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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Brooklyn diocese teaming with NYPD to search for church vandal 

4 hours 49 min ago

New York City, N.Y., Sep 18, 2019 / 10:00 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Brooklyn is partnering with the New York Police Department to find a woman suspected of causing thousands of dollars in damage to a Catholic parish in Queens over the last two weeks.

“This person needs to be brought to justice. We are working with the NYPD and we need to continue to foster an environment of respect,” said John Quaglione, a spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The attack on Saint Gerard Majella Catholic Church in the Hollis section of Queens, New York, has caused an estimated $10,000 in damages. Some of the damaged objects had recently been purchased through a fundraised by the Generation of Faith Diocesan campaign.

A woman was first caught on the church’s security cameras on Sept. 8, damaging two parish sign signs and tearing down potted plants. On Sept. 15, the same woman can be seen on security footage vandalising the sprinkler system and rosary plaques, the diocese said. She appeared carrying heavy tools, including a hack saw, which was used to remove a handrail on an outside staircase.

The identity of the woman is unknown. The authorities have asked anyone with information on the vandal to call CRIME STOPPERS at (800) 577-TIPS.

“It’s a kick in the stomach. It hurts,” said the Rev. Joseph Jude Gannon, pastor of Saint Gerard Catholic Church.

“It’s also a matter of time to make sure we get her before she hurts herself or others or before it escalates to something else,” he told CBS2 of the suspect.

Ganon specifically lamented the damage to the rosary plaques, which are handcrafted and imported from Italy. Twenty rosary tablets were torn down from stations around the church. All of them were thrown in the trash and several were broken. The damaged plaques will be sent to Italy for repair.

“These are hurtful attacks against the image of Mary and the parish,” said Gannon in a recent statement. “Such acts of religious intolerance have no place within our society, and every house of worship, regardless of their beliefs, should be respected.”

Bishops in US make the Real Presence a focus of their catechesis

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 21:01

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Six weeks after a Pew Research study found that only one-third of Catholics in the US believe that the bread and wine become at Mass the body and blood of Christ, bishops across the country are writing to the faithful in the hopes of educating them about this central tenet of the Catholic faith.

The study, released in early August, found that 31% of U.S. Catholics they surveyed believe that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist, through a process called transubstantiation, become the body and blood of Christ — a fundamental teaching of the Catholic faith, known as the Real Presence.

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria has released his 2020 annual teaching document, “The Real Presence”, a year early in the hopes of a renewed witness to the Real Presence.

“I...ask that this year and in coming years, at parish councils, religious houses, faculty meetings, chaplain meetings, RCIA and catechetical meetings, that our entire Local Church look for ways to reinforce our teaching and witness regarding the Blessed Sacrament,” Jenky wrote Sept. 16.

“It is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church, revealed by the Holy Spirit and preserved from any possibility of error, that the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ are truly and substantially present in the Most Holy Eucharist. This is not an opinion to be measured against any opinion poll but rather Divine Revelation as expressed by the absolute authority of Scripture and Tradition.”

In his letter, Jenky encouraged Eucharistic devotions such as Benediction, processions, visits, holy hours, and quiet times of personal prayer before the tabernacle.

“These Eucharistic devotions are obviously also intended to deepen our conscious recognition of the centrality of the Real Presence of Jesus within the liturgy of the Mass,” he wrote.

“Quiet Masses, sung Masses, solemn Masses, and especially the ordinary ritual Masses for weddings and funerals are certainly great opportunities to witness to our faith in the Eucharist as a pastoral gift to those who may have been poorly catechized or even have fallen away.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 1374 states: “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained’...it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."

In the Pew Research study, 69 percent of Catholics surveyed reported their belief that the bread and wine used during the Eucharist “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” This mindset made up a majority in every age group surveyed.

“Most Catholics who believe that the bread and wine are symbolic do not know that the church holds that transubstantiation occurs,” Pew reported.

“Overall, 43% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are symbolic and also that this reflects the position of the church. Still, one-in-five Catholics (22%) reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church’s teaching.”

Interestingly, a small percentage of those surveyed— 3%— claimed to believe in the Real Presence despite not knowing that this is what the Church teaches.

Bishop Jenky pointed to what he sees as a “noticeable decline in our ritual reverence and recognition” in recent decades.

“Sometimes our churches may seem more like hotel lobbies than an awesome House of God,” Jenky said.

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon addressed his flock in August regarding the results of the survey.

“These results have to be a real wake up call for all of us,” he wrote Aug. 30.

“To simply shrug our shoulders at such disturbing news and move on with business as usual is simply not an option. We must do everything in our power to reverse this trend. People will more easily grow lax in the practice of their faith, or drop out altogether, if they don’t understand and believe the mystery we celebrate in the Holy Eucharist and how that drives everything else we do in the ministry of the Church.”

Sample challenged those in the archdiocese’ Catholic schools, parish religious education programs, and adult faith formation programs to put a greater emphasis on the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist.

He also paralleled Jenky’s assessment of an overall decline in reverence for the Eucharist over the years.

“To put it bluntly, we have lost much of the reverence, awe and respect for the Holy Eucharist that we once had in the Church. How we celebrate the Holy Mass and treat the Blessed Sacrament are at the heart of this,” he said.

In robota Christi? Why robots can never be Catholic priests 

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 18:34

Denver, Colo., Sep 18, 2019 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- Once a man is ordained a priest for the Catholic Church, he acts, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “in persona Christi capitis”: in the person of Christ the Head.

During the ordination ceremony, the priest’s hands are anointed with oil, he lies prostrate on the ground to symbolize the laying down of his life, and the bishop’s hands are laid on his head. Like baptism and confirmation, ordination leaves an “indelible mark” on the priest’s soul.

During his priesthood, the priest uses his mouth to preach and to speak the words of blessing and consecration, his hands to elevate and distribute the Eucharist, and his heart, mind and soul to pray.

Now, what if the priest were a robot?

In an interview with Vox, Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio, who holds the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair of Theology at Villanova University, said that Catholicism should “reimagine” the priesthood and consider robots instead of, or alongside, men.

“The Catholic notion would say the priest is ontologically changed upon ordination. Is that really true?” Delio told Vox. “We have these fixed philosophical ideas and AI challenges those ideas - it challenges Catholicism to move toward a post-human priesthood.”

Delio said robotic priests would have certain advantages - including being incapable of committing sexual abuse.

But numerous Catholic experts told CNA that a robot priest would be sacramentally impossible in the Catholic Church, explicitly because they are not humans.

Sister Mary Christa Nutt, RSM, told CNA that robots cannot be priests because they are incapable of having an intellect or a will with which to cooperate with God’s grace.

“It has to do with our Catholic understanding of the need for human mediation, cooperation with interior grace,” Nutt told CNA.

“We're not dualists,” she said. “So we don't separate the importance of the rites, and the bodily involvement of all the senses in the rites are very important. But they don't of themselves suffice. There has to be the interior cooperation of intellect and will.”

Robots are programmed, she said, and are incapable of having a will and an intellect or an interior prayer life of their own. A human soul, conformed to Christ, and belonging to someone willing to participate in the sacraments, is what makes the grace of those sacraments efficacious, she said.

“We believe that the priest is in the person of Christ, so only a human being can participate in the person of Christ with intellect and will,” Nutt said.

