or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) light bulbs.

One of the EPA’s recommendations is for churches to “eliminate mercury” by switching from older products to mercury-free equipment.

Houses of worship should also conduct an “inventory” of any “chemicals, materials and equipment containing mercury” on their property, the EPA said, and make sure that a “mercury spill kit and spill response plan” exists on the premises.

The booklet was the result of conversations of faith leaders from around the country with agency officials; the leaders were looking for more opportunities for environmental stewardship, and the EPA provided the booklet as a means for them to examine what could be done to improve their own facilities.

“It’s a very good sign. It’s a positive development,” Ricardo Simmonds, the environmental justice consultant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Human Development office, told CNA of the booklet.

“What I think stands out the most is integrating the faith and the environment,” he said of the booklet’s focus on houses of worship which, he added, is a message of Pope Francis’ 2015 ecology encyclical Laudato Si.

“The message of Laudato Si is the integrity of life, and the integrity of creation—so, both pro-life and pro-environment,” Simmons said.

At the same time as the EPA is requesting that houses of worship eliminate mercury, the agency has also proposed a rule that no longer recognizes regulations on mercury emissions as necessary.

In 2018, the agency proposed a rule stating that, due to the disparity between the cost to power plants of Obama-era regulations on pollution and the estimated benefits of those regulations to public health, the restrictions were not “necessary” even though they would still be in place.

In 2011, the Obama administration had proposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were eventually adopted. The MATS regulated the amount of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) that coal- and oil-fired power plants could emit, in the name of public health.

The USCCB supported those regulations when they were proposed in 2011, saying that the pollutants contributed to public health problems such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, learning disabilities, and brain damage. Mercury emissions can contaminate local water supplies and affect the development of young children, the conference said.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Michigan v. EPA that the government had to consider costs to power companies when regulating electric utility steam generating units (EGUs), the units containing mercury emissions.

In light of the court’s decision, the Trump administration revised cost estimates for regulating EPUs at $7.4 to $9.6 billion annually for coal- and oil-fired power plants. Meanwhile, the EPA estimated the benefits of regulating hazardous air pollutants at the power plants at only $4 to $6 million annually—a fraction of the estimated cost to power companies.

As a result, while keeping the MATS in place, the administration said it “proposes to determine that it is not ‘appropriate and necessary’ to regulate HAP emissions from power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act.”

The proposed changes, the USCCB warned back in March, would undercut the very purpose of the MATS regulations.  Two leading U.S. bishops led the charge against the proposed changes, one of them being the head of the bishops’ pro-life committee.

Simmons explained to CNA that, with both the heads of the pro-life and domestic justice committees weighing in, it was a reflection of Laudato Si that “human health” and the “environment” are connected.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, who chairs the bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who chairs the bishops’ pro-life committee, said in a statement that the original MATS regulations are necessary for public health and the proposed revisions showed a disregard for “human and environmental health.”

As the rule was being considered, the USCCB submitted public comments noting that while it did not revoke the MATS standards, it “greatly weakens the legal justification” for them.

“Catholic social doctrine affirms that ‘environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits,’” the USCCB said of the move.

Simmons told CNA on Friday that EPA proposed rule “is complex,” and while “it doesn’t revoke the rule itself,” it instead “removes a legal justification for the standards.”

The Conference had argued that the standards were indeed necessary for public health, he said.

“We welcome the EPA advocating for safeguarding mercury in a different form,” Simmons said of the houses of worship booklet.

Ruthenian women's community established as eparchial monastery

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 18:18

Parma, Ohio, Oct 4, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- The Ruthenian Bishop of Parma last week erected Christ the Bridegroom Monastery as a female monastery sui iuris of eparchial right.

The decision was made “in light of the present circumstances and the spiritual needs of the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom, and for the good of the people of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma for the Ruthenians.”

Bishop Milan Lach's decree was given Sept. 27. As a sui iuris monastery of eparchial right, the community does not depend on another monastery, it is governed by its own typicon (rule of life), and it was erected by its bishop.

Sister Natalia, a rasophore (novice) of the community, explained to CNA that “our canonical establishment is a promise that our eparchy is here for us and desires our presence. It’s a promise, too, that we are here for our eparchy, as we are for the world – dedicating our lives in prayer, fasting, and hospitality.”

