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Is the Benedict Option the only option?

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 05:46

Denver, Colo., Nov 12, 2017 / 03:46 am (CNA).- When Josh and Laura Martin, both converts to the faith, moved their growing family of six from the city of Dallas, Texas to the hills of Oklahoma, they didn’t necessarily know that they were participating in the “Benedict Option.”

“We initially just wanted to get out of the city and raise our family in a more protected, slower-paced environment,” Josh told CNA.

“With all the families out here searching for the same thing, we gravitated towards it and made the leap.”

They moved to be close to the Benedictine Abbey at Clear Creek, Oklahoma, where dozens of other families from around the country have congregated over the course of the past 15 years or so.

Dubious of the direction in which the morals of modern society seem to be heading, they came in search of a slower pace and a more liturgical life with a community of other like-minded Catholics. Many villagers attend daily morning Mass with the monks before 7 a.m., and the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays. The monastery serves as the center of the community, the monks as a real-life example of religious life to the youngsters.

Journalist Rod Dreher is credited with dubbing this phenomenon “The Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.” This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”

Just as Benedict was looking to escape the crumbling and increasingly anti-Christian culture of Rome, families like the Martins are looking to the hills of Oklahoma to escape today’s secular society, where Christian values are seen as increasingly foreign or even hostile to the status quo. They are disturbed by trends such as the legalization of gay marriage, of the increasing popularity of gender ideology, or the shrinking of religious freedom.

In his recent book, “The Benedict Option,” Dreher calls the new societal trends and values “The Flood,” and argues that Christians can no longer fight the flood - they must figure out a way to ride it out and preserve their faith for generations to come.

“...American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears,” he writes.

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”

Communities like the one surrounding Clear Creek Abbey seem to be the most obvious examples of the Benedict Option, their lifestyles most resembling the villages that grew up around the Benedictine monasteries in Europe centuries ago. However, Dreher does expand the definition to include other forms of Christian communities, like those that form around classical schools, such as St. Jerome’s school in Hyattsville, Maryland. The phenomenon is also occurring not just among Catholics, but among Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well.

Mike Lawless, his wife Kathy, and their children first learned about the community surrounding Clear Creek when they were living in San Diego. They were part of a homeschool group, and lived on the edge of town, as far away from the city hustle and bustle as possible.

But when a friend told them about the families moving near Clear Creek Abbey, the whole family of six (going on seven) loved the idea of the novelty and adventure of moving to the hills of Oklahoma, so they packed up and made the leap.

“What we were looking for was a healthier culture,” Mike told CNA. He wanted to raise his children in an environment that wasn’t heavily influenced by the prevailing secular culture.  

When Josh and Laura Martin moved in 2007, they were expecting their fifth child. They too were looking for a better place to raise their family.

It was rough going at first. The land by Clear Creek Abbey is not great for farming. Josh tried to make the leap from management positions to manual labor, but it ultimately didn’t work.

“I just fell flat on my face, burned up all my money, learned a lot of good valuable lessons I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Josh said. “After 4-5 years we realized that you have to do something that you know how to do.”

He’s now in a management position for a medical device company in the area, and things have been a lot better. Similarly, Mike Lawless tried to make living off the land a priority. But after his attempts at farming and cattle were heading in a “direction that wasn’t positive,” he had to scale back his agricultural projects and return to the work he knew, which was mechanical engineering.

“That romantic vision was shattered there pretty quick when we moved,” Mike said.

Most families in the area do not subsist off the land alone, but there are few options for work in town. The Institute for Excellence in Writing, directed by Clear Creek villager Andrew Pudewa, employs some people in the area. Others, like Mike, do much of their work remotely. Still others make the hour commute to and from Tulsa for work.

Despite the sacrifices, the geographic retreat is an important aspect of the Benedict Option for many of its adherents.

“Being in a rural area, where you’re not maybe as distracted by the noise and goings on of the city, there’s a little bit more quiet, and that silence gives you the opportunity to appreciate (the liturgical season) more,” Laura Martin told CNA.

“There’s fewer distractions, and that is helpful I think in focusing on trying to regain some of the culture that we’ve lost or the connections that we’ve missed in our busy lives, so that element has been really helpful for us to grow in our faith.”  

But one of the main critiques of the Benedict Option has stemmed from this idea of separation - both culturally and geographically. How can the faithful evangelize, as they are called to do, if they embed in communities of likeminded people in remote countryside hills?

“It’s not an insular community,” Josh insists, “but it is a sort of retreat because the cultural forces are so overwhelming that it’s difficult for me to imagine...trying to raise my family in that environment, so somewhere in that mix is the Benedict Option.”  

The Martins are aware of the dangers of becoming too insular. They send two of their kids to public school, and they let their kids play soccer on a local league, which has made them a lot of local, non-Catholic friends. But not everyone in the village agrees on this, or other subjects. The use of T.V. and internet varies widely among families, as do opinions about whether women should wear anything other than skirts (and of what length those skirts should be), or how much contact is maintained with the outside world.

The Martins were careful to specify they spoke only for themselves.

“Out here it’s very dangerous to speak for the community, because...there’s not one unified approach, there are many dissimilarities,” Josh said.

But what there is, is a strong sense of community and a desire to live out the Catholic faith. Whether it’s for funerals, weddings, baby showers, dances, parties - almost everyone is involved, he said.

“Weddings are just a complete madhouse,” Josh said, laughing. Baby showers can sometimes include 60-70 women. When a new family arrives, everyone pitches in to help them move furniture and get settled.

“There’s a huge sense of cohesion,” he said. “Your life is so intertwined with the community. There’s a strong identity of being definitely Catholic that would be very difficult to leave.”

What about parish life?  

For many Catholics, uprooting their lives and moving to Oklahoma (or near other monasteries) simply isn’t an option. The most basic building block of Catholic community and society available to them is their local parish.

Dreher writes of the importance of living in proximity to one’s parish, so that it can all the more easily become the center of one’s life. But Christians must still be discerning about whether their local parish is teaching the true faith, or whether it has been too compromised by the secular culture.

“The changes that have overtaken the West in our modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves,” Dreher writes.

“As conservative Anglican theologian Ephriam Radner has said, ‘There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.’”

To be sure, parish life has seen significant shifts in the United States. When waves of Catholic immigrants arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they found stability and community in the New World at their local, often ethnically segregated, parish. Often ostracized for their faith in other areas of society, they looked to their parish not only as a source for the sacraments, but as a place to meet friends, host meetings and dances, to rely on as a second family.  

Society has since shifted. As Catholics became more accepted into mainstream society, they no longer looked to their parish as their only source of community. And as ethnic ties became looser, the need for Polish Catholics to go to the Polish parish, for example, dwindled. The hub of Catholicism, once the East Coast, shifted west as people moved out of the city.

But while things have changed, that doesn’t mean that flourishing parishes can’t be found today, said Claire Henning, executive director of Parish Catalyst, a group that studies what makes parishes thrive.

“I’ve become more aware of how I’ve always perceived a parish as a building - but it really isn’t that, it’s a living, breathing ecosystem that expands and contracts depending on who’s there.”

For their recent book “Great Catholic Parishes,” William Simon, founder of Parish Catalyst, identified four characteristics of thriving parishes: shared leadership among clergy and laity, a variety of formation programs, an emphasis on Sunday and the liturgy, and evangelizing to people both in and out of the pews.

One of the main questions these thriving parishes are constantly asking of themselves is: “How do we speak the language of the Gospel to the people of today?” Henning said. “So you need people who are thought leaders to be thinking of that.”

St. Mary’s parish in Littleton, Colorado, is one such parish, with around 1800 registered families, an orthodox Roman Catholic faith and a thriving community life.

“The goal is to be a family of families,” said Linda Sherman, director of family life and service for the parish.

“What we’re looking for is to support families in all their various nuances and ages, to support them in their Catholic faith, and as they are growing in their faith and growing closer to God.”

It can be difficult to create a sense of community in such a large parish, Sherman admits, but the key is getting families involved in ministry.

Perhaps one of the most important ministries that St. Mary’s offers is called Mother of Mercy ministry, the purpose of which is “to fill in the gaps of people who don’t have an existing support system of families in town,” Sherman told CNA.

How it works: anyone can sign up for Mother of Mercy, either offering or asking for services ranging from lawn-mowing to rides to the doctor to babysitting. It connects volunteers with folks who need them, and helps people feel like they have a local support system, she said.

There are also youth groups, young adult groups, family groups and bible studies that allow people to grow in their faith in smaller settings, which then strengthens both their faith and their connection to the parish.

It’s become increasingly important for parishioners to find a community of others who share their faith and values, Sherman said.

“It allows you to be stronger in your faith if you have people around you who support you in your values. And that’s whether you’re newly married or you’re 50 years old and you’re working in a job with people who don’t have the same faith life as you, or any faith life,” she said. “You don’t want to feel like the odd man out.”

And while Dreher expresses concerns about the orthodoxy of many parishes and churches, Henning said it is the churches that focus on liturgy and discipleship that prove to be the best parishes.

“They actually are strategic about planning for discipleship, they challenge and engage the spiritual maturity of their people,” she said.

“And they really excel on Sundays. There’s an intense interest on preparing good homilies, they get the best music they can get, they’re very hospitable. And they really do have a plan for evangelization, they enter into mission, and they have a vision and structure for moving beyond the doors of the church.”

Prayer and the Eucharist are also central to thriving parishes, as Simon points out in his book. St. Mary’s parish has a 24-hour adoration chapel, accessible by code.

