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Wealthy foundation aims to redefine religious freedom—and Christianity, too

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 18:15

New York City, N.Y., Nov 6, 2017 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One wealthy activist is continuing to fund coordinated efforts to limit religious freedom and to foster dissent on abortion and LGBT issues within American Christianity and other religious groups.
 
The New York-based Arcus Foundation was founded by billionaire heir Jon Stryker in 2000. Arcus is a partner of the U.S. State Department’s Global Equality Fund, which engages in LGBT advocacy around the world. One of its board members is Darren Walker, the president of the deeply influential Ford Foundation, which gives out about $500 million in grants each year.
 
Since CNA’s February 2015 report on a multi-million dollar campaign against religious freedom protections, the Arcus Foundation has given an additional $2.8 million in grants earmarked for projects aimed at restricting legal protections for religious freedom, especially religious and conscience exemptions in state and federal law.  

Among its recent donations is an ACLU grant designed to “beat back” laws protecting freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

In fact, a CNA examination of grant listings and other documents has shown that the Arcus Foundation has funded a variety of coordinated projects, focused on limiting religious freedom, redefining religious liberty, and perhaps even shaping religious doctrine itself.

Redefining Religious Liberty

On June 30, 2016, the Arcus Foundation said that “countering religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law in the United States is the aim of grants to the American Civil Liberties Union, Catholics for Choice, and the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia University, all of which are working to reframe religious liberty in inclusive terms, whether through the courts, religious bodies, or policy-making bodies.”

Since 2016, $450,000 in Arcus grants went to the Center for American Progress, which was founded by John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s last presidential campaign manager.

The grants funded projects like promoting religious liberty “as a core progressive American value that includes LGBT equality and women's reproductive health and rights.” The Center for American Progress sponsors a self-described “Religious Exemptions Public Literacy Project” that will oppose “religious exemptions policies that have a negative impact on women, LGBT, and POC (person of color) communities.”

Funding Dissent

Since June 2016, the Arcus Foundation appears to be focusing on controversies at Catholic institutions and schools where staff who publicly support or contract a “gay marriage” have been fired for contradicting Catholic doctrine. Some Catholic institutions have faced lawsuits over such employment decisions and invoke religious freedom protections as a defense.

In an apparent complement to its work on religious freedom limits, the foundation has also been funding some self-described Catholic groups that reject Church teaching on marriage and sexual morality, among them Dignity USA, the Equally Blessed Coalition, New Ways Ministry, and Catholics for Choice.

The Arcus Foundation outlines its strategy in a section on its website. It aims to mobilize “moderate and progressive faith leaders” and to leverage “strategic opportunities in historically resistant faith communities,” including Roman Catholic churches. It said that some resistant communities “still afford opportunities for making limited but significant progress.”
 
“In keeping with the focus on religious exemptions, Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition are working to combat the firing of LGBT staff and allies, who support marriage equality, at Catholic Institutions,” the foundation’s June 2016 announcement continues.

The Arcus Foundation gave a $250,000, two-year grant to Dignity USA to fund the Equally Blessed Coalition, in order to “ support and give voice to the growing majority of Roman Catholics who support full acceptance and equality for LGBT people.”

A 2017 grant gave $35,000 to New Ways Ministry to help develop the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics and its work “to connect the work of pro-LGBT Catholic organizations in every region of the world.” The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics had engaged in advocacy related to the Church’s Synod on the Family.

In February 2010 Cardinal Francis George, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement on New Ways Ministry, which is also part of the Equally Blessed Coalition. Cardinal George rejected the claim that the group presents an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and Catholic practice. “Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination,” he said.

In October 2016 New Ways Ministries gave its Bridge Building Award to Father James Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of the Society of Jesus’ America Magazine. The priest’s lecture at the award ceremony was the basis for his book “Building a Bridge,” on Catholic-LGBT relations

In 2016, the Arcus Foundation gave a one-year grant of $125,000 to Catholics for Choice, to fund a coalition of religious leaders to oppose “discriminatory religious exemptions,” as well as a different coalition to oppose “religious intolerance” in southern and eastern Africa.

The U.S. bishops have frequently criticized Catholics for Choice, saying it is not affiliated with the Catholic Church. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, speaking as the bishops’ pro-life chairman in September 2016, charged that it is “funded by powerful private foundations to promote abortion as a method of population control.”

