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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 1 hour 12 min ago

US bishops and Knights of Columbus voice solidarity with Iraq, Lebanon

2 hours 14 min ago

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops and the Knights of Columbus have professed their solidarity with the people of Iraq and Lebanon, telling the Catholic patriarchs of the region that they are praying and working for peace and security.

“The Catholic bishops of the United States and the Knights of Columbus stand in prayerful solidarity with you and your people at this difficult time,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services U.S.A., and Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said in a Nov. 13 letter.

Broglio signed the letter in his role as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. Anderson heads the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, with close to 2 million members worldwide.

“Today, in Lebanon and Iraq, we are witnessing critical moments as protests grow against corruption and foreign interference,” Anderson and Broglio’s letter said. “We pray that the effect of these protests will be a more just society for all the citizens of these two countries.”

Their Nov. 13 letter was addressed to the leading Catholic patriarchs of the region: Cardinal Bechara Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites and All the East; Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Primate of the Syriac Catholic Church; Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch of the Greek Melkites; Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldeans; and Gregory Petros XX Ghabroyan, Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholic Church.

In their letter, Anderson and Broglio stressed the need for an outcome in Iraq and Lebanon that respects “the sovereignty and autonomy of these two countries.”

Protests in Iraq began in Baghdad Oct. 1 and have spread to the south of Iraq. They are dominated by young people who object to the poor response to government corruption and a lack of economic growth and proper public services. Protesters are calling for reform of the country’s sectarian power structure. They want the resignation of the Iraqi government, the Associated Press and Reuters have reported.

More than 300 Iraqis have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Anderson and Broglio’s letter cited Pope Francis. In the Oct. 30 Wednesday general audience, the pope called for the Iraqi government to “listen to the cry of the people who are asking for a dignified and peaceful life.”

On the matter of events in Lebanon, Anderson and Broglio acknowledged “growing instability” there but noted that the protests have generally not suffered from violent opposition.

They echoed the pope’s Oct. 27 Sunday Angelus address, in which he said that a resolution to the Lebanon crisis would work “for the benefit of the entire Middle East Region, which suffers so much.”

Protests in Lebanon began Oct. 17 after the government announced a new tax on internet-based calls made over WhatsApp. Lebanon has high levels of public debt and low employment. Protesters called for the removal of corrupt government officials.

Government riot police intervened after Hezbollah supporters attacked and injured non-sectarian protesters Oct. 24-25.

On Nov. 12 one protester, a supporter of Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, was shot dead in an altercation with soldiers. The soldier who fired on him has been detained.

Several leading politicians have warned that the protests are comparable to previous times of serious tension.

Lebanon’s caretaker defense minister Elias Bou Saab said the situation is “very dangerous,” Reuters reports. The unrest reminded him of the start of the country’s devastating civil war, which lasted from 1975-1990.

In their letter, Anderson and Broglio cited the words of Pope John Paul II: Lebanon “is more than a country, it is a message of freedom and example of pluralism for East and West.”

“We pray that peace and security may come to this region, and that those who have suffered so much may be able to rebuild their lives in an environment consistent with their rights to human dignity,” they added.

“We continue also to watch closely and with concern the situation in other countries in the region where so many have suffered from war and violence, and in the case of Christians, have been targeted often simply for professing their belief in Christ.”

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 destabilized the region and led to many Iraqis - Muslim, Christian and others - fleeing their country. A March 2011 revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad quickly drew support from the U.S. and regional powers, with Russia and others siding with Assad against the rebels. The resulting civil war, which is ongoing, has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions to become internally displaced persons or refugees who fled abroad.

As of Oct. 31 there were about 1 million U.N.-registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone, a country of fewer than 6.9 million residents. Its political and social systems are a sometimes delicate, always complex balance of rival factions splitting the loyalties of Christians and both Sunni and Shia Muslims.

In 2014, the Knights of Columbus launched an advocacy campaign for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. The organization has given about $25 million to support persecuted religious minorities from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region.

The fraternal organization launched a successful effort to secure the U.S. State Department’s recognition of the Islamic State group’s crimes against Christians, Yazidis and others in Iraq and Syria as genocide. In 2016 the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a resolution declaring that the Islamic State group had committed genocide. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry recognized the group’s actions as genocide as well.

Advocates of the official designation said it could aid investigation and indictment of those responsible for genocide and would emphasize the obligations of the U.S. government under international conventions against genocide.

In a separate Nov. 15 opinion essay at the New York Post, Anderson said that a mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East would be catastrophic.

“What happens in the next few weeks in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is crucial for Mideast Christians — and the stability and pluralism of these countries and the wider region,” he said.

While Christians made up about 20% of the population a century ago, they are now 5% or less, he said.

“In Iraq, protesters are demanding an end to sectarian government and equal citizenship for all regardless of ethnicity or religion,” he said, blaming protester deaths on “Iran-backed militias.”

“The future of the Iraqi state hangs in the balance,” he continued. “Either it will become more sectarian under the influence of its more powerful neighbors — or it will become the pluralistic country sought by thousands marching in the streets, including Christians.”

In Lebanon, Anderson said, Christians fear an economic collapse that could result in the fall of the largely Christian Lebanese Army, resulting in crisis and mass emigration.

“Many Christians persecuted elsewhere in the region have fled to Lebanon,” Anderson said. “If Lebanon were to lose its gift for pluralism, that could spell the end of the concept in the rest of the region.”

Anderson also objected to incursions from Turkey in northeastern Syria.

He said the U.S. must play a “decisive” diplomatic role and must make the wellbeing and physical security of Christian communities in the Middle East “a permanent agenda item in all U.S. aid and military assistance discussions with regional governments.”

US House oversight committee hears testimony on abortion regulation

2 hours 49 min ago

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee heard testimony Thursday on abortion from a new mother, as well as a mother who aborted her child because of a fatal fetal diagnosis.

“I am here today as a mom, fighting for a future for her kids in which rights are not dependent on whether a person is wanted, but upon their humanity,” Allie Stuckey, a conservative Christian commentator, told members of the committee Nov. 14.

“With broken hearts, we knew that the greatest act of love that we could undertake as her parents would be to suffer ourselves instead to end the pregnancy, grant Libby peace, and spare her tiny, broken body a short life full of pain,” Jennifer Box, a mother of three who aborted one of her daughters, Libby, who was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, said.

Missouri’s abortion law, and the state’s last remaining abortion clinic, were in the spotlight at the hearing in the Democratic-controlled House on “State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care.”

Ahead of the hearing, the committee said that states "have been taking draconian steps to restrict their residents’ access to comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion."

The committee heard the testimony of five witnesses, four of whom are supportive of abortion rights.

Both Box and Dr. Colleen McNicholas, OB/GYN, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, spoke to state laws or policies that they said were designed to coerce all abortion clinics in the state into closing.

Missouri enacted a law earlier this year that criminalized abortions after eight weeks gestation, and banned abortions conducted solely because of the baby’s race, sex, or diagnosis of disability. If the eight-week ban were to be overturned in court, that would “trigger” other bans set up in the law at 14, 18, and 20 weeks.

Currently, Missouri has just one abortion clinic open, and that is solely because of a court order.

In June, the state’s health department refused to reissue a license for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic after it submitted a “statement of deficiencies” to a court; the state cited an “unprecedented lack of cooperation” by the clinic in its investigation, along with “failure to meet basic standards of patient care” and lack of compliance with state safety regulations.

In one case, the state said, the clinic would not have been prepared to handle a case of “severe hemorrhaging” of a female patient that she later suffered at a hospital. The clinic also agreed to perform extra pelvic exams on women before refusing to do so, the state said.

The clinic did submit a “Plan of Correction” but it did not sufficiently address all the stated deficiencies, the health department said. The state’s Administration Hearing Commission conducted a hearing on the matter in October, and the clinic will remain open until a final decision is made.

McNicholas said on Thursday that the state “weaponized” the licensing process, and that officials “admitted under oath” that they targeted Planned Parenthood for extra scrutiny. Planned Parenthood did not want to perform the “extra” pelvic exam on patients that was unwarranted, she said.

In a later exchange with Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), McNicholas was questioned about efforts to fight against protecting babies who survive botched abortion attempts.

“There is no way to oversimplify the medical conditions” of second trimester abortions, she said, noting that the “Born-Alive” act which would require doctors to give standard medical treatment to babies surviving abortions makes such botched abortions seem like a “real thing.”

Stuckey testified in the minority.

Abortion advocates used to advertise “safe, legal, and rare” for the procedure, but now they champion abortion-on-demand through nine months of pregnancy, Stuckey said, despite evidence that doctors can feel a baby’s heartbeat at six weeks gestation, and that babies can feel pain at 20 weeks, and survive outside the womb as early as 21 weeks.

“In speaking of abortion, its defenders ignore the existence of the child entirely,” Stuckey said. “I am here as a woman who believes that female empowerment, equality and freedom are not defined by her ability to terminate the life of her child.”

“I’m here as a human being, horrified by the violence, the oppression and the marginalization of a defenseless people group based solely on where they reside, the womb,” Stuckey said.

Her testimony followed that of Box, who said she aborted her daughter because of a “fatal fetal diagnosis.”

In her testimony in February before a Missouri state house committee, Box said her daughter was diagnosed with Trisomy 18. She said she was first informed that he daughter was at “high risk” of the chromosome abnormality when she was 13 weeks pregnant, in a May op-ed for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the baby “would likely die within minutes or hours of birth,” if not before.

Most babies with Trisomy 18 die before birth, and only around ten percent survive the first year of life. Abortion rates are high for babies with fetal chromosomnal abnormalities such as Trisomy 18.

