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Planned Parenthood drops suit challenging Indiana ultrasound requirement

Sat, 08/22/2020 - 17:29

CNA Staff, Aug 22, 2020 / 03:29 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood has agreed to drop a lawsuit against an Indiana law requiring an ultrasound for women prior to having an abortion.

“Due to events that have occurred in the more than three years since this court entered the preliminary injunction—including, Plaintiff’s addition of a new ultrasound machine at a new clinic in Fort Wayne—the parties have conferred and agree that, on January 1, 2021, the preliminary injunction should be vacated and this case should be dismissed,” said an Aug. 19 court filing from Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky and the state of Indiana.

State Attorney General Curtis Hill celebrated the decision.

“I’m pleased that Planned Parenthood saw the likelihood that this very reasonable law ultimately would be upheld,” he said in a statement. “To their credit, they recognized the merits of avoiding further legal wrangling over this matter.”

“For women considering abortions, ultrasounds are an important part of informed-consent counseling,” he added. “Anyone interested in protecting women’s health, including their mental health, should support giving them as much information as possible to aid their decision-making.”

The 2016 Indiana law requires an ultrasound for women at least 18 hours before having an abortion. It was signed into law by Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana.

A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction against the law in 2017, which was upheld by an appeals court.

In early July 2020, the Supreme Court sent the case back to be reconsidered by a lower court in light of June Medical LLC v. Russo.

In that decision, issued the previous month, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Louisiana’s requirement that abortion facilities have the same hospital admitting-privileges standards as other surgical centers.

Although the court struck down the Louisiana law, Chief Justice John Roberts in his concurring opinion also reaffirmed the right of states to create abortion regulations in order to further women’s health and safety, if they met certain standards in doing so. This has prompted speculation that other state abortion regulations may be able to withstand judicial scrutiny by citing the ruling.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky maintained that the law was “medically unnecessary” and designed to hinder abortion access, but said that with the new ultrasound machine at its Fort Wayne clinic, it could comply with the regulation, the Associated Press reported.

The law will now go into effect in January, allowing Planned Parenthood time to train employees to use the ultrasound machine.

JPII rose added to White House Rose Garden

Sat, 08/22/2020 - 13:08

Washington D.C., Aug 22, 2020 / 11:08 am (CNA).-  

A rose named for the late Pope St. John Paul II has been included in a renovation of the White House Rose Garden.

The Pope John Paul II rose, a white tea rose cultivar, is included in a redesign of the Rose Garden overseen by First Lady Melania Trump, which was unveiled Aug. 22. Other roses included in the garden redesign are the JFK rose cultivar and the Peace rose.

The Rose Garden, a space of about 1,700 square feet, sits outside the Oval Office. It was first designed and planted in 1913 under the direction of First Lady Ellen Wilson, and a 1961 redesign was overseen by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

The Pope John Paul II rose was bred by American horticulturist Keith Zary in 2006. It has since been planted in the Vatican Gardens. The rose, which produces large white blossoms, is said to be among the most fragrant of rose cultivars.

The Rose Garden redesign was paid for with private donations. According to the Washington Post, the redesign was necessary because the Rose Garden had drainage problems, boxwood blight and other issues with plant disease, and problems for some plants caused by the shade of a large willow oak tree, which casts some parts of the garden into shadow. The new design is reported to accommodate the shade patterns.

Melania Trump will deliver remarks on Tuesday to the Republican National Convention, livestreamed from the Rose Garden.

Wildfires wreaking ‘profound damage’ in multiple California dioceses

Sat, 08/22/2020 - 05:34

Denver Newsroom, Aug 22, 2020 / 03:34 am (CNA).- As wildfires rage across California, scorching more than 700,000 acres of land in multiple dioceses and killing at least four people, Catholics are asking for prayers and offering resources to the displaced.

“In our diocese alone the CZU, River, Carmel Valley and Dolan fires have already caused profound damage to property, persons and the environment,” Bishop Daniel Garcia of the Diocese of Monterey said in a message to Catholics on Thursday, Aug. 20.

“Hundreds of people have already fled their homes fearful of the unknown. Likewise, several of our parish sites have been evacuated due to the close proximity of the fires,” he added.

Over the past several days, a heat wave coupled with excessive lightning strikes sparked most of the blazes now raging in the state. At least 60,000 people in the state have evacuated their homes to escape the path of the blazes. Two of the fires, the SCU Lightning Complex fire located to the east of San Jose, and the LNU Lightning Complex, located to the northeast of San Francisco, have already burned roughly 220,000 acres each, placing them in the top 10 fires ever recorded in the state, CNN reported.

“Although it may not be clear to us, it is at times like these that we are called to not lose sight that the Lord is with us even amidst the uncertainty of the moment,” Garcia said in his message. “You and I are called to come together as the Body of Christ, to pray for each other, even if we cannot physically gather in each other’s presence.”

Erika Yanez, director of media relations with the Diocese of Monterey, told CNA that a number of their parishes had already been evacuated.

“All of Dalton, Boulder Creek, Davenport,...the entire community of Scotts Valley has been evacuated,” she said. “There's a huge portion of Carmel Valley that's been evacuated, we have a parish there.”

A photo of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic parish in Davenport, taken by a community member, shows the air around the church glowing bright orange as the flames encroached.

Yanez said there is a retreat center in San Juan Bautista, Calif., that has opened up to shelter families - though in a slightly restricted way, because of COVID-19 - and that the diocese will be coordinating with Catholic Charities to offer further assistance.

“I just wanted to make sure that everyone knows that our prayers are with the families that are being impacted right now. It's just so difficult,” Yanez said.

Fr. Blaise Berg is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Vacaville in the Diocese of Sacramento, which evacuated on Tuesday and Wednesday. Some residents of the town told CNN that screams woke them up in the middle of the night - a jarring alert that the fires were near.

“Presently, we are reaching out by phone to our parishioners who live in the fire’s burn zone. A number of homes were spared, but a few of our parishioners’ homes were not,” Berg said. By Friday, he noted, many people had been allowed to return.

“Our parochial vicar, Fr. Steven Wood, visited a nearby evacuation center and many evacuees were grateful to see the presence of the Church,” Berg said.

The priest asked for prayers, noting that the community was expecting more possible lightning storms this weekend, and that they had to be prepared to evacuate again.

“At a time like this, we see the importance of prayer, and so we ask all our brothers and sisters to keep in their daily prayers those affected by these fires across the entire state of California,” he said.

Cynthia Shaw, director of communications for the Diocese of San Jose, said the diocese was surrounded by the wildfires.

Some parishioners were located in evacuation zones, and more could be evacuating in the coming days. Shaw said the diocese, in cooperation with Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, and local food banks, will continue to monitor the situation and will work to provide food and shelter and to keep people updated on evacuation zones and other resources.

She added that people are being asked to stay inside and wear masks now not only because of the coronavirus pandemic, but because of the poor air quality caused by smoke, which could also disrupt plans for outdoor Masses this weekend.

“We're just praying mightily also for the firefighters and the first responders. They have a great amount of work to do and we just pray that no one else loses their lives or gets injured in all of  the fires,” Shaw said.

Poor air quality was one of the biggest concerns for the Diocese of Stockton as well, Chandler Marquez, the director of communications for the diocese, told CNA.

“There's a lot of migrant farm workers and those farm workers are already heavily impacted by COVID-19,” Marquez said. “So on top of's harvest season for a lot of the crops out here and they're taking in these conditions (and) it's only going to make matters worse for them,” he said.

Greg Kidder knows a little too well what it’s like to survive a large wildfire - his home in Paradise, California was destroyed in the massive 2018 Camp Fire, which caused at least 85 deaths and destroyed most of his hometown. Kidder’s parish, St. Thomas More in Paradise, also burned down - except for the sanctuary.

“Our sanctuary survived. But we did lose 50% of our buildings, mainly our social hall and rectory, and youth house,” Kidder told CNA.

“But more importantly, we lost two-thirds of our parish. We had 733 families here. And then after the fire, we were down to about 150 people,” he said.

Most of those were evacuees who lost their homes and left the community, but four parishioners died due to the fires. Kidder estimated that another 20 to 30 died after the fire, due to the stress it caused, which exacerbated preexisting conditions.

“The church really consists of people, not so much buildings,” Kidder said. “The human loss, in that respect, was pretty high, even for a little parish like ours.”

After the initial fires, Kidder said the parish community was faced with the question: “What do we do now?”

He said recovery efforts first focused on people’s safety and basic needs, like food and shelter. The community thought they’d rebuild within a month, Kidder said. But it’s been a year and a half, and they’re still rebuilding.

Coronavirus has made it harder, he added. Supply chains were disrupted; the cost of building supplies went up due to high demand. Kidder and his wife are planning on moving into their new home in November.

Paradise so far is not being burned by the current wildfires, but they can smell the smoke from a fire nearby, and the thought of another fire can trigger traumatic memories for some people, Kidder said.