She said that “what we hope to give to our eparchy, and to the world” is “a witness of the joy and love that come from radically loving Christ as our Spouse.”

With the canonical establishment, the monastery feels “a greater responsibility to live the life laid out in our typikon,” Sister Natalia reflected. “There is also a tangible change in the atmosphere of our community – an abundance of joy and peace, fruits of the Holy Spirit.”

Christ the Bridegroom Monastery, located in Burton, Ohio, fewer than 40 miles east of Parma, was first established in 2009; Bishop Lach's decree completes the canonical process of its founding.

The bishop wrote that through the community of Christ the Bridegroom, the eparchy “has experienced in a fruitful way the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In religious consecration, the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom express and model in a new manner the gift of monastic life.”

“In silence, prayer, and hospitality, the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom are called to rediscover the spousal language from the falsifications of our culture, displaying faithfully not only that monastic consecration refers to mankind's union with God in Heaven, but also that longings of human hearts for the beloved are meant to be fulfilled in the intimate union with Christ and participation in the life of the Holy Trinity.”

The monastery “seeks to hark back to the original call of God for all baptized Christians to seek the Kingdom of God above all else with the holiness of their lives,” Bishop Lach reflected.

In accord with the monastery's formal establishement, the stavrophore (life-profesed) nuns elected Mother Theodora as the hegumena (abbess) Sept. 29, and the following day, the decree was publicly announced and Mother Theodora's institution as hegumena was celebrated.

“We are so grateful to Bishop John Kudrick for his invitation to begin living this life ten years ago, for taking the initial canonical steps in our foundation, and for his spiritual fatherhood. We are also so grateful to our current bishop, Bishop Milan, for taking the final steps needed to reach this canonical approval as an eparchial monastery and for loving us as a father,” the monastery said Oct. 1.

The community has six members (four stavrophores and two rasophores), who observe poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Bishop Kudrick, who was Ruthenian Bishop of Parma from 2002 to 2016, outlined his vision for the monastery in January 2008. He saw it as a response to St. John Paul II's 1995 apostolic letter Orientale Lumen, which called for a renewal of monastic life among the diaspora of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

The community first formed in April 2009, and was received into the eparchy as a community in March 2010. Mother Theodora became the community's first stavrophore nun in November 2011, and in August 2015 the community was established as a public association of the faithful.

The monastery typically has Divine Liturgy on Sundays and one other day during the week. On weekdays, the daily schedule begins with Matins at 6:30 am and goes until Compline, which ends at 9:30 pm. At noon the community prays one of the Hours, as well as special intentions and the day's epistle and gospel, and Vespers is celebrated in the evening. The remainder of the day has time set aside for exercise, personal prayer, silence, work, free time, recreation, studies, and meals.

The monastery includes several poustinias (small retreat houses) for guests to make short retreats.

The community will hold a benefit dinner called “The Bridegroom's Banquet” Oct. 19 at St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church in Brecksville, Ohio.

Senators introduce bill requiring states to report abortion figures

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Senators have introduced legislation that would require states to report abortion statistics to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control, including in all cases where babies survive botched abortions.

The Ensuring Accurate and Complete Abortion Data Reporting Act of 2019 would make certain Medicaid family planning funds to states conditional upon their gathering and reporting comprehensive abortion data to the CDC.

"Requiring comprehensive reporting from every state will finally give Americans-regardless of your stance on the issue-an accurate look at abortion trends in our country,” stated Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who introduced the legislation last week with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

Currently, state reporting on abortions is voluntary. Currently, the CDC relies on data that has significant gaps, as three states—California, Maryland, and New Hampshire which together represent around 15% of the U.S. population—do not report abortion data, the office of Sen. Cotton said.

Cosponsors of the Senate bill include Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) has also pointed out that incomplete abortion data makes it harder to chart abortion trends in the U.S. with any certainty.

The CDC’s national reporting surveillance system “lags two years behind other vital statistics systems, namely birth and death data,” CLI said in a statement, “and misses more than a fifth of all abortions performed in the U.S.” The three states that do not report abortions account for around 20% of abortions in the U.S., according to CLI estimates.

