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Catholic health care growth a benefit, not a threat, ethicist says

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 02:03

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A research paper that depicts the growth of Catholic health care as a threat to reproductive health ignores the attraction of Catholic hospitals and downplays the ethical concerns about procedures like abortion and sterilization, one commentator has said.

The number of hospitals that are Catholic-sponsored or Catholic-affiliated has increased 22 percent from 2001 to 2016, including through mergers or changes of ownership. This growth is the focus of a September 2017 working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Medically Necessary but Forbidden: Reproductive Health Care in Catholic-owned Hospitals.”

“The ‘problem’ that the authors of this study are examining results from the fact that Catholic hospitals and Catholic healthcare systems have been remarkably successful in America's competitive market,” Edward Furton, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA Sept. 18.

“Catholic hospitals tend to be better managed, are governed by a sense of social duty, perform greater amounts of charitable care, and have strong ethical safeguards in place to protect their patients.”

Furton attributed the growth of Catholic healthcare to patients’ appreciation for these features.

The National Bureau of Economic Research is an  influential domestic policy think tank based in Cambridge, Mass. Its working paper estimated that the expansion of Catholic hospitals reduces by 30 percent the annual rates per-bed of inpatient abortions. The rates of tubal ligations or sterilizations drop 31 percent.

Elaine Hill, a co-author of the working paper, is a professor of health economics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She said access to procedures is part of how to “reduce unwanted pregnancy.”

“Policies addressing the ways in which ownership of hospitals might impede access could be very beneficial to the population of women affected,” she told STAT, a health, medicine and scientific research publication from Boston Globe Media.

Furton, however, said the working paper was written by “a group of economists, not healthcare workers.” He questioned the paper’s use of the phrase “medically necessary but forbidden.”

“Neither abortion nor permanent sterilization can be properly described as a medical necessity. They are typically chosen for reasons other than maintaining health,” he said.

“Often times, studies such as this are designed to highlight supposed impediments to health care access within Catholic institutions. In other words, they suffer from an inherent bias,” he added. “In this case, the authors assume that all Americans want unlimited access to abortion and sterilization. That is obviously not true.”

He also defended the presence of Catholic ethics in health care.

“Many people see the reduction in abortion and sterilization as positive goods. The authors assume that denying access to these ‘services’ represents a moral failing of some sort, but not many people would agree,” he said.

“Abortion is obviously of great concern to most people, and few among the general public are fooled by the claim that the lack of sterilization procedures in Catholic hospitals is going to affect contraceptive use among American women,” said Furton. “Contraception is widely available and the refusal to offer permanent sterilizations in Catholic hospitals is not going to change that fact.”

The study estimated that there are about 9,500 fewer tubal ligations each year because Catholic hospitals do not perform them. It charged that this represents “a substantial cost to women, who must subsequently rely on other, more inconvenient suboptimal forms of contraception.”  It claimed that black and Hispanic women were disproportionately affected by these restrictions.

The same working paper found that Catholic hospitals showed no statistically significant increase in complications from miscarriages or sterilization procedures.

Data used in the study came from the states of Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, California, New York, and Washington.

The study said that Catholic ethics are not always followed or it would have found a 100 percent reduction in abortions and sterilizations.

Furton said it is regrettable that not all Catholic hospitals follow Church teaching. However, he suggested that some of the procedures cited in the paper’s data could reflect actions that would not violate Catholic ethics.

“For example, some of what the authors of this paper would call abortions are in fact actions in which the child is unavoidably lost while the medical team is performing a procedure that has some hope of saving either the child, the mother, or both. These should not be classified as abortions. They are justifiable under the principle of double effect.”

Some opponents of the expansion of Catholic hospitals that operate according to Catholic teaching include the American Civil Liberties Union and the group the MergerWatch project. They co-authored a 2013 report that claimed the growth of Catholic hospitals was a “miscarriage of medicine.”

St. Louis archbishop leads prayer for peace after violent protests

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 18:55

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 19, 2017 / 04:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of St. Louis led an interfaith group of religious leaders in prayer for peace and justice on Tuesday, after protests over the weekend turned violent.

“It is in this humble spirit of peace that we gather together as one human family this afternoon to both pray and reflect. Each one of us brings a heavy heart, but also a faith-filled heart,” Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis said at the Ecumenical Prayer Service for Peace in downtown St. Louis.

Archbishop Carlson led the prayer service after several days of protests took place in the city over the acquittal of a former police officer in a 2011 shooting.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson on Friday acquitted former officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder charges, stemming from a 2011 shooting of 24 year-old Anthony Lamar Smith after a car chase.

According to a court document reported by the Washington Post, the district attorney charged that Stockley was heard threatening to kill Smith during the car chase, and, once he drove into Smith’s car, got out and shot five times into the car, killing him.

“This Court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense,” Judge Wilson said, reported by CNN.

After Friday’s ruling, Archbishop Carlson called for prayer and forgiveness, and exhorted members of the community not to react with violence.

“We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us,” he said. “Violence does not lead to peace and justice – they are opposing forces and cannot coexist. I implore each of you to choose peace!”

Protests of the ruling began on Friday evening, and also occurred on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Protests on Saturday and Sunday reportedly began peacefully, but turned violent after dark when buildings were damaged and police officers were assaulted. Reports claimed that a small contingent of the protesters were violent.

The city’s police department reported making 123 arrests on Sunday, after orders to disperse were ignored by some individuals who blocked street intersections.

At Tuesday’s interfaith prayer service, Archbishop Carlson thanked those in attendance for showing a “sign of your commitment to peace,” and thanked other religious leaders present for their “leadership” and “moral witness.”

According to St. Paul, “we are one in the Lord,” the archbishop said, exhorting the audience to remember their “truest identity as children of God, capable of bringing God’s peace to every corner where division and violence would seek the upper hand.”

He said that “peace is not an unrealistic dream that would blind us to the sin and brokenness of humanity,” but rather that peace and justice go together.

“One cannot cry for peace and ignore justice, and vice versa,” he said. “We do not demand justice without peace in our hearts.”

Other religious leaders from Christian denominations, as well as a Jewish rabbi and an imam, cited long-standing issues in the city of “endemic racism,” poverty, gun violence, and inequality of education, as well as the history of slavery in the area in the 1800s.

Fr. Ronald Mercier, SJ, Provincial superior of the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province, also cited the need to address the roots of injustice.

To “seek only an end to violence without addressing its roots” would be “dangerous,” he said. “The fruit of injustice is violence.”

“For too many people,” he said, “justice is an unfulfilled reality.” He noted that “the sin of racism” present in the area “deprives all of us of an inability to feel at home.”

“Yes, we need to pray today for the gift of peace,” he said, “a peace that God wants to give us.”


How Christians can accompany those with same-sex attraction

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 18:09

Washington D.C., Sep 19, 2017 / 04:09 pm (CNA).- Have compassion and empathy: especially for those dealing with struggles which are different than yours.

This is the message Dan Mattson hopes all believers will take from his book, which encourages a new sense of compassion for those who have same-sex attractions.

“I’d encourage them to have compassion and empathy,” Mattson said of his message to believers. “Maybe they can’t empathize, but they can have compassion.”

In his book, “Why I Don't Call Myself Gay,” Mattson discusses his objection to the use of the term “gay” – as well as the term “straight” – in reference to human sexuality.

The Church’s traditional view of sexuality – which does not define persons by their attractions – presents a fuller vision of human identity and life, he said. Taken alongside other teachings on suffering and chastity more broadly, this vision for sexuality leads to true happiness for all persons, including those who experience same-sex attractions.

His writings have gained the support of Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, who wrote the foreword for the book and mentioned his support for the book in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.  

Mattson encouraged those who experience same-sex attractions, along with their family and friends, to have faith in the Church and the Gospel. “Have confidence that the Church is the place for all of (your) loved ones, on any teaching on these issues of such contention these days,” he said. “It’s the source where we’re going to find freedom and true joy. We really have to believe that chastity is the Good News.”

He also encouraged people with loved ones experiencing these attractions “to journey along with them, accompany them in love.” He advised family to “listen to their story” before talking about morality. “Trust that God, in the fullness of time, is going to bring this person back, but equip yourself with good ways to talk about the Church’s teaching as Good News and trust that God will give the opportunity and give you that chance to help bring them home.”

Mattson explained that he wrote the book as a way of making sense of his own experiences with same-sex attraction, and questions he had when he was younger. “Hopefully it will help some other people who love God and want to follow him,” he offered.

