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Push to expand surrogacy practices in US raises questions

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 08:02

Washington D.C., Jun 2, 2018 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A proposal introduced earlier this year aims to expand the practice of surrogacy within the U.S. in an effort to include same-sex couples as surrogate parents and to loosen state supervision over surrogacy contracts.

The measure was proposed by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) with the goal of updating the Uniform Parentage Act, which provides the current model legislation for the legal rights of surrogacy practices within the U.S.

A recent article by Professor Helen Alvare was published by the Institute for Family Studies which addresses the contention over the new push to remove state involvement with surrogacy practices, as well as opening the door to surrogacy for same-sex parents.

Alvare outlined the traditional route for parentage laws in the U.S., which were determined by virtue of the mother’s giving birth to the child and the biological relationship between them, while the father’s legal rights were determined by his biological relationship with the child.

Parentage laws became more complicated over time with the introduction of surrogacy, a process which includes multiple parties – a donor egg, a donor sperm, a surrogate womb – in addition to the intending surrogate parents. With the intricacies of such relationships, most states have relied upon courts in governing surrogacy contracts.

However, Alvare notes the new proposal would remove certain language stating couples intending to parent through surrogacy would be made up of one man and one woman, and instead allows surrogacy for parents without regard of sexual orientation. This update would expand surrogacy practices to same-sex couples.

Additionally, the new proposal would eliminate court oversight in surrogacy contracts, essentially removing state supervision from the picture. Currently, most states treat the surrogacy process much like that of adoption, and requires court appearances, a home study, and the chance for the birth mother to change her mind after the baby is born. These requirements would be removed, with the one exception of traditional surrogacy, when the mother can still determine her own parental rights for the first 72 hours after the birth.

Alvare also points out that the ULC, which introduced the updates, also holds views which remain widely disputed among a large portion of citizens and state legislators, including the legality of surrogate motherhood.

While the proposal has been enacted in Washington and Vermont, and introduced in Rhode Island, many still remain sceptical of the measure on the grounds of the controversy surrounding surrogacy itself.

“In addition to facilitating same-sex parenting, the new UPA’s expansion of surrogacy is controversial due to increasing concerns over surrogacy and ART in general,” said Alvare, who is a professor of law at George Mason University.

“The international debate over surrogacy – including its physical and psychological effects upon surrogate mothers and children – is far from over, especially given new films and testimonials recounting the experiences of the women and children involved,” she continued.

Alvare highlighted the various effects which face surrogate mothers, including increased pregnancy risks, such as gestational diabetes, fetal growth restriction, pre-eclampsia, and premature birth.

Other studies have shown the significant emotional attachment that a surrogate mother has with the baby, making their pregnancy a “high-risk emotional experience,” according to researchers in the Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine.

Dr. Jennifer Lahl at the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network believes that surrogacy “is another form of the commodification of women’s bodies…and degrades a pregnancy to a service and a baby to a product.”

Abuses, including fraud and exploitation of poor women, as well as lawsuits, have also been commonly associated with the surrogacy process, leaving many to wonder why state supervision would be removed in the new UPA measure.

The Catholic Church taught about the moral problems with surrogacy in the 1987 instruction Donum vitae, in which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that surrogacy “represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love,” calling it a “detriment” to the family and the dignity of the human person by divorcing “physical, psychological and moral elements which constitutes those families.”

The United Nations also condemned surrogacy in 2015.

In an age of #MeToo, women take a ‘second look’ at the sexual revolution

Fri, 06/01/2018 - 18:43

Washington D.C., Jun 1, 2018 / 04:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Fifty years after the sexual revolution promised female empowerment through casual sex “without consequences,” scholars are looking into the far-reaching social effects of that revolution.

“Unlike our forerunners in 1968, those of us living today now have access to something they didn't -- 50 years of sociological, psychological, medical, and other evidence about the revolution's fallout,” said author and scholar Mary Eberstadt in the opening speech at a conference entitled, “The #MeToo Moment: Second Thoughts on the Sexual Revolution.”

“The time has come to examine some of that evidence,” said Eberstadt.
Eight female scholars presented research on birth control, infertility, the hook-up culture, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, surrogacy, and sex trafficking at the May 31 conference, co-sponsored by the Catholic Women’s Forum and Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture.

“The #MeToo movement has forced us to confront the reality that when it comes to sexual politics, women remain very much at risk," said Dr. Suzanne Hollman, a professor of clinical psychology at George Washington University.

Seventy-eight percent of women said they regretted their most recent hookup encounter, according to a 2012 study cited by Hollman.

When Dr. Monique Chireau was in medical school at Brown University training to be an obstetrician-gynecologist 20 years ago, cases of venereal warts were extremely uncommon.

“Now it is a common disease,” said Chireau, who discussed the rise in sexually transmitted diseases and their lasting effects. Sexually transmitted diseases have reached an all-time high in California, according to data released by the California Department of Public Health earlier this month, which showed more than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2017. These sexually transmitted diseases can lead to infertility, explained Chireau.

“Women spend [their] 20s trying to avoid pregnancy and their 30s trying to become pregnant,” said Dr. Marguerite Duane, an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University in her discussion of research on birth control versus fertility awareness based methods.

“The explosion of sexual activity thanks to the pill has also been accompanied by levels of divorce, cohabitation, and abortion never seen before in history,” observed Eberstadt. “It has also, as the #MeToo movement shows, contributed to a world in which 24/7 sex is assumed to be a sexual norm to the detriment of those who resist any advance for any reason."

“The belief that sex is a casual, non-intimate, recreational, adversarial behavior” and pornography use among men are two of the main predictors of sexual violence against women, said another psychologist, Mary Anne Layden, who has treated both rapists and rape victims in her cognitive therapy practice.

Pornography provides the “perfect learning environment” to train men to force sex on women, deafening their ability to perceive consent, according to Layden, who directs the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

She cited multiple studies that have found that pornography’s overwhelmingly violent content leads to violence against women.

One study of students 18 to 21 years old found that the earlier the male child was exposed to pornography, the more likely it is that he will engage in non-consenting sex as a young adult.

“The libertarian conceit that pornography is a victimless crime is over,” said Eberstadt, who called pornography “the sexual revolution’s bastard son.”

The sexual revolution empowered “the already strong and makes the weaker parties more vulnerable than before. This is true, for example, of the young women who were recruited for and demeaned by egg harvesting,” continued Eberstadt. “It is true of the women and children exploited in the frightening rush to normalize prostitution.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found an 846 percent increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking online in a period of only five years, said Professor Mary Leary, who specializes in criminal law and human trafficking and teaches at The Catholic University of America.

Women are also being exploited in the surrogacy industry, another arena in which “bodies are commodified,” explained Jennifer Lahl, the founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl has testified at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on surrogacy and egg trafficking.

“The global fertility industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar a year industry,” said Lahl. “Earlier this week, Market Watch announced this industry will reach $30 billion dollars by 2023.”

"As the years go by we have larger sample sizes and more studies being published, we are learning more and more about the very real harms to women who serve as surrogates or egg donors and also the children that were born of these technologies,”  Lahl explained.

“Bodies of women in particular are valued for their reproductive capacities -- their eggs, their wombs. Children become objects of design and manufacture when highly desirable eggs are sought from women of certain intelligence, features, capabilities are brought together with carefully picked sperm and often gestated by another woman, even a stranger in another country, a third world country,” she continued.

“This is the largest social human experiment of our time -- we are learning as we go of the harms to women and children. Where else in medicine do we allow such things to happen?” asked Lahl.

Gendercide is another global consequence of the sexual revolution’s promotion of abortion, said Mary Eberstadt. “Around the planet millions more unborn girls are killed every year than boys. They are killed because they are girls.”

“This grotesque outcome could not have been foreseen half a century ago, but we see it now. It is as anti-female as it is possible to be,” she continued.

In responding to the victims of the sexual revolution, the Church must remember that “our responsibility is healing,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. in a keynote address.

The cardinal encouraged Catholics to reach out to reach out through encounter and “accompaniment of this generation.”

“Our task is not only to have clear in our mind the teaching, but to be able to reach out to them in a way that they begin to hear us,” he said.

Bishop Murry released from hospital following chemo treatment

Fri, 06/01/2018 - 16:43

Youngstown, Ohio, Jun 1, 2018 / 02:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, Ohio was released from the Cleveland Clinic Tuesday evening, following a month of intensive chemotherapy treatment, the diocese said.

“Diagnosed with acute Leukemia earlier in the month, Bishop Murry’s physicians are pleased with his response to chemotherapy and the leukemia cells have been suppressed. He will return to the clinic weekly to monitor his recovery,”the diocese said in a statement May 30.

The statement said that the bishop is grateful for the prayers of the community, but cannot currently receive visitors or calls.

Bishop Murry was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic on April 29 for four weeks of intensive chemotherapy.

Following his leukemia diagnosis, the bishop stepped down from his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, which was established last year, as well as his role as chair of the conference’s Committee on Catholic Education.

Bishop Murry was born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1948. He entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1972, and was ordained to the priesthood seven years later. Murry holds a M.Div. degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California, and a Ph.D. in American Cultural History from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

He served in administrative roles in two Washington, D.C., high schools, as well as serving as a professor of American Studies at Georgetown University and as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. In 1998, the pope appointed him Coadjutor Bishop of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and on June 30, 1999, appointed him bishop of the diocese.

Bishop Murry has led the Youngstown diocese since 2007.

Iowa judge temporarily blocks heartbeat abortion ban

Fri, 06/01/2018 - 13:28

Des Moines, Iowa, Jun 1, 2018 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Iowa judge is temporarily blocking the state’s newly-signed “heartbeat bill” from going into effect, he announced on Friday.

Judge Michael Huppert issued a temporary injunction against the law after a coalition of pro-abortion groups filed suit, saying it was unconstitutional.

The law, which bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat - usually around the sixth week of pregnancy - was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) in early May. Limited exceptions for abortion would be allowed in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or to protect the health of the mother.

In a statement after signing the bill, Gov. Reynolds said that while there would likely be legal challenges to the law, she will “not back down.”

“This is bigger than just a law, this is about life,” she said.

Shortly after the passage of the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union as well as Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed suit to block the bill. Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, said that he would not defend the bill in court because he does not agree with it.

Instead, the state will be represented by the Thomas More Society, a pro-life national public interest law firm.

The law was set to go into effect on July 1. Now, the attorneys representing the state hope the law will go quickly before a judge, who will determine whether or not it is constitutional.

Prior to the passage of this bill, abortion was legal in Iowa until the 20th week of pregnancy.

The Iowa bill is part of a wave of pro-life legislation in recent months.

On Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed a bill that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks in the state. The Louisiana law is modeled after a similar measure in Mississippi, and will go into effect only if a federal judge upholds the Mississippi law, the Associated Press reported.

 

Maine bishop had 'no alternative' but to leave state ecumenical group

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 18:01

Portland, Maine, May 31, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the Maine Council of Churches changed its decision-making process earlier this year, the Bishop of Portland was forced to withdraw from the group, the Portland Press-Herald reported Tuesday.

The council had previously required unanimous agreement before advocating on a public policy issue, but in February adopted a simple majority vote. This meant that continued membership in the group could have forced the Diocese of Portland to be represented by views at odds with Catholic teaching.

Bishop Robert Deeley wrote to Bonny Rodden, president of the Maine Council of Churches, to announce the withdrawal of the Portland diocese, Gillian Graham wrote in the Portland Press-Herald May 29.

“As the Bishop of the Diocese I find this unfortunate, but I see no alternative. Our continuing participation could result in me advocating for two different, and even contradictory, positions,” Bishop Deeley wrote, according to the Press-Herald.

“What I advocate for cannot be simply determined by a majority vote. It is expected that my advocacy is grounded in the teachings of the Church. Any other position would be contrary to my responsibility as the bishop of Portland.”

The bishop added that “As we do with the many activities of our parish communities and, of course, the tremendous good done by Catholic Charities, we will be working to serve the needs of the poor, the disadvantaged and the migrants among us, and keep before the people of our state the need to serve the common good through our care for one another.”

The members of the Maine Council of Churches, found in 1938, “act as one voice to advocate for the disenfranchised, the downtrodden and the protection of God’s creation,” according to the organization's website.

The Maine Council of Churches currently says it has seven member denominations: Episcopal, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Quakers.

The Diocese of Portland had joined the council in 1982. The Press-Herald reported that its membership will officially end June 30.

Jane Field, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, told the Portland Press-Herald that the decision to change the council's decision-making process came amid disagreements over LBGTQ issues. Field is a minister at a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

During debates over same-sex marriage, the council would not take a stand, “in order to keep everyone at the table,” she said. “When it came to certain areas, in particular issues affecting the LGBTQ community, they would invoke this practice (of staying silent)”.

In a March 14 letter to the editor in the Portland Press-Herald, Field wrote, in her capacity as executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, that “Sexual orientation and gender identity are a gift from God – not a condition that needs treatment, not a choice that needs conversion, not something broken that needs repair.”

Field said there is a “deep sadness” over the Portland diocese's decision to leave the council, “but at the same time, I feel the council still has a vital role to play in the state. I believe we will find ourselves side by side with the diocese on certain issues like hunger and human trafficking.”

The Catholic Church is the largest religious institution in the state. In 2010, the Diocese of Portland included 203,000 persons, while there were nearly 94,000 mainline Protestants in Maine.

Minn. archbishop hopeful that abuse settlement will help bring healing

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 16:35

St. Paul, Minn., May 31, 2018 / 02:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Announcing a $210 million agreement with sexual abuse victims, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis said he hopes the settlement will mark a new beginning for abuse survivors and the local Church.

“With the settlement today, we reaffirm our efforts to protect children and vulnerable adults,” Archbishop Hebda said at a May 31 press conference.

“Even in this moment of taking another step toward providing justice to survivors of abuse, we know our work in this regard is not complete,” he said. “Our Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment team will continue its work on demonstrable actions to ensure that our churches, schools and communities are safe places for all.”

He noted that the December 2015 child safety policies established by the archdiocese – which include training every volunteer and employee who works with children about how to recognize and prevent abuse – continue to be the national standard for maintaining safe environments.

Thanking the victims who have come forward to share their stories, he offered an apology on behalf of the Church.

“I recognize that the abuse stole so much from you – your childhood, your innocence, your safety, your ability to trust, and in many cases, your faith,” he said, voicing hope that the settlement, which comes after more than two years of deliberation, will bring closure for victims and allow them to take the next step in the healing process.

The agreement announced by the archdiocese Thursday includes a plan for abuse compensation as well as for bringing the archdiocese out of bankruptcy.

The amount of the settlement is $210 million, said Tom Abood, chair of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, who negotiated the agreement. This is an increase of more than $50 million from the proposal that the archdiocese had originally submitted.

In January 2015, the archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy, saying many abuse claims had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

The initial plan proposed by the archdiocese included $156 million for survivors who filed claims. That plan would have drawn about $120 million in insurance settlements and $30 million from the archdiocese and some of its parishes. Victims’ attorneys said it was inadequate and did not include insurers and parishes sufficiently.

In January 2018, a federal bankruptcy judge ordered a return to mediation for all the parties involved.

Under the final plan, the majority of the money – about $170 million – comes from insurance carriers for the archdiocese and individual parishes. The other $40 million is from diocesan and parish sources, such as cash-on-hand and the sale of interests in land.

Details of the final plan will be released in the coming days, Abood said.

Sources close to the archdiocese told CNA that between 33 and 40 percent of the settlement amount is likely to be consumed by plaintiffs' attorney fees.

According to attorney Jeff Anderson, whose firm represents the abuse survivors, this is the largest settlement ever reached in a Catholic abuse case.