“The Eucharist is the source of unity for the parish; is is the supreme action that unites all who experience it to Christ and to the prayer and tradition of the universal Catholic community,” Simon wrote.  

Catholicism in the city: Ecclesial Movements

Another popular form of community within the Catholic Church, particularly in the post-Vatican II years of the 20th and 21st Centuries, has been Ecclesial Movements. These include groups such as Opus Dei, Focolare, or the Neocatechumenal Way.

In e-mail comments to CNA, Dreher said that he did not know enough about Ecclesial Movements to say whether or not they could constitute a “Benedict Option.” But they seem to have markedly different philosophies when it comes to living the Christian life in the world.

Ecclesial Movements seek to re-engage the laity in their faith and to evangelize the world. They include a variety of charisms, educational methods and apostolic forms and goals, and while they have local bases, they are not geographically bound to one location. Many have a presence in countries throughout the world.

Holly Peterson is the director of communications for Communion and Liberation, one such ecclesial movement that was founded by Italian priest Fr. Luigi Giussani.

As a young priest in 1950s Italy, where basically everyone went to Mass and Catholic school, Fr. Giussani began to realize that the faith didn’t actually mean anything to the real, lived experiences of the young students he was teaching. They went through the motions of the faith, but they didn’t seem to know what it meant to really live a Christian life.

“He later defined it by saying that he had this question in him - have the people left the church? Or has the church left the people?” Peterson told CNA.

Fr. Giussani started taking his students on retreats and excursions in the mountains so that he could teach them how to live an authentically integrated life of faith - much in the style of Pope John Paul II, a close friend of Giussani and the movement.

“He understood that...he needed to introduce them to life, because through their experience of life they would begin to understand who God was, who Christ was,” Peterson said.  

As his students grew up and continued following his teachings, a movement was born. Membership in Communion and Liberation is freely given - there’s no registration or membership requirements, and there are many different levels of association, but a standard commitment is attendance at the weekly meetings, called School of Community.

School of Community is more than just a meeting, Peterson said. It’s a chance for catechesis, for members to be spiritually fed, but also for them to develop Christian friendships that grow outside of the official meetings. Members form strong friendships and communities that carry on outside of the weekly meetings. They go out to dinner, help each other with babysitting, have parties, and just live life together.

The movement also has consecrated lay men and women - called Memores Domini - who live in community but work in the secular world. There are doctors, rocket scientists, secretaries, teachers and many other kinds of professions found amongst the members.

But regardless of the level of association, CL members have a markedly different way of viewing the world than the Ben-Oppers.

“We’re not afraid of doom and gloom around the corner, not to say that that’s wrong, but that’s not our style,” Peterson said.

“Instead we desire to dive into the deep end of the pool. We want to be present where people are suffering, we want to do what Pope Francis has called us to do, which is to go to the periphery.”

“And the periphery isn’t necessarily skid row of L.A., though that is the periphery as well,” she added. “My periphery could be my workplace, where everyone might live a pessimism that’s so thick and so sad, where they have absolutely zero hope in front of the reality that we live.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, founded in France, is another active ecclesial movement. Like the name implies, they strive to live the teachings of the Beatitudes within their community. Their charism is Eucharistic and Marian, and in the Carmelite tradition.

The community has consecrated brothers and sisters, as well as several hundred lay members and friends at various levels of association, that are active throughout the world. In the beginning, lay members lived in community with the consecrated members in huge monasteries in Europe that allowed each vocation to have it’s own separate wing. But more recently, the Vatican told the community that the lay members must not live directly with consecrated members.

“Rome said lay must be real lay, you don’t stay set apart,” Sr. Mary of the Visitation, a member of the community in Denver, told CNA.

“So obviously they are lay people, they receive the spirit and the charism of the community, they are full members of the community, they’re fully part of the liturgy, but they live in the world.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, much like Communion and Liberation, quickly spread all over the world. Their apostolates serve the immediate needs of their surrounding communities in various ways - schools, hospitals, catechesis - rather than focusing on one particular type of ministry. Members and friends of the movement regularly come together for meals, liturgy, faith formation and service.

Sr. Mary of the Visitation said that while her community anchors her, she desires to invite more people to live a life following the Beatitudes.

Although rooted in prayer, “we live in the world,” she said. “So if I’m going for a walk in the neighborhood, I will meet people, obviously when they see my habit they will think about God, but then we can have a conversation and go deeper.”

Sr. Mary said that on the one hand, she understands the Benedict Option desire to preserve the good, and to separate oneself from evil. Preserving oneself from too much T.V., or other inappropriate media, is a good thing, she said.

But she also worries that the Benedict Option may look at those in the world as “other,” rather than as brothers and sisters.

“What I dislike in this idea, is that it would mean that the world is bad, and the Benedictine Option is good. But we’re not in a movie with the bad and the good. We are in the reality of life, where the world is within me, and this is the most difficult part is to convert myself,” she said.

“And I really think that my brothers and sisters from the world, I cannot judge them, I cannot be separate from them, because I don’t want to go to heaven without them.”  

There have been concerns among some that ecclesial movements are taking the place of the parish in members’ lives. But lived properly, Peterson said, that’s not the case - movements should serve to strengthen parish communities.

“We try to be very engaged in the parish for that reason,” she said, “doing charitable work, teaching in parish schools, a lot of musicians in the movement are active in their parishes.”

Ultimately, she said, “I think these movements are the way that God is rejuvenating the Church...movements are called to give people life so that they can live in this crazy world here.”


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 26, 2017.

Decision to axe US migration program endangers minors, bishops warn

Sat, 11/11/2017 - 08:04

Washington D.C., Nov 11, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration's ending of a program that helped reunite Central American minors with their parents in the U.S. has drawn strong objections from the U.S. bishops.

The administration decided to end refugee processing in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala for those who apply for U.S. entry through the Central American Minors program. The program had allowed some parents legally present in the U.S. to request a refugee resettlement interview for their children and other family members like the child’s other parent, a caregiver, or a grandchild, ABC News reports.

“This decision of the administration unnecessarily casts aside a proven and safe alternative to irregular and dangerous migration for Central American children,” said Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration. Terminating the entire program will “neither promote safety for these children nor help our government regulate migration,” he said Nov. 9.

“Pope Francis has called on us to protect migrant children, noting that ‘among migrants, children constitute the most vulnerable group’,” the bishop continued.

The Central American Minors program was established in 2014, at the height of the surge of unaccompanied migrant children coming to the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America, primarily El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

There were about 14,000 applications to the program, with 8,000 having been processed. A total of 3,328 children and family members were admitted as refugees and parolees. Another 6,000 people’s applications are still under consideration.     

Vasquez offered prayers for those affected.

“We continue to pray and express our support for parents who endure anxiety and emotional hardship knowing their children will continue to languish in violence; and to the children themselves, who will not be able to reunite and embrace their parents,” he said.

A U.S. State Department official told ABC News the program was ended “as part of the overall U.S. government review of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program” for fiscal year 2018.

Some critics of the program said many applicants did not meet the legal definition of a refugee because they were fleeing violent conflict, but not persecution of some kind.

Vasquez said the program, which had previously included both refugee and parole options, should have been maintained “precisely because it provided a legal and organized way for children to migrate to the United States and reunify with families.”

Vasquez cited the August decision to end the program’s parole option for Central American migrants. That decision caused “heartbreaking family separation for families who have learned that their child has no safe means of arriving to the U.S.”

Ending the overall program will “sadly perpetuate more of the same family breakdown,” he said.

The bishop was “deeply disappointed” that the administration decided to terminate the program in its entirety. He said it was “especially troubling” to have a short cutoff date for accepting applications to the program.

There was barely a day’s advance notice to those who provide services, he said.

The State Department recently ended temporary protected status for Nicaraguans, meaning about 2,500 Nicaraguans must leave before January 2019 or face deportation. Many of them have been living in the U.S. for years and have children. Protected status for Hondurans has been extended another six months.

Proposed tax bill has 'unconscionable' flaws, US bishops say

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 19:02

Washington D.C., Nov 10, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Proposed tax legislation under consideration in Congress needs many changes to avoid further harming the poor, the U.S. bishops have said.

“Doubling the standard deduction will help some of those in poverty to avoid tax liability, and this is a positive good contained in the bill,” they said. “However, as written, this proposal 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. This is simply unconscionable.”

The bishops’ Nov. 9 letter to Members of Congress concerned the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. It was signed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace; and Bishop George V. Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, who chairs the Committee on Catholic Education.

Citing the non-partisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the bishops said that under the current version of the bill households with income between $20,000 and $40,000 per year would see tax increases in 2023, 2025, and 2027. In 2025, taxes will increase on most taxpayers earning between $10,000 and $20,000.

“At the same time, significant tax breaks to the very wealthy – including millionaires and billionaires – are projected for each year,” the bishops’ letter continued.

The bishops said amendments are needed “for the sake of families” and “for those struggling on the peripheries of society who have a claim on our national conscience.”

They found positive aspects of the bill in areas of education and child tax credits.

At the same time, they objected that the bill puts “new and unreasonable burdens” on families.

The bishops’ letter also objected to the removal of the adoption tax credit, which was only restored to the bill on Thursday after much protest from adoption advocates.

Other fixes are needed to remove disincentives for charitable giving and development projects for affordable housing and community revitalization, the bishops said.

They warned the budget deficit could be used as an excuse to limit or end “programs that help those in need, programs which are investments to help pull struggling families out of poverty.”

Hondurans in US deserve protection and a permanent solution, bishops say

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 13:27

Washington D.C., Nov 10, 2017 / 11:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Extending Honduran migrants’ protected status is the “right thing to do” because of the dangerous situation in their country, the U.S. bishops have said.

