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For opposing gay marriage, she's facing death threats and million-dollar lawsuits

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 05:04

New York City, N.Y., Apr 18, 2018 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Barronelle Stutzman took a stand for her Christian beliefs nearly five years ago, she never imagined that she would eventually be appealing to the US Supreme Court to defend her decision.

But that’s exactly what happened.

“This was never on my bucket list,” Barronelle told CNA.

The 72-year-old grandmother is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, and is currently involved in a lawsuit involving a customer of nearly 10 years, Rob Ingersoll.

Barronelle knew Rob was gay from the beginning. “It was never an issue,” she said. She enjoyed working with him, and said he would pick out creative vases and containers, and would come in with flower requests for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions.

“I loved doing arrangements for Rob, because I got to think outside of the box, and do something special for him.”

But when Rob came in and told Barronelle that he had gotten engaged to his boyfriend, she took him by the hand and explained that she believed marriage to be a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so she could not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

Initially, Rob said that he understood and asked if she could recommend another florist, which she did.

Later, however, his partner posted a message on social media about Barronelle declining to take part in the wedding, and it went viral. Soon, she was informed that she was being sued by the Washington State attorney general and the ACLU. Today, more than four years later, Barronelle is waiting to hear whether the US Supreme Court will take her case.

And while the actual damages being sought by the couple are only around $7 – the mileage cost of driving to another florist – Barronelle could be responsible for more than $1 million in legal fees to nearly a dozen ACLU lawyers opposing her in the case.

Barronelle, who is Southern Baptist, spoke at a panel discussion in New York City last November, hosted by ADF International, the global branch of the non-profit legal group that is representing her in court.

“Because I have a belief that is marriage is between one man and a woman, we could possibly lose everything we own, everything we’ve saved for our kids and grandkids,” Barronelle said.

She explained that while the decision to decline a same-sex wedding was difficult, it was the only way she could stay true to her beliefs. For her, weddings are much more than simply a job – they’re a deeply personal labor of love, and she pours her heart and soul into her work.

“I spend months – sometimes years – with the bride and groom. I get to know them personally, what they want to convey, what the bride wants, what her vision is. There’s so much personal involvement in this.”

At the wedding, Barronelle will often help greet guests and calm nervous parents. “When we get the bride down the aisle, then I know I’ve done my job,” she said.

With floral arrangements for weddings being such a personal endeavor, she knew that she would be betraying her relationship with Christ if she participated in a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Over the last four-and-a-half years, Barronelle has received an outpouring of support – customers coming in to offer a kind word or a hug, strangers telling her they are praying for her family, and messages of encouragement from 68 countries.

But she’s also received death threats. She’s had to install a security system and change her route to work.

“Even today, we're very aware of people who come in who might do us harm,” she said.

Also hard, she said, has been losing her relationship with Rob. She said she misses him and harbors no anger against him.

“I can tell you that if Rob walked into my store today, I would hug him, catch up on his life, and I would wait on him for another 10 years if he’d let me.”

She also has a message for her fellow Americans: stand up for religious freedom, before it’s too late.

“Don’t think this cannot happen to you,” she said. “I never thought that we would have a government that would come in and tell you what to think, what to do, what to say, what to create – and if you don’t do it, you’ll be totally destroyed.”

“If we don’t stand now, there will be nothing to stand for.”


An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA Nov. 3, 2017.

Former Catholic Charities employee sentenced for embezzlement

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 17:23

Oklahoma City, Okla., Apr 17, 2018 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A former immigration services director of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City has been sentenced to 10 years probation after she embezzled thousands of dollars that were intended to be used for immigration fees.

Margarita I. Solis, of Oklahoma City, stole money from immigration clients in 2015 and 2016. She was charged with embezzlement in April 2017. Solis worked as an attorney and assisted Catholic Charities’ clients with immigration issues, including acquiring green cards and U.S. citizenship.

According to the charges, Solis would convert money orders given to her for immigration fees to be payable to herself, and then cash them. Prosecutors claim she stole $2,830 in 2015 and 2016, and later was accused of converting about $24,000 of filing fees into money orders for her personal use.

She resigned as an attorney in November 2017 before pleading guilty to three felony counts of embezzlement last week. As part of the plea agreement, she received probation.

If she is able to complete probation, she will not be labeled as a felon.

She paid $2,500 in restitution to Catholic Charities.

Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City, said in a statement published in The Oklahoman that his staff did not hold any ill will against Solis, and that they sought to deal with the matter as “compassionately” as possible.

“Many of our clients come from brokenness and we deal with human brokenness all the time,” said Raglow. “And occasionally, some of our staff have brokenness also.”


'Pope's choir' to go on first-ever US national tour

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 14:32

Vatican City, Apr 17, 2018 / 12:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican’s Sistine Chapel Choir, known as ‘the pope’s choir,’ will head to the United States this summer for an eight-city concert tour.

This is the choir’s first nation-wide tour and will include stops in Atlanta, New York City, St. Louis, Detroit, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles from July 3-July 23.

The national tour follows less than a year after the choir’s first U.S. performance in three decades, which took place last September, with the choir performing at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., New York, and Detroit.

Known officially as the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina, the choir is comprised of 20 professional singers from around the world, as well as a treble section made up of 35 boys aged 9-13, called the Pueri Cantores.

With a 1,500-year history, the Sistine Chapel Choir is believed to be the oldest active choir in the world.

Mark Spyropoulos, a choir member from the United Kingdom, told EWTN that in his opinion, the purpose of the tour “is to bring to America the spiritual intensity of the Sistine Chapel, the transcendent beauty which is at the heart of the Vatican.”

“We are bringing to you some of the finest music from the Vatican and from the archives that go back to the sixteenth century,” he said. “We bring the music which reflects those famous and beautiful frescoes of Michelangelo.”

The choir’s director, Fr. Massimo Palombella, said in a statement that the Sistine Chapel Choir “is delighted and honored to embark on our historic first U.S. national tour.”

“We are excited to experience the many great cities we will visit and look forward to sharing our cutting-edge research and study of Renaissance music, directly from the archives of the Sistine Chapel, preserved in the Vatican Library, to audiences across America.”

After attending Italy’s prestigious conservatory and spending years as a theology and music teacher, Palombella became the director at the Pontifical Music Chapel and began conducting the choir in 2010.

Palombella studied philosophy and theology at the Salesian Pontifical University and trained under organ players Luigi Molfino and Bishop Valentino Miserachs Grau. He also attended the Conservatory of Turin.

Ordained a priest of the Salesian order in 1995, he began teaching dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Salesian University and the Language of Music at Sapienza University of Rome. He then succeeded Father Giuseppe Liberto as director of the Sistine Chapel Choir.

More information can be found at
This report contains material from EWTN News Nightly.

How a Catholic congressman agreed to be part of a pope documentary

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 04:57

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2018 / 02:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) is not shy about his Catholic faith. He holds a master's degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and has spoken openly about his beliefs.

Recently, he was featured on CNN’s new miniseries, Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History. Fortenberry spoke to CNA about his experience with filming, and his thoughts on balancing his faith with being a public figure.

The congressman first became involved with the project about six months ago, when CNN producers reached out to him about the show. He said he had “a little hesitancy” initially, but after meeting with the network, he agreed to contribute to the series.

“I was impressed by their outline of the topics under consideration and how they wanted to look at the papacy through a historical lens, as well as the intersection of both papal power and temporal power,” Fortenbery told CNA.

On the show, Fortenberry said he wanted to present both an accurate portrayal of Catholics as well as faithful commentary to the issues that were discussed. He told CNA that he tried to focus on how the world is a “duality of sorts,” and that Catholics today have to balance living out their faith as well as living in the secular world.

“Spirituality is not left for Sunday, and Monday is other things. As Catholics, as Christians, we operate in two realms all at once, both the spiritual and temporal,” he said.

Shows like this being broadcast on secular networks are important, said Fortenberry. He believes that “the world is screaming for deeper meaning,” and that the only way this meaning can be found is through “authentic dialogue” with people who may not believe the same things.