Fearing her daughter would have to endure a “life of immediate and repeated invasive medical intervention,” Box said she and her husband chose to procure an abortion.

However, she did not have insurance coverage for the abortion, Box said. According to the Guttmacher Institute, private insurance in Missouri only covers abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. A Catholic hospital which delivered her two other children refused to perform the abortion.

“My actual abortion procedure was the most compassionate care I have ever received from a. physician,” Box said. “Jake and I left that day knowing that we made the most loving and merciful choice for our daughter.”

In her op-ed in the Post-Dispatch, Box said she recently discovered she was pregnant but would not find out the results of pre-natal tests until she was 24 weeks pregnant. At the time, Missouri had just enacted several bans on abortions, including at 20 weeks post-gestation.

“When we got to the car I sobbed, ‘At 24 weeks it will be illegal in Missouri to have an abortion,’” Box wrote. “I don’t want to fly to Colorado to end this pregnancy if something goes wrong.”

“I speak for Libby,” she said on Thursday. “It is an honor to share her name with this committee and the country today. Libby Rose Box.”

“I have a rose tattoo above my heart so that she is with me every day. I am her mother, and she is my daughter and will always be my daughter. I made decisions from day one as her mother, and then made the most important decision of Libby’s life when together with my husband, we decided to terminate the pregnancy. It was a sacred, painful, personal decision.”

Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, testified that “it’s not lost on me” that abortion is under its gravest threat “on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when some women first gained the right to vote.”

Court rules Daleiden's undercover videos caused 'substantial harm' to Planned Parenthood

3 hours 37 min ago

San Francisco, Calif., Nov 15, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- A pro-life organization said that “justice was not done,” after a federal court found that pro-life advocate David Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress caused “substantial harm” to Planned Parenthood by secretly recording meetings with abortion doctors and staff to expose their business practices.

“Justice was not done today in San Francisco. While top Planned Parenthood witnesses spent six weeks testifying under oath that the undercover videos are true and Planned Parenthood sold fetal organs on a quid pro quo basis, a biased judge with close Planned Parenthood ties spent six weeks influencing the jury with pre-determined rulings and suppressing the video evidence, all in order to rubber-stamp Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit attack on the First Amendment,” the Center for Medical Progress said Nov. 15

“This is a dangerous precedent for citizen journalism and First Amendment civil rights across the country, sending a message that speaking truth and facts to criticize the powerful is no longer protected by our institutions,” the group added.

The federal court in San Francisco has ordered Daleiden’s organization to pay Planned Parenthood $870,000 in punitive damages.

The decision was issued Nov. 15, after U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick ordered the jury to find Daleiden guilty of trespass on several separate occasions in the course of his work.
 
“I have already determined that these defendants trespassed at each of these locations. Because I determined that these defendants trespassed, the law assumes that Planned Parenthood has been harmed and is entitled to an award of nominal damages such as one dollar for each trespass,” Orrick told the jury on Thursday, leaving jury members only with the determination of how much to award the abortion provider.
 
Daleiden’s lawyers argued that he was investigating violent felonies committed against children born alive in Planned Parenthood facilities. They had previously petitioned to have Orrick removed from the case, alleging bias on the part of the judge.
 
During the six-week trial, Orrick ruled that jurors could not take into account any information discovered by Daleiden in the course of his investigation which would retrospectively justify his actions, but only the information he possessed when he began his work in 2012.
 
Planned Parenthood's legal team told the court that Daleiden’s actions were “not to find crimes, and it was not about journalism. It was about using any means, including illegal means, to destroy Planned Parenthood.”
 
The jury found that Daleiden’s work showed the “requisite malice” needed to award punitive damages.
 
The suit concerns covert recordings made by Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, who posed as representatives of an invented human tissue company called BioMax to meet with Planned Parenthood personnel. Beginning in 2015, the Center for Medical progress released a series of videos of the meetings which allegedly demonstrate the illegal sale of body parts and fetal tissue from aborted babies.

The released videos appeared to show various Planned Parenthood and StemExpress executives discussing, often callously, their methods for obtaining and selling fetal body parts. Daleiden alleged that Planned Parenthood was profiting from these sales, which is illegal under federal law.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., has said it abides by all relevant laws and has charged that the videos were deceptively edited. It faced a congressional investigation into the allegations related to the videos.

Soon after the Center for Medical Progress videos were released, Planned Parenthood’s lobbying arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, launched an emergency response campaign, with initial costs projected at $7 to $8 million in partnership with allies and funders such as the Open Society Foundations, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Democracy Alliance.
 
The Center for Medical Progress has faced several lawsuits seeking to halt the release of the videos. Legal charges against two of its members were dropped in Texas.
 
In April the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal seeking to dismiss a lawsuit against Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress on the grounds of First Amendment freedoms.

Ukrainian auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia retires at 75

3 hours 57 min ago

Philadelphia, Pa., Nov 15, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- The resignation of Bishop John Bura, an auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia, was accepted Nov. 15, five months after Bura turned 75.

The archeparchy is led by Archbishop Borys Gudziak, with the assistance of Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy. It also has two archbishops emeritus.

Bura was born in Germany in 1944, and was ordained a priest of the Philadelphia archeparchy in 1971. He was appointed as an auxiliary bishop of the archeparchy in 2006.

The Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia includes the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and eastern Pennsylvania, and serves around 13,000 faithful in 62 parishes and two missions. It has three suffragan eparchies, in Parma, Chicago, and Stamford.

Rockville Centre diocese challenges Child Victims Act over due process

5 hours 11 min ago

Rockville Centre, N.Y., Nov 15, 2019 / 01:31 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Rockville Centre filed a suit challenging New York's Child Victims Act on Tuesday, claiming it is barred by the due process clause in the state constitution.

The act opened a one-year window for adults in the state who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits against their abusers. It also adjusted the statute of limitations for both pursuing criminal charges and civil suits against sexual abusers or institutions where the abuse took place.

The diocese's motion, filed Nov. 12 in the New York Supreme Court in Nassau County, says that “the Due Process Clause allows the legislature to revive formerly time-barred claims only where they could not have been raised earlier,” which it adds “is not so here.”

“The formerly time-barred claims revived by the legislature pursuant to the Child Victims Act all could have been brought within the then-applicable three- or five-year period, after plaintiffs attained the age of majority,” according to the diocese.

The diocese added that the state Court of Appeals “has held that the Due Process Clause allows for the exercise of what it has characterized as an exceptional legislative power 'to remedy an injustice' created by circumstances that prevented the assertion of a timely claim.”

It said claims under the Child Victims Act “do not fit within the scope of this narrowly circumscribed legislative authority.”

The one-year window opened Aug. 14.

The Child Victims Act was signed into law Feb. 14 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In addition to opening a one-year window for suits, it allows child abuse victims to file criminal charges up to age 28, and lawsuits up to age 55. Previously, they had until the age of 23 to file charges or a civil claim.

Other New York dioceses have not indicated they would challenge the act.

Sean Dolan, spokesman for the Rockville Centre diocese, said the diocese is committed to providing “pastoral care and equitable compensation” to child sex abuse victims through its independent reconciliation and compensation program.

As of August, that program had paid a little more than $50 million to 277 claimants since its 2017 institution. Between 75 and 80 claims were still being processed, and 370 people had filed claims with the program.

The spokeman added that “the diocese supported the CVA as a mechanism for all survivors of sexual abuse to seek redress through the court system for sexual abuse – that took place in any organization, municipality or organization. At the same time, the diocese supports the rule of law and, in particular, the rights of all citizens of this state to have access to the courts and to invoke the protections afforded to all of them by our laws of civil procedure and the New York state Constitution. The diocese’s motion and its brief present these important issues to the judiciary for resolution.”

The Times Union reported Nov. 13 that nearly 1,100 cases have been filed under the Child Victims Act.

The day the one-year lookback was opened, Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston was named in a lawsuit accusing him of sexually abusing a young man while he was a priest of the Rockville Centre diocese, starting in 1978. The bishop has said he is innocent of the accusation.

In January, Dennis Poust, director of the New York Catholic Conference, told CNA the conference had not opposed the final version of the act, which provided the same protections for child abuse victims in public insitutions, including schools, as it did for private institutions.

Earlier versions discriminated between public and private institutions, but once that was amended “the conference dropped any opposition to its passage,” he said.

When the bill was passed, the New York bishops issued a joint statement saying, “We pray that the passage of the Child Victims Act brings some measure of healing to all survivors by offering them a path of recourse and reconciliation.”

The Diocese of Rockville Centre said Aug. 14 that it “takes seriously and investigates all allegations of sexual abuse … While the ultimate effects of the Child Victims Act on the Diocese of Rockville Centre and its parishes are not yet known, and may not be known for some time, we expect the daily work of the diocese’s many ministries to continue uninterrupted. Bishop Barres and his leadership team at the Diocese of Rockville Centre have been working for months with financial and legal experts to prepare for this day.”

In preparing for the one-year window, the diocese created an independent advisory committee in May “to review its financial position and related party transactions.”

“The diocese has diligently prepared over the last several months to meet the challenges presented by the Child Victims Act, while ensuring it continues to meet its responsibilities to parishioners and its ministries. The diocese also continues its efforts to extend to survivors of abuse: pastoral care, healing and support services,” it stated.

Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre said Aug. 11 that “we have worked diligently with our financial and legal advisors to assess our financial position and maximize the availability of insurance coverage to meet the demands that will likely be imposed by anticipated CVA litigation.”