Hondurans with temporary protected status have “deep ties to our communities, parishes, and country,” said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“They are businesses owners, successful professionals, home owners, parents of U.S. citizen children, and most importantly, children of God,” he said Nov. 8. “We must find a solution for these individuals and their families, and we stand ready to support Congress in its effort to do so.”

An estimated 57,000 Hondurans’ protected status was automatically extended through July 5, 2018 after the Department of Homeland Security announced Nov. 6 that it needed more time to assess conditions in their country.

Renewed protected status for Hondurans comes under a humanitarian migration program that allows individuals to remain and work lawfully in the U.S. as long as it is considered unsafe for nationals to return to their home country.

Bishop Vasquez, citing a recent U.S. bishops’ report on the temporary protected status designation as it relates to Central America, said there are ongoing problems of violence and security threats, poverty, and environmental degradation.

The bishop voiced appreciation that the Department of Homeland Security is making a serious evaluation of conditions in Honduras. The extension of protected status would aid continued prosperity and growth of Honduran and regional security, he said.

He pledged the U.S. bishops’ continued engagement, information gathering, and cooperation with both the U.S. government and Catholic partners in Honduras. Their Honduran partners provide “extensive social welfare services”, working with both the U.S. and Honduran governments.

Vasquez also remembered the individuals affected by U.S. policy, saying, “my continued thoughts and prayers are with Honduran temporary protected status recipients and their families who still face uncertainty in their situation here in the United States.”

He voiced support for bipartisan efforts to find a legislative solution for Hondurans who have received protected status.

The little-known vocation of consecrated virginity

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 05:01

Denver, Colo., Nov 10, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When speaking about vocational life, the first people who come to mind are often married couples, priests or nuns. Lesser known is the vocation of consecrated virginity, although it is the oldest recognized formed of consecrated life in the Catholic Church.

“Almost no one knows that it exists, let alone what is involved,” said Dr. Janet Smith, a consecrated virgin in the Archdiocese of Detroit and professor at Sacred Heart Seminary.

“But I am always touched by how many Catholics deeply respect the vocation when they hear about it,” Smith told CNA.

Andrea Polito, who recently dedicated herself as a consecrated virgin in the Archdiocese of Denver and works as a pediatric oncology nurse, would agree that there is often a sense of mystery surrounding the vocation.

“Most people even within the Church have no idea what this vocation is. And in their defense, consecration in the lay state at all is not widely known,” Polito told CNA.

What is a consecrated virgin?

A consecrated virgin is a never-married woman who dedicates her perpetual virginity to God and is set aside as a sacred person who belongs to Christ in the Catholic Church.

According to the Code of Canon Law, women who are seeking out this particular vocation must be consecrated to God through the diocesan bishop, according to the rite approved by the Church. Upon consecration, they are betrothed mystically to Christ and are dedicated to the service of the Church, while remaining in a public state of life. Consecrated virgins live individually and receive direction from the diocesan bishop. Their consecration and life of perpetual virginity is permanent.

Their call to a secular state of life means that consecrated virgins have jobs and lives much like that of the average person. They provide for their own needs and the local diocese is not financially responsible for them.

“My life looks pretty ordinary. I have a full-time job and volunteer with a few things,” Polito said.

“I do the same things everyone else does in Colorado – enjoy the beautiful mountains and really good beer, spend time with friends and family and try really hard to be holy,” she continued.

As a professor, Dr. Smith said she spends most of her days “preparing for the classes I teach and doing the work involved for all the invitations I accept.” She also tries to speak at local engagements and is involved with a bible study group.

Unlike most religious orders, consecrated virgins do not have habits or use the title “Sister.” They remain in their own diocese to serve the local Church community under the authority of the bishop.

A consecrated virgin also has a particular focus on prayer, which is usually lived out through Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, spiritual reading and personal prayer.

“My day begins and ends with prayer, specifically for the Church of Denver – her bishops, priests and people – that is the mission of a consecrated virgin,” Polito said.

Smith also said that she prays the Divine Office and engages “in meditative prayer and spiritual reading.”

Andrea Polito was recently consecrated as a lay virgin in the Archdiocese of Denver!

— Denver Catholic (@DenverCatholic) August 5, 2017 One of the primary goals of consecrated virgins is to point towards a bigger reality: Christ is the ultimate fulfillment. As such, consecrated virgins live out their daily lives as witnesses of this radical love of Christ – not as single persons, but as spouses of Christ.

Illustrating this point, the consecration ceremony has some similarities to a wedding, with the woman who is entering the vocation wearing a wedding dress and receiving a ring.

“Being consecrated and being single are in opposition by their definition,” Polito said.

“I am a bride of Christ, I am wed to Him. I am not consecrated so I can live the free, single life and do whatever I want. I am consecrated so I am completely available to the desires and work of my spouse.”

History of consecrated virginity

References of consecrated virginity can be found in sections of the New Testament, such as Matthew 19:12 and 1 Corinthians 7:25-40. Early church fathers, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, have also mentioned consecrated virgins as a distinct group within the Catholic Church, dating back to 110 A.D.

Before women were able to enter a religious order, many dedicated themselves as consecrated virgins. St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Cecilia and St. Lucy are among the early saints recognized by the Catholic Church as consecrated virgins.

During the sixth century, the practice of consecrated virginity fell by the wayside as the popularity of monastic religious life grew, and became extremely rare the Middle Ages. However, consecrated virginity made a comeback as religious orders began to preserve the “Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity.” Vatican II also ensured consecrated virginity’s restoration in the modern world when it revised the “Rite of Consecration.”

Currently in the universal Catholic Church, there are around 3,000 consecrated virgins, 235 of whom live in the United States, according to the Association of Consecrated Virgins.

Discernment of consecrated virginity

For Polito, discerning the vocation to consecrated virginity was unique because she wanted to consecrate herself to the Lord, but was not attracted to the religious life. She felt torn.

“I brought these struggles to a priest who introduced me to consecrated life in the lay state and was very convicted of its importance,” Polito said.

She then spent years in prayer about consecrated life, and started to discern consecrated virginity more specifically. The two things that drew her to this vocation were the bridal and ordinary aspects of its calling.

“In being his bride, I am gifted a deeper sense of self, of love, of femininity – it is as if I never knew who I was until I entered my vocation and I now know myself only in Christ. It’s incredible,” Politio said.

“And then the ordinary – my life looks pretty similar to the average Joe, and there is something intriguing about that. I think I have been able to have many conversations about Christ and the Church because of that. It’s a beautifully ordinary and profound mission,” she continued.

Dr. Smith, who teaches at a seminary, said her road of discernment started by being inspired through the witness of the seminarians.

“It caused me to consider whether I had made the commitment to which God was calling me,” Smith said.

After this prompting, she attended several retreats, in which the path toward the vocation grew clearer.

“Becoming consecrated formalizes the relationship with amazing graces that enable one to live more confidently the vocation, to have greater clarity and confidence. I had no idea how transforming it would be,” she continued.

For women who are discerning consecrated virginity, Smith suggested that women should “read a lot about it” and “talk to those who are living it; go on a retreat and see if God is calling you to it.”

Polito’s biggest piece of advice was “to be not afraid.”

“The Lord plants desire in our hearts and will grow that desire into something beautiful, fruitful and fulfilling,” she said, adding that “Christ will lead you to where he wants you.”

“I would be lying if I said this vocation was easy, but Christ is real, His grace is real and His mission is needed.”


Adoption tax credit restored to GOP proposal after outcry

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 18:36

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2017 / 04:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Republican leaders have restored the adoption tax credit to their federal tax proposal, after a week of criticism over the credit’s omission from the original House plan.

On Thursday, it was announced that the adoption tax credit is included in the Senate version of the tax plan, and has been restored to the House version, where it had originally been left out.

Created through a bipartisan effort in 1996, the tax credit allows families a maximum credit of $13,570 per eligible adopted child.

Advocates for the credit argue that it helps defray the high costs of adoption, which might prevent children otherwise eligible for adoption from finding families. They also argue that encouraging adoption saves state and federal money that would otherwise be spent on children in the foster care system.

The cost of a domestic adoption frequently tops $30,000, and international adoptions are even more expensive, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

These costs cover birth expenses, counseling, fees for an evaluation of the adopting couple, legal work, documentation, travel expenses, and adoption agency costs.

Following the release of the House tax plan, several Republican congressmen – including Reps. Chris Smith (N.J.), Jeff Fortenberry (Neb.), Diane Black (Tenn.), and Trent Franks (Ariz.) – had called on party leadership to return the tax credit to the proposal.

Fortenberry told CNA that the policy is “a clear and legitimate statement by the government that we have a preferential policy for life.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, praised the decision to reinstate the tax credit in the GOP plan.

“This important pro-life tax credit costs the government relatively little, but by reducing the steep expenses of adoption, it makes all the difference to tens of thousands of families each year who open their homes and hearts to children in need,” she said Thursday.

“The amended bill gives these families the support they deserve in making the courageous, loving decision to adopt.”

At the Met, Catholic-inspired fashion now in style

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 17:30

New York City, N.Y., Nov 9, 2017 / 03:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Can the Catholic imagination dream up beautiful and compelling clotheswear?

That’s one of the questions behind an exhibit collection set to open next year through New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The Roman Catholic Church has been producing and promoting beautiful works of art for centuries,” Greg Burke, director of the Holy See’s press office, told the New York Times. “Most people have experienced that through religious paintings and architecture. This is another way of sharing some of that beauty that rarely gets seen.”