Beyond Catholics

Arcus Foundation grantees have been linked to doctrinal changes within mainline Protestantism as well, including groups that helped split the Anglican Communion. In 2011 and 2012, the Arcus Foundation provided financial support to raise the national profile of Center for American Progress’ expert V. Gene Robinson, whose controversial election as the Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 helped split the Episcopal Church and the global Anglican Communion.

Non-Christian religions are also a focus.

A June 2015 grant of $100,000 to Muslims for Progressive Values suggests religious exemptions sought by some Muslims are also unacceptable to the foundation. The grant listing voiced hope that the group’s advocacy at the United Nations would assist “in asserting that ‘religious exemptions,’ such as reservations on the basis of Sharia law, are unacceptable on matters of human rights.”

CNA took a screenshot of the Arcus Foundation’s grant listing to Muslims for Progressive Values  in mid-2016.  Since that time, the grant listing on the foundation website appears to have been changed to read simply “general operating support,” rather than directly listing advocacy against religious exemptions.  The grant is one of several six-figure Arcus grants to the group, including one given to cultivate LGBT activists among imams and other Muslims

Kevin Jennings, a co-chair of Muslims for Progressive Values, is a former Arcus executive director and Obama Administration official. Reza Aslan, the controversial Iranian-American author of the book “Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” is a consultant for the group, according to its website.

Fighting Religious Exemptions


In 2016, the Arcus Foundation gave the ACLU a $150,000 grant to implement “a national coordinated media and public-education campaign to beat back religious exemptions at federal and state levels.”

This year, the foundation gave a $300,000 grant to the Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative. The collaborative brings together wealthy activists who aim to restrict legal protections for religious freedom, in order to advance its vision of reproductive health and LGBT causes. According to CNA’s examination of grant listings and tax forms, the collaborative’s donors and others have spent at least $8.5 million in projects to advance a similar, narrow vision of religious liberty.

The Proteus Fund’s Civil Marriage Collaborative, which worked to recognize same-sex unions as marriages, closed in 2015 after spending more than $153 million over 11 years on various U.S. projects.

The Arcus Fund has given grants totaling $300,000 to Faith in Public Life: one to rally faith leaders to advocate “fair and balanced” religious exemptions, especially in the states Georgia, Florida and North Carolina; and the other for “pro-LGBT public education campaigns” and to organize “moderate clergy to inform state and national policymakers about the negative impact of using religion to deny the civil rights of LGBT people.”

A $125,000 grant from the Arcus Foundation to Columbia University’s gender and sexuality law center backs the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project “to promote progressive and nondiscriminatory views on religious exemptions.” This builds on Arcus’ previous support for the project, whose co-sponsors have included the deeply influential Ford Foundation.

Another $200,000 has gone to the ACLU, including support for its “religious refusals” communications hub and for ongoing research to gauge what it considers to be “the harm of anti-LGBT religious refusals.”

Arcus has also given $200,000 in grants to the D.C.-based Civitas Public Affairs group’s Religious Liberty and Equality Project aim “to advance equality protections and respect for personal autonomy, while dissolving public support for religious carve-outs that go beyond what is already protected in the First Amendment”;  and to “reframe the current debates over religious exemptions by bringing together some of the most experienced thinkers and advocates within the reproductive justice and LGBT movements.” Another $100,000 2016 grant to NEO Philanthropy appears linked to this project, “to counter religious exemptions.”

The Arcus Foundation backs several news media projects, including National Public Radio, The Atlantic LGBT summit in 2015, and a series on LGBT issues for the public radio show Faith Matters. Many of those grants did not list religious freedom specifically, but the foundation did give $200,000 for the University of Southern California-based news site Religious Dispatches’ reporting on religious liberty and LGBTQ issues.

About $450,000 spread across four grants went to the Public Religion Research Institute to create “comprehensive state maps” of public attitudes on religious exemptions and non-discrimination policies. Other funding aims to track public opinion on “religious refusal legislation,” among other topics; and to help develop strategies “to stop the expansion of religious exemptions.”

The Interfaith Alliance was also funded in the amount of $75,000 to explore mapping state laws related to religious exemptions, for policy development, and for training of “skilled messengers to educate state and federal policy makers.”

The Pride Foundation received $150,000 in 2016 to strengthen coordination “among groups opposed to discriminatory interpretations of religious freedom,” and for “emergency-response grants to key public-education initiatives.”

