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Are millennial Christians really killing evangelization?

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 05:06

Washington D.C., Jul 7, 2019 / 03:06 am (CNA).- Millennials are notoriously blamed for being killers of previously-thought-necessary industries and activities: Applebees. Napkins. Golf. Mayonnaise. Lunch. And so on.

For the ever-shrinking number of millennials who are practicing Christians, could evangelization be on the chopping block next?

Recent data from the Barna group, which researches the intersection of faith and culture, shows that of millennials practicing their Christian faith, almost half - 47 percent - believe it is at least somewhat wrong to “share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” This is significantly higher than the number of Gen X-ers (27 percent), and Boomers (19 percent), who said the same.

But while at a glance this statistic may be alarming, given the missionary mandate of the Church, there might be more behind it than just another hit on the millennial kill list.

Elizabeth Klein is an assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. One of the main goals of the institute is to prepare students to respond to the New Evangelization - a term popularized by Pope John Paul II that emphasizes a renewed call to share the Gospel with the world.

Klein said before sounding the alarm about the death of evangelization, the statistic should be read in light of the others also shared by Barna - that 96 percent of millennials believe “part of my faith means being a witness about Jesus,” that 94 percent said that “the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus,” and that 73 percent said “I am gifted at sharing my faith with other people” - higher than every other generation included in the data.

And in 2013, 65 percent of millennial Christians said they had shared the Gospel with someone in the past year, compared to the national average of about half of Christians in general.

“I thought it was interesting that they didn't highlight that millennials in fact evangelize more than the older generations do,” Klein said of an article from Christianity Today on the data.

Furthermore, she said, the phrasing of the particular question about evangelization probably also affected the way millennials responded.

“I thought the phrasing of the specific question - it’s about people who already have a religious faith, so I thought that was a big factor,” Klein told CNA.

“I think millennials are more likely to see someone of a different faith as more of an ally maybe than in the past,” she said, “because we are in such a post-Christian, post-religious world that anyone else who is practicing a faith may be more likely to be seen as someone you have a lot in common with, rather than the chief object of evangelization for millennials,” which would probably be atheists or fallen away Catholics, she said.

Vince Sartori is a regional director with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), which trains students and missionaries on college campuses to form disciples through friendships and Bible studies. Evangelizing in a millennial culture is at the heart of the group’s work.

Sartori, who served as a missionary on two different campuses before becoming a regional director, said he has noticed a hesitancy in millennials on campus to engage in evangelization.

“I think some of it comes down to a misunderstanding of evangelization versus proselytization,” Sartori told CNA.

Proselytization, Sartori said, happens when “the person is preaching or going out to be heard, not listening to someone but rather just trying to get a point across.”

Evangelization, on the other hand, is “about building trust, encountering a person, understanding a person, and introducing them to Jesus and proposing ideas, as opposed to just telling them something.”

Sartori said the way millennials answered this question also reflects the current political climate and a culture that prioritizes people’s comfort over everything else.

“In this culture of ‘if you disagree with me you hate me,’ I would say most millennials would say: ‘I’m not trying to convert anyone,’” Sartori said.

“But I would hope everyone is trying to convert someone, it’s just that there’s a right and true way, and then there’s a way that’s just kind of yelling at people, and that’s obviously not what I’m about and not what anyone would desire. And I think in general millennials are really sensitive to that.”

Klein also said that millennials are reacting to the polarization that characterizes the political and social media world of today.

“Actual authentic dialogue has in fact broken down, and I don't think that's a delusion of millennials; things are often so polarized that it is very difficult to have a dialogue which is perceived as open and a back and forth, and not somehow inauthentic or aggressive” she said.

“It’s not that they don't want to share their faith, but it seems that sharing via dialogue or speaking makes people uneasy, and I don't think that's inexplicable, that seems to make sense,” she said.

Part of the training of FOCUS missionaries is teaching them how to evangelize, Sartori said - which includes building friendships and trust with people before proposing that they consider going to church or learning more about Jesus.

“The three habits (taught to missionaries in training) are the things we emphasize that help us to go and do evangelization,” Sartoir said. “The first is divine intimacy (with God), the second is authentic friendship, and the third one is clarity and conviction for what we call spiritual multiplication. So this idea that you’re investing deeply in a few people, and sharing your faith in a way that they can then go and do that with others.”

“You’re listening, you’re building trust, you’re speaking in a way that they’re going to be able to hear you,” Sartori said, “but you’re also hearing where they’re coming from on things.”

Once a friendship is established, Sartori said one of the easiest ways to talk to someone about God is to ask them about the faith tradition they had while they were growing up.

“It’s the basic questions of like - did you ever go to church growing up? Something like that that’s less attacking than, say, ‘How do you feel about abortion?’ or something that’s more politicized or a hot topic,” Sartori said. “You want to do something that’s a softer, more inviting conversation, so you can just understand the person.”

After a conversation about faith has been opened, then it can be time to invite someone to events at a parish or into a Bible study, if the person is open to it.

“While there’s an urgency for someone to accept the Gospel as quickly as possible, we also want to propose it and not impose it, so we’re not going to rush into anything on that,” Sartori said.

Klein said millennials are also most likely to be tuned into the need for authentic witness - that someone must be living a personal life of holiness and friendship with God before they can propose it to someone else.

The article on the Barna research from Christianity Today ended with: “Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, ‘If we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character.’”

“This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix,’” it said, quoting Hannah Gronowski, the founder and CEO of Christian non-profit Generation Distinct.

But Klein said this kind of attitude is overly dismissive of the importance of personal holiness.

“Witnessing personal holiness - it's not like that's easy, its plenty important,” she said, especially with the recent sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.

“I don't think that millennials are crazy to think that personal holiness is the most important thing right now, especially when dialogue has broken down and there has been a lot of - with the recent scandals - insane hypocrisy where people's lives are not matching what they're saying,” she said.  

“I think a big part of it is...holistic Catholic formation,” Klein added. “If you're not prepared to pursue wisdom and pursue personal holiness, you're not going to have that authentic witness and authentic life to share.”

While that doesn’t remove the necessity of evangelizing with words, Klein said, it does point to why millennial Christians may have answered that particular question the way they did, beyond a trend toward universalism and relativism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself recognizes the disconnect that may exist between a person’s holiness and the preaching of the Gospel: “On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the ‘discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted.’ Only by taking the ‘way of penance and renewal,’ the ‘narrow way of the cross,’ can the People of God extend Christ's reign. For ‘just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men.’” (CCC pp. 853).

“It’s very clear that the Church has a missionary mandate, but I think it nuances that very well and talks about the hypocrisy that has been found,” Klein said. “I think that tension is what millennials are most keyed into, that personal holiness comes first before you can even think about opening your mouth.”

An oft-quoted line, typically attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, speaks of the tension between personal holiness and evangelizing: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words,” the saying goes.

But if that quote really came from St. Francis of Assisi, Sartori said, it came from a saint who preached the Gospel so prolifically that he was known to preach it “to the birds.”

“He couldn’t stop preaching,” Sartori said, “so of all the people to have said that, St. Francis is one of the greatest examples of preaching (the Gospel).”

So while personal holiness is a must, he said, so is preaching the Gospel with words.

“To preach the Gospel is an integral part of being a Christian,” he said, “and we can’t separate that.”

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 13, 2019.

How the Pittsburgh diocese is tackling addiction

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 18:34

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jul 6, 2019 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has launched a new addiction ministry to bring rehabilitation to those facing addiction and their families through a holistic approach, including spirituality and close relationships.

“We have a big opiate crisis in Pittsburgh, like every big city,” said Father Michael Decewicz, a recovering alcoholic and one of the leaders behind Addiction Recovery Ministry (ARM).

“How can we as Church respond in love to the addicted and the afflicted? This is our chance as Church, as people of God to reach out to those who are suffering addictions and afflicting their loved ones,” he told CNA.

ARM began Feb. 10 with a Mass of Healing from Addiction. An estimated 200 gathered at the liturgy, where people battling addictions received Anointing of the Sick.

Anointing of the sick “can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age,” according to the Code of Canon Law.

Father Decewicz noted to CNA the proximity of the program's initiation to the Feb. 11 feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. He said it correlates to the healing miracles of Lourdes, but also emphasized that addiction is a disease, not a moral choice.  

The ministry is funded by Pittsburgh’s Our Campaign for the Church Alive, a fundraising initiative designed to fund extraordinary ministries in the diocese.