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” set to launch in 2018, was organized through the Met’s Costume Institute. The exhibit brings together Church garments borrowed from the Vatican, religious art from the Met collection, and 150 designer fashion pieces that were intended to pay homage to Catholicism, taking inspiration from Catholic iconography, the liturgy, or other parts of the faith tradition.

The exhibition will run May 10 – Oct. 8, 2018.

The church garments, many of which are still in use for liturgies, will be displayed separately from the fashion exhibit out of respect, the New York Times reports. There will be about 50 items in this separate exhibit. They come from the Sistine Chapel sacristy’s Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and range in age from the mid-1700s to the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.

The exhibits will be hosted at the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the medieval rooms at the Met on Fifth Avenue, and the Met Cloisters in uptown New York City. The three exhibit spaces total 58,600 square feet. It will be the Costume Institute’s largest show yet.

Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge at the institute, suggested the exhibit may have more potential than any other previous exhibit.

Explaining the exhibit’s vision, he said: “the focus is on a shared hypothesis about what we call the Catholic imagination and the way it has engaged artists and designers and shaped their approach to creativity, as opposed to any kind of theology or sociology. Beauty has often been a bridge between believers and unbelievers.”

Bolton had consulted with several Catholic groups and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to avoid any controversy in the fashion selections. The Church was receptive to the idea, but he had to travel to Rome eight times to discuss the show.

Bolton, who is Catholic, said he had initially intended to include the five world religions that are represented in the museum’s collections, but narrowed his focus after realizing that most Western designers were interacting artistically with Catholicism. He suggested this was because so many designers were raised Catholic.


#MetHeavenlyBodies—at The Met and The Met Cloisters—will feature a dialogue between fashion and religious artworks.

— The Met (@metmuseum) November 8, 2017


The “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit will include a Chanel wedding gown inspired by First Communion dresses and the fashion designer Valentino's couture gowns that draw on the style of the paintings of monk’s robes by the 16th century Spanish painter Francisco di Zurbarán.

One artistic rendering of an Elsa Schiaparelli evening dress, made for the summer of 1939, appears to evoke the keys of St. Peter and the color scheme of Christian iconography.

Versace and Dolce & Gabbana will contribute art in the style of mosaics, including mosaics of Sicily's Cathedral of Monreale.

A 1983 exhibit of Vatican liturgical garments at the museum was the third-most visited exhibit in its history, with nearly 900,000 visitors.

The “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit will have such sponsors as the media company Condé Nast and the Italian luxury designer Versace, as well as patrons such as Christine and Stephen A. Schwarzman.

The New York Times reporter Vanessa Friedman suggested that the exclusive, expensive opening night gala for the Costume Institute’s exhibit, as well as the exhibit's luxurious clothing, appear to contradict the priorities of Pope Francis and Christian humility.

The opening night gala’s honorary chairs include the Schwarzmans, Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour, the pop star Rhianna and the prominent lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has been invited to the gala, but it was unclear whether he would accept.

How to evangelize like Bishop Barron

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 17:24

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 9, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Facebook headquarters might be a surprising place to find a Catholic bishop giving a talk.

Nevertheless, earlier this fall, Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, was invited to give an address at the social media giant’s headquarters, where he talked about “How to Have a Religious Argument.”

By argument, he didn’t mean a fight in the comment boxes - “I mean something very positive,” he said. He meant evangelizing Facebook followers by presenting the beauty and wisdom of the faith.

That’s Barron’s forte, and the reason he was invited to the heart of Silicon Valley in the first place. His intelligent yet understandable, compelling yet approachable style has in many ways allowed Catholicism to be re-proposed to a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to faith.

Mention Barron’s name to Catholics, and they’re likely to know at least some of his work, whether that’s his popular CATHOLICISM series, his online movie reviews, or his social media presence. Put Barron at a Catholic conference, and he’s treated like a rockstar.

But whether you’re a Bishop Barron aficionado or you’ve never heard of him, his latest book will offer new insights into the life and mind of one of the most compelling American Catholic figures of the 21st century.

The book, “To Light a Fire on the Earth,” is the collaborative product of interviews with Catholic journalist and author John Allen, who flew out to California to spend time with Barron, and who narrates his story. The result is part Barron memoir, part how-to evangelism guide, part cultural commentary and everything in between, covering everything from the transcendentals of beauty, goodness and truth to Barron’s love for baseball and Bob Dylan.

“(I wanted) to introduce my work to people, like this is the one book you could hand to someone and say, this kind of sums up what I’ve been about, as a theologian, as a teacher, an evangelist,” Barron told CNA.

“So I see it that way, as an attempt to introduce my work to a pretty wide audience.”

The book’s title, “To Light a Fire on the Earth,” is part of a bible verse that has played a central role in Bishop Barron’s philosophy and ministry, which he named “Word on Fire.”

The phrase comes from Luke 12:49, in which Christ says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

“I’ve always loved that line from Luke’s Gospel, because I just love the drama of that image, the power of it,” Barron told CNA.

“There’s something wonderful, illuminating, a little bit dangerous, a little bit destructive, a little bit overwhelming about the word of God, and the purpose of the Church is to light the whole world on fire with that word,” he said.

That power and edge has been something that’s been essential to his “Word on Fire” ministry, which Barron saw as a direct response to “beige Catholicism” - a weak and uninteresting presentation of the faith that he and his contemporaries experienced in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II.

“In many ways there’s still vestiges of (that) in our education, our catechesis,” Barron said.

“I’m opposed to a dumbed down Catholicism, I don’t like a culturally accommodating Catholicism. I like when it’s bold and colorful and confident and smart and beautiful, so in that sense, I’m opposed to falling back into beige Catholicism,” he said.

In many ways, Barron thinks the Church has turned the corner on “beige Catholicism,” especially due to the influence of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

“Word on Fire comes out of a Vatican II vision of bringing the light of Christ out into the world, reading the signs of the times, using the new move into the new evangelization of John Paul II and company. That’s the tradition I’m standing in, from Gaudium et Spes, all the way to Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, that’s the tradition I’m exemplifying, I hope,” Barron said.

In the book, Barron proposes that the most effective way to evangelize today is to lead with the beauty of the faith.

“There’s something more winsome and less threatening about the beautiful,” Barron wrote in a 2015 essay quoted in the book. “‘Just look,’ the evangelist might say, ‘at Chartres Cathedral or the Sainte Chapelle, or the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or the mosaics at Ravenna.’”

“‘Just read,’ he might urge, ‘Dante’s Divine Comedy or one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems, or Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.’”

Catholics hoping to learn and draw from what Barron considers to be a canon of great Catholic works of art will not be disappointed - throughout the book, he mentions what he sees as some of the best works of film, literature and art - including many works of American Catholic art - that can be employed to draw people deeper into faith and form them to be better evangelists.

And the need for a renewed desire to evangelize couldn’t be more urgent, Barron said.

“Our numbers are shrinking, especially among the young, there’s no question about that,” the bishop said.

“People are kind of leaving the Church in droves - for every one person that joins the church, six are leaving, so that’s a very discouraging thing.”

But rather than draw back in fear, Barron said these disheartening statistics awaken his instincts to “go out, and set the world on fire, and evangelize and do it with confidence.”

“Go out with fife and drum to meet the culture,” he added, borrowing a phrase from German Lutheran Paul Tillich. “I like that attitude, I like the John Paul II kind of swagger.”

Barron said he hopes that his book will do just that - inspire people to learn their faith, and to tell others about it.

For Catholics looking for practical advice on how to be better evangelists, Barron’s first recommendation is: “Read.”

“Read. Get to know the faith,” he said. “Because we have a lot of enemies now who are smart and they’re trying to convince people that religious folks are not too smart. And I think people have got to get informed.”

Barron’s intellect and ability to debunk arguments against the faith, Allen notes, is a key factor in his appeal.

“Barron...probably incarnates the classic Catholic synthesis between faith and reason more thoroughly and overtly than virtually any other living figure - or at least one with a Facebook following of 1.5 million, a Twitter following of 100,000, and more than 20 million views on YouTube.”

Another piece of advice that Barron would give to wanna-be evangelists - “Find a none.”

By “none,” he’s referring to the increasing number of people who claim no official religious affiliation.

“Whether it’s a child, a friend, a colleague, a co-worker, a parent who’s Catholic but not going to Church - make it your goal this year to bring that ‘none’ back to Church,” he said.

“I also think wearing a symbol of your faith on your person is not a bad way to evangelize. Let people know, not aggressively, but let people know that you’re a Catholic,” he said.

“And it might cause them to question - ok you’re a Catholic, tell me about that. How do you reconcile whatever their question happens to be? I think those are simple, positive things people can do.”

Ultimately, he said, he hopes that Catholics who read his book are inspired to recover their mission to evangelize.

“I’m hoping...that they’d see that their baptismal mission is to bring people to Christ,” Barron said. “Maybe they’d take some inspiration from the work I’ve done, and the people and things that have shaped me, and then say ok, I’ve got a similar task and I’m trying to find my way.”

What is it like to be a religious brother?

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 07:57

Boston, Mass., Nov 9, 2017 / 05:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Brother Jim Peterson, OFM Cap., was in middle school and high school, he felt like every time someone prayed for vocations, they were praying for him.

“It was always kind of like, they’re talking about me,” he told CNA.

That was his first inclination that he had a religious vocation, though at first, he assumed he was being called to be a priest.

Although the call was always somewhere in his heart, Peterson said that he finished high school, and then college, and was struggling to find a job when he wondered if he should answer that call.

“But at the same time, I wasn’t sure if it was just me running away from something, so I decided to see if I could make my way in the world before making a decision like that,” he said.