“It gets discouraging for a lot of people,” he said.

“You have the fire. Then you have the corona(virus), and now you have the escalating costs. You have this real discouragement. And then also being a political year, everything gets politicized. And so that whole level of discouragement kind of settles in,” he said.

Kidder, who has worked for his parish for more than 25 years, was assigned as the parish steward after the Camp Fire - their previous pastor suffered from PTSD after the fire and had to be transferred. They are still waiting on getting another full-time pastor.

“So the mission for us as a parish is to keep that light, keep that sign of hope, that we will get through this. It won't be on our time, but we will. And we've stayed together. We've managed to gather about 300 families that are still attached to St. Thomas More. Some are living in various areas with the intent of moving back. And so, there's hope there,” he said.

Even through the loss of his home, Kidder said he tried to remain hopeful and trusting in the plan of God.

“I trust in God in everything else in my life. And so even with my home being destroyed and going through that, my wife went through a lot of grief over that,” he said.

“But I'm a very hopeful person, and I knew that things would get better. And that's what I preach. That's what I teach. That's what I believe in.”

He encouraged those going through similar disasters now with the current wildfires to maintain hope, by relying on God, by staying together as a community, and by “putting one foot in front of the other.”

“We're not the first person, the first group of people that have experienced this, and we won't be the last,” he said.

“There will always be another disaster. We just have to recognize it for what it is and not let that discourage us.”

Justice Department: Vermont college tuition program can't exclude Catholic school student

Fri, 08/21/2020 - 17:39

CNA Staff, Aug 21, 2020 / 03:39 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Department of Justice has sided with a Vermont Catholic high school student who has said a state program wrongly excluded her participation in a college credit coursework program because she attends a religious private school.

The Vermont Education Agency’s Dual Enrollment Program allows high school students to take college courses with tuition paid by the state. Students from public schools are eligible, as are students from secular private schools and homeschooled students. However, students at private religious high schools are excluded.

Challenging this rule are two students known only as A.M. and A.H.. They are enrolled at Rice Memorial High School, a Catholic school run by the Diocese of Burlington. The students, their parents, and the diocese are plaintiffs in the case, A.M. v. French.

In its brief, the civil rights division of the Department of Justice said A.H. has shown a “clear likelihood of success” in claiming that the rule violates the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution. The dual enrollment program is open to “similarly situated schools and students attending such schools.”

The brief argued that the student’s parents faced a choice between “having their daughter attend a Catholic high school (i.e., Rice), consistent with their Catholic religious beliefs, and forgoing the benefits of the Dual Enrollment Program” or “transferring to a secular private or public school or commencing home study to obtain the benefits of the Dual Enrollment Program.”

“(R)eligious entities and their adherents cannot be excluded from or disadvantaged under public programs and benefits based on their religious character,” said the friend-of-the-court brief, filed Aug. 19 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

The Department of Justice brief in the Vermont case noted that the state pays tuition for dual enrollment credit directly to the post-secondary institution, and makes no payments to high schools at all. Religiously affiliated colleges that offer religious coursework are allowed to take part in the dual enrollment program and so receive state funding.

“The free exercise clause of the First Amendment protects against religious discrimination by the federal government, and the Fourteenth Amendment applies this guarantee to the states,” the brief continued. “As a general rule, the free exercise clause prohibits laws that disqualify religious entities, because of their religious character, from generally available public benefits.”

The free exercise clause, the brief continued, “denies the government the power to withhold generally available public benefits on the basis of the recipient’s religious character.” The student and her high school’s exclusion from the program “stemmed directly from the denial of public funding for A.H.’s high school tuition... based solely on her school’s religious character.”

The brief was welcomed by John Bursch, senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy at the Alliance Defending Freedom. The religious freedom legal group is representing the plaintiffs.

Bursch commented Aug. 19: “no state can discriminate against students based on which kind of school they attend. It makes no sense for Vermont to say it will pay for a student from a public or secular private school to take a college course at a public university, for example, but then say that a student from a faith-based private school can’t receive the same funding to attend that same class.”

“The Constitution protects religious Americans against unequal treatment and prohibits laws that target Americans based solely on their religious status,” he said.

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reis had denied a previous request for a preliminary injunction. However, the appellate court granted a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs on Aug. 5, citing a recent Supreme Court decision that could further change the legal thinking about funding for religious private schools.

State officials have said they will comply with the court order, and will present the state’s case later this fall, the Associated Press reports.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Montana state constitution’s ban on public funding of religious institutions violated the First Amendment and constituted “discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them.” The case concerned a 2015 state scholarship program funded by tax credits that state officials had said could not be used by students at religious schools.

The 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer is also relevant, Busch said. In that case, the court ruled that a state cannot deny public benefits to religious entities simply because they are religious.

The Department of Justice had filed a statement of interest in the Vermont case in May, arguing that the plaintiffs’ legal claims were plausible.

Eligibility for the Vermont program mirrors the criteria for a separate Town Tuitioning Program. This program does not include private religious schools due to a 1999 Vermont Supreme Court decision which held that the use of public funds to pay tuition at private religious schools was a violation of the state constitution.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit said the dual enrollment program is different, since the state is paying for college courses, not tuition for a religious high school.

Analysis: The end of business as usual for the USCCB?

Fri, 08/21/2020 - 15:23

Denver Newsroom, Aug 21, 2020 / 01:23 pm (CNA).-  

The U.S. bishops’ conference has canceled its in-person November meeting in response to the coronavirus pandemic, several sources have told CNA. Sources say that conference leadership is now considering whether to conduct an abbreviated virtual meeting in place of the canceled event.

If the bishops do conduct an online session, it will be their first meeting of any kind in a year; the June meeting of the conference was itself canceled amid the pandemic.

But there is a list of pressing issues facing the Church in the U.S., and many of them are unlikely to be addressed meaningfully in a virtual session. As a result, some bishops may push for an in-person gathering to be scheduled as soon as possible. But others may see the diminished capacity of the conference to gather as an opportunity, and take advantage of that opportunity in their dioceses.

Many conference staffers have told CNA they are eager for in-person meetings of bishops to resume, especially at the committee level. There is a push in the conference to ensure that priorities and projects are driven by bishops, not staff members. But in the absence of personal meetings with bishops in committees, it is harder for staff members to be sure their work reflects the intentions of the bishops, and harder for managers, and bishops, to hold staff members accountable to that mandate.

Still, there are a few items of business that the bishops’ conference would be able to conduct easily in an online November meeting.

The bishops will need to vote on several committee chairmanships, a strategic plan that has been in development for several years, and on some other procedural business.

The bishops will also have to elect a new general secretary, who functions as the executive director of the conference staff in Washington, DC.

The term of Monsignor Brian Bransfield, who is now conference general secretary, will expire in November. Bransfield, a priest of Philadelphia, has spent more than a decade working at the conference, the last five as general secretary.

His successor must be a priest or an auxiliary bishop (a theoretical possibility which seems highly unlikely). While candidates for Bransfield’s replacement have not yet been announced, many in the conference think the smart bet is on the inside candidate, Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill, who has been Bransfield’s deputy since 2016.

Burrill, a Wisconsin priest, is generally regarded as theologically orthodox, intelligent, and pastoral. He has been described as a “common sense guy” by some conference staffers, who say that if elected, Burrill might seek to streamline and simplify some of the procedural and bureaucratic aspects of the conference’s day-to-day operations.

Whoever succeeds Bransfield will face a raft of issues, many of which will not be easily handled by bishops meeting virtually.

The first of those is a changing financial reality for the Church. Conference staffers have told CNA that the bishops’ conference has adopted numerous belt-tightening measures in recent months: a hiring freeze, and a moratorium on travel among them. Coupled with the savings realized by the closure of its DC headquarters amid the pandemic, and the conference may actually be under budget in its current fiscal year.

But the future may not be as rosy. Five U.S. dioceses have declared bankruptcy in 2020, and eight in total have done so since the McCarrick scandal broke in 2018. More dioceses face cash crunches after months of dramatically reduced collections, and it is likely that some will find themselves unable to pay their annual obligation to the conference, or disinclined to choose doing so while at the same time laying off employees. The conference may soon find itself needing to make do with much less cash than it is accustomed to, living on the return of its market portfolio and on diminished collections from dioceses.

Bishops will have a difficult time discussing, in any practical way, what offices and projects to prioritize in a dim budget forecast, if they’re asked to do so in a Zoom meeting.

They’ll also have a difficult time discussing the policy priorities of the conference in the immediate aftermath of a national election. There is also a growing problem that some Catholics hope the bishops will address: continued distrust on the part of many Catholics following the McCarrick scandal. That distrust has been exacerbated by the challenges of the pandemic and protests of 2020, and by the growing influence of social media figures fomenting skepticism of their bishops among many young, practicing Catholics. Some bishops likely think the influence of such figures is exaggerated, but younger practicing Catholics, who talk with each other on social media and by text about the issues of the day, see the growing influence of those voices.