He said that, in his experience, the modern way of talking about sexuality in which people are considered as either “gay” or “straight” misses the context the Church provides, which looks at a person as a whole. The same element of Church teaching which deals with sexuality also says “that we all have challenges to growth,” Mattson explained. “Well, this is a challenge to growth for me, but the Catechism tells me what to do and the Church is there to guide me, just like everyone else.”

One of the challenges to growth that Mattson hopes his experience can illuminate is the challenge of loneliness – “a fundamental question that anyone with same-sex attraction has to ask.”

He explained that readers of all backgrounds have offered that they found his testimony to the experience of loneliness fruitful and enlightening, and said that the struggles of loneliness faced by those with same-sex attraction can help others who may be single or widowed or divorced facing the same battle.

“I have found that I write quite a bit about friendship and how good, healthy friendships have helped me, but also I’ve come to realize that loneliness can be a gift we can enter into,” he said.


In talk at Facebook, Bishop Barron tackles how to debate religion

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 17:53

Menlo Park, Calif., Sep 19, 2017 / 03:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- People need to learn how to argue better on the internet, especially about religion, Catholic media personality and Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron said in remarks at Facebook's Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters.

“Seek with great patience to understand your opponent’s position,” he advised, adding that it can be “very tempting just to fire back 'why you’re wrong.'”

Instead of going after what’s wrong, he said, one should seek also highlight what your opponent has right. This is an “extraordinarily helpful” way to get past impasses.

Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire website and media content reach millions of people each year over the internet. The bishop spoke to Facebook employees at the company's Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters on the topic “How to have a religious argument.” The event was live-streamed to around 2,500 viewers.

“If we don't know how to argue about religion, then we’re going to fight about religion,” he said.

For Bishop Barron, argument is something positive and “a way to peace.”

If one goes on social media, he said, “you'll see a lot of energy around religious issues. There will be a lot of words exchanged, often angry ones, but very little argument.”

Bishop Barron praised the intellectual tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas and his time's treatment of disputed questions. A professor would gather in a public place and entertain objections and questions.

“What's off the table? Nothing as far as I can tell,” the bishop summarized. He cited the way St. Thomas Aquinas made the case for disbelief in God before presenting the arguments for rational belief in God.

“If you can say 'I wonder whether there's a God,' that means all these questions are fine and fair,” Bishop Barron continued. “I like the willingness to engage any question.”

Aquinas always phrases the objections “in a very pithy, and very persuasive way.” In the bishop's view, he formulates arguments against God's existence even better than modern atheists and sets them up in the most convincing manner, before providing his responses to these arguments.

Further, St. Thomas Aquinas cites great Muslim and Jewish scholars as well as pagan authorities like Aristotle and Cicero, always with great respect.

Bishop Barron said that authentic faith is not opposed to reason. It does not accept simply anything on the basis of no evidence.

He compared faith to the process of coming to know another human person. While one can begin to come to know someone by reason, or through a Google search or a background check, when a relationship deepens, other questions arise.

“When she reveals her heart, the question becomes: Do I believe her or not? Do I trust her or not?” he said.

“The claim, at least of the great biblical religions, is that God has not become a great distant object that we examine philosophically,” the bishop said. “Rather, the claims is that God has spoken, that God has decided to reveal his heart to his people.”

Bishop Barron addressed several other mindsets that he said forestall intelligent argument about religion.

The mentality of “mere toleration” keeps religion to oneself and treats it as a hobby. However, religion makes truth claims, like claims that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

“Truth claims, if they really are truth claims, cannot be privatized,” he said. A truth claim always has a universal scope, a universal intent.”

“The privatization of religion is precisely what makes real argument about religion impossible.”

While science has created great knowledge that should be embraced, there is the mindset of “scientism” which reduces all knowledge to scientific form.  

“It results in a deep compromise of our humanity, it seems to me,” he said, contending that religious truths are more akin to those of literature, poetry and philosophy. The scientistic mindset would have to argue that Shakespeare’s plays or Plato’s philosophical dialogues do not convey deep truths about life, death, faith and God.

Scientism also mistakes its subject when attempting to consider God. “The one thing God is not is an item within the universe,” Bishop Barron said.

The bishop also faulted a mindset that is “voluntarist,” which believes that the faculty of the will has precedence over the intellect. In a religious context, this holds that God could make two plus two equal five. This gives rise to a view of God as arbitrary and even oppressive.

In response, some people believe humanity’s will trumps the intellect and determines truth through power. According to Bishop Barron, they see God as incompatible with human freedom and, in the words of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, see freedom as the inherent liberty to determine the meaning of one’s own concept of existence, the universe, and human life itself.

Addressing the Facebook employees about their work, he said that their company’s social media network shows an “extraordinary spiritual power” in connecting all the world.

“I think that it’s a spiritual thing that you’re bringing everybody together,” he said.

Faith, science, beauty: what doctors can learn from Catholic art

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 05:04

Denver, Colo., Sep 19, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The intersection of art, medicine, and faith in the Catholic tradition has a lot to teach today, especially if you’re a doctor.

“Catholic art has a long history of demonstrating the beauty of the human person, beauty both in its health as well as its disease,” Dr. Thomas Heyne, M.D. told CNA. “Catholic artists have been very effective observers and demonstrators of that dual beauty.”

“In looking closely at artwork, we’re able to have a window into what disease looked like many centuries ago as well as how our patients still look today.”

Heyne, who works in the pediatrics department of Massachusetts General Hospital, spoke at a breakout session “Did Michelangelo have Gout?” at the Catholic Medical Association’s annual educational conference, held in Denver earlier this month.

Reviewing historic artwork helps doctors review the presentations of forgotten or rare diseases, he said. It helps improve their observational skills, and remember how patients behaved when lacking simple treatments like pain-relieving ibuprofen.

Citing several studies on medical training, he said that medical examination of art can help make doctors better through honing their observation skills, tolerance for ambiguity, mindfulness, communication skills, and empathy.

Heyne also contended that teaching medicine through art also advances a deeper appreciation for Catholicism’s role in both art and medicine.

“You’re taking a bunch of secular people and making them look at Catholic art half the time,” he said. “To me, this is a pretty helpful thing for the new evangelization.”

His presentation drew on many studies and arguments from doctors and art scholars, including his own research.

Among his examples of diagnosing health conditions in art was Giovanni Lanfranco’s work from about 1625: “St. Luke healing the Dropsical Child.” It shows St. Luke taking the pulse of a child with a distended belly, as a woman looks on. A book of the ancient medical writer Hippocrates rests on a nearby table with an icon of a woman saint.

Heyne suggested that the child’s symptoms as painted by Lanfranco could be the earliest known depiction of congenital heart disease.

At the same time, any interpreter must take into account the interplay between realism and stylistic convention. Despite the child’s stomach, the child appears to have a healthy musculature. Lanfranco tended to paint all children beautifully, Heyne explained.

Even the standard iconography of saints can show Catholic awareness of medical problems. St. Roch, a patron saint of plague victims, is often shown with the tell-tale bulba of plague.

In Istanbul’s Chora Church, a fourteenth century mosaic depicts Christ healing a multitude. One person depicted has crutches, another is blind, another appears to have rickets.

The work also shows a sitting man with a bulge nearly the size of a basketball in his groin area. According to the doctor, this is likely a massive inguinal or scrotal hernia.

“This artist put a giant scrotum on the top of a church. This is pre-Puritan,” said Heyne, interpreting the art as saying, “Jesus came to save everyone.”

“I think this is remarkable: ‘No shame: come out and you will be healed’,” he said. “I think it is a remarkable testament to what the human body was back then.”

The mosaic could be the first depiction of a hernia.

The art history of European Christianity shows diseases now associated only with the developing world.

Other artworks show signs of longstanding diseases like leprosy, while others trace the arrival of diseases new to Christian Europe. A 1496 sketch from Albrecht Dürer shows a man with syphilis, just four years after the disease is believed to have spread to Europe from the New World.

Some figures in famous paintings show signs of finger deformities suggesting rheumatoid arthritis, like the hands of the nude women in Peter Paul Rubens’ 1639 painting The Three Graces.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa portrait shows the famous subject in great detail. The 25-year-old woman appears to show an accumulation of cholesterol under the skin in the hollow of her left eye. Her hand shows a fatty tissue tumor. She is known to have died at age 37.

Heyne took these conditions together and asked whether Mona Lisa died of a cardiovascular event.