Soulforce, which became prominent for busing LGBT activists to demonstrate at various colleges, received $100,000 to organize students of color in the U.S. South to challenge both “anti-trans policies at conservative Christian schools” and religious exemption statutes.

Victims of Islamic State in focus at UN forum

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 17:18

New York City, N.Y., Nov 6, 2017 / 03:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Persecuted religious minorities in Syria and Iraq deserve a better future after suffering at the hands of the Islamic State group.

That was the message of Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the U.N. He said justice for the survivors “demands that we seek to return to them, as much as possible, what Daesh pillaged from them.”

“This means ensuring the conditions for religious and ethnic minorities to return to their places of origin and live in dignity and safety, with the basic social, economic and political frameworks necessary to ensure community cohesion.”

The Holy See and the U.N. NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief co-organized the Nov. 2 event, held at the U.N. building in New York City. The event served as a forum for victims of Islamic State and for the civil society leaders who wanted to hold the group accountable. There was a speakers’ panel with Archbishop Auza; Michael Farris, president of ADF International; and ambassadors from Iraq, Hungary, the U.K., and the U.S.

According to the archbishop, rebuilding homes, schools and houses of worship is a “crucial step.” He praised the assistance of Aid to the Church in Need, the Knights of Columbus, and other groups.

However, this reconstruction is not enough. There must be “foundations for peaceful coexistence.” All these efforts are “restoring hope not only to the region but to the world,” he continued.

“We must, through education, interreligious dialogue, and international leadership make sure that we address the polluted environments in which hatred of the other is fomented, and arduously and perseveringly work to change such cultures into ecologies where human dignity and rights, mutual respect, solidarity, fraternity and peace reign,” he said.

Other speakers included Ekhlas Khudhur Bajoo, a 17-year-old Iraqi woman from the Yazidi ethno-religious group. The Islamic State slaughtered her family and enslaved her for six months before she escaped.

Also speaking was a Syrian man held in captivity by Islmaic State, and psychologically and physically tortured.

Archbishop Auza commented: “We are all justly repelled by the horror stories we have heard about the atrocities committed by Daesh against religious and ethnic minorities… Their stories cannot but move us to action. We wish that what they endured could have been prevented outright, but while we tragically did not stop their sufferings, we can act to bring justice for them and other victims, help them to rehabilitate and rebuild, and do everything we can to prevent similar barbarity from happening to others.”

The archbishop cited the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 2379, adopted Sept. 21, which condemned the Islamic State’s “gross, systematic and widespread attacks directed against civilians” as well as its violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. Such acts may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, the resolution said.

The U.N. Security Council has created a team to investigate crimes committed by the Islamic State group in Iraq.

For Archbishop Auza, the response to Islamic State must include a “rock-solid resolve” to prevent atrocities in the future.

“Those entrusted with protecting the innocent and safeguarding respect for fundamental human rights must live up to their indispensable and inescapable responsibility to defend those in danger of suffering atrocity crimes,” he said.

“Similarly religious leaders have a grave and specific duty to confront and condemn the abuse of religious belief and sentiment to justify violence and terrorism against believers of other religions,” the archbishop said. “They must constantly and unequivocally affirm that no one can justly kill the innocent in God’s name and say a clear and adamant ‘no’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out supposedly in the name of God or religion.”

“It’s not enough to defeat, punish, and disband Daesh. We also must eradicate the pseudo-religious, dehumanizing, hateful, and indeed barbaric ideology that motivates it and similar extremist groups,” he said.

Part of this effort means addressing the social, political and economic issues exploited to recruit and radicalize others. Further, the response must create cultural conditions in which the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are respected. The archbishop stressed the need to defend a citizenship-focused attitude of equality before the law, regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity.

There also must be a right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience that has legal recourse when such rights are violated.

Other forum participants included leaders from ADF International and Aid to the Church in Need.

“It would be better to prevent crimes,” said Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International. “But when crimes cannot be prevented, they must be prosecuted. Otherwise law is shown to be meaningless. The laws that protect freedom of religion are not meaningless, and now is the time to prove it.”

“No person or group should live in fear of being killed, tortured, or oppressed because of their religious beliefs,” he said. While the Islamic State appears to be falling apart, evidence of their atrocities must be collected and preserved and the perpetrators must be held accountable.