Located at the John Paul I Center in Sharpsburg, the program will begin with three meetings a week of either Narcotics Anonymous or NARANON, a support group for friends and family of addicts suffering from an addiction to narcotics.

Decewicz said program will later add Alcoholics Anonymous and ALANON, the family support group for alcoholics, and eventually have a variety of all four of these meetings three times a day.

The program will also include monthly opportunities for education on the disease of addiction and spiritual nourishment, which may include “a talk on the spirituality of recovery and addiction,” said Decewicz.

He said this ministry is an opportunity for evangelization. The results might not be immediate, he said, but these are moments to plant the seeds of the faith and help people, who often have been wounded by organized religion, reconsider the Church.

“God calls us in our brokenness. We need to spread that message that God touches us in our brokenness and in our frailty. To bring a message of compassion and empathy….to affirm the dignity of every human being regardless of what they are suffering,” he said.

“For years AA has met in the basement of the church, it’s time to invite them upstairs,” he said.

Father Decewicz said a major component of the ministry will be the opportunities for one-on-one encounters. If people call the program, he said the organization will the return the call within 24 hours and connect the person to a recovering addict who can be a guide or a friend.  

Decewicz will be one of the individuals answering calls, helping direct people to the proper services, and discussing his or her experience. Another volunteer for the ministry is Carol Smith, a retired Program Manager for a women’s residential facility and a recovering addict of nearly 24 years.

“You need the right tools, the right people around you to support you,” she told CNA. “There is someone here who can help you, who can identify with you, and get [you] to a meeting.”

She stressed the healing potential of 12 steps programs and shared her own experience with addiction – getting into prescription drugs when she was about 12 and the damage that followed.

Smith was introduced to prescription painkillers because of a dental procedure. She fell in love with these opiates, she said, noting she began stealing drugs from her father’s drug store. After her little brother was born and she felt more estranged from her family, Smith began to spend more time with the wrong crowd, getting deeper into alcohol and other types of drugs.

Even as the drug habit progressed, she was able to function, receiving good grades throughout high school and getting accepted into the University of Pittsburgh. While maintaining an addiction to heroin, Smith graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and later on worked for the government as a supervisor in the welfare department.

She said her life began to take a tragic turn after her husband died. She was forced to resign from her position because of a problem with theft, and eventually ended up in the hospital with sores on her legs from heroin abuse. From the hospital, she was taken to jail which then led to a work release program.

After prison, the addiction was still too much, and Smith again began shooting up heroin. “[Getting high,] that’s all I know how to do. I’ve been doing it for the past 40 years,” Smith told her supervisor when she was confronted about her relapse. But, instead of getting taken back to jail, Smith was taken to an eight week outpatient program, where she was introduced to NA.

“I started going to meetings every day and that’s when the bulb finally went off – you can get through a day without getting high, you can live without using.”

Smith explained the importance of faith in the 12 step program, calling it an opportunity for people to experience the love of God. She further added that evangelization efforts begin with people living this love.

“God is a part of it,” she said. “There’s a lot of people, especially people in addiction, they think that God’s given up on them and that he could never love them with the horrible things they’ve done.”

“The biggest thing is you let them know that God’s love them,” she said. “I think it is more about being an example if you are going to try and have other people come to God or look at him the way you do.”

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 13, 2019.

NY priest who raised funds for Lady Gaga non-profit accused of sexual coercion

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 00:52

New York City, N.Y., Jul 5, 2019 / 10:52 pm (CNA).- A New York priest who told a prospective seminarian to lie to Church officials about his sexuality has been removed from active ministry after allegations of coercive sexual misconduct.

“I write to share some unpleasant and somber news concerning Father John Duffell, your just retired parish administrator,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote in a July 1 letter to parishioners of New York’s Blessed Sacrament Parish.

“Father Duffell has been directed not to publicly exercise his priestly ministry due to an allegation from the past that he abused his position of authority in a violation of his promise of celibacy.”

“The allegation was made first to the District Attorney, and then brought to our attention. This allegation involves an adult; it does not involve a minor. It is important that the archdiocese take such allegations seriously,” Dolan wrote.

A source close to the priest told CNA that the allegation involved serial misconduct over a period of years.

Dolan's letter said that as the matter is being investigated, “Father Duffell’s rights under canon (church) law are being protected, and he had the opportunity to defend himself during a penal process that the archdiocese initiated. He also has the presumption of innocence of the allegation. He and his advocate had the opportunity to review all of the evidence and respond to it.”

The cardinal’s letter did not indicate what the next steps will be in the penal process initiated against the priest.

Duffell, 75, was ordained in May, 1969, by Cardinal Terrence Cooke. He has served mostly at parishes in Manhattan and Yonkers.

At a 2011 conference at Fordham University, Duffell told a participant to lie to Church authorities about same-sex attraction in order to be accepted for seminary formation.

You’re not broken, the system is broken, and therefore you deal with it as a broken system; you lie,” Duffel said of the participant’s sexuality.

The priest has faced criticism for some activities of the “gay fellowship” at his parish.

In 2017, the parish “gay fellowship” partnered with the Born This Way Foundation, an “LGBT-rights” group founded by entertainer Lady Gaga, to hold a fundraising dance at the church hall.

Duffell was pictured in an Instagram photo with Lady Gaga in 2016.

Last month, the parish’s “gay fellowship” sponsored as a fundraiser a staged reading of the “Love! Valour! Compassion!” a Terrence McNally play about a group of eight gay men spending three weekends together at an upstate New York vacation home. The event was billed as an observation of the 1969 Stonewall riots, considered to be a landmark event within the “LGBT rights” movement.

After the 2002 passage of U.S. Church norms designed to address clergy sexual abuse - most especially the “Dallas Charter” - Duffell was among the most outspoken clerical critics of the Church’s policy.

The priest was a co-founder of Voices of the Ordained, a group of New York-area priests who raised concerns about the Charter.

“Ordained ministers of the gospel are a group very much at risk at the moment. Given the norms approved in Dallas, anyone can make any kind of accusation against us and we're dead meat,” Duffell told the Washington Post in 2002.

In May 2002, Duffell criticized the initial suspension of Charles M. Kavanagh, an eventually laicized priest who was removed from ministry that month for allegations that he sexually abused a high school seminarian in the 1970s.

“You almost hope the punishment could be leveled after the facts were determined,” Duffell told the New York Times.

“According to the cardinal, this is the policy that has to be in effect because this is what the people want. I wonder if that's really true. Isn't somebody innocent until proven guilty?”

The priest was a technical adviser for 2000 film “Keeping the Faith,” about a priest and a rabbi in love with the same woman, a childhood friend.

Though Dolan’s July 1 letter referred to Duffell as retired, the priest was reappointed as Blessed Sacrament’s administrator for a one-year period in October 2018.

Duffell is listed as the parish pastor on the website of Blessed Sacrament Parish and in the parish’s July 7 bulletin. He was appointed administrator of the parish in 2014, according to archdiocesan records.

Dolan noted that retired auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh would serve as the parish administrator until a new pastor could be appointed.

Was this Michigan grandfather on a mission from God?

Fri, 07/05/2019 - 18:34

Marquette, Mich., Jul 5, 2019 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- Irving “Francis” Houle was a Michigan father of five known for his holy life. He appeared to bear the stigmata, a physical manifestation of the wounds of Jesus Christ, and said he experienced the Passion and visions of Jesus and Mary.

Now the Diocese of Marquette is asking whether he was a saint.

For Gale Houle, his wife of more than 60 years, he was also her husband.

“Irving is my saint, and this is well deserved,” she said, speaking to the U.P. Catholic newspaper about the inquiry into his canonization.

“He was a husband and father and a grandfather. I love him with all my heart,” she continued, “But some days he just wasn’t there!”

In November 2018, Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan opened the cause of canonization for Servant of God Irving C. Houle, who passed away Jan. 3, 2009 at the age of 83.

Houle believed he first saw Jesus when he was a young child, but didn’t recognize him at the time. He suffered near-fatal injuries in a fall from a horse, and his doctor said he was too weak for surgery.

A nun in the family encouraged prayers for him, and the next morning new X-rays showed no evidence of severe injuries. Young Irving told his mother a man in white robes and upraised hand had been standing by his crib in the night, and a bishop told his parents this figure must have been Jesus, the National Catholic Register’s Joseph Pronechen said in a blog post.