The Senate bill would also require states to report instances of unborn children surviving abortion attempts.

"The American people deserve to know how many babies are born alive during abortion attempts in our country,” Cotton stated. “This is life or death information, yet most states don't collect it.”

Earlier this year, following the introduction of a controversial Virginia state bill that would have allowed abortions when a woman was in active labor, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said that, if a baby survived an abortion attempt, under the legislation it would be made “comfortable” and the doctors and mother would discuss what to do—rather than automatically care for the baby.

Members in the House and Senate introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act that would mandate that any baby surviving a botched abortion would receive the same standard of care as would be given to “any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”

CLI has reported that, according to one CDC health policy data request, 143 babies survived abortion attempts nationwide between 2003 and 2014, but the CDC added that the number may be an underestimate. Better state reporting could help increase the certainty of how many children survive botched abortion attempts.

A companion bill to the Senate bill, H.R. 3580, was introduced in the House by Reps. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) and Gary Palmer (R-Ala.).

The bill introduction comes after Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) introduced legislation last week, S.2950, the Dignity for Aborted Children Act, to require the respectful treatment of the remains of abortion victims by abortion providers.

That legislation was introduced after the remains of more than 2,200 unborn babies wee found in the residence of deceased South Bend, Indiana abortionist Ulrich Klopfer.

Supreme Court to hear Louisiana abortion law appeal

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court will consider an abortion case this term after it announced on Friday that it will hear a challenge to Louisiana’s abortion law.

Louisiana’s Unsafe Abortion Protection Act requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, defined as within 30 miles of the abortion clinic; when then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed the bill into law in 2014, it was promptly challenged in court.

“Abortion activists are more than willing to lower the bar on women’s health in order to expand abortion, but stricter clinic regulations are in the best interest of women,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, stated on Friday. 

Mancini also noted the recent case of deceased South Bend abortionist Ulrich Klopfer, whose family discovered the remains of over 2,200 unborn children at his home in Illinois.

“We applaud the Louisiana bill’s sponsor Katrina Jackson as well as its other supporters for taking concrete steps to protect women in that state,” Mancini stated.

Planned Parenthood has said that Louisiana’s law could force the closure of some of the state’s few remaining abortion clinics. Something disputed by pro-life advocates.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association, said the law did nothing more than provide common-sense protections for women’s health.

The law "ensures that women suffering from dangerous complications do not show up at emergency rooms where doctors who don’t know them can only guess at the surgical intervention that was done at the abortion facility," she said.

Other states such as Texas have passed similar regulations in the name of protecting women’s health, but the Texas law—which had included other requirements such as abortion clinics having the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers—was eventually struck down in the Court’s 2016 Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

In the Hellerstedt case, the court ruled that the Texas law created an “undue burden” on abortion access in the state, as it had decided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that state abortion laws could not pose such an obstacle.

Regarding the Texas provision requiring admitting privileges, the court said in 2016 that such a “working arrangement” was already in place between hospitals and abortion clinics in the state, and that the provision forced the closure of around half the clinics in the state.

After the Supreme Court’s Hellerstedt decision, a district court permanently barred the Louisiana law from going into effect.

However, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court overturned that decision in June Medical Services, L.L.C. v. Gee, and ruled that the Louisiana case sufficiently differed from the Texas case that the Supreme Court decision was not applicable on a like-for-like basis. The court in January denied a motion for a rehearing of the case.

In its decision, the Fifth Circuit said that the burdens the Louisiana law would impose on abortion access were vastly less than what the Texas law brought. “Few Louisiana hospitals” required a doctor to see a minimum number of patients in order to have admitting privileges, unlike in Texas where “almost all” hospitals had such requirements, the court said. While most clinics in Texas closed because of its law, “only one doctor at one clinic is currently unable to obtain privileges” in Louisiana, the court noted. 

In February, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked Louisiana’s law from going into effect, after a petion from abortion providers and activists. The newest justice on the Court, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote a dissent from the decision to grant a temporary stay on the law, saying that the petition did not demonstrate a case for harm before the law had come into effect and that the public should be able to determine its effect.