“How would a robot cooperate by intellect and will interiorly with grace to be conformed to Christ ontologically? It just makes absolutely no sense. It's so outside the realm of possibility when you have a sacramental logic and you have absolutely no dualism in the religion,” she said.

Fr. John Kartje is the rector of Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. Kartje told CNA that his background in physics meant that he found the story about the possibility of robot priests intriguing.

He said that according to the article, Buddhist priests might be possible, because they are people simply guiding people along a path. But for Catholics, he said, their faith necessitates an encounter with a person - God.

“For Christians, prayer or any sort of religious activity is not primarily a path, but it's an encounter with a person...with God. And so, that for me is the fundamental distinction. What the priest is doing, he's acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ,” Kartje said.

“He's also helping to facilitate in a sacramental way making really present that encounter between the Catholic and the divine, but not just the divine as some sort of vague concept, but with the real person of God, that real person of Jesus Christ.”

Kartje added that that does not mean that Catholics should fear technological advancements or even artificial intelligence, because these can be helpful, even in the context of faith.

“I mean, in some degree, we all make use of simple artificial intelligence without thinking about it in the same way. Our phones are based on algorithms, which make decisions without our directly being involved with them,” he said. “Most priests have breviaries on their phones, which program ahead and let us pull up the (daily Mass) readings.”

Sister Nutt also said that technology can be a helpful tool in learning the faith. In the Vox article, author Sigal Samuel mentions the SanTO robots, developed by a Japanese roboticist, which resemble saint figurines and can recite certain prayers if prompted.

Such robots, Nutt said, could help children memorize prayers, but “the prayer has no significance outside of its material reality, unless it's said by a human being who offers it to God interiorly.”

When we are faced with advanced technologies, Fr. Kartje said, we should allow the questions that they bring about to help us hone our understanding and definitions of human beings and free will.

Still, he said, a robot could never replace a person, because it cannot encounter God or act on its own free will.

“A robot is the encounter of an algorithm with the natural world, and a human is the encounter of the divine with the natural world,” he said.

Dr. Kevin Miller, an associate professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA that in order to understand the priesthood, Catholics must look to Jesus Christ. And Jesus is, decidedly, not a robot.

“The sacraments are instituted by Christ and configure us to Christ in various ways. In Christ, God the Son took on a human nature ‘for us men (human beings) and for our salvation,’” he said, quoting the Nicene Creed.

“The sacraments are part of the same saving plan. The sacraments are for human beings, in the sense that they can be neither received nor administered by robots or AI devices or the like (or any other non-human created beings),” he said.

“All of this is, pace Sister Ilia Delio, ‘really true,’ and cannot be ‘reimagined.’”

Poll suggests a majority of Buffalo Catholics want Bishop Malone to resign

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 18:05

Buffalo, N.Y., Sep 18, 2019 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York is facing fresh calls for his resignation, after a local news organization commissioned a poll that suggests a majority of Catholics and lapsed Catholics in the diocese would like to see him step down because of his alleged mishandling of clerical sexual abuse cases.

A poll commissioned by The Buffalo News has found that among a sample of 473 Erie and Niagara County residents surveyed, nearly 86% said they believe Malone should step down. All of those surveyed self-identified as either “Catholic” or “lapsed Catholic.”

Of those surveyed, just 3% said they thought Malone should continue as bishop.

The diocese is home to over half a million Catholics out of a total population of 1.5 million.

In addition, local reporter Charlie Specht reported Sept. 17 that St. Joseph University Parish in northeast Buffalo took a poll at Masses last weekend, and found that of those surveyed, 504 parishioners wanted Malone to resign and 24 parishioners want him to stay.

Malone has so far remained firm in his conviction to remain as bishop, at least until he reaches the normal retirement age for bishops at 75. He is 73 now.

“I’m here because I feel an obligation as the one who was sent here to lead this diocese, to carry on, and once again, if I thought that the majority of Catholic people in particular were calling for my resignation, that would be a different story,” Malone said at a Sept. 4 news conference, as reported by The Buffalo News.

At least two whistleblowers with high-level access in the diocese— Malone’s former executive assistant and former priest secretary— have gone public with accusations that Malone mishandled several cases of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese, some of which involved minors.

One such case involves a priest accused of sending inappropriate Facebook messages to a minor. Malone reinstated the priest, Father Art Smith, to ministry in 2012 and allowed him not only to work at a diocesan Catholic youth conference, but also to minister at a nursing home, where reports of inappropriate conduct with adults later surfaced. Smith is currently listed on the diocesan page for clergy with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor.

In Sept. 2019, local news station WKBW released recordings of private conversations between Bishop Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, Malone’s former priest secretary, which appear to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the diocese removed the priest from ministry.

Biernat recorded the conversations as the bishop discussed how to deal with accusations against Fr. Jeffrey Nowak by then-seminarian Matthew Bojanowski, who in a January letter to Malone accused Nowak of grooming him, sexually harassing him, and violating the Seal of the Confessional.

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

In another, earlier conversation from March, Bishop Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of Bojanowski’s accusation against Nowak months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

WKBW published a report about allegations against Nowak in May. Nowak was not removed from ministry until Aug. 7, after the seminarian’s mother accused Malone of allowing Fr. Nowak to remain in ministry despite the allegations against him.

Biernat says he made the secret recording after Nowak became jealous of Biernat and Bojanowski’s close friendship.

According to a conversation taped Aug. 2, the bishop was concerned that media coverage would focus on a possible “love triangle” between Nowak, Bojanowski, and Biernat.

Biernat also says he was a victim of sexual abuse by Father Art Smith. He alleges that Auxiliary Bishop Grosz threatened to halt his ordination as a priest and have him deported to Poland after Biernat complained in 2004 to Buffalo Diocese administrators that Smith sexually assaulted him, according to The Buffalo News. Grosz denies this.

Biernat was also vice-chancellor of the diocese for a time, and was required to notarize documents from Bishop Malone keeping Father Smith in ministry.

Biernat is currently on a voluntary leave of absence.

Smith denies the allegations of abuse made against him. The diocese includes Smith’s name on its list of clergy with credible allegations of abuse of a minor.

The diocese has responded to various allegations of mishandling abuse cases by Malone, stating in August that “Bishop Malone has never allowed any priest with a credible allegation of abusing a minor to remain in ministry.”

"The bishop very much respects area Catholics' right to express their opinion," diocesan spokeswoman Kathy Spangler told The Buffalo News in response to the poll.

The diocese did not respond to CNA’s request for further comment on the poll by press time.

 

Maine bishop laments failed challenge to assisted suicide and abortion laws

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 17:30

Portland, Maine, Sep 18, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland, Maine, has expressed his disappointment at the failure of efforts to force a public vote on the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and taxpayer-funded abortion in the state. 

“I am saddened to learn that despite great opposition in the public to physician-assisted suicide and taxpayer-funded abortion, these issues will not be sent to a statewide vote,” said Deeley in a statement released on Sept. 18. 

Deeley, who leads the state’s only diocese, said that the two laws, which will now go into effect as written, will have “tragic consequences” and “contribute to a further deterioration of the common good.”

The separate campaigns each failed to attract enough signatures from registered voters to force the issues onto the ballot at a future state-wide election, petition drive organizers announced Wednesday, the day the laws go into effect and the legal deadline to mount a successful challenge. 