And, as a background to all of those things is that a declining number of people were practicing Catholicism before the scandals and the pandemic, and the mandate of evangelization remains the preeminent mission of the Church herself, and a mandate for all believers.

Bishops can’t easily discuss such matters online. It is difficult, in fact, to meaningfully discuss such matters at all, let alone in a Zoom meeting. Some discussion can be facilitated in regional meetings conducted by conference call or by Zoom, but if the USCCB wants to address meaningfully as a body the challenges and mission of the Church in the U.S., there is a certain urgency to resuming personal meetings.

But there are some bishops who hold that such discussions aren’t properly the prerogative of the USCCB anyhow. Some bishops hold that the conference really ought to meet only to address the limited range of issues it is empowered by canon law to act upon, and to coordinate some lobbying initiatives at the federal level on behalf of the entire Church. Still other bishops believe that the deliberations of the assembled conference are an exercise in rhetorical exhibitionism, but rarely influential on the actual pastoral work in their local churches.

Those bishops - who express frustration routinely with “mission bloat” at the USCCB - may take the pandemic, and its limitation on coordinated episcopal action, as an opportunity to strike out more vigorously on their own - to initiate projects and priorities of evangelization, catechesis, and pastoral care in their dioceses without the distraction of the bishops’ conference.

If that becomes the case, individual dioceses might function more freely as diverse settings for testing out new ideas and approaches, the best of which would be adopted at a broader level by imitiation, not by compromise and consensus.

If bishops grow accustomed to handling only abbreviated business via online meetings, it may increase the number for whom the diocese comes into sharper focus as the principal locus of apostolic activity, and for whom the importance of the conference fades. A growing number of bishops may begin to ask, as Archbishop Charles Chaput did in 2019, if all pastoral offices of the conference are worth the investment. That shift could become the most significant event to shape the future of the USCCB.

It will be more than a year between meetings of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Whether that means a pause on business as usual, or the end of business as usual, remains to be seen.


US bishops urge direct negotiation between Palestine, Israel after UAE deal

Fri, 08/21/2020 - 15:00

CNA Staff, Aug 21, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The chair of the US bishops' international justice and peace committee on Thursday called gratifying Israel's decision to suspend the annexation of parts of the West Bank, part of its normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates, but reiterated the need for Israel to negotiate directly with Palestine.

Bishop David Malloy of Rockford said Aug. 20 that “it was gratifying to note that as part of this agreement, the State of Israel announced that it would suspend its efforts for annexation of disputed territory, a proposal not resulting from dialogue and agreement with the Palestinian authorities. The Catholic bishops of the United States have long held that both morally and as a basis for lasting peace, the two parties must negotiate directly and arrive at a fair compromise that respects the aspirations and needs of both peoples.”

“As Catholic bishops, we join in this aspiration and know much work remains in the pursuit of peace in this region,” he added.

The agreement, announced Aug. 13, makes the UAE the first Persian Gulf state, and after Egypt and Jordan, the third Arab nation, to have open diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt, Oman, and Bahrain have all signed a letter of support for the agreement.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted the country’s foreign ministry calling the agreement a “strategic act of idiocy” and “dangerous”, and it has been denounced by Turkey.

In Defense of Christians, an advocacy group for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, called the agreement a “historic step in the peace process.” It added: “We are pleased that Israel is suspending plans to annex new areas of the West Bank, as the historic Christian communities of the Holy Land have voiced their concern about this,” but added that there is “much more work to be done” and that “we encourage all parties to Middle East Peace Talks to continue to consult with the historic Christian communities of the Holy Land in these negotiations.”

A spokesperson for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian government “rejects and denounces” the agreement.

“The Palestinian leadership rejects the actions of the Emirati government, considering it to be a betrayal of the Palestinian people and Jerusalem and al-Aqsa,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

After urging direct talks between Isral and Palestine, Bishop Malloy noted that during his 2019 visit to the UAE, Pope Francis stated that “Dialogue, understanding and the widespread promotion of a culture of tolerance, acceptance of others and of living together peacefully would contribute significantly to reducing many economic, social, political and environmental problems that weigh so heavily on a large part of humanity.”

The Rockford bishop stated that “it is our hope that this agreement will contribute to that peace.”

Biden hopes faith works on DNC's final night

Fri, 08/21/2020 - 13:05

CNA Staff, Aug 21, 2020 / 11:05 am (CNA).- The final night of the Democratic National Convention leaned heavily on the religious faith of nominee Joe Biden, while a Catholic priest was the only speaker to advocate for the rights of unborn children. 

“For Joe, faith isn’t a prop or a political tool. I’ve known Joe for about 30 years, and I’ve seen his faith in action,” said Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.  

“Joe knows the power of prayer, and I’ve seen him in moments of joy and triumph, of loss and despair turn to God for strength,” he said. 

Coons highlighted Biden’s empathetic nature, saying that the former vice president comforted him when his father was in hospice. 

Biden, said Coons, “will be a president for Americans of all faiths, as well as people of conscience who practice no particular faith.” 

“Joe’s faith is really about our future, about a world with less suffering and more justice, where we’re better stewards of creation, where we have a more just immigration policy, and where we call out and confront the original sins of this nation, the sins of slavery and racism,” he added. Biden “knows these are central issues in this election, and for him, they’re rooted in faith.”

Although Biden’s Catholic identity has featured prominently during the convention and in several campaign ads, a number of key policy planks in the 2020 Democratic platform are in opposition to Catholic teaching -- including on issues of faith and morals, like the sanctity of life and marriage -- or to the Church’s position on issues of religious freedom and conscience protections.

In his acceptance speech, Biden emphasized the need for national unity, and again invoked his religious faith. 

“With passion and purpose, let us begin --you and I together, one nation, under God--united in our love for America and united in our love for each other,” said Biden.

Biden’s use of the phrase one nation “under God” followed the omission of the line in the pledge of allegiance at several caucus events during the Democratic convention. The phrase was dropped during recitations of the pledge at meetings of the DNC’s Muslim and LGBTQ caucuses.

On Thursday night, Biden drew heavily on the emotions he felt following the loss of his son, Beau, and how he coped with the grieving process.

“First, your loved ones may have left this Earth but they never leave your heart. They will always be with you,” he said. “Second, I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose.”

America’s purpose, he said, was “to open the doors of opportunity to all Americans,” and to “be a light to the world once again.” 

“To finally live up to and make real the words written in the sacred documents that founded this nation that all men and women are created equal. Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Notably absent on the final night of the convention was any discussion about abortion rights or reproductive justice, despite the Democratic Party’s platform placing heavy emphasis on both, and calling for even more entrenchment of abortion access than the 2016 platform.  

Fr. James Martin, S.J., who was one of the three faith leaders selected to pray at the closing of the convention, was the only person to mention “the unborn” during the four-day event. 

Martin began his prayer requesting that people “open their hearts to those most in need,” which included the unemployed, women being abused, “the LGBT teen who’s bullied, the unborn child in the womb, the inmate on death row.”

“Help us to be a nation where every life is sacred, all people are loved, and all are welcome,” said Martin. 

Also featured Thursday was a prayer by Sr. Simone Campbell, of the Sisters of Social Service, a Catholic religious community, and executive director of the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, who declined to take a stand on the morality of abortion protections. 

“Our agenda is the economic justice issues,” she told CNA earlier this week, explaining that defending the rights of the unborn and opposing legal abortion “doesn’t fit in economic justice, which is our mission.”

US bishops 'applaud' Trump administration over fetal tissue research decision

Fri, 08/21/2020 - 10:00

CNA Staff, Aug 21, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee praised the Trump administration on Thursday after a federal ethics advisory board recommended against federal funding of fetal tissue research.

The Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—set up by the Trump administration to review grant proposals for federally-funded fetal tissue research conducted outside of NIH facilities—issued its report on Tuesday.

In its report, the advisory board said that members voted to withhold federal funding of 13 different fetal tissue research proposals, and voted not to withhold funding of one such proposal.

In response, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City—the head of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee—said the bishops “applauded” the administration “for moving NIH in a direction that shows greater consideration for medical ethics in research, and greater respect for innocent human life.”

Naumann said that aborted fetal tissue research is not necessary.

“It is neither ethical nor necessary to further violate the bodies of aborted babies by commodifying them for use in medical research,” he said. “The victims of abortion deserve the same respect as every other human person.”

In June of 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a moratorium on new fetal tissue research at NIH facilities, and that funding of “extramural” research conducted outside NIH would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” HHS stated in the 2019 announcement.

In addition, the administration said that an advisory ethics board would be established and convened to consider the extramural research proposals.

The advisory board met for the first time on July 31, and considered the 14 grant proposals. With regard to specific contract proposals, the board considered the “scientific justification” for the research, “alternative models,” and the ethics of written or informed consent for tissue donation.