 

Catholic University of America offers free tuition to Puerto Rican students

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 13:45

Washington D.C., Nov 6, 2017 / 11:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through Puerto Rico leaving a trail of disaster, the Catholic University of America announced this week that it will welcome Puerto Rican students who want to continue their undergraduate education free of charge.

“Inspired by the example of Pope Francis and our bishops, we wanted to make a more significant impact by offering our support during the spring semester,” John Garvey, President of Catholic University of America, said Nov. 6.

“We believe the best support we can provide is a welcoming community where impacted students can continue their academic pursuits,” Garvey continued.

In August, Hurricane Irma caused widespread damage throughout the Caribbean and parts of the U.S., leaving millions in Puerto Rico without power. Only a few weeks later, Hurricane Maria swept through, causing additional major damage in Puerto Rico and across the northeastern Caribbean. Gov. Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico called the event a humanitarian crisis.

The official death toll from the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico currently stands at 55, although a new report released last week claims that the number could be hundreds higher, potentially reaching 500.

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Catholic University of America was actively involved in supporting the victims of the natural disaster.

“Throughout the fall semester our University community has provided assistance to our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and to our students with ties there,” Garvey noted.

However, the university wanted to do more and is now opening enrollment for the spring 2018 semester for currently enrolled students at colleges and universities in Puerto Rico who want to enroll with visitor status. Tuition and all standard fees for up to 40 students will be waived.

Students from any major and program of study will be accepted, and the Catholic University of America is willing to accommodate these needs.

Additionally, students who take a at least three courses (or nine credits) would also qualify for on-campus housing, with standard charges. A special orientation for Puerto Rican students will be available in the spring before classes begin.

Applications are being accepted through Dec. 15.

Catholic University of America was founded by the Catholic bishops of the United States and is located on a 176-acre campus in Washington, D.C. The university holds 12 schools and 21 research facilities and aims to “cultivate Catholic Minds in all things,” according to their website.

How social workers can advance Catholic social teaching

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 05:04

Washington D.C., Nov 6, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- How social workers can live their faith in the workplace was the focus of the latest annual conference of the Catholic Social Workers National Association.

“The association’s members … are united and called to live out the Gospel to carry out his mission, not only in our personal lives but professional as well,” president and co-founder Kathleen Neher told CNA Nov. 1.

“We share a common belief, which is to bring forth a culture of life by promoting the Catholic social teachings in the area of social work and in keeping with and faithful to the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.”

The association’s annual conference began Nov. 3 in in Washington D.C. at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. The group of professionals and students seek to have their occupation guided by the teachings of the Church. The organization also acts as a place of Catholic formation and source of spiritual strength.

In collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the group answers ethical questions regarding field practices and educates Catholics on what legislation is supported by the Church.

Neher said the association’s members gather annually “to network, pray and learn about current developments in their practice” with lectures on a wide variety of professions.

She said the goal of the conference is “to educate members on recent developments, gather Catholic social workers who don’t normally have a way to express their faith and beliefs in an accepting forum, and to celebrate our faith as we are united with the Catholic Church.”
 
Founded in 2005, the association’s members work in government agencies, health clinics, faith-based organizations and universities. They often work with the most vulnerable: immigrants, addicts, veterans, pregnant women, children and the poor.

Neher said the association members want their clients to see them as representatives of St. Louis de Marillac, someone who cares deeply about moral and social problems and as “someone whose step they listen for as we go about serving their needs,” in his words.

Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Senior of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is an episcopal liaison to the group. He told CNA that a social worker’s profession is aligned to the Gospel’s description of charity: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.

Although works of mercy are part of the job for social workers, Bishop Senior said, it is still the role of all the laity to be a light of faith in the world.

“To have Catholics living their faith, that is something we want in every profession,” he said. “We want Catholics committing Catholics to be missionary disciples, as Pope Francis has called us all to be as a Church perpetually on mission.”

However, for the social worker, dealing regularly with intractable social problems is exhausting and challenging, In the bishop’s view, the organization is a source of spiritual and intellectual support.

“Social workers work hard and you are dealing with problems all the time and there is no way you can do that without finding some resource for life and refreshment,” he reflected. “We have ready access to that in our faith.”

In his role within the association, Bishop Senior will provide answers for members who struggle with a specific approach of an agency or have ethical questions on a certain practice in the field.