Houle graduated from high school in 1944. He served in the U.S. Army for two years in Europe and the Middle East, then worked at a shoe store and a Montgomery Ward department store before becoming a cleaning supplies salesman. He then served as a plant manager for a machinery manufacturer.

He and his family were parishioners at St. Joseph and St. Patrick Church in Escabana, a city of over 12,000 on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In addition to his five children, he had seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“He was a joker,” his wife Gail said. “He was a little tease; he was a lot of fun. The kids miss him terribly.”

Irving Houle said he received his mission in visions from Jesus and Mary: to suffer the Passion every night to save sinners and to bring people back to confession and to the Eucharist.

He began a healing ministry, often in churches after Mass. He would pray and place his hands on people’s heads. His travels took him across Michigan, to South Dakota and, one time, to Fatima. He never took payment for the healings.

Though the healings were often spiritual, rather than physical in nature, some people reported immediate physical cures as well.

He prayed over one wheelchair-bound woman, a cancer patient given only four months to live. Five months later she came to him, walking, reporting that she was free of cancer. An eight-year-old boy suffering leukemia also reported healing after his prayers.

Witnesses, including his wife Gail, said Houle first received the stigmata in 1993, at the age of 67.



“I didn’t notice any real changes in him before it happened,” she said.

On Holy Thursday of that year, he felt sick and went home to lay on the couch after Adoration at the parish church.

“That night, he said his hands hurt,” Gail said. “I looked but there was nothing. I asked him if his arms hurt too, but he said no. Later, he said his head hurt.”

On Good Friday, he stayed home, an unusual action for the devout churchgoer. This continued through Easter.

“After Easter, he had red spots the size of dimes on his hands. He said they hurt, but didn’t want to discuss it.”

Deacon Terry Saunders told the U.P. Catholic he saw Houle immediately after Easter, when Houle brought him Holy Communion.

“He told me of the pain in his hands and when the marks appeared. He was nervous about it,” Saunders said. “Over time, I saw his hands swell, like they’d do if you were hit with something. His hands split open, and after that, he had open wounds sometimes as big as a quarter or half dollar. He wore bandages on the back of his hands for the rest of his life, and bands like sweatbands around them if he was bleeding.”

Gail said they struggled in dealing with the stigmata.

Doctors, priests, bishops and cardinals had examined his wounds, but they did not know what was happening.

Houle said he suffered the Passion and had visions every night, with the pain beginning at 12:30 a.m. and lasting 35 minutes. He would then have visions until 2:30 or 3 a.m., he told Father Robert J. Fox in an interview.

His wife Gail never witnessed this part of her husband’s life, though several people including his brother did. She believed that her habit of falling asleep quickly was God’s way of shielding her.

In one May 1993 vision, the Virgin Mary told him: “My beloved Son: I come to you this night to tell you how much your prayers and suffering have meant to my Son and me. Your suffering has been long, my child. You have pleased my Son and me. We will be close to you. The graces have been given to you. Satan is trying to cause confusion among you. But I tell you, he will not succeed…”

Houle said he would feel intense pain, at times feeling as if he were being torn apart. During this time God would show him who and what he was suffering for, like civil wars, abortion, homelessness, murders, and abused women and children.

He saw the people for whom he suffered, but not their names. He would say “it usually goes back to the sins of the flesh,” according to the National Catholic Register blog post.

Saunders said that all of Houle’s suffering was “for the conversion of sinners.”

Bishop Doerfler has appointed Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, an expert from Rome, as postulator of Houle’s cause. Ambrosi is involved in overseeing other canonization causes, including that of the American archbishop and television personality Ven. Fulton J. Sheen.

At its June meeting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted in favor of Houle’s canonization moving forward. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints will now review the case to determine if he led a life of heroic virtue. Should the congregation and the Pope approve, he will then be given the title “venerable.”

He could be beatified following sufficient proof of one miracle, and canonized upon sufficient proof of another miracle.

In 2005, Father Robert J. Fox published a book about Houle under the title “A Man Called Francis,” calling him “Francis” to protect his identity.

Father Fox was an observer of Houle’s sufferings and estimated that Houle prayed over 200,000 people. The priest founded the Fatima Family Apostolate and retired near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama. In 2003, he hosted Houle on his EWTN radio show “Reclaiming Your Children for the Catholic Faith.”

The Irving C. “Francis” Houle Association has been formed to promote Houle’s canonization cause and to help raise funds for expenses, including for the work of Ambrosi and others. It currently has between 100 and 150 members.

Bishop Doerfler named Deacon Terry Saunders as its president and moderator.

 

An earlier version of this article was published on CNA Jan. 4, 2019.

Edited January 4 at 9:20 a.m. Dr. Andrea Ambrosi was incorrectly identified as a priest.

Head of CRS: Global migrant deaths demand action

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 17:30

Baltimore, Md., Jul 4, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A string of high-profile migrant deaths in the last week should draw our attention to the thousands more that go unreported, and encourage us to welcome migrants, while also working to address the challenges that lead them to leave their homes, said the head of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) this week.

“Thousands of migrants die each year trying to attain what we Americans sometimes take for granted,” said Sean Callahan, president and CEO of CRS.

In a July 3 statement, he encouraged Americans to take time on Independence Day to “reflect on what it means to be living in a country that was founded upon the notion that every human being has the right to pursue happiness.”

The Catholic Relief Services statement pointed to several recent migrant deaths that have garnered the attention of the international media.

Last week, a photo of two migrants who had drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande went viral. Óscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria died June 23 during their attempt to enter the U.S.

Earlier this week, an unidentified man was found dead after stowing away in the landing-gear compartment of a nine-hour flight from Kenya to London.

And at least 44 people were killed and over 100 more injured early Wednesday during an airstrike on a migrant detention center in Libya.

The Tripoli-based government has accused General Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army of carrying out the attack, while the General’s forces are blaming the government.

But for each of these deaths, Catholic Relief Services noted, there are thousands more that fail to attract the attention of the media.

A report last week from the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) found that more than 32,000 migrants have been reported dead during their journey to a new country over the last five years.

Nearly one migrant child per day is reported dead or missing, although the report warned that many more likely go untracked.

In his statement, Callahan stressed that the deaths of migrants worldwide should prompt Americans to take action.

“Yearning only to be free of violence or poverty, migrants are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea or in the Rio Grande,” he said. “Or they’re dying of thirst in the brutal heat of the Sahara Desert. They are suffocating in the landing gear of jet planes, and from rocket fire and neglect in detention centers.”

Catholic Relief Services works in more than 100 countries to provide humanitarian assistance, emergency relief, and development. In many countries, their programming helps address the underlying challenges that lead people to emigrate.

Callahan invited Americans to remember in a special way those who are seeking freedom on Independence Day this year.

“Let’s commit to treating them with dignity, and to improving the conditions in their homelands,” he said.

El Paso migrant shelter closes as 'humanitarian crisis' at border continues

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 06:00

El Paso, Texas, Jul 4, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic aid agency in El Paso, Texas, has closed a temporary shelter for migrants and asylum seekers released from federal custody, as more asylum seekers are required to wait in Mexico for court dates, and after concerns have been raised about the detention condtions of would-be migrants in government custody.

Fernando Ceniceros, communications specialist for the Diocese of El Paso, told CNA that changes in border patrol policy have likely led to the decrease in migrants entering the United States at El Paso, but the humanitarian crisis is no less severe— the difference is that many would-be migrants in need of aid are required to remain in Mexico, rather than crossing the border.

“They're not letting them cross over anymore,” Ceniceros said. “We think that the decline was the reason we had to shut down [the shelter].”

The Department of Homeland Security announced new Migrant Protection Protocols in January, providing that migrants arriving illegally or without proper documentation “may be returned to Mexico and wait outside of the U.S. for the duration of their immigration proceedings, where Mexico will provide them with all appropriate humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay.”

The Diocese of El Paso’s shelter, which Bishop Mark Seitz opened in October 2018, was part of a larger consortium of aid agencies, Ceniceros said, led by Reuben Garcia at the Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants that has been operating in El Paso for over 40 years.

“We were receiving anything between 40-80 migrants a day,” Ceniceros said.

“They were coming into the shelter, we were helping them clothe them, give them a warm shower, give them something to eat. And they were in and out of our shelter within 28-48 hours...we helped them connect with their families here in the United States.”