Several Catholic bioethicists are on the advisory board, including Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He is joined by the co-chair of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) ethics committee, Greg Burke, and CMA member Dr. Ashley Fernandes of the Ohio State University medical school.

The vice president of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), Dr. David Prentice, is on the board, along with CLI associate scholars Ingrid Skop and Maureen Condic.

Earlier this year, an immunologist at an NIH facility in Montana was reportedly seeking approval to conduct research on the new coronavirus using aborted fetal tissue; researchers speaking to the Washington Post said that the administration’s moratorium had prevented the project from moving forward.

Two bioethicists CNA spoke with said that the proposal had no guarantee of finding a treatment for the virus, and that ethical boundaries should not be transgressed even during the pandemic.

Multiple leading candidates for a coronavirus vaccine are using cell lines from aborted babies, including those being developed by the University of Oxford and Astrazeneca, and by Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Res. & Devel., Inc.

The vaccine candidate of the University of Oxford is federally-funded as part of the administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” initiative.

However, several other vaccine candidates are “ethically uncontroversial” according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), including development projects from Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi & Translate Bio, Pfizer and BioNTech, Novavax, and Merck/IAVI.

The vaccine being developed by Moderna in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is also “ethically uncontroversial,” CLI says.

Notre Dame classes go online for two weeks amid rising COVID-19 cases

Fri, 08/21/2020 - 06:00

Denver Newsroom, Aug 21, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame on Tuesday announced a two-week hiatus from in-person class instruction, amid a growing number of COVID-19 infections on campus. Some alumni, students, and faculty are calling on university president Father John Jenkins to suspend in-person classes altogether and move instruction online for the remainder of the semester.

Classes began at Notre Dame Aug. 10, with more than 12,000 students returning to campus, all of whom were tested for COVID-19. As of Aug. 20, the university was reporting 304 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Erin Hoffman Harding, vice president of student affairs, said Aug. 14 that the “vast majority” of cases reported up to that point had stemmed from a single off-campus party.

Jenkins said in a public address Aug. 18 that if the current outbreak is not contained within the next two weeks, the school will have to send students home.

An online petition, created by two professors at the university, calls for all classes to be made available online for the remainder of the semester to all students, not merely those most at risk for the virus.

“We hope that the University can find a way to make campus life safe again. However, students should not be forced to take more risks until that is achieved. Those who wish to leave should be allowed to leave, and those who wish to stay should have their lives made safer,” the petition reads.

The petition also called for students who return home to subsequently be given a prorated refund of their room and board costs.

As of Aug. 20, the petition had garnered nearly 800 signatures.

A second, anonymous petition related to Notre Dame, entitled “HERE we are thankful,” began circulating online Aug. 20.

“We pledge our commitment to the greater well-being of the university by embracing the safety regulations put forth by the administration, recognizing that an effort of this sort will require the participation and responsibility of all members of the student body and community as a whole,” reads the second petition, which does not list the number of signatories.

“We also recognize the importance of a science-based approach to addressing this pandemic and fully support universal access to testing all members of our community that will both help inform behaviors as well as decisions moving forward.”

Notre Dame was one of the first major universities in the country to announce an in-person return to classes for the fall semester. So far the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Ithaca College, and Michigan State University have already moved all instruction online after initially planning to start the semester in person.

Jenkins said in a May 18 announcement that in addition to social distancing and mask requirements, the plan for the semester will include “comprehensive testing for COVID-19” and “enhanced cleaning of all campus spaces.”

Teachers have been asked to prepare to offer their courses both in person and online, so that students who are sick or quarantined can continue to participate, he continued.

Other Catholic colleges throughout the country are moving ahead with in-person instruction, with reopening plans developed in conjunction with local health authorities and national guidelines.

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas started the fall semester in person Aug. 19. The school has canceled fall break in order to complete the semester by Nov. 24, with finals week scheduled to be conducted online during the week of Nov. 30-Dec. 4.

Benedictine is requesting that all students quarantine for 14 days before returning to campus. Students arriving from a COVID-19 “Hotspot” as indicated by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), or from a foreign country, are required to complete a quarantine.

“Even though face-to-face instruction is the norm, we must be prepared to accommodate situations that will require students and/or faculty to be out of the classroom for some time,” Benedictine’s reopening plan reads.

Benedictine spokesman Steve Johnson told CNA that while the university is prepared to move online, “for us, that is a worst-case scenario that we are trying to avoid at all costs.”

“We have tested students and so far we are in the range of 2% positive,” he said. “We are getting students off campus and into isolation and quarantine situations quickly to help prevent further spread.”

At The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington D.C., president John Garvey has announced that only freshmen and transfer students with fewer than 30 college credits would be coming to campus; all other students will be completing the semester online.

Students who planned to live on campus and are no longer eligible to do so will receive a full refund for on-campus room and board, Garvey said.

All students returning to D.C. and residing off campus, regardless of the state in which they live or are coming from, will be asked to return to their District residences by Sunday, August 23 and to remain in quarantine through Sunday, September 6, the university said.

All classes at CUA will be held virtually through Sept. 5, with in-person instruction commencing on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

“We [at CUA] are watching other universities close soon after opening. We begin classes Monday with only freshmen on campus. I ask our community to take all precautions to stop COVID. We can stay open if we work together,” Garvey said in an Aug. 19 tweet.

A spokesman for the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio told CNA that although they hope to complete the entire semester in person, the university has a backup plan in place to move completely online if necessary.

Similar to Benedictine, Franciscan has moved the start of classes ahead to Aug. 24, with fall break canceled and exams set for Dec. 3-8.


KofC says 'under God' in flag pledge represents 'fundamental American belief'

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 19:35

CNA Staff, Aug 20, 2020 / 05:35 pm (CNA).- After some caucus meetings at the Democratic National Convention omitted the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, the Knights of Columbus told CNA the words represent a fundamental American belief, and said the group is proud of its role in their addition to the pledge.

“The Knights of Columbus is proud of our instrumental role in persuading Congress to add the words ‘under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954,” Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told CNA Aug. 20.

“Those words express a fundamental belief that we have held as a nation since our founding, that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights,” Anderson added.

Anderson’s remark came amid reports that at meetings held as part of the Democratic National Convention, delegates omitted the words “under God” as they led the Pledge of Allegiance. The omissions came during meetings of the DNC’s Muslim caucus and LGBTQ caucus.

The Pledge of Allegiance in its modern form was composed in 1892, and officially recognized by Congress in 1942. The Knights of Columbus were instrumental in encouraging that the words “under God” be officially adopted into the Pledge of Allegiance in the early 1950s.

Along with other groups, the Knights of Columbus advocated for inclusion of the phrase, and in early 1954, Congress passed a bill to do so. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

“In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war,” Eisenhower said at the time.

The United States Flag Code contains the official text of the Pledge of Allegiance, and contains norms regarding the etiquette for display and care of the U.S. flag.

For his part, Anderson said the phrase reminds Americans of “a fundamental belief that we have held as a nation since our founding, as expressed by President John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address that our rights as Americans ‘come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.’”


Californa parish prays for vandal after Mary statue beheaded

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 18:20

CNA Staff, Aug 20, 2020 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- After its statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was beheaded, a California parish asked Catholics to pray for the vandal who desecrated the statue, along with another monument at the parish.

“It is heartbreaking to see desecration to an image of Our Blessed Lady, and distressing to try to comprehend why someone would do this. While we have no way of knowing the motive for this shameful action, we do know this: it makes no statement, advances no cause, and uplifts no one. It merely creates more sorrow in a time already full of it,” Fr. Enrique Alvarez, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Citrus Heights, California, said in a statement this week.

The statue was beheaded late Monday evening. A statue of the Ten Commandments, placed at the parish “in dedication to all those who have lost their life through abortion,” was grafittied with a swastika.

“I ask our Holy Family community to join me in prayer for the person or persons who would do this and who would seek to add to the sorrows in our world and bring pain to those who have done them no harm. Actions of this sort are likely born of inner pain for which we must have compassion,” Alvarez said.

Within one day of the vandalism, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was repaired and and the other statue was cleaned.

The vandalism came amid an ongoing spate of destructive acts at Catholic parishes across the country. In recent weeks, statues of Mary, and of other saints, have been destroyed on parish properties in numerous states, and churches in California, Massachusetts, and Florida have been the location of suspected arson. Beginning in June, public statues of saints, especially statues of St. Junipero Serra in California, have been torn down or destroyed by protestors and rioters.

At Holy Family Parish, Alvarez said this week that “while these statues have been cleaned and repaired, they are merely reminders of our Faith, which is stronger and longer-lasting than stone.”

“Each of us must remember that our Faith is not in statues or images. Our Faith is in the Eternal God, in Jesus Christ, His Risen Son, and in the redemption of the Resurrection,” he added.

After Netflix apologizes for ‘inappropriate’ film poster, theologian says Cuties movie is unacceptable

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 18:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 20, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Netflix has apologized after a poster advertising an upcoming film was accused of normalizing pedophilia. But one theologian told CNA that an apology for the image is not enough, and that the film itself sexualizes children.