The association also informs its members on current legal issues. It advocates for laws in defense of human dignity.

“Our advocacy is grounded in Catholic social teaching and the teaching of the Church. Information is shared on a regular basis on issues that are impacting and of concern to social workers, such as religious freedom, sexuality and gender issues,” Neher told CNA.

Catholic social teaching is not only for Catholics, Bishop Senior said, but it envisions a just system he hopes would be made available for anyone.

“Catholic social workers are committed to implementing that vision for a just society, for the respect for human life, or addressing people in extreme poverty and their needs,” he said.

San Antonio archbishop prays for victims of Texas church shooting

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:11

San Antonio, Texas, Nov 5, 2017 / 06:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After at least 26 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, the local Catholic archbishop offered prayers and solidarity for the victims.

“We need prayers! The families affected in the shooting this morning at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs need prayers. The evil perpetrated on these who were gathered to worship God on the Lord’s Day – especially children and the elderly – makes no sense and will never be fully understood,” Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio said Nov. 5.

“Disbelief and shock are the overwhelming feelings; there are no adequate words. There can be no explanation or motive for such a scene of horror at a small country church for families gathered to praise Jesus Christ.”

He said that “These Baptist brethren are our family, friends and neighbors who live among us in the archdiocese … We are committed to work in unity with all our brothers and sisters to build peace in our communities; to connect in a more direct and substantial way. The Catholic Church in Texas and across the United States is with you.”

Garcia-Siller added that the San Antonio archdiocese's Catholic Charities “stands ready to assist and provide whatever services may be needed in this time of tragedy and will do whatever needs to be done.”

“Let’s help these brothers and sisters with prayers; they need us. Also, pray fervently for peace amidst all of the violence which seems to be overwhelming our society. We must be lights in the darkness. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May God have mercy!”

Sutherland Springs is  small town located about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio. A shooter entered the town's First Baptist Church late Sunday morning, during a service. He has reportedly been killed.

The suspect, who fled in a car, was shot at by a local citizen. The suspect was found dead in his car by police.

At least 20 people were injured by gunfire and taken to the hospital.

 

How the Church can help victims of sexual assault

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 16:12

Washington D.C., Nov 5, 2017 / 02:12 pm (CNA).- It’s been a month since the New York Times first published an investigative report on Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood film producer and studio executive who has been accused of sexually assaulting numerous women in the entertainment industry since the 1990s.

Already, the reports have been followed by a movement among women - both those who have made additional accusations against Weinstein and other celebrities, and women throughout the world who are sharing their own stories of sexual assault on social media, accompanied by the hashtag #MeToo.

The Catholic Church in the United States faced its own sex abuse crisis in the early 2000s, beginning with the Boston Globe’s report on extensive sexual abuse by clergy, particularly against minors. Since then, the Church has taken care to provide numerous resources to such victims, and develop robust child protection policies.

But what can the Church provide for adult victims of general sexual assault, whether committed by Church personnel or other people?  

Catholic psychologist Dr. Greg Bottaro said one of the most important things the Church can do to help victims of sexual assault is to anticipate and initiate the conversation about it.

“I think that’s the good thing about the Harvey Weinstein case - obviously this has become a more common conversation, but there needs to be more of that,” he said.

“Let people know that it’s ok to talk about this, it’s ok to report this, if something has happened to you it’s ok to come forward.”

Victims also need validation “that the assault is wrong, because sexual assault is traumatic. It’s trauma in the deepest sense of the word, and the definition of trauma is the perceived harm to life or integrity of body. Having your bodily integrity violated is a traumatic event, there’s a loss of power that happens, it’s a real victimization.”

If a Catholic experiences sexual assault, there are several websites that can help connect them to Catholic counselors and therapists, including catholicpsych.com, catholictherapists.com, and wellcatholic.com. Most dioceses also have Catholic counselors and therapists with whom they work closely and to whom victims can be referred, Dr. Bottaro noted.

Seeking a healing and help that incorporates one’s Catholic faith is important, Dr. Bottaro said, because the trauma caused by sexual violence can wound the deepest parts of the human person.

“Our bodies are meant to be gifts to be given with full freedom in a full fruition of our choice, and when that choice is taken away, that’s a strike against our sense of (self),” he said.

“So the healing we seek has to take that into account and help us rebuild the sense of self that is founded on a deeper principle.”