It wasn’t until he finished law school, and worked for a few years as a lawyer in Pennsylvania, that he decided he couldn’t ignore God anymore.

Today, Peterson is a Capuchin brother with the Capuchin Franciscans of the St. Mary Province, which encompasses New England and New York. He spoke with CNA about the vocation of a religious brother during Vocations Awareness Week, an annual week-long celebration sponsored by the United States bishops’ conference, dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education.

Becoming a Brother

It was during his time in law school and as a lawyer that he really wrestled with his faith, and what God could be asking of him, Peterson said.

Working as a lawyer, he had several “a-ha” moments that made him realize he might be called to a different life.

“One moment was when...I was given the task of evicting somebody from a piece of property that one of our clients owned. And so I got a phone call from the guy I had to evict and he said, ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to go to court. I’m leaving, you can have your property back’,” he recalled.

“So I went and told my partner and he said, ‘Well, let’s just hope all of our problems aren’t solved so quickly.’ And this was a good guy and a good partner, but what he was saying was that we’re making money based on other people’s problems.”

“I realized then that there are a million lawyers in the country, anybody can take my place, but not everybody could respond to the call that the Lord has put before them,” he said.

Peterson decided to talk to a priest who was a good friend of his family, and who also happened to be a Capuchin friar, about this call he had been experiencing. They met and talked for two hours about the life of Capuchin friars, and afterwards, Peterson decided to attend a vocation retreat the next month, where he got to see the life of the friars firsthand.

“At the beginning of the weekend I was like this is crazy, what am I doing here,” he said.

But after seeing the friars in action, “by the end of the weekend...I said this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

The difference between priesthood and brotherhood

Peterson said that over the years, the call from God had evolved from what he thought was a call to the priesthood into a call to be a Capuchin brother. Part of the reason for this, he said, was that he felt that he was also called to continue being a lawyer, and Capuchin friars often continuing working in the fields in which they were working before they joined the order.

“In the Franciscan world, when St. Francis started the order, you did what you did before, you just did it now as a religious,” Peterson said. “So the priests who were already priests were now Franciscan priests, and the carpenters who came in were now Franciscan now I’m a Franciscan lawyer,” he said.

“I don’t feel called, and frankly my gifts don’t mesh well, with presiding at the sacraments, so while I love the sacraments, I love participating in them, I don’t feel called to lead them. But at the same time I do feel called to the Capuchin Franciscan life, the life of a brother,” he added.

One of the main components of being part of a religious order is living in community, Peterson said, which can be both a challenge and a grace.

“You’re living with people that you don’t get to choose, so you’re talking about different generations of folks, different interests, and the little things like people leaving crumbs behind and not picking up after themselves - things that I think any family struggles with,” he said.

“And so it has its challenges, but there’s also some really neat things,” he said, like the rivalry between the Yankees fans and the Red Sox fans within his own community. Another gift of community life is the universality of the community - there are about 11,000 Capuchin friars all over the world.

“The idea that you have something in common with people you don’t even share a language with is something I’m kind of still in awe of,” he said. “You find ways to share that commonality despite all the differences.”

Together, the community shares common prayer times, including Mass and meditation, in the morning. During the day, each brother serves in his particular ministry, which might take place outside of the friary, as is the case for Peterson, who works as a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Other brothers serve within the order, either in forming younger friars or other ministries. In the evening, the brothers return home and again have dinner and additional prayer time together.

“Priests are a little bit more independent, they don’t have to live common life, they don’t take the three vows that a religious takes of poverty, chastity and obedience. They promise obedience to their bishop, but they don’t take vows of poverty. They are called to perfect continence but they don’t vow that, although it is one of their obligations,” he said.  

“A lot of people will ask me why aren’t you a priest? You’re smart enough, and so on,” Peterson said.

Ultimately, he said, it comes down to the call from the Lord, who knows what will make each person happy.

“I’d rather be a happy brother,” Peterson said. “I think the world is better served by a happy brother than an unhappy priest.”

What to do if you’re discerning

Peterson said that if he could advise other young people discerning religious life, he would tell them to take their time.

“I think too often we accept people who aren’t ready - they’re either too young or they’re not mature enough yet or they haven’t found their way in life,” Peterson said.

He encouraged young discerners to learn how to be independent, in order to better learn how to be interdependent within a community.

“That was an interesting part of the journey for me. My whole life I’m learning to break away from my family and support myself, and now I have to ask permission to take a car, or I’m given a limited amount of money for the month, things like that,” he said. “So it's learning to become dependent on others, but in a healthy way, not in a childish way.”

Furthermore, he said, maturity and independence are important in order for new members of a community to be able to contribute to the community.

“They often come looking for something rather than being ready to offer something,” Peterson said. “It’s ok to be looking for something but you have to be able to put your gifts and talents at the service of the community.”

He also encouraged anyone discerning to attend vocation weekends, or to read more about the saint or the charism in which they’re interested, to see if it is a good fit for them.

“Once I started reading about St. Francis, it was clear to me that this was the guy I wanted to follow, he understood what religious life was about and was following what Christ was about,” he said.

Ultimately, though, he said he would offer encouragement to those discerning, because following God’s call is the key to happiness in life.

“You can really find fulfillment,” he said. “Obviously if you’re called to something else then that’s where your fulfillment is. I’ve told people before that your happiness and fulfillment is tied up in your vocation, the two are interchangeable.”

“That’s not to say that there won’t be challenges, it’s definitely not going to be easy, but I don’t think the Lord would call us to something where you’d be unhappy,” he said.

He said the life of a brother has been a pleasant surprise, in terms of the freedom he has experienced in what he thought would be a more limited way of life.

“Being a celibate, you have much more freedom to interact with a wide variety of folks, you don’t have that one person that you’re tied to, and as a result, I’m able to be with a lot of different people, and I’ve met some amazing people along the way,” he said.

“It’s a blessed life.”


Coming soon: A virtual tour of the tomb of Jesus

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 05:08

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2017 / 03:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Next week, the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., will open a 3D virtual tour of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus’ tomb.

While the exhibit will likely draw tourists from around the country, could it also be used as a type of virtual pilgrimage, perhaps for those who are unable to visit the Holy Land in person, due to cost, disability, or other factors?

Yes, says Dr. Anthony Lilles, academic dean and theology professor at Saint John’s Seminary in Camarillo.

Lilles told CNA that the intention is key in making the experience a pilgrimage. “A tourists goes because they are curious, a pilgrim goes for a sacred purpose,” he explained.

“We must not, so to say, stay on the level of surface appearance, but instead allow our imaginations to be baptized by the places we are visiting virtually – thinking about the reality of Christ’s historical presence and what it means for our lives now.”

The three-dimensional tour opens on Nov. 15 in Washington D.C. and will continue until August 15, 2018.

It will give viewers an inside look at one of the most revered spots in Christian history.

Veneration of Christ's burial place dates back to St. Helena in the fourth century, who discovered and identified the tomb. St. Helena’s son, Emperor Constantine, built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 326 and enshrined the tomb.

The shelf on which Christ's body was laid is the central point of veneration, which has been encapsulated by a 3-by-5 foot marble structure - the Edicule - since at least 1555.

A year-long restoration of the site was recently completed, and scientists are looking into additional restoration work on the foundation.

The virtual exhibit takes visitors through the history of the holy site and shows the new technologies used in its restoration.

However, Dr. Lilles said the virtual tour offers not only a lesson in history, but an opportunity for a deeper devotion to Christ.

“As beautiful as a virtual exhibit may be, we can be too passive in our engagement with holy places precisely because we are only experiencing them virtually,” he cautioned.

Those who wish to attend the exhibit as a type of spiritual pilgrimage should take careful steps to prepare, he said.

He suggested reading the Gospel accounts of Christ’s passion and resurrection before visiting. Going to station from station in the 3D tour, a pilgrim might choose a prayer or scripture verse to meditate on at each stop.

Additionally, he said, the pilgrimage should be accompanied closely by Mass, confession, and a work of charity. It should culminate with firm resolutions on how to “live differently in light of the mystery of our faith.”

While the spiritual pilgrimage to the D.C. exhibit would not have an indulgence attached to it as other formally recognized pilgrimages do, Lilles said, virtual pilgrimages have been supported by the Vatican before.

“John Paul II once led pilgrims in the footsteps of Abraham from Ur to the Holy Land to Egypt and back to the Holy Land. He wanted to actually go to these places during the Great Jubilee of 2000, but Saddam Hussein refused permission,” he recalled.

“So instead, in the Paul VI audience hall, he led us on a ‘spiritual’ pilgrimage where slides of the sacred sites of Abraham were shown,” and the Pope led prayerful meditations.

With the right mindset and adequate spiritual preparation, Lilles said, a virtual pilgrimage can yield spiritual fruits.

“One who goes as a pilgrim goes to out of devotion to Christ who became a pilgrim for our sake, do penance for his own sins and the sins of our society, to ask for the mercy of God for forgiveness and healing, and to thank God for pouring out His loving kindness.”


Object to abortion? You might need this law, Congressman says

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 19:02

Washington D.C., Nov 8, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life health care workers and institutions need stronger legal protections from pressure to help provide abortions, backers of proposed federal legislation have said.

“Healthcare is about saving life, eradicating disease, mitigating disability —not taking life,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said Nov. 8. “At the very least, health care providers should have the right to not be coerced into facilitating abortion. Coercive anti-conscience policies are not only highly unethical but blatantly illegal. The law couldn’t be clearer on this matter.”