As for master artist Michelangelo, his training in anatomy helped give deeper artistic significance to his work. For instance, his statue Night from 1531, depicting a bare-breasted woman personifying Night, and perhaps death, appears to show signs of a breast tumor.

Heyne did criticize some interpretations of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. While some suggested the bulging of some figures’ eyes was intended to represent disease, he said it rather simply represented astonishment at the arrival of the apocalypse.

Review of art also helps doctors understand how patients with particular diseases or health conditions were viewed throughout history.

There is the example of the seventeenth-century Spanish painter Diego Velazquez, who painted at least ten portraits of people with dwarfism. These show their “dignity and beauty,” and don’t depict them as “court buffoons,” Heyne said, suggesting this is another role for Christianity in art.

Archbishop calls for peace amid protests over St Louis verdict

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 18:29

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of St. Louis called for prayer and peace after a judge acquitted a former St. Louis police officer in the shooting of a man in 2011.

“If we want peace and justice, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness,” Archbishop Robert Carlson said Sept. 15. “While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division.”

On Friday, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted former officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder charges in the shooting of 24 year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. Stockley, a white officer with the St. Louis Police Department, fatally shot Smith after a car chase.

The case received special attention in the wake of another high profile case in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, where police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18 year-old Michael Brown. Riots occurred in the area, pointing to longstanding racial tensions and alleging a history of police abuse.

Over the weekend, demonstrations in protest of Friday’s ruling took place in the city’s downtown area. Marchers called for reforms to the justice system and called attention to racism. The mayor’s house was reportedly damaged in the protests.

Demonstrations on Saturday began peacefully but turned violent after dark, the St. Louis Police Department reported on its Facebook page on Saturday night. Nine officers had been injured by late Saturday night, and tear gas was deployed after officers had been pelted with bricks and other objects, the department said.

On Sunday, the police reported making arrests after protesters blocked street intersections and orders to disperse were ignored; the department reported over 100 arrests made, according to the Washington Post. The Guardian reported that a group of police officers in riot gear chanted “Whose street? Our street” on the side of a street on Sunday. On Monday morning, the demonstrations were peaceful and no arrests were made, the department said.

Archbishop Carlson said that prayer and solidarity are the answers to the verdict, not violence and discord. “We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us,” he said.

“Violence does not lead to peace and justice – they are opposing forces and cannot coexist. I implore each of you to choose peace! Reject the false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence,” he said.

An interreligious prayer service for peace has been planned for 3 p.m. on Tuesday at Kiener Plaza, led by Archbishop Carlson and other religious leaders.

“We must work together for a better, stronger, safer community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our neighbor as another self,” the archbishop said.

Take in more refugees, not fewer, bishops urge White House

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 18:07

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration is reportedly planning to further reduce the number of refugees the U.S. will accept in the coming fiscal year, drawing concern from the U.S. bishops and others.

“We’re strongly urging the administration, the President, to set a Presidential determination of at least 75,000 [refugees],” Matt Wilch of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told CNA of reported changes to the number of refugees the U.S. plans to accept in the 2018 fiscal year.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Trump administration is planning to further reduce the number of refugee admissions for the 2018 fiscal year, “according to current and former government officials familiar with the discussions.”

For the 2017 fiscal year, the Obama administration had planned to take in 110,000 refugees after accepting 85,000 in 2016, including more than 12,000 Syrian refugees.

However, in a March executive order, President Donald Trump ordered a four-month halt to U.S. refugee admissions so that the resettlement program could be reviewed for its security. He set a cap on refugee admissions for the fiscal year at 50,000, well short of the 110,000 originally planned.

In addition, Trump barred most travel from six countries for 90 days – Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Sudan.

Now the administration may be reducing its refugee quota even further, to below 50,000.

The Executive Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a written statement Tuesday that they were “troubled and deeply concerned” at reports that the administration was considering the reduction, which they called “inhumane.”

“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 said.

The conference proposed a goal of 75,000 refugees instead. “We think it’s really time to get back to the serious business of saving lives, and we urge the administration to have the total this coming year be 75,000,” Wilch told CNA Thursday.

In 2016, then-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Dr. Robert George said the refugee resettlement program was secure, and that the U.S. should ultimately look to increase the number of Syrian refugees it resettles to 100,000.

A reduction in refugee admissions would come at a time when the number of displaced persons across the globe is at an all-time high, the group Human Rights First said.

“While ten percent of the world’s 21 million refugees are estimated to need resettlement, only about one percent have access to resettlement,” they said.

Furthermore, several countries neighboring Syria like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, are hosting the bulk of refugees fleeing the six year-long conflict there, the largest refugee crisis in the world, HRF said.

If the U.S. and other countries decide to accept fewer refugees, it could contribute to the destabilization of Syria’s neighbors who are already at or nearing capacity for hosting refugees.

“The United States’ refugee admissions program is not a zero-sum game; we are more than capable of providing safety to those fleeing violence and persecution around the world,” Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First stated.

How do we fund sacred art in the Church? This priest has an idea

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 18:03

Wilmington, N.C., Sep 16, 2017 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The John Paul II Foundation for the Sacred Arts is rethinking how the Catholic Church should fund well-crafted art. But why is good art in the Church important in the first place?

“When a piece of art, a beautiful church, a flower or a sunset not only strikes the eye but pierces the soul and fills one with a sense of wonder, that is transcendent beauty – it goes beyond mere aesthetic enjoyment to hint at the truth and goodness of being itself,” Father Michael Burbeck told CNA.

Fr. Burbeck serves as founder and director of the foundation, which was launched in March of this year. He explained that his own encounter with Europe's beautiful architecture and sacred art brought him to convert to Catholicism and ultimately start the organization.

However, beautiful art requires money – and Fr. Burbeck's project aims to equip artists to create quality, Christ-inspired, original works.

“Works of transcendent beauty have the potential to awaken the soul to the wonder of God, and so are evangelical in their own right,” he said. “This is what we mean by transcendent beauty: the beauty that flows from the goodness and truth of being itself.”

On the group's website, Fr. Burbeck recalled on how beauty awakened this wonder of God, and enabled him to fall in love with the Church and with Jesus Christ.

Being able to stand before the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral created by Christopher Wren or Michelangelo's Madonna and Child and along with numerous images of the crucified Christ, the soon to be priest was motivated to give his life to the Church.  

“Because of beauty, I found the Catholic Church, fell in love with her, and was convinced of the truth of her teachings.”

When he met artist Cameron Smith, Father Burbeck said that the two discussed a “crowd-sourced, entrepreneurial model” which relied on the beauty of an artist's work to motivate donations.

“Either a work is 'popular' enough to be funded or it is not,” he said, explaining that the foundation's board of directors will choose which artists to give grants to based on if the “artist is capable of and intent on producing a work in keeping with our mission.”

He said their mission is Catholic art which spreads the Gospel through beauty, but cautioned against the modern trend to reduce “beauty” to a particular time period or type, such as Renaissance or Contemporary.

Fr. Burbeck also noted the problem with reducing art to self-expression, wherein an artist's attempt at honesty will often display a faulty idea of reality – one where his or her existence is “marked by brokenness and a lack of meaning.”

But as significant as these tendencies are in society today, the priest said the foundation is actually trying to combat two other problems: how art is treated in the church – namely, the dearth of original art – and the lack of funds to support faithful artists who create original works capable of moving viewers.

Unoriginal pieces of art, or catalog style as Fr. Burbeck described it, are not necessarily offensive but may be a poorly produced copy or a “mimic of existing works that may be competently executed but which fails to touch the soul.”

“That is why we partner with artists financially and promote works that are squarely in the great tradition, not copies, but drawing from the same inexhaustible well of beauty,” he said.

Fr. Burbeck foresees fundraising as a potential hurdle, but he also expressed an appreciation for the enthusiasm already taking place.

“Thankfully, there has been a great deal of excitement about the idea, it seems to fill an important niche, and we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work.”

Fr James Martin disinvited from speaking engagement over protests

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 12:53

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2017 / 10:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Fr. James Martin, S.J., an editor at America magazine, has been disinvited from speaking at the Theological College, a seminary affiliated with the Catholic University of America, following pressure from online-based groups. 

Fr. Martin was invited to speak Oct. 4 on the theme of encountering Christ. However, the Theological College said that “since the publication of his book, Building a Bridge, Theological College has experienced increasing negative feedback from various social media sites regarding the seminary’s invitation.”   