Archbishop Gomez prays for victims of California high school shooting

7 hours 39 min ago

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 15, 2019 / 11:03 am (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has encouraged the community to pray for victims of a shooting at a high school in southern California, where two people were killed Thursday morning.

“May God comfort their families and loved ones,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Pray also for all the young people and faculty in the school and their families and pray for all the first responders and law enforcement officers.”

On Thursday morning, a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita - located about 40 miles from Los Angeles - opened fire in a crowded school courtyard before the first class of the day, police said.

Two students - ages 16 and 14 - were killed, and three students were injured in the shooting. The names of the victims have not been released. Captain Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department said there is no known connection between the suspect and the victims.

The suspect was found with a self-inflicted gun wound to the head, according to police, and is currently in the hospital in critical condition.

In his statement, Archbishop Gomez asked for the intercession of the Virgin Mary and urged members of the archdiocese to pray for all those affected.

“May Our Blessed Mother keep them all in her maternal care and may God give them peace,” he said.

Ivanka Trump hails 'exciting' progress on paid family leave

7 hours 42 min ago

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Family leave is more than a women’s issue, it is a family issue, Ivanka Trump said Thursday at the National Review Institute’s event “A Conversation on Paid Family Leave and Childcare” with writer Ramesh Ponnuru.

“For the first time in the history of the paid family leave discussion, we’re getting to a place with legislators, where it’s not ‘should paid family leave be a policy priority?’ but ‘what’s the best design for a paid family leave program?,” Ms. Trump said. 

Trump lauded an “exciting” time to be involved in paid family leave projects, as new attention is being brought to the issue, and members of Congress are positing different, but not incompatible, ideas on how to better serve new mothers and their families. “And that was not true when [the Trump administration] arrived two and a half years ago,” she said. 

“There was very little bipartisan support--there was one plan that had been proposed, and re-proposed, and re-proposed for many years,” without any sort of bipartisan support or real progress through the legislature, said Trump. 

About a quarter of new mothers in the United States return to work within two weeks of having a child, said Trump, who pointed out that 40% of households have a woman as the primary breadwinner, directly linking the availability of paid family leave to those families’ household incomes.

Only 6% of women making less than $75,000 annually have access to paid maternity leave, Trump explained. She said women making more than $150,000 annually have a significantly greater likelihood of access to paid leave than is typical.

Trump and Ponnuru also discussed the country’s fertility rate, which is reportedly now at its lowest level ever. 

Ponnuru told CNA at the conclusion of the event that “cultural change” is needed to increase the country’s dwindling fertility rate, an issue the “government has limited power to influence.” 

“But I think that there are things that we can do to make it easier for families,” he said. “We have for many years had evidence that Americans have fewer children than they would like to have, so this is not a matter of trying to get people to want children, so much as it is making it possible for them to do something they already want to do.”

Ponnuru said that an uncertain “economic picture” plays a role in explaining why couples are hesitant to have children, and that legislative steps should be taken to address this--such as increasing the child tax credit and lowering the cost of education.

“Making that more affordable, so [parents] may be a little less economically fearful about starting and growing a family,” he said. 

Trump said that women and children lacking paid family leave also suffer negative health consequences. 

“We actually have the highest rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the developed world,” she said. “Because if you’re that one-in-four mom who is returning to work within two weeks of having a baby, most institutional care centers won’t take a child until they’re between six to 12 weeks of age.” 

Due to lack of affordable childcare options for young babies, Trump said, parents often turn to less-desirable, often unsafe options. 

In addition to the health benefits that come with a woman being able to take paid leave and stay home with her child, Trump touted the societal economic benefits as well. A woman who has access to paid leave is 40% less likely to use public assistance, she said. 

Trump said motherhood is one of the main reasons why a woman declares bankruptcy — something that can be avoided with access to paid family leave.

Planned Parenthood launches web tool to promote abortion clinics

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 20:49

New York City, N.Y., Nov 14, 2019 / 06:49 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood is already the largest abortion provider in the U.S., and its new web tool aims to direct more women to its abortion clinics.

The “Abortion Care Finder” tool, located on the abortion provider’s website, shows the nearest Planned Parenthood abortion clinics who are able to perform legal abortions based on the user’s self-reported age, ZIP code, and last menstrual cycle.

It then shows users the nearest Planned Parenthood clinics, explains any relevant state laws and abortion methods, and describes the services of each clinic and provides information about financial assistance, the New York Times reports.

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

In cases where the nearest Planned Parenthood is more than 60 miles away, the web tool refers users to a map from the National Abortion Federation.

The Planned Parenthood app results can be misleading in states like Kentucky or Mississippi, whose abortion clinics are not Planned Parenthood-operated.

Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s acting president, told the New York Times that Planned Parenthood “wanted to make sure that we were connecting them directly to our centers.”

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.

The number of abortions, however, has increased by about 10 percent since 2006, despite Planned Parenthood seeing fewer patients.

Planned Parenthood said that search queries on its website and online spiked for the phrase “abortion near me” in spring 2019, when abortion restrictions and bans were debated and passed in state legislatures.

McGill Johnson said prospective clients became more desperate for information about that time.

“Restrictions have just been coming so fast and furious,” she told the New York Times.

Changes in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court are believed to increase the likelihood that a future ruling on abortion could modify or strike down precedents that mandate legal abortion nationwide.

An iPhone app mapping nearby abortion clinics, called Cara, dates back to late 2016, the New York Times reports. It was created in response to accusations that some crisis pregnancy centers presented themselves as abortion providers when one of their goals is to dissuade women from performing abortion.

Pro-abortion rights advocates have also objected to internet search algorithms that sometimes take women seeking abortions to crisis pregnancy centers.

Planned Parenthood itself is in a time of tumult.

In July the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America fired its president, Dr. Leanna Wen, only eight months after she took over the role.

Wen said there were philosophical differences over the direction of the organization. She saw the organization as a health care organization “with advocacy as a necessary vehicle to protect rights and access.” She contended her critics on the board aimed “to double down on abortion rights advocacy.”

The debate about whether Planned Parenthood’s public image should be that of a health care provider or abortion advocacy group comes as cuts in funding and abortion restrictions in dozens of states across the country have put the organization on the defensive.

In addition, a rule under the Trump administration prevents Title X fund recipients from performing or referring for abortions. It bars abortion clinics from sharing facilities with entities that receive Title X money.

Planned Parenthood stands to lose about $60 million in federal funding as a result of the rule.

Since 2015, Planned Parenthood has also faced increased scrutiny following the release of a series of undercover videos in which executives at the organization and leaders in the National Abortion Federation appear to be discussing the transfer of body parts from aborted babies for money, a practice that would violate federal law.

In response to the controversy over the videos, Planned Parenthood and its supporters launched a multi-million-dollar publicity campaign.

Analysis: The USCCB 'abortion debate,' and what came after

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 19:45

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday, 69 U.S. bishops voted against the inclusion of a paragraph in a letter they plan to soon publish. Within hours, a conservative social media figure said those bishops “are not Catholic,” and ignited an online firestorm. Here’s how that happened.

The bishops were at the fall meeting of their episcopal conference, discussing proposed amendments to a short letter they intended to send out, as a supplement to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their 2015 document on voting and public life.

On Monday Nov. 11, the bishops had been given the opportunity to review a draft text of the letter and propose changes. They had several hours to submit written amendments, which would be debated Nov. 12, before a vote on the entire letter.

Cardinal Blase Cupich proposed an amendment.

Cupich proposed to add into the letter paragraph 101 of Pope Francis’ 2018 Gaudete ex esultate. The paragraph cautions against those who would relativize “the social engagement of others,” or act as if “the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.”

The cardinal said in his proposal that he wished to add the paragraph because “the draft proposed wording citing this paragraph omits ‘equally sacred’ from the start of that list of important concerns, defacing the point the pope was making, which is obviously that ‘defense of the unborn is not ‘the only thing that counts.’”

Led by Archbishop Jose Gomez, the letter’s drafting committee reviewed the Cupich proposal, along with dozens of other amendment proposals, on the evening of Nov. 11, before presenting them the next day, alongside recommendations from the committee on each one.

On the Cupich amendment, the committee asked the bishops to accept a compromise recommendation, namely, to include the phrase “equally sacred,” but not the entire paragraph Cupich proposed. The committee said the whole paragraph would add length to a letter already three pages long, but it encouraged adding the words “equally sacred,” which seemed to be the key phrase Cupich wanted.

On Tuesday, Cupich rose to ask for a reconsideration of that recommendation. He said he appreciated the desire for brevity, but he wanted the whole paragraph.

From his view, the proposed paragraph contains “all of the elements in the call to holiness that we are to exercise as faithful citizens. He speaks about the need to make sure we avoid those kinds of ideological frameworks that our society today is so paralyzed in our political discourse by, but also, he wants to make sure...that not only do we avoid that, but we engage one another and he also makes sure that we do not make one issue that a political party or group puts forward to the point where we’re going to ignore all the rest of them.”

Bshop Frank Dewane said the committee had tried to accommodate the cardinal’s request, and suggested he could add even more additional language into the text as a compromise.

Cupich was not interested in that suggestion.

“I appreciate that attempt at accommodation. My point is that this is the magisterial teaching of Pope Francis put in a very succinct way, and I think we can all benefit from it as we speak to our people about issues...so I would still like to have the entire paragraph,” he said.

Gomez asked the body of bishops to debate and vote on the point in question: Should the committee summarize the pope’s text, or include the entire paragraph Cupich had mentioned?

The disagreement was not, at that point, perceived to be a matter of doctrinal debate. To be sure, some bishops have speculated privately that Cupich wanted to include the full text to advance his commitment to a “seamless garment” vision of social justice. Others, though, noted that Cupich has a regular habit of calling for greater use of the pope’s texts in conference documents; one bishop called this habit “obsequious.” But several others, even some who regularly disagree with Cupich on serious doctrinal matters, took the suggestion at face value, telling CNA they thought the amendment was a good idea.

To that point, the question was about whether to include a text or to summarize that text. No one who had spoken disagreed with the substance of the paragraph; their conversation had been about how best to present it.



As the debate began, Bishop Robert McElroy rose to speak first. He said that he supported Cardinal Cupich’s amendment for the reasons already stated, and because of his objection to a line in the bishops’ letter he called “at least discordant” with the pope’s teachings. The line said that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”

The “preeminent quote” he said would be used to undermine what he understood the pope’s point to be in the paragraph suggested by Cupich.

“So either we should get rid of ‘preeminent,’ or, if we’re going to keep ‘preeminent’ in there, let’s at least give the pope a fighting chance with his view, to keep that whole paragraph in there, because that’s where he articulates his vision of this very controversial question.”

“It is not Catholic that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not. For us to say that, particularly when we omit the pope’s articulation of this question, I think is a grave disservice of our people...so either we shouldn’t have preeminent in there, or we should have the pope’s full paragraph where he lays out his vision of this same question, delicately balancing all of it in the words he does,” McElroy said.

Many bishops looked shocked by McElroy's words.

The draft language McElroy objected to, that abortion “remains our preeminent priority because it directty attacks life itself” came from an amendment proposed by Archbishop Joseph Naumann. Any bishop had been free to stand and ask that it be given separate consideration, rather than be passed on a consent agenda. That was exactly what Cupich had done with his proposed amendment, and McElroy had been free to do the same.

But for some reason McElroy had not asked for debate on the Naumann “preeminent priority” amendment. Instead, the bishop made his objection to the language in the speech he gave while the Cupich amendment was on the table.

In short, McElroy’s objection to “preeminent priority” was not formally manifested according to the rules of order, even though it could have been. The motion on the table was still about the Cupich amendment.



After McElroy spoke, Bishop Joseph Strickland was given the floor.

“I absolutely think ‘preeminent’ needs to stay,” Strickland said.

The bishop seemed to think that McElroy had changed the matter up for debate. Some journalists suggested he had gotten confused. Although he made his point plainly, “preeminent” was not up for debate, there was no formal question of taking it out.

Strickland has been lauded by some Catholics for the courage he is thought to have shown by his remark. But whatever his reasoning, the bishop contributed to McElroy's diversion: he weighed in on a debate the body wasn’t actually having. It was not the first time at the meeting that Strickland seemed to be out of step with the conversation.

On Monday morning, as they got underway, the bishops were asked to approve their meeting’s agenda, a standard part of the rules of order. Bishop Earl Boyea made a motion that an update on the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation be added to the agenda. Strickland seconded that motion. The bishops voted and Boyea’s motion, seconded by Strickland, passed by a voice vote.

Immediately after that vote, Strickland asked for the floor and was recognized.

“I echo the request for the investigation of the report on McCarrick,” Strickland said, before proposing that “future agendas” include a section “to address the questions of guarding the deposit of faith,” though the bishop did not specify what exactly he meant.

Strickland’s “echo” seemed out of place: He stood, it seemed, to “echo” a motion that he himself had already seconded, and that had already passed the entire assembly of bishops. In the press gallery, journalists asked one another whether the bishop understood that the idea had just passed, after he personally seconded it.



On Tuesday, it was Archbishop Charles Chaput who got the debate over the Cupich amendment back on track. He spoke after Strickland.

“I am certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s statement,” Chaput said.

“I think it’s a beautiful statement, I believe it,” the archbishop added, weighing in on the motion on the floor.

Chaput then turned his attention to McElroy’s remarks. He did not address the question of whether “preeminent” ought to remain in the document. But he did address the argument McElroy used to support the Cupich amendment.

“I am against anyone stating that our saying [abortion] is ‘preeminent’ is contrary to the teaching of the pope. Because that isn’t true. It sets an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true. So I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used. It isn’t true.”

“We do support the Holy Father completely, what he said is true, but I think it has been very clearly the articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the preeminent issue. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t equal in dignity, it’s just time, in the certain circumstances of our Church, in the United States,” Chaput said.

The bishops applauded Chaput.

An analysis of Chaput’s remarks suggests two things: that he might have been favor of Cupich’s amendment, of which he said he was "not against;" and that he opposed the argument used by McElroy to support that amendment.

After Chaput, Gomez said the committee preferred to leave the long quote out, mentioned that a reference to the full text was made in a footnote, said the committee was “called to have a brief document,” and called for a vote.

By a vote of 143-69, the bishops chose the committee’s summarized text over Cupich’s preference for a long excerpt from Pope Francis.

Based upon his own remarks, it is reasonable to conclude that Chaput himself may well have voted in favor of including the whole text, which he called “beautiful,” even while he strongly disagreed with McElroy on why the reasons to vote for it.



Shortly after the vote, Strickland weighed in again, this time by tweet. “Thank God the USCCB voted to uphold the preeminence of the Sanctity of the life of the unborn.  It is sad that 69 voted no,” he tweeted.

Strickland’s tweet went viral. It was an incorrect interpretation of the vote, based upon the bishop’s apparent belief that the language of preeminence was up for a vote. Not to belabor a point, but it never was.

A half hour after Strickland tweeted, a conservative YouTube commentator named Taylor Marshall retweeted the bishop’s text, adding his own brief comment: “69 USA bishops voted ‘no,’ which means 69 USA bishops are not Catholic.”

That tweet, like Strickland’s took off into the ether of social media, and soon more voices weighed in, accusing bishops of heresy and spinelessness.

The vote was over whether bishops should quote a long paragraph, or summarize it. For that, bishops were accused of heresy.

On Nov. 14, Strickland weighed back in, tweeting about “the hard data that approx 1/3 of the bishops voted against the language of ‘preeminence.’”

“I pray for unity, Guarding the Deposit of Faith with Pope Francis,” he added.

By his own tweeted admission, the bishop who sparked an online backlash that ended with bishops being called heretics did not know what they had actually voted about.

The consequence of that backlash is that some Catholics may needlessly lose trust in their bishops, and lose confidence in the claims of the Catholic Church.



The U.S. bishops face a serious divide over their understanding of Pope Francis, occasioned by a small number who seem to have positioned themselves as the pope’s authoritative interpreters. It seems clear that divide may well boil to a head.

But the bishops are also divided by what seems to be a hermeneutic of suspicion, which allows some among their number to accuse others of voting against the dignity of human life, even when that misrepresents what’s actually happened.

The bishops are in danger of the kind of partisanship that could lead them to reflexively oppose those with a different viewpoint, rather than doing the hard work of listening carefully, condemning what is false while seeking unity whenever possible. That kind of partisanship would inevitably heighten disunity among practicing Catholics.

Bishops like Chaput and the late Cardinal Francis George, who sought unity with brother bishops even amid real disagreement, are often hailed as models for a conference that could address serious issues with an authentic spirit of fraternity. But whether those models will be heeded by future generations of leaders remains to be seen.

Praying for unity is important. So is the virtue which leads to it. In the social media era, bishops can feed the polarization and nastiness of hot-take culture, even inadvertently. Charity, especially amid disagreement, must be a “preeminent priority” of the apostles, if Christ’s Church is to live in unity.

Catholic identity carefully guarded at CRS, bishop says

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 18:20

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- Adhering to Church teaching is a priority for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and policies are in place to ensure it is not complicit in immoral activities as it partners with groups that do not hold Catholic beliefs, said the bishop who heads the agency’s board.

“Our efforts overseas are seen as among the finest examples of a morally-based Catholic agency,” said Bishop Gregory Mansour, chairman of the board of directors for Catholic Relief Services.

“Nonetheless, we are seen as a bit strange by some international agencies that serve the poor, because we believe that serving the poor is just that – not eliminating the poor by abortion or contraception, but by truly serving them in all their human dignity.”

The bishop stressed that CRS prioritizes Catholic teaching, to the point that the agency stands out internationally for its insistence on carefully crafting grant language to ensure that it is not participating in immoral programming. The agency will not get involved in grants that require it to compromise on Catholic doctrine, he said.

CRS was founded in 1943 and is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.

Mansour, who heads the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, offered an update on the work of CRS to the U.S. bishops at their fall general assembly in Baltimore this week.

As part of that presentation, the bishop stressed the importance of Catholic identity in CRS’ work.

“We’re Catholic to the core, training our 6,700 employees throughout the world – whether they’re Catholic or not – on all the tenets of Catholic social teaching,” he said. He pointed to the agency’s zero tolerance policy and whistleblower program.

“The grants we apply for at CRS to serve - whether from large donors, from the U.S. government, the Global Fund – are vetted to be sure that we do not agree to do anything against Catholic teaching as we serve the poorest of the poor, and we have that same fidelity to all of those people who give either in a second collection for CRS or Operation Rice Bowl,” he added.

Following the presentation, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, thanked Mansour, as well as CRS President and CEO Sean Callahan, for safeguarding the integrity of the agency and listening respectfully to those who have had concerns.

“Thank you for all that you’ve done to protect the Catholicity of all that we’re doing, and I just applaud your great work,” he said.

Mansour replied that both the CRS staff and board of directors are “very conscious” of Catholic identity.

“And so we’ve been listening to anybody who has any criticism, trying to see if there’s some validity to it, and if there is, we deal with it. If there’s not, we tell them, ‘Please. We’ve vetted this, we’ve looked at it. And we’re at peace with it’,” he said.

At various times in the past, CRS has faced criticism from Catholic groups and individuals who are concerned that the agency is cooperating in immoral activities, including the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients.
 
In 2013, Catholic Relief Services was accused of being involved in a contraception and abortifacient distribution program in Madagascar.

However, the agency suggested that the allegations mistook the actions of CRS staffers with those of non-staff community health workers, who are locally chosen on the ground of the countries where they work. CRS was training Madagascar community health workers in areas such as children’s health, nutrition, and malaria prevention, and these health workers may also have been involved in contraceptive distribution programs, but they were not affiliated with CRS in doing so, the organization said.

In 2016, the agency was accused of being complicit in a contraceptive distribution program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. CRS responded that while the language in the grant report was unclear, the agency had actually been working to promote Natural Family Planning in accordance with Catholic teaching. It said the report was written by an outside group that may not have understood the difference between Natural Family Planning and artificial contraception.

Catholic Relief Services has repeatedly said that it follows Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception.

When CRS partners with groups that disagree with Catholic doctrine, the extent of their work together is limited to efforts that align with Church teaching, such as work to prevent malaria, promote childhood nutrition, or offer clean drinking water, the agency says. Both bishops and moral theologians review programming to ensure that it complies with Church teaching.

At a press conference following the presentation, CNA asked Mansour if he could elaborate on efforts to ensure the Catholic identity of programs in which CRS participates.

“To be honest, we are the only group that won’t do contraception, that won’t do referrals for abortions. And we make that quite clear when we write grants,” Mansour replied.

However, he said, international grant funding is often given to joint projects with multiple partners. When CRS works with partners – including other Christian groups – that do not abide by Church teaching, the agency tries to avoid scandal and make it clear that they are only participating in work that is morally acceptable.

“And all of those the grants are vetted by moral theologians and bishops on the board, as well as laity who have a strong sense of Catholic identity,” he added.

In addition, Mansour said, “when we get a complaint, we investigate it on the ground. We go to the place and we investigate with everybody. We do our best to do that.”

The agency works with more than 1,000 different partners globally, so these investigations can be a lot of work, the bishop acknowledged.

However, he added, “I’m not afraid of doing it. I myself as chair, any time anybody had a criticism, I dealt with it personally.”

CRS has a team in place to look at concerns raised, he said. “So I think if there are still complaints out there, our ears are open to listening.”

Congressional committee examines state pro-life measures

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 14:10

Washington D.C., Nov 14, 2019 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- A House of Representatives committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to investigate restrictions on abortion clinics passed in pro-life states. 

The hearing, titled “Examining State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care” will feature testimony from abortion advocates and the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. 

The hearing is being convened by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by the majority-member Democrats. 

Allie Stuckey, a new mother who hosts a podcast discussing politics and culture from a conservative, Christian perspective, is scheduled to be the minority witness.

The hearing will focus on recent laws passed in Missouri, which may become the first U.S. state without an abortion clinic. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, told NPR in a statement that Missouri has served as a “case study” in state resistance to abortion under the Trump administration. 

“State governments have been emboldened in their efforts to restrict access to abortion by the Trump Administration’s systemic attacks on reproductive health care, including by dismantling the Title X federal family planning program and expanding providers’ ability to discriminate by denying care,” the Committee on Oversight and Reform said in a background explainer before the hearing.

The Trump administration announced a new policy that does not allow Title X fund recipients to perform abortions or refer people for abortions. Planned Parenthood, the nations’ largest abortion provider, lost millions in funding due to its refusal to stop providing abortions. Title X funds are designated for family-planning purposes. 

Additionally, the administration has moved to protect conscience rights of doctors and other medical professionals who consider abortion to be against their religious beliefs. 

The hearing also concerns the “draconian steps” taken by some states to limit the availability of abortion. Due to these new state laws, six states have only one abortion clinic. 

Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic was denied a state license earlier this year and was scheduled to close. It remains open only because of a court order.

Planned Parenthood sued the state of Missouri May 28 after the state’s health department declined to renew the clinic’s license. Representatives of the clinic have argued that there is no valid reason for state rules that mandate two pelvic exams before the administration of abortion-inducing drugs. It has also rejected state demands that officials interview its medical trainees on staff.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services rejected a license renewal request June 21 from the clinic, citing an “unprecedented lack of cooperation, failure to meet basic standards of patient care, and refusal to comply with state law and regulations.”

'We need to become an evangelizing Church,' says new USCCB VP

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 13:05

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 11:05 am (CNA).- The new vice president of the U.S. bishops’ conference says that he wants to help bring a spirit of evangelism to the conference as organized religion continues to decline in the U.S.

“We need to become an evangelizing Church where the faith is passed from person to person more directly,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, told CNA on Tuesday on the sidelines of the bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Archbishop Vigneron was elected vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday after a third-ballot run-off. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles was elected the new president of the conference.

Vigneron has served as archbishop in Detroit since January of 2009, when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI. Prior to that, he was first coadjutor and then bishop of Oakland, California since 2003, and was previously rector-president of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit from 1994 until 2003.

The archbishop told CNA that there must be an “urgency” of evangelization in the U.S. at a time when the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian continues to decline.

A report by Pew Research last month revealed that the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian fell by double digits since 2009, and that Catholics no longer make up a majority among Hispanics in the U.S.

Evangelization is the answer to this, Vigneron said, pointing to a 2016 archdiocesan synod he convened with lay faithful, priests, and religious in Detroit. The synod led to his pastoral letter, issued the following year, “Unleash the Gospel.” In that letter, Vigneron established ten “guideposts” for evangelization and warned against certain “capital vices” in the local church.

“It galvanized the diocese from bottom to top,” Vigneron said of the synod, telling CNA that evangelization cannot just be one among many priorities for the Church, but that it is “the form that’s supposed to inform everything.”

“It was of inestimable worth for us to have a synod,” Vigneron said, pointing to a time of  “epic change” in Church in the U.S., with a shift away from institutions that were once powerhouses of evangelization—schools and charities—but are no longer.

Evangelization, he said, “involves everybody learning some way, or thinking about, how today am I going to meet people that I can bring to Christ? And everybody can do that.”

Following his election as USCCB vice president, Vigneron also spoke with CNA about the church’s response to the clergy sex abuse crisis, including an update given to the bishops on the Vatican’s much-anticipated report on Theodore McCarrick. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told the conference on Tuesday that the report had been prepared and was awaiting papal approval before publication either before Christmas or early in the New Year.

Vigneron told CNA he was early awaiting the report’s release, and that it was a necessary step in healing the breach of trust between bishops and the faithful in the United States.

“I think it will be good for us to understand how this evil behavior was allowed to continue in the life of someone who—in whom so much pastoral trust was placed so that we can start on a path so that we don’t do it again,” he said.

As part of the related abuse scandals to hit the Church in the last 18 months, many dioceses are facing investigations by states’ attorneys general into clergy sex abuse. The Pennsylvania grand jury report, released in 2018, revealed more than a thousand allegations of abuse over the span of several decades, and more than a dozen other states - including Vigneron’s own state of Michigan - have open investigations.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel launched his investigation into clergy sex abuse in all seven Catholic dioceses in the state last year. In May, Nessel’s office announced charges of 21 counts of criminal sexual conduct against five priests in the ongoing investigation.

Vigneron told CNA that he was committed to working with civil authorities to address historic injustices, but that he and other bishops did not know when the investigation might conclude.

“I don’t know where the work of the Attorney General in our seven dioceses stands right now,” Vigneron told CNA but said he and the Archdiocese of Detroit were being “very cooperative” with state officials.

Vigneron told CNA that although the McCarrick scandal had been painful for the Church in the United States, many past victims of abuse had now come forward, and that is an important part of serving justice and healing in the Church.

“I can account for some of this matter by saying that the investigations that became very prominent led some people to come forward and speak up, and—when in the past they didn’t do that,” he said.

In past decades, abuse victims were asked by some dioceses to sign confidentiality agreements as part of settlements with Church authorities, something now specifically prohibited by Pope Francis. Vigneron said that it was important that no victim felt intimidated into silence.

“I think the time for confidential agreements is gone,” he said.

Vigneron’s three-year term as USCCB vice president formally began on Wednesday, at the conclusion of the conference’s Fall Assembly in Baltimore.

Catholic group to start holistic addiction recovery home in Kentucky 

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 05:12

Lexington, Ky., Nov 14, 2019 / 03:12 am (CNA).- A Kentucky diocese is leasing a tenantless building to a Catholic charity to create a holistic recovery program for people in the area struggling with drug addictions.

“It's an exciting possibility,” said Jenny Ramsay, co-founder and director of Catholic Action Center (CAC), the homeless service agency in Lexington which will be helping run the new program.

“Our [clients] need it so desperately … This place is welcoming, and it includes the holistic approach with environmental sustainab[ility],” she told CNA.

The Diocese of Lexington announced Friday that the Catholic Action Center is beginning a three-year lease on the Cliffview Retreat and Conference Center in Lancaster. The facility will be known as Divine Providence Way at Cliffview, and CAC will have an opportunity to purchase the property at the end of the lease.

The Catholic Action Center will be in charge of developing a holistic environment for the addiction recovery center. This will include recreational therapy, such as music and art. The medical side of the recovery efforts will be run by Mountain Comprehensive Care, a mental health and addiction center based in eastern Kentucky that has partnered with CAC for the past two years.

The program will also offer job training through Bluegrass Community and Technical College, which will take place at a specific satellite campus for the beneficiaries. There, the clients will have access to educational opportunities including culinary art, sustainable living, building and maintenance, and information technology.

Ramsay said the building and maintenance program will focus on skills like carpentry and solar panel installation. She said the IT program will teach some basic coding and other entry-level IT skills.

The program will be environmentally sustainable, Ramsay said, relying on green energy from solar panels and incorporating beehives, chicken coops, and greenhouses.

“We are creating the environment at Cliffview, which will include sustainable agriculture. Holistic care of the people includes the fact that their environment needs to be something that renews them,” she said.

“We're human beings and we all have different brokenness, but we all relate and can be healed through [a holistic approach] … We're not going to say that one size fits all, but when we engage with the earth and engage the mind, body, and spirit, then changes happen,” she added.

The idea for Divine Providence Way was developed after staff members at the Catholic Action Center witnessed a need for greater addiction care among the homeless population.

The initiative comes amid an ongoing opioid crisis in the United States. Kentucky has been among the states hit hardest by the epidemic. From 2012-2017, more than 6,700 overdose deaths were reported in the state, according to data from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. In 2017,  Kentucky had a drug overdose rate of 37.2 deaths per 100,000 people, the fifth-highest in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We see the individuals, we see the overdoses, we see the challenges,” said Ramsay, when asked about the opioid crisis.

Founded in 2000, the Catholic Action Center is an initiative inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. According to its website, the organization has served more than 5.5 million meals and distributed over 2.5 million items of clothing. The agency has also covered 90 funerals for clients who had no families.

Ramsay stressed that it is a Christian’s duty to care for all people, even those struggling from addiction and currently abusing drugs. She said it is an example set by Christ.

“As Catholic Christians, we're called to address [this] and to...help those in need,” she told CNA. “Knowing that we may have the opportunity to help others in a unique situation, we couldn't turn our back on [them].”

“Jesus said feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty. He didn't say feed the hungry who are sober,” she added.

What people with intellectual disabilities can teach us about friendship

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 02:38

South Bend, Ind., Nov 14, 2019 / 12:38 am (CNA).- When French Catholic Jean Vanier brought two men with intellectual disabilities to live with him in his home, he did so more out of a sense of religious duty than anything else.

But as time went on, he began to realize that what the men needed was not help, but friendship. In the founding of his L’Arche (The Ark) homes for people with intellectual disabilities, friendship became the pillar of what those communities were and are all about.

“In short, Vanier had discovered they shared a common world,” Professor Stanely Hauerwas said in his keynote address on Nov. 8 at the University of Notre Dame’s annual conference sponsored by the De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

Hauerwas, a theologian and the Gilbert T. Rowe professor emeritus with joint appointments at Duke divinity school and Duke law school, was a personal friend of Vanier, who died at the age of 90 earlier this year.

“I don't know where we would be without such witnesses today. It's remarkable,” Hauerwas said of his friend.

In L’Arche homes, core members are permanent residents who have intellectual and other disabilities, while assistants are adults and trained caregivers who live in L’Arche communities with the core members, typically for a one-year commitment at a time.

As the L’Arche website states, being an assistant is primarily about being a friend.

“In the communities of L'Arche, we live and journey together, men and women with disabilities and those who feel called to share their lives with them,” Hauerwas said.

“We are all learning the pain and joy of community life where the weakest members open hearts to compassion and lead us into deeper union with Jesus. We are learning to befriend them, and through and with them to befriend Jesus.”

Friendship with people with disabilities is often hindered by fear and false perceptions on the part of non-disabled people, Hauerwas noted.

“We are fragile creatures whose vulnerabilities produce fears that make our being befriended by the disabled frightening,” Hauerwas said.

This is in large part because people with disabilities have the gift of honesty, Hauerwas said - they are unimpressed by accolades and accomplishments, and are only interested in you as yourself.

“Such fears do not go away, even if we have been befriended by the disabled. That is why, as I will suggest, that friendship must be communal because only a community who is made of those aware of their limits can create the peaceful space for all to flourish, disabled and abled alike.”

The false assumption that people with disabilities are suffering can hinder friendship with these people, Hauerwas noted.

“As (Brian Brock, an author on disability) points out, ironically, those who are severely intellectually disabled do not struggle with their disability because they're wondrously free from pondering what others suppose them to lack,” Hauerwas said.

“Brock is challenging the presumption that those who are labeled intellectually disabled suffer from being intellectually disabled. They suffer from the attitudes and behaviors of those who imagine how they would feel if they were intellectually disabled. In short, we project on the disabled how we think we would regard our lives if we were them,” he said.

“But because people who are mentally disabled are not people other than who they are, they accordingly can and do enjoy who they are,” he added.

Brock, whose own son Adam has Down syndrome and is autistic, notes in his writings that knowing Adam has led him to a deeper theological understanding of what it means to accept the gift of people with intellectual disabilities.

“(Brock) understands the Christian Gospel to offer a way of life that enables our ability to live as vulnerable beings who have made peace with our limits and are able to delight in the unexpected,” Hauerwas said.

“Such a way of life can be joyous and free because we seek no longer to be gods, but to be content, to be creatures whose flourishing does not mean we will not suffer, but as the stories of scriptures often make clear, it is through suffering and vulnerability that we discover our place in God's story.”

Throughout his life, Vanier testified to the real friendships he had with his friends with disabilities. Some people still doubt whether such friendships were possible, because they believe that friendship necessitates an equality in agency, Hauerwas noted. He then provided several examples of stories of friendship between assistants and core members, or the family members of the disabled, to show how such friendships are possible.

“Vanier's friendships with the core members with whom he lived stands as a stark reminder that friendship between people who are intellectually disabled, and those that are not, is an actual reality,” Hauerwas said.

Hauerwas drew several examples from Patrick McInerney, an English anthropologist who lived for 15 months in a L'Arche home and wrote of his experiences in a paper entitled: “Receiving the gift of cognitive disabilities: recognizing agency in the limits of the rational subject.”

McInerney, not unlike Vanier at the beginning of his work, started at L’Arche presuming that the core members did not have agency like non-disabled people.

“He encountered Rachel who was making random hand gestures. Sarah who was rolling herself around and around in her wheelchair. And Martha, who spoke constantly but did not seem to make sense. McInerney assumed such women were incapable of active engagement with the world,” Hauerwas said.

But he eventually came to see these women in a different light, and realized that their agency comes from their own acknowledgment of their vulnerabilities and dependency on others.

In one example, Maria, a long-term assistant, told McInerney about an experience with core member Sarah, who could not communicate verbally. Maria was given the task of bathing Sarah, but was having difficulties.

“Maria confesses she did not know what she was doing. But she assumed that neither did Sarah know what she was doing. Finally, however, after some time, Maria figured how to help Sarah bathe herself. She (later said) to Sarah: ‘And you just sat there very patiently and quietly letting me make error after error. When I finally worked out what the right thing to do was, you looked at me dead in the eye and then you laughed at me,’” Hauerwas said.

“Through these exchanges, the core members’ gifts of the heart are discovered,” he added.

In another story of friendship and encounter, Hauerwas recalled Hilary, an assistant who watched a core member smiling and swaying and enjoying herself in front of a full-length mirror. Hilary said she realized that Sarah was not able to care whether other people might consider this behavior self-obsessed, and so she was free to love and enjoy herself.

“Sarah really loves herself and she helps me to start loving myself,” Hilary told McInerney.

The lessons learned from accepting one’s life as a gift, and accepting others’ lives - including those with disabilities - as a gift, leads to a system of ethics that stands in stark contrast to ethicists like Peter Singer, who believes that people with disabilities are of limited moral value to society, Hauerwas noted.

The lives of people with intellectual disabilities “have more in common with unruly saints of the Church, according to McInerney, than the rational agents such as Peter singer assumes. Those who have learned to be their friends, friends with people like Sarah, value the way they transgress assumed norms of behavior and express the value of a liminal community.”

“I think that my own view is that if in a hundred years Christians are identified as those people who do not kill their children or their elderly, we'll have done a pretty good job, but that's the challenge,” Hauerwas said.

In one final example of friendship, Hauerwas recalled the friendship between a core member Eric and Vanier. Eric was blind, deaf and could not speak, but Vanier knew he could still communicate through touch.

“That is what they did day after day. They held and washed his body with respect and love. Slowly but surely they were able to communicate with him and he communicated with them,” he said.

Vanier reflected on this friendship “by suggesting what Jesus commands us to do is to be befriended by the weak those in need, the lonely.”

“For when the poor, the weak and the lonely claim us as friends, they prevent us from falling into the trap of power, especially the power to do good,” Hauerwas said. “To be befriended by the poor and the disabled saves us from the presumption we must save the savior and the church.”

Ohio bill would target proposal on abortion reversal notification

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 17:20

Columbus, Ohio, Nov 13, 2019 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Two Democratic lawmakers in Ohio have introduced legislation that would prohibit the state from requiring doctors to provide patients with information that is not recognized by expert medical associations or supported through peer-reviewed research.

The bill challenges another piece of proposed legislation in the state, which would require physicians to inform patients seeking a medication abortion about the possibility of an abortion reversal. Supporters of the abortion reversal protocol argue that initial research indicates it increases the survival rate of a baby after the first part of a two-pill medical abortion regimen has been administered, without risk of harm to the mother or baby.

On Nov. 12, State Reps. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) and Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) introduced a bill that would prevent the state from requiring doctors to give patients information that they deem to be lacking evidence-based support, peer-reviewed research, or backing from medical organizations, as well as information they consider inappropriate for the patient’s circumstances.

“Government shouldn’t force healthcare providers to lie to their patients,” Liston said. “People should be able to trust their doctors and nurses to give them accurate and complete information.”

Earlier this month, the Ohio senate passed a bill that would require doctors administering medication abortions to inform women about the option to pursue an abortion reversal if they changed their minds.

Liston criticized that legislation in May, saying it was based on inaccurate medical information and “an extreme ideology.”

“Abortion pill reversal is not true medicine,” Liston said at the time. “This is legislation that interferes with standard practice and inappropriately puts politicians between doctors and patients.”

Other states - including Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Utah - have passed laws requiring that patients undergoing medication abortions receive information about the possibility of a reversal. These laws have frequently been met with legal challenges.

Medication abortions have become an increasingly common method of abortion in the United States, making up 30-40% of all abortions.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills - the first pill, mifepristone (RU-486) blocks the progesterone hormone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the baby. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the baby.

Some women, after taking the first pill (mifepristone), experience regret and do not want to follow through with the abortion by taking misoprostol.

The abortion reversal protocol, administered after the mifepristone is taken, floods a woman’s system with more progesterone, in the hopes of overriding the progesterone-blocking effects of the drug she has in her system.

A study published in April 2018 in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68% with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64% with an injected progesterone protocol.

Both procedures significantly improved the 25% fetal survival rate if no treatment is offered and a woman simply declines the second pill of a medical abortion. The case study also showed that the progesterone treatments caused no increased risk of birth defects or preterm births.

The study was authored by Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009. Delgado also sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Delgado told the Washington Post that he thinks more research should be done on abortion pill reversal, but that he believes there should be nothing to stop doctors from using the progesterone protocol in the meantime.

“(T)he science is good enough that, since we have no alternative therapy and we know it's safe, we should go with it,” he said.

Advocates of the abortion reversal protocol stress that progesterone is a naturally occurring hormone in pregnant women that has been used for decades to treat women at risk of miscarriage.

Nurse practitioner Dede Chism, co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colo., stressed that hundreds of successful abortion pill reversals that have been documented in the U.S., without evidence of risk to the mom or baby.

Chism told CNA last year that it is common practice in medicine to share information about protocols that have yet to undergo even more rigorous prospective studies, if they have been shown to be safe and effective in case studies.

“We’re not causing harm, and even if the possibility of saving a baby is small, even if the population who desires it is small, is it not worth it to recognize it?” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful that there could be a possibility that just maybe could change and help you out when you’ve made a decision that you’ve regretted?”

“To be able to tell a patient that it may be possible in some circumstances to reverse an abortion pill, I think that is simply informed consent,” she added.

 

Bishop DiMarzio denies allegations of sexual abuse

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 15:54

Newark, N.J., Nov 13, 2019 / 01:54 pm (CNA).- Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn is rejecting an allegation that he sexually molested a minor in the 1970s, calling it a “false allegation.”

Allegations were reported Wednesday against DiMarzio, who recently concluded an investigation into accusations of cover-up against Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo.

“I am just learning about this allegation,” DiMarzio told the Associated Press. “In my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never engaged in unlawful or inappropriate behavior and I categorically deny this allegation.”

The bishop said in a Nov. 13 letter to members of his diocese that he will vigorously fight the allegation and is confident that his name will be cleared.

According to the Associated Press, 56-year-old Mark Matzek says DiMarzio and another priest, who is now deceased, repeatedly abused him when he was an altar server at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the Diocese of Newark. DiMarzio was a priest there at the time.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian sent a letter to the Archdiocese of Newark earlier this week notifying them that he is preparing a lawsuit on behalf of Matzek, according to the AP. The suit will ask for $20 million.

The Archdiocese of Newark said it had received the allegations and reported them to law enforcement, in accordance with Church policy for handling abuse accusations, the AP reports.

The state of New Jersey recently passed a law extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims. The window to file a lawsuit under the new legislation will open next month.

DiMarzio said in his letter that sex abuse is a “despicable crime” that he has worked for more than 15 years to eradicate in the diocese. He noted that the diocese has, under his leadership, instituted background checks and sexual abuse awareness training aimed at abuse prevention, as well as a victim assistance ministry and annual healing Mass to help reach out to victims.

DiMarzio recently completed an Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Buffalo, which has faced months of scandal surrounding its bishop, Richard Malone, who has been accused of mishandling sex abuse claims against a priest in his diocese.

Leaked documents and recordings from within the diocese appear to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before he removed the priest from ministry. Malone has said that he fell short in responding to the allegations, but denies that his actions amounted to a cover-up. He has resisted calls for his resignation.

The visitation, a canonical inspection and fact-finding mission, was ordered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops.

DiMarzio made three trips to Buffalo for the visitation, interviewing nearly 90 people. On Oct. 31, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that the visitation had been completed.

Garabedien, the attorney preparing the lawsuit, told the AP that the allegation against the DiMarzio taints his investigation into Bishop Malone, and said law enforcement should carry out a new investigation in Buffalo.

Adriana Rodriguez, press secretary for the Brooklyn diocese, told CNA Nov. 13 that the visitation report had been submitted to Rome the previous week.

US reporting mechanism for episcopal abuse cases could go live by February

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 13:48

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2019 / 11:48 am (CNA).- A national third-party reporting system for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct against bishops could be activated by February 2020, the U.S. bishops’ conference said Wednesday.

Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told bishops Nov. 13 at their annual fall meeting in Baltimore that a contract had been finalized for the anticipated third-party reporting mechanism for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops.

The system could be ready for use by February 2020, he said, well ahead of the Holy See’s May deadline. However, metropolitans and dioceses would need to be ready to receive allegations.

Picarello spoke to the U.S. bishops near the close of their general meeting in Baltimore held Nov. 11-14. The bishops had elected a new conference president—Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—and a new vice president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, as well as six committee chairs.

In September 2018, the bishops’ executive committee had initially proposed a third-party reporting mechanism to handle accusations made against bishops. The decision followed new claims of sex abuse that had been made against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in the summer of 2018; in August, McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals and assigned a life of prayer and penance.

At their November 2018 meeting, however, the U.S. bishops did not take substantive action on the abuse crisis following instructions from the Vatican that they not act until a clergy sex abuse summit in Rome would be convened in February 2019.

After that February summit, Pope Francis issued his apostolic letter Vos estis lux mundi, which outlined a canonical process of handling accusations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops.

To handle such accusations, the U.S. bishops voted overwhelmingly at their spring meeting in June to authorize a third-party reporting mechanism to receive accusations made online or by phone.

The mechanism had to be updated from the bishops’ September 2018 proposal. For instance, Vos estis called for allegations against bishops to be sent to regional metropolitans, not just the apostolic nuncio. Also, the system would have to handle specific violations outlined in Vos estis, not those listed in the U.S. Bishops’ Code of Conduct.

Picarello said on Wednesday that at their September 2019 meetings, the bishops’ administrative committee picked the vendor Conversant for the reporting system, decided how costs would be allocated, and finalized a contract. Dioceses would be billed directly for their portion of the overall cost.

The contract provides that the reporting system could go live by February 2020, he said.

In the ensuing discussions after Picarello’s presentation, some bishops expressed concern that the hotline could be hit with a deluge of irrelevant requests.

Once the number for the national hotline is advertised, could people share “all sorts of concerns” such as priests not genuflecting for the consecration at Mass, Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet in Illinois asked, at the insistence of his metropolitan, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, O.F.M. Conv., of Savannah asked if the reporting mechanism could be advertised too much.

Picarello replied that a process will be in place promptly to filter out irrelevant claims and ensure that allegations pertain to bishops and to those acts of misconduct listed in Vos estis.

“We just want to make sure this system is reserved for this very specific, very high-priority purpose,” Picarello said. The conference, he said, will provide advertisement resources for regional provinces but will ultimately leave the implementation to dioceses and provinces.

Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City asked how allegations made against religious superiors would be handled on the hotline. Picarello said the conference is waiting on a canonical determination for that question, as the matter is “complex.”

As SCOTUS hears DACA arguments, bishop calls for congressional action

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 11:44

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2019 / 09:44 am (CNA).- The USCCB’s migration committee chairman hopes that Congress can come to a solution regarding the situation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy recipients, as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case seeking approval to eliminate the program altogether.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin told CNA Nov.12 that while he and his brother bishops have been advocating for a congressional solution to DACA, their main concern now was the situation of the approximately 700,000 DACA recipients.

“Those people need also to have someone advocate for them. So the bishops need to speak up and say very clearly that these people, we don't want separation of families," said Vasquez. About 256,000 children have at least one parent with DACA status.

There are fears that if DACA were to be repealed, these people would then be deported, splitting up the family. This is “a big concern for the Church,” said Vasquez.

“The Church is always going to advocate on the side of the family, because the family is very important," he added.

DACA recipients, he said “already are...part of the fabric of this country” and contribute to the economy and to their communities.

“They’re leaders already in many of our parishes and churches,” said the bishop.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases – Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California; McAleenan, Secretary of Homeland Security v. Vidal; Trump, President of U.S. v. NAACP – which concern whether the Trump administration may end DACA outright.

President Barack Obama introduced DACA via executive memorandum in June 2012. It permits people who were brought to the United States illegally as children to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work permits. The program was set to expire in 2017, but this has been delayed after Congress was given a chance to codify parts of DACA into law.

Congress failed to pass DACA into law, and the partisan-based debate over immigration and border security has continued.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision about whether President Donald Trump would be permitted to end DACA in the spring or early summer of 2020.

As for Vasquez, he will continue to hope that Congress can come to a solution.

"My hope and prayer is that they would be able to do something, they'd be able to reconcile and come together and take care of these people,” he said. “I think deporting them is the wrong answer. It's not the way to address this issue.”

Amid NY officials' legal threats, Christian adoption agency gets chance for appeal

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 00:01

New York City, N.Y., Nov 12, 2019 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- New Hope Family Services, a Christian non-profit, is defending its long-standing child placement program from New York state officials who say it must shut down if it does not place children with same-sex and unmarried couples.

It is appealing a U.S. district court’s dismissal of its lawsuit, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has temporarily halted action against the agency until its appeal can be heard.

“Every child deserves a permanent home with loving parents,” Roger Brooks, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, said Nov. 5. “New Hope’s faith-based services do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers, but banishing it means fewer kids will find permanent homes, fewer adoptive parents will ever welcome their new child, and fewer birth parents will enjoy the exceptional support that New Hope has offered for decades.”

“We hope the court will permanently uphold New Hope’s ability to serve children and families according to the very beliefs that motivate its valuable services,” said Brooks, whose legal group is representing the agency.

New Hope Family Services said it has placed over 1,000 children in New York. It operates a pregnancy resource center and a foster placement agency. In accord with its beliefs, the agency only places children with married men and women.

Its lawsuit charged that New York state officials ordered the agency to change its child placement policy or submit a close-out plan.

State officials are “actively demanding that such ministries, including New Hope, violate their religious convictions and say things that they believe to be false — or shut their doors,” its lawsuit said. It objects that New York state has never changed adoption laws to require the placement of children with couples other than an adult husband and wife, Courthouse News Service reported in May.

According to the lawsuit, officials with the New York Office of Children and Family Services who made a site visit to the agency initially praised it for showing “a number of strengths in providing adoption services within the community.”

State officials later reviewed New Hope’s policy and procedures manual and allegedly singled out its policy on child placements. The officials described the policy as “discriminatory and impermissible.”

The attorneys said the agency refers couples it cannot serve to other providers and has received no formal complaints.

In May, U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino dismissed the agency’s lawsuit. She said Christian agencies are free to believe that unmarried or same-sex couples are unfit parents but cannot prohibit such couples from adopting without running afoul of laws barring discrimination, Courthouse News Service reported.

“While religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemptions from neutral, generally applied legal requirements,” she said.

While the agency argued that it faced discrimination based on its religious beliefs, the judge said the law was not discriminatory because it applied to any adoption service and did not single out the agency or Christian agencies.

“The fact that New Hope’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that OCFS’s decision to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs,” she said.

She said the agency is not being forced to state that it approves of non-married or same-sex couples. The state agency “is not prohibiting New Hope’s ongoing ministry in any way or compelling it to change the message it wishes to convey.”

In the judge’s view, the New York adoption statute was not drafted to interfere with any agency’s religious expression.

However, New York state rules have already forced the adoption and foster services of Catholic Charities of Buffalo to close because the rules do not allow the agency to maintain its practice of only placing children in homes with a married mother and father. The agency had been providing such services almost since it began more than 90 years ago.

“Because Catholic Charities cannot simultaneously comply with state regulations and conform to the teaching of the Catholic Church on the nature of marriage, Catholic Charities will discontinue foster care and adoption services,” the agency said in August 2018.

Long-standing Catholic and other Christian child placement agencies have been forced to close due to new laws or policies that considered their practices discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation. March 2006 marked the end of adoption services for Catholic Charities of Boston and the end of adoption services of Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois came in November 2011.

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia stopped placing adoptive children with Catholic Social Services, only days after calling for 300 new families to adopt foster children. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to review the case in mid-November.

On Nov. 1 the Trump Administration announced a change to federal rules to preserve federal funding of faith-based adoption agencies, regardless of their views on same-sex marriage.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it would revise a 2016 rule that required federally-funded child welfare agencies to place children with same-sex couples.

Analysis: US bishops at odds over abortion and 'the Francis test'

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 21:01

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- During the second day of the USCCB Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, divisions among the bishops bubbled briefly to the surface, with bishops exchanging sharp interventions on the “preeminence’ of abortion as a social concern.

 
The exchanges highlighted simmering tensions among the bishops, which have less to do with the centrality of abortion to the Church’s political engagement, and more to do with bishops contending to appear closer to the pope than their colleagues.

Cracks in the conference appeared as the bishops discussed amendments to a letter meant to accompany a series of videos aimed at helping Catholics engage with the American political process when Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked for a separate consideration of one of the amendments.
 
The cardinal suggested the insertion of a long paragraph into the text which would contextualize the Church’s position on life issues, and especially the teaching of Pope Francis.
 
The committee considering the amendments, led by the USCCB president-elect Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, agreed to include an abbreviated version of Cupich’s paragraph, including language insisting that the “firm and passionate” defense of the unborn should be matched with support for the “equally sacred” lives of the poor, inform, elderly, and marginalized.
 
Cupich argued that his proposed wording was necessary, even if it was longer, in order properly to represent the full concerns of the pope.
 
Speaking in support of Cupich, Bishop Robert McElroy told the assembly that he was specifically opposed to the letter’s retention of language calling abortion the “preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”
 
McElroy told the conference this language was “discordant with the pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent,” and implied that a failure to accept Cupich’s proposed language was tantamount to a breach with the Holy Father’s magisterium.
 
“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not.”
 
McElroy’s intervention triggered murmurs on the conference floor, with several bishops visibly distressed.
 
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia responded to McElroy, saying that calling abortion the “preeminent priority” was not just correct but necessary, pointing out that in the current American political context it was the most pressing concern. Chaput went on firmly to reject McElroy’s implication that recognizing this reality was in any way a breach with the pope, or a failure to present or value his own magisterium.
 
“I’m certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s full statement [as Cupich proposed],” Chaput said, “I think it’s a beautiful statement and I believe it.”
 
“But I am against anyone saying that our stating that [abortion] is preeminent is contrary to the teaching of the pope, because that isn’t true. It sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true.”
 
“I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used, because it isn’t true.”
 
In a rare break with etiquette, the bishops in the hall broke into applause in support of Chaput.

Pope Francis himself has repeatedly spoken out against abortion in the strongest possible terms, likening abortionists to “hitmen,” and comparing the practice to genocide “with white gloves.”
 
McElroy’s pointed suggestion that the U.S. bishops are out of step, even resistant, to the pope’s own teaching comes one week after the publication of a book which accused the American bishops of resisting the pope’s leadership in their efforts to pass stricter measures for bishops’ accountability last year. That book, Wounded Shepherd, drew a strong response from the USCCB, which last week said it “perpetuates an unfortunate and inaccurate myth that the Holy Father finds resistance among the leadership and staff of the U.S. bishops’ conference.”
 
As the bishops of the United States have been at pains to emphasize their closeness to the pope, many in Rome have noted the rise of a narrative in which Americans are cast as totems of opposition to Francis.
 
During a September trip to Africa, the pope casually remarked that “it is an honor that Americans are attacking me,” in response to a book which suggested that so-called conservative opposition to his teaching was organized by U.S. Catholics.
 
In his address at the opening of the USCCB assembly on Monday, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. emphasized the importance of the pope’s priorities being reflected in American dioceses, and many U.S. bishops, including the USCCB leadership, are deeply sensitive to the impression that they are anything less than supportive of the pope and reject any suggestion of disloyalty. Many also saw McElroy’s intervention as harmful to the conference and even disingenuous.
 
“He wants us to think that to disagree with him – or [Cardinal] Cupich – is to disagree with the pope. It’s not true, but it works to undermine the conference leadership,” another bishop told CNA immediately following the vote. “It doesn’t serve communion among us, or with the pope. It’s about personalities and power.”
 
The final vote on the amendment declined to include Cupich’s longer text, with applause again breaking out when the result was announced, but several bishops approached CNA after the session concluded to express their concerns that the actual substance of the amendment had been obscured by McElroy’s pointed intervention.
 
“I had no problem with either [Cupich’s] longer version or [Gomez’s] preferred formulation,” one bishop told CNA. “But Bishop McElroy suggesting that by calling abortion what it is in our society we are against the pope is absurd.”
 
The bishop suggested to CNA that McElroy’s intervention “needlessly weaponized” the debate about the language of the letter.
 
During a press conference after the morning session, several bishops sought to smooth over the exchange between McElroy and Chaput, insisting that there was no contradiction between the bishops holding abortion to be the “preeminent” concern for the conscience of Catholics and the teachings of Pope Francis.
 
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016, said that “The short answer is that yes, abortion is the preeminent [concern] and the vote makes that obvious.”
 
Asked about McElroy’s characterization of his view, and that of the conference, that calling abortion the preeminent concern was either opposed to or discordant with the pope’s teaching, the cardinal suggested the McElroy was perhaps trying to make a different point.
 
“I think Bishop McElroy was warning against exclusive choices – either/or – or highlighting something to the point that other issues disappear. And I think, if I have understood his intention correctly, he was right.”
 
It is likely that McElroy’s intervention will be raised behind closed doors, when the bishops will gavel themselves into executive session. Behind closed doors, efforts to insist that the conference speaks and thinks with one mind are unlikely to continue long.
 
The increasingly serious challenge facing the large majority of U.S. bishops is how to deal with a small minority of their number who seem to be attempting to position themselves between the conference leadership and Rome, and appearing to drive a wedge between them and the pope at the same time.

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