In response to the court’s February decision, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, stated that the law simply required “basic health standards” of abortion clinics, and that the court’s stay, together with the abortion industry fighting the law, “is further evidence of how abortion extremism actively works against the welfare of women.”

“Regardless of this disappointing ruling, the pro-life movement will continue to work and pray for the day when every legislature and court recognizes the brutal injustice of abortion—to women and their children alike—and our society sees abortion as unthinkable,” Archbishop Nauman stated.

Will the real St. Francis please stand up?

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 11:16

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2019 / 09:16 am (CNA).- St. Francis of Assisi is widely known for his life of poverty and love of creation. But there’s a lesser-known side to the friar as well – a side that showed a deep reverence for the Eucharist and attentive care to the sacred vessels at Mass.     

Francis’ love of creation really points to “the Christo-centrism of his spirituality,” said Brother William Short, a professor of spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in California.

“We can trivialize it and make Francis kind of a tree-hugger,” he told CNA, but “his Canticle of the creatures is a really profound way of understanding not just the presence of God, but the presence of Christ within all of creation.”

On Oct. 4, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a deacon from Assisi, Italy who renounced his wealth to follow Christ and founded the Order of Friars Minor, later called the Franciscans; the Order of Poor Ladies, now the Poor Clares; and the Third Order of Penance, now the Third Order Franciscans. Born in the 1180s, he died in 1226 and was canonized in 1228.

St. Francis is often cited as an example of poverty – he and his friars worked and begged for just enough food and resources to survive. The saint is also known for his love of creation, and statutes of the friar adorn many gardens. He is the patron of animals, ecology, and the environment and wrote the Canticle of the Sun where he praises God and His creation.

But the saint loved God first and creation in its proper order, stressed Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., a biographer of St. Francis.

“He loved nature and animals, and they caused him not only to pray and praise God but to become ecstatic. Nature was a reason for him to praise God, and he loved nature. But there was no confusion between nature and God for Francis,” he said.

Fr. Augustine wrote the book, “Francis of Assisi: A New Biography,” published in 2012. “One of the principal conclusions of my book is that Francis had no political projects, whether for the Church or for the society,” he told CNA.

“In fact, the idea that he would put himself in a position of knowing better than other people is completely contrary to his desire to be a servant of all and be below everyone else,” he said.

Brother William noted that there are false assumptions that Francis was eccentric and was purely a poet and mystic who was “vague on the details” and “not very well organized.” On the contrary, he said, Francis actually showed “very clear ideas and was very good at expressing them” and had “organizational and administrative skill” in founding three orders.

And while he preached peace and some may have seen him as “gentle” and perhaps “weak,” there was a “very demanding side of him,” Br. William added, as Francis demanded much not only of himself but also of his fellow friars in following Christ.

He has also been perceived as “simple” and “not very well educated,” but Francis was actually better educated than most of his contemporaries, Br. William added. He was literate in two languages and composed poetry in the Umbrian dialect of Italian.

“He misleads people by referring to himself as simple, but he was more educated than we might think.”

Another lesser-known side of Francis is the deeply religious and pious man who put a strict emphasis on care for the sacred vessels at Mass, reverence for the Eucharist, and obedience to the Church.

“The one case where he’s harsh in his deathbed confession is he says if there are any friars who are not Catholic or do not follow the books of the Roman Church for their services, they are to be arrested, put in chains, and held to be handed over to the corrector of the order, the Cardinal of Ostia,” Fr. Augustine said.

Of Francis’ nine letters, he added, “seven of them are basically dedicated to chastising priests for using unpolished chalices, dirty altar linen, and not keeping the sacrament in a suitable place.”

This was actually a common practice of the time, Br. William noted, so much so that the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 spoke out about the need for better cleanliness in churches and for the Blessed Sacrament to be reserved in a suitable place.

Francis “made it a personal crusade of his not only to encourage others, particularly the clergy, to take care of churches a little bit better, but he personally would go with a broom and actually sweep out a church as a volunteer simply out of respect for the Eucharist and for the Lord,” he noted.

And Francis also drew a “very strong connection between the Eucharist and the Nativity,” he added, “that for him, his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the one who gives to the faithful the body of her son, is mirrored in the action of the priest at the Eucharist.”