Fr. Martin’s most recent book has drawn criticism since its publication for its avoidance of discussing the Church’s teaching on celibacy and for its lack of engagement with Catholics who identify as LGBT who welcome Church teaching on continence and other issues. In August, Fr. Martin announced on Facebook that he is currently writing a revised issue of the book, which he says will address the feedback and critiques he has received. 

In addition to writing books and speaking, Fr. Martin has also been appointed to serve as Consultor to the Secretariat for Communication, and serves as editor -at-large of America Magazine. 

The Theological College explained that after receiving social media feedback on his writing, the school decided to withdraw its invitation, both in the “best interest of all parties” and “in the interest of avoiding distraction and controversy as Theological College celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding” at an alumni event focused on remembrance.

“In no way does this decision signal approval or agreement with the comments or accusations that the various social media sites have made over the recent weeks,” the school stated. 

In response to the decision by the seminary under its auspices, Catholic University of America president John Garvey stated his regret and concern at the situation. While the Catholic University retains some authority in some spheres over the Theological College, the seminary remains autonomous in any decisions related to priestly formation at the seminary, as well as over events which take place on seminary property.

In its statement, the university noted that the Theological College’s decision “does not reflect the University’s  policy on inviting speakers to campus,” nor the counsel the university gave to the seminary. The university also noted that it invited Fr. Martin to speak last year on campus. 

Garvey stated that the pressure placed upon the Theological College for Martin’s speech mirrors similar pressures placed upon other colleges for inviting more conservative speakers to their campuses.

“Universities and their related entities should be places for the free, civil exchange of ideas. Our culture is increasingly hostile to this idea,” Garvey said. “It is problematic that individuals and groups within our Church demonstrate this same inability to make distinctions and to exercise charity.” 

What are the Vatican’s next steps in the child porn case?

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 18:49

Washington D.C., Sep 15, 2017 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- What happens when Vatican City State diplomats commit crimes? The recent recall of a Vatican diplomat from the U.S. Nunciature in Washington, following suspicions of child pornography possession brings together both the workings of the criminal justice system at the Vatican and international diplomatic law.

“We are not yet at the conclusion of the criminal investigation, but I think it wise that he’s been recalled now,” said Dr. Kurt Martens, a Professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America.

According to a Sept. 15 communique issued by the Vatican, the U.S. State Department notified the Vatican Secretariat of State on Aug. 21 of a possible “violation of laws relating to child pornography images” by a member of the Vatican diplomatic corps stationed in Washington, D.C.

The priest was recalled to the Vatican, where he remains. The diplomatic process of collaboration on the case – which remains under investigation – was initiated, and findings from the U.S. State Department were shared with the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, who also opened an investigation within the city-state of the Vatican. The identity or nationality of the diplomat has not been released.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Department of State has asked that the Vatican lift the diplomatic immunity of the priest, but the U.S. request was denied.

The denial of the request is a standard response and element of international relations law.  

“Diplomatic immunity is not the same as immunity from prosecution,”  Martens said.  “It means immunity from prosecution under the host country’s laws. It means that the priest would still be prosecuted in the Vatican City State.”

The response would likely be the same if a U.S. diplomat was accused of committing a crime overseas, Martens explained. Generally, when a diplomat commits a crime abroad, “they are recalled and tried at home.”

The practice has its basis in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Martens said, so that diplomats in a country are able to do their work without fear of interference from the host country’s laws or lawsuits from the host country. The need for the practice has been highlighted by various accusations of spying or other wrongdoing between two countries with strained relationships. “Diplomatic immunity is something that’s needed for diplomats to be able to serve.”

However, the standard diplomatic protections can be removed by the diplomat’s home country, in special circumstances and at the country’s discretion. Generally these cases do not involve functions essential to the diplomat’s mission.“There have been some cases where diplomats have been charged with manslaughter, where the diplomatic immunity was waived by the sending country and then the receiving country could prosecute,” he gave as an example.

A diplomat can also be unilaterally expelled from a host country.

However, in all of these special cases, the subject of diplomatic immunity and its revocation remains a closely guarded tool of international relations.  “It’s not something you play with.”

If the diplomatic immunity remains in place for the Vatican diplomat under investigation, the case would go to the justice systems of the Vatican City State. “It means there could be two processes: a canonical one before the CDF [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], and a civil one in the Vatican City State courts,” Martens explained.

Under canonical law, the possession of child pornography is a crime, and in 2010, Pope Benedict added the offense to the list of serious crimes that go directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the authority in the Catholic Church responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious crimes. Conviction of a serious crime, also called a “grave delict” can result in dismissal from the clerical state.

Child pornography is also a crime under the civil law of the Vatican City State, and carries a range of punishments, including prison time.

The closest precedent to this kind of case, Martens said. is the prosecution of Polish Archbishop Józef Wesolowski, a former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic. In 2013, following allegations of sexual misconduct, a canonical trial began under the CDF, which found him guilty of sexual abuse and dismissed him from the clerical state. Two years later, he was indicted under civil law for child pornography possession. He died, however, before the criminal trial began.

The Vatican contains a small number of prison cells within the headquarters of the gendarmerie, the Vatican police and security force. Through arrangements made under the Lateran Treaty, criminals convicted of civil offenses by the Vatican City State are sent to Italian prisons. Provisions under the same treaty allow the Vatican to hand over prosecution of civil cases to Italian authorities as well. This arrangement was invoked during the prosecution of the attempted assassination of St. Pope John Paul II by Turkish citizen, Mehmet Ali A?ca. The Vatican covers the costs of the legal proceedings as well as any prison time.

Regardless of who ends up prosecuting the unnamed official, Martens said that as more details emerge from the investigation, the Church will follow standard international procedures and prosecute any credible offenses. “They don’t let people get away with this.”

Faith helped couple choose baby over chemotherapy treatment

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 13:39

Detroit, Mich., Sep 15, 2017 / 11:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Michigan mother with a lethal form of brain cancer who declined treatment in order to save her unborn child has died, a few days after her sixth child was born.

Carrie DeKlyen, 37, was a mother of five in April when she was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive, malignant cancer that typically affects the spine and brain, and is usually lethal.

While she had surgery to remove the tumor, DeKlyen was about to begin a clinical trial treatment when she discovered she was pregnant.

She decided to decline chemotherapy in order to save her unborn daughter, who was born last week and was fittingly named Life Lynn DeKlyen.

Carrie’s husband Nick DeKlyen said the couple’s Christian faith carried them through the difficult decision.

"Me and my wife, we are people of faith," Nick told the Detroit Free Press. "We love the Lord with everything in us. We talked about it, prayed about it.”

"I asked her, 'What are you thinking?' She said, 'All the treatments, I'm not doing any of them.' We went back to the surgeon. He said 'If you choose to do this, you will not live another 10 months. I promise, you will die.'

Nick said that ultimately, it was Carrie’s decision, and she was at peace choosing to save her baby instead of prolonging her own life.

"We’re pro-life," Nick said. "Under no circumstance do we believe you should take a child’s life. She sacrificed her life for the child."

Carrie’s choice to give up her own life for that of her baby has garnered worldwide attention.

While Carrie underwent four brain surgeries to try to treat her tumor, she slipped into a coma in July from which she never regained complete consciousness, though family reported that she would sometimes respond to a hand squeeze or other attempts to communicate.

By September, Carrie had stopped responding to pain. Baby Life was delivered by caesarean section Sept. 6, at 24 weeks and 5 days. The following day, Carrie's feeding and breathing tubes were removed, and she died Sept. 9.

Nick told the Associated Press that some of his last words to his wife were, “I’ll see you in Heaven.”

During a celebration of her life, held Sept. 12 at Resurrection Life Church in her hometown of Wyoming, Michigan, Carrie was remembered as someone who left behind “a legacy of love,” Michigan Live reported.

She was a kind and selfless wife, mother, daughter and neighbor, who sang in the church choir and volunteered in her community, according to numerous friends.

"Carrie, a mom, a soul mate, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Heaven's gain," Pat Binish, the community's pastor, said at the celebration.

Binish added that many had asked on social media why Carrie had to suffer and die.

"Are you ready for the answer? I don't know. Our job as humans is to pray. God's job is to heal, end of story. We don't understand the bigger plan. We don't have the understanding. One day, we will."

The Cure 4 Carrie Facebook page, which the family once used to post updates about Carrie’s health, is now being used to update family and friends on Life Lynn, who struggled at first but is now in stable condition in the neonatal intensive care unit at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

“Life Lynn is defying all odds,” said a Sept. 15 post. “Heart rate is green oxygen is blue. Good job baby girl!”

Pro-life groups to Senate Dems: Don't eliminate Hyde Amendment

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 18:59

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2017 / 04:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a Democratic senator boasted on Wednesday that his party’s Medicare bill would repeal the Hyde Amendment, pro-life groups are pushing back, stressing that the longstanding policy has saved lives.

“This month marks the 41st anniversary of the Hyde Amendment and in that time it has been found that over 2 million lives have been saved,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

“The senator might think we'd be better off without those people,” McClusky said, “however I know 2 million lives who would disagree and are thankful they aren't targeted by Sen. Blumenthal.”

On Wednesday, senators from both parties released dueling health care bills. Senate Republicans, led by Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), introduced their proposal which would, among other things, repeal the Affordable Care Act and feature block grants to states to pay for health care coverage.

Senate Democrats, led by 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2017, a single-payer proposal which would expand eligibility for Medicare to all Americans.

During the press conference introducing the act, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the bill would protect women’s “reproductive rights” and would do away with the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing federal policy prohibiting tax dollars from paying for elective abortions.

“I want to single out two groups of people. Number one, the women of America. They have been denied health care for too long because of restrictions like the Hyde Amendment,” Blumenthal said.

“Consider the Hyde Amendment history if we pass Medicare for All, and all those other restrictions on reproductive rights,” he said.

The Hyde Amendment was introduced in 1976 by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.). It is not a law, but rather has been passed as a rider to budget legislation every year.

As a policy that has been supported by members of both parties, it prohibits federal tax dollars from paying for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, reported on the Hyde Amendment on its 40th anniversary in 2016, and estimated that it had saved over 2 million lives by reducing the overall number of abortions.

Using data from 20 different studies, the institute concluded that the policy resulted in at least 2 million more pregnancies carried to term – 60,000 per year – than there would have been if Medicaid dollars had subsidized abortions.

However, during the 2016 election, Democrats called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment in their party’s platform.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion – regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” the platform stated.

“We will continue to oppose – and seek to overturn – federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

Meanwhile, the Republican senators introducing their health care proposal on Wednesday claimed that it contains pro-life provisions, like stripping the leading abortion provider Planned Parenthood of any Medicaid reimbursements and ensuring that federal subsidies or tax credits don’t pay for abortion coverage in the insurance market.

The Susan B. Anthony List, meanwhile, reserved its official judgment on the bill until it had reviewed the language.

“SBA List will need time to review the language carefully to ensure that it will roll back taxpayer funding of abortion under Obamacare and re-direct abortion giant Planned Parenthood’s tax funding to community health centers,” the group said in a written statement.


Bishop urges prayer for victims of Washington school shooting

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 17:45

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2017 / 03:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane has urged Christians to pray for the victims of a Sept. 13 high school shooting, in which one student was killed and three others were hospitalized.

“I would like to ask that you join me in prayers for all those impacted by the shooting at Freeman High School this morning,” he said in a Sept. 13 statement.

The high school, which has just over 300 students, is located near Rockford, Washington, about 30 minutes from Spokane.

Just as classes were starting Wednesday morning, a student opened fire outside of a biology classroom, authorities said. One student – identified by local media as freshman Sam Strahan – was killed in the shooting, reportedly as he tried to stop the gunman.

Authorities said the sole suspect is in custody. They did not release the suspect’s name, although numerous eye witnesses identified the gunman as sophomore Caleb Sharpe, the Spokesman Review reports.

“We thank the many first responders who quickly arrived to protect students, take the suspect into custody, and transport victims,” Bishop Daly said.

School officials locked doors and closed blinds, following emergency protocols. Half an hour later, they evacuated students to the football field.

Three teenage girls – Emma Nees, Jordyn Goldsmith and Gracie Jensen – were sent to the emergency room at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where hospital officials said they are in stable condition.

“This senseless act of violence has shaken our community,” Bishop Daly said. “My sincere prayers are with all Freeman High School parents, students, faculty, and staff.”

The Freeman School District announced that school would be canceled on Thursday.


US bishops urge care of refugees as Supreme Court allows Trump travel ban

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 16:58

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2017 / 02:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed part of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to stand temporarily, the U.S. bishops' conference sympathized with the refugees affected by the ban.

“We were disappointed that those who were already assured and really all cleared and ready to come as refugees were not allowed to come during this period,” Matt Wilch of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told CNA.

The application of the travel ban that was upheld by the court Sept. 12 would affect refugees who had received a “formal assurance” of resettlement from an agency in the U.S., probably numbering more than 20,000, Wilch said. These refugees would be currently unable to travel to the U.S. on that condition.

That application of the travel restrictions in Trump’s executive order on immigration had been halted from going into effect in a recent decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In his March executive order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”, Trump had restricted travel to the U.S. from six countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Syria. Foreign nationals from those countries could not enter the U.S. for 90 days unless they had a special visa.

In Hawaii’s challenge to the travel ban, the Hawaii district court issued a temporary injunction against enforcing the ban on refugees and immigrants with family members living in the U.S., including aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, grandchildren, and brothers and sisters-in-law.

The district court also issued a temporary injunction against enforcement of the travel ban on refugees who already had a “formal assurance” of placement in the U.S. from a resettlement agency.

The Ninth Circuit court upheld that decision recently, saying that the travel ban could not be applied to refugees and immigrants in those cases.

On Tuesday, however, the Supreme Court overruled the Ninth Circuit on the latter application of the travel ban, to refugees who have a formal assurance from a resettlement agency that they could enter the U.S.

Thus, that application of the ban is essentially allowed to stand as the court will consider Hawaii’s challenge to the travel ban, with oral arguments in the case scheduled for Oct. 10.

Wilch said Tuesday’s ruling is “an interim kind of decision about who would be allowed in while the larger case was pending, so it’s not a final say on the issue.”

However, the court did not touch the Ninth Circuit’s prohibition on the travel ban applying to those with family members in the U.S. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was pleased to hear that news, Wilch said.

And the conference will be paying close attention to the overall case of the travel ban at the Supreme Court, he said.

“As Catholics, as Christians, as Americans, welcoming refugees is in our DNA, and so we’re deeply concerned and watching it [the case] very closely,” Wilch said.

“And we’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will come down with the decision that is consistent with American values, in terms of welcoming refugees.”

Iraq was originally on Trump’s list of six countries from which travel was restricted. It was later reported that, as a condition of Iraq’s removal from the list, the U.S. would deport Iraqi nationals who had previous criminal records and had been given a final order of removal from a federal immigration judge. Many of the Iraqis, detained by ICE this summer, had resided in the U.S. for decades and were Chaldean Christians.

In the March executive order, Trump also ordered a four-month shut-down of the U.S. refugee resettlement program and a review of the program’s security. He capped refugee admissions at 50,000 for the 2017 fiscal year, well short of the planned number of 110,000.

Reports are circulating that Trump will further reduce the planned number of refugee admissions for the 2018 fiscal year. The U.S. bishops' conference responded in a statement that they were “deeply concerned” by the news, and that they proposed an increase to 75,000 admissions for that year.

“We think it’s really time to get back to the serious business of saving lives, and we urge the administration to have the total this coming year be 75,000,” Wilch told CNA on Thursday.

Ryan Anderson to join Franciscan University of Steubenville as visiting fellow

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 08:08

Steubenville, Ohio, Sep 14, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Marriage scholar Ryan Anderson will be the first visiting fellow at the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the school announced Wednesday.

“As a young – and very courageous – Catholic scholar who is willing to defend Catholic teachings on life and the sacred meaning of marriage, Ryan Anderson provides an inspiring role model for our students, and a tremendous resource for our faculty,” Dr. Anne Hendershott, director of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University, stated Sept. 13.

Anderson is the William E. Simon senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., and has worked at the organization since 2012.

He has written and talked extensively about marriage, bioethics, and religious freedom from a natural law perspective, having made television appearances on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and Fox News, and having been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. He received a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.

Anderson founded and edited Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., and has authored Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, and co-authored What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense with Robert George and Sherif Girgis.

He is currently writing When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.

“Franciscan University is forming some of the best and brightest students working to bring both faith and reason to American public life. I’m greatly honored to be able to do what I can to help in this effort,” Anderson stated.

The school explained that he would have the opportunity to give lectures and have discussions with students on current issues.

Anderson “will advance the mission of the Veritas Center by utilizing the teachings of the Catholic Church to address the political, social, and economic issues of the day,” the school announced.

