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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 45 min 27 sec ago

What's driving the growth of Catholic churches in the Bible Belt?

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 02:27

Charleston, S.C., Aug 10, 2018 / 12:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the thick of the Bible Belt, the famously evangelical Protestant region in the southeastern United States, some Catholic Masses are filling to standing-room only.

Meanwhile, many Baptist, Methodist and Lutheran churches are struggling to keep enough people in the pews to justify opening their doors.

It has widely been reported that the U.S. as a whole is losing its religion, with Protestant mainline churches seeing the most decline over the past 15 years. But two key factors are contributing to Catholic growth throughout the south: a boom in the Hispanic population, and the southern migration of Catholic retirees and families from the Northeast.

St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Bluffton, along the southern coast of South Carolina, particularly illustrates this shift along the Bible Belt — the congregation grew by a massive 70 percent in just 10 years, and now claims 10,000 registered members. Even though South Carolina is gaining in population, the growth of this parish outpaces even that of the state, according to local newspapers.

“Sunday Masses are crowded as latecomers squeeze into pews or stand in the back of the church. Twelve Masses are held Friday evening through Sunday — two of which are in Spanish. And work is underway on a new parish life center for community events,” Kasia Kovacs reports in The Island Packet.

Hispanics made up about 40 percent of the Church in the United States in 2016, with especially large representation among youth and young adults: 50 percent of Catholics ages 14 to 29 are Hispanic; and 55 percent of Catholics under 14 are Hispanic. Though immigration rates from Hispanic countries have begun to slow in recent years, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. is expected to continue growing during the next decade.

At St. Gregory’s, Masses for major holidays like Christmas and Easter are said in both English and Spanish, and seminarians in the state are required to be fluent in Spanish before their ordination. The parish celebrates Las Posadas and other traditional Hispanic celebrations, and food trucks at parish events now feature empanadas and gorditas.

“Having this summer experience, and seeing how it comes together — seeing how the Hispanic community and English community collaborate — it really is a single entity,” seminarian Tom Drury told The Island Packet.

Parishioner Jenny Bermejo, who moved to the area as a child with her family in 2004, said that St. Gregory’s has provided them with community and the familiarity of home.

“We were still pretty new to South Carolina, so hearing Mass in Spanish really brought us a sense of home,” Bermejo said.

St. Gregory’s pastor Monsignor Ronald Cellini told The Island Packet that his Hispanic parishioners are often more active in church life in the United States than they were back in Mexico, Guatemala or Colombia. The rural area of Bluffton reminds them of home, and they are putting down roots — they are not transient migrants who will leave in a few years.

“The Bluffton Hispanic community is here — it’s not a migrant community,” he said. “Kids grow up here. They’ve been here, they’re staying here.”

In response to these shifting demographics and the influx of Hispanic Catholics throughout the United States, the U.S. bishops have called for a meeting called the V Encuentro- Fifth Encounter- a national gathering of U.S. Hispanic leaders and ministers to consult with Hispanic Catholics and respond to their pastoral needs.

The first Encuentro was held in 1972, and the most recent was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.

This year, the V Encuentro will be held in Grapevine, Texas Sept. 20-23.

Lawsuit filed against new government asylum rules

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Immigration activists have made a legal challenge to the government’s criteria for migrants seeking asylum on Tuesday, saying that the grounds outlined were too narrow and should be expanded.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies filed suit on behalf of a dozen individuals who say they left their home countries after experiencing “horrific persecution,” including the murder of family members. These people were denied asylum in the United States.

The lead plaintiff, identified only as “Grace,” is a native of Guatemala who says she came to the United States after two decades of physical and sexual abuse by her husband. “Grace” faces the possibility of deportation back to Guatemala, where her lawyers say her life is at risk.

Previously, a person could claim fear of gang violence or domestic abuse as a reason why they should be granted asylum into the United States. In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a new policy, stating that these factors “generally” do not constitute a suitable reason.

In a June 11 decision by the attorney general relating to a particular case referred to as A-B-, he ruled that “generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”

While Sessions said that he did not “minimize the vile abuse” that particular woman had endured, “the mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes—such as domestic violence or gang violence—or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”

Catholics have spoken out strongly against the new policy.

At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general assembly in June, USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston condemned the new policy in his opening address to the bishops.

DiNardo said that the policy would risk the lives of women, and that “unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors.”

The ACLU argues that the updated policy is an “attempt to subvert decades of settled asylum law” and is a “fundamental misunderstanding of domestic violence.” The plaintiffs are arguing that the new policy effectively restricts asylum claims to those fleeing persecution either by the government, or that the government actively condoned the persecution.

This, they argue, goes against the established legal standard that the local government merely be “unwilling or unable” to offer protection.

In May, administration officials said that individuals and people-smuggling organizations were exaggerating the threat of violence they faced in an effort to exploit the system and gain entry to the United States.

Sessions said that the June changes would restore "sound principles of asylum and long-standing principles of immigration law."

Under immigration law, a person seeking asylum must prove that they are subject to persecution in their home country due to their race, nationality, religious beliefs, political views, or membership in a certain social group. Over time, the definition of “certain social group” has been expanded to include women who are fleeing domestic violence in countries where there are few legal avenues for a woman to prosecute or even escape her abuser.

Over the past year, the number of people seeking asylum who fail the first step, known as the “credible fear screening,” has increased. People who fail the credible fear screening are subject deportation back to their country of origin.

The case will be heard by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

NJ bishop: Independent avenue for reporting abuse is needed

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:01

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 9, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In light of a scandal involving one of its former bishops, Theodore McCarrick, the Diocese of Metuchen is working to establish an independent avenue for victims to report abuse conducted by Church leaders, including bishops.

"I continue to be saddened and ashamed... by reports of the abhorrent events we have been learning about in regard to Archbishop McCarrick - I know you must be, too. Our efforts to evangelize, and spread the Good News of Christ, have been hobbled by these atrocities,” Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen said in an Aug. 7 letter.

“I am praying for all those who have been hurt and praying that God’s mercy will bring healing and consolation,” he stated. “I am also working to address how we can ensure that similar abuses, especially of seminarians or young priests, would not happen again, particularly by those in positions of authority over them.”

Archbishop McCarrick was Bishop of Metuchen from 1982 to 1986.

The Archdiocese of New York announced in June that it had concluded an investigation into an allegation that McCarrick had sexually abused a minor in the early 1970s, finding the claim to be “credible and substantiated.”

Since that announcement, media reports have detailed additional allegations, charging that McCarrick sexually abused, assaulted, or coerced seminarians and young priests during his time as a bishop. The Metuchen diocese and the Archdiocese of Newark disclosed that they had received three allegations of  sexual misconduct with adults by McCarrick, and had reached settlements in two cases.

McCarrick resigned as a cardinal July 28.

Bishop Checchio said that “The case of Archbishop McCarrick demonstrates that the culture of the Church is changing and that no one is exempt from its censure – regardless of a person’s rank or status, or the number of years that have passed since an incident occurred. As I have done in the past, I continue to urge anyone who has been abused to bring the situation to the attention of law enforcement officials. Also, I want to reiterate that the Diocese stands poised and ready to help any who have been abused.”

The bishop said he is heartbroken “for our faithful people, and the clergy and religious of our Diocese, as we face another tragic situation within the Church that we love. Nonetheless, I am grateful that the processes the Church has in place regarding child sexual abuse have been shown to work.”

To address the abuse of seminarians or young priests “I have begun to bring together a senior team of advisors to examine reporting processes,” he said. “Clearly, the safety of an independent reporting structure that allows for anyone to bring an allegation forward without the fear of retribution of any kind is needed.”

“Accountability on all levels helps to ensure that a healthy, wholesome environment prevails to form and train our future priests. I know that I do not have to reiterate to the people of this Diocese that proper priestly formation is central to renewal in the life of the Church.”

He reflected that the Metuchen diocese is “seeing a new springtime with men studying for the priesthood. We are blessed with the most seminarians we have had in 25 years. They are good men, striving to make over their hearts like the Good Shepherd’s own caring heart.”

While at one time the decision to become a priest would have been lauded by society at large, “that is not the case now,” Bishop Checchio said. “Our young men seek to join in this life of service to God and His people at a time when it would be easy to ignore the call and choose another path. Yet, they choose to listen to the quiet call of the Lord …  I thank God for them, as I thank God as well for you, who support these dedicated young men in their response to God's call in these challenging times.”

The bishop asked for prayer “as the Church faces so many challenges in our world today. We know that the Holy Spirit protects the Church by ensuring the truth of the presence of Christ who is its keystone, its heart and its foundation. The Holy Spirit wraps the Church in this protection in spite of our sinfulness.”

“Despite the failings of the past, however, we remain steadfast in hope. This hope anchors our faith in the credibility of this sinful yet holy Assembly of Believers, a living paradox of unity in diversity, as we endeavor to build the Kingdom of God established through the incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is 'the same yesterday, today and forever.'”

Bishop Checchio concluded, saying, “In the midst of the trials we currently face, I do not want to miss pointing out that Christ is still at work in His Church!”

“This summer, in addition to my weekend visits to parishes for Mass, I have been taking advantage of the lighter weekday schedule to visit some vacation bible schools, religious communities of sisters, nursing homes, prisons and some parishes for daily Mass. It is an honor to be with you, and it is evident that people everywhere are still yearning to see Christ in us – a willingness to place their hope in the many ministries and initiatives through which the Lord Himself uses our humble humanity to touch us with His grace.”

“We must never forget that, in every age, the antidote to the ills that beset the Church is for men and women everywhere to rise up in sanctity. Let us not lose our vision: to 'keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith.' To Him be glory and praise forever.”

New study shows ‘alt-right’ views linked to infrequent church attendance and divorce

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Newly released data shows that those Americans who only occasionally go to Church services are more likely to hold so-called “alt-right” views, compared to those who regularly attend or never go at all.

The Demography of the Alt-Right, a demographic analysis released Aug. 9, breaks down the cultural, social, and economic factors which seem to overlap with a tendency toward white nationalism and “alt-right political views.”

The analysis identified three key attitudes which it says are held by people affiliated with racist and alt-right groups. It then examined what circumstances and characteristics people holding these views tend to have in common. The traits with the highest incidence among those with racist views were found to be infrequent Church attendance, divorce, low income, unemployment, and identification as a political independent - all of which were present in about 18 percent of “alt-right” respondents.

The identifying “alt-right” attitudes used by Hawley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, were a strong sense of “white identity,” a belief in the importance of “white solidarity,” and a sense of “white victimization.”

Hawley gathered data from the 2016 American National Election Survey. Among survey respondents, 28 percent expressed strong feelings of white identity; about 38 percent expressed strong feelings of white solidarity; and about 27 percent felt that whites suffer a meaningful amount of discrimination in American life. A much smaller minority, about 12 percent of respondents, expressed all three opinions.

Of the 12 percent who had all three attitude markers of the “alt-right,” 18.03 percent attended religious services “once or twice a month.” 10.86 percent of those with those attitude markers said they “never attended” services, and 12.28 percent said they attend weekly. 

Hawley noted that the leadership of far-right radical groups “appears to be less religious and socially conservative than earlier far right movements - though parts of the white nationalist movement have always expressed antipathy toward Christianity and other organized religions.”

He also said that while traditional religious beliefs and activities are often associated with “reactionary views” on social issues, “most major religious groups in the United States promote an explicitly egalitarian worldview that stresses the equal dignity of all persons, and all are officially anti-racist.”

There was, he concluded, “not always a clear pattern when it came to frequency of worship and racial attitudes.”

The 12 percent of respondents with alt-right views were also more likely to be divorced than either to be married or have never married at all – 18.24 percent, compared to 10.37 percent who are married and 11.24 who have never been married.

While considering theories that the breakdown of traditional family structures and values had contributed to the rise of far-right identity politics, Hawley said that there was no “compelling evidence that the breakdown of traditional family norms is leading to a new interest in right-wing radicalism.”

“However,” Hawley noted, “the results for divorce are more interesting. On every one of these questions mentioned earlier, for example, divorced respondents were consistently one of the highest scoring groups. This may seem curious, as there is not an obvious connection between being divorced and feelings about race. It is possible that the experience of divorce makes one feel more alienated and negative in general.”

The analysis was presented by the Institute of Family Studies. Its release comes only days before a Unite the Right rally will be held in Washington, D.C., on August 11-12.

The rally will mark the first anniversary of the of the 2017 Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., during which white supremacists marched through the streets, displayed Nazi flags, and shouted racist slogans. Clashes with counter protestors resulted in more than 30 people being injured, and a woman was killed when one man linked to white-supremacist groups rammed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators.

In response to last year’s events, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in 2017 that “Charlottesville matters,” calling it a “snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed.” He lamented the rise of far-right and racist attitudes and the “collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country.”

The National Park Service has confirmed that a permit has been issued to Unite the Right organizer John Kessler to demonstrate outside of the White House on Sunday night. That rally is expected to draw an estimated 400 people. Meanwhile, several permits have also been issued to counter-protesters at different locations around Washington. Some estimates suggest that several thousand people could arrive to protest what is expected to be an overtly racist and provocative display.

In November 2017, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C., issued the the first pastoral letter on race by a senior American bishop in almost thirty years. Entitled “The Challenge of Racism Today,” the letter denounced racism “in whatever form” as “ultimately a denial of human dignity.” 

CNA obtained a statement Wuerl plans to issue in advance of Sunday’s rally, in which the cardinal will remind Washington-area Catholics that “in the face of groups whose message we deplore and even as they exercise their First Amendment right, we must stand firm in our convictions.  We cannot let these messages that we reject somehow change us. Rather, we must continue to stand up for a good and just society, speaking the truth in love.”

The 'nones' – why some Americans are forgoing religious labels

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 14:01

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Among the growing share of religious “nones” in the U.S., a majority say that questioning religious teachings is one important factor in their lack of religious affiliation.

A Pew Research analysis released Aug. 8 explored the reasons that people give for being “nones.”

As of 2014, roughly 23 percent of U.S. adults said their religion is “nothing in particular,” according to Pew, an increase from 16 percent in 2007.

Pew’s new analysis – based on a survey conducted in late 2017 – asks more than 1,300 religiously unaffiliated adults about why they do not identify with a religion. The vast majority of religious “nones” were raised in a religion, but have since fallen away.

Sixty percent of respondents said questioning “a lot of religious teachings” was an influential factor in their lack of religious affiliation. Nearly half said they dislike positions that religious groups take on social and political issues.

Forty-one percent said they do not like religious organizations, and 34 percent said they do not like religious leaders. Just over one-third said they do not believe in God, and a similar percentage said religion is irrelevant in their lives.

The data indicated some differences among subgroups of unaffiliated individuals. Among atheists, nearly 90 percent said that not believing in God was a significant factor in their lack of religious affiliation. In contrast, just 37 percent of agnostics gave the same answer, and 21 percent of those who are “nothing in particular.”

Sixty-three percent of atheists said religion is irrelevant to them, compared to 40 percent of agnostics and 26 percent of those who are “nothing in particular.”

Other answers saw more consistent responses. About half of all subgroups said they dislike the positions churches take on social or political issues. Between 31 and 42 percent of each subgroup said they dislike religious leaders.

Asked about the single most important reason they are not affiliated with a religion, atheists pointed to their lack of belief in God, while agnostics cited their questioning of many religious teachings. Among those who are “nothing in particular,” no single reason predominated.

 

Food and Drug Administration signs controversial contract with fetal tissue provider

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 09:30

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Legislators, pro-life groups, and ethicists have condemned a new government contract to obtain human tissue from aborted children for use in medical research and in the creation of “humanized mice.”

The Food and Drug Administration signed a $15,900 contract to acquire human fetal tissue for use on mice on July 25. The contract was signed with Advanced Bioscience Resources Inc., a California based not-for-profit. It is the eighth contract between the FDA and ABR since 2012, seven of the contracts appear to relate to the same or similar programs.

The fetal tissue used in such research is obtained from elective abortions, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

The fetal tissue the FDA intends to purchase would be injected into mice with compromised immune systems in order to create a “chimeric animal” with an immune system like that of a human being.

ABR was mentioned in a series of videos secretly filmed by the Center for Medical Progress, released in 2015, accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue obtained through abortions. At that time, Politico reported that, in one video, a former medical director for Planned Parenthood said that the abortion provider had been “using ABR for over 10 years – a really long time.”

Pro-life groups have condemned the contract. The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a statement calling the deal “unconscionable” and said that contracts with organizations like ABR makes the FDA “directly complicit in these abortions.” CMP suggested that the contracts imply that unborn children are “worth more to the U.S. Government dead than alive.”

There are numerous ethical concerns, not only with the purchase of aborted fetuses but with a lack of respect for their dignity, a Catholic ethicist told CNA.

“The FDA contract with Advance Bioscience Resources appears to be problematic on a number of different levels,” Dr. Jozef Zalot, staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center said Aug. 8.

“The use of fetal tissue and cells for medical research is ethically very complicated in any situation,” he explained, saying that any research conducted with these tissues is “simply wrong.”

Scientists attempting to make new discoveries through the use of aborted fetal parts are “treating the aborted persons not as ends in themselves, but as a mean to some other end,” said Zalot.

“This violates their dignity and it demonstrates a very dangerous utilitarian perspective on human life.”

Zalot also told CNA that he is concerned that the government, along with American taxpayers, could be complicit in abortion if taxpayer money used to “sustain and grow a market for the remains of aborted children.”

“This creates a serious concern for Catholics, who are effectively funding not just the research but the underlying immoral practices that provide the biological materials necessary for the research.”

The FDA released a statement defending the contract and the research, saying that the agency is “committed to ensuring that its research is conducted responsibly, conforms with all legal requirements, and meets the highest ethical standards,” and noting that this type of research is a “very small fraction” of the agency’s work.

The FDA further defended the use of aborted remains in research, saying the practice “has led to a better understanding of a number of conditions and diseases that affect millions of Americans.”

At least one member of Congress was upset with the new contract. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Co.) tweeted on Tuesday that the FDA was using federal money to create demand for aborted fetal remains, and that “Taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund this grotesque practice.”

Speaking to CNA, Congressman Lamborn said it was “unconscionable” for a government agency to contract with an organization collecting and selling tissue from aborted children.

“There is absolutely no excuse for the FDA to use federal dollars to procure ‘fresh’ fetal tissue for research. Advanced Bioscience Resources’ unethical practices of fetal tissue harvesting have been well documented in both House and Senate investigations.”

The congressman said that as a state legislator he had authored a law prohibiting the sale of fetal body parts, and had written a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

“I have voted to end taxpayer funding of this grotesque practice, and will continue fighting for the dignity of the unborn. Unborn children are worth more than the sum of their parts.”

'Building the Benedict Option': How skillet cookies can lead to community

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 05:20

New York City, N.Y., Aug 9, 2018 / 03:20 am (CNA).- When Christian author Rod Dreher published The Benedict Option last year, it generated a flurry of debate and comments throughout the Catholic and Christian blogosphere on theories of what authentic Christian community is, and what it is not.

But Leah Libresco would rather get down to brass tacks.

Well, actually, she wants to get down to skillet cookies.

She debuted her new book, Building the Benedict Option - a practical guide for building Christian community based on the ideas formed by Dreher - by taping her phone to the wall of her apartment kitchen and whipping up dessert on her stovetop while answering questions via Facebook live.

Among the first of those questions was - why a skillet cookie?

It was something easy Libresco served during one such community-building event that she hosted herself, when she invited several job-hunting friends over for a resume and cover letter writing event, which opened and closed with prayer and included, yes, the eating of a skillet cookie.

“It’s a cookie the size of a skillet, so I don’t know how much justification it really needs,” Libresco told her audience, “but the actual reason for a skillet cookie is what I want people to do when they’re reading my book is I want them to put down the book. I don’t want you to finish it the first time you read it, I want you to put down the book and invite people over to your house.”

The skillet cookie requires minimal prep work and effort on the part of the host, making community-building seem more achievable and taking the pressure off of being Pinterest-perfect, Libresco said.

In his book, The Benedict Option, Dreher notes that the title was 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” that would save moral society. 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.”

Critics of the book and the idea have worried the Benedict Option encourages a sort of “head for the hills” mentality among Christians, who see the failings of the present world as irredeemable and therefore flee to the hills surrounding monasteries to prop up what Christian culture they can, leaving the rest of society to rot.  

But as Libresco understands it, what the Benedict Option really means is building what she calls “thick communities” of Christians and friends in any place and circumstance, who can love and pray for each other and can “abbot” each other, in the way that monks are held accountable by their abbots simply because they live with them and are always running into them.

“That’s really my reason for the book,” Libresco told CNA. “There’s a lot of fruitful discussion happening about community but my focus is narrower - it’s not about what you can do when you successfully all manage to move to one neighborhood, or when you set up a school or something like that - it’s wherever you are for the next two weeks or two months, what can you do in that time frame to pray and be with others.”  

It’s about creating opportunities in your life to interact with your faith community more, so that you can love them and pray for them better, she said. It’s about inviting people over and feeding them and praying together even if you think your apartment is too small or your kitchen too messy or your schedule too busy.

“One way Ross Douthat described the Benedict Option is that it’s kind of like a ratchet effect of going one step beyond whatever you’re doing now, and I like that description,” Libresco said. While she would see her Christian friends for coffee after Mass, “we might talk about the sermon, but there we were, friends not praying with each other.”

“So for me some of that ratchet effect is just when I’m with a Christian friend, I ask if there’s anything if I can pray for them for, or ask if they could pray for me, or ask if they’d like to pray together. It’s just like one small notch more in being generous and vulnerable with each other than you’re doing by default,” she said.

In her book, Libresco addresses in practical ways just about every fear or hesitation one could have in event-hosting. House too small? Don’t know what to cook to feed the masses? Don’t want to cook to feed the masses? Don’t know what kinds of things to do or pray together? Libresco has you covered.

“The book is meant to be very detailed,” Libresco said. “For people who think, ‘I just don’t know if it’s possible for me,’ I hope they’ll look at the chapters that are kind of explicitly labeled as a cheat sheet. I think there’s something there that you can adapt no matter what your circumstances are.”

Libresco said she has planned and hosted a variety of Benedict-Option-style events, with some of them being less explicitly Christian, such as a resume and cover letter writing night, and others very explicitly Christian, such as a rosary procession with Marian icons around Central Park to celebrate the new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.

Asked how the people of Central Park reacted to the unusual procession, Libresco laughed: “I live in New York City, I am never ever the weirdest thing that anyone sees.”

When planning Benedict Option events, Libresco said she just makes sure she is up front with her friends about what will be occurring at the event, such as prayer or a Marian procession, so that no one is surprised and those who are uncomfortable can opt out of any activities in which they would not like to participate.

“I think it makes sense to not limit [these events] to only one category, that you make some broader for all of your friends and you can have some that are more specific,” Libresco said. “We have board game nights, and not all my friends want to come play board games, and that’s fine, and I don’t think that means that I exclude or dislike those friends.”

One of the biggest things Libresco has learned in event-planning is to make events specific. It makes them special, and less skippable, if you’re having dinner for the feast of St. Dominic, rather than having dinner on a Wednesday night, she said.

“It makes it rare so that people aren’t just like, ‘Well I could do dinner, I could not, it’s ultimately replaceable.’ No it's not, it's a feast, it's once a year. If you’re free, come, if not, you’re waiting until next year,” she said.

The biggest mistake one could make reading Libresco’s book is to think of it as a dogmatic, ultimate answer to the problem of community, she said.

“The goal was not to hand you a best event or best practices completely in a box and you just implement it at people,” she said. “The question is how do you leave room for your friends to meet their needs, to leave room for the Holy Spirit, and I think that’s the main thing, there are many ways to love our friends,” she noted.

“The more programmatic it feels... the more any of it feels like it is dogmatism about exactly how to throw a dinner party, the more you’ve gone round the twist a little bit.”

Her hope, Libresco said, is that she provides some concrete and practical tips and encouragement for her readers, who then put down their books and invite people over.

“Set yourself a three-week deadline, and do something with someone, take some small chance that you wouldn’t have otherwise taken during that period of time,” she said.

“And that could be a larger thing like inviting people over to watch ‘Of Gods and Men’, about martyred vowed religious, or maybe it’s that you who feel nervous about being Christian in public and so you pray the rosary [in public]. Do one more thing, take that ratchet step, be generous with your faith and leave room for the Holy Spirit to prompt  you to give what other people need in those three weeks after you start reading the book.”

 

Former Pennsylvania chief justice backs delay of grand jury report

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 18:30

Harrisburg, Pa., Aug 8, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- The former chief justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has warned that the release of a grand jury report into allegations of sexual abuse and coverups by the Catholic Church in that state could violate the constitutional rights of those named in the report.

In an Aug 6 column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ronald D. Castile wrote that the state’s Supreme Court initially halted the report’s release because of “important constitutional issues,” including “questions regarding due process, fairness, and deprivation of personal reputational rights.”

“After reviewing the Supreme Court opinion, I agree that important constitutional rights are at risk of being denied because of issues pertaining to procedural aspects inherent in the Grand Jury Act and the impact on individual reputational rights.”

Article 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution enshrines a person’s right to possess and protect their good reputation, placing it on the same footing as life and liberty.

Several individuals named in the report, including some priests, objected to being included in the document. They argued that the grand jury report links their names to terrible crimes or cover-up efforts, but that they had not been afforded the chance to respond to allegations made against them, or given the benefit of due process of law.

Castile agreed, criticizing “the inability of many of the named clerical members of the Catholic Church to defend themselves against allegations contained in the report.”

A source close to the grand jury investigation told CNA that while named individuals had been allowed to send in written statements during the investigation, they were not given the chance to appear in person, answer questions directly, or question other witnesses.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered on July 27 that a redacted version of the report be published no later than August 14.

Castile, who spent 20 years as a prosecutor in the state of Pennsylvania and served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 2008-2014, said that the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the release and order the redaction of some names had his support.

“I agree with the court's action, and I agree with its decision to assign all the parties concerned immediate hearings on the constitutional issues identified in the process and the substance of the report.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been critical of the objections and pressed for the full report to be released as soon as possible. He even wrote to Pope Francis, asking him to tell intervene and order those appealing against the report’s release to “abandon their destructive efforts to silence the survivors.”

Castile said that the attorney general should have an equal concern for protecting the rights of all Pennsylvania citizens, and that the release of “quasi-official accusations of misconduct against many named but uncharged individuals” who have not had the chance to defend themselves was not appropriate.

The former chief justice stressed that an important function of a grand jury report is to recommend ways to address issues brought up in the course of the investigation, but that the Supreme Court’s decision allowed for any such recommendations to be published in a way that did not infringe constitutional rights.

The 800-page report is expected to name 300 priests accused of sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a period of decades. The dioceses are Pittsburgh, Erie, Allentown, Harrisburg, Scranton, and Greensburg.

The Diocese of Harrisburg and Diocese of Erie have already released the names of all clerics credibly accused of abuse, and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh has committed to doing the same.

While Castile said it is important that victims of abuse receive justice, and that the recommendations of the grand jury investigation should be made public, he said that justice also requires protecting the rights of individuals and the presumption of innocence.

“What is called for is exactly what the Supreme Court has ordered,” Castile said, “a rational discussion of the issue by all sides in order to address the important constitutional questions that have arisen in the grand jury report.”

Dolan praises St. Dominic at KofC convention

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 17:54

Baltimore, Md., Aug 8, 2018 / 03:54 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of New York encouraged Catholics to imitate the patient and persistent prayer of St. Dominic, during a homily Aug. 8 at the 2018 Knights of Columbus convention in Baltimore.

“Jesus prefers patient, persistent, persevering, pestering prayer! St. Dominic claims this creates within us a readiness, a space, to receive God’s answer.  We would say such constant prayer exercises our ‘faith muscle,’ which tends to get flabby,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

The cardinal pointed to St. Dominic’s dedication to the rosary and contemplation of the Gospels as daily practices worthy of imitation, comparing St. Dominic’s perseverance with that of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel.

Dolan also commended the amount of prayer that takes place at the Knights of Columbus’ annual convention, which includes daily Masses, a Eucharistic adoration chapel, and invocations before every event.

Aug. 8 is celebrated in the Church as the memorial of St. Dominic, the 13th century founder of the Order of Preachers, known as the Dominicans, who spread devotion to the rosary.

“This towering saint gives us an abundance of attributes to celebrate: his preaching, so renowned that his spiritual sons are called ‘the order of preachers’; his intellect, the spring that gave us scholarly giants such as St. Albert and St. Thomas Aquinas; his zeal, as St. Dominic was non-stop in his teaching, preaching, travel, and work, all for Jesus and His Church,” said Dolan.

However, he reminded the Knights that prayer was “what generated the renowned preaching, scholarship, and evangelical energy of St. Dominic.”

After the Mass, the Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, Jean-Clement Jeanbart spoke briefly about a pilgrim icon of Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians, which was then blessed by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

Lori’s blessing was the kickoff to the Knights’ Marian icon prayer program. The archbishop invoked St. Paul’s words, “though we are afflicted in every way, we are not crushed; though perplexed, not driven to despair; though persecuted, not forsaken; though struck down, not destroyed.”

New L.A. STEM school inspired by JPII

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 17:12

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 8, 2018 / 03:12 pm (CNA).- John Paul II taught often that science and religion follow complementary paths toward the same goal- truth.

A new high school in Los Angeles- the St. John Paul II STEM Academy- aims to help students find truth - by teaching faith, and, at the same time, teaching the methods and principles of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The Burbank school, which plans to begin with 60 freshman in August 2019, is an initiative of the Department of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The archdiocese says the school will offer daily prayer and regular Mass to students, while, at the same time, providing science and technology classes, along with internships and apprenticeships at local businesses.

STEM courses- those in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math- will be single-gender, according to the archdiocese, while the rest of the school’s course offerings will be co-educational. The school will focus on preparing students for careers especially in media arts and trade technologies, according to the archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles says the creation of the new school is a sign of a growing Catholic population in the region, and increased interest in Catholic education.

“At the Department of Catholic Schools, we have a vision of growth that is based on the demographic reality of an increasing Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Dr. Kevin Baxter, senior director and superintendent of Catholic schools, said in Aug. 7 press release.

St. John Paul II STEM Academy, Baxter added, “it is a great indicator that our vision is one of building and opening and not closure and consolidation.”

The school will open on a campus formerly occupied by Bellarmine-Jefferson High School, a Catholic school that closed in May because of low enrollment and increased operating costs, according to an October 2017 statement from the school. At the time of that statement, the school’s enrollment was 98 students.

“STEM schools” have risen in popularity in recent decades, especially as funding has become available for STEM curricular models through grants from the National Science Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and other organizations. The National Catholic Education Association has promoted the model for Catholic schools, along with the so-called STREAM model, which incorporates religion and arts into the traditional STEM curriculum.

Young Catholics release open letter on McCarrick, call for investigation

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Aug 8, 2018 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- A group of young Catholic writers, intellectuals, and activists released an open letter Aug. 8 calling for an independent investigation into the alleged crimes of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. The letter also calls Catholic leaders to recommit themselves to the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

The letter was published Wednesday on the website of First Things.

Matthew Schmitz, senior editor at First Things and a signatory of the letter, told CNA that it was written by a “diverse group of Catholics from a whole host of backgrounds.”

The letter’s signatories said their letter was written in part to respond to a Vatican request that young people offer reports on their faith and the role of the Church in their lives, in advance of an upcoming Church synod on young people and vocations. 

The letter noted the the signatories were all children in the decades before the public sexual abuse scandals of 2002, and that they are now faithful adult Catholics.

“We ask you to agree to a thorough, independent investigation into claims of abuse by Archbishop McCarrick, both of minors and of adults. We want to know who in the hierarchy knew about his crimes, when they knew it, and what they did in response. This is the least that would be expected of any secular organization; it should not be more than we can expect from the Church,” the letter said.

In June, the Archdiocese of New York deemed an allegation that McCarrick serially sexually abused a minor to be “credible and substantiated.”

Since that initial allegation became public, additional accusations have surfaced concerning McCarrick’s alleged misconduct with adult seminarians, including confirmation of two out-of-court settlements reached with adult-aged accusers by dioceses previously led by McCarrick. Pope Francis accepted Archbishop McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals July 28.

Schmitz told CNA that the letter was a call for transparency and accountability by the hierarchy.

“We'd like to see light come in. We want an investigation. We want a new attitude on the part of the bishops.”

Such an investigation would be carried out by people not directly connected to McCarrick, and would report to both the Vatican as well as the Catholic faithful, Schmitz said.

Schmitz said the letter addresses a problem that goes beyond the McCarrick allegations. The signatories called for renewed emphasis on the Church’s teachings on sexuality and chastity, as well as “acts of public penance and reparation” by bishops to begin to restore trust among the Catholic faithful.

“I think over the last 50 years in our culture, with the sexual revolution, there's been a sense that the Church needs to broadly accommodate itself to sexual sins,” said Schmitz.

“McCarrick, I think, shows one of the possible outcomes of that accommodation.”

Schmitz warned of a slippery slope if the Church were to change or ignore her teachings on sexuality, bringing up the example of St. Peter Damian, an eleventh-century Benedicte monk, who confronted sexual sins in his own community. The saint recognized that sexual sins compound on another, explained Schmitz, suggesting there exists such a possibility in the contemporary Church.

"I don't think that this crisis would have happened had the Catholic community not succumbed to various sins and made compromises with the flesh," he said.

The letter emphasized this point: “As Catholics, we believe that the Church’s teaching on human nature and sexuality is life-giving and leads to holiness. We believe that just as there is no room for adultery in marriages, so there is no room for adultery against the Bride of Christ. We need bishops to make clear that any act of sexual abuse or clerical unchastity degrades the priesthood and gravely harms the Church.”

Schmitz also cited the recent accusations of widespread sexual abuse and misconduct in Honduras’ national seminary, as well as claims from former seminarians in the United States.

He said that there is a prevailing attitude among bishops to mitigate or dismiss the severity of abuse against adult men, and that this also must change, and that the laity have a duty to make their objections to this behavior known. 

"I think the laity should make itself heard and let the bishops know that it is an act of abuse for a bishop to molest the seminarians,” said Schmitz.

“Even if any of these acts were perfectly consensual, they are contrary to the Church's teaching and so profoundly scandalize the faithful."

The letter expressed gratitude for “the way good priests and bishops lay down their lives for us day after day. They say the Mass, absolve us from sin, celebrate our weddings, and baptize our children. Through their preaching, teaching, and writing, they remind us that Jesus Christ has conquered evil once and for all. Their daily sacrifices give us blessings of infinite worth. For all of this, we are profoundly thankful.”

However, Schmitz said an investigation should consider those clerics who have been negligent in uncovering sexual sins among the clergy, along with those who know about misconduct and failed to act. An investigation is needed to ensure a focus on individual responsibility, said Schmitz, and it should not simply result collective statements of fault and regret, as that would dilute the failings of those most responsible.

It is not acceptable for a bishop to plead ignorance, he said, as they are part of the Church hierarchy and must be accountable.

"A shepherd is supposed to protect his sheep, and if the wolves come and attack them, he can't simply say, 'well, I was asleep.'"

Kicked off Iowa campus over leadership standards, Christian group sues

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 12:46

Iowa City, Aug 8, 2018 / 10:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Christian student group is suing the University of Iowa after being kicked off campus because it requires its leaders to be Christians.

“Universities should allow students the space to form their own groups that challenge and grow their sincere beliefs,” said Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at Becket, which is representing InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in its lawsuit.

“Banning religious groups from having religious leaders just flattens diversity and impoverishes the campus,” he said in an Aug. 6 statement.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was one of almost 40 student groups deregistered by the University of Iowa due to its religious leadership standards.

Other groups expelled from campus include the Latter-day Saint Student Association, the Sikh Awareness Club, and the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA works to create Christian communities on college campuses. The organization encourages evangelization, Scriptural study and mission work. It hosts Bible studies, worship services, community discussions, and service projects. While it allows all students to participate as members, it requires leaders to embrace its mission of spreading the message of Christ on campus.

“We’re grateful to have been part of the University community for 25 years, and we think that the University has been a richer place for having Sikh, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, atheist, and Christian groups,” said Katrina Schrock, student president of InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship.

“Because we love our school, we hope it reconsiders and lets religious groups continue to authentically reflect their religious roots.”

In filing a lawsuit on behalf of InterVarsity, Becket says it hopes to have the group reinstated on campus by the upcoming academic year.

The legal group also noted that although the University of Iowa found InterVarsity to be in violation of its non-discrimination policy, it exempted leadership restrictions set in place by sports clubs, fraternities, and political groups on campus.

“If public universities really want to foster an intellectually diverse environment, this isn’t how to do it,” Blomberg said.

Notre Dame will not rescind McCarrick's honorary degree- for now

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 21:00

South Bend, Ind., Aug 7, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame announced that it will not rescind the honorary degree conferred upon Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, whose resignation from the College of Cardinals was accepted July 28 by Pope Francis.

“While the University finds the alleged actions reprehensible and has no reason to question the review board’s findings, it recognizes that McCarrick maintains his innocence and that a final decision in the case will come only after a canonical trial in Rome,” said Rev. John Jenkins, CSC, president of the university, in an Aug. 2 statement.

The university said that the only honorary degree it had ever rescinded was that of comedian Bill Cosby. Cosby was given an honorary degree in 1990. It was rescinded in April 2018, on the same day Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, charges filed amid allegations that the comedian was accused of numerous acts of sexual assault, rape, and other misconduct over several decades.

 “As in the case of Bill Cosby, we will wait until that trial is concluded to take action regarding McCarrick’s honorary degree. We strongly urge those involved in this trial to reach a conclusion as expeditiously as possible,” the statement read.

McCarrick faces allegations that he has serially sexually abused two minors, and sexually assaulted numerous priests and seminarians. He is expected to face a canonical trial in at least one case of sexual abuse.

“While the allegations in this case are most grave, as they were in the case of Bill Cosby, we believe it respects not only the rights of those involved but also the adjudicatory process itself to allow that process to reach a conclusion before taking action.”

Catholic University of America and Fordham University of New York have both rescinded honorary degrees conferred upon McCarrick.

 

Knights of Columbus pledge support for persecuted Christians

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 18:00

Baltimore, Md., Aug 7, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson pledged the fraternal organization’s continued efforts to aid and rebuild persecuted Christian communities in the Middle East, during his Aug. 7 address at the 2018 Knights of Columbus convention in Baltimore, Maryland.

Anderson also unveiled a new pilgrim icon, “Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians,” created for the Knights by Italian artist Fabrizio Diomedi. The icon will travel from parish-to-parish across the country to raise awareness, show solidarity, and inspire support for persecuted Christians.

In his opening remarks at the convention, taking place August 7-9, Anderson said that he hopes that this “pilgrim icon program” will “focus the eyes of our Church on the sacrifice of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Anderson’s remarks highlighted the pivotal role that the Knights of Columbus have played in supporting Christians in the Middle East, where they have committed more than $20 million since 2014 to provide “food, shelter, and clothing to our neighbors who lost everything in Iraq and Syria because they refused to give up their love of Christ.”

“It is clear that without the support of the Knights of Columbus, Christianity might have died in Iraq,” said Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, in a video shown during Anderson’s speech. The Chaldean archbishop’s community was driven from their historic home in the Nineveh Plains by repeated attacks from the Islamic State starting in 2014.

Vice President Mike Pence also thanked the Knights of Columbus for their support of minorities in the Middle East in a video message shown at the convention. Anderson said that the Knights are working with the vice president to ensure that these minority communnties are included in U.S. and U.N. assistance in Iraq.

“When the conflict between Kurdistan and the Government of Iraq threatened an ancient Christian town that had just been rebuilt, we alerted the State Department and the White House.  We worked with them to help de-escalate tensions and avoid a bloody conflict that could have ended the Christian presence in Iraq,” said Anderson.

The Supreme Knight also thanked Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, who was in attendance at the Baltimore convention, for his courageous leadership.

Anderson said that he is challenging the Knights of Columbus to raise $1 million this year to finish a project to provide housing for both Syriac and Chaldean Christian families. The 140-unit apartment building will be called the McGivney House, in honor of Father Michael McGivney, the Connecticut priest who founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882.

Anderson commended the Knights for meeting last year’s challenge of raising $2 million for the rebuilding of the Iraqi town of Karamles, which he said had been “a Christian town for centuries before ISIS overran it, drove out its inhabitants, destroyed their homes, and desecrated their churches.”

One Knights of Columbus council in Nebraska, St. John the Baptist Council 10-305, raised $163,000 for the families of Karamles at a dinner and auction.The funds will be used to rebuild more than 80 homes of Christians in Iraq.

“If we value only self-interest, we will get discord and division. But if we value charity — if we value unity and fraternity — we will build a society where the common good is protected,” said Anderson.

He highlighted the many other charitable initiatives the Knights have funded throughout the world, including providing for 950 ultrasound machines, 7,649 new wheelchairs, 105,000 new coats for children, and a pilgrimage that brought over 200 wounded veterans and military personnel to Lourdes, France. Last year, the Knights also contributed $4.2 million dollars for disaster relief after hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida.

The Knights of Columbus’ total charitable contributions last year exceeded  $185 million dollars with its members providing 75.6 million volunteer hours.

Internationally, Anderson also announced that the Knights of Columbus is expanding, with its newest territory in now in South Korea and a new State Council designation for Ukraine. He also noted that the Knights have experienced a considerable growth in membership both in France and the Philippines.

This year, membership totalled 1,967,585 - a new high, according to Anderson.

Addressing attendees in the Baltimore Convention Center, Anderson quoted a speech delivered by Saint Pope John Paul II at the Baltimore Orioles Park at Camden Yards next to the center:

“Catholics of America,” St. John Paul II proclaimed, “Always be guided by the truth — by the truth about God who created and redeemed us, and by the truth about the human person, made in the image and likeness of God.”

What a survey found about non-churchgoing Catholics

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 16:28

Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2018 / 02:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new survey of motives of U.S. churchgoers and non-churchgoers reveals that a significant percentage of Catholics who don’t go to church claim to practice their faith “in other ways,” a report from the Pew research center says.

Among those who attend religious services a few times a year or less, 37 percent said one very important reason why they don’t go is because “I practice my faith in other ways.” Another 28 percent said they are not religious believers, while 23 percent have said they haven’t found a church or house of worship they like.

Among Catholic respondents who rarely attend religious services, 47 percent said they practice their faith in other ways. Under 20 percent said they rarely attended because they haven’t found a church they like, they don’t like the sermons, or they don’t feel welcome. Similarly, under 20 percent said they lacked time, had poor health or problems with mobility, or lacked a church in their area.

About 12 percent of self-described Catholics who rarely attend religious services said they didn’t attend because they aren’t believers.

Among all respondents who rarely attend religious services, 18 percent cited dislike of sermons, around 14 percent said they didn’t feel welcome, 12 percent cited a lack of time, nine percent cited poor health or mobility problems, and seven percent cited a lack of a place of worship in their area.

“Demographically, more than half of those who do not attend church or another house of worship for reasons other than nonbelief are women, and they tend to be older, less highly educated and less Democratic compared with those who do not go because of a lack of faith,” the Pew Research Center said Aug. 7. “Meanwhile, those who refrain from attending religious services because they are non-believers are more highly educated and largely male, young and Democratic.”

The Pew survey also considered those who attend religious services more often.

Among those who attend religious services at least monthly, 91 percent identify as Christian. Of those who rarely or never attend other than non-belief, 60 percent self-identify as Christian. Among those who say they rarely or never attend because they are not believers, about 18 percent self-identify as Christian.

Of those respondents who attend religious services at least once or twice a month, several factors are a “very important” reason they attend. About 81 percent said that “to become closer to God” is one such reason. Another 69 percent said ensuring children’s moral formation is another reason. Similar percentages cited “to make me a better person” or “for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow” as very important reasons why they attend religious services.

Another 59 percent attend church because they find the sermons valuable. About 31 percent cited a religious obligation to go. Under 20 percent cited meeting new people or socializing, or to please family, spouse or partner as a very important reason to attend religious services.

Catholic churchgoers were somewhat more likely than other Christian churchgoers to say it was important to attend church to continue the family’s religious traditions; to please family, a spouse or partner; or to fulfill a religious obligation. They were less likely than other Christian churchgoers to attend to become closer to God, to become a better person, to find comfort in times of sorrow, or to be a part of a community of faith.

About 78 percent of Catholics who attend church at least monthly said they always or often experience “a sense of God’s presence.”

Pew said that Catholics who attend Mass regularly are “significantly less likely” than other Christian churchgoers to say that the sermons they hear are what keeps them coming back. Among regular churchgoers, Protestants are about twice as likely as Catholics to say valuable sermons are a very important reason they attend services.

The survey was conducted via phone Dec. 4-18, 2017 among 4,729 respondents. It claims an overall sampling error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points, and plus or minus 7.8 percentage points for Catholic respondents.

Lawmakers call for transparency in insurance plans funding abortion

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 15:16

Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2018 / 01:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 100 members of Congress are asking the federal government to issue new regulations ensuring greater transparency in health insurance plans that include abortion.

“Consumers have a right to know” if they are funding abortion coverage, said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in an Aug. 6 statement.

“The Trump Administration now has the opportunity to take action and enforce the law to bring transparency to Obamacare’s abortion coverage and the abortion surcharge. No person should have to pay for abortion coverage they don’t want,” he said.

Smith, who co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, was among the signatories of an Aug. 6 letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

The letter points to Section 1303 of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that if a qualified health plan covers elective abortions, it must do so by collecting a payment separate from the standard premium, and depositing that payment into a separate account.

However, the signatories of the letter said that current enforcement regulations, dating back to the Obama era, are so permissive as to render the rules meaningless. The regulations allow for health insurers to collect an abortion surcharge without separately identifying it on monthly invoices or collecting it separately.

This makes the surcharge “all but invisible,” the members of Congress said, noting that a Government Accountability Office report in 2014 found that many insurers were ignoring Section 1303’s requirements.

“HHS should issue new regulations that align with the clear meaning and legislative history of Section 1303 of ACA and its requirement for a truly ‘separate payment,’ and provide ample mechanisms for enforcement,” they said.

“The new regulations should also clarify that all qualified health plans that cover elective abortion must provide notice of such coverage to consumers at the time of enrollment.”

Doing so, the signers said, will provide transparency so that consumers do not unwittingly purchase abortion coverage that they do not want.

 

Possible merging of sentencing reform with prison bill draws praise

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 05:14

Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2018 / 03:14 am (CNA).- The largest global Christian prison ministry is applauding reports that U.S. President Donald Trump has signaled a willingness to include sentencing reform measures in a pending prison bill.

“We’re very pleased,” said Craig DeRoche, senior vice president for advocacy and public policy at the nonprofit ministry Prison Fellowship.

“There’s widespread consensus that these [sentencing reform proposals] are changes that bring the system more in line with what law enforcement even and the courts would consider proportionate punishment for what people have done,” he told CNA.

Last week, The Hill reported that Trump had voiced support during a meeting of Republican senators for a compromise proposal that would introduce several sentencing reform provisions into the First Step Act. The provisions include a reduction in mandatory-minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) later told reporters, “There seems to be an interest on the part of the White House now to keeping the bills together.”

The First Step Act is a bipartisan bill that deals with prison operations and reentry policies. It would offer incentives for inmates to go through counseling, substance abuse programs, and vocational training before reentering society.

While the bill passed easily in the House of Representatives, it has faced opposition in the Senate, with some critics saying they will reject a bill that fails to include sentencing reform.  

“The First Step Act as a standalone bill is a very important piece of legislation, because it provides important reforms for people who have already been sentenced,” DeRoche said. “We believe it will make communities safer and will set people up for success rather than failure when they complete their prison sentence.”

However, sentencing reform is also important in working toward just prison sentences, he said.

“The sentencing code, just like the tax code, can be very complex,” DeRoche explained, and this can lead to situations that in practice are not what was intended by the authors of the code.

As an example, he pointed to stacking provisions, in which the letter of the law requires an individual’s sentences to be stacked on top of one another. This can lead, he said, to sentences longer than even prosecutors or judges believe to be just.

The sentencing reforms reportedly being considered would free judges from this requirement for drug offenders. They would also retroactively reduce the disparity between cocaine- and crack-related offenses, and would expand exemptions to mandatory minimum sentences.

In addition, The Hill reports, “The proposed compromise would lower lifetime mandatory minimum sentences for people with prior nonviolent drug felony convictions to 25 years and reduce 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for similar offenders to 15 years.” This reform would apply going forward, not retroactively.

According to the Congressional Research Office, there has been an 800 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners from 1980 to 2015.

“There’s a very large amount of work that’s yet to be done,” DeRoche said. “But what is being considered by the president is substantial, and it would have an immediate effect in making our country’s laws more in line with our values as Christians.”

“Our hope is that the details of that deal can be reconciled quickly,” he added, “so this can be voted on and be placed into law before the election.”

 

How family structure affects the likelihood of child abuse

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 02:20

Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2018 / 12:20 am (CNA).- Amid a renewed public conversation about what can be done to keep children safe from abuse, studies show that unstable family structure is a major risk factor for abuse.

When looking at overall trends in child abuse, Dr. W Bradford Wilcox, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, told CNA that studies show children who come from unstable homes with unmarried parents are most likely to be abused, especially by someone close to them.

“Family drama and family chaos are breeding grounds for abuse,” Wilcox told CNA. “Kids who are exposed to instability are more likely to be exposed to unrelated adults, especially unrelated adult males.”

Kids in chaotic family situations are also more likely to be emotionally distraught, a vulnerability that adult abusers are likely to prey on, Wilcox said.

A federal study released in 2011 showed that children living with their biological mother and her boyfriend were 11 times more likely to be sexually, physically or emotionally abused and six times more likely to be neglected than children who lived with their married biological parents.

“In other words, one of the most dangerous places for a child in America to find himself in is a home that includes an unrelated male boyfriend - especially when that boyfriend is left to care for a child by himself,” Wilcox wrote at the time the study was released.

The study also showed that even if children were living with their biological parents, they were four times more likely to be abused and three times more likely to be neglected if those parents were cohabiting rather than married.

This information was reported in the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4) Report to Congress, and examined cases of child abuse between the years of 2004-2009. The data corroborated information from previous studies, several of which have shown that children living with unmarried adults were more likely to experience abuse and neglect, including a 2002 study which found that more than 15 percent of children living in cohabitating homes experienced serious emotional problems such as depression, compared to just 3.5 percent who lived with their biological married parents. Another 2005 study found that children living with their mother’s boyfriends were 45 times more likely to be killed than children living with their biological married parents.

The data shows that marriage is often a safe and stabilizing force in children’s lives, and it may help insulate them from other problems, Wilcox said.

“We know that kids are more likely to thrive in a stable routine with stable caregivers, and we know too that kids who are experiencing a lot of family instability are more likely to fall prey to adults who are targeting them for abuse,” he said.

For children who live in unstable, unmarried parent households, “they don’t have two people who are really looking out for them, who are monitoring their environment, who are attuned to the signals” that something might be wrong, he said. “And then there’s also an emotional vulnerability, a desire for attention, and I think the kinds of people who are abusive can kind of intuit those kids who need that extra emotional attention, which kids are kind of vulnerable” and target them, he added.

Since the 2011 study, instances of cohabitation have increased, while nationwide instances of child abuse have actually declined, Wilcox said.

“I think we are as a society more sensitive to [abuse], and people are more likely to raise red flags when they are concerned about it.”

However, Wilcox said, the relative risk for child abuse within non-marriage family arrangements “remains high.”

According to a 2018 report from the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, instances of physical and sexual abuse against children has steadily declined since the ‘90s, when instances of both were reported at a rate of about 70 per 10,000 children.

Currently, instances of physical abuse are reported at rates of about 30 per 10,000, while instances of sexual abuse are reported at rates of about 25 or less per 10,000.

This is hopeful data, Wilcox said, because it shows that strides have been made in terms of being aware of, reporting, and preventing instances of sexual abuse.  

“I would say that even though the overall trends are moving in the right direction, it still is the case that kids who are exposed to more family instability and family chaos are more likely to be subjected to abuse.”

Albany bishop: Lay commission should investigate claims against bishops

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 18:45

Albany, N.Y., Aug 6, 2018 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Albany said Monday that a commission of lay Catholics should be formed to investigate claims of abuse or misconduct made against bishops.

“What is needed now is an independent commission led by well-respected, faithful lay leaders who are beyond reproach, people whose role on such a panel will not serve to benefit them financially, politically, or personally,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany wrote in a statement released Aug. 6.

“I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer. To have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised,” he added.

The statement was Scharfenberger’s second public comment on the scandal in the U.S. Church that began when the Archdiocese of New York announced June 20 that it had concluded an investigation into an allegation that then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had sexually abused a teenager, finding the claim to be “credible and substantiated.”

Since that time, media reports have detailed additional allegations, charging that McCarrick sexually abused, assaulted, or coerced seminarians and young priests during his time as a bishop. McCarrick’s resignation from the college of cardinals was eventually accepted by Pope Francis.

“Let me be clear in stating my firm conviction that this is, at heart, much more than a crisis of policies and procedures. We can – and I am confident that we will – strengthen the rules and regulations and sanctions against any trying to fly under the radar or to 'get away with' such evil and destructive behaviors. But, at its heart, this is much more than a challenge of law enforcement; it is a profoundly spiritual crisis,” the bishop wrote in a July 29 letter to priests and deacons of his diocese.

In his Aug. 6 statement, Scharfenberger wrote that “it is time for us, I believe, to call forth the talents and charisms of our lay faithful, by virtue of their baptismal priesthood. Our lay people are not only willing to take on this much-needed role, but they are eager to help us make lasting reforms that will restore a level of trust that has been shattered yet again. In speaking with them, we all hear their passion for our universal Church, their devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and their hunger for the truth. They are essential to the solution we seek.”

“We bishops want to rise to this challenge, which may well be our last opportunity considering all that has happened. We must get this right. I am confident we can find a way to look outside ourselves, to put this in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and to entrust our very capable lay people, who have stood with us through very difficult times, to help us do the right thing. We need an investigation — the scope of which is not yet defined but must be defined — and it must be timely, transparent and credible.”

This Catholic entrepreneur uses his ice cream shop to live the faith

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 18:30

Anchorage, Alaska, Aug 6, 2018 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Alaskan man is using his Anchorage-based ice cream shop as an extension of the Catholic faith, supporting the local community’s spiritual and economic needs as well as its sweet tooth.

Rich Owens is the owner of Tastee Freez located at Jewel Lake in Anchorage. The shop has become something of a mentorship program for the area’s youth, and Owens has a strong sense of giving back to his community.

“I think that being raised in the church aims us in the right direction,” Owens told the Catholic Anchor.

“We learned from watching our mom and dad that this is the way that you live your life,” he said. “This is the rule, not the exception.”

Owens said he has been eating Tastee Freez since he was a child. Having developed a career in the retail business in Montana, he wanted to own his own business in Alaska and purchased the shop in 1994. The actual shop, though, celebrated its 60th anniversary earlier this year.

The shop is the largest Tastee Freez establishment in the country. The franchise recognized Owens as the Operator of the Year in 2006 and 2015.

Owens saw the business as an opportunity to emphasize his Catholic faith by means of community service. The programs have aided the community’s Catholic formation, employment opportunities, and even provided a tasty snack during the holidays.

The ice cream shop has been used as a workforce center. An estimated 700 employees, often 17-year-olds, have gained onsite job experience at Owens’ Tastee Freez.

“Some of these kids come from some pretty hard situations,” Owens said. “It doesn’t cost anything lots of times to be that individual, and you can have an impact on communities by being a good mentor.”

Owens’ Tastee Freez also partnered with the National Guard to initiate Operation Santa Claus. During the Christmas season, the program delivers thousands of ice cream sundaes to people in over 60 villages.

As a board member for the nonprofit group Catholic Camp and Conference Ministries of Alaska, Owens helped with the purchase of St. Therese’s Camp in Wasilla in 2012. The 57-acre summer camp allows children and teens to grow in knowledge of the Church in the Alaskan wilderness.

Archbishop Emeritus Roger Schwietz of Anchorage called the camp a blessing to the community.

“This center will provide a great resource to the Catholic Church as well as the broader community,” he said. “I welcome their efforts and commend them for the hard work they have undertaken.”

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