Anderson said that 450 survivors were included in the bankruptcy reorganization case, and 91 offenders were exposed and listed as credibly accused offenders who had never before been listed and exposed.

Jim Keenan, who was sexually abused by a priest at age 13, called the settlement “an absolute triumph” for victims.

He emphasized the need for continued vigilance in preventing abuse, but added, “I do believe we have made the world safer in terms of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.”

Marie Milke, another victim, spoke about the power of healing that renewed her desire to be alive.

“We’re all aware of bad priests, but I have to acknowledge a few good priests,” she added, pointing to her uncle, who is a priest, and two other priests who fight for victims. “I think it’s important to know that there are still good priests, I want to thank you for not being afraid and to keep fighting for us.”

Abood noted that this settlement will bring a resolution to all pending abuse litigation against the archdiocese, parishes, and other Church entities.

Archbishop Hebda said he hopes that the settlement, which will also complete the archdiocese’s bankruptcy process, can mark a new beginning and allow for atonement, healing and restoration of trust.

“I sure hope, for those who have been harmed in the past, that this brings closure for them,” he said, stressing that the Church wants to be partners in healing, and not adversaries.

“I ask that we enter this new day together, in hope and in love,” he said.
 

 

Philly mom feels 'rejected' by ban on referrals to Catholic foster agency

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 16:31

Philadelphia, Pa., May 31, 2018 / 02:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Over the past 25 years, Sharonell Fulton has been a mother to more than 40 children through foster parenting in Philadelphia.

She has opened her heart and home to children who have suffered abuse and trauma, offering them an oasis of love and comfort during tumultuous times.

“I have devoted my life to opening my home as a safe harbor,” Fulton wrote in an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer May 24.

“For the last 25 years, I have sheltered and loved more than 40 children, helping them piece their lives together and move on from hurt-filled pasts,” she said. “It was my faith that led me to become a foster mother to children, particularly children that society had abused and discarded.”

When Philadelphia recently severed ties with Catholic Social Services, Fulton said that she felt fully “the pain of rejection.” Fulton, who had been using the Catholic Social Services program for her own foster parenting, said that seeing “the city condemn the foster agency that has made possible my life’s work fills me with pain.”

On March 15, Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass authorized an investigation into organizations which do not place foster children in the care of LGBTQ individuals, on the grounds of discrimination. Among the organizations, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Human Services found Catholic Social Services at fault, saying their foster placement was discriminatory, and cut ties with the faith-based agency.

“As a single mom and woman of color, I’ve known a thing or two about discrimination over the years,” Fulton remarked.

“But I have never known vindictive religious discrimination like this, and I feel the fresh sting of bias watching my faith publicly derided by Philadelphia’s politicians,” she continued.

Fulton also underscored the hypocrisy in the city’s recent decision to sever their connection with Catholic Social Services, since Philadelphia had announced a growing and dire need for more foster families only weeks before.

The opioid crisis in Philadelphia has contributed significantly to the immediate need of foster families in the city, as many parents have fallen victim to the drug epidemic. Fulton said that there are “rosters of children without safe homes” because of the widespread crisis.

“Last year, [Catholic Social Services] supervised more than 100 foster homes, and its service to at-risk children in the city goes back more than an entire century,” Fulton said.

“Why deny that service when homes for vulnerable children are needed now more than ever? The fate of hundreds of children and foster families hang in the balance.”

In light of the recent ban on Catholic Social Services, Fulton has joined a number of other foster families in suing the city on the grounds of religious discrimination. If the city declines to renew its current contract with Catholic Social Services, which ends in June, there is a chance the foster children placed by CSS will be uprooted from their homes.

Fulton expressed concern over the lawsuit, saying that if the contract is not renewed, she will “worry every night” about her foster children, particularly the two special-needs kids who are currently under her care. She has spent a lot of time building up a trusting relationship with them and noted that they require significant devotion because of their extensive needs.

“To know that the City of Philadelphia may soon take from me the work that brings me the greatest joy frightens me. And to think that the city would rather score political points than to offer true hope and a future to our city’s most vulnerable children makes me angry,” said Fulton.

“The 6,000 and counting at-risk children waiting in Philadelphia’s foster care system deserve much better than having their futures jeopardized by our city’s leaders playing politics. They deserve hope, they deserve love, they deserve a city doing all it can to find them a home.”

Abuse survivors, Twin Cities archdiocese reach settlement in bankruptcy case

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 14:23

St. Paul, Minn., May 31, 2018 / 12:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After more than two years’ deliberation, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and abuse survivors have agreed to a plan for abuse compensation as well as for bringing the archdiocese out of bankruptcy.

A statement released on Thursday by Jeff Anderson & Associates law firm, which represents the abuse survivors, called the settlement the “largest settlement ever reached in a Catholic bankruptcy case”, though they did not at the time disclose a dollar amount.

A source close to the archdiocese told CNA May 31 that the settlement amount reached was $210 million.

In the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the U.S. Bishop’s Conference in 2002, the bishops committed to full transparency on abuse settlement amounts. The charter notes that dioceses "are not to enter into settlements which bind the parties to confidentiality unless the victim/survivor requests confidentiality and this request is noted in the text of the agreement."

Sources close to the archdiocese told CNA that between 33 and 40 percent of the settlement amount is likely to be consumed by plaintiffs' attorney fees.

Anderson and abuse victims are holding a press conference, and the archdiocese is expected to do so shortly.

In January 2015 the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, saying many abuse claims had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

The committee representing abuse survivors composed a plan at the time calling for tougher settlements with insurance companies and much larger contributions from the archdiocese. The archdiocese, parishes and insurance companies objected to the plan, saying its effect would be “liquidating” the archdiocese.

From the archdiocese came a proposed plan that included $156 million for survivors who filed claims. The plan would draw about $120 million in insurance settlements and $30 million from the archdiocese and some of its parishes. Victims’ attorneys said it was inadequate and did not include insurers and parishes adequately.

In January 2018, a federal bankruptcy judge ordered a return to mediation for all the parties involved.

The rise of the sex robot: Will technology solve our loneliness problem?

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 05:09

Denver, Colo., May 31, 2018 / 03:09 am (CNA).- Earlier this year, a 25-year-old man smashed his rental van into innocent pedestrians in downtown Toronto on a Tuesday, killing 10 and injuring more than a dozen.

The driver was not part of the usually-suspected terrorist networks. Instead, he was found to be part of the “incels” - short for involuntary celibates - an obscure online community of mostly men who blame women and society for their lack of a sex life. They believe the distribution of sex in the world to be unfair - particularly to them.  

Their once dark and largely-unknown corner of the internet has since garnered some attention following the attack, prompting New York Times columnist Ross Douthat to posit that sex robots will be society’s answer to the incels - the logical way to pacify their lust before they turn more vans on innocent civilians.

“Whether sex workers and sex robots can actually deliver real fulfillment is another matter,” Douthat wrote. “But that they will eventually be asked to do it, in service to a redistributive goal that for now still seems creepy or misogynist or radical, feels pretty much inevitable.”

A subsequent cover story on sex robots featured in New York Magazine noted that some research has predicted that by 2050, sex robots will not just be for the angry incels, but for society at large. People will have - and possibly prefer - intimate relationships to sex robots than to people, the story predicted.

Are we more than an orgasm?

Sr. Mary Patrice Ahearn is a psychologist and a religious sister with the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Alma, Michigan.

Ahearn said that the rise in communities like incels and the prospect of relationships with sex robots points to the fact that society has forgotten God, or the transcendental aspect of the human experience.

“I think what they’re both pointing to, which nobody talks about, is the transcendental desire or part of each of us,” she said. “(W)hen we take out this transcendental part, or dare I say faith or God, you have to fill that void with something.”

People need to seriously grapple with the transcendental ache and longing that they feel in their lives, and come to terms with what that might mean, rather than looking to fill the void with sex robots or other technology, she said.

“So I would ask the question: Is the deepest desire in your heart to be sexually satisfied, to have an orgasm? Is that the deepest desire of my heart? And people have to seriously ask those questions,” she said.

“Everyone has this desire for sex,” Ahearn said, “but so do the cows we drive by on the road, we all have that.”

Not only is society increasingly irreligious and unwilling to acknowledge the transcendental, but humanity is also losing some of the basic bonds of family and friendship to technology, bonds which used to allow people to experience intimacy outside of sexual relationships, she added.

“We’re more connected than ever if you think of technology and all the ways that we can communicate,” she said. But it doesn’t always lead to deeper human relationships because it’s “this constant checking with their devices, just constant restlessness with it.”

The rise of the incels and the sex robot seem to be indications (albeit extreme ones) of another societal problem - we’re really, deeply lonely.

The loneliness problem

Recent research has shown that Americans are lonelier than ever, and technology may be the biggest culprit. A 2016 study found a strong correlation between amounts of time spent on social media and depression in young adults - the longer one lingered on sites like Facebook and Instagram, the more depressed they were.

Last year, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy began warning of a loneliness epidemic, a public health crisis he says has gone largely ignored but that nonetheless has detrimental impacts on people’s physical and emotional well-being.

Just last month, a survey of Americans conducted by Cigna insurance company also found that people are lonelier than ever - especially the young. At least half of the survey respondents identified themselves as lonely, and the average American scored a 44 on the UCLA-created “loneliness” scale, qualifying them as, well, lonely. The Cigna survey also found that how people used social media mattered - those who used it to reach out and make real connections were less lonely than those who just passively scrolled through feeds.

Cristina Barba is the founder and executive director of The Culture Project, an organization which sends teams of young people to high schools and youth groups to “proclaim the dignity of the human person and the richness of living sexual integrity, inviting our culture to become fully alive.”

In their work with young people, Barba said they have found that technology is exacerbating the already-emerging problems of social isolation in American culture to the extreme. Not only are young people more lonely, she said, they often do not know how to make authentic, real-world connections.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Barba told CNA. “The breakdown of family and marriage, families move far apart from each other, people not even having their parish worship communities like they used to...those are all broader societal issues.” “But I think what is most pervasive and most recent is technology,” she added. “Technology has just taken this to the next level, much more quickly.”

Barba’s findings match up with what researcher and psychologist Jean Twenge found among what she calls iGen, the generation after Millennials that grew up never knowing a world without the internet and smartphones.

“Social-networking sites like Facebook promise to connect us to friends. But the portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation,” Twenge said in a September 2017 article for The Atlantic. “Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements ‘A lot of times I feel lonely,’ ‘I often feel left out of things,’ and ‘I often wish I had more good friends.’ Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since,” Twenge said.

The Culture Project itself started out as a community of friends that came together, bonding over the fact that they had tried the culture’s path to happiness in various ways and had found it wanting, Barba noted.

Instead of “sitting around and moaning” about it, Barba said that group of friends decided to do something to make a difference. They started living in community, and forming the mission of The Culture Project, which gives talks to teens throughout the country about chastity and living lives of sexual integrity.

But while community has been a “key pillar” for The Culture Project, they’ve found that technology has made it so that teens today do not know how to form community or even friendships among themselves, let alone romantic relationships.

“We’ve had parents coming to us and say, ok it’s great that you’re talking about virtue and dating, but my kids don’t even know what it means to have a friend. Can you talk about friendship?”

Today’s teens are a generation that has been raised on the internet and social media, Barba said, which means that their idea of friendship equates to that of a follower.

“It’s like a show that you’re putting on,” she said, “it’s people that follow you and people that you follow. It’s not an interaction, the only interaction is to make others jealous, or to be cooler than or to prove yourself. There isn’t actually a meeting of common interests, or someone you do stuff together with, someone you care about. All of those things are lost through social media at a young age.”

'Encounter' as a solution

Culture Project missionaries address the friendship crisis in multiple ways throughout their encounters with teens, Barba said. One of the most effective ways to address this crisis has been simply modeling authentic, healthy friendships among the Culture Project teams.

“It’s actually them seeing the interactions of our missionaries - a couple guys who are normal, fun, attractive young men and women who are a little bit older than them...and they see these people interacting and it’s a beautiful, healthy, normal dynamic of friendship,” she said. “What we model in our interactions is what is profound and shocking to them.”

They also take the time to address social media, and bring to their students’ attention how much time they are probably spending on social media, and how it could be impacting their relationships.

Pornography and sexting - major pitfalls for young adults in a technology driven world - are also important to address.

The idea is not to bash technology, which is a neutral tool, Barba said, but to raise awareness of how addicted they have likely become to their devices, and to offer practical tips to counter that with more human interaction in their lives.

“We just bring to their attention - what are the ways that we use this? And wow, how many hours a day am I really on that?”

The challenge students to do media fasts - whether that’s an hour a day, or even a week, that they don’t use social media, and see how they feel during that time.

They also challenge them to fill that time with real human interaction - and they’ve had to come up with basic friendship guidelines to teach students how to do this.

“We’re literally making suggestions - and I just have to laugh - it’s the way people need dating guides right now, but it’s like friendship guides,” Barba said. “Like what do friends do? You could meet and go to the mall. You could meet and go to the movies. You could meet and go for a walk. I’m not even kidding.”

While the problem is not one that is easily fixed, Barba said she and her missionaries have found that little efforts can make a big difference.

“I think even just providing a space for young people, whether its a physical space or an event, but providing activities they can do together,” she said.

“It’s so basic, just basic human things, like families and parents spending time together. Or basic community, what parish life used to be or should be - people living near each other, that care about each other, that worship together, that have fun together, that have meals together, things like that,” she said.

 

Catholics respond to global forced migration crisis

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 19:06

Washington D.C., May 30, 2018 / 05:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An unprecedented 66 million people worldwide have been forced from their homes by conflict and violence, according to a report released Wednesday the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The May 30 report, “Confronting the Global Migration Crisis”, found that developing countries host the majority of forced migrants, meaning that poor communities which lack resources are supporting a disproportionate amount of refugees and migrants.

Catholic Relief Services staff have seen this occur on the ground in Africa, where the CSIS report documented that “almost 94 percent of all forced migrants in Africa stay in Africa.”

“The refugee crisis has put a tremendous strain on host communities, many of which struggle to meet their own population’s needs. Around 85 percent of refugees are in low or middle income countries. It’s really important to make sure that when we provide support to the displaced that we don’t forget about the needs of the people hosting them,” Emily Wei, the deputy director for policy development at CRS, told CNA.

Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, and Uganda are the countries that hosted the greatest share of refugees in 2016. According to United Nations refugee agency, Uganda hosted more than 1 million South Sudanese refugees in 2017.

“In Uganda,” continued Wei, “Catholic Relief Services is supporting nearly 100,000 people within both the host and refugee communities with shelter, clean water and livelihoods. Refugees and host community members work alongside each other, build houses together.”

CRS has found that building relationships between the host and refugee communities in developing countries helps reduce potential tensions from strained resources.

“As the number of refugees and displaced continues to grow, we need to continue to find ways to help host communities and refugees work together to build a more sustainable future for everyone,” said Wei.

A “forced migrant” falls into one of three categories: refugee, internally displaced person, or asylum seeker. The majority of 66 million people forced from their homes in 2016 were people displaced within their own countries by violent conflict, disaster, or human rights violations. These IDPs made up 40.3 million of forced migrants globally.

The number of refugees, 22.5 million globally in 2016, was the highest it has been since World War II. There were also an additional 3 million people seeking asylum in another country, according the CSIS report authored by Erol K. Yayboke and Aaron N. Milner.

Armed conflicts, political persecution, natural and human-induced disasters, and food insecurity were among the most common drivers of forced migration cited in the report.

Forced migrants are intrinsically vulnerable communities, however the report highlighted that female migrants face “sexual assault and exploitation, rape, child marriage, and all types of violence not only as a cause of their displacement but also during their journey, while simultaneously and independently caring for children.”

When confronting this global crisis, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference Migration and Refugee services representative told CNA that it is important to look toward long term solutions and address the root causes of displacement.

“In this era of unprecedented forced migration, we need to think about durable solutions to ensure people are able to live safely and decently and with their families. This includes looking for peace-building solutions to ensure people who do not want to migrate can also have that chance,” said Ashley Feasley, the director of policy for the U.S. Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services.

“The global Catholic community has long been involved in helping advance this goal - whether it be from resettlement to humanitarian aid and community integration,” Feasley added.

She encouraged Catholics to look to Pope Francis, who encourages the welcoming of those fleeing persecution and displacement. “Catholics here in the US can follow the Holy Father’s example on a local level, through supporting newly arriving immigrants and refugees in the community, and looking to foster encounter with them at their parishes,” encouraged Feasley.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services have put together a toolkit to help parishes celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20. It includes prayers for refugees and an list of specific ways Catholics can engage their local communities to aid refugees.

Did Planned Parenthood cover up child abuse and sex trafficking?

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 18:34

Washington D.C., May 30, 2018 / 04:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 2011, after undercover footage appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials failing to report suspected sex abuse of minors, the organization pledged to do more to train employees to recognize signs of abuse and trafficking.

But according to Ramona Treviño, a former Planned Parenthood manager from Texas, this training did not happen. Instead, Treviño says that she was taught about how to recognize when she was being surreptitiously filmed.

“[The trainer] immediately shot me down and she said, ‘We’re not here to talk about that [identifying sexual abuse victims], Ramona. We’re here to teach you how to identify if you’re being videotaped or recorded or entrapped in any way’,” Treviño said.

Now, Live Action, the investigative group that released the undercover footage in 2011, has a new report alleging that cover up of child sexual abuse and sex trafficking at Planned Parenthood has taken place at locations across the country.

The report, titled “Aiding Abusers: Planned Parenthood’s Cover-Up of Child Sexual Abuse” features nearly two decades-worth of research and contains testimonials from former Planned Parenthood employees, court cases where Planned Parenthood was accused of negligence in failing to report suspected abuse, undercover video footage from prior investigations, and statements from women whose abuse was not reported to authorities by Planned Parenthood.

Live Action is calling for a Congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood to determine just how widespread this issue may be, as well as the removal of all taxpayer funding for the corporation.

As a Title X funding recipient, Planned Parenthood clinics across the country have a legal obligation to report any suspected child abuse. Planned Parenthood receives $60 million each year in Title X funds, although the organization may lose its eligibility for this money under a proposed Trump administration change if it continues to perform abortions.

“Because the cases in this report span many years, it is unknown whether a particular offending Planned Parenthood center or the Planned Parenthood regional affiliate overseeing it was a Title X grant recipient at the time of the offense,” says the report, noting that the cases cited are only known because someone outside Planned Parenthood spoke out.

“This is another reason an HHS investigation needs to be initiated.”

The report cites numerous examples of girls who were under the age of consent and brought to a clinic for an abortion. Girls as young as 12 and 13 received abortions, which were not reported to authorities, Live Action said.

The examples in the report are not localized to any particular region of the country, and some of the cases date back decades.

In 2004, a 16-year-old woman named Denise Fairbanks was brought to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Ohio after she became pregnant following sexual abuse by her father. Despite the fact that Fairbanks told three employees at the Planned Parenthood that she had been forced into sex, this was not reported to authorities, the report said, and she was sent back to her father’s home, where the abuse continued. Her father was later arrested a year and a half later, when her basketball coach uncovered the abuse. She later filed a civil suit in 2007, and settled in 2012.

Similar situations in Washington state, Arizona, California, and Colorado are cited in the report. In the Colorado case, a Planned Parenthood employee said in a deposition that “being 13 and pregnant alone is not a red flag” of sexual abuse. The age of consent in Colorado is 17.

In 2010, a 13-year-old California girl underwent an abortion from Planned Parenthood after she became pregnant when her father, a man named Edgar Ramirez, repeatedly raped her. She told the workers at the clinic that she had gotten pregnant from a made-up boyfriend.

The age of consent in California is 18. It is illegal in the state to have sexual contact with a minor, unless a person is married to that minor.

Instead of going to the authorities, the report says, the victim was advised by a clinic employee to abstain from sex for three weeks after her abortion. Her father continued raping her, and she was pregnant again a few months later.

This time, according to the report, Planned Parenthood gave her an abortion as well as an IUD to prevent any additional pregnancies. Ramirez was eventually arrested after one of his other daughters reported her abuse to the police.

Testimony from former employees, including clinic managers, suggested an indifference to the legal requirement that the clinics report sexual abuse to authorities.

“We were all required to be mandatory reporters, but, if we saw a case – questionable abuse or even for sure, I mean, this kid is being abused – we really were discouraged from calling it in, just because they didn’t want to have the trouble – the angry parent, the angry boyfriend, whatever it was,” said Sue Thayer, a former Planned Parenthood manager from Storm Lake, Iowa. “So, more than once I was told, ‘No, that is not reportable. You don’t need to call it in.’”

Monica Cline, a former health educator who helped train employees at Planned Parenthood in the southwest, said that she believes the organization did not actually care about rescuing girls who were trafficked.

Cline said the employees had adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy where they would refrain from asking about the age of a young girl’s sexual partner so that they would not have to report it.

“I went back to my office and I told my supervisor, listen, I’m trying to teach them about key concepts on Title X; they’re admitting that they’re not going to report cases of statutory rape,” said Cline.

A 2014 study by Loyola University Chicago’s Beazley Institute for Health and Law Policy found that aside from emergency rooms, Planned Parenthood locations were the most-visited facilities by trafficking victims. One trafficking victim interviewed for that report said that Planned Parenthood “didn’t ask any questions” that would have revealed the abuse.  

A video released with the report makes up the first part of a docuseries on the same subject. Additional videos in the docuseries will be released in the coming weeks.

 

Baptist congregation votes Jesus statue out for being 'too Catholic'

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 18:01

Charleston, S.C., May 30, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Jesus is being evicted from a South Carolina church, and he must be out by the end of the month.

Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington, about 120 miles northeast of Charleston, has voted to remove a  statue of Christ and its accompanying reliefs after 11 years, because they are believed to be too “Catholic in nature”.

The white, hand-carved statue in question shows Christ with his outstretched and stepping out of the wall, while the reliefs depict images from Christ's life, death and resurrection.

Red Bank Baptist Church leaders sent a letter to the artist, Bert Baker Jr., earlier this month, informing him that the congregation had voted to remove the statue because it was being perceived as a Catholic icon and was causing confusion among churchgoers.

“We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms. As a result, it is bringing into question the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church," church leaders Jeff Wright and Mike Dennis said in the letter.

Baker, a former member of the church’s congregation himself, was commissioned to make the statue for Red Bank in 2007.

In a response letter, Baker told the church leaders that he wanted the Christ statue to appear to be stepping out in a symbol of the Lord’s commission, and that the other images in the reliefs were based on basic facts about Christ's life which can be found in the Bible.

“Under each arm the reliefs depict scriptural and historical events that we as Christians believe represent the life of Christ. There should be no confusion on the facts of Jesus’ birth, life events, the miracles, His crucifixion, death and most importantly His resurrection,” Baker said in his letter.

In comments to local newspaper The State, Baker said he was “not interested in stirring the pot, but people not liking it because it looked too Catholic is crazy, man. It's been up there for 11 years."

"I don't agree with the letter, it bothers me," he added.

Rhonda Davis shared photos of both the church’s letter and Baker’s response in a Facebook post, and commented that she found it “truly sad” that the statues were going to be removed for reasons that singled out Catholics.

She called the decision “disturbing and sad that in a time when we are all needing to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ to project and reflect His love to a lost and dying world…”

In his response letter to the church, Baker said that he was “stunned that your letter both insults the intelligence of the Red bank community (as not intelligent enough to know that Red Bank Baptist Church is a Baptist church despite having a large sign stating as much) and, more disturbing, singling out the Catholic church in such a manner as to suggest that their denomination is deficient in theology and lacking in Christian core values to the point that you wish to prevent or avoid any perceived association with them.”

“In a world that is dying with prejudices, it is disappointing for (a) church that claims Christ as its head would exclude any of His followers.”

Red Bank offered Baker the chance to remove the statues himself before May 31 if he wanted to reclaim them, but Baker said that he made the statue and reliefs for the church and that it was their choice to do with them as they wished.

However, he said he hoped the art would not be destroyed and that it instead might be donated to another church or sold to support a mission.

"I was commissioned to make the sculpture, and whatever they choose to do with it is their prerogative," Baker told The State. "I just didn't want it destroyed. I don't want to take it down personally, but I hope they find another place for it."

CUA appoints new dean of music, drama, and art

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 14:40

Washington D.C., May 30, 2018 / 12:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic University of America announced Tuesday that Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw has been appointed dean of the university's school of music.

“I am pleased to appoint Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw as the new dean,” said John Garvey, president of Catholic University, May 29. “She is a noted educator who has the leadership and experience to guide the school at a significant time in the history of the University.”

A proposal to create the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art, by joining the drama and arts departments to the music school, is pending, and is expected to take effect in the upcoming fall semester. The new school is intended “to bring together all on-campus arts faculty to foster cross-disciplinary efforts and anchor the University’s commitment to the arts,” the university said in a statement.

As dean of the school, Leary-Warsaw will be in charge of its promotion and growth, offering academic and administrative leadership, while representing the school to the university and the arts world, according to a university statement. Her appointment takes effect June 18.

“I am very honored and humbled to join The Catholic University of America community and to be a part of this very historic time as we prepare to launch the new School of Music, Drama, and Art,” said Leary-Warsaw. “I am eager to work with the University’s world-class performing and fine arts faculty at this time of progress through new artistic pursuits and a renewed commitment to the future of the arts at Catholic University.”

Leary-Warsaw succeeds Grayson Wagstaff, who has been dean of the music school since 2010.

Garvey thanked Wagstaff for “his many contributions to the school during his tenure as dean.”

Leary-Warsaw has served as chair of the department of music at Birmingham-Southern College, as well as an associate professor of music, and artistic director of the Conservatory of Fine and Performing Arts.

She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Louisville, a Master of Music from CUA, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University. She is also known for her work in research.

Leary-Warsaw is a classical soprano, and has performed in opera, oratorio, solo, and chamber recitals throughout the United States, Europe, and South America.

Some of her favorite roles performed include Sophie (Werther), Adele (Die Fledermaus), Isabelle/Madeline (The Face on the Barroom Floor), Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Baby Doe (Baby Doe), Lucy (The Telephone), Kathryn (The Reformed Peasant), Nella (Gianni Schicchi), Nora (Riders to the Sea), Mrs. Gobineau (The Medium), and Judith in the world premiere of Erni's Still Life, according to her bio.

Leary-Warsaw has been host, producer, and writer of the EWTN Global Catholic Television Network's In Concert television series for 25 years.

She is a founding member of CUA's Catholic Arts Council, and has worked for years with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to produce the Annual Christmas Concert for Charity.

Leary-Warsaw is the wife of Michael Warsaw, who is chairman and CEO of the EWTN Global Catholic Network, of which CNA is a part.
 
 
 

 

US Secretary of State announces major religious freedom meeting

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 18:33

Washington D.C., May 29, 2018 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. government will host its first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this summer, newly-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced May 29.

“Religious freedom was vital to America’s beginning. Defending it is critical to our future,” Pompeo said at the announcement, which coincided with the release of the State Department’s annual report on the state of international religious freedom in 200 countries and territories.

“Our Founders understood religious freedom not as the state’s creation, but as the gift of God to every person and a fundamental right for a flourishing society. We’re committed to promoting religious freedom around the world, both now and in the future,” he continued.

The ministerial meeting of government and religious leaders, rights advocates, and civil society leaders will take place in Washington on July 25-26. It will be the first ministerial that Pompeo will host as Secretary of State, which he said is “very intentional.”

Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback also spoke at the State Department’s report release on May 29.

“For far too many, the state of religious freedom is dire,” said Ambassador Brownback, who highlighted religious freedom violations in China, Burma, Turkey, Eritrea, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan that are documented in detail in the State Department report.

According to the State Department, hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims in China have been forcibly sent to re-education centers. New religious regulations that went into effect in 2018 have increased the Chinese government's surveillance and monitoring of both Muslim and Christian minorities.

The report also documents the arrest of hundreds of Christians in Eritrea, where the government reportedly coerced numerous individuals into renouncing their faith.

“Saudi Arabia does not recognize the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion in public and imprisons, lashes, and fines individuals for apostasy, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam,” said Brownback.

“We also remain very concerned about religious freedom or the lack thereof in Pakistan, where some 50 individuals are serving life sentences for blasphemy, according to civil society reports. Seventeen are awaiting execution,” he continued.

In the annual religious freedom report, the State Department documents instances of religious persecution without comment or analysis. The report is a reference tool used by policy makers and civil society leaders to understand what occured within the last year in each country.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary since the enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 -- the passage of which created the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom position that Brownback now holds.

Ambassador Brownback said that it remains important for Americans to be informed and engaged in confronting these religious freedom violations.

“We all have a stake in this fight. One person’s bondage is another person’s burden to break. We’re all people with beautiful and undeniable human dignity. Our lives are sacred. Our right to choose the road our conscience takes is inalienable.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, welcomed the report and the announcement of the ministerial meeting.

“Religious freedom is under siege globally, challenging U.S. interests. It is no coincidence that the worst violators of religious freedom globally are also the biggest threats to our nation—those who wish to do Americans the most harm, and those who most want to tear down the pillars of democratic societies,” Smith said in a statement.

“Thus, a robust religious freedom diplomacy not only reflects American values, but advances U.S. national security interests.  It seems the Administration understands these facts, I look forward to working with them on this critical issue.”       

Smith, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is the author of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016, which added to the original International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

The 2016 legislation gave additional tools to the State Department to promote religious freedom abroad. It expands religious freedom training for diplomats, ensures that the ambassador-at large for religious freedom can report directly to the Secretary of State, and allows for the naming of non-state actors who violate religious freedom.

“Getting the facts right on the global state of religious freedom is essential for the shaping of U.S. policy and priorities, and that is why the State Department’s annual report is so important,” Smith said in his May 29 statement.

 

US Supreme Court won't hear challenge to Arkansas abortion pill law

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 18:01

Washington D.C., May 29, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Supreme Court will not hear Planned Parenthood’s challenge to a 2015 law in Arkansas that requires doctors administering abortion pills to have contracts with physicians with hospital admitting privileges.

The court on Tuesday denied certiorari to Planned Parenthood of Arkansas & Eastern Oklahoma v. Jegley, a suit filed shortly after the law was passed.

The law states that any physician who “gives, sells, dispenses, administers, or otherwise provides or prescribes the abortion-inducing drug” would have to have contracts with another physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital. Proponents of the law argue that it is necessary to ensure that women who may experience a complication from their abortion are able to receive medical care.

This order means the law will stand as is, and two Planned Parenthood locations in the state announced May 29 that they will no longer be performing chemical abortions.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, said that Arkansas was “shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion” and that the law was dangerous.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion. This dangerous law immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but 1 health center. If that’s not an undue burden, what is? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SCOTUS?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SCOTUS</a></p>&mdash; Dawn Laguens (@dawnlaguens) <a href="https://twitter.com/dawnlaguens/status/1001473199270490112?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 29, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Planned Parenthood has said that they will continue fighting the Arkansas law, despite the Supreme Court's decision.

The Supreme Court’s order was praised by prominent pro-life leaders, who lauded the move as one that would protect women’s health.

“Planned Parenthood’s efforts to remove even the most minimal protections for women and babies continue to reveal the fact that their top priority is profit, not healthcare,” said March for Life President Jeanne Mancini.

“We are grateful to see the Supreme Court refuse to engage this case which would weaken health regulations for women seeking chemical abortion.”

Steven Aden, chief legal officer and general counsel with Americans United For Life, said that Planned Parenthood was acting as an “abortion extremist” in their suit against the Arkansas law, and that the Supreme Court made the right call to not review the case.

“Thankfully, the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the Jegley case has signaled that federal courts still have to follow basic legal procedures, even in abortion cases, in deciding Constitutional cases,” Aden told CNA.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said that “I have fully defended this law at every turn and applaud the Supreme Court’s decision against Planned Parenthood today. Protecting the health and well-being of women and the unborn will always be a priority. We are a pro-life state and always will be as long as I am attorney general.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, commented: “Today’s action by the High Court represents a judicious course of action that will result in the trial court being forced to conduct a more searching analysis before striking down a duly enacted legislative measure designed to protect women.”
 
The law is set to go into effect in July, unless there is another emergency order granted that would block its implementation.

Do the Title X changes really threaten women's healthcare access?

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 17:49

Washington D.C., May 29, 2018 / 03:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal government proposal to remove Title X funding from programs and facilities that perform abortions has drawn considerable media attention, raising questions of whether such a move would impact women’s access to health care.

On May 18, President Donald Trump formally announced that his administration is proposing a new rule that would prevent Title X family planning funds from going to clinics that perform or promote abortions.

The move was lauded by pro-life advocates, while pro-abortion groups called it an attack on women that would be devastating to the availability of women’s healthcare.

Planned Parenthood, the largest performer of abortions in the U.S., would be eligible for continued Title X funding if it stopped doing abortions, or if separated - both physically and financially - its abortion facilities from the rest of its operations.

Outgoing Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards rejected the idea of the organization cutting ties with abortion during a meeting with White House personnel last year.

Planned Parenthood blasted the new proposal as “an attempt to take away women’s basic rights” and a move “would block patients from healthcare.”

But is this really the case?

Last year, according to its annual report, Planned Parenthood received over $543 million in taxpayer dollars. About $60 million of that funding comes from Title X. The remainder is from other government grants, including Medicaid payments for services.

The 13,000 federally qualified health centers outnumber Planned Parenthood's 650 facilities by a ratio of 20 to 1.

However, government funding makes up only 37 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue. The organization also fundraises, and has claimed that the threat of defunding has increased its contributions from private donors. Planned Parenthood reported $98.5 million in excess revenue last year.

Over the last decade, Planned Parenthood’s government funding increased significantly: in 2006, the organization received $336.7 million in government money. While its public funding increased, however, the organization saw fewer patients and provided fewer overall services during that time frame. Prenatal care and cancer screenings offered from 2006-2016 decreased, while the number of abortions increased by more than 10 percent.

For this reason, and because many alternatives to Planned Parenthood exist for women’s health care, it is unlikely that women would be negatively affected the new proposal, said Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director who now works as a pro-life advocate.

“There over 13,000 federally qualified Health Centers that serve entire families and offer many more services than Planned Parenthood offers, not including abortion,” Johnson told CNA.

“Planned Parenthood is trying to scare women with their rhetoric, when in reality, women will have more options with greater affordability, instead of resorting to the abortion industry, where money is put above all other goals.”

The 13,000 federally qualified health centers outnumber Planned Parenthood's 650 facilities by a ratio of 20 to 1. They do not perform abortions, but provide other medical care, and could be eligible for an increase in funding under the new Trump administration rule.

Given that these facilities provide more types of medical care than Planned Parenthood facilities, and are far more widespread throughout the nation, the changes to Title X are a smart move for women, Johnson said.

“Our government is wisely choosing to remove tax dollars from the nation’s largest abortion provider and redirect them to actual healthcare providers who seek to serve the same demographic of Americans,” she told CNA.

In recent years, Planned Parenthood has been mired in controversy.

While federal law prohibits federal funding from being used directly for abortions, a report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute and Alliance Defending Freedom suggested that, according to federal and state audits, taxpayer dollars were funding abortion-related expenses in several states.

Furthermore, a 2015 report from Alliance Defending Freedom said that Planned Parenthood clinics in several states had failed to report suspected cases of sexual abuse of minors, as they are required by law to do.

Undercover video reporting in recent years has also appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the transfer of aborted fetal tissue for money, a practice that violates federal law.

The organization has also drawn criticism for repeatedly claiming to offer mammograms, a statement that fact-checkers have repeatedly rejected.

Planned Parenthood claims that abortions account for only three percent of the total services they provide, although fact-checkers – at the Washington Post among others – have taken issue with that claim, pointing out that Planned Parenthood counts each small procedure like a pregnancy test or a pap smear as a service provided, but abortion accounts for much greater cost and revenue for the organization.

 

Flying on Sunday? Many airport chapels offer Mass

Mon, 05/28/2018 - 02:07

Washington D.C., May 28, 2018 / 12:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Flying on Sunday and need a place for Mass? A recent study revealed that 40 percent of major US airports have chapels offering Sunday Mass times for travelers and airport employees. 

Taking data from the 30 busiest airports in the U.S., the Pew Research Center identified airports offering Mass and other forms of Christian worship as well as Jewish and Muslim prayer services. 

The 2015 Pew study found that more than half of the largest hub airports in the U.S. contain chapels. Eighteen out of the 30 busiest hubs in the nation have chapels orientated towards some faith, and 14 of those have regular services. Four airports have irregular prayer services and offer rooms for mediation. Additionally, 12 airports offer Catholic Mass. 

Among the airports absent from the list was Los Angeles International, the second largest airport in the nation.

The study only considered data from large hubs, those that handle at least one percent of annual passenger boarding in the U.S. These airports range from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, where 45 million people travel annually, to Portland International, where more than 7 million travel. 

The first airport chapel was instituted at Boston’s Logan International Airport a little over 60 years ago, according to the Pluralism Project by Harvard University. Titled “Our Lady of the Airways,” it was a Catholic chapel, like many to follow. Airports saw a rise in chapels from the ‘60s until the ‘80s. 

Chapels with services from various different religions became popular in 1990s. Dallas/Fort Worth International has an interfaith chapel for each of its five terminals. 

Some airports, including smaller hubs in Florida and New York, have religiously neutral “mediation rooms,” which offer no services but only a space for prayer or reflection. 

Other airports have places of worship associated with distinct religions. For example, John F. Kennedy International includes a Catholic Church, Protestant chapel, synagogue, and mosque and has services multiple times throughout the day. 


This article was originally published on CNA June 1, 2017.

What Catholic communities can do to support foster children

Sun, 05/27/2018 - 18:01

Washington D.C., May 27, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the opioid crisis has left nearly half a million children in need of homes, Catholic leaders are calling their families and parishes to a work of mercy that is both pro-life and fruitful: supporting vulnerable children in foster care.

"Foster care and adoption is another way that God is calling couples to be open to life, and not just infertile couples, but couples that have biological children who can welcome another child into their family," said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas at an event on foster care after the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, who hosted the May 24 event titled “Fostering A Culture of Hope,” told CNA she hopes it will get more Catholics around the country talking about foster care at a time when the opioid crisis has made it more urgent.

“It is key to our identity. We are adopted daughters and sons of the Father, and we shouldn’t have orphans in our midst,” said Lopez, who has written about pro-life issues for the National Review for two decades.

From 2000 to 2012, the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the withdrawal infants experience after their pregnant mothers’ drug use, increased by 383 percent, according the White House Associate Director of Drug Control Policy Charmaine Yoest, who also spoke at the National Review Institute event.

"I want the pro-life community to acknowledge more what is going on with the foster care crisis in this country. I feel very strongly that in a lot of ways it is connected to our desire to eradicate abortion,” said Lisa Ann Wheeler, the president of Carmel Communications. Wheeler has had five children, and has fostered 15.

For Sarah Zagorski, the connection between foster care and pro-life work is very clear.

“My mother consulted with an abortionist for my delivery,” said Zagorski. “She was a Hispanic woman, very vulnerable woman, who already had seven kids in and out of foster care. They were already experiencing abuse, neglect, you name it.”

After her mother chose life, Sarah said that “life got very complicated very quickly because I entered a family environment that was unstable.”

“Foster care saved my life, just like the choice that my birth mother made saved my life," said Zagorski.

When Catholic couples adopt or foster a child, they are living out the Gospel call for a “radical welcoming of the stranger, the orphan,” shared Elizabeth Kirk, the keynote speaker at “Fostering a Culture of Hope.”

"Pope Francis stated … that the choice of adoption and foster care expresses a particular kind of fruitfulness in the marriage experience," continued Kirk. “Pope Francis urged even those with biological children to find other expressions of fruitfulness that in some way prolong the love that sustains them. Christian marriages, he says, are fruitful by their witness.”

“Now is an important moment for the Catholic Church to step forward and really embrace fostering,” explained Kathleen Domingo, who led a foster care initiative in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles after Catholic Charities was driven out of foster care and adoption in California due to a lack of conscience protection laws.

“Fostering is definitely a work of mercy,” said Domingo, “and works of mercy are transformative.”

“Having families in your parish involved in fostering with the rest of the parish coming around them to surround them and support them, can be that transformative element that can help our parishes to overcome polarization,” she said.

There is a lot of untapped potential in our Catholic communities, according to Domingo, who together with Archbishop Jose Gomez launched a campaign to raise awareness of foster care needs in the Los Angeles archdiocese last October.

They organized presentations at just 15 parishes in the archdiocese, and “the response was overwhelming,” said Domingo.

“We had over 300 families in just 15 parishes come forward to register to get trained as foster families,” she continued.

Even if someone is not called to foster or adopt a child, there are many things that Catholics can do to support these children.

"You can do anything from cooking a meal to providing transportation or even taking some of those children into your home. You can serve as a mentor. You can work and find ways to get your church involved,” suggested Natalie Goodnow, a research fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

One concrete way anyone can help is through respite care, recommends Goodnow. Respite care involves watching a foster family’s kids for a couple days to a week, allowing the foster parents to have a break.

People can also volunteer as “court appointed special advocates,” or CASA for short. Through CASA, a person is matched with a foster child's case, and advocates for the child throughout the duration of their time in the child welfare system. Goodnow pointed out that there is no legal experience required to participate.

Another organization Goodnow recommends is “Safe Families for Children”, which supports struggling families at risk of being separated through foster care.

Tutoring and mentoring a teen in foster care can also make a transformative impact, said Goodnow, who continued:

"There is tremendous potential for the faith community to do even more. I don't think that we have fully tapped into what this community is capable of.”

Pro-refugee sentiment drops, especially low among white Evangelicals

Sun, 05/27/2018 - 06:43

Washington D.C., May 27, 2018 / 04:43 am (CNA).- Americans’ belief in a duty to accept refugees has dipped, according to a survey showing that white Evangelicals are among the least favorable to refugees.

While 50 percent of Catholics said they think the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees, only 25 percent of white Evangelicals did. The white Evangelical response was statistically identical to the percentage of Republicans who saw a duty toward refugees.

Of black Protestants, 63 percent saw a duty to accept refugees. However, only 43 percent of white mainline Protestants did. About 65 percent of the religiously unaffiliated see a national duty toward refugees.

“Opinions about whether the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees – which were already deeply polarized – have grown even more so,” said the Pew Research Center, which conducted the recent survey.

Decline in support for refugee admissions among Republicans and Republican-leading independents drove the number lower, the Washington Post reports. About 74 percent of Democrats believe in an American duty to refugees.

In February 2017, a time of controversy over the Trump Administration’s new limits on refugee admissions, 56 percent of Americans said the U.S. had a responsibility to accept refugees. The figure is now at 51 percent. Republican pro-refugee sentiment dropped nine percentage points, while Democratic pro-refugee sentiment rose about 3 points.

In a March 26 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and to the U.S. State Department, Bishop Joe Vasquez, speaking as chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, lamented the low number of refugee admissions.

“As Christians, our concerns for refugees is integral to our life of faith,” the bishop said.

“Most often they are at-risk women and children who are too vulnerable to remain in the region and/or in situations too dangerous for them to wait in the host country until the conflict at home has ended.”

Broken down along race and ethnicity, 67 percent of blacks believe the country has a duty toward refugees, compared to 59 percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of whites, Pew said.

The Pew survey of 1,503 U.S. adults conducted April 25-May 1 claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Refugee admissions to the U.S. have declined sharply in the first half of fiscal year 2018. Muslim refugee numbers fell to 1,800, compared to about 22,900 in all of fiscal year 2017.

This is in part due to Trump administration policy that caps admissions to 45,000 people per fiscal year, the lowest cap since 1980, when Congress created the current refugee program, Pew says. The administration also restricted admissions for several months as part of a security review.

About 10,500 total refugees, and about 6,700 Christians entered the U.S. in the first half of the fiscal year. At the same point in fiscal year 2017, there were 39,100 admissions, with 18,500 Muslims and 16,900 Christians.

Major growth for group highlighting faith-science harmony

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 18:20

Wilmington, Del., May 26, 2018 / 04:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In his 1988 letter to the Director of the Vatican Observatory, Pope John Paul II called scientists who are members of the Church to “serve as a key resource” by providing a “much needed ministry” to those who find faith and science at odds.

Now, a group of scientists is rising to the late pope’s challenge through what is known as the Society of Catholic Scientists.

Dr. Stephan Barr of the University of Delaware, founder and president of the society, explained that the group was created in 2016.

“Its main purpose was to promote spiritual and intellectual fellowship among faithful Catholics who work in the natural sciences, and also display the harmony between faith and science in an era when many doubt it,” Barr told CNA.

Two years after its founding, the Society of Catholic Scientists has grown from a small group to an organization with more than 700 members, which include Catholic individuals who either have a doctorate in a natural science or who are in school for a science degree as a graduate or undergraduate student.

While primarily focused in North America, the organization has members in 35 countries and all seven continents.

The Society’s motto, taken from the writings of St. Bonaventure, is “knowledge with devotion, research with wonder.” The organization strives to foster fellowship among Catholic scientists, give witness to the harmony between faith and science, host forums for scientific and theological discussions, and be a resource for the laity, Barr said.

“For too long, a false impression has been allowed to grow that the world of science is a religious wasteland where faith cannot grow,” he said.

“Even religious scientists can have this impression and feel isolated, because they are unaware that many of their colleagues share their faith – this is especially true of younger researchers and students, so providing mentoring and role models is another goal of SCS.”

In June, the Society of Catholic Scientists is hosting its second annual conference that will focus on the theme of “Physicalism and the Human Mind.” It will explore the idea held by some within the scientific field that only the physical world really exists.

The society’s first conference was held in April 2017 in Chicago with the theme “Origins,” and was attended by over 80 members of the organization, as well as dozens of other scholars. This year, the 2018 conference is expecting 135 scholars to attend, including 110 Catholic scientists and students.

The upcoming conference will be held at The Catholic University of America from June 8-10 and will feature 11 speakers from various fields, including neuroscience, quantum physics, mathematics, and philosophy. While most of the speakers are Catholic, some are not, including the distinguished Prof. Peter Koellner of Harvard.

Continuing a tradition established last year, one scientist will be singled out and honored with the St. Albert Award, named after the patron of scientists. This year’s award will be presented to Juan Martin Maldacena of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton for his distinguished work linking gravity and quantum field theory.

Noting that the Society of Catholic Scientists has grown tremendously in its first two years, Barr said he believes the organization “continues to grow rapidly” because scientists are feeling isolated in their fields and are looking for an outlet to discuss the connection between their faith and science.

The society has been recognized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and has Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia as its episcopal moderator.

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