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A deeper look at the 'filial correction' of Pope Francis

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 18:26

Washington D.C., Sep 29, 2017 / 04:26 pm (CNA).- After Catholic scholars issued what they termed a “filial correction” of Pope Francis, what exactly were their charges and how should a Catholic receive the letter?

The filial correction “represents the concerns of some among the Catholic faithful at what are being perceived more broadly speaking as the Pope’s intended teachings, but which may not accurately represent the Pope’s actual teachings,” Dr. Jacob Wood, a theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA.

The letter “is the manifestation of the opinion and concerns of those theologians who have signed it,” Wood explained. It is “not an authoritative statement of the meaning of the documents that it discusses,” he added.

More than 60 Catholic clergy and scholars originally sent a letter to Pope Francis on August 11 as a “filial correction” for “heretical positions” that the Pope has “effectively upheld.”

The 25-page “Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagates” by the clergy and scholars, who now number over 100, says that through “Amoris Laetitia” and in “other words, deeds and omissions of Your Holiness,” there has been a “propagation of heresies” that must be addressed concerning “marriage, the moral life, and the reception of the sacraments.”

They noted that Pope Francis has not answered the “dubia,” or questions regarding ambiguous or unclear sections of Amoris Laetitia, which were expressed privately to him in a letter from four cardinals in September 2016, and made public in November 2016.

The four cardinals were Cardinal Raymond Burke; Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; and the recently-deceased Cardinals Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna and Joachim Meisner, Archbishop Emeritus of Cologne.

The “correction,” released to the public this week, charges that bishops are teaching that divorced and remarried couples can sacrilegiously receive Holy Communion, because of the Pope’s actions, and his apparent decision not to publicly respond to the “dubia.”

“They are accusing Pope Francis of being responsible for people denying basic Catholic doctrine about what constitutes a mortal sin,” Wood said.

Many of the authors have worked “a lifetime in theological study,” he said, and while the scholars’ charge that Pope Francis is at least leading to the propagation of heresy “is significant,” it also “causes a great deal of controversy in the Church, and not a little bit of scandal.”

“The fact that people would feel the need to say this,” he added, “does not mean that they are perfectly justified in doing so, or that they’ve gone about it in all the right ways.”

The filial correction differs from the “dubia” in two key aspects, Wood said.

First, the “dubia” were authored by cardinals who, “in canon law,” do “enjoy a special relationship to the Pope. They’re closer to the Pope, as regards the structure of the Church,” Wood said.

Cardinals “have a greater responsibility to address their concerns directly to the Pope,” he said.

Also, the “dubia” pose “respectful questions for the Holy Father,” Wood said, giving him “the chance to answer them as he sees fit.” Meanwhile, the letter of filial correction “assumes that we have heretical propositions,” he said, which is a matter subject to dispute.

The letter clearly accuses Pope Francis of aiding the spread of heresy, Wood said, but the authors make no specific charges of heresy against the Pope himself.

“The sin of heresy,” he said, “is committed when a member of the Catholic faithful knowingly and willingly denies a doctrine of the Christian faith.”

However, he said, the authors admit that “they are not in a position to judge” whether Pope Francis “is a formal heretic.”

Furthermore, the authors add that they cannot charge the Pope “with the canonical crime of heresy” because they lack “the ecclesiastical jurisdiction” to do so.

Rather, they claim to correct the Pope “on inaction in condemning seven propositions [of heresy],” Wood said, and thus “the title of the filial correction is in some ways misleading.”

In the letter, explained Wood, “the Pope is merely being accused by these theologians of inaction in condemning heresy that they don’t have the authority to claim that he actually committed.”

The letter poses “the danger of scandal,” he said, because the authors are “attributing heretical propositions to the Pope, when those heretical propositions are not demonstrated as coming directly from the Pope’s writings.”

Catholics should remember that the scholars are not members of the Church Magisterium, he said, and Catholics need not agree with their “correctio.”

 

From the editor: Why are the comment boxes gone?

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 18:22

Denver, Colo., Sep 29, 2017 / 04:22 pm (CNA).- Some readers have noticed that the comment boxes on Catholic News Agency stories have disappeared from our website this week. We made this decision for two reasons.

The first reason is that most of the online discussions about our stories take place on social media, and our comment boxes were becoming less commonly used. It seemed like a good idea to focus the discussion in the place where most of the conversation was already taking place.

The second reason is a bit more abstract.  

It is probably obvious to everyone that America is becoming more divided, and more reactive. The rules of public conversation are changing. Discussions have given way to arguments. Disagreements have given way to bickering.  Differences seem to require feuding. “Cyber-bullying,” not long ago the purview of children, seems to have become a kind of cultural expectation, and deeply personal attacks seem to have become an ordinary part of our political and cultural dialogue.

It is probably naïve to imagine this hasn’t always been the case. The glorified days of yesteryear are always creations of our imaginations. But technology changes the way we relate to one another, and the intervention of some technology has made it easier to amplify our vitriol. It has become easier to isolate ourselves in like-minded groups, and to avoid and villainize anyone who doesn’t think like us.

Regrettably, this phenomenon has made its way into conversations among believers, who are united in the body of Christ.

Pope St. John Paul II taught that a culture of life is one in which human beings are united together in an authentic communion of love. He taught that sin replaces “relationships of communion with attitudes of distrust, indifference, hostility and even murderous hatred.”

The grace of Jesus Christ overcomes those attitudes, and enables us to live freely, in a civilization of love. In Christ, said John Paul, man is able to “rebuild lost fellowship and rediscover his true identity.”

I hope that Catholics will read our stories and consider them seriously. I also hope that after doing so, they’ll engage with the people around them, “rebuilding lost fellowship.” I hope our news coverage might foster real conversations in families, with coworkers, and among friends. I hope that our stories might be an occasion for discussion among people who disagree, and that such discussions might inculcate trust, respect, and charity.

The community discussing our news coverage online is a true and good community. But it is a beginning, not an end. I hope that reading our coverage might also be an occasion to put down the phone, or turn off the screen, turn to another person, and say, “I’ve just read something interesting.”

 

Christian leaders pray for Hugh Hefner, pornography’s victims

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 12:01

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 29, 2017 / 10:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Christian leaders in the fight against pornography have called the death of Hugh Hefner “tragic,” while reminding Catholics to take seriously the impact of Hefner’s legacy on American culture.  

“Nobody should ever take joy in anybody’s passing,” Alan Sears, founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA Sept. 28. “There have been thousands of people praying for Hugh Hefner’s conversion for years, and the saddest part to me of his passing, is that we see no evidence of conversion on his part.”

“Apparently up to the end, he took joy in this exploitation of women, of sexuality and all the other things that the secular media is lauding him for,” said Sears, who under President Ronald Reagan served on the staff of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, known as the Meese Commission.

Hefner died on Wednesday, at the age of 91 at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. His son Cooper Hefner, chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, said his father lived “an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights, and sexual freedom.”

“He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history,” the younger Hefner said.

Hugh Hefner was raised Methodist. He launched the magazine in December 1953 after writing for Esquire. His first issue, whose centerfold was an old nude photo of rising film star Marilyn Monroe, sold 50,000 copies. In 1963 he was arrested on obscenity charges but the jury failed to reach a verdict and charges were dropped.

Hefner advocated a “Playboy philosophy,” attempting to give an air of sophistication and savvy to his life.

His magazine carried fiction from Ray Bradbury, Ian Fleming, Joseph Heller, Jack Kerouac, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates and Ursula K. Le Guin. It interviewed leading figures in music, culture and politics. It was best-known, however, for its nude photos of women.

Hefner would gather Playboy centerfolds and other models to live at his Playboy Mansion, where he hosted sordid parties. His critics said he kept women who lived there under strict rules, pushed drugs on them, required sex acts, and manipulated their lives, according to Nathan J. Robinson, editor of the magazine Current Affairs.

Political and social change were among Hefner’s goals. The Playboy Foundation funded work against obscenity laws and anti-abortion laws, while also funding sex research at the Kinsey Institute and even the dissenting group Catholics for Choice. Future Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, co-signed a thank-you letter published in the August 1973 issue of Playboy in response to one donation, Vice Magazine reports.

Sears reflected on the missed opportunities of Hefner’s life. If Hefner had had a public conversion, “he could have a great influence for the good,” he said.

“Who knows what the influence would be on some young man who admired one of these pornographers, if the pornographer came forward and repented of the harm that he had done to women and children, to families, to marriages?” said Sears.

He cited the influence of abortionist Bernard Nathanson, who had performed thousands of abortions before his conversion, then became a pro-life spokesman and saved countless lives.

For Patrick Trueman, president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Hefner left “a sad legacy.”

“We shouldn’t be celebrating. We should be mourning his death. He lived the life of a predator and sexual exploiter,” he said, contending that Hefner has fewer admirers than he did 10 or 20 years ago because the harms of pornography are better recognized.

Four states have passed resolutions proclaiming pornography to be a public health crisis.