The migrants that the Diocese of El Paso was assisting had already been cleared by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and had been dropped off in the city, in need of basic necessities. A recent government report indicates that in some regions, migrants in federal custody have endured prolonged detention in overcrowded conditions and awaited processing and release for periods of longer than one month.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, apprehensions of “unaccompanied alien children” has risen by nearly 75% from May 2018 to May 2019. The rise in apprehensions is led by El Paso, which has seen a 323% rise in that period period.

The rise in apprehensions of  families is higher— 463% across the board. El Paso’s rate of apprehension of families rose 2,100%.

“We've never seen the kind of influx of migrants that we have in the last year and a half,” Ceniceros commented. 

“And just as a point of reference, we were just receiving single men usually. They were just looking for work, they were coming from Mexico. Mostly now, you're looking at families from Central America. Really very [few] Mexican nationals are coming [now]. But we were seeing even migrants from as far as Africa come through here and seek asylum.”

He said the Diocese of El Paso continues to provide legal services for migrants and asylum seekers.

The federal Office of the Inspector General reported this week overcrowded, squalid conditions at some migrant detention facilities along the US/Mexico border, including standing-room-only cells, children going without showers and hot meals, and detainees clamoring desperately for release.

“What you're seeing on television as far as conditions are concerned is that's what we've heard...really terrible conditions. And we're asking for prayers that we're able to step in and help these people,” Ceniceros said.

“We are in contract with the Diocese of Juarez [Mexico] and their migrant shelter there. And we're working to set up a plan to send over supplies, find a way to send over supplies to them. Because they're inundated [with migrants].”

“This ‘remain in Mexico’ protocol protection is really very alarming to us and it really will create a humanitarian crisis. And I think that's really what we want to bring attention to, is the humanitarian crisis on the other side of the border...We're called to serve here in the Church, and serve the poorest of the poor. And that's really what our message is.”

The bishops on either side of the Rio Grande, where several migrants recently died, expressed last week their sorrow over the deaths.

Bishops Daniel Flores of Brownsville and Eugenio Andres Lira Rugarcia of Matamoros wrote June 28 to “express with much pain the sorrow of the whole community upon hearing of the parents and children that have recently lost their lives upon crossing the Río Grande River, seeking a better life.”

The six Catholic bishops of Washington state issued a joint statement June 28 calling for immigration reform that "honors the dignity of those seeking a better life in the United States, while also addressing the legitimate need for safe and secure borders."

"Worsening conditions that fuel the Latin American refugee crisis, combined with domestic policies that disrespect the dignity of human beings, risk causing even greater suffering for those fleeing peril and threaten the domestic tranquility promised to Americans," the bishops said.

Rebuilt from the ashes: The story of an American basilica

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 05:41

Norfolk, Virginia, Jul 4, 2019 / 03:41 am (CNA).- An immigrant parish, burnt down, with only the crucifix remaining. A parish rebuilt, transformed and a key part in giving back to the community. In a sense, one parish’s story of struggle, pressure and rebirth is metaphor for the American Catholic experience.

St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, Virginia, is the only black Catholic church in the United States that is also a basilica. Its dramatic history captures both the broader American Catholic history of persecution, growth and acceptance, but also a witness to the unique challenges faced by black Catholics over the centuries.

Founded originally as St. Patrick’s Parish in 1791, it is the oldest Catholic parish in the Diocese of Richmond, predating the foundation of the diocese by nearly 30 years.

“Catholicism was not legal to practice” in Virginia when the colony was founded, said Fr. Jim Curran, rector of the basilica. In much of Colonial America, before the Revolution and the signing of the Bill of Rights, churches that were not approved by the government were prohibited from operating, he told CNA.

The land originally bought in 1794 for the parish is the same ground on which the basilica today stands. From the beginning, according to the parish’s history, Catholics from all backgrounds worshiped together: Irish and German immigrants, free black persons and slaves.

However, by the 1850s, the parish’s immigrant background and mixed-race parish drew the ire of a prominent anti-Catholic movement: the Know-Nothings.

Largely concentrated in northeastern states where the immigrant influx was greatest, the movement rose and fell quickly. Concerned with maintaining the Protestant “purity of the nation,” it worked to prevent immigrants – many of whom were Catholic – from gaining the right to vote, becoming citizens, or taking elected office.

“I consider the Know-Nothings to be a sort of gatekeeper organization, by which I mean that they were both anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic at the same time,” said Fr. David Endres, an assistant professor of Church History and Historical Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

He told CNA that the Know-Nothing Party was able to bring together both pro- and anti-slavery voters in the mid-1800s, united in the common “dislike of foreign-born and Catholics.”

While most anti-Catholic activities took the form of defamatory speeches and public discrimination, the prejudice sometimes turned to violence and mob action, Fr. Endres explained.

The anti-Catholic discrimination and threats found their way to St. Patrick’s doorstep, where the Know-Nothings were unhappy that the pastor was allowing racially integrated Masses, said Fr. Curran.

The pastor at that time, Fr. Matthew O’Keefe, received so many threats directed against the church and himself that police protection was required to stop the intimidation of the Catholics worshiping at the church, according to the locals.  

Despite the threats, however, Fr. O’Keefe did not segregate the Masses. In 1856, the original church building burned down, leaving only three walls standing. Only a wooden crucifix was left unscathed.

More than 150 years later, it is still unclear exactly who or what caused the fire, but since the days following the blaze, parishioners have had their suspicions.

“We don’t know for sure if they were the ones who burned it, but it’s widely believed, it’s a commonly held notion that it’s the Know-Nothings who burnt the Church,” Fr. Curran said.   

Fr. O’Keefe and the parishioners worked hard to rebuild the church, seeking donations from Catholics along the East Coast. A new church building was constructed less than three years after the fire and is still standing today.

After the church was rebuilt, the parish renamed itself in 1858 in honor of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854. It claims to be the first church in the world named for Mary of the Immaculate Conception following the declaration.

In 1889, the Josephites built Saint Joseph's Black Catholic parish to serve the needs of the black Catholic community, and the two parishes operated separately within several blocks of one another. However, in 1961, St. Joseph’s was demolished to make way for new construction, and the two parishes were joined, reintegrating – at least in theory – St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

But the merger was not popular with many of the white parishioners and conflicted with the segregation policies of local government institutions and public life, Fr. Curran said. “St Mary’s became a de facto black parish.”

During this demographic shift, many parishioners of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception had to draw deeply upon their faith. Black Catholics had to be stalwart, facing prejudice from both some white parishioners, who did not view them as fully Catholic, and some black Protestants, who did not support their religious beliefs.

“They were devoted, and still are,” the rector said. “You have to be very devoted to be a Black Catholic.”

This devotion and witness of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception was formally celebrated when, in 1991, Saint Pope John Paul II elevated the 200-year-old church to a minor basilica.

“Your black cultural heritage enriches the Church and makes her witness of universality more complete. In a real way the Church needs you, just as you need the Church, for you are a part of the Church and the Church is part of you,” Pope Saint John Paul II proclaimed at the elevation.

Today, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception plays a vital role not only as the only Catholic basilica in Virginia, but also as an important anchor of the neighborhood. The basilica operates a “robust” set of outreach ministries to local families, including rent assistance and food aid, serving thousands of people.

“The Church standing proudly and beautiful in the midst of the poor is where we need to be,” Fr. Curran said.


This article was originally published on CNA July 4, 2015.

NY archdiocese suit says insurers can't dodge duties, as abuse claims loom

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 19:01

New York City, N.Y., Jul 3, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- After a New York law temporarily allowed alleged victims of past sexual abuse to file lawsuits that had been barred by legal time limits, the New York archdiocese has filed a lawsuit against 31 insurance companies, charging that many intend to limit or deny insurance claims.

“The Archdiocese of New York has filed suit seeking to hold insurance companies to the policies they issued, and for which it paid premiums,” a spokesman said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The lawsuit argued that the archdiocese is entitled to all benefits of the policies, including coverage of legal fees during litigation. The archdiocese could face substantial legal liability as a result of the Child Victims Act, signed into law in February by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The act allows for victims of child abuse to bring civil claims against their alleged abuser until the age of 55. Previously an accuser’s civil complaint had to be filed by age 23. Criminal prosecutions can now be brought if the victim comes forward before age 28.

The act creates a one-year “look-back” window for victims of any age to come forward.

The New York archdiocese’s lawsuit, filed in New York, charges that the Insurance Co. of North America, a subsidiary of Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., breached its contract with the archdiocese, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Chubb said it wouldn’t cover a legal claim concerning a lawsuit from a man who alleged sexual abuse by two clerics in the 1970s.