Deeley also noted that when Mainers were last allowed to vote on the question of euthanasia, in 2000, they rejected it, and expressed his frustration that voters would not be given a say this time.

“That the voice of Maine voters, whether they live in the very heart of the state or near any of its borders, will not be heard in a statewide referendum on both issues makes this a sad day for people of good will,” he said. 

Deeley warned that so-called assisted dying “desensitizes our young people and society at large to the inherent value of human life at a time when suicide rates are the highest that they have been since World War II. Suicide should never be presented as an option, but only recnogied for what it truly is, a tragedy.” 

Maine’s suicide rate is higher than the national average. 

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed a bill legalizing assisted suicide in the state in July, after much deliberation. She said it was the toughest decision that she had made in her legislative career, and that she hoped assisted suicide did not become commonplace. 

The failed people’s veto effort also means that Maine taxpayer dollars will go to fund abortions, and that every insurance plan offered in the state offering pregnancy coverage must also cover abortion.

The bishop said this law was “coercing people to act against their moral beliefs and ethical principles.”

“Understandably, outrage has grown since citizens have learned the true nature of this law. Abortion is not health care, and this law deprives families and individuals of the simple right to respect the dignity of human life,” said Deeley. 

A third petition, promoted by those opposed to “government-mandated vaccinations,” did gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Organizers of that petitioner are seeking, partly on religious freedom grounds, to overturn a law that ended all non-medical exemptions from required childhood vaccinations. Under the proposed law, children who are not vaccinated will not be permitted to attend public schools. 

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

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

Maine has one of the highest rates of kindergarteners who were not vaccinated due to “religious or philosophical” reasons. Some towns report that more than 15 percent of kindergarteners were not vaccinated, a lower rate than that of Sudan, Libya, and several sub-Saharan African countries. 

Maine also has the highest rate of whooping cough in the nation, a disease that is prevented by vaccine. 

Study finds U.S. abortion rates at all time low

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A new study from a Planned Parenthood thinktank released on Wednesday has found that abortion in the United States have dropped to its lowest rate since the procedure was made legal in 1973. 

The report from the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, estimated that there were approximately 862,000 abortions in 2017. The rate of 13.5 abortions per 1,000 “women of reproductive age,” marks a drop of 3.4 from 2011, and half of the rate in 1980. 

Overall, the total number of abortions fell by 196,000 over the past six years, with just over 500,000 of 2017 abortions carried out via abortion pills, as opposed to a surgical method. 

The report suggested that increased availability of contraception, including long-term contraceptives such as intrauterine devices, not state laws restricting abortion, were responsible for the drop. This conclusion was disputed by the pro-life organization the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which suggested that cultural change over time has played a significant role. 

“We welcome the new report showing the decline in both the abortion rate and the overall number of abortions from 2011 to 2017. There are several reasons for this positive news, including factors that Guttmacher does their best to ignore,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute. 

“American mothers are increasingly choosing life for their children, as well as choosing to identify themselves with the pro-life cause and pro-life policies. This includes the broad protections for women and children being enacted at the state level such as strengthened health and safety standards for abortion facilities, limits on public funding of abortion, parental involvement laws, and increased informed consent,” he added.

Donovan also expressed concern at the increasing percentage of women who opt to end their pregnancies using chemical abortifacients. This, he said, “reveals the abortion industry’s increasingly successful effort to cut the overhead costs of surgical abortion while still profiting off the destruction of unborn children and wounding of his or her mother.” 

“The industry’s migration to chemical self-abortion is deeply disturbing as it carries with it the possibility of increasing the overall abortion rate over time and also carries with it a higher rate of injury, about which women are often under informed or deceived,” he added.

Guttmacher’s report found that nearly one out of five abortion clinics, or “nonhospital facilities,” had reported treating a woman who had attempted and failed to induce an abortion on her own. They termed this a “self-managed abortion.” 

There are many organizations that will facilitate delivery of abortion drugs to women through the mail, and they are easily accessed online. 

The new data on the lowest abortion rates recorded comes just weeks after a report on declining  pregnancies and fertility rates in the United States. 

In July, the CDC confirmed that fertility rates in the United States had dropped to their lowest rate ever.

“The 2018 general fertility rate fell to another all-time low for the United States,” researchers with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics wrote in a July 24 report.

The fertility rate among women aged 15 to 44 dropped 2% between 2017 and 2018, from 60.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, to 59.1.

According to the early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, fewer than 3.8 million children were born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.

Senate confirms Catholic law professor as Asst. Secretary of State

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 13:40

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2019 / 11:40 am (CNA).- The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm a prominent Catholic law professor to a high-ranking State Department position.

By a margin of 49 to 44, Robert Destro, a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, was confirmed by the Senate as the next Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined Democrats in opposition to Destro’s confirmation.

“Robert Destro is one of the nation's experts on human rights, both in terms of international law and the moral basis for human rights,” Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, told CNA in a statement, noting Destro’s experience both as a human rights scholar and activist “in the best sense of that term.”

Destro’s new role at the State Department is tasked with promoting democracy, civic and religious freedom around the world.

It “is the senior human rights position in American diplomacy,” Farr said, charged with promoting human rights “not simply as the right thing to do (which it is), but also as a strategic interest of the United States.”

“Destro will excel in both tasks,” Farr said.

Destro is the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at Catholic University; he previously served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1983 to 1989, addressing issues of discrimination on the basis of disability, national origin, and religion.

He has also served on the State Department’s Working Group on Religion in Foreign Affairs, as well as the special counsel for voting rights for the Ohio Secretary of State from 2004 to 2006.

Stephen C. Payne, dean of Catholic’s law school, said he was “thrilled” by the appointment, and that in Destro the “country -- and the rest of the world -- is getting a strong advocate and leader for Democracy and Human Rights, and we wish him well.”

The appointment was also welcomed by Toufic Baaklini, president of the group In Defense of Christians (IDC), who cited Destro’ years of work with the group and called him “a critical leader in the fight for genocide recognition for victims of ISIS in Iraq and Syria” and “a powerful voice for religious freedom in the Middle East, and throughout the world.”

Senate Democrats questioned Destro at his confirmation hearing in March over the role of religion in foreign affairs as well as the redefinition of marriage.

Destro said that he would work to improve both training on religious freedom and understanding of the role of religion in foreign affairs within the State Department, and cited his own past work bringing various religious groups together on the international stage.

Destro said that he had learned from “the many years that I have been dealing with the State Department” that many at the agency “have had a hard time dealing with the issue of religion, and that’s one of the issues I’d like to bring to their attention.”

Later in the hearing, he explained that the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016—authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and signed into law by President Obama—required religious freedom training for all foreign service officers.

Destro said he would work to expand on that, saying that “not only do the foreign service officers need to be trained, but so do the lawyers at the State Department and at USAID.”

“I think that we need to bring people together, and I’ve devoted most of my career, for at least the last 16 years, to doing just that,” he said of bringing religious groups together.

Philosophy professor: Live Action, Facebook dispute shows definitions matter

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Sep 18, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A dispute has developed between Facebook fact checkers and a pro-life group about whether abortion is ever medically necessary. One philosophy professor suggested the key to resolving the discussion lies in a clear definition of abortion.

“I think the inherent ambiguity of ‘abortion’ – the gap between its medical and social meanings – gets used as a tool to muddy up the debate,” said Dr. Angela Knobel, a philosophy professor at The Catholic University of America.