The promotional material for the film provoked widespread criticism overnight on Aug. 19, with many claiming that the film’s promotional material appeared to sexualize children.

“We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties,” Netflix’s official Twitter account tweeted on Thursday, August 20. 

“It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which premiered at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description,” said Netflix. 

The film, whose original French title “Mignonnes” was translated to “Cuties” for its American release, was released on April 1, 2020 in France. It is set to premiere on Netflix on September 9. 

The initial Netflix description of the film was “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.” 

The French-produced film features pre-teen girls involved in groups that perform sexualized dance routines.  

Twerking is a style of sexually provocative dance involving thrusting hip movements and suggestive stances. The dance style has been banned at several American high schools. 

The description has since been updated to “Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.” 

The “free-spirited dance crew” in the film is the titular “Cuties.” In the film, Amy is a Senegalese Muslim who lives with her mother and younger brothers in Paris. 

The original poster featured Amy, who is played by tween actress Fathia Youssouf, in a low squat position with her legs spread. She, and the other young actresses in the film, are pictured wearing dance costumes consisting of spandex “booty shorts” and cropped tops, and are all posed in a suggestive manner. 

The poster for the film has since been changed to an image of Youssouf looking over her shoulder. The original poster that accompanied the French release of the film featured the preteen actresses fully clothed. 

Dr. Chad Pecknold, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and the father of a six-year-old daughter, told CNA that he was disturbed by the initial advertisements for the film. 

“I was utterly shocked to see young girls just a bit older than my daughter in sexually suggestive poses,” said Pecknold.

“But my moral revulsion at what can only be the normalization of pedophilia only increased when I realized the producers claim to be criticizing the sexualization of children by, in fact, sexualizing children,” he added.

The director of the film, Maimouna Doucouré, said that she was inspired to make Cuties after noticing that some “very young girls” had hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. 

"There were no particular reasons [for the number of followers], besides the fact that they had posted sexy or at least revealing pictures: that is what had brought them this 'fame,’” she said in an interview in August with CineEuropa.

"Today, the sexier and the more objectified a woman is, the more value she has in the eyes of social media. And when you're 11, you don't really understand all these mechanisms, but you tend to mimic, to do the same thing as others in order to get a similar result,” she said. 

She told CineEuropa that it is “urgent” that this matter be discussed, and that she thinks “a debate be had on the subject.” 

Pecknold disagrees that “Cuties” is the proper way to conduct a discussion on anything. 

“This is a rationale that only Jeffrey Epstein could love,” he told CNA.

Ukrainian Catholics in US provide aid to victims of Ukraine floods

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 17:13

Denver Newsroom, Aug 20, 2020 / 03:13 pm (CNA).- Ukrainian Catholics in the US have donated more than $136,000 to assist the victims of the floods that have devastated western Ukraine.

The fundraising effort has been coordinated by Bishop Andriy Rabiy, auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

Flooding in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi oblasts in late June hit some 300 towns, with at least as many miles of road damaged or destroyed. Gas supplies to some 10,000 people were disrupted.

“There is very little or no help received from the government. People really appreciate help they get from Caritas and our contributions and are amazed how quickly they receive that what they need,” Bishop Rabiy stated.

“In the Gospel, we hear the story of how Jesus multiplied the fishes and the loaves. He took five loaves and two fish, blessed, multiplied this small offering and fed over 5000 people. So it is with us. What we offer, Our Lord will bless and multiply to provide for the needs of those suffering from the destruction of this tragic flood,” said Bishop Rabiy, according to the statement.

“Your generous support will make a big difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters in need. Thank you to each and every one of you for your contribution to this flood relief effort. We are most grateful and appreciative of your sacrificial giving.”

Bishop Rabiy told CNA that many people in the country already struggle with finances and poverty. He said the affected region in particular survives off of farming, or migration to other cities or countries.

“Overall in the country, they do have a huge economic hardship, but this region, in particular, that was hit by floods and mudslides, it's a very poor region. There are very few jobs that people can find. They basically have to travel abroad or into other major cities in Ukraine to find a job and actually support their families,” he said.

Bishop Rabiy said that following the heavy rains, a majority of people have had their basements flooded, wiping out a large portion of their food supplies. He also said strong currents have forced large boulders onto people’s properties, which will need to be removed before farming continues.

He said it will be sometime before property owners can return to normal. It has been a high point of distress for the victims, he said, noting that farmers had taken out loans to fund their agriculture but now have no means to pay it back.

“For the occupants of the mountains, that's where many mudslides took place, and basically that's dirt with stones, sometimes as high as three, four feet, it actually came into people's gardens,” he told CNA.

“Whatever they were growing this year, it's all gone. It is going to take several years before they actually get back to normal,” he added. “I hear human stories how people try to commit suicide because they took on a loan ... and now that everything is gone. That's a very sad story and that happens too.”

He said the donations are issued on a person by person basis, trying to connect the individuals with the help they need to survive. He said the donations may go toward food, water, medicine, but it may also offer people grants to buy buildings supplies, furniture, and bedding prior to winter. He said families are entered into a database and organized by the greatest need.

Funds were given to the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Ivano-Frankivsk, and its suffragan eparchies of Chernivtsi and Kolomyia.

Bishop Rabiy expressed the importance of acts rooted in charity: “It is a part of our Christian matrix, I believe this is who we are, even if we open up the letters of Saint Paul, there he was asking people ... to start putting something away because on the way back to Jerusalem he is going to take the gifts ... for the starving people down in Jerusalem,” he told CNA.

Trump ‘honored’ by praise as ‘pro-gay president,’ after support from bishops on transgender and conscience policy

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 16:00

CNA Staff, Aug 20, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump tweeted late Wednesday night that he was honored by a video describing him as “the most pro-gay president in American history.” The video stands in contrast to praise from the U.S. bishops for administration decisions related to the issues of transgenderism and conscience protection, and from the characterization of the president among many pro-LGBT groups.

The pro-LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans tweeted a video on Wednesday morning calling Trump “the most pro-gay president in American history,” to which Trump responded on Twitter that night, saying it was “My great honor!!!”

President @realDonaldTrump made history for #LGBT Americans — and nobody knows that better than @RichardGrenell. #GetOUTspoken

— LogCabinRepublicans (@LogCabinGOP) August 19, 2020 Ric Grenell, Trump’s former acting director of national intelligence and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, appeared in the video endorsing Trump’s re-election. Grennel, who identified himself as “America’s first openly gay cabinet member,” said that the incumbent president “has done more to advance the rights of gays and lesbians in three years than Joe Biden did in 40-plus years in Washington.”

Before donning a rainbow-colored “Make America Great Again” hat, Grennell said in the video that “Donald Trump is the first president in American history to be pro-gay marriage from his first day in office.”

Biden, who officiated a same-sex wedding in 2016 while he was vice president, publicly assented to same-sex marriage in 2012, after he had already been vice president for four years, prodding President Barack Obama to do the same just days later. 

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexual acts are “sins gravely contrary to chastity,” those who identify as gay or lesbian should “be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

The Church also teaches that marriage is an institution of natural law and exists between one man and one woman. 

In 2003, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained that “The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

During Biden’s decades in Congress, he supported the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which excluded men and women identifying as gay or lesbian from the U.S. military. He also voted for the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Clinton, which recognized legal marriage as between one man and one woman. 

While Biden was vice president, however, the Justice Department stopped defending Section 3 of DOMA in court, and Obama signed a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In the video on Wednesday, Grenell criticized Biden’s changing stances on marriage, saying that “now that we’ve made progress, Joe Biden has changed his mind.” Meanwhile, he called Trump “the strongest ally that gay Americans have ever had in the White House.”

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump said that people should be free to use whatever public bathroom they wish to, regardless of their biological sex. Shortly after his election as president, he said he was “fine” with same-sex marriage as the law of the land.

In his 2019 speech to the UNGA, the president said that the U.S. stands in “solidarity with LGBTQ people who live in countries that  make homosexual activity a crime.

Grennell said that Trump “publicly challenged the 69 countries who make being gay a crime” in his 2019 speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). He also cited the U.S. fight against the Lebanese Shi’ite Islamic party Hezbollah, recognized by the U.S. as a terror organization and which Grenell called “homophobic and barbaric.” He also noted the administration’s hardline stance against the Iranian regime, known for its public executions of people with same-sex attraction.

Contrasting the assessment of the Log Cabin Republicans, the head of the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign has called Trump the “worst president ever” on LGBT issues.

Trump’s health department has rolled back the Obama-era mandate that doctors provide gender-transition surgery upon request; a federal judge put a temporary halt on implementation of the rule on Monday. That decision was praised by the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In June, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch—nominated by Trump—sided with the Court’s majority and ruled that federal protections against sex discrimination also apply in cases of someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity. After the Court handed his administration another defeat, this time on the DACA immigration program, Trump blasted the “horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court.”

Pope Francis has spoken out repeatedly against gender theory and ideology. Speaking at the United Nations in 2015, the pope urged world leaders to embrace a consistent stance on respect for life and the created world and “recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman, and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions.” 

The pope has also called gender theory “evil” and “dangerous,” saying blurring and erasing the natural distinctions between men and women would "destroy at its roots" God's creation of humanity in "diversity, distinction.” 

“It would make everything homogenous, neutral,” Francis was quoted saying in a book published earlier this year. “It is an attack on difference, on the creativity of God and on men and women."

On June 10, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released a document which included a sweeping denunciation of so-called gender theory and the “radical separation between gender and sex, with the former having priority over the later.”

“In all such [gender] theories, from the most moderate to the most radical, there is agreement that one’s gender ends up being viewed as more important than being of male or female sex,” the Congregation for Catholic Education wrote in the document entitled “Male and Female He Created Them.”

“The effect of this move is chiefly to create 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.”

Trump’s administration has also not filled a special envoy position at the State Department tasked with advising the secretary on promoting LGBT ideology abroad; the Obama administration was the first to create such a position at State, and Biden has said he will “immediately appoint” a special envoy.

In 2017, Trump issued an executive order on promoting religious freedom as a policy of his administration. Later that fall, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance for other federal agencies, identifying various statutory religious freedom protections. The U.S. bishops’ conference “commended” the administration for its conscience protections in that case.

In one prominent case of a religious freedom claim versus an anti-discrimination measure—Fulton v. City of Philadelphia—the Justice Department sided with the Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, saying the U.S. “has a substantial interest in the preservation of the free exercise of religion.”

In that case, the city terminated its contract with Catholic Social Services unless it agreed to match foster children with same-sex couples. The administration, in its friend-of-the-court brief in June, said the city’s rules “reflect unconstitutional hostility toward Catholic Social Services’ religious beliefs.”

ICE denies claims of forcing Muslim detainees to eat pork 

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 15:57

Denver Newsroom, Aug 20, 2020 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has denied wrongdoing following allegations that Muslim detainees at a Miami facility are regularly forced to choose between spoiled halal meals and eating pork in violation of their religious beliefs.

“By habitually serving Muslim detainees pork and spoiled, expired, and cold halal meals, ICE officers at Krome have violated Muslim detainees’ rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” says an August 19 letter to officials at ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The letter was sent by attorneys for Americans for Immigrant Justice, Muslim Advocates, and King & Spalding LLP.

The groups say they have received “alarming reports” of Muslim detainees at the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, Florida being repeatedly served pork throughout the coronavirus pandemic. For the several dozen Muslims housed at the facility, eating pork is forbidden.

The prepackaged halal meals offered as an alternative are expired and rotten, posing a health risk, the advocacy groups say.

“In recent months, Muslim detainees who have eaten those spoiled halal meals have reported experiencing stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea,” they say in their letter.

An ICE spokesman denied the allegation, telling CNA in an August 20 email, “Any claim that ICE denies reasonable and equitable opportunity for persons to observe their religious dietary practices is false.”

“ICE’s Performance Based National Detention Standards cover all aspects of detention, to include reasonable accommodation of religious dietary practices,” the spokesman said, pointing to the agency’s national detention standards, which include policies on religious diet accommodations.

Those policies state, “All facilities shall provide detainees requesting a religious diet a reasonable and equitable opportunity to observe their religious dietary practice, within the constraints of budget limitations and the security and orderly running of the facility, by offering a common fare menu. While each request for religious diet accommodation is to be determined on a case-by-case basis, ICE anticipates that facilities will grant these requests unless an articulable reason exists to disqualify someone for religious accommodation or the detainee’s practice poses a significant threat to the secure and orderly operation of the facility.”

However, the immigrant advocacy groups say they have received reports that the practice of offering only inedible, cold, and expired halal meals is widespread at the Krome facility.

“Substituting pork for inedible, expired food is offensive and constitutionally impermissible,” their letter charges.

It says the problem of offering expired halal meals has been ongoing since 2017, but has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. While detainees could previously choose their meals at a cafeteria, the facility has now moved to all pre-plated meals. About 2-3 times per week, these meals contain pork, which the Muslim detainees cannot eat, the letter says.

It also charges that staff members at the facility have failed to respond to detainees’ complaints about the problem.

“In the face of the Krome staff’s indifference and inaction, Muslim detainees are left with three choices during this pandemic: eat meals that contain pork, eat meals that are spoiled, or eat nothing at all. Consequently, Muslim detainees have been forced to choose between their sincere religious beliefs and their health.”

The letter requests a response within 14 days. The immigrant advocacy groups threatened to pursue further legal action if they do not receive a response.

“As part of ensuring that Muslim detainees are provided with safe to eat, religiously compliant meals, immigration authorities must serve unexpired halal plates to Muslim detainees at Krome and all other ICE facilities,” the letter says.

“Barring the availability of halal meals, ICE must ensure that each meal at each ICE-run facility includes sufficient plates without pork or contaminated by pork so that each Muslim detainee can exercise their constitutional and statutory rights to adhere to a diet consonant with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The advocacy groups are also calling for greater personnel training on religious freedom and accommodations.

“ICE and DHS must more effectively monitor their staff to ensure that COVID-19 does not become license for ICE to violate the religious rights of its Muslim detainees,” their letter says.

Montse Alvarado, executive director of religious liberty law firm Becket, said the claims against ICE, if true, are an example of the problems that arise “when people think freedom of worship is the same as freedom of religion.”

“The American promise of freedom of religion is more than that, and religion happens outside of the four walls of a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque all the time-- as we have witnessed in this pandemic,” Alvarado told CNA in an email.

“You bring your conscience with you wherever you go; it's part of who you are no matter what situation you are in. The Constitution protects the right to the free exercise of religion, and the government has an obligation to respect that.”


Southern Nevada Catholic Charities pays $200k over claim of fraud

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 14:45

CNA Staff, Aug 20, 2020 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada has agreed to pay more than $200,000 to resolve claims that some of its former employees fraudulently administered community service grants in 2014 and 2015.

“Our organization took swift action to investigate the irregularities and to self-report through the proper channels,” Deacon Thomas Roberts, president of the organization and a cleric of the Diocese of Las Vegas, stated, according to the AP.

He added that Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada now has “additional safeguards to protect against the possibility of similar future happenings.”

Dn. Roberts said that as the settlement of $206,368.35 was covered by insurance, it “will not have any impact on the services Catholic Charities provides.”

The settlement is related to claims that in 2014 and 2015 employees of Catholic Charities who oversaw programs that placed senior volunteers with youths and with other seniors falsified records. The volunteers received small stipends for their time, funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The employees also directed recipients to falsify the records, the US Attorney's Office for the District of Nevada said, “leading to CNCS grant funds being used to pay stipends for hours that were never actually worked, were in violation of program requirements, or were inflated.”

Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada discovered the fraud, terminated the employees who had committed it, and disclosed the problem to the CNCS. The US attorney's office added that Catholic Charities “cooperated fully in the United States’ investigation of its administration of these grants.”

The settlement did not determine liability, nor did Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada admit wrongdoing.

US Attorney for the District of Nevada Nicholas A. Trutanich said Aug. 19 that “each day, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada feeds the hungry, provides shelter for the homeless, and supports families and seniors in need of assistance. The federal government relies on its non-profit partners to help ensure that federal grant funds are being used to assist their communities. Today’s settlement is a reminder that everyone receiving federal grant funds must adhere to grant compliance requirements and self-report misuse of federal grant funds, as Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada did here.”

Deborah Jeffrey, inspector general of the CNCS, commented that “Catholic Charities acted responsibly upon discovering fraud, promptly reported the misconduct, cooperated actively with the investigation and willingly made the taxpayers whole.”

Trutanich, along with the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William McSwain, commended Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada “for promptly reporting these issues when they were discovered” and for its cooperation with the government's investigation.

“We hope this settlement will serve as a message to other senior managers to be vigilant in overseeing government-funded programs and to ensure that their employees do not attempt to conceal any non-compliance. All organizations accepting federal funds should take their responsibility to the American taxpayers seriously to come forward promptly and cooperate fully if they discover that they have not lived up to their promises.”

The case was begun as part of a focus on grant fraud by the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

US bishops praise Trump administration for pro-life aid policy

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 13:30

CNA Staff, Aug 20, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops praised the Trump administration’s efforts to tie U.S. aid to pro-life policy on Thursday, following the release of a report indicating widespread compliance with the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy. 

The Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance rule is an expanded version of the Mexico City Policy, which forbids the use of U.S. federal funding for foreign non-governmental organizations that promote abortions through counciling, referrals, or who work to expand abortion access and legality. 