“Rather than honor its contractual obligation under the insurance policies they issued, Chubb has advised the archdiocese that it will not stand behind its insurance policies and contractual obligations,” an archdiocese spokesman said.

Chubb’s letter of denial said the accuser “alleges to have sustained injury that was expected and/or intended from the standpoint of the archdiocese,” and so did not fall under covered policy, the New York Law Journal reports.

The archdiocese’s attorneys countered that this misinterprets the accuser’s claim. They argued that the wording did not allege the archdiocese expected or intended sexual abuse.

The alleged abuse victim’s expected lawsuit against the archdiocese has not yet been filed but can become active when the one-year window opens in August.

Previous proposed versions of New York’s law on sexual abuse claims shielded public institutions including public schools from lawsuits. However, such lawsuits are allowed under the version that became law.

The New York Catholic Conference supported these changes allowing lawsuits against public institutions and did not oppose the final bill, Dennis Poust, Director of the New York Catholic Conference, told CNA.

James R. Marsh, an attorney representing 40 plaintiffs against the archdiocese, told the news site Crain’s New York Business that the lawsuit against insurers is “an unequivocal sign that the church is getting serious about dealing with its exposure.”

“With the New York Archdiocese facing significant financial liability after decades of heartbreaking sexual abuse, it appears that it is beginning the process of addressing its financial challenges head-on,” Marsh said. “That’s just what this filing represents: an institution seeking to ensure that liability is fairly shared with its own insurance companies.”

Michael Pfau, a lawyer representing 50 alleged victims in the New York archdiocese and 500 alleged victims around the state, told the New York Daily News it is not uncommon for insurance companies to initially balk at paying.

“This is a very positive step. We want to see the archdiocese secure coverage,” Pfau said, characterizing the lawsuit as “an acknowledgement that the Archdiocese of New York has enormous potential exposure.”

A law similar to New York’s has been passed in New Jersey, and Catholic institutions could face a wave of lawsuits there.

In October 2016, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York launched The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program as an arbitration process for victims. The archdiocese presented the program as a way for abuse victims to secure compensation more easily than through the courts. The arbitration process was presented as having lower standards of evidence to secure compensation, though participants in the program waived their right to future civil action.

More than 200 individuals applied for compensation before a November 2017 deadline. Scores of individuals received compensation totaling in the tens of millions of dollars.

It was in this process that an alleged victim of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick came forward, the New Yorker magazine reported in April.

The New York archdiocese’s further inquiry led to the June 2018 announcement that McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington, had been credibly accused of sexual abuse when he was a priest of the archdiocese.

In September 2018 the New York attorney general’s office issued subpoenas to all eight Catholic dioceses in the state, asking for documents related to sexual abuse allegations and the Church’s response to them.

At the time the New York archdiocese said it has shared with local District Attorneys “all information they have sought concerning allegations of sexual abuse of minor.”

“Not only do we provide any information they seek, they also notify us as well when they learn of an allegation of abuse, so that, even if they cannot bring criminal charges, we might investigate and remove from ministry any cleric who has a credible and substantiated allegation of abuse.”

US bishops commend Supreme Court's 2020 census decision

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 18:18

Washington D.C., Jul 3, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- The US bishops on Tuesday applauded the Supreme Court's recent decision blocking the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census under the reasons proffered by the Commerce Department.

“We affirm last week’s decision by the Supreme Court that the inclusion of a citizenship question must ensure genuine reasons for such inclusion,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice and Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairs of the USCCB's domestic justice and migration committees, said July 2.

“We reaffirm that all persons in the United States should be counted in the Census regardless of their immigration status and reemphasize our judgment that questions regarding citizenship should not be included in the Census. We hope that this view will prevail, whether by administrative action or judicial determination.”

In its June 27 decision in Department of Commerce v. New York, the court found that the Trump administration's reason for seeking to include a citizenship question on the census seemed “contrived”. The ruling was 5-4.

The administration agreed July 2 to start printing the questionnaire without the question.

The decennial census is used in districting for elections, and helps determine the allocation of federal funding to the states.

A question about whether the respondent is a citizen has not appeared on the census questionnaire since 1950.

The administration had argued for its inclusion under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, saying it could strengthen protections for minorities.

But some researchers at the Census Bureau had found that including the citizenship question could lower the response rate of minority and immigrant households, lowering the quality of the census data.

Are economic sanctions on Iran just?

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Jul 3, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Economic sanctions are often seen as a more humane alternative to military conflict. But as some observes warn that sanctions on Iran are beginning to restrict the availability of daily necessities, questions have arisen about the justice and proper limits of such measures.

In 2018, the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. That agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was supported by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops, but critics said it was ineffective and strengthened the regime’s ability to support terrorist activity abroad. 

Further sanctions have been imposed following an escalating series of events, including the recent shooting down of an American drone. On Monday, as Iran confirmed it had violated the terms of th 2015 nuclear deal and would withdraw from it. The White House responded that it would exert “maximum pressure” on the regime to curb its “nuclear ambitions” and “malign behavior.” 

While U.S. sanctions are intended to have “maximum effect” on Iran’s regime, Niki Akhavan, Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Catholic University of America, and expert in digital media and politics in the Middle East and Iran, told CNA that they could ultimately violate the “basic rights” of the Iranian people. 

Akhavan warned that there were increasing reports of ordinary citizens, especially the middle class, having difficulty obtaining necessities like food or medicine.

“Everyday life has become more and more difficult,” Akhavan said. 

While the sanctions against Iran do not directly include basic staples like food or medicine, she told CNA, their wider impact on the entire economy is creating pressure on ordinary citizens. Iranians who once were able to travel to visit family or to get medical care outside of Iran now can no longer afford to do so.

In September last year, Armenian Catholic Church leaders in Iran made a similar warning that the return of sanctions would harm all Iranians. 

On Monday, as Iran confirmed it had violated the nuclear deal and would withdraw from it, the White House responded that it would exert “maximum pressure” on the regime to curb its “nuclear ambitions” and “malign behavior.” 

Regarding the use of economic sanctions, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states that sanctions “seek to correct the behaviour of the government of a country that violates the rules of peaceful and ordered international coexistence or that practises serious forms of oppression with regard to its population.”

Monsignor Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas, told CNA that this violation of peace is interpreted by the Church to be a violation of what St. Augustine defined as the “tranquillitas ordinis,” or the “tranquility of order.” 

Peace should not simply be defined as the absence of war but must include at least some measure of justice. The “promotion of peace” is the necessary context for considering sanctions, Swetland said, and they can only be levied against those who violate peace. 

While noting that the Iranian regime “is in various ways” violating the tranquility of order, Swetland also said that the criteria of a just war had to be applied in determining what response was merited.

In cases where a military conflict would be unjust, nations must seek “non-lethal ways of resolving those conflicts,” the monsignor said, while warning that in cases of a “creeping conflict” it is all the more important to arrive at negotiations between both parties. 

On June 18, the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace chairman Archbishop Timothy Broglio called for “sustained dialogue” by the U.S. and world powers with Iran “to de-escalate the current situation.” 

Swetland told CNA that sanctions were one possible tool to bring that about, but that the Church teaches that there are proper uses and limits to how they are applied against persons or regimes. 

In some cases, sanctions might be narrowly-tailored against individual human rights abusers in response to their gravely wrong actions. However, Swetland warned, the more broadly sanctions are applied, such as economic sanctions taken against sectors of a country’s economy, the more scrutiny is necessary to determine their justice.

Sanctions must always be used as a path to negotiation, he said, and must be used with “great discernment” to ensure they remain “focused” and “narrow.”

“They can’t be used indiscriminately” and “must never be used for the direct punishment of an entire population,” Swetland said.

“I believe the U.S. has tried to target the sanctions [against Iran],” he said, but noted that while U.S. sanctions had been imposed over the past year in increasing proportion they need to be “continuously evaluated.”

“When ordinary people can’t get food and medicine, it’s gone too far.”

Bishops received money and complaints about Bransfield, according to report

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 15:01

Wheeling, W.V., Jul 3, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Allegations of financial impropriety against former Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield went unheeded for years, according to a new report. Letters from lay men and woman, and from Bransfield’s own chancery staff raised serious concerns about the bishop’s spending and that he was using diocesan resources to “purchase influence.”