“So there’s a strong connection between the Blessed Virgin and what he calls the hands of the priest and the womb of the Blessed Virgin – as these means by which the body of the Lord is given to the faithful.”

Francis’ devotion to the Eucharist also comes out in a letter he wrote to the Brothers and Sisters of Poverty where he described the “perfect act of poverty,” as Fr. Augustine summarized it:

“And the perfect act of poverty was when God Who was ruler of the universe took on weak human flesh in the Incarnation, and then not only did God Who was the ruler of all take on weak human flesh, he allowed Himself to be subject to being rejected, maltreated, tortured and killed, and then not only that, even more perfectly as an act of poverty, God Who became Incarnate and died on the cross gave us His body as our own food.”

That teaching “sums up everything about Francis,” he said.

Claims that Francis excoriated the clergy for their decadence were false and circulated by excommunicates decades after his death, Fr. Augustine added.

“Francis never displays in any authentic documents about him or his own writings anything except absolute submission, obedience to the hierarchy,” he said.

“The stories about him humiliating prelates and so forth about not living poorly are stories that date to over 100 years after his death and come out of circles of radical Franciscans who have been excommunicated by the Pope and are against the hierarchy.”


This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 4, 2016.

'Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus'- The vision of Franciscan University's new president

Thu, 10/03/2019 - 20:45

Steubenville, Ohio, Oct 3, 2019 / 06:45 pm (CNA).- The incoming president of Franciscan University of Steubenville has spent the past few months speaking, and listening, to students, alumni, and friends of the university.

He’s become well-known for a phrase he uses.

“We don’t just want God to bless what we’re doing; we want to bless what God is doing,” Fr. David Pivonka, TOR, tells students and alumni.

And God, Pivonka told CNA, is doing new things at the Ohio university he now leads.

God “is revealing himself to us and making it clear that he has a plan and a desire for us,” the priest said during an Oct. 3 interview, the day before his inauguration as the university’s seventh president.

There is, Pivonka said, “a newness, or freshness that is going on,” at the university. And, he insists, that newness is not about him, but about God’s Providence.

“In my own life and in the life of the friars in our community, we are just seeing different pieces come together and different people being placed here, and I think God is doing a really great thing, and a prophetic thing.”

Pivonka said God is inviting the university to a “refocusing” of its identity, and its priorities. How that unfolds will depend on prayer and discernment.

“It’s really keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, being faithful to what he is asking us to do,” Pivonka told CNA.

“I think St. Francis has something to do with that,” he added, mentioning that the saint can “helping us continue to understand what makes a Franciscan university different than any other university.” 

Pivonka, 54, has some ideas about what that might look like. Franciscan identity, he emphasized, is about daily conversion, repentance, discipleship, and about solidarity with the poor.

The priest mentioned especially the importance of the university’s relationship with locals in the city of Steubenville, which suffers from high unemployment and economic depression, and the surrounding Ohio valley.

Pivonka said he’s met with local leaders to try to strengthen the university’s place in the region. He said he’s encouraged local leaders to think with him creatively about how the university - mostly set apart from the rest of the city atop a hill - can better engage with, and benefit from the community.

“What can we do in a mutual relationship? What can they do to help the university? Bause there's gifts and talents here that have not been utilized. And, what can we do to help them?” he asked.

Noting the poverty of the region, Pivonka said that “one of the greatest things to raise people out of poverty is education. Education opens up new worlds, opens up doors. It provides people with options. The poor don’t always have options, and that's a horrible feeling to have: that you don't have any options or choices. I think education provides those options.”

“We want to make more resources available for the local kids who can't afford to come to the university. We already have a grant of 50% off of tuition for any local kid. There's some people for whom that’s enough to get them over the hump. They can come. But there are still others where that's not enough. We want to do a better job at making sure that if an individual who lives in the Ohio Valley and wants an education from Franciscan, that we’re able to help them with that.”

He also told CNA that he wants his leadership of the university to emphasize unity—in the Church and within the university community. And he said unity will require a spiritual vision.

“We just find ourselves in a Church in a time that is really broken,” Pivonka said.