He spoke at a D.C. press conference in support of the Conscience Protection Act, which would protect health care workers from federal, state, and local abortion mandates if they conscientiously object to assisting with abortions. It would also protect religious employers from having to cover elective abortions in their health plans, and establishes a “right of action” in court for all entities if they believe their religious beliefs on the matter are violated.

Backers of the bill say that health care professionals with objections to abortion are not sufficiently protected in the workplace. Medical professionals who believe their conscience rights have been violated must file a grievance with the civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services. Some complaints reportedly sit undecided for months or years.

The press conference hosted three nurses who said their employers pressured them to participate in abortion

One nurse, Fe Vinoya, was among 12 nurses whose jobs were threatened at the Same Day Surgery Unit in University Hospital in Newark, N.J. because they did not participate in abortions.

“After years of working as a critical care and emergency room nurse, I never imagined that the hospital I worked for would force me to choose between taking the life of an unborn child and losing my job,” she said, adding “I became a nurse to help people, not to do harm.”

Another nurse at the press conference, Cathy DeCarlo, sought redress after she was pressured to perform an abortion at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. She said she thought she was preparing for a common procedure performed after a miscarriage when she realized she was being asked to perform an abortion on a 22-week-old unborn baby.

“My supervisor insisted that I must do the abortion, and that if I didn’t assist, I would be charged with insubordination and abandoning my patient. My nursing career and ability to care for patients and provide for my family would be over,” said DeCarlo.

“I’ll never forget that day as I watched in horror as the doctor dismembered and removed the baby’s bloody limbs, and then I had to account for all the pieces. I still have nightmares about that day.”

According to Rep. Smith, Decarlo’s legal appeals to protect her conscience rights were rejected by a federal district court and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Human Rights neglected to respond to her.

In 2013, an HHS investigation determined that the hospital had to change its policies to accommodate employees with conscientious objections to abortion.

“These nurses suffered discrimination because they recognize the innate value, dignity and preciousness of the unborn child and refused to be complicit in an act of violence against a vulnerable child,” Rep. Smith charged.

The House of Representatives previously passed the language of  the Conscience Protection Act in appropriations bill, but lawmakers hope it will also be included in a spending bill expected to be signed by President Trump at the conclusion of this year.

The legislation was co-authored by U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.)  and Sen. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.) Several other legislators, including U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), were at the Nov. 8 press conference, as were nurses who faced problems in the workplace for refusing to cooperate in abortion.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is among the backers of the bill.


Archbishop Chaput to priests: defend marriage bond wherever you can

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 18:00

Houston, Texas, Nov 8, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Priests must uphold the lifelong covenant of marriage as “a message of liberation, even when it’s difficult,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia told a gathering of Filipino-American clergy.

Jesus’ words about the indissolubility of marriage “can’t be softened, or reinterpreted, or contextualized.” he said at the National Assembly of Filipino Priests USA, in Houston on Nov. 8. Elsewhere in his remarks, he warned: “Christian marriage is never simply an ‘ideal.’ Describing it as an ‘ideal’ tends to open the door to excusing and then normalizing failure.”

“For Christians, sexual intimacy outside a valid marriage can never be morally legitimate. And it’s the Church that determines what a valid sacramental marriage is,” he said.

The archbishop’s topic was Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”

“It has passages of great wisdom and beauty on marriage and on family life,” he said. “And it has other passages that have caused some obvious controversy. The controversy has obscured much of the good in the document.”

The exhortation should be approached with open hearts and clear thinking, Chaput said. He stressed its “beautiful passages” about the elderly, the poor, migrants, persons with special needs, the importance of children and openness to new life. He also stressed the richness of the exhortation’s fourth chapter, on love and marriage.

The archbishop mentioned his own role as a delegate to the synod, his role as secretary to an English-speaking working group, and his role on the permanent council of the synod.

Chaput also noted widespread concerns about one footnote in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, which addresses reception of the sacraments by those in irregular marital relationships. These concerns have been voiced in public “but even more urgently and commonly in private.”

“Critics see in the text a preference for ambiguity over clear teaching and a resentment toward defenders of traditional Church teaching that seem out of sync with the rest of the document,” he said.  

In Chaput’s view, at least some of these critics are persons of “fidelity and substance” and in his view their concerns can’t be dismissed. The confusion is “regrettable,” given that the point of the exhortation’s Chapter 8 was to provide “merciful outreach” to those in irregular marital situations.

However, Chaput said, where confusion exists about a papal text, it must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the magisterium of previous Popes.

The archbishop also reflected on the situation of American priests. He noted that hundreds of priests ke knows worry that their people don’t really know their faith, don’t understand the sacraments, don’t catechize their children, and don’t know what a properly formed Catholic conscience is.

“Poorly formed, immature consciences are among the biggest pastoral challenges facing the Church. This is what makes delegating decisions about the nullity or validity of a first marriage to the internal forum a matter of real concern,” he said, referring to a proposal for pastoral discernment about an individual’s marriage and access to the sacraments.

Truth undergirds mercy, and mercy can never exclude “careful moral reasoning about right and wrong.” Setting mercy against other virtues just makes it “a source of confusion.”

According to Chaput, Amoris Laetitia “depends profoundly on the zeal and sensitivity of the priest.”

“In other words, the vocation you have, brothers, has never been more vital for family life than it is right now,” he told the priests’ gathering.

When marriages do fail, couples need support.

“But if grace is real, and God’s word is true, then the joy of a permanent marriage is possible for anyone called to the vocation,” Chaput said. Priests need to defend the permanence of the marriage bond “wherever and whenever we reasonably can.”

Despite many cultural trends, God simply asks priests to be faithful, to speak and live the truth amid confusion, to be peacemakers amid conflict, to be sources of hope, and to be “the presence of God’s love in the world.”

“There’s no greater mission of mercy than that, and no greater joy in the life of a priest,” Chaput said.



National Catholic Register celebrates 90th anniversary

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 11:39

Irondale, Ala., Nov 8, 2017 / 09:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The National Catholic Register is turning 90 this year, an anniversary its editor-in-chief sees as a blessing, and an opportunity to move forward in service to the Church.

“The Register’s mission from its earliest days has been to inform and form our readers so that Catholics, through knowledge of the truth of Christ and his Church, might be inspired by faith and equipped to engage the culture around them,” said Jeanette DeMelo, editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Register.

“Our love of Christ and his Church drives us to continue this mission started back in 1927,” DeMelo told CNA.

One of the top online and print Catholic newspapers in the United States, the National Catholic Register was founded in 1927 by Msgr. Matthew Smith of the Archdiocese of Denver, with the mission of providing news through the lens of the Magisterium.

The paper was an outgrowth of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Register, which grew into the Register System of Newspapers, producing 35 diocesan editions, with a national and diocesan circulation which at its height reached 850,000 households.

The National Catholic Register’s first national issue was printed on Nov. 8, 1927.

“If you like a Catholic paper with snap, vigor, courage, here it is. If you like one that is easy to read, here it is. If you like one that will always be loyal to the Church and has no selfish axe to grind, here it is,” wrote Msgr. Smith in one of the paper’s first issues.

Decades after Msgr. Smith’s comments, DeMelo hopes their founder’s words still stand true.

“I hope that in our pages (both in print and online), Register readers find that at 90, we still have ‘snap, vigor and courage,’ as we take a ‘definite stand on stirring questions’ of the day,” DeMelo said.

The Register has an active online and print readership, producing daily online content and 26 print issues annually.

In June, the National Catholic Register was named this year’s “Newspaper of the Year” by the Catholic Press Association at the annual Catholic Media Conference in Quebec City, Canada.

“That’s a wonderful confirmation of what we do and strengthens us to keep at it,” DeMelo said of the award.

In 2011, EWTN Global Catholic Network acquired the National Catholic Register. In 2012, DeMelo was appointed the Register’s editor-in-chief.  

“I have long admired the work of the National Catholic Register. And I appreciate it even more since I became its publisher six years ago, because I get to see first-hand what goes into the product and the care the staff takes in presenting the news,” stated EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael Warsaw, who also is the Register’s publisher, in the Oct. 29 edition of the newspaper, which features special anniversary coverage.

“The Register has always relayed the news of the world through the lens of the Church, but also chronicles the personal stories of struggle, conversion and redemption, as exemplified by Christ’s sacrifice,” Warsaw continued.

Since EWTN’s acquisition of the National Catholic Register, the paper’s circulation has increased by 100 percent.

“That’s a figure that represents the paper’s highest circulation in 17 years,” DeMelo noted, adding that they have also expanded their digital platforms, where they reach their largest audiences via, a weekly and daily e-newsletter and their Facebook page, which has a monthly reach of 1.8 million.

Looking ahead, DeMelo has some goals for the next decade.

“As I looked through our archives I realized they are in terrible shape,” she said. “We need to get them digitized soon. We should make our archives available to anyone so I hope we can accomplish that before we turn 100.”

On a broader scale, she also looks forward to increasing collaboration with EWTN entities worldwide.

“Being a part of a global network is a wonderful gift,” she said, “and as EWTN builds its news division, opportunities are bound to be not simply national but international, offering not only printed news and analysis, but a compelling and complementary mix of multimedia that strengthens our mission to form and inform readers in faith so they might engage in the world.”




Fr. Solanus Casey: the American priest who will be beatified next week

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 05:04

Detroit, Mich., Nov 8, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Venerable Solanus Casey, an American-born Capuchin priest who died in 1957, will be beatified at a Nov. 18 Mass in Detroit.

Who was Fr. Solanus Casey? Known for his great faith, attention to the sick, and ability as a spiritual counselor, he will be the second American-born male to be beatified.