Anderson also delivered the commencement address at Franciscan University’s arts commencement ceremony in May 2017, telling the graduates that “we must be prepared to defend truth as never before.”

“When faced with secularist ideologies, we have the responsibility to show the world the harmony of faith and reason,” he said, reported by the Daily Signal. “And this only intensifies as you graduate today and enter a world that is simultaneously hungry for and resistant to your message.”

Did this Spanish nun bi-locate to Texas? Vatican aims to find out

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 05:01

San Angelo, Texas, Sep 14, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the 1620s, while the pilgrims were landing on Plymouth Rock and having the first Thanksgiving, the Jumano tribe in Texas (before it was Texas) were allegedly having mysterious encounters with what they called the “Lady in Blue.”

A young, ethereal lady, dressed in a habit with a blue cape, is said to have appeared to the Jumano Native Americans numerous times during these years, speaking to them in their native language and instructing them in the Christian faith.

Thousands of miles away, in a cloistered convent in Spain, Sr. Maria de Agreda was reporting mystical visits that would occur during prayer, often during Mass after receiving communion, to a tribe of native people in what was called New Spain at the time.

“She would have these prayerful, mystical experiences of coming here to the New World and visiting these people and evangelizing them, sharing the faith with them,” Bishop Michael Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas, told CNA.

“And when she came, she encouraged them to go to the missions where the Franciscan priests were and request baptism,” he added.

Just recently, the Vatican has re-opened the cause for canonization of Sr. Maria de Agreda, who besides her mystical experiences and apparitions was a prolific writer, particularly on the topic of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She has been declared Venerable, and her body was also found to be incorrupt when it was exhumed in 1909 and is now resting in view in her convent in Spain.

In August, Fr. Stefano M. Cecchin, the vice postulator of Sr. Maria de Agreda’s cause for canonization, spent a week in San Angelo, Texas, where Sr. Maria reportedly appeared to the Jumano natives, investigating the devotion to her that still exists today.  

“This is an important story that needs be told,” Fr. Cecchin told the San Angelo Standard Times.  

According to records kept by the missionaries in the area, Sr. Maria’s promptings led as many as 2,000 Jumano natives to be baptized.

Most of their ancestors in the San Angelo area are still Catholic, and still have a strong devotion to the “Lady in Blue” who brought them the Catholic faith, Bishop Sis said.

Regarding her possible bi-location, Fr. Cecchin added: “There is a lot of proof that the Lady in Blue appeared to the Jumano Tribe.”

The Vatican has never ruled definitively on whether her apparitions to what is now present-day western Texas and eastern New Mexico constitute a true instance of bi-location. However, there are some remarkable connections between Sr. Maria’s mystical experiences, and the Lady in Blue that the Jumano people saw, Bishop Sis said.

She earned the name “Lady in Blue” because the Jumano natives reportedly saw a woman wearing a blue cape. Sr. Maria belonged to a Franciscan order of nuns called the Conceptionistas, who wear a white habit with a blue cloak. The order still has convents in Spain and Latin America today, including Sr. Maria’s convent in Agreda.  

From her cloister, having never traveled to the New World, Sr. Maria was able to describe the new plants and animals there, as well as the way the people dressed and painted themselves. She described the landscape as a place where two rivers meet – and in San Angelo, the Middle Concho River is joined by the South Concho River.

Especially remarkable, Bishop Sis said, is that she described meeting a leader with one eye, while the Franciscan missionaries in the area at the time also reported meeting a Jumano leader with one good eye and one bad eye.

“So that’s a fascinating detail, that shows a concrete connection between this place and her descriptions of the people,” he said.

According to the Texas Almanac, Friar Alonso de Benavides of the Franciscans in New Mexico was the first to confirm the story of the “Lady in Blue.” He reported the incidents of her appearances to the Spanish court in 1630, and shortly thereafter was able to interview Sr. Maria de Agreda at her convent, where he was able to cross-reference the details of the apparitions from both Sr. Maria and the Jumano natives’ perspective.

“The first time she went was in the year 1620. She had continued ever since ... She gave me all their signs and (declared) she had been with them,” the friar wrote at the times.

“She knows Captain Tuerto (the one-eyed captain) very well, having given me his personal characteristics and that of all the others. She herself sent the messengers from Quivira (the Jumano village on the Plains) to call the missionaries.”

Reportedly, the bi-locations of Sr. Maria de Agreda ceased after her goal was accomplished – that the Jumano native people were able to receive the sacraments.

If Sr. Maria de Agreda truly bi-located, it wouldn’t be the only time this phenomenon was reported.

While it’s more common to have Jesus or Mary or saints in heaven appear to people in apparitions, several saints have reportedly bi-located while they were still alive on earth.

Perhaps one of the best-known bi-locating saints in recent times is St. Padre Pio, a mystical Capuchin priest who reportedly appeared to numerous people throughout the world while he was living in Italy.

During World War II, numerous American pilots said that a mysterious friar would appear to them in the air over San Giovanni Rotondo, which was occupied by Nazis at the time. When the American pilots would try to bomb the Rotondo, the friar would appear and stretch out his hands, and their bombs would drop on open plains nearby.

After the war, a pilot visited the friary and immediately recognized Padre Pio as the one who had appeared to them over the city.

Questioned about the strange incidents of his bi-location, Padre Pio once said that they simply occurred “by an extension of his personality.”

Unlike apparitions of Mary or Jesus, which the Vatican heavily investigates, instances of bi-locations or apparitions of saints are typically not formally investigated by the Vatican, said Michael O’Neill, a Catholic miracle researcher who recently published a book on miraculous apparitions in the Church.

O’Neill said that apparitions or bi-locations of saints simply “adds to the story of the saint, their reputation of holiness, and the devotion that arises around a saint,” O’Neill said.

Those stories can be a part of establishing a saint’s reputation for holiness, and in Sr. Maria’s case “to show that there’s a great devotion to her even outside of Spain,” he said.

“She has been declared Venerable,” said Bishop Sis, noting that the next step in her cause would be beatification.

“The question of her being beatified or canonized doesn’t really rest on the experience of these apparitions...what’s most important is the virtue of her life and her writings,” he added.

Her best-known work is “The Mystical City of God: Life of the Virgin Mother of God,” in which she writes about details of Mary’s life that she said came to her in prayer. It’s no mistake, Bishop Sis added, that the vice postulator of her cause is a theologian and Marian expert who also serves as the president of the Pontifical Marian Academy in Rome.

“So that’s his main goal at this time, to study her mystical Marian theology,” and to do a thorough investigation of her other writings and her life, he said.

The “Lady in Blue” continues to be a central figure of the history and devotion for Catholics in Texas.

A historical marker shows where the Franciscan mission once stood. The “Lady in Blue Committee” is especially active in promoting her story and legacy, and is in the process of building bronze statue of Sr. Maria de Agreda with a Jumano native.

Sr. Maria de Agreda would have appeared “before Junipero Serra, before the Alamo, that was the time of the first Thanksgiving,” Bishop Sis said.

“So it’s a beautiful, historic experience of evangelization, and it shows our rich Catholic history in this part of the world, and is a great testament of faith,” he said, both of the Conceptionista sisters, and the Jumano ancestors who have kept their faith.

Fr. Mitch Pacwa asks: Are you ready to answer Our Lady of Fatima?

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 17:29

Worcester, Mass., Sep 13, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first time Our Lady of Fatima appeared to the shepherd children, she asked a question.

For Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., host of “EWTN Live,” this question could be addressed to each one of us today.

“We certainly are inheriting a lot of problems that have been percolating for a while,” he told a crowd of hundreds gathered Sept. 9 at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. for the EWTN Family Celebration. “We’re certainly seeing a lot of tension in our country that’s even different from the sixties: there’s more tension and anger at one another than we’ve seen since the sixties, and perhaps a bit more intense.”

“We pray that we can avoid the mistakes that came by the failures to listen to the message of Fatima,” Fr. Pacwa said.

Like she asked the shepherd children a century ago, “(Our Lady) asks the question each one of us has to answer: ‘Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for all the sins by which He is offended and for supplication for the conversion of sinners?’,” the priest said.

In 1915, an angel appeared near Fatima, Portugal to young Lucia dos Santos and three of her friends as they prayed the rosary in the fields. An angelic figure later appeared on several occasions to Lucia and her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. The figure spoke to them about Jesus’ and Mary’s “plans of mercy” and on his last visit gave them Holy Communion.

On May 5, 1917 Pope Benedict XV published a pastoral letter asking the faithful to ask Mary to bring an end to World War I.