“The Church has been really wounded, but she has always been that way. There has never been a time when the Church wasn’t like that,” he added.

“But she is still the bride, and she is still beautiful, and still worth fighting for, and she is still worth protecting, and my fear is that maybe we haven’t recognized that, maybe we have been unable to see that. That is one of my prayers that the university is able to help see the bride, see the Church as she is.”

“The university,” he said, “could be a source of unity and healing.”

He prays that will be the case.

Pivonka told CNA he thinks prayer can also be a source of unity on the university’s campus.

While the Charismatic Renewal has long been associated with Franciscan University, Pivonka said that he’s mostly concerned that students live as Christian disciples, regardless of their spirituality.

“One of the things I said at the beginning of the year to students and the faculty is ultimately that I’m not concerned with people involved with Renewal as a movement, but what I am concerned about is that our lives be animated by the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Acknowledging liturgical “polarization” on the university’s campus, and more broadly in the church, the priest explained that “my prayer, and I think it’s possible but it will take work by us, is that we can, by the grace of God, really give an example that we don’t all have to pray in exactly the same way, and we can approach the Lord differently.”

“But part of being Catholic is embracing one another and giving one another freedom to do that without judgement, without dismissal. And that’s one of the goals and one of the desires I have for the university.”

“The Spirit of God is the same Spirit for all of us,” he said.

In the Church “we are supposed to be most united in our prayer and in our worship, and we are actually becoming more divided. I think that is ultimately the work of the Evil One, I really do. So can Franciscan University be a source of renewal, that we can bring this together? That’s my prayer.”

Pivonka is familiar with renewal at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

The priest graduated from the university in 1989, during the tenure of its well-known and charismatic fourth president, Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR, who is largely credited with sparking a turnaround in the faith and culture of the university, which was nearly closed when Scanlan took the helm in 1974. Pivonka joined the Franciscans, Third Order Regular, the religious order that oversees the university, and later worked closely with Scanlan in the university’s administration.

The university’s trustees unanimously elected Pivonka president on May 21.

The priest acknowledged that Scanlan, who died in 2017, has recently faced allegations of improper conduct during his term of leadership at the university.

Scanlan is alleged to have enabled and covered-up sexual misconduct on the part of another popular Franciscan friar on the campus. While Pivonka said he had not seen direct evidence supporting the claims made against Scanlan, he told CNA that he is sorry that anyone might have been harmed by failures on Scanlan’s part to respond properly in the face of allegations, and that the allegations - and his responsibility to address them- have been the subject of his prayer.

Pivonka said that as president of the university, he is committed to transparency in leadership, and to facing the past directly.

“We want to make sure that if there's anybody who's been a victim of any abuse or anything that was inappropriate, that we want to make sure that they're cared for and that they're heard and that they're seen, and taken care of whatever circumstances, whoever was responsible for that to make sure that justice is brought about and healing is brought about,” he told CNA.

He emphasized the efforts made by the university in recent years, especially under the leadership of Fr. Sean Sheridan, his predecessor as president, to address accountability and assure a safe environment at the university.

Pivonka also emphasized the university’s commitment to forming students, to “household” faith communities, to academic freedom, and to “dynamic orthodoxy,” a phrase long associated with Franciscan, but attributed to the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York.

“I think that when one experiences the beauty and grandeur and the glory of orthodoxy in right practice and right living, then orthodoxy is life-giving.”

“There is a need for an animated orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that’s alive, that’s fresh, that’s engaging. That's really where we see orthodoxy here at the university,” Pivonka added.

Pivonka will be inaugurated as the university’s president Oct. 4, on the feast of St. Francis. He told CNA that as a leader, he hopes to be an instrument of conversion.

“My prayer is that people will experience conversion. That's continually my prayer in the work that I'm doing at the university,” Pivonka said.

Calling a Catholic university a “faith community,” Pivonka said that “a faith community needs a pastor. It needs a shepherd, it needs a teacher. I really see my role in the university as that - it's a priest and a shepherd.”

As a shepherd, he said, he hopes that after they graduate, students of Franciscan University are “engaged in their professions. That they're outstanding doctors and lawyers and engineers and nurses and teachers and catechists and priests. That they are profoundly competent in their field. That they are influencing the people that they work with, to witness to them, to live the goodness of God's love for them.”