People who have experienced sexual assault also often are in need of spiritual healing, because such traumatic events can cause them to question their belief in God as a loving father, Dr. Bottaro noted.

“One effect (of trauma) is that our sense of being safe in the world is violated, and that digs down into our sense of having a father who loves us and takes care of us,” he said. “Victims of trauma have to make sense of that - how can you say that there’s a father in heaven who loves me when this happened to me? So having a psychologist who can walk through that with somebody, and help wrestle with that reality, and learn how to accept suffering as part of God’s will is an essential element to healing.”

Sue Stubbs is the director of the Victim Assistance Office for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Georgia. While her office was originally created to respond to the clergy sex abuse crisis, as were many diocesan child and youth protection departments, Stubbs said that her office has become a catch-all, and now provides resources to a wide variety of victims, whether they were assaulted by church personnel or not.

Besides helping connect victims with counselors, Stubbs said the office also puts on retreats every year, two for women and one for men, that help address both psychological and spiritual components of healing after sexual assault.

Stubbs said it was important for victims to seek spiritual as well as psychological healing, because the two areas often overlap, and because recognizing God as an all-good and all-loving creator helps victims make sense of their experiences.

“You have to believe that someone bigger than you cares about you, and created you a certain way, to really understand that nothing...that happens to you and nothing that you do can change the way God made you. (Your worth) stays the same no matter what.”

Her office also facilitates trauma recovery groups for victims that are usually put on once or twice a year, for nine sessions each. The groups welcome people who have suffered all kinds of trauma and sexual assault, whether in childhood or later in life.

The benefit of a group, Stubbs said, is that people can get a sense that they’re not alone.

“You don’t feel alone, you don’t feel different. (Victims sometimes) feel like a freak and they realize they’re not. Someone in the group is saying the same thing that they’ve thought a million times,” she said. “And it provides a safe connection, because these people get it, they’re not afraid to reach out because they know that this person has had something similar.”

Stubbs said that she often tells other people in Church leadership that the Church has to start seeing victims of sexual assault as people who are on the peripheries, to whom Pope Francis has called the Church to minister.

“The people that come to church oftentimes are the periphery, you just can’t see it,” Stubbs said.  “People who’ve been sexually assaulted are the periphery and they could be sitting right next to you and have no idea, because they don’t talk about it, they hide it, it's an invisible secret that they’re afraid to show anybody.”

“There’s a part of them that feels broken, they perceive themselves as something sinful, but it isn’t their sin, it’s someone else’s sin that has affected their life, and it’s confusing,” Stubbs said.  

“And I think that’s where the Church can help to untie those knots - I think we could add the spiritual piece” that is missing from other community resources, she said.

College campuses are unfortunately a place of increased risk for sexual violence - especially for women. RAINN - the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, reports that women ages 18-24 are at a heightened risk to experience sexual assault, both on and off college campuses.

In order to prevent and educate students about sexual assault and other harmful situations, The Catholic University of America (CUA) has created PEERS - Peer Educators Empowering Respectful Students - a group that seeks to educate other students and help foster a more respectful environment on campus.

Stephanie Davey is the Assistant Dean in the Office of the Dean of Students at CUA and oversees much of the work that PEERS does. She said that PEERS helps students understand what sexual assault is, and how to either intervene to prevent it from happening or what to do if sexual assault has occurred.

Davey said they especially want victims to “understand that we are a supportive place and they don’t have to be fearful or ashamed about seeking support,” whether the incident occurred with another CUA student or not.

The university just concluded observing October as Sexual Violence Prevention Month, during which the school has participated in several national campaigns that raise awareness of sexual violence and encourage increased conversation about the issue.

For example, Davey said, the students participated in the national “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” campaign, which usually involves men walking in high heels, but CUA decided to do it with a Catholic twist.

“Instead of having men walk in high heeled shoes we had a candlelit solidarity walk through campus and stopped at different places through campus and read testimonies of survivors...and culminated with a prayer service outside our chapel with our chaplain and then had some fellowship,” she said.

Much of their training, such as bystander intervention training, is rooted in the Catholic faith, she said - being a good Samaritan, being a good neighbor, and upholding the dignity of everyone.

“I think that that’s what we do well in terms of addressing these issues but also not ignoring our Catholic identity,” she said.

“Every person has worth and dignity, it’s our responsibility to look out for each other and uphold that dignity.”

 

 

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