“Even if it’s in secular media, as long as the media’s attention is reasonable,” explained Fortenberry. “I think we absolutely have to participate in these types of media presentations.”

Reflecting on the papacy, Fortenberry believes the institution is regarded as an “immovable, unchangeable force for good” in the middle of an ever-changing world.

“In fact that's one of the things I reflected on in the show, that we're living in a context of upheaval and change, and it's bewildering to most people, particularly the older generation, who see everything around them that gave them stability and lessened vulnerability crumbling.”

The papal visits to the United States of Benedict XVI in 2008 and Pope Francis in 2015 resulted in an “outpouring of joy and love,” which the congressman believes is a reflection of the respect for the stability of the office.

“In an age of real anxiety, and ever-shifting change, the permanency of the papacy gives people something to cling to that is higher, and everlasting. And it has deep meaning for people even of non-Christian traditions, even people who are just authentically striving for good through goodwill.”

Fortenberry said that in the end, he believes CNN was “very faithful” to the comments he provided, and “integrated them holistically” into the larger theme of the historic aspects of the papacy.

“I’m glad I did the show, I was impressed by the sincerity of the producers,” he said.

US promises $16 million to aid Venezuelan refugees

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 18:33

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2018 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela deepens, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that the United States will provide nearly $16 million in aid to Venezuelan refugees.

Pence made the announcement at the Summit of the Americas in Peru on April 13.

Due to hyperinflation and economic collapse, Venezuelans face severe food and medical shortages.

The average Venezuelan lost 24 pounds over the past year with 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line, according to researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Caritas Venezuela, a Catholic charitable organization, has warned that 280,000 children are at risk of dying from malnutrition. In response, Caritas is in the process of setting up a network of nutrition monitoring centers in over 50 parishes. Soup kitchens operate in more than 400 parishes in Venezuela, according to Caritas.

The economic crisis has led 1.2 million refugees to flee Venezuela in the past two years, according to CSIS.

Many refugees have fled to neighboring Cúcuta, Colombia, where Catholic bishop Victor Manuel Ochoa oversees a ministry that serves 8,000 hot meals each day for the displaced.

Within Venezuela, “coping strategies such as eating only one meal a day and relying on a diet composed mainly of cassava root are common …” wrote Caritas’ Isabel Herrera in a recent blog post.

Many blame Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s economic mismanagement for the crisis. Despite this, Maduro has repeatedly refused humanitarian aid from the international community.

A State Department representative called on the Venezuelan leader to accept food and medical aid for his country following Pence’s announcement in Lima.

The $16 million in funding from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development includes a contribution to the United Nations’ regional refugee response and humanitarian organizations working in the region.

According to the State Department, “This assistance will help provide the people of Venezuela safe drinking water, hygiene supplies, shelter, protection from violence and exploitation, and work and education opportunities, in coordination with other humanitarian organizations and government partners.”

The funds are in addition to the $2.5 million the U.S. promised for emergency food and health assistance last month.

U.S. President Donald Trump was originally supposed to travel to the Summit of the Americas in Lima, but ended up canceling his trip due to the U.S. response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria. Vice President Pence traveled to South America in his stead.

Maduro, the handpicked successor of Hugo Chavez, has continued Venezuela’s socialist economic policies without the added boost of high oil prices that benefitted his predecessor.

In 2017, the Venezuelan president took steps to consolidate his power across all branches of government and redrafted the constitution.

Maduro, whom U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has called “an abusive dictator,” faces a national election this May, but experts have voiced concern that it will not be a free or fair election.


Ukrainian Archbishop of Philadelphia retires for health reasons

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 11:56

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 16, 2018 / 09:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Monday accepted the resignation for medical reasons of Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Bishop Andriy Rabiy, an auxiliary bishop of the archeparchy, was appointed apostolic administrator.

In an April 16 statement, Archbishop Soroka, 66, said his resignation was accepted “for medical reasons” and expressed his gratitude for “the many challenges and blessings” of the past 17 years as archbishop.

“Success in responding to the varying needs of the Archeparchy and its parishes was achieved with the positive and hopeful participation of clergy, religious and laity enabled by the Grace of God,” he said.

He noted that some highlights from his years of leadership were parish liturgical celebrations, visits, pilgrimages, and festivals. He also said that he “was inspired by the dedication of the clergy, religious and faithful and their love for their Church.”

“The Risen Christ greeted his apostles with the words, ‘Peace be with you!’ May the peace offered by the Risen Christ characterize our continued love and service of our Ukrainian Catholic Church.”

“Let us remember one another in prayer as we seek the intercession of the Mother of God in this time of transition being experienced within the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and in our Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA.”

Soroka was born Nov. 13, 1951 in Winnipeg, Canada. His father was from Ukraine and his mother was from Poland. They married in the Catholic Church in Austria in 1945 and immigrated to Canada six years later.

Soroka and his twin brother, Joseph, were both raised in the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg before starting seminary formation at St. Josephat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Washington, D.C.

He later also received a doctorate in social work in May 1985 from the Catholic University of America in D.C.

Soroka was ordained a priest for the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Winnipeg on June 13, 1982, and in 1996 he was consecrated an auxiliary bishop for the same archeparchy.

In November 2000, he was appointed Archbishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

Before becoming archbishop, he served as the vocations director of the Winnipeg archeparchy for 15 years. He was a social worker and corrections officer before entering the seminary.

Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Andriy Rabiy to operate as apostolic administrator until an archbishop is appointed to fill the now-vacant seat of the archbishop.

Rabiy has served as an auxiliary bishop for the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia alongside fellow auxiliary Bishop John Bura since August 2017.

Born in Lviv, Ukraine in 1975, he entered the Ivano-Frankivsk Seminary in 1992, and in August 1994 moved to the United States to continue his studies at St. Josephat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary.

He also attended classes at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and in 1999 received a bachelor’s degree from the university. He continued his studies at the Dominican House of Studies, graduating with a Master of Divinity in May 2002.

On Dec. 19, 2001, Rabiy was ordained a priest of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia. He also received a licentiate in canon law from the Catholic University of America in 2008, completing a dissertation on the patriarchal tribunal in the Eastern Church.

Before being appointed auxiliary bishop, Rabiy was protosyncellus of the archeparchy (equivalent to a vicar general in the Latin rite).

The life of a hermit: A glimpse inside the little-known state of life

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 18:01

Portland, Maine, Apr 15, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The word ‘hermit’ might conjure up some strange images, a la John the Baptist living reclusively in the desert, wearing a hair shirt and eating locusts and honey.

The word itself comes from the Greek ‘eremos’, meaning wilderness or an isolated place. The vocation of a hermit became most popular among early Christians, who, inspired by Old Testament saints such as Elijah and John the Baptist, desired to live a life set apart and therefore withdrew into the desert in order to live lives of prayer and penance.

But the vocation is still a recognized calling in the Church today, and is about so much more than seemingly-odd ascetic practices and isolation.

In the interview below, Brother Rex, a hermit at Little Portion Hermitage in the Diocese of Portland, told Catholic News Agency what it is like to live the eremitic life in the 21st century.


What does it mean to be a hermit?

According to the Church's latest Code of Canon Law the canonical definition of a hermit is as follows:

Can. 603 §1. In addition to institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a stricter withdrawal from the world, the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance.

§2. A hermit is recognized by law as one dedicated to God in consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of the diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes a proper program of living under his direction.

A shorthand and non-canonical definition that I use is to say that a hermit is a woman or man who lives alone expressly for the glory of God, the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. Some hermits are consecrated by the Church per Canon 603 above and live their vocation in the name of the Church; some hermits live out their calling without publicly professing their commitment in the hands of the diocesan bishop. I am hermit of the former kind, i.e. according to Canon 603.

How did you find out about this way of life, and what drew you to it?