Eight days later, the Virgin Mary appeared to Lucia and her cousins. In a series of six apparitions, she asked them to recite the Rosary and to make sacrifices on behalf of sinners. She also brought them a three-part secret regarding the fate of the world, urging the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart.

This Oct. 13 will mark the 100th anniversary of the “Miracle of the Sun,” when some 70,000 people gathered in response to the children’s reports and witnessed the sun spin and twirl in the sky, at one point seeming to veer towards earth before returning to its place.

For Fr. Pacwa, the historical context was important to remember.

“We can look back at many points in history and see God’s activity as appropriate for its own place and time,” he said.” God is not there to waste effort and time, but rather to have a purpose for the salvation of the world.”

“And Fatima is an event that occurs at something of a key turning point in the history of western Christianity. And for all Christianity in the world,” he said.

At the time, Portugal itself was under the influence of Masonic government officials, and revolution was stirring in Russia. The western world was formed by atheistic philosophies, nationalism and a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” mentality that ignored “the weeping mothers and fathers of the sons who died” in the war.

“In 1915, Pope Benedict ordered all the churches to pray for the Sacred Heart for peace. Germany, France and Spain refused to pray for peace,” Fr. Pacwa said. “They absolutely refused and would not allow the prayers to go on.”

“That’s why in 1916, the angel of peace was sent to Fatima: to teach the children to pray. He was sent there to teach them especially that real prayer: ‘My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you. I ask pardon of you for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.’ And they felt that strong hope of God’s presence.”

Fr. Pacwa emphasized the question of Fatima.

“Are you willing to offer yourself?” he asked, saying this is something each Catholic can and ought to do every time he or she goes to Mass.

“At the offertory, offer ourselves with the bread and the wine, so that when Christ transforms the bread and wine at the consecration, and transubstantiates it into his Body and Blood, so also he may take our offering of ourselves and transform it to him, unite our self-offering with his offering on the cross.”


What the bishops say about politics matters – and here's why

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 17:14

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2017 / 03:14 pm (CNA).- Catholic moral theologians have responded to Steve Bannon's accusation that the U.S. bishops are economically motivated in their stance on immigration, calling the former White House chief strategist “rash” in his take on the issue.

But what's more, they say Catholics should not treat the guidance of the bishops as just another “guy with an opinion,” as Bannon said – even when dealing with situations that are applications of the Church's doctrinal teaching.

“I absolutely reject Bannon's way of formulating it in general,” Dr. Kevin Miller, a professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA.

“In teaching about matters dealing with faith and morals: even when the bishops are speaking in a prudential way, in a non-magisterial way, they're not just some other guy in the conversation,” he said. “There's a certain kind of appropriate deference that is due there, even if one is to end up disagreeing with what they say or do there.”

“But I also disagree with Bannon because I think he's making an artificial distinction between, on the one hand, the realm of faith and morals, and on the other hand, the realm of politics,” Miller added.

“Politics has to be engaged in morally and the Church has something to say – and has said a great deal over the centuries – over what that means.”

Miller's comments came in response to remarks by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, during an interview with CBS News' “60 Minutes” host Charlie Rose, posted online Sept. 7. The full interview aired September 10. In the clip, Bannon criticized the U.S. Bishops' immigration policy stances and said that the bishops support undocumented immigration because of a cynical “economic interest.”

Rose asked Bannon about the Trump administration's recent announcement to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). After Bannon defended the decision, Rose pressed further, noting that Bannon is a Catholic and that New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan – along with other leaders – have opposed the move.

DACA was established in 2012 by former President Barrack Obama to create a pathway to legal residency for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children so that qualifying individuals can work or continue their education. After challenges on the executive order’s constitutionality – which was partially upheld– the Trump administration responded to pressures from numerous state attorney generals to repeal the program. Currently, around 800,000 persons are part of the DACA program.

“The bishops have been terrible on this,” Bannon responded.

“By the way, you know why? Because [they have been] unable to really, to come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens,” Bannon said. “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. It's obvious on the face of it.”

He continued, saying that while he respected the bishops on elements of doctrine, “this is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation.”

“And in that regard,” Bannon said, “they're just another guy with an opinion.”

In response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying that the bishops' stance on issues including life, healthcare and immigration reform “is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than the convenient political trends of the day.”

“It is both possible and morally necessary to secure the border in a manner which provides security and a humane immigration policy,” the statement said. “For anyone to suggest that it is out of sordid motives of statistics or financial gain is outrageous and insulting.”

Cardinal Dolan also responded to the interview, calling Bannon's insinuation that the bishops' teaching is based on an economic incentive “preposterous.”

“That's insulting and that's just so ridiculous that it doesn't merit a comment,” the cardinal said. Both Dolan's comment and the statement from the bishops' conference referenced long-standing Church teachings highlighting the Christian duty to care for one's neighbors, as well as to protect the vulnerable within a society.

Miller explained that while there is an element of truth in Bannon’s statement, in that the statements of bishops' conferences “don’t share in the magisterium,” or the official authoritative teaching of the Church, that does not mean the bishops' statements or positions on policy should be disregarded. The lack of official magisterial weight of a statement like the bishops' Sept. 5 comments in defense of DACA “doesn't mean it doesn’t require significant, significant deference.”

Miller said it would be “rash” to disregard the guidance of the bishops, and that often, when a bishop comments or signs a statement, it's generally “a fairly clear application” of teachings the Church does hold.

The professor also discussed the issue of prudential judgement, and that Catholics are able to disagree on matters of prudence in how a situation is handled or implemented. Dr. Miller acknowledged that in situations like immigration, there is a prudential component in determining how best the Church's teachings should be applied. Yet, he continued, the bishops' statements and judgement still require deference. The prudential character of subjects the bishops might talk about, Miller stressed, “doesn't mean that you can feel free to ignore them and they're like some guy next door.”

Miller also pushed back against the distinction Bannon made between matters of prudence and matters of “dogma.” He said that while Catholics can, in good faith, disagree on matters of practicality and approach, the bishops' moral voice still has relevance to politics.

“Although there's this difference between basic moral principle and prudential judgement about how to apply it in sometimes complex cases, I don’t think that that distinction is as neat as people sometimes think it is in at least some cases.” Miller explained that the Church has long spoken on the moral duties of nations, and their obligation to serve the common good. While states can do some things in the name of “sovereignty,” he continued, they must act in the interest of the common good – particularly with an eye towards the most vulnerable.

Joseph Capizzi, professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and executive director of the school's Institute for Human Ecology, told CNA that while there may not be a definitive, set doctrine on immigration itself, there is aconsistent teaching within the Church “on principles that pertain to immigration.” He pointed to scriptures and to traditions reaching back to the earliest centuries of the Church that highlight the Church's concern for “the poor, the outcast, refugees, orphans – the physically vulnerable.”

“Those are the first people who get our attention. We're supposed to care for them.” Capizzi also pointed to the Church's tradition of care for one’s neighbor and those within one's community. The care for individuals of that community must be promoted in concert with the common good of the community and its people, he explained.    

The issue of immigration is not one that is new for the Church in the United States, Capizzi said. “When many of our parents and grandparents came into this country, they faced very similar antagonisms,” and many of the same arguments used against immigration today were used in previous decades and centuries, he noted.

“The Catholic bishops are only articulating the same defense of good Catholic people that was articulated on behalf of their parents and their grandparents, and in some cases, themselves, over the course of the history of this country.”

The positive contribution of Catholic immigrants and immigrants in general to the Church and to the United States should outweigh the concerns raised by Bannon's “crass” and “unprovable” statements, as well as those of a decline of Christianity in the United States and the West.

“There's no question the Catholic Church benefits from the presence of hard-working, faithful young Catholic men and women who are coming into this country seeking better lives for themselves and their children,” Capizzi said.


Count on it: Mother Angelica will always be with EWTN, says CEO

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 14:19

Worcester, Mass., Sep 13, 2017 / 12:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Fans of Mother Angelica should know that her influence will not wane at EWTN, where she will always have a place, said the network’s CEO during the Family Talk at the 2017 EWTN Family Celebration in Worcester, Mass, Sept. 9-10.

“Her message really resonates with everyone universally… that’s an incredible, incredible thing,” said Michael P. Warsaw, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at EWTN Global Catholic Network.

“One of the remarkable things we've commented about this: how fresh and how evergreen Mother Angelica’s shows are,” he said. “Many of these shows are 30 years old, and yet they seem as if they were just recorded today. Her message is really timeless in that respect.”