On July 3, the Washington Post reported that concerns about Bransfield’s spending were raised as early as 2012 with senior Church authorities in the Unites States and Rome. Several of those to whom complaints were made were themselves recipients of gifts of money from the bishop.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope. Following allegations of sexual and financial misconduct by him over a period of years, local metropolitan Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was ordered by Pope Francis to conduct an investigation. Lori subsequently barred Bransfield from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore.

On Wednesday, The Post reported that specific concerns had been raised years earlier about the use of financial gifts to Church authorities by Bransfield, and the role they may have played in delaying action against him.

In an August 2018 letter addressed to Lori, Bransfield’s own Judicial Vicar, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, said he believed the gifts bought the bishop latitude.

“It is my own opinion that [Bransfield] makes use of monetary gifts, such as those noted above, to higher ranking ecclesiastics and gifts to subordinates to purchase influence from the former and compliance or loyalty from the latter,” Quirk is quoted by The Post as writing.

The eight-page letter from Quirk also detailed prescription drug and alcohol abuse by Bransfield, and his serial sexual harassment of priests and young men, accusations which Bransfield denied to The Post, saying that a diocesan investigation has exonerated him of sexual abuse.

Quirk resigned from his positions as Judicial Vicar and rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in June 2019.

The Post also names four senior American prelates as having received financial gifts from Bransfield and complaints against him from the West Viginia faithful.

Former apostolic nuncio to the Unites States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was asked to investigate Bransfield’s lifestyle and leadership in 2013 by diocesan resident Linda Abrahamian. Vigano had previously confirmed to the Post that he received $6,000 in gifts from the bishop.

Vigano also confirmed he had heard “rumors” about Bransfield’s sexual misconduct, but that they had never been “substantiated.”

Responding to the new report, he said that he had no memory of the complaint being made and that he had donated all of Bransfield’s gifts to charity shortly after receiving them.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and Archbishop Peter Wells, formerly an official at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, are also both reported to have received gifts from and complaints about Bransfield.

Both denied to The Post that Bransfield’s gifts influenced them in any way.

Lori himself, who was eventually placed in charge of investigating the allegations against Bansfield, received a complaint in November of 2012, alleging the bishop had taken punitive action against a priest who had denounced Bransfield’s lavish spending.

Kellee Abner, a parishioner of the priest, complained to Lori about his treatment by Bransfield and was contacted by someone from Lori’s office, but was told that the Baltimore archbishop had no authority to intervene.

After being authorized by the Vatican to investigate earlier this year, Lori stated publicly in June that accusations of sexual and financial misconduct by Bransfield had been determined to be “credible” by an independent investigation, and that Bransfield had managed to erode and evade oversight and by fostering “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” in the diocese.

The report also concluded that “during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending,” and that investigators had “uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo, and overt suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.” 

After the Washington Post obtained a full copy of the investigators’ report, last month Lori was forced to apologize for redacting the names of bishops – including his own – who had received money from Bransfield from the version of the report sent to Rome, saying he had mistakenly thought such information would have been a “distraction.”

Lori also announced he would return $7,500 in gifts he had taken from Bransfield since 2012.

In a phone call with The Post, Bransfield reportedly defended his spending while in charge of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, calling it justified and saying that insufficient attention had been paid to his expansion of a local Catholic hospital and improvements to Catholic schools.

End 'hidden abortion surcharge' in Affordable Care Act, lawmakers tell HHS

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Jul 3, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Over 125 members of Congress and other pro-life leaders have asked the Trump administration to clarify how abortion coverage is listed in healthcare plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

A letter signed by over 100 House Members and 25 Senators was sent July 2 to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, asking him to finalize a rule that would require separate payments and accounts for elective abortion coverage in health plans offered under the ACA, in accordance with the original text of the law. 

The signatories, led by Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas) and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss), called the proposed rule “an important step in providing transparency and awareness,” and pro-life leaders have issued their own statements of support for the letter.

“Obamacare was the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand since Roe,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, upon release of the letter. 

“Consumers deserve transparent information about the hidden abortion surcharge and the opportunity to avoid plans that cover abortion during the 2020 open enrollment period.”

Section 1303 of the ACA mandates that, for health plans offered under the law, elective abortion coverage merits a separate surcharge from enrollees, drawing a distinction between abortion coverage and health care coverage.

The legislator’s letter notes that this surcharge arrangement remains a violation of the principle of the Hyde Amendment—a long-standing bipartisan federal policy barring taxpayer funding of abortions through Medicaid—but said it at least offered transparency about abortion coverage in health plans, according to the text of the original law.

The Obama administration chose to interpret Sec. 1303 to mean that elective abortion payments and health care payments would be made together in the health plans offered under the ACA, not separately, only requiering that health coverage on the plans be itemized and that abortion coverage be listed in that itemization, or that a single notice about abortion coverage to enrollees would suffice for compliance.

The legislators contend that this interpretation created a “hidden abortion surcharge” in many plans that enrollees may have been unaware of when choosing a plan.

For instance, in 2018 taxpayer-funded ACA plans in 24 states and Washington, D.C., offered elective abortion coverage with the abortion surcharge included, and in 10 of those states more than 85 percent of ACA plans covered abortion-on-demand, the SBA List reported.

“We continue to urge swift action to finalize the rule in time for 2020 open enrollment,” the Members’ letter to Azar stated.

Dannenfelser said that “the sooner the rule restoring the original intent of the law is finalized, the fewer excuses insurers will have for noncompliance,” while maintaining that “Congress must still act to eliminate abortion funding from Obamacare.”

'Priests in the Park' offer public witness of confession, Catholicism in Michigan

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 05:21

Monroe, Michigan, Jul 3, 2019 / 03:21 am (CNA).- Dog walkers, bike riders, joggers, and Catholics priests hearing confession - most of these things you can find in any given park on any given summer day. But one of these things is not like the others.

In St. Mary’s park in Monroe, Michigan, passerby and street traffic looked on with a befuddled look on their faces on June 17 while four Catholic priests, cleric-clad with stoles draped over their shoulders, heard the confessions of roughly a few dozen penitents over the course of two hours.

It was the second such “Priests in the Park” event for the 20,000-person community located 25 miles south of Detroit.

“My goal was to really magnify this awesome sacrament that the Catholic Church has, and put it out in public,” Joe Boggs, one of the organizers of the event, told CNA.

Boggs is the Evangelization committee chair for the Monroe Vicariate, a regional group of Catholic churches that fall under the Archdiocese of Detroit. Boggs said he got the idea for a “Priests in the Park” event from an article in The Michigan Catholic about a similar event held in Plymouth, Michigan a couple of years ago.

“I said man, this is a great idea, let’s kind of blow this up, put it on steroids, and we’ll see what happens.”

The Vicariate hosted its first “Priests in the Park” event in May, which was strictly priests hearing confessions in the park. For the June event, they added a Catholic speaker, some professional musicians, and a booth with holy cards, saint medals and other information about the Catholic faith.

They were also joined by members of St. Paul’s Street Evangelization ministry, who spoke to any curious bystanders and helped explain the event and the Catholic faith.

“I think a lot of people have stigmas and stereotypes about not only the Catholic Church but also specifically confession,” Boggs said, “so doing it out in public in a very vulnerable way, shows to people who are not Catholic, or to people who maybe used to be Catholic who now have bad ideas of the Catholic Church….that people are doing this out in public, they’re being vulnerable, they’re admitting that they’re sinners.”

Boggs said they received a lot of positive feedback about the event from both Catholics and non-Catholics.

“One comment that we got was that (a penitent) could see the face of Christ in the priest, and that it was just so merciful and so loving,” Boggs said. “There was nothing judging that was going on there, it was more (about the priests) just being there with you, giving you counsel, and also absolving you of your sins.”

Some people got in line and asked to speak with a priest and not necessarily go to confession, Boggs noted. Other people joined in the lines to chat with someone they knew, and then ended up talking with a priest as well, he said.

While the park where the event was held is named St. Mary’s, it is a public park. However, the property used to be Catholic, Boggs noted. It was the site of the convent of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who are still local to the area, but had to tear down and relocate their convent after it became dilapidated over the years. They sold the property to the city, which granted permission to Boggs for his event.

Nathan Hintz, 22, told Boggs for an article in the Detroit Catholic that he “loved that I was able to go to confession in public. This was a great opportunity for people to see how confession is nothing to be intimidated by.”

“I think this was a great witness for this sacrament and for our faith,” Hintz added.