Grace drew me to this life. The example of the Desert Fathers and Mothers drew me to this life. The example of many of the great saints throughout history - Francis of Assisi, just to name one well-known saint who lived as hermit for a time before he was called to found a religious fraternity of Brother - drew me to this life. Through all and with all and in all of this it was God's grace calling me to this particular way of discipleship.

How does one become a hermit? Was there someone you followed or learned from? How is the formation process different than that of a religious in community?

If a person wishes to discern a vocation to the eremitic life according to Canon 603, that person will want to contact the chancery of the diocese in which they live to determine whether or not the Ordinary of the diocese is open to the possibility of having a hermit under his canonical jurisdiction. If he is, the Ordinary or his representative in conversation with the would-be hermit will determine how the discernment process is to proceed.

What does a day in the life of a hermit look like?

Each hermit has his or her own schedule. My schedule looks like this:

My day begins around 4:00 a.m. I make a daily Holy Hour from 5:00-6:00 a.m. during which I pray the Morning Office. I attend daily Mass at a local parish at 7:00 a.m. After returning from Mass I have breakfast and spend the rest of the morning engaged in spiritual reading, Lectio Divina, and meeting occasionally with any person who has made an appointment to see me for spiritual direction. After Noonday Prayer and lunch, the afternoon (approximately 1-5 p.m.) consists of a work period during which I respond to email, and take prayer requests via email or regular mail. I pray the Evening Office at 5:00 p.m., my evening meal is at 5:30pm, Night Prayer is at 7 p.m., and lights out by 8 p.m. most nights.

This schedule is rigid enough to provide stability for my vocation in the silence of solitude, yet flexible enough to accommodate running errands, doctor's appointments, accomplishing tasks around the hermitage and so forth.

How isolated are hermits, in practice? How often or in what context do you encounter other people?

It varies. Some hermits rarely venture out of their hermitage. Some hermits venture out a couple of days a week to some form of work to provide financial support. The amount of time a hermit spends outside the hermitage or otherwise encounters other people is determined to a large degree by the interpretation of Canon 603 in dialogue with their Ordinary or his representative, and the hermit's Rule or Plan of Life.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about this way of life that you have encountered?

The biggest misconception I have encountered is that people seem to think that hermits are misanthropes who dislike other people and so hide away from them; that our life is not so because we love God, but because we can't get along with other people (at best) or dislike humans altogether (at worst).

I remember one person telling me I couldn't possibly be a hermit because I am too outgoing and friendly toward others! That being said, I would argue that eremitic life and misanthropy are two very different things. Eremitic life is a calling from God and includes a love of others. Misanthropy on the other hand is a psychologically maladaptive response to the world. This is not to say that all hermits are friendly and outgoing - being friendly and outgoing are a matter of temperament - but it is to say that hermits in a healthy and Christian sense do not, indeed cannot, "dislike humankind" which is the very definition of misanthropy.

What are some of the most joyful aspects of the life of a hermit?

One of the most joyful aspect of my life as a hermit is the opportunity God has given me to spend long periods in the silence of solitude to practice being present to God and to my neighbor through prayer. Paradoxically perhaps, another joyful aspect of my vocation is the part I am blessed to play in the lives of other people as they invite me to join them on their life journey through the ministry of intercessory prayer. Thus, in a particular way i am able to fulfill Our Lord's command to love God and neighbor.

Are there other hermits in the U.S. that you know of, or have met? Is there a hermit network of sorts?

I'm sure someone somewhere keeps an official tally of the total number of consecrated hermits in the Church throughout world, but I don't know who or where. In the diocese where I live there are five or six other hermits listed in the official Diocesan Directory. I am also aware of hermits, both male and female, in other dioceses in the U.S. and abroad. As for a ‘hermit network,’ I know of nothing official, but some of us do keep in touch via an occasional email, or letter or phone call. As I said, we not misanthropes. Not most of us, anyway!

Is there anything that you wish other Catholics, Christians or society at large knew about being a hermit?

What I pray for other Catholics, non-Catholic Christians and society at large is that they, like me, come to experience the freedom, happiness and joy that comes from submitting one's will and life to the loving lordship of Jesus Christ in whatever state of life they find themselves.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Assure your readers that I live my vocation as a prayer for them. Ask them to please pray for me, a sinner.


Prayer requests for Brother Rex, as well as his spiritual reflections and links for financial support, can be found at Friends of Little Portion Hermitage.

Film and evangelization – how Bishop Barron inspired high school seniors

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 17:01

Richmond, Va., Apr 14, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Each year at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School, students are required to complete a “senior evangelization project” for their final year's theology class.

This year, the students have been assigned by their teacher, John Goerke, with tackling their class project through a particular medium: film.

Each student has been charged with researching, writing, shooting, and editing their own film about Catholicism, inspired by Bishop Robert Barron’s own video series, “Catholicism: Pivotal Players”.

Because the project was inspired by Bishop Barron himself, the students and Goerke recently asked the Los Angeles auxiliary bishop in a video letter on Twitter to judge the final five nominees and choose the winner of what the school is calling the “Bishop Barron Video Award.”

He agreed.

“How could I say no?” Barron told CNA.

Barron remarked that he was notified late Thursday night of the video letter by a friend of his. After watching it, he said he was “very touched and moved” by the whole story. He later replied to the Tweet, saying “Wow, this made my day!”

“My own thinking has kind of impacted these kids and my own approach to evangelization has influenced them, so I was very moved by it and was very grateful to their teacher,” Barron noted.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">On behalf of the entire senior class of <a href="">@BpSullivanCHS</a>, we want to thank <a href="">@BishopBarron</a> for responding so quickly to our video letter. Thank you also to <a href="">@ccpecknold</a>, <a href="">@KayBisaillon</a>, <a href="">@FrGoyo</a>  and everyone else who spread the word. (And those who every day spread the Word.) Thank You</p>&mdash; John Thomas Goerke (@JohnTGoerke) <a href="">April 13, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

The seniors at Bishop Sullivan produced 34 videos in total and put in more than 300 hours of combined work into the making of the films. Goerke said he would view all of the films, and narrow down the finalist list to five nominees. These final films will be reviewed by Bishop Barron.

As Barron watches the videos, he said he would be looking for a number of different qualities in order to determine the winner.

“I suppose I am looking for a combination of content and style. I’d also like it to be substantive, because that has been a big part of my work – I don’t want evangelization to just be superficial and flashy,” he said.

He said the students should not have a problem incorporating substance into their videos, since they have been learning from great minds, such as G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Bl. John Henry Newman.

Barron also noted that he would be looking for films which are “visually engaging” and “artistically done, with a little touch of creativity and maybe a little bit of humor.”

Among the film topics submitted by the students range from the resurgence of the Tridentine Mass among young Catholics to the Sisters of Life out of the Archdiocese of New York.

The videos will be recognized at the school’s Senior Awards Ceremony and baccalaureate Mass.  

Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach, Va., more than 100 miles southeast of Richmond, has educational roots dating back to 1848 and was founded as a college preparatory school with the aim of nurturing the intellect, character, and Christian values.

Commentary: Hearing the Young

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 18:59

Denver, Colo., Apr 13, 2018 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- By the time he was 30, Karol Wojtyla had endured the death of two parents, suffered through a Nazi occupation, earned a doctorate, and become a priest of Jesus Christ.

By the time she was 30, Josephine Bakhita had been captured as a slave, endured brutal beatings, run away for slave traders, crossed a desert by camel, and taken up residence in an Italian convent of nuns.

By the time he was 30, Francis of Assisi had been a prisoner of war, renounced a life of comfort, become a mystic, founded a community, and taken up a mission to rebuild Christ’s Church.

Therese of Lisieux never made it to 30. She lived her little way of love until she died at 24. One hundred years later, John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church.

Young people can do incredible and important things for God. They can endure difficult circumstances with grace. They can preach the Gospel, and witness to Christ.

By the time he was 30, Raymond Arroyo had also done something big for the Lord: he'd launched “The World Over Live,” a long-running EWTN television show dedicated to news and conversation from a perspective of faith.

Arroyo knows that young people can do great things. This is why it was surprising that on his television program this week, he asked guests: “Why are we listening to young people, who really haven’t experienced a lot of life, or of God, frankly?”

Arroyo and his guests were discussing a Vatican gathering of young people from around the world, invited to share their perspectives on the challenges of the modern era and the role the Church can play in evangelization and the formation of youth, in advance of an October synod of bishops on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”

To some young people, the show’s discussion implied that young people are constitutionally unable to cogently articulate their views, and that they have little to contribute to a discussion about evangelization, catechesis, and pastoral care.

Some young people found this offensive-- I know this because before I finished my coffee this morning, I got texts, DMs, and phone calls saying so, from young and faithful priests, from young mothers of large families, and from faithful Catholics engaged in youth ministry and missionary work.

I agree with their criticism. Some of the discussion seemed dismissive of young people, alternately suggesting that they were being used as patsies, that their views had little value, or that their apparently poor catechesis rendered their perspective unhelpful. And the idea that young people necessarily have limited life experience or spiritual wisdom runs contrary to 2,000 years of holiness among the Church’s youth.

I don’t know what Arroyo intended- I doubt he meant to sound dismissive of participants in the Vatican meeting, and of young people in general. I suspect, instead, his intention was to criticize the structure of the gathering, and the document it produced. I suspect he has concerns about the upcoming synod on young people.

Many people suspect that a faction of the synod’s bishops will seek to undermine the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception- claiming that openness to life is an ideal, but unachievable for many couples, who might choose in good conscience to use artificial contraception. Many people also suspect that the synod might be an occasion in which the universal call to holiness is watered down, and the Church seems to capitulate ever more to the prevailing social, sexual, and cultural norms of our time.

Those are legitimate concerns, and I share them.

Arroyo may have also, like me, found parts of the document produced by the Vatican’s youth meeting to be confusing, agenda-driven, and inconsistent. The document says some beautiful and important things, and some things that don’t make sense. But it reflects, or at least is intended to reflect, perspectives actually expressed by young people, Catholic and non-Catholic, from around the world.

So why did the Church ask young people for their perspectives? She asked because listening is the first step in evangelization and formation. Jesus began many of his most profound evangelical encounters by asking questions. The answers he got were sometimes truthful, sometimes silly, and sometimes confusing. But they began a conversation, and they allowed the Lord to respond to the person right in front of him, leading a soul to conversion.

I spend a lot of time listening to my children. Sometimes they say beautiful things. Sometimes I have no idea what they’re saying. Sometimes, what they’re saying is juvenile- they’re children, so that makes sense. But I listen to them so that I know them, understand them, and begin to respond to their interests, their hopes, their confusion, and their needs. This doesn’t mean that I will change my commitment to forming them in faith. It means only that I love them, respect them, and care enough about them to give them space to share their views. I’ve learned to listen to my children mostly from my wife, of course, but she learned it from Jesus.

Arroyo is right to be concerned about what might come of the upcoming synod. All Catholics should urge our bishops to stand for truth, and pray the Church’s leaders will be strong and courageous in promoting and defending the truth. We should recognize Satan, the enemy of truth.

But the question asked on “The World Over Live” is not the right question. We listen to young people to hear their perspective. Having done that, we need to ask what the Synod of Bishops will actually do with their answers. We need to ask what plan will be developed to evangelize young people living in broken families and a broken culture-- to call them to holiness, rather than validate their choices. We need to ask how we can form them - intellectually, spiritually, socially, and morally - given the vapid, pornographic, lonely, and amoral culture in which many of them were raised. And we need to ask how we can support young people already living as disciples of Jesus, among them the smart, faithful, evangelistic twentysomethings in CNA’s newsroom, who face temptations to discouragement amidst a confusing era in the Church’s own life.  

Souls - those of young and old alike - are the prize. Calling young people to Jesus -  Catholic or not, well-catechized or not - is the goal. The Church needs the energy, enthusiasm, and ideas of young people. And young people need the merciful love of Christ, expressed in the life of his Church.

Hearing what young people say, no matter how strongly we disagree, can be the first step to evangelizing them. Dismissing those invited to speak, rather than engaging with their ideas, will not move them toward the Lord.

“In the sharing of ideals, problems and hopes, Pope St. John Paul II said, “young people will experience living the reality promised by Jesus: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’”

Young people, the Church wants to hear you. She wants to know you. She wants to hear your questions. And then she wants to propose that Jesus Christ is the answer to every question, every hope, every fear, and every longing in your heart, and in every human heart.


Catholic agencies concerned by drastic drop in Syrian refugees admitted to US

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 18:38

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2018 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders have said that the dramatic decrease in the number of Syrian refugees accepted by the United States is of great humanitarian concern.

While the United States government is in the midst of condemning and investigating recent suspected chemical warfare attacks reportedly carried out by the Syrian government, the number of Syrian refugees accepted by the United States has declined dramatically this year.

According to the State Department, the United States has accepted only 11 Syrian refugees so far this year, compared with 790 over the same period in 2016.

More than 10 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes over the course of a civil war that has been ongoing for the past seven years. Many of these refugees have overwhelmingly flooded neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.

“The precipitous decline in the number of Syrians the United States is resettling is extremely concerning,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, told CNA.

“...millions of Syrians remain displaced, caught in a web of violence and proxy wars,” he added. “The United States has traditionally taken the most vulnerable refugees, including Syrians, who have suffered terrible trauma or would be unable to go home. These refugees are the neighbors Jesus told us to love in the Gospel. We can safely welcome thousands of these women, men, and children to our country.”

In 2016, the United States resettled more than 15,000 Syrian refugees, and just over 3,000 in 2017. If the current rate is maintained, fewer than 50 Syrian refugees will be resettled in the United States in 2018.

For 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump set the total number of refugees that would be accepted by the United States at 45,000, and travel bans and other obstacles have slowed immigration even further.

Edward Clancy, director of outreach for Aid to the Church in Need, USA, told CNA that U.S. immigration policies have also been particularly unfair to Christian refugees in previous years.

“The number of Christian refugees has been very low compared to their representation in the population, so we’re speaking out on behalf of Christians with no voice in the Middle East...we’ve made it part of our mandate to support the Christian community in the Middle East in these areas of refugees, food shelter, pastoral care, whatever is needed,” Clancy told CNA.

Clancy noted that many churches in the United States have been very generous at the local level in supporting and welcoming new refugees, but he urged Catholics and Christians to get in touch with their representatives to voice their concerns about policies affecting Syrian and other refugees.

“If they feel that something needs to be done, then they should contact their congressman or senator to say that we have to make sure that these people have every opportunity for life, because that’s what it comes down to,” Clancy said.

“They’re leaving...mainly just to stay alive. Almost all of them want to stay home, they want to stay where they come from, they don't want to move, they’re being forced to do so, so we should be understanding of that,” he said.

Bill Canny, executive director for Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), told CNA that the number of refugees the United States was accepting from Syria in past years was already small in comparison to the millions who were forced to flee their homes.

The U.S. Bishops had advocated for an annual refugee cap of at least 75,000 for the United States for 2018, before the Trump administration announced it would be 45,000, Canny added.

“We were already only able to help a few, and not being able to do that is very disconcerting,” Canny told CNA.

The USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Service is one of nine national resettlement programs, working with the Catholic Charities network throughout the country to help resettle refugees, including Syrians. Most refugees arrive in the United States simply wanting a dignified life and are eager to be contributing citizens, Canny noted.

“They want good education for their children, they jump on work opportunities, I think that in a matter of a few months at least 75 percent of refugees get a job and start working,” he said. “These are people who have suffered badly, languishing in either refugee camps or urban slums oftentimes, who deserve another chance.”

He added that refugees who enter the United States were already subjected to the strictest vetting, and that additional security measures were not necessary.

“While we respect safety concerns and we know it’s the government’s right to keep us safe, we don’t think the refugee program is an avenue of danger to our citizens, due to the extensive security checks that have been done for a number of years,” Canny said.

Furthermore, the issue of refugee resettlement should be of particular concern to Christians because the Gospel compels them to care for the poor and the needy, Canny noted.

“Certainly it’s a core responsibility of our faith, from exhortations in the Old Testament to welcome the stranger, to make sure that one cares for newcomers, and of course from the New Testament and the teachings of Christ,” he said. “Matthew 25 compels us to help the neediest, and certainly refugees are really the neediest.”

Salvadoran bishops visit US to ask that migrant protections be restored

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 18:14

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2018 / 04:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of prominent Church officials from El Salvador visited the United States this week to urge a reconsideration of recent changes to immigration policy.

In January 2018, the Department of Homeland Security terminated the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that was granted to El Salvador in 2001, following a massive earthquake in the country. TPS is granted for countries who are experiencing an ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or “other extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent people from safely returning home to the country.”

Citizens of countries with TPS are generally shielded from being deported if they are found to be in the country illegally. The Trump administration has also recently terminated TPS for Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua.

If nothing changes prior to Sept. 9, 2019, about 200,000 Salvadorans will have to leave the United States, presumably to return to El Salvador. In addition to the Salvadorans protected under TPS, there are an estimated 270,000 U.S. citizen children who have been born to these people over the last decade and a half. The bishops were concerned that the termination of TPS would force these families of mixed immigration status to be torn in half.

The forced return of 200,000 people to El Salvador is not an acceptable option, according to many Church officials. Cardinal José Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, joined by Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador, Bishop Elías Samuel Bolaños Avelar of Zacatecoluca, Bishop William Ernesto Iraheta Rivera of Santiago de Maria, and Bishop Mario Doronsville-Rodriguez, auxiliary bishop of Washington, spoke at a roundtable discussion hosted by the USCCB and Catholic Relief Services.

The situation in El Salvador is dangerous due to gang violence and severe poverty, said the bishops. This makes it unsafe for people to live in the country, and there are very few employment opportunities. The influx of people returning to El Salvador from the United States may overwhelm the already-fragile economy, they warned. Additionally, many Salvadorans living in the United States send remittances to El Salvador, which provides a boost to their economy.

If TPS is revoked, these payments would end and would further damage the economy in the country.

Gang violence has gotten to the point where the Archbishop Escobar issued a pastoral letter – his first – on the issue in 2016. The bishops spoke about their hope for the canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero, who would be the country’s first recognized saint. Romero was assassinated in 1980.

“The lack of employment opportunities, the fact that gangs have infiltrated every part of life, including schools, in El Salvador, make it almost impossible for a basic life,” explained Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell, a senior legislative specialist at Catholic Relief Services.

“For these people, they have but few options than to come to the United States.”

Besides the requests for changes to TPS, the bishops and CRS also hoped that Congress would move forward on codifying part or all of DACA into law, plus create a path to citizenship for people who are living in the United States illegally.

The roundtable was part of a larger visit by the Salvadoran clergy. From April 9-14, the bishops were in the Washington, DC area to meet with members of Congress and to visit with Salvadorans living in the area. Alexandria, Va., which is located just outside of Washington, is home to one of the largest concentrations of Salvadoran immigrants.

This Catholic Arts Competition aims to foster beautiful Christian art

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 05:01

Greensburg, Pa., Apr 13, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic liberal arts college in Pennsylvania is hosting its seventh biennial Catholic Arts Competition and Exhibition to move artists and buyers towards diverse, original, and beautiful Christian art.

Originating in 2001, the competition at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., about 10 miles northeast of Greensburg, was founded by one of the school’s late monks and teachers, Brother Nathan Cochran, who was also the curator and director of the St Vincent Gallery. The college is operated by the Benedictines of Saint Vincent Archabbey.

Jordan Hainsey, the exhibition manager and a seminarian for the Diocese of Covington, told CNA that a major focus of the exhibition is to give priests and the laity an option to commission religious art through means other than a catalogue.

“There are these talented artists that pastors of parishes [and] people who just want to commission a painting for devotion don’t have to go to a catalogue,” he said. “There is all of these artists who are looking to create new and original expressions of art of the faith, and they are just waiting to be commissioned.”

Through Aug. 3, Saint Vincent College is accepting Christian works of art from any person 21 years and up. The entries must be original and created within the past five years. After the competition closes, an exhibition of the competitors’ art will be displayed Oct. 30 – Dec. 2.

The competition allows for any media, such as sculpture, stain glass, pencil, paint, and digital photography. Winners of the competition will be offered $3,500 in cash prizes – $1,000 for first place, $750 for second, $500 for third, and four other $250 prizes for juror mentions.

The juror this year will be Dr. Elizabeth Lev, a professor of art and architecture at the Italian campuses of Christendom College and Duquesne University.

Subject choices must promote devotion with Christian themes such as biblical scenes, stories of saints, the history of the Church, and the sacraments. The competition primarily seeks to foster the arts of the Western Christian tradition, but examples informed by Eastern traditions are accepted as well.

Hainsey said the pieces of art may be modernized or ethnically acculturated, not only to promote participation from artists all around the world, but to emphasize the universal message of the Gospel.

“The Christian Gospel assumes everyone …and we want the competition to reflect that everyone can see themselves in Christ’s Gospel message,” said Hainsey.

He pointed to Caravaggio’s “The Calling of Saint Matthew”, which tells the story of the Apostle Matthew in the contemporary dress of the baroque period. He also gave the example of a painting entered into the competition two years ago which depicted Christ breaking bread as a Native American in traditional garbs.

“Every artist of every time period has a message to relate the Christian Gospel,” he said. “They are not just recreating baroque painting, but they are creating something which expresses meaning and value to the community that we live in today.”

Hainsey said the Church has been one of the greatest promoters of sacred art and quoted an address from Pope Francis to the Patron of the Arts in the Vatican Museums: “In every age the Church has called upon the arts to give expression to the beauty of her faith and to proclaim the Gospel message of the grandeur of God’s creation, the dignity of human beings made in his image and likeness, and the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to bring redemption and rebirth to a world touched by the tragedy of sin and death.”

Study finds decline in global death penalty numbers

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 02:00

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a record-high year of death sentences implemented around the world in 2016, a new report released by Amnesty International shows an overall decrease in capital punishment during 2017.

However, the group reported, many countries are still implementing executions which ignore international law.

Amnesty International released the report this week, highlighting the execution and death penalty rates around the globe.

The organization particularly applauded sub-Saharan Africa, where multiple countries have made strides in reducing or eliminating capital punishment in 2017.

“Now that 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, it is high time that the rest of the world follows their lead and consigns this abhorrent punishment to the history books,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general for Amnesty International.

In a news release, Shetty pointed to Guinea, which outlawed the death penalty, and Kenya, which eliminated the mandatory death penalty for murder. Burkina Faso and Chad also look legislative measures to repeal capital punishment, while the president of Gambia enacted a temporary ban on executions in February 2018.

Much of the world has followed suit, Amnesty International found, noting that 142 countries in total have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice by 2017. The report cited a total of 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017 – a number of executions which has dropped 4 percent from the previous year.

This decrease followed a particularly high rate of executions in 2016, which saw 1,032 deaths by capital punishment around the world.

Figures exclude executions in China, where the number of executions remains a state secret, although it is believed that the capital punishment figures reach into the thousands.

Eighty-four percent of all recorded executions were recorded in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan, which remain the top countries for enacting the death penalty.

While pleased with the overall drop in global executions, Amnesty International pointed to some “distressing trends” involving the practice of capital punishment for inmates with non-violent crimes, juvenile offenders, individuals with mental or intellectual disabilities, and criminal confessions as a result of torture.

“Fifteen countries imposed death sentences or executed people for drug-related offenses, ignoring international law,” the report said.

International law states that the death penalty should only be enacted for the most serious of crimes, according to the Telegraph.

Shelly additionally said that there are still some world leaders “who would resort to the death penalty as a ‘quick fix’ rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies.”

“Strong leaders execute justice, not people,” Shelly continued.

In the belated Pope John Paul II’s papal encyclical on life, Evangelium Vitae, the pope affirmed the dignity of human life while also calling for justice for offenses against life. He noted that the death penalty should be “viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line of human dignity” and “with God’s plan for man and society,” which should only be used in “cases of absolute necessity.” He noted that these cases would be “rare.”

Pope Francis has also defended the dignity of every life throughout his papacy and has been an advocate against the death penalty, calling the practice “inhumane.”

“No one ought to be deprived not only of life, but also of the chance for a moral and existential redemption that in turn can benefit the community,” he said in an address to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization in October 2017.

Currently, there are 21,919 people on death row around the world.

“The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it,” Shelly said.

“Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen a huge positive shift in the global outlook for the death penalty, but more urgent steps need to be taken to stop the horrifying practice of state killing.”

Hundreds of high school, college students participated in pro-life walkout

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 18:23

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2018 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Inspired by recent student walkouts over gun control, hundreds of high school and college students across the US took part in a pro-life walkout on Wednesday.

According to pro-life group Students for Life of America (SFLA), more than 400 students and student organizations told SFLA that they planned on participating in the April 11 walkout, though the actual number is likely higher, as students did not have to register with the group to participate.

“Across the country, pro-life students and groups stood up for the 321,384 babies killed by Planned Parenthood every year, against the violence of abortion, and in support of pregnant and parenting students,” SFLA president Kristan Hawkins said in a statement.

“In pictures worth millions of words, we saw students walking out, praying, and chalking pro-life messages to bring attention to the fact that one-fourth of our generation has been snuffed out of existence because of legalized abortion,” she added.

Participants were encouraged to use #Life and #ProLifeWalkout to document their participation on social media. Like the March for Our Lives walkout, the pro-life walkout lasted 17 minutes, during which time students mourned the 10 babies who would be killed by abortion within that time frame.


So proud of the more than 60 students who participated in the #ProLifeWalkout from my high school. We are the #ProLifeGeneration. @Students4LifeHQ

— Blake Barclay (@blakebarclayusa) April 11, 2018


The idea for the pro-life walkout came from Brandon Gillespie, a student at Rocklin High School in Rocklin, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento.

Gillespie said in March that the idea for the pro-life walkout came to him after his history teacher, Julianne Benzel, discussed the national gun control walkouts in her classroom. Benzel asked her students whether the same privileges would be afforded to students if they wanted to walk out over issues like abortion, or if a double standard existed. She was then placed on paid administrative leave following complaints about her discussion of the issue.

“If you’re going to allow students to get up and walk out without penalty, then you’re going to have to allow any group of students that wants to protest,” Benzel told Fox & Friends.

After hearing of Gillespie’s plan to hold a pro-life walkout, Students for Life created a website promoting the idea to schools throughout the nation.

“I also want to thank Brandon Gillespie at Rocklin High School for inspiring this national walkout and for not letting his school intimidate him out of hosting his walkout. The tremendous, truly grassroots interest we have seen in the walkout is further proof that the Pro-Life Generation is the majority and is strong and growing,” Hawkins said.

The website for the walkout included a list of high schools and colleges that registered with SFLA for the walkout, which included public and private schools from throughout the United States.


Proud to stand with Morality High School students during their time of silence for the their classmates lost to abortion and women hurt at during the #ProLifeWalkout!

— Bethany Janzen (@BethanySFLA) April 11, 2018


“'s time for the #ProLifeGen to stand up and say ‘Enough is Enough!’ We will no longer tolerate legal abortion in our nation, which has killed more than a fourth of our generation,” the walkout website stated.

“We will no longer watch as our leaders in Washington continue to fund our nation’s largest abortion vendor, Planned Parenthood, with more than $500 million of our taxpayer dollars. We will no longer permit Planned Parenthood and their allies in the abortion industry to target our peers for their predatory business cycle.”

Hawkins added that SFLA was notified of several students who reported that they faced discrimination for participating in a pro-life walkout, while the gun control walkout was given special accommodations by many schools.

Life Legal Defense Foundation, a non-profit that defends pro-life clients, sent a letter to Gillespie’s high school, notifying the administration that they could face legal ramifications if they interfered with the pro-life walkout and treated participating students differently than those who participated in the gun control walkout.

SFLA and Life Legal have offered to provide legal assistance to any students who faced discrimination for their participation in the pro-life walkout.

New US law aims to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking  

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 15:02

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2018 / 01:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law aims to make it easier to prosecute websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, such as

President Donald Trump signed the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” into law April 11.

Under the new law, the government will be able to prosecute the owners or operators of websites which knowingly assist, support, or facilitate “the prostitution of another person,” or who act with reckless disregard for the fact that their conduct contributed to sex trafficking. Users and victims will be able to sue those sites.

The new law clarifies that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which previously protected the operators of websites from legal liability for content posted by third parties, cannot be used as a defense to shield sites that knowingly promote sex trafficking and prostitution.

“[Section 230] was never intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims,” the law reads.

Before the bill became law, federal authorities on April 6 seized Backpage, a massive classified ad site used largely for selling sex, which hosted ads depicting the prostitution of children. Ads posted on the site, which took in an estimated $135 million in annual revenue in 2014, were reportedly responsible for nearly three quarters of all cases submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The site was the subject of an extensive Senate report into its practices of promoting prostitution and the trafficking of minors, which was released in January 2017.

The Department of Justice on April 9 announced the charging of seven individuals, including Backpage’s founder Michael Lacey, in a 93-count federal indictment which detailed the site’s reported practices of facilitating prostitution and money laundering. The indictment alleges that the defendants knew that the majority of the website’s “adult” ads involved prostitution, and that the site would “sanitize” the ads by removing “terms and pictures that were particularly indicative of prostitution” but continuing to run the ads.

Backpage also allegedly had a policy for several years that involved deleting words in an ad denoting a child’s age, and publish the revised version, which created a “veneer of deniability” for those trafficking the children.

“This website will no longer serve as a platform for human traffickers to thrive, and those who were complicit in its use to exploit human beings for monetary gain will be held accountable for
their heinous actions,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a release from the DOJ.  “Whether on the street or on the Internet, sex trafficking will not be tolerated.”

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) introduced the bill, and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) added language to expand the scope of the bill to include advertisements for all forms of prostitution. In areas of the country where prostitution is legal, that fact can be taken into account in court as an affirmative defense.

Prostitution is currently illegal in all of the United States except in a few rural Nevada counties, but some estimates suggest there are over half a million people in the country in prostitution.

After the bill passed the Senate 97-2 with bipartisan support on March 21, a number of websites began to take down explicit content and online communities that promote pornography or prostitution. Craigslist shut down their Personals page on March 23, and Reddit removed several fora that users previously used to seek and advertise escort services and casual sexual encounters.

Critics of the law, including deputy Attorney General Stephen A. Boyd, voiced concern that some of its language - which would allow punishment for conduct that occurred before it was enacted - may be unconstitutional. Others have argued that it could have a chilling effect on free speech on the internet.

Santa Clara University Law Professor Eric Goldman said, in testimony to Congress in November 2017, that an amendment to Section 230 could lead to sites self-censoring any and all content that could be construed as sex trafficking, or, alternatively, dial down moderation so that they could less reasonably be accused of “knowing” that sex trafficking content existed on their site.

“If failing to moderate content perfectly leads to liability, some online services will abandon their efforts to moderate user content or even shut down,” Goldman said during the hearing.

“I really do fear the chilling effects,” said Mary-Rose Papandrea, a University of North Carolina Law Professor, during a symposium on April 6. “Because imagine you run a platform, and imagine now you are exposed to liability for everything a third-party posts on your website as soon as you’re told about it. What are you going to do? You’re going to take it down.”

“I worry this isn’t the end,” she continued. “We can carve out sex trafficking, and we can debate that...but my concern is what’s next.”

However, Mary G. Leary, law professor at The Catholic University of America, rejected this idea. She told CNA in an interview that the amendment to Section 230 is narrow enough that it only removes a website's immunity if they knowingly enter into a venture with human traffickers, or if they intentionally promote prostitution.

"That is a very narrowly tailored, common sense bill. I think that any argument it will impair speech is just alarmist and misplaced," she said.

Leary emphasized that criminal acts, such as prostitution and human trafficking, are not considered speech and have "never been protected by the First Amendment."

"The Supreme Court has been quite clear that offers to engage in illegal activities are not protected speech," she said.

Leary said testimony given to the Senate during the creation of the law singled out sites that are clearly "bad actors," like Backpage, as opposed to the majority of websites that are "law abiding, good corporate citizens who want to end sex trafficking." She said it is unlikely that most companies will simply look away and choose not to moderate content that promotes sex trafficking.

"That argument has not been proven by history," she says. "There are many industries that, sadly, are places where sex trafficking takes, travel and tourism, shopping areas, foster care facilities...these are places that have never had immunity. We have not seen them as an industry look the other way or pretend it doesn't happen."

In fact, she said, groups like the hotel industry have put together best practices to deal with illegal activities that take place on their premises. The new law does not require websites to police all content, but rather clarifies the purpose of Section 230, she said. There will be little effect for law abiding companies, because the law sets a high bar for prosecutors to prove that the company was knowingly and intentionally facilitating sex trafficking.

"What we will see are no longer companies out in the open, allowing and partnering with sex traffickers to sell women and children, with not only impunity but with absolute protection," Leary said.  

Some online groups, such as the Women’s March, claim that the shuttering of sites that are used by people who are not being trafficked will drive the already shady business of prostitution even further underground, and make conditions worse for people who choose to sell sex for a living. Advocates in favor of prostitution have already created several new websites that are hosted overseas, in countries like Austria, to avoid the alleged self-censorship of American-hosted sites.

Critics, however, challenged the idea that prostitution is a profession of choice for women.

“Nobody says when they’re a little girl, ‘I want to grow up to be a prostitute,’” said Dr. Grazie Christie, Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association, speaking on EWTN’s Morning Glory.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a Washington D.C.-based group that supports the new legislation, has compiled a site detailing resources available to current workers in the sex industry to provide “housing, food, referrals, and other short-term emergency assistance.”

“We are also concerned for those who turned to prostitution out of despair, lacking any other financial resources, and who now do not know where to turn,” said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of NCOSE, in a statement. “We encourage the public to share these resources widely so that survivors of commercial sexual exploitation can seek healing and support.”


At UN meeting, Holy See calls for 'human-centered approach to migration'

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 12:28

New York City, N.Y., Apr 12, 2018 / 10:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations encouraged global leaders to take a “human-centered approach to migration,” rather than reacting with “unsustainable short-term solutions.”

The Vatican’s chief diplomat at the UN, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, urged countries to consider “not only the sovereign right of States to manage and control their borders, but also their responsibility to promote and protect the dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all those on the move, regardless of their migratory status.”

Speaking April 11 at the UN’s Commission on Population and Development annual meeting, Auza warned against reactionary policies, such as population control or a narrow view of “national interest.”

“Unsustainable short-term solutions that prey on fear and use demography to justify closed borders or promote population control only lead to more unmanageable crises in the future,” said the archbishop.

He argued that “any country that wants to manage its borders effectively must also take responsibility for the common good of its neighbors.” He said that increasing globalization means that a country’s actions in its national interest directly impact other countries.

The 51st session of the UN Commission on Population and Development this week focused on discussion of “Sustainable Cities, Human Mobility and International Migration.”

The Holy See representative proposed that the key to making global migration more sustainable in the future is to combat human rights violations and poverty through education, health care, and policies that ensure access to social protection and decent work. Auza said that all countries share this responsibility for the “prosperity, peace and security of all.”

The nuncio also warned of the negative consequences when countries fail to allow regular pathways for migrants fleeing conflicts, economic crises, and national disasters. He said that this can force individuals to “seek irregular and often dangerous migratory routes, falling victim to smuggling, human trafficking, modern slavery and other forms of exploitation.”

The archbishop concluded by asking the United Nations to recommit “to what Pope Francis has called a ‘culture of encounter,’ which involves the humble recognition that the problems faced by people on the move cannot be addressed in isolation and therefore demand greater solidarity and commitment to the common good both at home and abroad.”

Archbishop Auza, originally from the Philippines, has served at the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations since his appointment by Pope Francis in 2014. Auza’s past diplomatic services included representing the Church in Madagascar, Bulgaria and Albania.

Citing growing interest in Traditional Latin Mass, Archbishop Chaput creates quasi-parish

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 02:49

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 12, 2018 / 12:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new quasi-parish for Catholics interested in the Traditional Latin Mass will open in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at a church that had been part of a 2014 parish merger.

“In response to a growing interest, it has become timely to provide additional pastoral care for those wishing to participate in Divine Worship in the Extraordinary Form,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s March 14 decree said.

A quasi-parish is the equivalent of a parish under canon law, with some exceptions. It can later become a parish at the discretion of the local bishop. The new quasi-parish will be located at the site of the former Saint Mary Parish in Conshohocken, a suburban Philadelphia borough in Montgomery County. About 8,000 people live in the borough, which is about one square mile in area.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter will provide the clergy for the new quasi-parish.

“While it remains to be seen if this community will flourish so as to become a parish, the establishment of a quasi-parish to provide this spiritual care appears to be most fitting at this time,” Archbishop Chaput’s decree continued.

The archbishop made his decision after consulting with local pastors, local priests who celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and the archdiocese’s Council of Priests. The Philadelphia archdiocese announced the planned creation of the quasi-parish on April 8.

The decree becomes effective Aug. 1. A pastor will be appointed before that date.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter exclusively celebrates the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, sometimes known as the traditional or Tridentine Latin Mass. It was founded in 1988 as a clerical society of apostolic life, then formally erected as an institute of pontifical right by the Holy See.

In contrast to some other priestly groups celebrating the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter was established with support from the Vatican, and is in full and ordinary communion with the Pope

The priestly fraternity’s North American seminary is based in Denton, Neb. with provincial headquarters in South Abington Township just north of Scranton, Pa. The fraternity staffs two parishes and a chapel in Pennsylvania. A member of the fraternity was assigned to a Discalced Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia last year.

The fraternity’s website currently reports 96 priests in 54 apostolates active in 39 U.S. dioceses and seven Canadian dioceses in its North American district alone. It has a somewhat smaller presence in France and Germany. One of its newest priests, Father Tymoteusz Szydlo, is a son of Poland’s former prime minister Beata Szydlo.

In July 2014 Saint Mary Parish merged with Saint Matthew Parish as part of the Philadelphia archdiocese’s pastoral planning initiative. St. Mary Church became a worship site of Saint Matthew Parish and made available for occasional liturgical use.

The parish merger left three non-parish Catholic churches in the area. Of these buildings, one was sold to the Coptic Orthodox Church and another to the Borough of West Conshohocken.

The former parish church of St. Mary’s had served as a center for the Polish community. A local Polish group formed by former parishioners had sought to preserve its status as a Catholic church.

The group welcomed the announcement of the quasi-parish.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled since this accomplishes what St. Mary Polish American Society sought to do, breathe new life into the church so it could remain a church available for Mass and other spiritual activities,” David Swedkowski, executive director of the Saint Mary Polish American Society, told the local news site More Than the Curve.

“The Society will continue to exist and focus on promoting Polish heritage in Montgomery County and continuing to raise money so the Fraternity can successfully care for St. Mary’s.”

As of 2012, two years before the parish merger, St. Mary’s had a weekend Mass attendance of 271 people, down 60 from 2008. It hosted only four baptisms and eight marriages in 2012, according to archdiocesan figures.


Director of women’s clinic: Abortion pill reversal is safe and effective

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

Denver, Colo., Apr 11, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The director of a women’s clinic in Denver said that she has found an abortion pill reversal protocol to be safe and effective with her patients, following a recently published study on the procedure.