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, a Poor Clare nun, founded EWTN in 1981. She passed away on Easter Sunday 2016, after a long period out of the public eye following a severe stroke in 2001. In addition to running a network that became the largest religious media network in the world, she hosted a popular call-in show, “Mother Angelica Live,” in which she catechized, conducted interviews, and answered viewer questions.

Warsaw said that these shows still have global influence.

“One of the things that has really impacted me as I have traveled and we have expanded internationally is that Mother Angelica really does translate across any language group,” Warsaw said Sept. 9 at the EWTN Family Celebration in Worcester, Mass.

Warsaw, together with several other EWTN leaders, spoke to a crowd of hundreds at Worcester’s DCU Center on Saturday afternoon in a Family Talk. The talk is a way for EWTN viewers to engage with the network, asking questions and making suggestions.

One viewer, Maria from Somerset, Mass., wanted to be certain that EWTN would continue to broadcast Mother Angelica’s shows.

“I think you can count on the fact that Mother Angelica will always be a part of the on-air programming,” Warsaw replied.

Among stories recounted at the Family Talk was an Australian archbishop’s encounter with a woman who was in a rehabilitation center.

“He walked in and said ‘Hi, I’m the archbishop, I’m here to see you’,” Warsaw said.

“And she said: ‘Shh! I’m praying the rosary with EWTN. You should sit down and wait’.”

“And so, he dutifully pulled his rosary out of his pocket and prayed his rosary along with her, and made his visit afterward,” Warsaw said.

A recurring concern among attendees was the situation of family members and friends who were no longer practicing Catholics.

Zachary, a 14-year-old high school freshman, mentioned a friend who had drifted away from the faith and asked how to help her return to the practice of the faith.

Father Mark Mary Cristina, MFVA, responded: “Certainly encourage her to pray. If she’s not going to Mass, invite her to go to Mass with you.”

“Sometimes I think when we are in grief or struggling, practicing our faith can help increase our faith,” the priest said. “Certainly be a good listener, pray for her, try to encourage her to pray.”

“And we’ll pray for you,” Warsaw added.

Father Joseph Mary Wolfe, MFVA, chaplain for EWTN, reflected on the network’s coverage of pro-life issues.

“I believe that there are people walking this earth that are alive today because of EWTN’s pro-life programming,” he said.

For his part, Warsaw cited letters from women who had considered abortions at one point in their lives. Some had written in saying: “My baby was born because at that moment when I needed EWTN, you were there.”

He cited the launch of the news show EWTN Pro-Life Weekly and its focus on key issues in the pro-life cause at all stages of life.

“We’re really trying to motivate people to get involved in the pro-life movement, whatever state they are in,” said Warsaw. “There’s really no other outlet that has done as much in terms of the pro-life message, the pro-life cause, as the network has done over these years.”

“I think it comes back to the importance of prayer. The centrality of that is certainly Mother Angelica’s mission,” he said.

EWTN Global Catholic Network, in its 37th year, is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 268 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories. EWTN services also include radio channels transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; the largest Catholic website in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including “The National Catholic Register” newspaper, and several global wire services; as well as a publishing arm. CNA is part of the EWTN family.


How the US needs to stick up for the Middle East's Christians

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 08:01

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians in the Middle East are heroic witnesses to the faith, and the U.S. must help ensure they can stay in their homelands in peace, a Maronite bishop who is a leading advocate for the region’s Christians says.

“I think the Christians there are the salt of the earth. And they really are Christ in the midst of the Middle East, with no place to lay His head,” Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn told CNA in an interview.

“In my mind, they’re the heroes of today. They’ve faced down ISIS, they’ve faced down evil, they’ve faced down apathy,” he said. “And it’s still these Christians who are educated, they’re gracious, they’re forgiving.”

Bishop Mansour spoke with CNA ahead of multiple planned advocacy campaigns for Christians of the Middle East.

The annual summit of the advocacy group In Defense of Christians will be held in Washington, D.C. Oct. 24-26. It will focus on “American Leadership and Securing the Future of Christians in the Middle East,” and will feature advocacy especially at the offices of members of Congress.

Special guests will include Catholicos Aram I, of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Patriarch Youssef Absi of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and Patriarch Moran Mor Bechara Boutros al-Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch.

In Defense of Christians has also planned an action campaign in the days leading up to the summit, where U.S. Christians can pray for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, advocate for them, and support aid organizations that serve religious minorities in the region.

Christians in the region have suffered for generations, but in recent years their plight has become especially dire. Even before the rise of Islamic State in 2014, Christians had been steadily leaving Iraq, and the Syrian civil war had already been boiling for several years.

In 2014 the Islamic State captured large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, waging a genocidal campaign against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the areas. Hundreds of thousands of Christians fled their homes in Iraq, and many have left Iraq for good or have still been unable to return home.

Over half of Iraq’s Christians have been displaced since 2014, and up to 50,000 have left the country, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association reported in August.

Meanwhile, in Syria, while Christians made up about 10 percent of the country’s population before the civil war began in 2011, that number might be down to around four or five percent, Bishop Mansour estimated. The overall number of Christians there has fallen almost by half since 2010, CNEWA estimated.

In Egypt, Christians have been the victims of ongoing violence and harassment by Muslim neighbors in the more remote parts of the country, and in recent months they have been the target of terror attacks by Islamic State affiliates. Although Egypt contains the largest number of Christians of any country in the region, there is now concern that Christians may begin leaving their homes if the situation continues to worsen.

In Pakistan, Christians are attacked for “blasphemy” with impunity, suffering violence or imprisonment for alleged offenses that may require no evidence for conviction. The government of Turkey has seized church properties without much pushback on the international stage, Bishop Mansour said.

What can concretely be done to help the beleaguered Christians of the Middle East and South Asia?

Prayer is the most important step, Bishop Mansour said, especially prayer for unity and for solidarity. Also, Christians in the U.S. must seek to give what they can to humanitarian aid groups like Catholic Relief Services, CNEWA, and the Knights of Columbus.

However, advocacy is also key, Bishop Mansour said, and Christians must push the U.S. to be a leader on the global stage in defending persecuted Christians around the world.

For the problems facing Christian genocide survivors in Iraq and Syria, this would mean the U.S. working for peace in both countries, and advocating for the treatment of Christians as equal citizens entitled to the same rights as their neighbors.

This might mean a change from the same old policies which may have benefitted certain parties in the region but have failed to help religious minorities like the Christians.

“They don’t think carefully of the Christians on the ground,” Bishop Mansour said of U.S. presidential administrations of both political parties.

U.S. “humanitarian outreach” should focus on those who need it most and should not be just “a one size fit-all” policy, he said. Christians in Iraq have been almost entirely dependent upon the local Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Erbil and aid groups for basic food, clothing, and shelter – U.S. humanitarian aid has reportedly bypassed them.

Although the U.S. State Department has not allowed aid to flow through church groups, a bill that recently passed the U.S. House would amend that. The Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act would allow U.S. aid to go through organizations serving the populations who need the aid the most, including Iraq’s Christians.

Although Islamic State forces have been cleared from most of the Nineveh Plain where Iraq’s Christians once lived, many of the residents have been unable to return home. The obstacles to their security and livelihood, not to mention their financial needs at the moment, are too great.

And for Christians to live there long-term would require stability and security, something the government of Iraq would need to guarantee.

It is “very important for the United States government to work with the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional authorities to secure safety,” Bishop Mansour said. “There needs to be more security.”

In Syria, the U.S. should move for a “negotiated settlement” to the conflict, “which means we have to talk to Russia, and to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” Bishop Mansour said. If nothing is done to mediate the six year-long conflict there, the remaining Christians might leave for good.

“I’m afraid what would happen if there’s no superpower negotiations that bring about peace,” he said.

America must be a leader on the world stage, he said, and Pope Francis has already recognized this.

“He sees America as a place where we can make good things happen in the world. Also, if we’re not careful, we can make bad things happen in the world,” Bishop Mansour said. The Pope, during his 2015 visit to the U.S., urged the U.S. bishops to “be men of communion…for the sake of the world outside.”

Is there a future for Christians in the Middle East? The U.S. must help ensure that there is one, Bishop Mansour said, because Christians are examples of peace and forgiveness amid sectarian strife. If they leave the region for good, the hopes for peace could leave with them.

“Anywhere where there are Christians in the world, we should do everything we can to back them up when they are minorities so that they can play their proper role,” he said.