In recent weeks, the investigative pro-life group Live Action has raised objections, after it was penalized by Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program.

Through a program launched in December 2016, Facebook uses more than 54 third-party fact-checking partners, who label content that they determine to be false or misleading. The fact-checkers must be certified through a non-partisan fact-checking network.

Pages that consistently publish or share information marked as “false” by fact-checkers are penalized with a reduction in their reach and the loss of the ability to advertise.

On Aug. 30, Live Action was informed that a video it had created and posted was labeled “false” by fact checkers, and that the distribution of their posts would be lowered as a result.

According to Live Action, the video featured a neonatal-perinatal physician and had been flagged as false because it made the claim that “abortion is never medically necessary.”

On the same day, Health Feedback, a website operated by Science Feedback, one of Facebook’s six U.S. fact-checking partners, published a feedback review of Live Action’s claim.

The Health Feedback review pulled from a website operated by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which defines abortion as “a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus.”

The review charges that Live Action “redefines the meaning of abortion to exclude the cases when abortion is medically necessary,” in order, it said, to claim that abortion is not actually necessary.

The review cites the example of an ectopic pregnancy, in which an embryo implants outside the uterus. The embryo is unable to survive in this situation, which is also life-threatening to the mother if not promptly removed.

Live Action says that in such a case, removing the fallopian tube or a portion of it, is not an abortion because, although it results in the death of the unborn child,  it does not have as its goal the death of the child.

Knobel said the debate essentially comes down to definitions.

Live Action defines abortion as “the intentional killing of a preborn child.” In some cases when a medical emergency arises, the group says, it may be necessary to induce labor early, when the baby has little – or even no – chance of survival. But this differs from abortion, Live Action says, because the death of the baby is not intended, but rather accepted as an undesired outcome of treating the mother’s medical condition.

This distinction is important, Knobel said, because how one defines abortion determines whether one believes it is ever medically necessary.

“Live Action is referring correctly to the social meaning the term abortion has taken on — the direct, intentional killing of a pre-born child,” she said. In contrast, the Facebook fact checkers are “referring to the technical medical definition, and according to the very old, very technical, non-social medical definition, ‘abortion’ actually is sometimes medically necessary.”

Knobel suggested that the difference in the definitions can cause confusion.

“The medical meaning gets used as a tool to insist that what conservatives want will kill and oppress women,” she said. “Because when people read headlines, it’s the social, not the medical meaning of abortion they assume. So they come away believing that abortion (understood socially) is necessary for women’s health, when of course that’s not true.”

Live Action objected to the August fact-check, saying the doctors who carried it out also performed abortions, and that one is a board member of the pro-abortion group NARAL. Live Action said it is a violation of Facebook policy for fact-checkers to advocate on the issues they fact check.

On Sept. 12, Live Action founder Lila Rose said Facebook had removed the page violations and was investigating the matter. Rose said that Live Action could still face future penalties pending the result of that investigation.

But as pro-life legislation moves forward at both a state and federal level, the debate over definitions is not over. Knobel stressed that wording is important in preserving the legality of life-saving procedures that do not intend to end a human life.

For example, she said, a woman may spontaneously miscarry, but her body does not naturally expel the baby, and a dilation-and-curettage procedure is necessary to remove the baby’s body.

This is similar to the dilation-and-evacuation procedure commonly used in second trimester abortions. Using the procedure to remove the remains of already-deceased baby may fall under some technical definitions of abortion, but would not match the social definition of abortion, Knobel said.

A 2015 Oklahoma law currently being challenged in court bans dilation-and-evacuation abortions. But the text of the legislation explicitly clarifies that a procedure intending to save an unborn child’s life, or to remove the body of a dead unborn child, is not considered an abortion under the law.

This type of clarification is important to avoid confusion, Knobel said.

“[I]f our efforts ever succeed, we need to make sure we don’t make laws the prohibit things we don’t actually intend to prohibit.”
 

 

Oklahoma judge denies effort to halt ban on D&E abortions

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 02:39

Oklahoma City, Okla., Sep 18, 2019 / 12:39 am (CNA).- The Oklahoma County District Court has denied a motion to pause a law banning a common abortion procedure during the second trimester.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Cindy Truong declined to issue a temporary injunction that would have stopped the bill from going into effect while the case progresses.

Officials have agreed to wait until the Oklahoma Supreme Court considers an emergency motion before enforcing the ban.

The law bars dilation-and-evacuation abortions, which remove an unborn baby from the womb with clamps, scissors, or similar medical tools. It is the most common abortion procedure during the second trimester.

The legislation specifies that use of the procedure intending to save an unborn child’s life, or to remove the body of a miscarried unborn child, is not considered an abortion under the law.

The law had been challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights in 2015, shortly after then-Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed the bill into law. On July 12, 2019, Judge Truong upheld the ban.

Autumn Katz, a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the group would continue to fight against the ban as the case advances to the state Supreme Court.

“Oklahoma’s law is part of this orchestrated national strategy that we’ve seen where states are passing hundreds of restrictions on abortion ... [including] these kinds of D&E bans and many other restrictions on abortion that are completely politically motivated and designed to push abortion out of reach for women,” Katz told HuffPost.

The law is one of several pro-life measures in recent years to have passed in Oklahoma and brought to court. In May, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a law restricting the use of abortion medication.

H.B. 2684 required all abortion clinics to follow the protocol established by the FDA in 2000 instead of a 2016 update, which endorsed an off-label use of abortion medication three weeks later into pregnancy.

Pro-life leaders argued that the updated protocol would place more women at risk for complications. The Oklahoma Supreme Court disagreed, stating that the restriction placed  “a substantial obstacle in the path of women’s choice.”

Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City), President Pro Tempore of the Senate, decried the decision. He said the law was a legitimate effort to protect women’s health and safety.

“This measure was intended to protect the health and safety of women who sought a medication abortion by requiring the abortionist to follow the instructions on the pill bottle,” he said, according to The Oklahoman.

Austin bishop saddened by city's intention financially to support abortion

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 19:01

Austin, Texas, Sep 17, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Last week the Austin City Council voted to provide funding for costs associated with abortion, a move that was protested by the city's bishop when it was proposed in August.

The city council voted Sept. 10 to provide $150,000 for transportation, lodging, or childcare for Austin residents seeking to procure abortion.

“I am saddened by the recent news that members of the Austin City Council are working on a proposal to increase financial support for access to abortion in the community,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin had said Aug. 21.

“I, along with the Catholic Church, continue to affirm the intrinsic value of human life and the dignity of every person in a way that transforms culture,” he stated.

He added that the funds “would be better used to provide emotional, material and spiritual support for pregnant women and families in need.”

“Please join me in continuing to work with our government leaders, praying that all life will be protected from conception to natural death,” Bishop Vasquez said.

Texas had passed a law earlier in the year banning local governments from financially supporting abortion providers. The state law was in reaction to Austin's decision to lease a building to Planned Parenthood for $1 a year.

Sen. Donna Campbell, who authored the Texas law, said she was unsurprised Austin would “use taxpayer dollars to pay for transportation and lodging to those seeking an abortion.”

Austin's decision has been challenged in a lawsuit by former councilman Don Zimmerman, who charges the policy violates a state law criminalizing the furnishing of “means for procuring an abortion knowing the purpose intended,” the Texas Tribune reported.