“Reams of research show that Internet pornography is linked to neurological harms, sexual dysfunctions, and increases in rates of sexual violence,” Trueman continued. “Hugh Hefner was not a champion of free speech. He was a pioneer in the sexual objectification and use of women.”

Playboy Magazine presented women’s sexuality in a subordinate role and as universally accessible to men.

Sears said that everyone researching the effects of pornography in the 1980s recognized Playboy as “the gateway to lower people’s inhibitions” that increased acceptability of more extreme pornography.

He pointed to Hefner’s portrayal of legally adult women in “very young” situations, dressed in school uniforms and pigtails or using lollipops, portraying them as children.

Playboy marketed its trademark across many products and venues, including several clubs around the world staffed by waitresses dressed as bunnies.

The women who worked for Playboy both promoted, and suffered from, “the idea that your intimate self is a commercial product for sale,” according to Sears.

While the Playboy centerfold opportunity had a reputation as a glamorous career-launcher, Sears said the women whom his commission interviewed had the opposite impression.

“They were at vulnerable points in their life, they were naïve, they thought this would be a great thing. In many cases, this led to great personal trauma in their own life,” he said.

“Boyfriends thought that because the women had posed in Playboy, by the mere fact that they had posed, were now sexually free to do any act,” he said, noting that some Playboys models reported being sexually abused.

Trueman said Playboy itself was a victim of the tendency of pornography to extremism.

While the magazine introduced a person to pornography, people’s brains would then demand more hardcore and deviant material.

“Over time that made Playboy passé, because the internet could supply the hardest and most deviant material,” Trueman said. “Just as Playboy was undone by its portrayal of sexual images, an individual’s life becomes undone by consuming pornography.”

Playboy Magazine sales peaked in the November 1972 issue, when close to 7.2 million copies were sold. By 2015, the magazine was selling less than one million copies per issue, CNBC reported. The magazine was still sold in over 20 countries, and Playboy Enterprises claimed over $1 billion in sales annually of trademarked assets in 2017, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian says.

Sears characterized Hefner as a “destroyer.”

“He was a destroyer of innocence, of youth, of the unborn. He was a destroyer of respect for the rule of law. I think he even did great damage to lots of families and lots of marriages,” he said. “In terms of innocence: his whole drive was to make pornography acceptable and approved.”

According to Sears, efforts to counter Playboy’s influence could include the wise use of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Churches, ministries and social leaders need to provide good models, including good models of healthy sexuality, as they work to uphold marriage, the dignity of women and the human person.

He said the enforcement of seldom-enforced anti-obscenity laws are another possibility.

Trueman’s National Center on Sexual Exploitation has convinced most major chains in the hotel industry to stop carrying pornography in their rooms and has convinced Google to stop selling advertising to the pornography industry.

“We have various other initiatives that help people to understand that pornography is sexual exploitation,” he said, comparing the anti-pornography efforts to the campaign against smoking.

“Smoking stinks, and it isn’t good for you. Pornography stinks, and it isn’t good for you,” he said.

 

Knights of Columbus aid natural disaster victims in Puerto Rico and Mexico

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 08:00

New Haven, Conn., Sep 29, 2017 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- To provide relief after a spate of recent natural disasters, the Knights of Columbus have raised over $2.8 million worth of aid to be distributed to the Caribbean and Mexico, and to the southeastern states of the United States.  

“Charity has always been the defining characteristic of the Knights of Columbus, and people – both those in distress and those who want to help – have placed a great deal of trust in us,” the Knights’ CEO Carl Anderson said in a Sept. 26 statement.

“The outpouring of generosity to our appeal by our members and others has been greatly appreciated.”

The relief appeal began after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas on August 25. That storm, followed by two more devastating hurricanes – Irma and Maria – as well as recent Mexican earthquakes have resulted in hundreds of deaths, left many without homes, and caused serious strains on the economies of impacted areas.

The Knights have sent emergency donations to Puerto Rico and Mexico, and volunteered to move debris and help stranded neighbors in the U.S. Members of the non-profit fraternity have also distributed over $720,000 worth of food, water, and other supplies.

According to World Vision, Hurricane Harvey has damaged or destroyed 135,000 homes, and has killed at least 82. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has estimated rebuilding costs to be between $150-180 billion.

A few weeks after Harvey made landfall in Texas in late August, Hurricane Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10. Irma has killed dozens in the Caribbean and Florida, and caused up to $100 billion in damages.

On Sept.19, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the central regions of Mexico, killing more than 300 people and injuring over 6,000. This followed a bigger earthquake off the Mexican coast near Chiapas, 12 days earlier, which killed at least 98 people, damaged more than 40,000 homes, and created tsunami-sized waves.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 hurricane. At least 16 people have died, and the 155 mile per hour winds left the entire island without power and damaged many of the island’s structures, but Reuters reports that exact assessment of the hurricane’s destruction has yet to be completed.

The Knights of Columbus are continuing to receive disaster relief funds, and online donations can be made at: https://www.kofc.org/en/charities/articles/disaster-relief.html

During his General Audience last Wednesday, Pope Francis expressed “closeness to the whole Mexican population” and offered his prayers for the earthquakes’ victims, invoking the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A week later, he asked for Christians “to remember in prayer the victims and those affected by the hurricane, which in these days has battered the Caribbean, in a particular way Puerto Rico.”

Questions and Answers on the 'filial correction'

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 05:19

Steubenville, Ohio, Sep 29, 2017 / 03:19 am (CNA).- Dr. Jacob Wood, an assistant professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, offers answers on some frequently-asked-questions about the ‘Filial Correction on the Spread of Heresies” a letter sent to Pope Francis by a group of bishops, priests, and scholars, who released the letter this past weekend.  

What is fraternal correction?

Fraternal correction is an act of charity (CCC 1829), in which we call a brother or sister in Christ, who has fallen into serious sin, back to the way of the Gospel. Fraternal correction is explained by Jesus in the Gospel (Mt 18:15-17).

Why is this called a “filial” and not a “fraternal” correction?

Christ established a hierarchy in his Church (CCC 877), and the signatories on the letter are not on equal footing with the pope in that hierarchy. Out of respect for the pope’s authority, they appeal to the pope as his spiritual sons and daughters, not as spiritual brothers and sisters.

Why is this correction being issued?

Some of the signatories issued a filial appeal to Pope Francis last year, asking him to clarify the Church’s teaching with regard to marriage, sin, and grace. When they did not receive a response, they prepared this correction. The correction was originally sent to Pope Francis privately in July.

Why is this correction being made public now?

When the signatories received no response from Pope Francis to their appeal or their correction, they were concerned about the possibility of scandal, and so they made it public.

Was it right to make the correction public?

Not necessarily, no.

In Donum Veritatis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stipulates that theologians who wish to critique the timeliness, form, or substance of non-infallible magisterial documents should address their concerns to the “responsible authority” rather than the “mass media” (DV 30). The responsible authority for the Church’s teaching on faith and morals is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The responsible authority for the interpretation of canon law is the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

Moreover, the principal concern of a filial or fraternal correction should be the amendment of the one who is thought to have sinned. But the publication of the document (as opposed to its private submission) was not undertaken primarily with a view towards correcting a supposed sin of Pope Francis. Rather, the cited reason for the publication of the correction is the avoidance of scandal to others, not the correction of Pope Francis himself.

Furthermore, although the correction seeks to avoid scandal, the correction itself has served as a cause of scandal. It insinuates that the pope is a heretic, it thereby weakens people’s trust in the pastors of the Church, and it provides the mass media with the opportunity to paint a false picture of the Church, in which those who believe the Church’s teaching about marriage, sin, and grace are seen as somehow opposed to the pope.

What authority does the correction have?

The correction is a private act on the part of the individual signatories, which they have undertaken in their capacity as baptized members of the Church (Can. 212, §3). The correction therefore has no magisterial authority in the Church.

Are Catholics required to follow the correction?

No. Since the correction lacks magisterial authority, Catholics are not required to agree with it or to follow it.

What is heresy?

“Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same…” (CCC 2089).

Does this mean that the pope is a heretic?

No. Despite the document’s title, the signatories acknowledge in the document that they lack the authority to judge whether the pope has committed the sin of heresy or the canonical crime of heresy. The difference between the sin and the crime of heresy, and an answer to the question about whether the pope can be a heretic, are discussed here.

If the signatories cannot convict the pope of heresy, what sin do the signatories claim that the pope has committed?

The signatories claim that the pope has failed to stop the spread of heresy, rather than that he has committed the sin of heresy himself.

What heresy do the signatories claim that the pope has failed to stop?

The signatories claim that the pope has failed to stop the spread of seven heresies. Most of these concern the Church’s teaching on mortal sin. The Church’s teaching is that we cannot with full knowledge and deliberate consent choose to perform grave evil without cutting ourselves off from God’s grace (CCC 1857), and that we cannot live in a state in life which is contrary to God’s law without cutting ourselves off from the Sacrament of the Eucharist (CCC 1650).

Are those heresies contained in Amoris Laetitia?

None of the passages of Amoris Laetitia cited by the correction explicitly denies that a person who knowingly and willingly commits grave evil cuts himself or herself off from God’s grace.

Amoris Laetitia does explore the possibility that a person who commits grave evil may in some cases not have full knowledge or deliberate consent when doing so, but precisely insofar as they lack full knowledge and/or deliberate consent, such a person is not necessarily committing mortal sin.

Amoris Laetitia also explores the process of healing the gravely sinful elements of a state in life which is contrary to God’s law, without necessarily abandoning that state in life altogether. Amoris Laetitia only speculates as to what may be possible in this context, and its teaching is not clear. The Church teaches that in ambiguous cases such as this one, “everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.” (CCC 2478) That means interpreting ambiguous statements in continuity with the faith and practice of the Church, not in terms of a rupture with that faith and practice.

How can we gain clarity about the teaching of the Church on divorce and remarriage?

With magisterial authority, St. John Paul II declared that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a “sure norm for teaching the faith” (Fidei Depositum 3). We may therefore look to the teaching of the Catechism on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (1601-1666), sin (1846-1879), and grace (1950-2029). Four Cardinals of the Catholic Church have also submitted five “dubia” to Pope Francis. A “dubium” is a question about faith and/or morals to which the faithful would like a magisterial answer, and “dubia” is the plural of “dubium.” Should Pope Francis answer the dubia, it would give us further guidance as to his intended teaching.

What should Catholics do now?

Catholics should pray for the pope, for the signatories of the correction, and for the Church. Jesus Christ himself promised to send his Holy Spirit so as to lead the Church into all truth (Jn 16:13), and to defend the Church from error (Mt 16:18). Jesus is always faithful to his promises.

 


Dr. Jacob Wood is assistant professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. His opinions are his own.

Baptist theologian: Fr. Martin's ideas 'require a total redefinition of doctrine'

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 19:47

Washington D.C., Sep 28, 2017 / 05:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Baptist theologian, Dr. Albert Mohler, has claimed that Fr. James Martin’s teaching on sexuality is “an entire re-orientation of the Catholic faith.”

Mohler’s comments refer to Martin’s suggestion that Catholics should refer to same sex attraction or an LGBT identity as “differently ordered” rather than the Catechism’s use of “intrinsically disordered.” Mohler says the suggestion fundamentally changes Catholic teaching on sexuality, and on creation itself.

In comments to CNA, Martin rebuffed Mohler's comments, calling them “obtuse,” and stating that those who identify as LGBT, or those who are not educated in philosophy or theology, could easily perceive the Church’s language to be “cruel.”

“So my point is simply that we have to be sensitive to the language we use. We can't pretend that language like that isn't harmful,” Martin told CNA.

Martin has drawn criticism after the publication of his most recent book, Building A Bridge, which addresses the Church’s engagement with those who identify as LGBT. Most notably, he has been critiqued for the book’s avoidance of Catholic teaching on celibacy and chastity, and for the book’s lack of engagement with Catholics who identify as LGBT, but observe the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. In August, Martin announced on Facebook that he intends to respond to these critiques in a revised edition of the book.

Martin’s comments came in response to a podcast by Mohler, who is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

On the Sept. 19 edition of his podcast, “The Briefing,” Mohler points to a passage in Martin’s book, which suggests replacing the theological term “disordered” with the phrase “differently ordered.”

“If you say that LGBT sexual orientation is merely differently ordered, you have actually not only changed the catechism in this specific case of the Roman Catholic Church, you have changed the Catholic Church’s understanding of the doctrines of creation, of humanity, of sin, of redemption, of the church. It is an entire re-orientation of the Catholic faith,” Mohler said.

Mohler explained his comments in an interview with CNA, saying that to an evangelical Protestant, language like Martin’s is “pointing to a fundamental change that’s happening in the Catholic Church.”

He expressed concern that given Martin’s statements, his role at the Vatican could imply a change in Catholic Church doctrine. In April, Martin, the editor-at-large of America Magazine, was appointed to serve as a Consultor to the Secretariat for Communications in the Vatican.

“Acceptance of the LGBT revolution by Christians, or any belief system based upon a claim to revelation, will require a total redefinition of doctrine,” Mohler said. He stated that, in his view, such a change of language “isn’t just about sex, it’s about our understanding of Creation.”

Mohler elaborated, saying that the phrase ‘intrinsically disordered’ explains that same-sex attractions are a result of mankind’s fall, whereas the phrase ‘differently ordered,’ means that those attractions are “a part of the goodness of creation.”

“That’s just not changing the position on homosexuality, now you’re redefining the Garden of Eden.”

Martin called Mohler’s understanding of his book “absurd,” and questioned Mohler’s conclusions. He continued, saying that Mohler’s reaction is part of why it’s difficult to even discuss persons who identify as LGBT in Christian churches. “To link a new way of understanding their sexuality with the destruction of the faith is not only absurd, it's a sign of how LGBT people are still seen primarily, and in this case totally, as sinful,” he said.

Martin accused such an approach of echoing the “scribes and Pharisees, who cared more about words than about people,” rather than Jesus. “The Catholic faith, in the end, is not about a single phrase in the Catechism; it is about an encounter with the Risen One,” he said.

The phrase in question derives from paragraph 2357 of the Catechism of Catholic Church, which states that “ tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’...They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The Catechism elaborates, explaining that those “who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”  

 

Trump administration drops refugee cap to 45,000

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 11:55

Washington D.C., Sep 28, 2017 / 09:55 am (CNA).- The Trump administration announced on Wednesday it plans to resettle a maximum of 45,000 refugees in 2018, fewer than in 2017 and far fewer than the U.S. accepted in 2016.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had proposed earlier this month that 75,000 refugees – which was still a reduction of over 25 percent from the previous administration – be the goal for refugee admission next year.

“We implore the administration to show mercy and compassion for those seeking refuge, and to advance the American value of freedom through providing safe harbor to those fleeing tyranny and religious persecution,” the bishops’ executive committee stated Sept. 12.

Following reports that the administration was planning to reduce the refugee intake even more in the 2018 fiscal year, the State Department confirmed the number would be smaller on Wednesday.

In President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration signed in March 2017, he ordered a four-month shutdown of refugee resettlement while the program was reviewed. That review period ends Oct. 24. Trump also capped the number of refugees that the U.S. would accept in FY 2017 at 50,000, far below the goal of 110,000 originally set by the Obama administration.

Then on Wednesday, the State Department announced that in its upcoming consultations with Congress it would propose capping refugee admissions at 45,000, including 19,000 from Africa and 17,000 from the Near East and South Asia.

A U.S. government official told reporters on Wednesday that, regarding the new refugee resettlement numbers, “the security and safety of the American people is our chief concern,” and that refugee resettlement is “only one part of the United States response to the crisis of forced displacement around the world.”

The announcement comes as the number of forcibly displaced persons is at its highest recorded level – over 65 million worldwide, according to the U.N. The number of refugees is also at its highest recorded level at over 22 million.

Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of Catholic aid groups that serve those in need on the ground in countries around the world, began an international “Share the Journey” campaign on Wednesday, inviting Catholics to hear the stories of migrants and refugees, welcome them into their communities, and advocate for policies that would support migrants seeking a better life.

Groups that resettle refugees have said that the resettlement program is secure and that the U.S. maintains stringent vetting of refugees for any potential security threats.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked that the administration set a goal of resettling 75,000 refugees, saying that to limit the number to “50,000 or below” would be “simply inhumane, particularly when our great nation has the resources and ability to do more.”

“We implore the administration to show mercy and compassion for those seeking refuge, and to advance the American value of freedom through providing safe harbor to those fleeing tyranny and religious persecution,” the executive committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference stated on Sept. 12.

David Robinson, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service USA stated on Wednesday that the planned number of 45,000 is “shamefully low” and “a retreat from global leadership.”

“Our faith calls us to be compassionate, and this unprecedented policy is in direct opposition to the belief that we should welcome the stranger, especially the victims of war, terror and oppression,” he said.

The State Department did not notify resettlement groups of the planned 45,000 number, a government official confirmed on Wednesday, saying that “they’re well aware of the executive order’s number of 50,000 and that I think this is probably in the range that they expected.”

Also, the administration does not intend to “slow-roll” the admission so as to resettle only a portion of the goal, an official said. The U.S. could “get into the ballpark of this number” despite the vetting requirements and the need to address a backlog of asylum requests.

 

In a grandmother’s dress, the hidden story of a Ukrainian priest’s martyrdom

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 08:26

Denver, Colo., Sep 28, 2017 / 06:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dr. George Isajiw, the grandson of a slain Ukrainian priest, always knew that his grandfather was martyred by the Soviet secret police, amidst the chaos of World War II.

“Of course everybody...considered him a martyr, considered him a saint, in the family,” Isajiw told CNA on Sept. 9.

On June 26, 1941, 67-year-old Father Nicolas Konrad and a 34-year-old parish cantor, Volodymyr Pryjma, had set out on a sick call.

They knew the risks. Nikita Khrushchev, then Stalin’s envoy to Ukraine, had given the order to shoot priests amidst a retreat of Soviet forces across Ukraine.

The two men had taken the sacraments to a parishioner and were returning home to their church in the western Ukrainian village of Stradch. They were detained by two agents of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police. Then they were taken out into the woods and shot.

Both men were among the Greek-Catholic martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II in June 2001. Pryjma left behind three children, while Father Konrad, a married priest in the Eastern Catholic tradition, left behind four grown children and a widow, Antonina. 

Isajiw knew those details of his family story. But what Father Konrad’s grandson didn’t know was a secret that his grandmother had kept close.

When the beatification of Fr. Konrad was announced in 2000, Isajiw’s sister remembered something special about her grandmother’s dress.

“We examined it carefully, looked in the pockets, and there’s the bullet holes,” said Isajiw, a physician in private practice in Lansdowne, Pa.

Dr. Isajiw is a past president of the Catholic Medical Association. He displayed the dress this month, at a booth at the association’s educational conference in Denver.

“That’s his cassock. The cassock he was wearing when he was killed,” he continued. “My grandmother took that cassock. She cut out the front panel and the back panel, because the bullet hole is in the front and the exit wound is in the back.”

His grandmother had repurposed the cassock into a dress and covered the bullet holes with pockets.

“She made a dress out of it for herself, so when she put her hands in her pockets she could feel the bullet holes,” said the doctor.

After the war, his grandmother had lived with a Catholic family in Bavaria before emigrating to join her surviving family in Pennsylvania, where she lived until her death in 1955.

She had worn the dress the rest of her days.

“We took it with us to the beatification,” said Isajiw.

In 1941, both Fr. Konrad and Antonina had decided not to leave Ukraine, even though family members could secure them emigration papers to Germany. Fr. Konrad had been an academic all his life. His assignment in Stradtch would be his first parish role.

Half of the residents were illiterate. Antonina began teaching the children to read and write.

A Soviet military installation was about a mile from the village church.

On June 22, 1941, Blessed Nicholas was leading a procession for the Feast of Corpus Christi when the military base came under attack from the invading Germans.

“He took everyone back into the church and gave his famous sermon: ‘Be not afraid,’ Little knowing that four days later he’d be dead,” the priest’s grandson recounted.

Isajiw summarized one account of the homily:

“He said all our lives are changed. The war is started. Who knows what will happen? But we’re not going to change. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing, taking care of ourselves, taking care of our families, not panicking and not changing our lifestyle, trusting in God.”

Isajiw, who never met his grandfather, said it felt very special to be the grandson of a martyr.

“I feel closer to him now, after studying all this,” he said. “His heroic virtue was he already knew priests were being targeted, and he still went with the sacraments.”

Blessed Nicholas Konrad is known as a patron of students and his active canonization cause is promoted by many at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. There are pilgrimages to the site of his execution, and the priests at Stradtch hold retreats. He is often petitioned by those seeking relief from addiction to drugs, alcohol or smoking.

And thanks to Antonina, his cassock is well-preserved, now a holy relic of his martyrdom.

With clock ticking on DACA, Republican senators offer path to citizenship

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 02:42

Washington D.C., Sep 28, 2017 / 12:42 am (CNA).- With the future uncertain for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors, three Republican Senators say they have a proposal to allow for permanent residency and potential citizenship.

“We are willing to talk with anyone providing certainty to these children, let politics get checked at the door, let’s provide something on a bipartisan basis to these children and young adults in this country,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), according to CBS News.

He and Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have proposed an alternative for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also called DACA. The program was implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012 to defer deportations for those who came to the U.S. as minors and met certain criteria. President Obama implemented it via executive order, rather than legislation.

The Trump administration has rescinded the program, but left open a six-month legal window to adjudicate the renewal process for DACA recipients.

The three senators’ proposed replacement is called the Succeed Act, which stands for “Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers Employment Education and Defending our nation.”

They described it as a “fair and compassionate,” merit-based solution to undocumented U.S. residents who qualify.

“If you work hard, follow the law and pay your taxes, you can stay here permanently,” Sen. Tillis said.

The legislation would grant conditional status to a recipient who maintains gainful employment, pursues higher education or serves in the U.S. military. Those eligible must have arrived in the U.S. before reaching 16 years old and must hold a high school diploma or equivalent. They must also pass an extensive criminal background check, submit biometric data to the Department of Homeland Security, and must be able to pay off any existing federal tax liabilities.

Tillis said the process would prevent “chain migration,” which gives priority to family members.

The legislation would provide a second round of five-year protected status for participants who secure five years of gainful employment, earn a degree or serve in the military. Participants in the program could then apply for a green card.

“We have millions of great young people that can add a great deal to our country,” Sen. Hatch said. “We need a permanent solution to this problem not just kicking it down the road.”

Sen. Lankford said immigration is an “unresolved issue that continues to get harder every single year.” He said he did not see the Succeed Act as “a stand-alone bill” and endorsed stronger border security and other policies.

The bill would be an alternative to the DREAM Act, re-introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (R-Ill.). That legislation would implement much of the Obama-era executive order and grant permanent legal status to over one million young people who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 18 and have lived in the U.S. for four years, provided they meet certain criteria, which include enrolling in college, joining the military, or finding jobs.

The proposed legislation’s name derives from the acronym Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. It was first proposed in the year 2001.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ executive committee on Sept. 12 urged the Catholic faithful to advocate for the passage of the DREAM Act or similar legislation “as a prompt, humane, and durable solution to this problem of greatest urgency.” The bishops said Congress had failed to address the situation for many years.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles backed the DREAM Act in a July 21 statement, saying it would “permanently lift the threat of deportation that right now hangs over the heads of more than one million young people who were brought to this country illegally or are living in the homes of undocumented parents.”

 

How the US Church is 'sharing the journey' with immigrants

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 17:56

Washington D.C., Sep 27, 2017 / 03:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders in the U.S. are hoping that the newly announced “Share the Journey” campaign will foster a welcoming attitude towards migrants and refugees.

“It’s an important time to remind ourselves that welcoming the stranger, being a good neighbor, doing whatever we can for the least among us, that this is our duty as Christians, to accept, not reject,” Bill Canny, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA. 

The international Catholic aid confederation Caritas Internationalis initiated the “Share the Journey” campaign on Sept. 27. In Pope Francis’ weekly general audience on Wednesday morning, he spoke of the virtue of hope, exhorting the audience to share in the journey of migrants and others. “We are not afraid to share the trip! We are not afraid! We are not afraid to share hope!” he said. 

Caritas launched the campaign as the number of forcibly displaced persons is at its highest level recorded, at more than 65 million worldwide. In 2016, there were more than 22 million refugees leaving one country for another.

Thus, the “Share the Journey” initiative invites Catholics to “encounter” the migrant and refugee, by hearing their stories. It aims to help put the Gospel into practice, fulfilling the words of Christ, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

In the U.S., the bishops’ conference as well as Caritas organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA are all promoting the campaign as a way for the faithful to pray for migrants and refugees and make concrete acts to help them. The website for the U.S. campaign is ShareJourney.org.

The initiative will actually be a “sustained effort” over about 18 months, Jean Beil of Catholic Charities USA told CNA. The week of Oct. 7-13 has already been designated as a “week of prayer and action” for migrants and refugees.

Local Catholic Charities affiliates have been “very enthusiastic” at the outset, she said. 

The ultimate goal of the initiative is two-fold. First, Caritas and its members hope to “awaken in countries that are usually ‘sending countries’ where migrants are leaving, the idea that everyone should have a right to make a livelihood in their own land, to live in peace and security.”

However, beyond that, she said, the initiative emphasizes “that everyone has a right, if they need to migrate, to try to move to somewhere where they can provide for their family the peace and security that they need in order to live with dignity and respect” and “to keep their family together to live with dignity.”

Among the actions that can be taken by Catholics under the initiative are prayer, welcoming newly-arrived migrants and refugees into the local parish and community, and assisting local Catholic Charities and Caritas organizations in serving immigrants. 

“The Holy Father hopes to unite all of us across the world as one family of God, to support our brothers and sisters who have fled their homes seeking a safe and decent life for their families,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“Share the Journey” will also challenge American Catholics to overcome prejudices and polarization, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami stated in an op-ed on Aug. 30. 

“The stridency and polarization of politics in America today can be discouraging. 24 hour cable ‘news’ cycles have made ‘politics’ another form of entertainment as ‘real’ as professional wrestling,” Archbishop Wenski wrote. 

“‘Share the journey’ invites us to see through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye,” he wrote. 

Dioceses have already begun putting the campaign into practice. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has announced “DACA renewal workshops” which will help immigrants who would have benefitted from the program.

DACA, the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” was a program begun by the Obama administration to stay the deportation of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 by their parents, who had lived in the U.S. for more than five years, were of a certain age, and who had no criminal record. 

The Trump administration recently announced the phasing-out of the DACA program, affecting around 800,000 immigrants who would have benefitted from the program. 

In light of this development, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is hosting workshops at parishes in the diocese to help immigrants benefitting from DACA apply for an extension of their stay in the U.S. by the Oct. 5 deadline. 

“Here in the United States, millions of immigrants have been living in the shadows because of a broken immigration system,” Archbishop Gomez said. “We will begin the ‘Share the Journey’ campaign in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by offering a series of workshops to help process extensions for those who qualify for DACA renewal.” 

Catholics can also advocate for policies that help migrants under the initiative, Canny said. They can ask their representatives in Congress to “at least maintain and expand international humanitarian assistance” to help resettle displaced persons back home and cut down on the number of refugees.  

The initiative also comes as the Trump administration is reportedly planning to lower the number of refugees the U.S. accepts even further. 

Originally, the Obama administration set a goal of 110,000 refugees that the U.S. would accept in the 2017 fiscal year, but President Donald Trump, in his executive order on immigration, ordered a four-month shutdown of the refugee resettlement program to investigate its security. He capped the total number of refugees at 50,000 for FY 2017.

Now, Axios reports that, according to sources within the Trump administration, the number could be lowered to 40,000 or 45,000 in FY 2018. The U.S. bishops’ conference has called on the administration to accept 75,000 refugees in the upcoming fiscal year. 

Canny hoped that, amidst increasing polarization and hostility towards immigrants, the “Share the Journey” campaign would hopefully “check these tendencies” and “contribute to the national debate that’s been shaped by politics, a national debate on immigration and welcoming refugees.”

A note from CNA's Executive Director on the 'filial correction'

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 14:10

Denver, Colo., Sep 27, 2017 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- A statement from Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of Catholic News Agency and ACI Prensa:

I was surprised to see that my name has been added to the list of signatories on the so-called Correctio Filialis De Haeresibus Propagatis.

I never signed this letter, nor do I intend to ever sign it. As a journalist, I was surprised at how easily the name of a person could be added to the list without any verification.

 

New boys' choir CD explores rich music of Mary

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 08:03

Boston, Mass., Sep 27, 2017 / 06:03 am (CNA).- Boys’ choirs have been a tradition in the Catholic Church since the Middle Ages, when men and women did not sing together in public, and boys’ higher-pitched voices were needed to round out the sound of sacred music used at Mass.

Today, the United States is home to just one Catholic boys’ choir school – St. Paul’s choir school in Cambridge, Mass. The school is open to boys in 4th-8th grade, who must audition to earn a spot in the renowned and rigorous program.

Having celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2013, and having produced their first CD, “Christmas in Harvard Square” in 2014, the school has enjoyed a recent uptick in interest and awareness of both their program and music.

Given the success of their first CD, the group decided to produce another CD entitled “Ave Maria,” with a wide variety of sacred music centered on the theme of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was released on Sept. 8, the feast of the Nativity of Mary.

“(We) wanted to do something that would be 'in season' all year round, so something that honors Our Lady seemed like the perfect choice,” choirmaster John Robinson told CNA in e-mail comments.

“There is such an amazing richness of music that honors Our Lady,” he said. “Because Mary is so central to everything we believe, we felt that music that honors her can also show certain devotional aspects of other themes as well, so the recording has a wide range of subject matter.”

The 18 tracks selected for the CD cover a range of lesser-known as well as more popular pieces of sacred music, from Gregorian chant written in the 7th century to works written as recently as the 19th and 20th centuries.

The boys in the choir school have a small window of time to capitalize on their young voices - the younger boys in 4th and 5th grade go through a practice phase before joining the older choristers, usually around 6th grade.

Each piece in “Ave Maria” is meant to highlight the pitch range of the boys in the choir school, and each selection has its own story to tell in the context of both music and Church history.

“It's always great to get behind each piece and learn about its context, especially some of the great stories in Church Music, like the creation of the Papae Marcellus Mass by Palestrina,” he said. “This piece was written to prove that polyphony (music in many parts) can still have clear words, and the piece actually influenced the direction of the Council of Trent.”  

The Council of Trent was called by the Catholic Church to examine possible adjustments of Church practices in light of the Protestant Reformation. One adjustment considered by the council was that all sacred music be clear and readily understandable, and not obscured by complex musical techniques. Palestrina’s Mass helped prove that polyphonic sacred music could be both beautiful and clearly understood.

Robinson said he has been encouraged by an increased awareness of boys’ choral music and sacred music, and he added that he hoped that the CD would appeal to a wide audience and foster a greater appreciation for Church music.

“We want everyone to hear this recording. Of course there are those who already love and know this kind of music, and it's certainly great that they should listen to it, and hear that this tradition is alive and well,” he said. “It's also really important that people who really haven't had access to hearing this unique traditional sound should be able to hear it, and to realise that they can hear it every day of the week at St. Paul's as well.”

The rich history of sacred music and its beautiful sound is something that has the power to unite people both to those who came before them, and to God himself, Robinson added.

“Traditional Sacred music is like a collection of beautiful prayers that we can pull out and join ourselves to. Whenever we sing this music at Mass there's a real sense of togetherness with those who have gone before. There's also a great sense of beauty, and appreciation of the gift of beauty. There's a feeling of learning from those great composers, so honed in their Art, and of being part of something much bigger than us,” he said.

“It's great to lose ourselves in the wonderful sounds that have been prayed in Church for hundreds and in some cases well over a thousand years. I hope that this shared heritage can be something that unites everyone, and points to Him who gave it to us.”

“Ave Maria” was released by AimHigher Recordings through their international distribution collaboration with Sony Classical. In addition to Robinson, some of the other people behind the album include multiple Grammy Award-winning Producer Christopher Alder, and Brad Michel, also a Grammy Award-winner.

 

Why witchcraft can never be used to accomplish good

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 05:12

Washington D.C., Sep 27, 2017 / 03:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Shortly after Donald Trump assumed the office of President of the United States, witches across the country began large-scale efforts to cast binding spells on him.

Amanda Yates Garcia, a self-identified witch known as the “Oracle of Los Angeles,” told Tucker Carlson of FOX News last week that the binding spells are not intended to harm Trump, but rather are intended to prevent him from causing any harm to others.

“Binding spells are a symbolic action used to harness the powers of the imagination and achieve a tangible result, eventually,” she said.

“I desire that Trump stop harming people that I care about and instituting policies that also harming me or people that I care about. My ultimate aim is that we protect the people that we love from having harm done to them,” she added.

But can witchcraft ever be used to accomplish something good?

Catholic theologian Dr. Anthony Lilles told CNA that even though the end result of witchcraft, magic or a spell may be some perceived good, these means are always an evil and are always below the dignity of the human person.

“Whether or not they’ve made a right judgment in the evil they want to prevent is one thing, but in Catholic moral tradition, we believe that you should never do evil that good might come from it,” he said.  

“The way the logic of magic works, you attempt to control elements either above human nature or below human nature, and in your effort to manipulate or control these things, you always end up controlled by them. Whatever you give your heart to, that’s what has control over you,” Lilles said.

“As Christians we give our heart to God, and because he is completely above us, he is able to lift us up. When you give your heart to anything else, you always lower yourself, and so it’s very bad for the person who practices magic, because it always diminishes their own dignity,” he added.

Another problem with magic and spells is that they operate on the level of imagination, rather than in the world of reality and truth, Lilles said.

“Reason orients us to discern things according to the truth, to respond to situations such as they really truly are,” Lilles said.

With magic, “it’s trying to stand with your human dignity on something a little bit more whimsical, something that can’t support it. A fantasy can’t support the dignity and greatness of what it means to be a human being, only God can be that foundation. Only the truth is firm enough ground for the greatness of who each one of us is as a human being.”

For these reasons, witchcraft, magic and superstition have always been condemned practices in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which teaches that human beings must rely humbly and completely on the will of God, Lilles said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church categorizes witchcraft and magic particularly as offenses against the First Commandment, which is: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.”

Witchcraft, magic and divination always stem from a desire to control and manipulate reality and situations in our lives, rather than humbly making our requests known to an all-powerful and all-loving God, Lilles said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, in paragraph 2115, that while God may choose to reveal future events to human being through the prophets or the saints, a right Christian attitude is “putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it.”

The Catechism also notes that all forms of divination, magic and sorcery are to be rejected.

Anything “by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons.” (CCC 2117)

Witchcraft can be attractive because of its grasp at power and control, especially in a culture that has forgotten God, Lilles noted.

“In a culture that no longer knows God, that has forgotten to pray, that doesn’t have confidence in humility before the creator and redeemer of the world, there will be a spiritual vacuum, and nature abhors vacuums,” he said.

“So turning to the occult, turning to magic, turning to all kinds of practices that are beneath our dignity is something that we will see people more and more inclined to do as they attempt to fill that vacuum, a vacuum that only God can fulfill in a satisfactory way.”

But that shouldn’t overly worry Christians with a proper understanding of magic and divination. Lilles said that Christians should not dismiss the practices of magic or divination as fantasy or as having no power, but at the same time, they can rest in knowing that their God is more powerful than any of these practices.

“The access to the very heart of God, which is ours by faith, far exceeds any magical power that someone might have,” he said.

“The creator of heaven and earth has implicated himself in our lives and in our own personal plights, and he is able to accomplish so much more than any power or force or element in this world below. All we have to do is make a humble cry and he is there, and that’s the truth we stand by.”  

Father Vincent Lampert, an exorcist for the archdiocese of Indianapolis, told the National Catholic Register in February that the best antidote to magic and spells for Catholics is frequenting the sacraments.

“You can’t stop someone from placing a curse, but as a Christian, if you are you praying to God and going to him, the curse will have no power,” Father Lampert said.

Dr. Lilles echoed his sentiments.

“We don’t need to grasp at control or try to manipulate things, whether by magic or other means. What we need today is trust in God, and if we trust in him, everything is going to be ok. That’s why prayer is so important. Prayer is the school of trusting God.”  

 

US House to vote on banning abortion after 20 weeks

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 02:24

Washington D.C., Sep 27, 2017 / 12:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Micah Pickering was born prematurely at 20 weeks. His eyes were “fused shut,” according to his mother, and his bones were still soft. He spent four months in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Yet Micah survived against the odds, and is today a healthy 5 year-old attending Kindergarten.

“When I look at a little baby, a 20-week baby, my heart is full. I’ve been that mom standing there begging God and doctors to let this precious baby live,” his mother Danielle said on Tuesday.

“I’ve been that mom who would do anything to see that child take their first steps and say their first words, and to start school.”

Danielle Pickering spoke at a press conference on Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol, announcing that the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will be voted on by the U.S. House on Oct. 3.

The bill, which has passed the House in previous sessions but has not passed the Senate, would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is deemed to be at stake.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said the group “welcomes the announcement.”

“This bill would not only save 20,000 lives every year, but would educate the public on the humanity of the unborn person and affirm the science of fetal pain early in development,” she said.

Studies are showing that unborn children as early as 20 weeks old can feel pain, and that a small percentage, with the right treatment, can survive outside the womb. These signs of viability, pro-life leaders say, demand that at least the rights of these babies must be taken into account in the abortion debate.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which was cited by the New York Times, a small number of babies observed who were born prematurely at 22 weeks gestation (or 20 weeks post-fertilization, as observed under the Pain-Capable bill) survived with few health issues.

When Micah was born prematurely, he couldn’t breathe, Danielle Pickering said, and she was told she couldn’t touch Micah’s skin. Yet “he was alive and he was fighting, and he wanted to live,” she said.

Micah “is the face of the pro-life movement,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, stated on Tuesday.

“If not for the tremendous love and heroism of his parents, he could have been yet another victim of the abortion culture and the culture of denial that drives us as a nation to look askance.”

Another reason for the bill’s passage is that studies show unborn babies can feel pain around the age of 20 weeks, supporters of the bill said.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, documented the research showing that unborn babies can indeed feel pain at 20 weeks post-fertilization, as well as exhibit defensive responses during invasive procedures in the womb as early as six weeks post-fertilization.

One 2013 study which used the procedure “functional magnetic resonance” to study pain responses of unborn babies found that “functional neuronal connections” in their brains “sufficient to experience pain already exist by 22 weeks post-fertilization.”

Additionally, “there is extensive evidence of a hormonal stress response by unborn babies as early as 16 weeks post-fertilization,” according to one study, the institute found.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday announced the bill would receive a vote. “Not only will passing this legislation keep a promise we made, but all the work is for the same goal – ending suffering, and helping people live,” he said.

It is expected to pass the House, which has in recent years already passed several significant pro-life bills including the defunding of Planned Parenthood and a bill that would set up additional protections against taxpayer funding of abortions.

President Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail to sign a Pain-Capable bill if one came to his desk, but the Senate has remained the chamber where the pro-life bills languish. Far fewer than 60 senators – enough votes to bring a bill to the floor for a vote – have consistent pro-life voting records.

This means that the 2018 mid-term elections could be critical, said Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“We are preparing for 2018 Senate elections,” Dannenfelser told CNA on Tuesday. “If we come up short, which is likely, short of a Micah miracle, what we’re doing is we’re building that Senate up to a 60-vote margin.”

There was evidence of significant public support for a five month abortion ban in 2013, after the trial of notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia and three convictions for first-degree murder in the killing of babies born alive.

A more recent Quinnipiac University poll from January 2017 showed the public evenly split between supporting and opposing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in the state they resided in.

Yet the bill is about more than public support, its supporters say. It is about protecting women and children from the evil of abortion.

“We want to be there for the woman, and we know that we need a law to protect the children,” Dannenfelser said on Tuesday.

“It is time that America recognizes and responds to the humanity” of unborn children, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said on Tuesday, “and the inhumanity of what is being done to them.”

 

Could this bill put an end to Down syndrome abortions in Ohio?

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 19:08

Columbus, Ohio, Sep 26, 2017 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Ohio bill hopes to stop abortions undertaken solely because an unborn child has Down syndrome.

“It’s very concerning to think that some lives would be judged as less valuable than others,” said Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, according to the Associated Press. LaRose is the sponsor of the Ohio Senate version of the bill.

Ohio Senate Bill 164 and House Bill 214 both aim to stop doctors from performing abortions “if the person has knowledge that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because” the unborn child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.

The bill would not punish any mothers who seek an abortion after a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis.

Doctors who violate the restriction by attempting to abort children because of their Down syndrome diagnosis would be charged with a fourth-degree felony, and the state medical board will be required to revoke their license. They would also be held accountable for legal fees and charges.

Down syndrome, or trisomy-21, is a common genetic disorder, caused when a child’s DNA contains an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. It affects roughly one in 700 babies born in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The condition can result in intellectual and physical delays and disabilities, and can result in increased risks of congenital heart defects, thyroid conditions, childhood leukemia and Alzheimer’s disease. Thanks to improved healthcare treatments and educational approaches, children born with Down syndrome now have a life expectancy of around 60 years, and more options for employment and independent living are available to them.  

According to a 2012 study on termination rates of people with Down syndrome, around 75 percent of expectant mothers whose babies have a confirmed prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis terminate the pregnancy. Roughly 5 percent of women receive the most sensitive and invasive Down syndrome test, but other, less invasive testing methods have improved their accuracy and broadened the number of women receiving some form of Down syndrome testing.

According to research coordinated by Massachusetts General Hospital, voluntary termination has contributed to a drop somewhere between 26 and 52 percent in the number of babies expected to be born with Down syndrome.

It is still unclear which prenatal tests the bill will consider to be proof of a Down syndrome diagnosis, or how this bill will impact prenatal testing in the state more broadly.

If passed, Ohio will not be the first state to ban abortion for reasons of ability or genetic factors. Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Dakota already ban sex-selective abortions, and Arizona bans abortion on the grounds of race. North Dakota bans abortion in cases of genetic abnormality. Indiana, Missouri, and South Dakota have also considered banning abortion after diagnoses of Down syndrome.

In June 2016, Pope Francis said that those who seek to “eliminate” disabled people “fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations.”

 

How should a Catholic evaluate health care policy?

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Sep 26, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Another effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act seems on the verge of failure, after three Republican senators stated that they would not support a pending Senate bill. As next steps for health care reform are considered, how should Catholics approach health care policy, according to Church teaching?

“The Church really, clearly teaches that health care is a right, that one has a right to be able to obtain such health care as is reasonably possible for one to obtain,” Dr. Kevin Miller, a professor of moral theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA.

On Monday, the Catholic Medical Association released a letter of public support for the latest GOP health care proposal, the Graham-Cassidy bill. In recent months, House and Senate Republicans have proposed several health care bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but none have been able to pass both houses of Congress. The Catholic Medical Association wrote the offices of U.S. Senators asking them to support the latest proposal.

However, by Monday evening, with Republican senators announcing their opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill, it seemed unlikely to pass the Senate, unless the bill was amended or senators changed their vote.

The Catholic Medical Association explained its support for the bill through the lens of several core Catholic principles of health care, saying that the bill would put those principles into practice.

The benefits of the bill, they said, included protections against taxpayer funding of abortions in health care plans via subsidies and tax credits, as well as blocking Medicaid reimbursements of abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

The bill would have also set up conscience protections for employers, and individuals in health care, against mandates that they “purchase policies that include morally offensive ‘preventive services’,” the Catholic Medical Association’s letter argued.

Also, by repealing certain regulations and limiting federal Medicaid funding for states, the bill transferred more power and decision-making in health care to lower levels in the Catholic principle of subsidiarity and “preferential option for the poor,” the group said.

According to the letter, “the ACA created literally dozens of boards and commissions and imposed thousands of pages of new regulations, many of them injurious to the work of Catholic health care providers and additions to the cost of care.”

The changes to Medicaid gave the opportunity for “public and private entities closest to the people to experiment with options that maximize the ability of patients to choose providers who share their convictions regarding Hippocratic medicine.”

Under the old Medicaid system, the letter said, states that chose to expand their Medicaid pools and receive more federal funding also were restrained by the government in the care they could provide to vulnerable populations.

However, leading U.S. bishops recently sent a letter on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to all senators, asking them to change the Graham-Cassidy bill “while retaining its positive features,” because it would result in harm to the poor and chronically ill.

The changes to Medicaid could cut coverage for people relying on the program, the bishops said, or it could burden some states with additional costs and responsibilities that they may not be equipped to handle. If a state is facing a budget deficit and federal Medicaid funds are cut, state programs for low-income populations could also be cut, the bishops said.

The pro-life provisions are laudable and must be kept if the bill is amended, the bishops added.

Miller explained that the bill raises important questions for American Catholics: when a Catholic is considering health care policy, what are the principles of health care that the Church teaches, and how should a Catholic understand statements by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as other Catholic groups?

When the U.S. bishops’ conference releases a statement on a “prudential application of the Church’s teaching,” there is “more leeway” to respect a statement without feeling obliged to assent to it, Miller said.

However, while bishops’ conferences themselves do not “share in the Church’s magisterium,” he said, typically they “draw from what is already the established teaching of the Church” on topics like human rights.

When Catholic groups of laity issue a statement on policy, he said, “less deference is required, because by definition you’re not dealing with the magisterium at that point.”

On the question of health care, “the Church really, clearly teaches that health care is a right,” Miller said, and Pope St. John XXIII clearly stated this in his encyclicals Mater et Magistra (1961) and Pacem in Terris (1963).

Paragraph 2288 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church also lists providing health care as among the obligations of a society to its citizens:

“Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.”

If one cannot work to obtain these essential things, Miller said, “you have a right to have these provided for you in some other way.” And, he said, “I think the same thing would easily apply to health care.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean one has a “right” to the “most advanced, most expensive forms of treatment,” Miller said, but it would probably mean one has a right to care “typically available to those who have kind of normal health insurance.”

The Church does not state how, specifically, health care must be made available to everyone, Miller said, and so the question to be decided is “what’s going to work?”

Also significant, the Church does not say that the state cannot be involved in the financing of health care, Miller said. “The Popes have sufficiently made it clear,” he said, “that at least sometimes, the state has a necessary role to play in these kinds of matters.”

He pointed to Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Centessimus Annus (1991) in which the Pope said that the state had, “under certain kinds of circumstances,” a role in providing “Social Security-type assistance for its citizens,” and this “would include in the area of health care.”

Governments in many countries are heavily involved in health care financing, and the Church has not spoken out against those policies, he said.

Although the Church does not endorse a certain system of health care, it teaches that such a just system should involve various sectors of society, and should make a “typical standard of health care available.”

If one cannot obtain this care, “then, morally-speaking, we have a problem,” he said.

Regarding the principle of subsidiarity of Catholic social teaching, it is “widely misunderstood,” especially in the health care debate, Miller said.

The Catechism explains that according to the principle of subsidiarity “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life in the community of a lower order...but rather should support it in case of need.”  Thought sometimes understood to mean that the federal government should simply stay out of the affairs of state and local governments, that is not necessarily true, Miller said.

Rather, “it’s a question of larger communities playing the role of helping smaller communities be ever more fully themselves,” he said, “providing them with assistance of various kinds” without “taking over.”

Again, he said, there are examples of countries where the government is involved “somewhat heavily” in the area of health care, and it is indeed “an option” under the Catholic principles of health care, provided the state does not mandate the provision of any care or procedures that would be immoral, like euthanasia or abortion.

 

Most children in orphanages aren't actually orphans. This group wants to help them.

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 05:20

Baltimore, Md., Sep 26, 2017 / 03:20 am (CNA).- Shannon Senefeld always assumed that children in orphanages are mostly orphans. Most people make that assumption.

When Senefeld found out this was not the case, she was shocked.

In fact, the vast majority of children in orphanages around the world – between 80 and 90 percent – have at least one living parent or other family member, usually someone who loves them and wants them, Senefeld told CNA.

In some cases, families may not have the knowledge or equipment to care for a child with a disability, and orphanages offer specialized services.

Far more often, however, families simply lack resources, such as funds for education or health care, and believe that their child will have better access to these resources in an orphanage.

It’s a problem that is largely unrecognized – by donors, government officials, and members of the general public. But Senefeld and her colleagues want to change that.

Senefeld is the Senior Vice President for Overseas Operations at Catholic Relief Services. Together with Lumos and Maestral International – two organizations that work to protect vulnerable children, especially in institutions and welfare systems – they have released a plan to reunite children in orphanages with their families.

The proposal, entitled “Changing the Way We Care,” would turn orphanages into family support centers, using existing resources to provide services that parents need to care for their own children, at home.

Earlier this month, their proposal was selected from nearly 2,000 entries as one of four finalists in the 100&Change competition, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation. The winning project, which will be announced in December, will win a $100 million grant, with the goal of making “measurable progress toward solving a significant problem” in the world today.

Senefeld explained that “a lot of children living in orphanages maintain contact with their family,” maybe visiting them once a year if they can afford it.

Many times, parents will send their child to an orphanage out of poverty-driven desperation, hoping to return when their financial situation stabilizes.

“They might be thinking it’s a temporary situation,” Senefeld said, but frequently, parents are never able to pull together the resources to get their child back.

Meanwhile, children in orphanages slowly lose ties with their communities. Studies show that children raised in institutions have substantially higher rates of social and emotional problems than other children, Catholic Relief Services said. Children in orphanages are six times more likely to be exposed to violence, and four times more likely to be sexually abused than children raised in families.

Further complicating the situation, many orphanages operate outside of government regulations, and lack sufficient record-keeping practices, which can make it difficult to track children and reconnect them with their parents.

International adoptions initiated by couples in the United States and most other western countries are subject to strict protocols, designed to ensure that children are legally and ethically available for adoption, and that the rights of natural parents have been respected. However, not all countries observe these protocols.

The ultimate solution to the orphanage crisis is family care, Senefeld said.

Family care is not only the best option for the child’s well-being, but also the most cost-effective option, she explained. “It costs about 10 times as much to raise a child in an orphanage as it does in a community setting in their home country.”

“We want to get those kids back into their family,” Senefeld stressed. For those who truly are orphans, this means finding other relatives, or placing them in foster or adoption care.

“What’s most important for us is that the child is in a family,” she said.

“Many of the orphanages are run by really well-meaning people,” Senefeld emphasized, adding that they often have developed expertise in specialized services for children with disabilities.

Catholic Relief Services hopes to connect caregivers directly with families, so they can use their expertise to train parents and to provide services in a community setting.

Also critical to the success of the project, Senefeld and her colleagues hope to work with governments to ensure that policies are put in place to prevent abusive practices, such as the trafficking of children.

“We want the government to actually support family-based care,” she said. In some countries, the government offers orphanages a stipend for each child. Catholic Relief Services would like to see those stipends redirected to foster care or similar models.

Donors are a critical part of the picture as well. Individuals, faith communities and governments need to be educated about how to best help vulnerable children, Senefeld said. Rather than funding the construction of new orphanages overseas, their donations can be more effective in directly meeting children’s needs in their own homes.

If Catholic Relief Services wins the 100&Change challenge, they hope to implement the family care model in seven different countries – Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon and Moldova – each with its own family, government, and cultural situations.

“People say, ‘That’s great, but it wouldn’t work in my country’,” Senefeld said. “This is a great way to show that this model works in a variety of different countries.”

In fact, the family care model is working in a number of different countries already. For example, with the support of the government, Catholic Church, and a number of other non-profit groups, Rwanda is on track to close all of its orphanages and place the children there in family care settings.

The $100 million grant would be a huge step in allowing for a larger, coordinated effort for a global shift toward family-based care for children currently in orphanages.

While Senefeld would love to see Catholic Relief Services’ proposal win the grant, she said that simply being chosen as one of the top entries has already been a significant victory in drawing attention to the situation. 

“For us, this has been a huge opportunity to just let people know,” she explained. “I think it was a hidden issue.”

Ultimately, she said, it’s a matter of achieving justice for the 8 million children growing up in institutions worldwide.

“It’s definitely challenging, but it’s definitely doable.”

 

New climate commission could advance human dignity, US bishops tell Congress

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The United States should create a commission to combat the harms of climate change and promote human dignity as a whole, the U.S. bishops said in a letter to Congress.

“The Church calls for courageous actions and strategies aimed at promoting an integral ecology that considers together the protection of nature, the need for equitable economic development and the promotion of human dignity, especially that of the poor,” the chairmen of two bishops’ conference committees said in a Sept. 15 letter to Congress.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops backed the Climate Solutions Commission Act of 2017, which would establish a bipartisan National Climate Solutions Commission. The bill, H.R. 2326, was introduced by U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

“This bill has the potential to inspire positive and concrete solutions towards protecting our common home,” said the bishops’ letter.

The joint letter was signed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chair of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

They characterized the legislation as “an important bipartisan step for protecting the environment and mitigating the harmful effects of climate change.”