Boggs told CNA that the committee hopes to make “Priests in the Park” events a summertime tradition, and will hold events through August or September, weather permitting. The next event is scheduled for July 13.

“I think it’s a really good kind of exposure to (the Catholic faith),” he said.

 

Chicago Tribune op-ed: Public schools can learn from Catholics in handling sex abuse

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 18:43

Chicago, Ill., Jul 2, 2019 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- After an investigative series by the Chicago Tribune uncovered numerous cases of sexual abuse and cover-up in the city’s public schools, a local commentator is looking to the Archdiocese of Chicago as an example of putting safeguards for children into practice.

In an article last week, Kristen McQueary, a columnist and member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board, highlighted the scandal surrounding Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the need for greater transparency regarding sexual abuse there.

Police investigated 523 reports that children were sexually assaulted or abused inside city public schools from 2008 to 2017, or an average of one report each week, McQueary reported.

“Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials for months fought records requests from Tribune reporters on sexual assaults within schools,” she said.

“CPS only relented under threat of a lawsuit...It was not an exercise in protecting students.”

Illinois House Bill 3687, which made it to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk June 28, is a bipartisan effort to ensure that the superintendent of schools, school administrator, or other employer is notified if a school employee is being prosecuted for sexual abuse.

“The [public school] scandal forced a reckoning at CPS more than 25 years after the Archdiocese of Chicago began to acknowledge and take steps to hold priests and other religious personnel accountable for allegations of sexual abuse and assault against children within its schools and institutions,” McQueary noted.

She pointed out that the archdiocese has conducted background checks on priests, staff, volunteers and any parent or coach who might come into contact with a student; has removed priests with substantiated allegations of abuse; and continues to publish a list of accused clergy, though the page was not available on the Archdiocese’ website as of press time.

“CPS still has not publicly identified the majority of adults in its system who have been accused of wrongdoing, and the new law awaiting Pritzker’s signature does not require that disclosure, even if an educator gets disciplined by the state,” McQueary said, suggesting that CPS officials should be calling for an additional bill to address those concerns.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago met with the tribune’s editorial board on June 24.

The Chicago Tribune had previously reported that an independent review of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s policies on child sexual abuse, commissioned by the archdiocese, found that church officials needed to improve how they spot, report and discipline “boundary violations” and other behavior that could lead to abuse.

A spokesperson for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in June that the state is “continuing to investigate abuse in the Catholic Church across the state,” the Tribune reported.

Cardinal Blase Cupich has faced criticism from former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office identified 690 clergy members in Illinois accused of abuse, compared with 185 credible allegations identified by the Church. Madigan’s report did not distinguish based on credibility of individual claims.

The Archdiocese of Chicago maintains that it has, for more than a decade, reported all allegations of child sex abuse to authorities and published the names of all diocesan priests with substantiated allegations against them.

 

 

Gender identity protections good for the economy, companies tell SCOTUS

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Jul 2, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- More than 200 businesses have asked the Supreme Court to recognize anti-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation as good for business and the economy.

The companies filed a joint amicus brief with the Supreme Court this week, after the court announced it would hear oral argumentation in the next judicial year, in October.

“The U.S. economy is strengthened when all employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” 206 businesses argued in their “friend of the court” brief in a bundle of three employment discrimination cases that will be heard before the Supreme Court this October in oral arguments.

The question before the Court will be whether protections against sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also include discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, or discrimination against transgender people.

“The failure to recognize that Title VII protects LGBT workers would hinder the ability of businesses to compete in all corners of the nation, and would harm the U.S. economy as a whole,” the first section of the brief stated.

The filing comes at the end of  “Pride Month,” during which many cities and corporations mark the campaign of LGBT advocacy. 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.”

The 206 businesses who filed the amicus brief “collectively employ over 7 million employees, and comprise over $5 trillion in revenue,”according to their court submission, and they argue “that no one should be passed over for a job, paid less, fired, or subjected to harassment or any other form of discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The amici curiae include employers from various sectors, such as communications, financial, technological, food and hospitality industries; the list of employers includes big businesses such as Airbnb, Amazon, American Airlines, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Ben & Jerry’s, Bloomberg L.P., Coca-Cola, Comcast NBC Universal, CVS Health, Domino’s, eBay, Facebook, General Motors, Google, LinkedIn, IBM, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Lyft, Macy’s, Marriott International, Mastercard International Inc., NIKE, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Uber, and Univision Services Inc.

The San Francisco Giants and the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball also signed on to the brief.

“The brief has more corporate signers than any previous business brief in an LGBTQ non-discrimination case,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a blog post.

The brief argues that specific employment protections for people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are “not unreasonably costly or burdensome for business” and that uniform federal protections are needed so that businesses can “benefit” from “consistency.”

To lack such protections across-the-board, they argued, would pose “significant costs for employers and employees.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act expressly forbids employment discrimination on basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex; three cases that are to be argued before the Supreme Court in October are all related to whether this prohibition of sex discrimination includes protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The cases are Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia; Altitude Express v. Zarda; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

 

'Religious freedom is important for all of society,' Cardinal Dolan says

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 11:30

Salt Lake City, Utah, Jul 2, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York championed the importance of religious freedom at a patriotic-themed gathering in Utah on Sunday, appearing with religious leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We come together as neighbors, we come together as a family, we come together as friends,” Cardinal Dolan said. “See, that gives a counterexample to those who would love to caricature us as these bigoted, hateful, violent people. And we can't allow that to happen.”

The Cardinal added that religious freedom “is important for all of culture and all of society, not just for people of faith.”

Cardinal Dolan gave the keynote address to a crowd of 3,000 at Utah Valley University UCCU Center in Orem, Utah, on Sunday. The speech was part of America’s Freedom Festival at Provo which is an annual patriotic gathering held around Independence Day to promote American values of faith, freedom, patriotism, and family.

He appeared with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon faith, at Sunday’s event. On Monday Dolan met with church President Russell M. Nelson who presented him a statue of the Christus.

The Cardinal has previously worked with Mormon leaders on matters of religious freedom, faith, marriage and humanitarian efforts, including a 2017 ecumenical meeting in New York City with Mormon and Jewish leaders.

“To have us be able to work together on things that would bless this country,” Cook said, “whether they're of a faith or no faith at all, has been an incredibly significant thing, as far as we're concerned.”

Both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Oscar Solis of the Diocese of Salt Lake City on Sunday emphasized that love of country should go together with love of God.

"We have to remember that patriotism is a biblical virtue,” said Cardinal Dolan, adding that it is important “to see people coming together — especially to see our young people — to show that we're not alone in our love for God and country.”

“We have to bring God and patriotism together. It’s a great formula for a healthy society,” said Bishop Solis.

“Religious liberty is very essential for us, and that it is defined as the First Amendment in this country, and that is why we need to safeguard and uphold, because this is a precious gift.”

Indiana AG may appeal injunction against D&E abortion ban

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 19:22

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 1, 2019 / 05:22 pm (CNA).- An Indiana ban on dilation and evacuation abortion has been blocked by a federal judge’s preliminary injunction, continuing the legal fight over abortion in a time when the legal and political future of legal abortion is still in flux.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has said he will likely appeal the ruling.

“I continue to believe that Indiana has a compelling interest in protecting the value and dignity of fetal life by banning a particularly brutal and inhumane procedure,” Hill said June 28.

The Indiana Senate passed H.B. 1211 by a vote of 38-10, while the House of Representatives backed it by a vote of 71-25. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed it into law earlier this year.

The law banning the second-trimester procedure was set to take effect July 1. Doctors who violate the law could be charged with a felony and a possible six-year prison sentence, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker granted the preliminary injunction.

She said the law “prohibits physicians from utilizing the most common, safest, often most cost effective, and best understood method of second trimester abortion.” It makes doctors who perform abortions “resort to alternatives that are medically riskier, more costly, less reliable, and in some instances simply unavailable, while accomplishing little more than expressing hostility towards the constitutionally fundamental right of women to control their own reproductive lives.”

During a June hearing on the law, Barker had questioned why the state would push women towards “highly risky” alternatives such as prematurely inducing labor or injecting fatal drugs into the unborn baby.

The law bars doctors from removing a fetus from the womb using medical instruments such as clamps, forceps, and scissors. It makes exceptions to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent serious health risk.

Attorneys supporting the law said they have support from a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a federal ban on partial-birth abortion.

Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, urged Barker’s decision to be appealed.

“Dismemberment abortions are painful and barbaric,” he said. “No baby deserves this horrific death sentence.”

“It’s disgusting that the abortion industry can simply overturn a law they dislike by filing a lawsuit,” he added.

There were 27 dilation and evacuation abortions performed in Indiana in 2017, state health department figures said. There were 7,778 abortions that year, meaning dilation and evacuation abortions made up 0.35 percent.

Most of these abortions followed prenatal testing that indicated serious health risks for either the unborn baby or the mother, the Northwest Indiana Times reported in April.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of two doctors who perform such abortions. The attorneys said the law would put a “substantial and unwarranted burden on women's ability to obtain second-trimester, pre-viability abortions.”

Barker, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, recently allowed an abortion clinic to open in South Bend, Indiana after the Indiana State Department of Health denied a license to the clinic operator on the grounds it had not provided required safety documentation.

The same day as the federal injunction against the law, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from backers of Alabama’s anti-dismemberment law in Harris v. West Alabama Women’s Center.

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the decision not to hear the Alabama law, but he said the legal challenge to it “serves as a stark reminder that our abortion jurisprudence has spiraled out of control.”

“The notion that anything in the Constitution prevents States from passing laws prohibiting the dismembering of a living child is implausible,” wrote Thomas.

He said the court’s conception of “undue burden” is “demonstrably erroneous.” An “undue burden” standard currently renders unconstitutional any law that is a “substantial obstacle” to a pregnant woman seeking an abortion before fetal viability.

At the same time, he said the Alabama law does not present the right pattern of facts to challenge American abortion precedent and the case was “too risky” for the high court to consider.

Other Indiana abortion laws have been heard in the federal courts.

In May the U.S. Supreme Court upheld part of a 2016 Indiana law requiring aborted babies to be cremated or buried. However, it declined to consider another part of the law that banned abortions based solely on the sex, race, or disability of the baby, on the grounds that the law raises issues that have not been adequately considered by appellate courts.

The legal status quo on abortion is in doubt given the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pro-life advocates have hoped that strong abortion restrictions will soon pass Supreme Court muster again, if precedents such as the 1973 Roe v. Wade case are changed or overturned.

Some states have passed bans on abortion based on when an unborn child’s heartbeat is detectable, as early as six weeks into pregnancy, while other states have passed laws that secure legal abortion even if the U.S. Supreme Court modifies or overturns precedent requiring legal abortion nationwide.

US Supreme Court agrees to hear Montana school choice case

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 18:18

Washington D.C., Jul 1, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case addressing the question of whether states can deny tax credit programs to parents and children who choose religious private schools.

“States cannot base laws on hostility to religion. Likewise, no provision of Montana’s constitution can enshrine hostility to religion into state law. We commend the Supreme Court for taking this case,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel John Bursch said in a June 28 statement.

The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, was decided 5-2 in the Montana Supreme Court late last year.

The ruling found that the state’s tax credit program, which provided for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for a person’s donation to nonprofit student scholarship organizations, permitted the Montana legislature to “indirectly pay tuition at private, religiously-affiliated schools” in violation of state law.

The Montana Supreme Court concluded that the tax credit program violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, and that the Montana state constitution was even stricter in this regard than the U.S. constitution.

On June 28 the Supreme Court granted cert, meaning it will review the case when the new term begins in October.

Bursch cited a Supreme Court case from 2017, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer, which ruled that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program. The state’s natural resources department ultimately ruled the church ineligible for the program because of its religious status, but the Supreme Court ruled that the denial of the church’s eligibility for the program violated the free exercise clause.

“As the U.S. Supreme Court unequivocally reaffirmed in that decision, states cannot impose ‘special disabilities on the basis of religious views or religious status,’” he said.

CNA reported in March on a proposed federal tax credit-based scholarship program could provide a boost for parents who want to send their children to Catholic school. The proposed scheme, which U.S. Department of Education calls Education Freedom Scholarships, would be funded through taxpayers’ voluntary contributions to state-identified Scholarship Granting Organizations. Should the propsal become law, donors will receive a federal tax credit equal to their contribution.

According to the education department, the tax credit program could mean “a historic investment in America’s students, injecting up to $5 billion yearly into locally controlled scholarship programs that empower students to choose the learning environment and style that best meets their unique needs.”

The National Catholic Educational Association, which includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S., is supportive of the plan.

A similar plan was considered earlier this year at the state level in Nebraska. That bill ultimately succumbed to filibuster in May.

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents “must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.”

“Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.”

HHS delays new conscience rights protections

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Jul 1, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A rule to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals will be delayed until the end of November, the Department of Health and Human Services announced July 1. 

The administration said that the new rule, which would cover doctors and other medical practitioners objecting to procedures like abortion, sterilization, or facilitating euthanasia, is being held up after being challenged in federal court.

The Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority rule was set to go into effect on July 22. The rule mandates that institutions receiving federal money be certified that they comply with more than two dozen laws protecting conscience and religious freedom rights. 

The new rule was announced in May. 

An HHS spokesperson told CNA Monday that, due to the “significant litigation” challenging the policy, “HHS agreed to a stipulated request to delay the effective date of the rule until November 22.” 

This delay permits “the parties more time to respond to the litigation and to grant entities affected by the rule more time to prepare for compliance.”

California filed suit against the Trump administration three weeks after the rule was announced. In a statement announcing the suit, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that the conscience rule was dangerous to American lives and that “a war is being waged on access to health care across our country.” 

Becerra was joined in the suit by the attorneys general from several other states. The suit is being heard in federal court in San Francisco. According to a statement released by the city, San Francisico could lose up to $1 billion in federal funding if the rule comes into effect since the city does not intend to comply with the conscience protection laws.

A statement posted on the website of San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, called the delay a victory for the city and said that Herrera had “won” against the Trump administration.

“We have won this battle — and it was an important one — but the fight is not over,” said Herrera. “The Trump administration is trying to systematically limit access to critical medical care for women, the LGBTQ community, and other vulnerable patients.”

Herrera wrote that “hospitals are no place to put personal beliefs above patient care,” and that “refusing treatment to vulnerable patients should not leave anyone with a clear conscience.”    

Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, said in a statement that he believes the rule is legal, and that it simply is an enforcement mechanism for policies that have existed for years. 

“The rule gives life and enforcement tools to conscience protection laws that have been on the books for decades,” he said in a statement provided to CNA. 

“Protecting conscience and religious freedom fosters greater diversity in the healthcare space. We will defend the rule vigorously.”

US-Mexico border bishops sorrowed by migrant deaths

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 16:43

Brownsville, Texas, Jul 1, 2019 / 02:43 pm (CNA).- The bishops on either side of the Rio Grande, where several migrants died last week, expressed Friday their sorrow over the deaths.

Bishops Daniel Flores of Brownsville and Eugenio Andres Lira Rugarcia of Matamoros wrote June 28 to “express with much pain the sorrow of the whole community upon hearing of the parents and children that have recently lost their lives upon crossing the Río Grande River, seeking a better life.”

Óscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria died June 23, drowning as they tried to cross the Rio Grande from Matamoros. Graphic images of their bodies floating on the riverbank circulated across the world after they were discovered.

The bodies of a mother and three children were also found recently near Anzalduas Park in Mission, Texas, about 70 miles northwest of Brownsville.

“We offer our condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have died, and we recall that over the course of years countless persons have lost their lives in a similar manner,” Bishop Flores and Lira wrote.

They added that “united the families that suffer these sorrows, with whom we have been able personally to speak and pray, we ask God the Father for the eternal rest of their deceased loved ones, and we ask that He fill loved ones who remain with strength and hope in these difficult moments.”

“As we recognize the good that many persons do for our migrant brothers and sisters, we invite everyone, governments and society, to be ever aware that migrants are persons like us; with dignity and rights, with needs, sorrows and hopes. We must all extend a hand to help them have a better future, following the teaching Jesus has given us: 'Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.'”

They concluded: “May Our Lady of Guadalupe intercede for us and obtain from God for us the wisdom, courage and strength to make it so.”

Martinez and his daughter, as well as his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, intended to apply for asylum in the US, but the international bridge from Matamoros was closed until Monday, so they chose to swim across the Rio Grande.

According to the New York Times, the family had left their home in El Salvador for economic reasons, and not to escape gang violence.

Tania, 21, is now at one of the migrant houses run by the Diocese of Matamoros.

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