“Oftentimes in medicine, when we find that there is something that is actually making a difference and causing no harm, we will implement it into practice,” Dede Chism, a nurse practitioner and co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colo., told CNA.

The recent study, published 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 percent with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64 percent with an injected progesterone protocol.

Both procedures significantly improved the 25 percent 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 due.

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.

“When it comes to saving the life of any human person, even when the chance is slim, isn’t it worth the effort, when the benefits outweigh any risk?” Chism said.

Medical abortions have become an increasingly common method of abortion in the United States, making up 30-40 percent 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 fetus. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the fetus.

Some women, after taking the first pill (mifepristone), experience regret and do not want to follow through with the abortion by taking misoprostol. Many doctors and providers, including Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute, as well Chism, Delgado and Davenport, have found that they can improve the chances of a baby’s survival in these cases by flooding a woman’s system with more progesterone, in a hopes of overriding the progesterone-blocking effects of mifepristone.

The progesterone protocol is safe, Chism said, because it is a naturally occurring hormone in pregnant women that has been used for the treatment of pregnant women in various situations.

“What we’re trying to do is to bring the mom to a healthy progesterone level,” Chism said, whether that’s during an abortion pill reversal or monitoring a pregnant woman with low progesterone levels.

“We do this exact same thing in mom’s who’ve had early miscarriages that have a hard time conceiving and maintaining pregnancy,” she noted. “It’s common that women may not have enough progesterone on the back half of their cycle even to support a pregnancy, so what we’re trying to do is get them to a healthy progesterone level.”  

Because progesterone is known to be safe for pregnant women and unborn babies, the progesterone abortion pill reversal procedure is “common sense,” Chism added.

Critics of Delgado’s study argued that the peer-reviewed journal in which it was published is biased, because of its ties to the pro-life organization Watson Bowes Research Institute. Delgado told the Washington Post that he acknowledged this concern, but thought that his study would not get fair consideration from other journals due to political bias.

Delgado also told the Washington Post that he believed more research should be done, but that there should be nothing to stop doctors from using the progesterone protocol in the meantime.

“It hadn't been studied formally in a big way, but we saw it was saving lives and had no alternatives. Were you going to wait when someone was dying in front of you?” he said.

“(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 added.

Chism noted that the Bella clinic has treated several women who have sought abortion pill reversals. The progesterone protocol has been effective in women who have come in as soon as possible after taking the first dose of mifepristone, she said.

“We are currently in the midst of caring for a patient who took the abortion pill.  She is 4 weeks and 3 days from taking that first pill.  We were able to begin the reversal protocol in less than 24 hours from her initial dose. We did have a few scary days initially with bleeding and threatened loss of pregnancy, but she is now very stable with a normally growing baby,” she said.
“I think the fact that we have now over 300 successful reversals is evidence that it works,” she added. “This isn’t make-believe and it isn’t coincidental.”

Chism added 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.

Some critics also argued that the study was unnecessary since only a small percentage of women actually seek and follow through on abortion pill reversals.

“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?” Chism countered. “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?”

Telling women that a safe and effective protocol exists is a matter of informed consent, Chism added.

“To tell someone that there is (no reversal), that this medical abortion is permanent and irrevocably irreversible, that’s not a true statement,” she said. “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.”

Facebook CEO apologizes for 'mistake' of blocking Catholic content

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 15:12

Washington D.C., Apr 11, 2018 / 01:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced questions from lawmakers about his company’s censorship of Catholic content during his two-day congressional hearing following the revelation that millions of Facebook users’ personal data had been compromised.

Zuckerberg apologized and said that the company “made a mistake” in blocking a Catholic theology degree advertisement by Franciscan University of Steubenville, when asked about it by Washington state Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers on the second day of questioning.

The ad, which featured a crucifix, was rejected by Facebook over Easter on the grounds that its content was “excessively violent” and “sensational.” Facebook later apologized, saying that the ad had been blocked erroneously and did not violate terms of service. Zuckerberg on Wednesday emphasized the large number of ads that are reviewed daily by the Facebook team, saying, “I wouldn’t extrapolate from a few examples to assume that the overall system is biased.”

The tech CEO also expressed regret that he did not “take a broad enough view of our responsibility” to prevent tools from being used for harm, particularly with regards to “fake news, for foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R.-Texas) confronted Zuckerberg about alleged bias and censorship of political and religious content on the technology platform, saying Facebook “has blocked over two dozen Catholic pages” as well as conservative content “after determining their content and brand were, quote, ‘unsafe to the community.’”

In July 2017, CNA reported that Facebook blocked 25 Catholic pages in English and Portuguese. Facebook later apologized, saying the error was due to a malfunction rather than malicious intent. Earlier this year, another Catholic group said it was experiencing critical delays in approval of its fundraising content in support of vocations during the Christmas season.

Cruz continued to grill Zuckerberg over whether any Planned Parenthood or ads had been removed. The Facebook CEO said that he was not aware of this ever occurring.

Pressed about bias, Zuckerberg said that “Facebook in the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place,” but that he is committed to “making sure that we do not have any bias.”

Many lawmakers questioned Zuckerberg about his company’s policies for monitoring the ads and debates on its platform.

When asked to “define hate speech” by Senator Ben Sasse, Zuckerberg responded, “I think that this is a really hard question,” but reiterated his resolve to block efforts that spread hatred or violence.

Sasse continued, “There are some really passionately held views about the abortion issue on this panel today. Can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion views on your content — on your platform?

“I certainly would not want that to be the case,” responded Zuckerberg, who went on to say that a technological shift toward using artificial intelligence to “proactively look at content,” will lead create “massive questions for society about what obligations we want to require companies to fulfill.”

The Facebook CEO was called to testify before Congress in the wake of scandals involving privacy violations and foreign interference in the 2016 elections.

Zuckerberg apologized repeatedly for the scandal involving the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, in which personal information from 87 million accounts was “improperly shared.”

Addressing these privacy concerns, Senator Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg if he would be comfortable sharing the name of the hotel where he was staying.

When the CEO responded that he would not, Durbin replied, “I think that may be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy and how much you give away in modern America in the name of, quote, ‘connecting people around the world.’”

Paul Ryan announces retirement from Congress

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 11:48

Washington D.C., Apr 11, 2018 / 09:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) will not run for reelection this November, he announced on Wednesday. Ryan’s departure confirms rumors that began swirling in mid-December 2017. He will retire in January, at the conclusion of his term.

Ryan, who is a Catholic, was first elected to Congress in 1998, and became the speaker of the house in October of 2015. He has become known for his conservative views and was Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential election.

In his speech announcing his retirement, Ryan cited his three teenage children as one of the main reasons why he would be leaving Congress. His eldest daughter is 16 years old, he said, the same age he was when his father passed away.

“What I realize is, if I am here for one more term, my kids will only have known me as a weekend dad,” he said.

“I just can’t let that happen.”

Regardless, Ryan insisted that he has “no regrets” from his tenure in Congress, and that he put all of his being into his work. He insisted that the current political climate did not influence his decision to retire from Congress.

On Twitter, President Donald Trump offered praise for Ryan, even though the two have butted heads in the past. Trump said that Ryan was a “truly good man” who will “leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man, and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question. We are with you Paul!</p>&mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">April 11, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>
Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also offered praise for Ryan, saying in a statement that, "Despite our differences, I commend his steadfast commitment to our country. During his final months, Democrats are hopeful that he joins us to work constructively to advance better futures for all Americans."

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">.<a href="">@NancyPelosi</a> reacts to Paul Ryan&#39;s retirement. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) <a href="">April 11, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Ryan has talked about his Catholic faith numerous times during his two decades in Congress. He spoke at this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C. and has spoken out in favor of religious freedom and pro-life legislation.

He has clashed with leaders of the U.S. bishops on other issues, notably the 2017 tax reform bill. Ryan championed the bill, while leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference called parts of it “unconscionable,” saying it “appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.”

Ryan did not announce what his plans are once he leaves Congress.