Texas has adopted several laws regulating abortion in recent years.

A study published in March found that the number of abortions procured in Texas decreased 18 percent after the application of a 2013 law regulating abortion clinics. Though the total number of abortions fell, the number of abortions procured during the second trimester increased.

Pro-life policies and border funding fuel Congressional budget deadlock

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- With the end-of-the-month deadline for Congress to pass legislation to fund the federal government fast approaching, lawmakers remain at odds over a series of issues, including key pro-life policies, making the need for a short-term extension agreement likely.

Such a funding extension—a Continuing Resolution (CR)—would be “the best thing for pro-lifers right now,” Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, told CNA last week.

McClusky’s analysis came after Senate Democrats tried twice last week to insert pro-abortion measures into appropriations bills, resulting in two of the 12 bills meant to fund federal agencies being pulled from consideration.

The two amendments would have rolled back pro-life administration policies, the Title X “Protect Life Rule” and the expanded Mexico City Policy. Both are protections against taxpayer funding of abortions at home and abroad.

One of the policies, the “Protect Life Rule” which went into effect in August, clarified that any recipients of Title X family planning funding could not refer for women for abortions or collocate in the same facility with abortion clinics.

The administration’s expanded version of the Mexico City Policy applies restrictions to federal funding of abortions abroad to over $8.8 billion of U.S. foreign assistance, barring funding of foreign non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortions.

Two Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee—Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)—were expected to vote for the amendments. In response, the legislation was pulled from consideration before it could reach a scheduled markup hearing last Thursday.

Senators from both parties are also at odds over other issues in the appropriations process, including border wall funding.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cited the budget agreement struck between President Trump and Congressional leaders in July, and said Democrats were walking back their agreement not to insert “poison pill” amendments into appropriations bills.

McConnell added that he was moving to advance a package of House-passed appropriations bills in the Senate before resorting to a CR.

“They include several of the domestic funding bills along with the legislation to fund the Department of Defense. There should be no reason for Democrats to vote against this first procedural step,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday criticized Senate Republicans for “acting in a totally partisan way” by seeking to allocate an additional $12 billion in funding of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, in part by taking funding from medical research, opioid treatment and funding for military families.

“This is a stunt if I’ve ever seen one. Putting this bill—$12 billion more for the wall, no buy-in from Democrats—for a vote. It will lose. We know it will lose,” Schumer said on the Senate Floor on Tuesday.

As the Senate considers the 12 appropriations bills which must be passed before the end of the 2019 fiscal year, the House is now working on a CR in case the bills do not suceed, the text of which was yet to be released by Tuesday afternoon. House leaders indicated that a vote on a CR was likely before the end of the week.

While debate among legislators continued, a Continuing Resolution would at keep funding at the “status quo” level without the threat of new pro-abortion amendments in the meantime, McClusky told CNA last week.

A scenario that would be concerning, he added, would be the passage of a CR combined with an omnibus bill which would provide new funding for certain government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year in the “omnibus” section—while providing a short-term funding extensions for other government agencies in the CR section.

McClusky said that, because such a bill would be a much larger and more comprehensive piece of legislation than a simple CR, it would be harder for members to keep track of amendments as they were added—including controversial amendments to repeals of pro-life policies.

McClusky told CNA that the Congressional appropriations proves was in clear need of reform. “This is their day job,” he said.

Cincinnati archbishop 'anticipating' Vatican investigation into handling of abuse case

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 16:37

Cincinnati, Ohio, Sep 17, 2019 / 02:37 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati has submitted a report to Rome, following criticism of the archdiocese’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse against a local priest.

Archdiocesan officials told CNA Sept. 17 that a complete file on the case of Fr. Geoff Drew has been sent to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, DC, for transmission to the relevant curial departments, expected to include the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA that a “full report” was sent to Rome via the nuncio on Aug. 30, and that Archbishop Schnurr “anticipates that the Vatican may order a full investigation” into the handling of the case.

“Archbishop Schnurr takes any accusations of sexual abuse very seriously, as well as any possible lapse in internal procedures for handling allegations,” the spokesperson told CNA.

Fr. Geoff Drew was arrested August 19 on a nine-count indictment for sexual abuse. The charges date back 30 years to before Drew’s time in ministry, when he was a music minister at a local parish. The accusations concern abuse said to have taken place over two years, when the reported victim was 10 and 11 years old. Drew pled not guilty during an Aug. 21 arraignment hearing. If convicted, the priest could face life in prison.

At the time of his arrest, Drew had already been removed from ministry following a several of allegations of misconduct with teenage boys which came to light in July and August.

Despite a series of complaints raised over a period of years, Drew had been able to remain in ministry and allowed to transfer from the parish of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Liberty Township, OH, to the parish of St. Ignatius, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese.

The handling of Drew’s case by archdiocesan officials, and his ability to transfer to another parish, has drawn heavy criticism from the priest’s former parishioners, who have asked how it was possible that a series of complaints was made to Church authorities and forwarded to local law enforcement, but resulted in no action against Drew.

In August, CNA reported that Cincinnati auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer had failed to inform Schnurr and the archdiocesan priest personnel board about past allegations against Drew dating back to 2013 and 2015.

As head of priest personnel, Binzer was in charge of the process that considers requests and proposals for priest reassignments, in conjunction with the priest personnel board. Neither the board nor the archbishop were made aware of the multiple complaints against Drew, and a 2018 transfer between parishes was approved for the priest.

After CNA presented its investigation to the archdiocese, a spokesperson said that Binzer would be removed from his position as head of priest personnel, effective immediately, while the archdiocese began its own internal investigation.

On Aug. 6 Binzer resigned from the USCCB’s committee on child and youth protection, which advises the bishops’ conference on all matters related to safe environment policy and child protection. Binzer had been serving as the regional representative for the dioceses of Ohio and Michigan.

The failure of bishops to act on allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse has been the focus of successive scandals in the Church in the past year. In addition to accounts that accusations against former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick were ignored by Church authorities over a period of years, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report revived criticism of past occasions where bishops ignored complaints against predator clergy.

The allegations that Binzer internally withheld the allegations against Drew came just weeks after the USCCB met in Baltimore to adopt measures aimed at building processes to address episcopal misconduct or neglect, and the ongoing crisis of credibility widely perceived to overshadow ongoing work to eliminate sexual abuse from the Church.

These measures included a set of directives applying in the U.S. the new universal norms for investigating allegations against bishops promulgated by Pope Francis in Vos estis lux mundi and which came into force on June 1.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese could not confirm whether Archbishop Schnurr had included a request for an investigation into Binzer’s conduct under the provisions of Vos estis, in the report submitted at the end of August, or whether Binzer will be the subject of the “anticipated” Vatican investigation.

“Archbishop Schnurr sent the full report to Rome on the whole case and he is waiting for the Vatican’s response,” the spokesperson told CNA.

Beware scammers, Cardinal Dolan warns, after online fraudster targets followers

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 16:00

New York City, N.Y., Sep 17, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York issued a statement Monday clarifying that he will not and has never used social media to privately solicit donations. The cardinal made the statement in response to an online scam operation being conducted using his name to solicit funds.

“I've heard from some of you you've received Facebook or Twitter messages from an account pretending to be me,” said the archbishop on Twitter Sept. 16. “Please know I will never reach out privately on social media to ask for donations.”

Dolan encouraged anyone who had been asked to donate money by an account purporting to be him on Twitter or Facebook to report it to the archdiocese. 

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York told CNA that they had received “several reports” that someone impersonating Cardinal Dolan was requesting money from people, “ostensibly for charitable purposes,” and that this was not the first time something like this has happened.

“Sadly, we’ve seen this scam being used in the past few months with other religious figures - pastors, priests, other clergy - being impersonated, and so wanted to remind people that Cardinal Dolan will never solicit donations in this way,” said Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese’s director of communications.  

Zwilling added that, “While the internet and social media can be great tools of evangelization, they can also be used by unscrupulous individuals seeking to ‘rip-off’ trusting and generous people.” 

“It’s always a good idea to be cautious, and double or triple check, especially online, that the person is who he or she claims to be!” 

These types of scams are called “phishing,” and are relatively common. A “phisher” will pose as either a known, trusted person or as a website, and request money, passwords, or other protected information. Frequently, phishers will create spoof emails and addresses that look like genuine emails from an organization or person in order to harvest passwords and credit card information from an unsuspecting victim. 

A person can protect themselves from phishing by using security tools like two-factor authentication, and exercising constant vigilance before sending personal information or money electronically. Electronic security experts advise considering if any request is typical policy for an organization, and to take a step back before blindly giving away sensitive info. 

Other safety recommendations include checking the full email or account address to ensure the authenticity of the sender or, in the example of a public figure such as Cardinal Dolan, to see if the social media account is verified as authentic. 

Massachusetts bishops say action is urgently needed on climate change

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 14:25

Boston, Mass., Sep 17, 2019 / 12:25 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Massachusetts warned in a new pastoral letter that climate change has reached a crisis level and requires decisive action. They encouraged Catholics to embrace the message of stewardship in Pope Francis 2015 encyclical, Laudato si’.

“In our home state of Massachusetts, we are blessed with inspiring natural beauty from the seashore on the east coast to the majestic mountain vistas in the west - with rolling hills, vibrant communities and rich farmlands throughout the state,” the bishops said.

They encouraged the faithful to reflect on this created beauty as a gift from God.

“To protect and sustain this gift we must act now within our faith institutions and throughout the state to take substantial, meaningful steps to protect our environmental [sic] and provide relief from the impact of toxic pollution and climate change to protect the health and safety of all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable in our society,” they said.

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Bishop Edgar da Cunha of Fall River, and Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield released a pastoral letter this week. They cited reports indicating that climate change has reached a point of unprecedented urgency.

This past July was the hottest month ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, which found that worsening wildfires, hurricanes and heat waves could continue affecting the United States, leading to a more than $400 billion impact on the U.S. economy each year, if climate change is not addressed.

The bishops also noted that world food security is at risk, due to changes in climate, according the United Nations, which estimates that there may be as little as 12 years to significantly cut global emissions in order to limit the rising temperature of the earth and prevent more catastrophic consequences.

The Massachusetts bishops pointed to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home as a model to follow in working to fight climate change.

In that encyclical, Pope Francis warns of increasing global temperatures and rising sea levels, saying, “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”

With an eye to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, the Massachusetts bishops called on individuals, schools, parishes and businesses to examine what they can do to be better stewards of the created world around them.

“Every person’s actions will depend on their life circumstance and their commitment to protect our natural resources,” they said.

“Families should discuss their concerns about the environment and how their lifestyle and consumption is contributing to the climate changes and other environmental degradation. Parishes should integrate Catholic social teaching on the environment in their liturgy and in their religious education program,” they continued. “Action is needed at all levels of government to encourage replacement of fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy while ensuring that the most vulnerable in society are protected from harm during this transition.”

The bishops echoed Pope Francis’ call for an “integral ecology,” saying that such an ecology “respects the dignity of each person, identifies a moral obligation to protect the environment, and promotes social justice by supporting responsible economic development with respect for all people and the earth.”

Louisville's Archbishop Kurtz will return to Kentucky before cancer surgery

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 12:03

Denver, Colo., Sep 17, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who announced in July a diagnosis of the most common form of bladder cancer, said Sept. 16 that his surgeon will allow him to return to his diocese around Oct. 20 for three weeks.

Kurtz, who served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2013 to 2016, has been staying in North Carolina for the duration of his treatment at the Duke University Cancer Institute.

“This date will mark the completion of the chemotherapy and immunotherapy and will allow me to be strengthened for the radical surgery that will occur at the Duke Cancer Institute on November 11,” Kurtz wrote on his blog.

“After the surgery, I hope to be released by my surgeon at Thanksgiving.”

Kurtz stepped down from leading the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ religious liberty committee a few weeks after announcing his diagnosis. Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, has been appointed as his replacement and will serve as acting chair of the committee until the November 2019 General Assembly meeting.

Kurtz said he has been sad to miss the many visits he would typically take throughout the summer to the various parishes in the archdiocese. He asked for continued prayers.

“While urothelial carcinoma is somewhat common, the form I have and its location is not,” he continued.

“Because of the aggressive nature of the cancer, I will be required to have this radical surgery on November 11 and should find out by Thanksgiving what ongoing treatment or limitations will be present.”

Kurtz said in July that Archbishop Christoph Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, was aware of his illness and imminent absence from his archdiocese, and was “supportive of the plan I have developed.”

He said his vicar general, Father Martin Linebach, traveled to North Carolina recently to “continue to develop pastoral directions on the horizons before us,” and next week diocesan Chancellor Dr. Brian Reynolds, Chancellor, and Vicar for Priests Father Jeff Shooner will visit North Carolina for additional discussions about pastoral issues for the fall.

He said his stamina remains good but he must still avoid crowds because of the risk of infection.

According to the American Cancer Society, urothelial carcinoma is the most common form of bladder cancer. The five-year relative survival rates for all stages of bladder cancer is 77 percent.

 

California Catholic Conference asks governor to veto college abortion bill

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 02:05

Sacramento, Calif., Sep 17, 2019 / 12:05 am (CNA).- California legislators passed a bill Friday that would require all state universities to offer medication abortions, despite the objections of pro-life leaders.

In a Sept. 16 statement, Andrew Rivas, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, encouraged California Governor Gavin Newsom to oppose the bill.

“We urge him to veto this unprecedented and unnecessary legislation because it purposely narrows a young woman’s choices and puts the state’s prestigious academic institutions in a position of actually promoting, facilitating and potentially funding only abortions,” he said.

The California State Assembly voted 55-19 in favor of the bill. It had passed through the Senate in May. Newsom has a month to decide whether to veto the bill or sign it into law.

Currently, a majority of campus health centers offer gynecological services and contraceptives, but they will refer students seeking an abortion to an off-campus abortion clinic. If the bill passes, all 34 public universities throughout California will be required to offer medical abortions for the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy.

The proposal would be funded by the College Student Health Center Sexual and Reproductive Health Preparation Fund, which would be established under the bill and administered through the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

The bill would require nearly $10.3 million in private money to be raised before Jan 1, 2020. According to the New York Times, supporters said the amount has already been raised. The money would be used to train staff and buy medical equipment. State law already requires abortion costs to be covered by insurers.

A spokesperson declined to comment on what Newsom intends to do, but during his campaign last year, he supported a similar bill vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the bill was “not necessary” because abortion services were “widely available” off-campus.

Sen. Connie Leyva, sponsor of the bill, said the legislation comes at a time when other states are “rolling back women’s health care.” She said California is leading the charge in reproductive rights.

“SB 24 reaffirms the right of every college student to access abortion. By ensuring that abortion care is available on campus, college students will not have to choose between delaying important medical care or having to travel long distances or miss classes or work,” she said, according to The Sacramento Bee.

The California Catholic Conference said the bill overemphasizes abortion as an option for college pregnancies. While the bill invites health centers to include abortion counseling services, the conference said it is “specifically written in such a way to exclude pro-life counseling.”

“This bill will promote only abortion-inducing drugs on college campuses,” said Rivas. “No government-funded institution, medical or counseling center, should ever provide only one set of services. If this bill is truly about providing choices for female students, the state should then also require and fund life-affirming services on campus.”

“Offering state-funded abortions as the only alternative to pregnancy undermines the ability of a state academic institution to promote the value of diversity and the empowerment of women,” he added.

Rivas said college-age women deserve a safe and supportive environment when faced with a pregnancy. He said campus centers should offer services like pregnancy counseling, childcare, housing assistance, and adoption.

“The life and dignity of every person is due respect and protection at every stage and in every condition. The right to life is the first and most fundamental principle of human rights. As Catholics, we recognize the sacredness and primacy of human life and we oppose any legislation or attempt to deny the basic human right to life,” he said.

Other groups, including the Department of Finance and California’s major university systems, have also questioned the bill’s effectiveness and potential problems with its implementation.

According to The Sacramento Bee, the Department of Finance said the program will likely exceed the established fund and expressed doubt that the commission had enough experience to lead a program of this size.

The New York Times reported that the University of California and California State University systems have raised questions about financial logistics and liability. If the private implementation fund is exhausted, the costs would have to be covered by the universities, who might then have to increase student health fees.

California’s bishops have also condemned the bill. In July, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop James Soto of Sacramento encouraged their parishioners to oppose the bill.

“If we are going to be the people God calls us to be, if we are going to restore and renew the Church and rebuild society, then we need a new dedication to living our Catholic identity and communicating that identity in everything we do, from our schools and religious education programs to the way we live our faith in society,” Gomez said in the Angelus, the archdiocesan publication.

“This is unprecedented intrusion on university campuses. It is unnecessary and only serves to further indoctrinate the young to the ideology of abortion,” said Soto in a pastoral letter. “We must continue our efforts to stop this deadly piece of legislation. The womb should not become a tomb for any child anywhere in our state. Women and children deserve better.”

Ousted Planned Parenthood president says board violating contract on terms of exit

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 17:59

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2019 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- Dr. Leana Wen, the former president of Planned Parenthood whom the board fired in July amid a dispute over the group’s mission, is reportedly still locked in a contract disagreement with the board over the terms of her exit.

According to reports, Wen says that Planned Parenthood is refusing to give her severance pay and pay for her family’s health insurance unless she agrees to a gag clause.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Wen had on Sept. 9 sent a 1,400 word letter to Planned Parenthood’s Board of Directors, accusing the organization of withholding her contractually-mandated health insurance and severance pay as “ransom” to pressure her to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The Times has not released the full text of the letter, and Wen has expressed her disappointment that the letter leaked to the press.

“There should be no dispute regarding the terms of my employment contract, which are clearly spelled out,” she said in a statement.

Melanie Newman, a senior vice president for communications at Planned Parenthood, called Wen’s accusations “unfortunate, saddening, and simply untrue.”

“The attorneys representing the board have made every good faith effort to amicably part from Dr. Wen, and are disappointed that they have been unable to reach a suitable resolution regarding her exit package,” she said, as quoted by the Times.

According to the Times, Newman stated that Wen has remained on payroll during the negotiations and will be salaried through mid-October, with health benefits through the end of that month. She said Planned Parenthood had offered Wen a full additional year of salary and health benefits.

Wen took the reigns at Planned Parenthood in September 2018, following the 12-year presidency of Cecile Richards. She was president until July 16, when she announced that the “board ended my employment at a secret meeting.”

“We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood,” she said via Twitter.

Wen cited philosophical differences with the new board chairs over the direction that the organization should be moving. Wen has said she firmly believes Planned Parenthood to be a healthcare organization, not primarily a political advocacy organization.

“The new Board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy,” Wen said.

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion performer in the United States. In 2016, the organization performed about one out of every three abortions.

Alexis McGill Johnson, a former political organizer, was named acting president after Wen’s ouster, and the organization has said that they hope to appoint a new president by the end of 2019.

Wen said in her September letter, as quoted by the Times, that “there is a vocal minority” including many national staff and board members “who prefer a stridently political, abortion-first philosophy.”

Wen has recently announced her new position as visiting professor at George Washington University, and also that she and her husband are expecting a baby.

Former Planned Parenthood director-turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson told CNA that Planned Parenthood is “once again showing their true loyalties” and that she hopes Wen will open up about her experience. Johnson left her position as Planned Parenthood and founded And Then There Were None, an organization that seeks to help abortion clinic workers leave the abortion industry.

“Dr. Wen has been horribly betrayed by Planned Parenthood. It's heartbreaking to watch her former employer throw her under the bus because she dared to question their commitment to actual healthcare,” Johnson said in a statement to CNA.

“They don't value their employees because they don't value people, especially pregnant women, who they see more as dollar signs than human beings.”

Johnson has been publicly reaching out to Wen on Twitter to encourage her to speak confidentially about her situation.

"Dr. Wen doesn't need to go through this ordeal alone,” Johnson said.

“I sincerely hope she knows she has an ally in me, someone who went through a similar situation and who has not only excellent attorneys but also a vast network of support through And Then There Were None who would welcome Dr. Wen with open arms.”

In the past decade, Planned Parenthood has seen its number of patients decline. The number of cancer screenings, contraceptives distributed, and prenatal services provided by the organization decreased as well.

Abortions, however, have increased by about 10 percent since 2006, despite Planned Parenthood seeing fewer patients.

 

More than 2,000 aborted remains discovered at doctor's home

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 17:30

South Bend, Ind., Sep 16, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- An investigation has been launched by police after more than 2,000 remains of aborted children were found at the former home of late-term abortionist Dr. Ulrich “George” Klopfer in Will County, Illinois. 

Klopfer passed away on September 3. Nine days later, an attorney representing his family contacted the Will County coroner's office, reporting that “medically preserved fetal remains” had been discovered on the property and requesting proper removal. It was discovered that a total of 2,246 fetal remains were on the property. 

Authorities say there is no evidence that Klopfer was performing abortions at his house in Illinois.

The Will County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment further to CNA, citing the open and ongoing investigation into the remains and deferring all questions to a forthcoming press conference.

It is unknown what the approximate gestational ages of the fetal remains are, how old the remains were, or where the abortions took place. It is not legal to transport fetal remains over state lines, and abortion in Indiana is not legal past the 22nd week of pregnancy. If the abortions were found to have been performed on older fetuses, Klopfer also would have been guilty of this crime as well. 

Klopfer’s medical license was suspended in 2016 following numerous safety and legal violations in the state of Indiana.