Born Bernard Casey on Nov. 25, 1870, he was the sixth child of 16 born to Irish immigrants in Wisconsin. At age 17 he left home to work at various jobs, including as a lumberjack, a hospital orderly, and a prison guard.

Re-evaluating his life after witnessing a drunken sailor brutally stab a woman to death, he decided to act on a call he felt to enter the priesthood. Because of his lack of formal education, however, he struggled in the minor seminary, and was eventually encouraged to become a priest through a religious order rather than through the diocese.

So in 1898, he joined the Capuchin Franciscans in Detroit and after struggling through his studies, in 1904 was ordained a “sacerdos simplex” – a priest who can say Mass, but not publicly preach or hear confessions.

He was very close to the sick and was highly sought-after throughout his life, in part because of the many physical healings attributed to his blessings and intercession. He was also a co-founder of Detroit's Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929.

For 21 years he was porter at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.

He is also known for his fondness for playing the violin and singing, although he had a bad singing voice because of a childhood illness which damaged his vocal chords.

Even in his 70s, Fr. Solanus Casey remained very active, and would even join the younger religious men in a game of tennis or volleyball. He died from erysipelas, a skin disease, on July 31, 1957, at the age of 87.

A miracle attributed to Venerable Casey's intercession was recognized by Pope Francis at a May 4 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

“I’m grateful to hear from the Capuchin friars that the date of the beatification has been finalized,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit stated.

“The beatification of Father Solanus will be a tremendous blessing for the whole community of southeast Michigan, an opportunity for all of us to experience the love of Jesus Christ.”

The Nov. 18 beatification Mass will be said at Ford Field in Detroit, which can accommodate as many as 60,000.


An earlier version of this article was published on CNA June 28, 2017.

How U.S. Catholics will mark the World Day of the Poor

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the first World Day of the Poor approaches on Nov. 19, Catholics in the U.S. aim to amplify their outreach and their prayers for those in poverty.

One prayer for the day, prepared by Catholic Relief Services, invokes Lazarus, the beggar, from a parable in the Gospel of Luke: “Lord, teach me to open the door to Lazarus, to the poor, to know them as your children, to lift them in their distress, to work to help them find a fair share of your bounty.”

The relief agency has created a parish packet to help parishes observe the World Day of the Poor. It includes prayers, homily suggestions, general intercessory prayers, and a bulletin insert.

Pope Francis announced the first World Day of the Poor in November 2016. In his June 2017 message for the observance, he asked that Christian communities “make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance” ahead of time.

In Virginia, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington will host volunteer days, presentations, and events from Nov. 13-20 to help the community learn how Catholic Charities serves the poor.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is also encouraging the faithful to take part in the day.

“The Holy Father desires a real encounter with the poor in our midst, to reach out to them and invite them in concrete ways to share our life,” the archdiocese said Oct. 31. Ahead of the observance, Catholics should show “sincere efforts to show the poor among us the love and care of the Church.”

A prayer intention for the poor will be added in all parishes of the archdiocese for Nov. 19 Sunday Masses. The prayer asks that the poor throughout the world “may come to know more concretely the love and care of the Church, a love not with words but with deeds.”

In New Jersey’s Diocese of Metuchen, Bishop James F. Checchio has invited the faithful to the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi on Nov. 19 for evening prayer dedicated to the World Day of the Poor.

The event will be an occasion for community reflection “on how poverty is at the heart of the Gospel,” the diocese’s invitation said. It is also an opportunity for those who aid, care for and comfort the poor to be affirmed, inspired and sent out with “a renewed commitment to building a ‘culture of encounter’” and to bring people together with “tenderness and solidarity” despite their differences.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have created a pastoral aid for the day.

While the document acknowledges poverty of spirit, lack of love, and isolation, it focused on material poverty. Individuals, families and communities lack access to basic necessities like good nutrition, adequate housing, safe neighborhoods, good education, healthcare and jobs that pay a fair wage.

One of the USCCB’s intercessory prayers reads: “That we, the people of God, will open our hearts and souls to justice so that we will speak and act in ways that will eliminate poverty and injustice in this country and throughout the world.”

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization has also prepared a pastoral aid for parishes and schools to mark the day.


Shootings demonstrate need for gun control, USCCB says

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 18:38

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In response to mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada and the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has encouraged public debate on gun control, suggesting specific policies that might quell gun violence.

“For many years, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been urging our leaders to explore and adopt reasonable policies to help curb gun violence,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the USCCB’s committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a Nov. 7 statement.

“The recent and shocking events in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs remind us of how much damage can be caused when weapons … too easily find their way into the hands of those who would wish to use them to harm others.”

On Oct. 1, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock unleashed hundreds of bullets on a crowd of 22,000 people gathered for a country music festival in Las Vegas. Paddock had 23 guns stockpiled in his room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. He killed 59 people, including himself, and injured 546 others.

Devin Kelley, 26, opened fire Sunday, Nov. 5, at a church outside of San Antonio, Texas, killing 26 people and wounding 20 more. He was armed with a rifle and handgun.

Although violence won’t be solved by legislation alone, Bishop Dewane said, the recent events should instigate public debates to “explore and adopt reasonable policies to help curb gun violence.”

The bishop emphasized the USCCB’s previous support for gun control, mentioning their support for a 1994 federal ban on assault weapons, which expired without being renewed in 2004.

Additionally, Dewane mentioned that the USCCB has suggested policies for better background checks, limitations to high-powered weapons, more laws criminalizing gun traffic, improved access to mental health care, and increased safety measures on guns.

While recognizing the right of U.S. citizens to own firearms, Bishop Dewane said that the U.S. should consider greater limitations on “weapons capable of easily causing mass murder when used with an evil purpose.”

“Society must recognize that the common good requires reasonable steps to limit access to such firearms by those who would intend to use them [for evil purposes].”

Notre Dame faculty, students to retain birth control coverage

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 18:28

South Bend, Ind., Nov 7, 2017 / 04:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A little more than a week after announcing it would end birth control coverage for employees and students, the University of Notre Dame said Tuesday that its insurance provider will continue contraceptive coverage, albeit not funded by the university.

“Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, follows Catholic teaching about the use of contraceptives and engaged in the recent lawsuit to protect its freedom to act in accord with its principles,” read a Nov. 7 email sent to university employees.

“Recognizing, however, the plurality of religious and other convictions among its employees, it will not interfere with the provision of contraceptives that will be administered and funded independently of the University.”

The email explained that the university's insurance provider, Meritain Health/OptumRx, has said “that they will now continue to provide contraceptives to plan members at no charge.” The university had believed the provider “would discontinue no cost coverage for contraceptives for employees at the end of the year.”

A similar provision will be made for students seeking contraception coverage.

Notre Dame had stated late in October that birth control would no longer be covered, making use of recently-added religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act which were announced by the Department of Health and Human Services Oct. 6.

Previously, the Catholic university was one of several organizations that sued the government over the federal contraceptive mandate, which required most organizations to provide birth control coverage either directly or through a third party service.

As a Catholic institution, Notre Dame objected to this mandate on the grounds that all forms of contraception are against Catholic moral teaching. The university, along with dozens of other Catholic institutions, argued in the lawsuit that the third party option would still make them cooperate in an act to which they were morally opposed.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging the new religious exemptions.

Analysis: USCCB committee election a referendum on what it means to be pro-life

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Next week, America’s bishops will meet in Baltimore for the annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 2017 is the one-hundredth anniversary of the episcopal conference, and the bishops will begin their meeting with a day of talks, Mass, and a celebratory dinner honoring their history.

Invariably, the bishops will remember the figures who loom large in the conference’s history. Notable among them is the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who served as general secretary to the bishops’ conference from 1968-1972, and was its president from 1974-1977. Bernardin oversaw the conference during periods of change after the Second Vatican Council, and shaped the culture of the conference in ways that continue to have effect.

It is particularly appropriate that Bernardin will be remembered at a meeting in which his views, especially in the area of the Church’s pro-life advocacy, will be a factor in the bishops’ deliberations.

The fall meeting will include elections for some executive roles in conference leadership, and for the chairmanships of several committees. Most notable is the election of the chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, which is presently headed by Cardinal Timothy  Dolan, Archbishop of New York.

The committee is customarily overseen by a cardinal, and one of the candidates for the position is Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago. Cupich is one of few American cardinals who has not headed the committee. Running against him is Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, who is already a pro-life committee member.

In many ways, the election is a referendum on the bishops’ approach to “pro-life activities,” and Bernardin figures significantly into that question.

In theological circles, Cardinal Bernardin is most well-known for his “Consistent Ethic of Life” viewpoint, known colloquially as the “seamless garment" approach. In a famous lecture at Fordham University in 1983, Bernardin explained the concept, advocating “that the pro-life position of the Church must be developed in terms of a comprehensive and consistent ethic of life.”  

This meant, he said, that the bishops must regard as pro-life issues not only abortion, but immigration, care for the elderly, the death penalty, nuclear proliferation, and a host of other issues in which the dignity of human life might be undermined. Being pro-life, he said, meant opposing abortion, but also “specific political and economic positions on tax policy, employment generation, welfare policy, nutrition and feeding programs, and health care.”

Supporters say the “seamless garment” perspective served to raise consciousness among Catholics regarding a number of issues which threaten human dignity. Critics say that it implied moral equivalency between abortion and other issues, diminishing the significance of abortion, and implying that there was not room for diversity of opinion on other economic and social issues.

While Bernardin disputed these criticisms, and was outspoken against abortion, the "seamless garment" view seemed to be rebuffed by Pope St. John Paul II, who identified abortion as a uniquely grave offense against human life, and argued that ending abortion was a necessary first-step for resolving other social and political offenses against human dignity.