Bishops Dewane and Cantu stressed the Catholic Church’s consistent emphasis on “the importance of pursuing environmental solutions that are beneficial to all people.”

They cited Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,” which stressed the urgent need for policies to reduce carbon dioxide and other polluting gases. During his September 2015 visit to the U.S., the Pope encouraged the U.S. Congress to work to “avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”

 

 

 

Trump administration announces changes to travel ban

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 18:42

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2017 / 04:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Just weeks before the Supreme Court was to hear a challenge to the Trump administration’s travel ban, the administration announced new restrictions to the ban on Sunday.

“Following an extensive review by the Department of Homeland Security, we are taking action today to protect the safety and security of the American people by establishing a minimum security baseline for entry into the United States,” President Donald Trump stated on Sunday.

“Our government's first duty is to its people, to our citizens – to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values,” Trump stated.
 
On Sunday evening, the Trump administration announced it was continuing the travel ban indefinitely just before it was set to expire, expanding the number of countries of restricted travel to eight, as part of “enhanced national security measures.” It also set new security standards for other countries to help the U.S. vet visa applicants and immigrants.

In March, President Donald Trump had signed an executive order “on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” It was a revision from his January executive
order on immigration.

In the revised order, foreign nationals from six countries would be temporarily barred from travelling to the U.S. except in special cases. The countries were Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and the Sudan.

Then before the travel ban was set to expire on Sunday evening, the administration increased the number of restricted countries to eight, dropping the Sudan and adding North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela. The policy will be continued indefinitely, and the new countries experiencing “certain travel limitations and restrictions” will be added to the list on Oct. 18.

The administration also announced that it would, “for the first time in history,” set up minimum standards for other countries to comply with, for vetting of visa applicants and immigrants looking to travel to the U.S.

President Trump said the revised policy would improve U.S. national security and establish “a minimum security baseline for entry into the United States.”

“We cannot afford to continue the failed policies of the past, which present an unacceptable danger to our country,” Trump stated. “My highest obligation is to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and in issuing this new travel order, I am fulfilling that sacred
obligation.”

The March executive order on immigration had directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to investigate whether “additional information would be needed from each foreign country” to issue
visas and admit immigrants.

Then in July, the administration said it came up with new minimum standards for other countries, with regard to the vetting of visa applicants and other immigrants. The standards related to the issuing of electronic passports, “sharing criminal data” and helping identify
potential security threats to the U.S. looking to enter.

The administration gave countries 50 days “to work with the United States to make improvements” to their existing standards.

According to the administration, the eight countries remaining on the restricted travel list “remain currently inadequate in their identity-management protocols and information-sharing practices or present sufficient risk factors that travel restrictions are required.”

The countries can be removed from the list once they comply. Iraq, however, did not comply with the standards but Trump “determined” that “entry restrictions are not warranted.”

Iraq was originally on a list of countries with restricted travel in the President’s first executive order on immigration in January, but was not listed in the revised executive order in March, reportedly because of a deal with the U.S. to accept Iraqi nationals living in the U.S. who had been given a final order of removal from an immigration judge, in exchange for being removed from the list.

A challenge to the constitutionality of the previous order was scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on Oct. 10 in oral arguments. However, the court canceled those arguments after
Sunday’s revisions were announced.

Bishop Joe Vasquez, chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration and refugee services committee, had voiced serious concerns before about the travel and refugee bans. The immigration executive order had also shut down refugee admissions for 120 days and set a cap on refugee admissions for FY 2017 at 50,000, less than half of the 110,000 set as a goal by the previous administration.


Bishop Vasquez said he was “deeply troubled by the human consequences of the revised executive order on refugee admissions and the travel ban,” saying it “still leaves many innocent lives at risk.”

“The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” he said. Yet the current refugee resettlement process is secure, with “the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States.”

Lawyers and advocates for Muslim immigrants said on Monday that the administration’s new travel ban still constitutes a “Muslim ban” since most of the eight countries’ populations are Muslim-majority, and that Trump had on the campaign trail proposed a ban on Muslims seeking to the enter the U.S.

There are also reports that the administration will consider lowering its cap on refugees even more in the next fiscal year, to below 50,000. The new quota is expected to be announced by the
end of September.

How do we heal racial tensions? Start by admitting errors, US bishop says

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 18:12

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2017 / 04:12 pm (CNA).- To address the longstanding racial divide within the United States – and within the Catholic Church in the country – Catholics should learn more about the history of that divide, and honestly engage with that history, and with others attempting to tackle similar issues themselves.

“Don’t whitewash the misdeeds and silence of our history,” said Bishop Edward Braxton, of Belleville, Ill. in a Sept. 21 lecture at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Braxton urged participants to teach children the history of the Catholic Church – including parts of the history which are painful or shameful – “not to belittle those people, not to harshly judge them as bad people, but to understand but they are all people of our own era and history and if they have blind spots so do we.”

The bishop's talk was one of two held at the university on the theme of the racial divide in the United States and the Church. The first talk, which focused more on how to address the racial divide, was part of a “teach in” sponsored by the university’s National Catholic School of Social Service, and a second talk, part of the campus Theology on Tap program, discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and how Catholics can respond to racism.

Bishop Braxton, originally from Chicago, is the bishop of Belleville, Ill., outside of his hometown, and one of nine African-American bishops in the United States.

The bishop’s talks discussed what he described as the “flaw at the foundation” of racial relations in America – particularly within the American Church – and how it lead to many of the tensions seen today in American politics.

Bishop Braxton pointed to the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, which in 1857 ruled that African-Americans could not be citizens. That opinion was penned by Chief Justice Robert Taney – a Catholic.

The bishop also noted that some American bishops in the years leading up to the Civil War actively opposed abolition efforts. Furthermore, early American bishops and religious organizations, such as Bishop John Carroll and the Jesuits, owned slaves themselves

These actions, the bishop said, beg the question “Is there a flaw at the foundation?” of racial relations. He added that many Catholic churches and religious orders remained segregated after slavery’s end.

This history has impacted both the African-American Catholic community and the Church’s efforts to evangelize within the broader African-American community, he said. On top of that, the Church’s previous efforts to address the racial divide, such as the 1979 pastoral letter “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” have yet to be fully implemented.

Knowing this “painful, shameful history,” Bishop Braxton said, is necessary for the Church to help the country heal its racial divides in the future. “We can’t rewrite history. We must acknowledge it and never repeat it,” he told the crowds.  

Pointing to the shortfalls and blind spots of those who came before is not judgment, he said, nor does admitting flaws pose a threat to the universal teachings of the Church. “We don’t know what we would have done in the 1840s or ’50s or ’60s,” Bishop Braxton reminded listeners, and even saints “have blind spots.” Instead, acknowledging the full truth and history can help us to appreciate the fullness of the task ahead of us and make us more attentive to the moral blind spots and shortfalls of our own age.

With the need for a comprehensive education on race in mind, Bishop Braxton urged Catholic schools – seminaries in particular – to educate children and future priests on American and Catholic history regarding race, and urged all Catholics to learn more about African-Americans who have open causes for canonization.

While education is a key component in mending the racial divide, so too is engaging and listening to others involved in similar efforts, Bishop Braxton said. He urged Catholics at both talks to “Listen. Learn. Think. Pray. Act.” and shared his own experiences dialoguing with members of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Before discussing the movement itself, Bishop Braxton noted that he does not believe that “Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter are necessarily incompatible.”

However, he continued the “point of Black Lives Matter is that some in the African American community face existential threats that cannot be ignored.”

Pointing to those concerns in particular – such as the increased likelihood for African Americans to face violence during routine police interactions, while other offenders like Dylan Roof can be apprehended without being shot – does not negate that other issues of human dignity exist, he said. “In this instance, while all lives matter, their lives are in peril.”

He also explained that while there are Catholics within the Black Lives Matter movement, and that not all members hold the same views, many within the movement are cautious when dealing with the Church because of some of its history.  

Some members perceive the Church as being opposed to addressing the racial issues the movement sees as a problem, he said. In addition, Bishop Braxton explained that many – though not all – members of the movement have fundamental differences with the Church on matters of sexuality, marriage and abortion.

Bishop Braxton challenged the movement to address the issue of abortion in particular, affirming the life of the unborn child, and noting that the “alarmingly” high number of abortions within the African-American community brings “an abrupt end to the nascent black lives in their mothers’ wombs. Those lives also matter.”

By listening and learning from the members of Black Lives Matter within his community, Bishop Braxton said that he was also able to explain the richness of the Church’s social teaching and its applicability to issues of race, poverty and discrimination. “I also pointed out that Catholic beliefs on marriage, the meaning of human sexuality and the dignity of human life from conception to natural death are not mere cultural norms or social issues,” he added. “These beliefs represent what the Church holds to be fundamental moral principles, natural law, biblical revelation and the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Overall, conversations like this have been fruitful and can provide a way for engagement in addressing the racial divide, Bishop Braxton offered. “They did not lead to agreement on every point, but they lead to a focus on the need to be open to hear those with whom we disagree with an open mind and an open heart.”  

 

 

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