Prior losing his medical license, Klopfer was believed to be one of the most prolific abortionists in Indiana. Over his four-decade career, he is estimated to have aborted more than 30,000 children. He worked at three clinics, which he owned, with locations in South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Gary. Klopfer only reported performing first-trimester abortions, rasing further questions about the nature and developmental age of the fetal remains.

His home in Will County, where the remains were discovered, is not far from the Indiana border. 

Klopfer’s license was initially suspended in 2015 after he failed to timely report that two of his patients were 13-year-old girls. He was charged with a misdemeanor, but that charge was dropped after the completion of a pre-trial diversion program. 

Indiana law requires that abortions on patients that young must be reported within three days, and Klopfer instead waited six months to report their abortions. The state medical board voted to suspend his license, even though the charges were dismissed. The three clinics he owned were all closed by November 2015.

Indiana’s age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16 years old, although there are “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions for consensual relations between two underage teens. 

In 2016, after his license was suspended, the state’s attorney general’s office filed a complaint alleging that Klopfer had failed to provide proper personnel to monitor women who were undergoing a surgical abortion procedure. Klopfer was accused of regularly failing to offer painkillers to women undergoing an abortion, and often performed surgical abortions without any anesthetic.

During those proceedings, Klopfer also admitted to performing an abortion in Illinois on a 10-year-old girl who had been raped by her uncle, and that he did not report the crime to the appropriate authorities. 

The state’s medical board also found that Klopfer was using outdated surgical practices from the 70s and 80s, and that his facility in Fort Wayne was “rundown, not well-maintained” with expired medications and equipment that did not work. 

Police said Klopfer’s family has been cooperating with the investigation. 

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is currently a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. In August, Buttigieg sexpressed support for an unlicensed abortion clinic, Whole Woman’s Health, was beneficial for the women of his city. Due to a court injunction, the clinic is allowed to continue to operate. 

“The South Bend clinic would be the only one for a radius of several counties," said Buttegieg’s press secretary Chris Meagher. "It is a restriction on a woman's right if she is low-income, or doesn’t have a vehicle, and she has to visit multiple times, but the clinic is dozens of miles away.”

The administrator of Whole Woman’s Health’s South Bend location is a former employee of Dr. Klopfer who worked at his now-shuttered South Bend clinic. 

As Mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg attempted to block the operation of a pro-life pregnancy center that was attempting to open next door to Whole Woman’s Health, saying that he thought it was not “responsible.” The pregnancy center, Women’s Care Center, was eventually able to open across the street.

Arizona Supreme Court says artists have right to decline same-sex wedding creations

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 15:47

Phoenix, Ariz., Sep 16, 2019 / 01:47 pm (CNA).- The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of two Christian artists who argue that they should not be forced to create custom artwork for same-sex weddings in opposition to their religious beliefs.

“The rights of free speech and free exercise, so precious to this nation since its founding, are not limited to soft murmurings behind the doors of a person’s home or church, or private conversations with like-minded friends and family,” the court ruled. Rather it said, “these guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, paintings, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs.”

Attorney Jonathan Scruggs, who had argued the case before the court, hailed the ruling in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix as a victory for religious freedom.

“The government shouldn’t threaten artists with jail time and fines to force them to create custom artwork, such as wedding invitations, expressing messages that violate their beliefs, and that’s what the court has affirmed today,” said Scruggs, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski are the owners of Brush & Nib Studio. The pair creates custom artwork, such as wedding invitations and place cards with calligraphy and handpainting. The women say that their religious convictions forbid them from using their artwork to promote a message they disagree with morally.

The women were challenging Phoenix’s public accommodation law. Under the criminal law, they could face up to six months jail time, $2,500 in fines, and three years probation for declining to create artwork for same-sex weddings.

The city of Phoenix says declining same-sex weddings is an illegal act of discrimination based on sexual orientation, in violation of City Code Section 18-4(B). However, the women say that they will happily serve clients of any sexual orientation, but that they cannot promote all messages.

In a brief filed with the court, ADF argued that “Courts have long recognized individuals’ right ‘to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster…an idea they find morally objectionable.”
The brief warned that imposing on the right to refrain from speaking or supporting a certain message poses a threat to all people, regardless of belief.

A lower court had ruled against Duka and Koski. Scruggs said the Arizona Supreme Court was right to overturn the lower ruling.

“Joanna and Breanna will now be able to create custom wedding invitations and to communicate about their beliefs without fear of government punishment, as any artist should be free to do,” he said. “This isn’t just a victory for them. It’s a victory for everyone.”

Man jailed for threatening Little Sisters of the Poor set for bail hearing

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 14:30

Allentown, Pa., Sep 16, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvania man who sent online threats to the Little Sisters of the Poor is asking a federal court to allow him out of jail. Jaan Kruus, Jr., 55, will present his bail request in court on Monday at 3pm. 

Kruus was was indicted by a federal grand jury in July on two counts of sending threatening messages online, via his computer, to the Little Sisters of the Poor, LehighValleyLive.com reported.

According to the indictment, Kruus sent “a threat to injure another, specifically, persons affiliated with the Little Sisters of the Poor,” on February 1, 2017 and again on May 9, 2017, from Emmaus, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.. The Little Sisters of the Poor operate a residence for elderly patients in Northeast Washington, D.C., the Jeanne Jugan Residence.

Kruus was ordered to undergo a health and psychological evaluation by U.S. Magistrate Judge Harry S. Perkin. He requested bail, and at his hearing will take place September 16 in the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania.

According to his motion for pretrial release, Kruus resides in Emmaus, Pennsylvania and cares for a disabled friend while living with his parents. He was evaluated by psychologist Jeffrey E. Summerton, Ph.D., who decided that he could benefit from mental health counseling and may have anger management issues.

The motion says that after being questioned by FBI agents in June of 2017 about the online threats, Kruus was not arrested or deemed a threat despite having allegedly admitted to sending the threats.

“In its argument for detention the government relies heavily on a crumpled note purportedly in Mr. Kruus' handwriting that was found in a wastebasket in 2011 by his then and still estranged wife,” the motion states. “The note uses the verbs ‘kill’ and ‘bomb’ in the imperative voice with various objects including his parents, two neighbors, and law enforcement officials.”

“He [Kruus] was investigated by the local police regarding that writing and was not charged. Nothing has come of the writing in the following eight years,” the motion states.

It is unclear from the July indictment what specific content was contained in the threats Kruus sent to the Little Sisters of the Poor in 2017, as well as his motive for doing so.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have been in national news in recent years for their lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The health care law required coverage of certain preventative services in health plans, clarified by the Obama administration to include contraceptives and sterilizations—including emergency contraceptives that prevent implantation of a fertilized embryo, thus causing early abortions.

The religious exemptions to the mandate were narrowly tailored and excluded many religious non-profits that objected to the mandate, including the Little Sisters of the Poor. An “accommodation” offered by the Obama administration did not satisfy the sisters and others, who argued in court that it would still force them to contradict their religious mission in forcing them to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

Although the Trump administration issued a rule in 2017 expanding the religious exemptions to the mandate, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a lawsuit against the religious order, as did the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, saying the sisters should not receive a religious exemption to the mandate.

The Little Sisters of the Poor congregation was founded in France in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan and entered the United States in 1869; the congregation is dedicated to living with and caring for the elderly poor, and serves in more than 30 countries around the world.

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