“The Trump Administration deserves our praise for ensuring that U.S. global health assistance funding actually promotes health and human rights, and doesn’t undermine them by promoting abortion,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, the chairman of the USCCB’s pro-life committee. 

“Killing innocent and defenseless unborn children through abortion is not health care. Abortion violates an unborn child’s most basic human right, the right to life, and it also can wound the mother emotionally and physically. Americans recognize this injustice and an overwhelming majority of them oppose giving tax dollars to organizations that are more committed to promoting abortion than providing health services,” said Naumann in a statement released by the U.S. bishops’ conference. 

The report, released on August 18, found that 1,285 out of 1,340 foreign non-governmental organizations have complied with the expanded policy, and that there has been no funding reduction and minimal disruption of health services.

According to the report, in most of the cases where partners refused to abide by the policy, an alternative health provider was found or foreign governments or donors stepped up to fill health care gaps.

The Mexico City Policy was established by the Reagan administration and forbids funding of foreign non-governmental organizations that provide or promote abortion. The Clinton and Obama administrations rescinded the policy, while the administrations of George W. Bush and Donald Trump reinstated the policy.

While the Helms Amendment forbids U.S. assistance from directly paying for abortions, supporters of the Mexico City Policy say that it provides an additional protection against pro-abortion groups accepting U.S. aid in order to free up other resources internally for abortions.

Critics of the policy have referred to it as the “global gag rule,” alleging that it forces non-profits to be silent on abortion as a method of family planning.

The Trump administration expanded the policy to apply to more than $8 billion in global health assistance across several federal agencies, whereas it had previously only applied to $600 million in USAID family planning assistance.

Obama and Harris tout values, faith, unity at Democratic National Convention

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 13:00

CNA Staff, Aug 20, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Former president Barack Obama and Sen. Kamala Harris both spoke on the importance of values and faith during the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night, but did not address policies that challenge the religious liberties of Catholics and other believers. 

Obama, who spoke first Aug. 19, used his speech to stress the obligations of the presidency to protect all people, and to endorse former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign to unseat President Donald Trump.

Biden, Obama said, “made me a better president -- and he's got the character and the experience to make us a better country.” 

According to the former president, Trump has “shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.” 

“At minimum, we should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us--regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have--or who we voted for,” said Obama. 

Obama lamented “Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped.” 

The 44th president’s call to protect freedom of worship stood in contrast to several policies initiated during his two terms in office.

In 2012, numerous Catholic and Christian groups, including the religious order the Little Sisters of the Poor, filed suit against the Obama administration, alleging that their religious freedom was violated by the contraception mandate that was added to the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor in June 2014 in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. 

The Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in 2020. Following that decision, Biden, a Catholic, pledged to remove their court-ordered exemption if he is elected president. 

In his speech Wednesday, Obama credited past generations who experienced discrimination and hardship as examples of perseverence and belief in American ideals and values. 

“And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work,” he said. “We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.”

During Obama’s presidency, the IRS improperly audited dozens of conservative organizations, and issued an apology in 2017 for its use of "heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays" to those organizations. 

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Kamala Harris formally accepted her nomination as candidate for vice president, to close the third night of the virtual DNC. 

Harris said her mother, who immigrated to the United States from India, the values she lives by and remains committed to. 

“To the Word that teaches me to walk by faith, and not by sight. And to a vision passed on through generations of Americans--one that Joe Biden shares,” she said. “A vision of our nation as a beloved community, where we all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love.” 

This vision, said Harris, is of, “a country where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.” 

Harris, who supports federal funding for abortion, was sued by pro-life pregnancy centers in 2015 after she, as California’s attorney general, sponsored a law that required pregnancy centers to provide information about where to acquire an abortion. The law was struck down. 

“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy. We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us,” Harris said. 

“We believe that our country—all of us, will stand together for a better future. We already are.”

Legal abortion 'above my pay grade,' says religious sister who will pray at DNC

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 12:52

Denver Newsroom, Aug 20, 2020 / 10:52 am (CNA).-  

Sister Simone Campbell, who is set to offer a prayer at the Democratic National Convention Thursday, has declined to take a stand on the morality of abortion protections, and a CNA examination finds donors to her organization, Network Lobby, have links to pro-abortion rights advocacy.

Asked Aug. 19 whether her organization opposes the legal protection of abortion, Campbell told CNA, “That is not our issue. That is not it. It is above my pay grade.” 

“It’s not the issue that we work on. I’m a lawyer. I would have to study it more intensely than I have,” Campbell added.

Campbell, 74, is a member and past general director of the Sisters of Social Service, a Catholic religious community. She is the executive director of the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, and received her law degree from the University of California-Davis School of Law in 1977.

During a 2016 interview with Democracy Now, Campbell said more directly that “From my perspective, I don’t think it’s a good policy to outlaw abortion.”

“Our agenda is the economic justice issues,” she told CNA this week. “As the issues of economic justice mean, as Pope Francis talks about so often, the capacity for families to be able to support themselves, to be able to have a roof on their head. A radical thought is that they ought to be able to earn enough from one job to both have time for leisure for a family together as well the capacity to save for the future.”

Campbell is scheduled to deliver the invocation Thursday at the Democratic National Convention. The convention’s announcement cited her group's work on economic justice, health care, immigration reform, and voter turnout as well as its “Nuns on the Bus” tour.

The Associated Press describes Campbell as a longtime political ally of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Biden, a Catholic, has distanced himself from past support for some restrictions on abortion. He has said he will back legal abortion and funding for abortion providers, as well as regulations requiring Catholic employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraception in employee health plans.

The economic agenda of Network Lobby, Campbell told CNA, is “more aligned with Democratic platforms” but the group considers itself “an equal opportunity annoyer” that lobbies members of both political parties.

“We don’t focus on reproductive rights, we focus on trying to ensure life for everyone. As Pope Francis says ‘equally sacred is the care for the born’,” Campbell said.

Campbell was partially quoting Pope Francis’ 2018 apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate in which the pope stated “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.”

The pope added that the lives of the poor, the destitute, the abandoned, the infirm, the elderly, and others are “equally sacred.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.”

Campbell said it is not Network Lobby’s mission to be “in the fight for Roe v. Wade,” the Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide. While she agreed that the dignity of life is inviolable from conception, she added “I’m so tired. How long have we fought over Roe v. Wade?”

“Our economic agenda is to ensure that everyone can flourish, that all life can flourish, and that we can care for our earth,” she said. “Our niche is economic justice.”

Campbell rejected any suggestion her approach might undermine efforts to secure legal protections for the unborn.

“We work for the Pregnant Women Support Act, funding for prenatal care, women’s infants and children funding, making sure pregnant women get the care that they need,” she said. She said there is crossover in ensuring health care for pregnant women, adequate nutrition, and adequate housing capacity “to carry the fetus to term.”

Asked whether her group works with the Democrats for Life of America, Campbell replied: “No. They’re not working on our economic agenda.”

When CNA noted that Democrats for Life has worked on shared issues like paid family leave, she added “But they're not part of the coalitions we work on. They’re not a lobby, they’re a policy group,” she said.

On Monday Kristen Day, Democrats for Life executive director, said that for the first time at a Democratic National Convention, the pro-life caucus has not been officially recognized at the 2020 convention.

Asked whether her approach might interfere with right-to-life efforts, Campbell was skeptical.

“I don’t believe we have that much power,” she said. “We are a small operation.”

The 2019 tax forms for NETWORK Lobby reported just over $1 million in revenue, compared to $1.2 million in 2018. Funds came overwhelmingly from contributions and grants.

By comparison, the National Right to Life Committee reported about $4.1 million in total revenue in its 2018-2019 fiscal year, compared to $2.8 million in the prior fiscal year. Its political action committee, the National Right to Life Victory Fund, spent about $1.2 million in 2018. The Susan B. Anthony List pro-life advocacy group reported about $12 million in its 2018 fiscal year.

According to CNA’s review of foundation grants to Network Lobby, a review which has not accounted for a majority of the group’s funds, Campbell’s organization has taken grants from major funders who also focus on abortion rights.

From 2012 to 2015 the Ford Foundation gave three grants totaling $350,000 to the Network Education Program to train faith leaders and to elevate their voices regarding “federal budget and tax debates and on policies affecting low- and middle-income populations.”

Cecile Richards, who headed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 2006 through 2018, has been a member of the Ford Foundation's 15-person board of trustees since 2010. Ford Foundation president Darren Walker was a longtime member of the board of the Arcus Foundation, which has funded pro-abortion groups, LGBT advocacy within Christian denominations, and efforts to limit religious freedom in cases where it conflicts with abortion rights and LGBT causes.

In response to a CNA question, Campbell said that if Network took a stand against legal abortion she thought it wouldn’t lose donors.

“I don’t think so. For one, we don’t have a Ford Foundation grant right now,” she said. “Do you know how big the Ford Foundation is? It’s huge. And we’ve had small money. I don’t believe they’ve changed our mission.”

The Ford Foundation has net assets of $13 billion, and gave out some $500 million, its 2018 tax forms show. The organization has historically backed the Catholics for Choice group. Since 2006, the foundation has given over $5 million to the United States, Mexican and Brazilian branches of the pro-abortion rights organization, whose claims to be Catholic have been repeatedly rebuked by the U.S. Catholic bishops.

The foundation has also supported the U.S. bishops' relief agency Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

Another Ford grantee, Faith in Public Life, has received over $3.5 million in 14 grants from the Ford Foundation since 2007. This included a $225,000 grant in 2013 for an immigrant advocacy campaign, including support for Network Lobby’s “Nuns on the Border” bus tour. Network Lobby continues to participate in Faith in Public Life efforts, and endorsed its 2020 voter’s guide.

At least one recent grant to Faith in Public Life has taken a pro-abortion turn. The Ford Foundation gave $400,000 to the group for its Women of Faith 2020 campaign, which aims “to form a stronger vocal base of support for reproductive justice among moderate women of faith, and actively advance these principles through civic engagement.”

Another Network Lobby donor, the Bauman Foundation, has given grants of $20,000 to $50,000 to the Network Education Program in every fiscal year from 2008 through 2019. While the foundation has two Catholic priests on its board of advisers, another board member is Jenny Lawson, Vice President of Organizing and Electoral Campaigns at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Votes.

Campbell told CNA her group does not ask donors if they are Catholic, but she assumes a majority are Catholic “because we’re a Catholic social justice lobby.”

Among donors who have a relationship with Network, she said, “I don’t know a big donor who isn’t Catholic.” She rejected the idea that NETWORK could be a “dark money” group. That phrase, in her view, is “about money that doesn’t get reported.”

“That’s secret money that gets passed through to candidates and campaigns. Our money is reported in our reporting to the IRS. That’s not dark money.”

“Quite frankly, they’re small amounts over a 10-year period,” she said.

Another donor, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, gave $225,000 to Network Lobby for civil rights, social action and advocacy, according to the fund’s 2018 tax year forms.

Politico has characterized the fund as a “dark money” group. In a November 19, 2019 story, Politico said the Sixteen Thirty Fund spent $141 million on “more than 100 left-leaning causes” in 2018.  Only the right-leaning Koch Brothers network and Crossroads network have exceeded those figures in a single year. The Sixteen Thirty Fund gave another $91 million to 95 other groups.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation, another Network Lobby donor, gave a $200,000 grant in 2020 to the group to promote “policies that mend gaps and bridge divides in our country, with a special focus on healthcare, housing rights, and citizenship policies that disproportionately impact women and people of color.” The foundation describes itself as “a multi-generational family foundation, rooted in the Jewish tradition of social justice, working to create a more just, vibrant, sustainable, and democratic society.”

Campbell has pushed back at objections to Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee Kamala Harris’ 2018 criticism of a federal judicial nominee for his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Harris specifically criticized the Knights of Columbus’ pro-life work and its support for marriage as a union of one man and one woman. She questioned whether the nominee was disqualified due to his membership.

Responding to the incident, a Knights of Columbus spokesperson said membership should not be a disqualifier for public service, describing the order as “a charitable organization that adheres to and promotes Catholic teaching.”

In an Aug. 17 essay in the National Catholic Reporter, Campbell argued that Harris “voiced her disagreement with some of the political positions of the Knights of Columbus.”

“I'm a Catholic sister, and I disagree with some of the political positions of Knights of Columbus,” she continued. “So let's drop this ridiculous attack and evaluate Harris' record faithfully.”

The Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic men’s fraternity in the world, with about 2 million members. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in his July 14 letter to the Knights’ Supreme Convention, conveyed the Pope’s greetings and sentiments, and praised the Knights' “strong and courageous defense of the inviolable dignity of human life from its conception.”

Campbell told CNA said Parolin’s remarks were “great” and “good news.” But she said she would not take part in that effort.

“I don’t agree with their stance as regards to the stance of economic justice,” she said. “They don’t work for increasing wages, they don’t work for ensuring that immigration law is fixed. They don’t work for the marginalized. They would say that’s their niche. I think they ought to expand.”

Asked why Network Lobby cannot expand its work on abortion, she said “because it doesn’t fit in economic justice, which is our mission.”

“The thing that’s so painful for me is the view that only one issue, as important as it is, defines all of Catholicity,” she said. “And it doesn’t. I think we have to have grown-up faith, where we see complexity, just as Pope Francis says.”

The group has previously clashed with the U.S. bishops’ conference. In 2010, when the bishops were working for strong restrictions on abortion and for strong conscience protections in the major healthcare bill known as the Affordable Care Act, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of Media Relations at the USCCB, said the group “grossly overstated whom they represent in a letter to Congress that was also released to media.”

Network Lobby has also backed an LGBT advocacy bill called the Equality Act, opposed by the U.S. bishops. The bishops have said the bill would threaten the right to free speech, conscience and exercise of religion, and would redefine gender in a way that could require women to share restrooms and locker rooms with men who say they identify as women.

Network Lobby has had a longtime relationship with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the subject of a Vatican doctrinal assessment published in April 2012 that also mentioned Network Lobby.

That assessment said “while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.”

The Catholic view of family life and human sexuality “are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching,” and the conference statements sometimes disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the Church's “authentic teachers of faith and morals,” the assessment said.

Bishop Bransfield offers 'apology', repays $400k to W Virginia diocese

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 10:15

CNA Staff, Aug 20, 2020 / 08:15 am (CNA).- Bishop Michael Bransfield has repaid more than $400,000 to his former diocese and issued a narrowly-worded apology to the faithful.

The apology comes nearly two years after Pope Francis accepted his resignation amid accusations of personal and financial misconduct.

The letter from Bransfield, dated August 15, was released by his former diocese on Thursday, along with a letter from his successor, Bishop Mark Brennan, outlining how Bransfield will “make amends” following an investigation into his conduct by the Vatican.

“I am writing to apologize for any scandal or wonderment caused by words or actions attributed to me during my tenure as Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese,” said Bransfield, who led the diocese from 2005 to 2018, when Pope Francis accepted his resignation just after Bransfield turned 75.

Bransfield did acknowledge that, during his tenure, “I was reimbursed for certain expenditures that have been called into question as excessive,” but insisted that he “believed that such reimbursements to me were proper.”

After Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation in 2018, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was ordered to investigate allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his tenure. Investigators established that the bishop had engaged in a pattern of sexual malfeasance and serious financial misconduct.

In March, 2019, Lori banned Bransfield from public ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In July of that year the Vatican imposed additional sanctions, including a ban on Bransfield living in his former diocese.

Bransfield has denied the allegations of sexual harassment of seminarians and priests. He has said his staff was responsible for diocese’s finances.

The bishop also acknowledged in his Aug. 15 letter that “there have been allegations that by certain words and actions I have caused certain priests and seminarians to feel sexually harassed.”

“That was never my intent,” he said, adding that “if anything I said or did caused others to feel that way, then I am profoundly sorry.”

Multiple calls to Bishop Bransfield from CNA went unanswered.

Bransfield is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his thirteen years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston.

As head of the diocese, Bransfield spent thousands of dollars on jewelry and other clothing, including spending more than $60,000 of diocesan money at a boutique jeweler in Washington, D.C. during his time in office.

He also spent nearly $1 million on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He often stayed in luxury accommodations on both work trips and personal vacations, and gave large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.

According to Brennan’s letter, Bransfield was required by the Vatican to “make a public apology to the people of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese for the scandal he created. He is urged as well to apologize privately to certain individuals who reported abuse and harassment.”

Brennan said that Bransfield had also been ordered to repay his former diocese $441,000 “for unauthorized benefits received from diocesan resources,” confirmed he had done so, and said the funds “will be added to those already set aside by the sale of his former residence for assistance to victims of abuse.”

Brennan also confirmed that Bransfield will continue to receive $2,250 in a monthly stipend, in line with the amount recommended by the USCCB for retired bishops, and would still be covered by the diocesan health insurance plan.

“However,” Brennan wrote, “no other benefits, such as for a secretary or travel, will be provided.”

The release of the letters from both Brennan and Bransfield follows a July 28 letter in which Brennan said neither he nor the apostolic nuncio had heard anything from the Holy See for more than five months regarding his plans for Bransfield to make amends.

In his letter Thursday, Brennan thanked Pope Francis and the Congregation for Bishops for agreeing to the final terms of the settlement, and said that it accepted “in large part the outline of the amends plan I presented to Bishop Bransfield in November, 2019.”

“That plan combined an insistence on restorative justice with a gesture of mercy, which is how God deals with all of us,” Brennan said.

It has previously been reported that Brennan’s 2019 plan included a provision that Bransfield repay nearly $800,000 to the diocese.

“I hope that the people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston will see in the decision of the Congregation for Bishops a fair and reasonable resolution of this unseemly matter,” said Brennan.