“That they see the beauty of the Church, are engaged in the life of the Church, participating in their parishes, as lectors and youth ministers and Eucharistic ministers and works of mercy. That they are holy moms and dads that love their kids, that they are raising saints. That they live with hope and joy, purpose.”

He added that he hopes the university he leads will exercise a prophetic mission in the world.

God has placed on his heart, he told CNA, that “the Lord wants to do more, to use the university as a prophetic voice to a culture, to a Church, about what is possible. About hope that the situations in which we find ourselves are not the end of the story. About faithfulness.”

Ultimately, Pivonka said, he’ll measure his success by the holiness of his students.

“I told the students at the opening school year Mass that my goal and my desire is that each one of them hear the Lord say to them, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into joy today.’ So, big picture success is that each of the students and everyone associated with the university ultimately inherits the Kingdom of God.”


Bishop Bransfield facing new abuse allegation

Thu, 10/03/2019 - 17:33

Washington D.C., Oct 3, 2019 / 03:33 pm (CNA).- Former Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston Michael Bransfield is facing an allegation that he touched inappropriately a nine year-old girl during a pilgrimage to Washington, DC, in 2012.

 A subpoena was delivered to diocesan authorities in the West Virginia diocese Oct.1. According to a report by the Washington Post, the girl, now 16, alleges that the unelaborated incident took place when she was supposedly left alone in a room with Bransfield in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington during a diocesan-sponsored trip. The complaint was reportedly filed in July of this year.

Bransfield categorically denied the allegations in a phone call with the Washington Post, saying on Thursday, “Oh my God. Oh no, that’s horrible.”

“That did not happen. Somebody has imagined this. I can’t believe it,” Bransfield said. “I’m getting attacked from people I don’t know.”

Bransfield’s resignation as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston was accepted by Pope Francis immediately after he turned 75 in September last year. Following his resignation, Pope Francis ordered Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to conduct an investigation into allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his time in West Virginia.

Bransfield is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his time as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He was also found to have given large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.

Lori banned Bransfield from public ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Archdiocese of Baltimore in March, and the Vatican announced a series of sanctions in July.

In addition to restrictions on publicly celebrating Mass within the diocese, Bransfield was also prohibited from living in his former diocese ordered to “make personal amends for some of the harm he caused.” These “personal amends” are to be determined by Bransfield’s successor, Bishop Mark Brennan, who took office Sept. 3.

Although he has faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct with or against young men, including seminarians, Bransfield has not previously been accused of any improper conduct against a girl or woman.

The subpoena required diocesan officials to turn over any abuse related complaints made against Bransfield, as well as travel records around the time of the 2012 pilgrimage. The subpoena also came with a request to turn over Bransfield’s personnel file, the Washington Post reported.

James C. Gardill, a lawyer for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, released a statement to the media saying that the diocese “was made aware of a complaint against former Bishop Bransfield of an incident alleged to have occurred in Washington, D.C. some years ago, involving a minor and it promptly reported the matter to the appropriate civil authorities in Washington, D.C.”

“As is the diocese’s policy, it has deferred to such authorities to pursue their investigation before invoking its own process. The diocese is cooperating with the investigation.”

Brooklyn’s Bishop DiMarzio to lead Vatican investigation of Bishop Richard Malone and the Diocese of Buffalo

Thu, 10/03/2019 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Oct 3, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Holy See has announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn will lead an Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Buffalo.

The visitation, a canonical inspection and fact-finding mission, was ordered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome, the Vatican department responsible for overseeing the personal conduct of bishops.

A notice issued by the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC, on Thursday confirmed that the visitation was “non-judicial and non-administrative,” meaning that no formal charges are currently being considered against the scandal-plagued Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo.

The nunciature also said that the visitation had not been ordered under the provisions of Vos estis lux mundi, the policy document on sexual abuse and diocesan administration issued May 7 by Pope Francis, which came into effect June 1.

DiMarzio will will assisted by Fr. Steven Aguggia, the judicial vicar of the Brooklyn diocese, who will act as secretary of the visitation. The nunciature did not confirm when the visitation would formally begin, or how long it would continue before transmitting its findings to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.