When John Paul II visited the United States in 1993, he popularized the term “culture of life,” and spoke directly about the primacy of abortion among political issues. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, published in 1995, prioritized opposition to abortion, noting that “among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable,” and lamenting that the gravity of abortion had become “progressively obscured.”

While Bernardin’s “seamless garment” was understood to regard abortion as one among many “pro-life” issues to be addressed, John Paul II’s “culture of life” approach identified abortion as a priority issue for Catholics to address in public policy and pastoral life.  

As Cardinal Bernardin promoted the “seamless garment,” the late Cardinal John O’Connor was the champion of the “culture of life” approach among American bishops. He prayed at abortion clinics, addressed Catholic politicians who supported abortion, promoted post-abortion ministry for women, and founded the Sisters of Life, a religious community uniquely engaged in “culture of life” pastoral initiatives.

Cardinal O’Connor served as chairman of the USCCB’s pro-life committee in the early 1990s. His efforts set the direction of the USCCB’s approach to pro-life activities over the past 20 years, in part because of the partnership he formed with the Knights of Columbus, which has provided much of the funding for the bishops’ pro-life efforts. Although Cardinal Roger Mahony, a proponent of the "seamless garment," chaired the pro-life committee subsequently, the bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, which guides the work of the pro-life office, reflects the views and methodology of O’Connor, and serves as a kind of link to his memory and legacy.

Certainly, O’Connor’s vision seems to have directly shaped the approach of Archbishop Joseph Naumann. As a young priest, Naumann oversaw the pro-life office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Under his leadership, the archdiocese began the Project Rachel ministry, a post-abortion healing ministry of the kind O’Connor championed. Naumann worked to support pregnancy centers and homes for mothers and children, also projects important to O’Connor. As Archbishop of Kansas City, he’s challenged pro-choice Catholic politicians, spearheaded efforts to restrict abortion in Kansas, and prioritized abortion in his teaching ministry.

Like Naumann, Cupich has spoken directly about the moral issue of abortion, and strongly criticized politicians whom he believes take pro-choice advocacy too far. This year, he expressed “disappointment” when Illinois’ governor signed a bill expanding taxpayer-funded abortion in the state.

But Cupich has contextualized these efforts in the memory of Bernardin’s “seamless garment.”  In an essay this May in Commonweal, Cupich wrote that Bernardin “deserves a fresh hearing,” and highlighted the importance of “efforts to engage and persuade” by public advocacy of the Church’s “comprehensive commitment to respecting life.”

The effect of this approach is Cupich’s broadening of what might be understood as a “pro-life” issue, or, at the USCCB, what might be understood as “pro-life activities.” Cupich has said repeatedly that gun control, for example, is a “pro-life” issue.  In a 2015 column in the Chicago Tribune, Cupich wrote that “we should be no less appalled” by poverty, immigration policy, racism, the state of health care, unemployment, or gun violence, than we are appalled by abortion.  

Emphasizing the relationship between these issues is at the heart of the “seamless garment” approach. Supporters argue that this emphasis enhances the Church’s credibility, and allows her to eschew partisanship.  

Critics argue that Cupich’s take on the “seamless garment” diminishes the significance of abortion, and seeks to minimize abortion-specific advocacy and pastoral work. Those critics note that in 2016 the pro-life office of the Archdiocese of Chicago was folded into a new office, called the Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity. They also point to Cupich’s 2011 directive to the priests and seminarians of Spokane, where he was then serving as bishop, which discouraged them from praying at abortion clinics during the annual 40 Days for Life campaign. In 2016, the pro-life office of the USCCB honored the founder of 40 Days for Life, Fr. Bill Carmody.

At issue, fundamentally, is how the bishops understand what it means to be “pro-life.” While Naumann’s election would signal continuity with the current approach, Cupich’s election would likely represent a remaking of the pro-life office in the model of the “seamless garment.”
Over the centuries, the Church has learned that important conversations often take place across decades. Debates surface, seem to settle, and then surface again. The “seamless garment” debate has not raised its head in a serious way among the American bishops in nearly 20 years. Next week, as the bishops consider 100 years of the unity of their conference, they’ll also revisit one of their long-standing points of disagreement.  


Adoption tax credit is critical – don’t cut it, says law’s original author

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 14:32

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 12:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The author of the first federal adoption tax credit has spoken out against the proposed removal of the credit in the GOP tax reform bill introduced in Congress last week.

“The tax code should support families, and, in a specific way, adoptive families who generously seek to welcome children into their loving homes,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in a Nov. 7 letter sent to Republican House leadership.

“Every child deserves a loving family – and it is incumbent on us to assist those parents who seek to build their families through adoption.”  

Smith’s letter voiced concern over provisions in the recently introduced Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that would repeal the adoption tax credit and exclude employer adoption assistance programs from taxation.

Smith introduced a $5000 refundable adoption credit to Congress in 1990. The legislation was reintroduced in the following years, and eventually become law, with bipartisan support, in 1996.

Expanded and adjusted for inflation over the years, the adoption tax credit is now $13,460.

Advocates for the credit argue that it helps defray the high costs of adoption, which might  prevent children otherwise eligible for adoption from finding families. They also argue that encouraging adoption saves state and federal money that would otherwise be spent on children in the foster care system.

The cost of a domestic adoption frequently tops $30,000, and international adoptions are even more expensive, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

These costs cover birth expenses, counseling, fees for an evaluation of the adopting couple, legal work, documentation, travel expenses and adoption agency costs.

Noting that the adoption tax credit has enjoyed broad bipartisan support for more than two decades, Smith argued that “while this tax credit has a limitless reward, it has a modest cost. Latest reported numbers indicate the credit costs $355 million annually.”

The Congressman noted that November is National Adoption Month. In a proclamation marking the occasion, President Donald Trump highlight the need “to remove barriers to adoption whenever we can, so that the love and care of prospective adoptive parents can be directed to children waiting for permanent homes.”

That declaration also described adoption as a signal “that no child in America – born or unborn – is unwanted or unloved.”

“I agree,” Smith said, “and therefore ask that H.R. 1 be amended to restore the adoption tax credit and exclusion for adoption assistance programs.”

US bishops' new child protection program aims to create culture of mindfulness

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 05:04

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After years of research, the U.S. bishops are rolling out a new training program that takes some of the best risk-management practices from other industries and applies them to child protection in the Church.

The new program, entitled “Creating a Culture of Protection and Healing,” is being piloted in several dioceses and will eventually be available to any diocese by request.

The principles of the program, which will add to the existing trainings and protections already in place, borrows tools and techniques of HROs (highly reliable organizations) from industries in the secular world that also frequently deal with high-risk situations, such as hospitals or airlines.

These HROs are in industries in which, when accidents do occur “it’s rather volatile, it costs lives,” Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA.

“For example in the airline industry when a plane crashes or something like that,” it can be very costly in terms of loss of life, he said.

“So the industry is looking at ways to make sure that even the lowest person on the chain of command - if they see something that’s untoward, they speak up, they say something, they report it. They know how and what to do when they come across a situation that could cause a problem in the future.”

That’s the same attitude and level of awareness that the bishops are hoping to create in dioceses who implement this new program, he said.

“We’re trying to create this mindfulness, a change in culture, so safe environments can be not only established but indeed maintained, because that’s the key. We have to constantly be on our toes, on our guard, with no room for complacency.”

This kind of training has been in the works for several years, said Nojadera, who has a military background and therefore prior experiences with HRO practices.

Since most of the information about HRO practices are tailored to specific industries, the bishops decided to partner with Ascension Health, the largest group of Catholic hospitals in the U.S., which uses HRO principles with a theological perspective.

“So we’re taking something that the hospitals have been using for 20 some years or so and making it applicable to us,” Nojadera said.

For example, if an incident or a near-miss occurs, the Church can ask the same questions that hospitals ask, albeit in a different context: “What went right? What went wrong? What do we do to improve and make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

The new program isn’t meant to replace the current practices, but to add an extra layer of awareness and thoroughness, Nojadera said.

Since the clergy sex scandal of the early 2000s, the Church has put into place numerous policies and practices to protect children from sexual abuse, including the USCCB's Charter for Child and Youth Protection.

The charter, implemented in 2002, obligates all compliant dioceses and eparchies to provide resources both for victims of abuse and resources for abuse prevention. Each year, the USCCB releases an extensive annual report on the dioceses and eparchies, including an audit of all abuse cases and allegations, and recommended policy guidelines for dioceses.

Kelly Venegas is the bishop’s delegate for sexual misconduct in the Diocese of Gary, which is one of the pilot dioceses for the new HRO training program.

She said that the new training was divided into two sections, with the first focused on anticipating and diagnosing near-misses.

“We’re making sure that near-misses don’t indicate a symptom of a worse problem,” Venegas told CNA.

“So rather than just looking and saying, wow, that really could have been a big issue, good thing it didn’t cause any harm - instead we say wait a minute, this was a near-miss, could there be worse problems? Let’s dive into this deeper.”

The second section of the training focused on containment of harm in the case that an incident does occur, Venegas said.

“That means we’re making sure that we learn from our mistakes, that we focus on how we can make things stronger, and making sure that we have decisions with input from multiple people involved in the process,” she said.

While some of the concrete details of the application of the new program are still being worked out, Venegas said she was excited that the Church was learning from the best practices of other successful industries.

“I think that in the business world there’s been quality assurance programs (in existence) for years, and this is really a way of taking some of the expertise that’s been learned in the secular world and applying it to something that’s very important and close to our hearts,” she said.