“This is a difficult period in the life of the Church in Buffalo,” DiMarzio said in a statement released on Oct. 3.

“I pledge I will keep an open mind throughout the process and do my best to learn the facts and gain a thorough understanding of the situation in order to fulfill the mandate of this Apostolic Visitation.”

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the Diocese of Buffalo said that Malone “welcomes” the apostolic visitation.

“Bishop Malone has committed to cooperate fully and stated that this Visitation is for the good of the Church in Buffalo. The purpose of an apostolic visitation is to assist the diocese and improve the local Church's ability to minister to the people it serves,” the diocese said.

“The mission of the Church in Buffalo continues to be to seek justice and compassion for the victim-survivors of sexual abuse and their families and to continue the good works of the church, fulfilled on a daily basis, by faithful men and women who serve a wide spectrum of our diocese.”

The diocese added its “heartfelt gratitude” to DiMarzio, and “to the Catholic community of Buffalo, including the lay faithful and the clergy.”

The visitation is the second in the U.S. authorized in recent months. Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota was investigated in September by Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Sources close to the archbishop tell CNA that Hebda sent to Rome in late September his findings and reccomendation in the case, and is now awaiting further instructions.
In a year of scandals related to clerical sexual abuse, Malone has repeatedly found himself at the center of media attention.

In November 2018, a former employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse.

In August, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

Malone, 73, has led the Buffalo diocese since 2012. He was ordained a priest of Boston in 1972, and became an auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 2000, two years before a national sexual abuse scandal emerged in the United States, centered on the Archdiocese of Boston and the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. Malone was Maine’s bishop from 2004 until 2012.

“Our Holy Father has a great devotion to Our Lady Untier of Knots,” DiMarzio said, “I beg the intercession of the Blessed Mother, that I may be an instrument for surfacing the truth so that justice might be served and God’s mercy experienced.”






Seattle Catholic schools to require vaccinations 

Thu, 10/03/2019 - 15:35

Seattle, Wash., Oct 3, 2019 / 01:35 pm (CNA).- Children who attend Catholic schools administered by the Archdiocese of Seattle must be vaccinated and can no longer claim personal or religious opposition to vaccines, the archdiocese announced earlier this week. 

“We decided it was time to update the school policy for immunizations to make sure it’s reflecting our Catholic teaching,” Helen McClenahan, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Seattle, said on Tuesday, Oct. 1. The new policy only permits exemptions for medical reasons, such as an allergy to the ingredients in a vaccine. 

Analysis of all schools--public and private--located in the archdiocese shows that some communities have vaccination rates well below what is required for herd immunity. Data from 2018 indicates that some Catholic schools in Seattle have sixth-grade MMR/pertussis vaccination rates that are lower than most developing countries, and are comparable with vaccination levels in Somalia and Afghanistan. 

Other Catholic schools in the area have much higher rates, including many with more than 90% of students vaccinated. 

The new policy will officially take effect in January, but students have until the start of the 2020-2021 school year to get up to date on vaccinations. 

Some people are unhappy with the new policy, and picketed the archdiocese with signs against what they have deemed “coerced vaccination.” One sign stated “Would Jesus kick a healthy child out of school?”

Bernadette Pajer, who is the co-president of Informed Choice Washington, an organization that promotes vaccine exemptions, was present at the demonstration. She said she was “appalled” at the changes, and said that the archdiocese was not protecting religious freedom. 

“We don’t want our right to say ‘no’ taken away,” said Pajer. 

Pajer said that she does not want her son to receive vaccinations, and that she feels as though vaccinating her son would be sinful. 

The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, which studies vaccinations among many other ethical questions, disagrees with the analysis that vaccinations are sinful.

In 2017, the academy released a statement saying there was “a moral obligation” to be vaccinated, and that “all clinically recommended vaccines can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.” 

In 2005, the academy considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared using cell lines obtained from abortions. They concluded, in part because of the passage of time and the generations of research since the original use of the aborted remains, that it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.

The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

Last year, Washington state experienced the highest number of measles cases the state had seen in decades. Washington has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and has the third-lowest rate of children who receive the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine.