Browsing News Entries

Let clarity and compassion define sexual identity debates, bishops say

Washington D.C., Dec 15, 2017 / 03:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a time of cultural conflict and mistaken ideas about sexual identity, religious leaders have put forth their preferred approach.

Several leading Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have backed the Dec. 15 letter “Created Male and Female” published on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The letter stressed two themes: male and female are God-given differences that must be publicly acknowledged, and those who are confused about their own identity deserve authentic support.

“We hope this letter communicates to the public our shared understanding of the goodness of the creation of humanity as male or female and underscores our commitment to service of this truth with both clarity and compassion,” said Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chair of the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

The letter said it is important to acknowledge the reality of sexual identity.

“We hope for renewed appreciation of the beauty of sexual difference in our culture and for authentic support of those who experience conflict with their God-given sexual identity,” it said.

Other signers of the letter include leaders in various Christian denominations and Churches, including Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Baptist. Another signer is Imam Faizal Khan, a founder of the Islamic Society of the Washington Area.

“The movement today to enforce the false idea – that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa – is deeply troubling,” the letter continued. “It compels people to either go against reason – that is, to agree with something that is not true – or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation.”

The religious leaders’ letter affirmed that all human beings are created by God and have a God-given dignity.

“We also believe that God created each person male or female; therefore, sexual difference is not an accident or a flaw – it is a gift from God that helps draw us closer to each other and to God. What God has created is good,” they said, citing the Book of Genesis on the creation of humankind: “male and female he created them.”

The desire to be identified as the opposite sex is “a complicated reality that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and truth,” continued the letter. Their concerns deserve a response of “compassion, mercy and honesty.”

“As religious leaders, we express our commitment to urge the members of our communities to also respond to those wrestling with this challenge with patience and love,” they advised.

The letter also voiced concern about how children are affected by current trends in sexual identity.

“Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can ‘change’ their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults,” said the letter. “Parents deserve better guidance on these important decisions, and we urge our medical institutions to honor the basic medical principle of ‘first, do no harm’.”

Voicing a desire for the health and happiness of all men, women and children, the religious leaders called for policies that “uphold the truth of a person's sexual identity as male or female, and the privacy and safety of all.”

In addition to Bishop Conley, Catholic signers of the letter include Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, who chairs the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

The U.S. bishops’ conference said the latest letter follows three previous letters: a Dec. 6, 2010 letter “The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment”; “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together,” from Jan. 12, 2012; and “The Defense of Marriage and the Right of Religious Freedom: Reaffirming a Shared Witness,” dated April 23, 2015.

Apostolic nuncio to US speaks with EWTN News Nightly

Washington D.C., Dec 15, 2017 / 02:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dXoCmKN2XHo" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the US, spoke with EWTN News Nightly's Lauren Ashburn on Wednesday, discussing Pope Francis, his background, and his reception within the Church.

He mentioned the recently published work Jorge Mario Bergoglio: Una biographia intellettuale (Jorge Mario Bergoglio: An Intellectual Biography) by Massimo Borghesi, which discusses the influence on Pope Francis of Fr. Gaston Fessard, among others,.

Fr. Fessard was a French philosopher of the 20th century who has been called “a penetrating critic of Marxism.” He was central to the revival of Hegelian thought on history in France, and sought to be in dialogue with Hegel, considering his widespread influence in modern philosophy. Fr. Fessard was also active in the French Resistance and a critic of the collaborationist Vichy government.

Please read excerpts from the first half of Archbishop Pierre's conversation with Ashburn, edited for clarity and length. The first half aired Dec. 14, and the second will air Dec. 15 on EWTN News Nightly.

 

Lauren: Archbishop Christophe Pierre, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

Archbishop Pierre: Thank you for the invitation.

Lauren: Archbishop, in the fast-moving four and a half years Pope Francis has been Pope, much has been written about him – his “option” for the poor, his evident pastoral approach, the reform of the Vatican. Now we seem to be witnessing a new phase of his interest: the intellectual and cultural roots that drive him. What are they?

Archbishop Pierre: Well, your observation is very interesting, you know, because we have to recognize that the coming of this Pope has created wonder, and a lot of questions. And if you allow me, I would say, during my one year and a half presence in this country, I’ve noticed this sense of wonder. Especially from the people themselves. They are happy to see this Pope. They feel that he is near them. They feel that he understands their problems. And I think this is one of the characteristics of the Pope. But may I say, many of us, a lot of people say, ‘Who is he? Where is he coming from?’ I would say there are two directions. One direction is coming from South America. This is his background. I’ve been living in four countries, and working in countries in South America.

(Lauren: Including Mexico) Including Mexico. And I arrived in Mexico at the time of the famous Aparecida conference of the Latin American bishops of the last century. This conference is very important to understand Pope Francis, because he was one of the main actors, because he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. But he was one of the main actors. So this is one aspect. The second one is intellectual background. And precisely a couple of weeks ago, an Italian author, Massimo Borghesi, published a book.

Lauren: That would be this book. (Laughter)

Archbishop Pierre: Ah, you read it.

Lauren: It’s in Italian, however, so you are going to have to tell me what it says. Let me talk to you about this book. It claims that behind this simplicity lies a “deep and original thinking,” based largely on French philosophers and theologians. That comes as a surprise to the Argentinian and populist stereotype of Francis. You are a Frenchman, who has spent years serving many different countries worldwide. What is this “deep and original thinking”?

Archbishop Pierre: Well first and foremost this Pope has been educated in our own time. The book tells us that maybe the first important author having contributed to his formation is the Jesuit Gaston Fessard. Maybe Gaston Fessard is not well known in the United States. I happened, when I was pursuing my master’s in theology in the French Catholic Institute of Paris, to make a credit on Gaston Fessard. [sic] So I was very happy when I read this book; I said, ‘My God!’

Lauren: You both are following after Gaston Fessard.

But there is unease among bishops over his approach. How can that be that be rectified?

Archbishop Pierre: I have read the Pope is not very precise. The Pope is not, eh, not a great intellectual, he is more pastoral than dogmatic. I would say these things are stereotypes. And maybe also prejudice. So I think there is a great -- we especially with the bishops -- we have a great responsibility, to try to understand our Pope. And to understand him in all aspects of his personality before making a judgment. And I think this is precisely what we should try to do. And not to remain with a superficial judgement of who he is or what he is supposed to be according to our own judgement. And by the way, he is also the Pope.

 

Lauren: Archbishop Christophe Pierre, thank you for joining us.

Archbishop Pierre: Thank you.

 

Hartford auxiliary bishop resigns at age 72

Hartford, Conn., Dec 15, 2017 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See announced Friday that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Christie Macaluso from his position in the Archdiocese of Hartford at the age of 72.

Macaluso will continue to live at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, a Hartford suburb, “and will remain active in episcopal ministry to the extent that his health and circumstances permit,” the archdiocese stated.

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford expressed his goodwill for Macaluso and acknowledged his contribution to the archdiocese over the years.

“From my first days as Archbishop of Hartford, Bishop Macaluso has been of invaluable assistance thanks to his knowledge and experience of this local Church over many years,” Archbishop Blair stated Dec. 15.

“In the name of all the clergy, religious and laity of the Archdiocese I wish him all the best and God’s blessing in days to come,” he continued.

Macaluso was born in Hartford June 12, 1945 to Albert and Helen Macaluso. He attended St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in theology. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford May 22, 1971.

Having also studied music and various languages, Macaluso additionally holds a master’s degree in psychology from New York University and a master’s degree in philosophy from Trinity College.

Macaluso has served in the Archdiocese of Hartford in both parochial and administrative positions. He was  assistant pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Hartford and St. Joseph Parish in New Britain. In 1980, he was made dean of St. Thomas Seminary College, where he also served as a faculty member and was later appointed as president and rector. Macaluso also served as rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph from 1991-1997.

St. John Paul II named Macaluso a monsignor in 1995 and he was additionally made episcopal vicar of Hartford.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Hartford and consecrated a bishop in 1997. During his appointment as auxiliary bishop he also served as the vicar general of the archdiocese, and moderator of the curia.

A crash course in Miracles 101

Denver, Colo., Dec 15, 2017 / 03:32 am (CNA).- What do a grilled cheese sandwich and the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe have in common?

Both bore what appeared to be images of Mary. One was determined to be authentically miraculous, the other was not. Not to spoil any secrets, but it’s not Our Lady of the Grilled Cheese that converted Mexico and continues to draw millions of people on pilgrimage every year.

But have you ever wondered just how the Church determines the bogus from the divinely appointed?

In his book, “Exploring the Miraculous,” Michael O’Neill gives readers a crash course of sorts in “Miracles 101” - including common questions about the importance of miracles, an explanation of the approval process, and descriptions of the various types of miracles found within the Catholic Church.

“This is a very rare book in that it tries to cover the entire spectrum of miracles within the Catholic Church,” O’Neill told CNA.

Catholics by definition are people who have to believe in at least two miracles, O’Neill said - that of Christ’s incarnation and his resurrection, two pillars on which the Catholic faith rests.

For modern-day miracles, belief is never required of the faithful. The highest recognition that the Church gives to an alleged miracle is that it is “worthy of belief.” Investigations of reported miraculous events – which include extensive fact-finding, psychological examination and theological evaluation – may result in a rejection if the event is determined to be fraudulent or lacking in super natural character.

Or the Church may take a middle road, declaring that there is nothing contrary to the faith in a supposed apparition, without making a determination on whether a supernatural character is present.

But while official investigations can take years, the mere report of a miracle can bring Catholics from long distances, hoping to see some glimpse of the divine reaching into the human.

And it’s not just the faithful who find miracles fascinating.

“It's important for atheists and skeptics, those people who don’t believe, they’ve got to have an explanation for the inexplicable,” he said. “There’s something for everyone.”

The universal nature of the experience of the miraculous is also what draws people from all belief spectrums to these stories, O’Neill added.

“We all pray for miracles of one sort or another. They can be these really sort of small things like praying for an impossible comeback in a football game, or it can be a lost wallet or wedding ring,” he said.

“But they can also be these really big things, such as our loved ones, they fall away from the faith and we want them to return, or somebody from our friends or our family is very sick and we desperately implore God’s help for them. It’s something that everybody experiences.”

O’Neills own fascination with miracles started in college, when for an archeology assignment he studied the miraculous tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Marian apparition to which he’d inherited his mother’s devotion. He had heard stories about miracles associated with the image, both from within his own family and from the larger Church, and he wondered how much truth there was to the tales.

He also started learning about the larger tradition of miracles within the Church, and was struck by how the Church has carefully investigated thousands of claims over the years, only to select certain ones that it eventually deems as of divine origin.

“I thought that was fascinating that the Church would stick its neck out and say these things are worthy of belief,” he said.

Although he continued his engineering studies throughout college, a piece of advice at graduation from Condoleezza Rice, who was serving as vice provost at Stanford University at the time, stayed with him.

“She asked what we were going to do after graduation, and her advice was to become an expert in something,” he said.

“And I thought about what would be a great thing to study? My mind went back to all those hours I’d spent in the library and my promise to return to it someday and I said you know what? I want to be the expert on miracles.”

For a while he kept his studies private - he didn’t want to be seen as the guy who was obsessed with weird things like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But eventually, he realized that many people were interested in miracles and found them helpful for their own faith.

“It’s a way that people feel connected to God, they know that God is a loving father watching out for them, so it’s one of those things - a miracle is a universal touchstone,” he said.

“No matter how strong we think our faith is or want it to be, we always want to know that God is there for us, and miracles are that sort of element that bridges the gap between our faith and our connection with God.”

In his book, O’Neill provides descriptions and examples of every basic category of miracle within the Catholic Church, including healing miracles from saints in the canonization process, biblical miracles, apparitions, locutions (audible messages from God or a saint), miraculous images, Eucharistic miracles, incorrupt bodies (those that either partially or fully do not decompose after death), and stigmata (the wounds of Christ appearing on some living people).

The most popular kind of miracle, and O’Neill’s personal favorite, are Marian apparitions - when Mary appears in a supernatural and corporeal way to a member of the faithful, most often with a message.  

There have been about 2,500 claims of Marian apparitions throughout history, and a major one that many people are currently curious about are the alleged apparitions happening at Medjugorje, about which the Church has yet to make a definitive decision of validity. Curiosity about Marian apparitions was also a large part of what spurred O’Neill to create his website, miraclehunter.com, where he files information about miracles in their respective categories and provides information on their origin story and whether or not they have been approved by the Vatican.

“The Vatican didn’t have a resource where you can find out what’s approved and what’s not, and what messages are good for our faith and what ones we should stay away from, so I tried to create a resource for the faithful for that,” he said. He’s now been running the website for more than 15 years.

O’Neill also loves Eucharistic miracles, because unlike several other types of miracles, whose validity are largely determined by faithful and reliable witnesses, science can be applied.

“They can check to see if it’s really human blood, and what type of blood, and in some cases you have heart muscle in these hosts that have turned into true flesh,” he said.

One of O’Neill’s favorite Eucharistic miracles occurred in Argentina while Pope Francis was still a bishop there.

It was August of 1996, and a priest in Buenos Aires, Fr. Alejandro Pezet, discovered a host in the back of his church, and so he took it and placed it in some water in the tabernacle to dissolve it. Over the next few days, days he kept an eye on it, and it grew increasingly red. The priest decided to present the case to Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, who ordered that the host be professionally photographed and eventually examined by a scientist in the U.S., who was not told the origin of the specimen he was testing.

The tests showed the sample to be heart muscle with blood type AB, the same blood type found on the Shroud of Turin.

“The scientist was an atheist and he said, why did you send me this heart muscle, what was the point of this? And they said it was a consecrated host, and actually that atheist scientist converted to Catholicism as a result of that study,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill also notes in his book that when considering miracles, it’s important to not go to extremes.

“The question of the role of miracles in our life of faith is an important one and requires avoiding two extremes: an overemphasis and credulity regarding the supernatural on the one hand and a denial of the possibility of divine intervention and a diminishment of the role of popular devotion on the other,” he wrote. Either way, obedience to the magisterium of the Church and their teachings on particular miracles is key.

Miracles are an important asset for the faith because of their ability to connect people with God, either as first-time believers or as long-time faithful who need a reminder of God’s presence.

“I like to think of miracles as a great way to engage young people, to get them excited about the faith,” he said. “They shouldn’t be the centrality of anybody’s faith, but it’s a way to open the door for people...so I think miracles can play a huge role in evangelization.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA May 8, 2016.

Proposed Catholic hospital mega-merger assessed by Church officials

Denver, Colo., Dec 14, 2017 / 08:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic ethics and church law must be at the center of a merger of two major Catholic health care systems that, if approved, will create the largest non-profit health system in the country, an archdiocesan official says.

Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives and San Francisco-based Dignity Health announced the proposed merger Dec. 7.

They aim to create a new Catholic healthcare system, set to be based in Chicago. The combined health system will be run by the CEOs of both companies. It will include 139 hospitals, employ 159,000 people, and have a combined revenue of $28.4 billion.

The merger requires regulatory approval—and also scrutiny that it does not violate Catholic ethical and canonical norms.

Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco are among those responsible for analyzing the moral and ethical considerations of the proposed merger for the health systems based in their respective cities, David Uebbing, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver, told CNA.

The USCCB’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” require that the merger of the healthcare systems receive a “nihil obstat” from the diocesan bishop in the places where the systems are headquartered.

Uebbing said the review process in Denver has already involved “an extensive, multi-month” analysis of the proposal and consultation with the bishops affected. The process has involved consultation with legal, canonical and health care ethics experts.

“A nihil obstat is a negative declaration that essentially says, ‘nothing stands in the way’,” Uebbing said. “A nihil obstat has limited scope, i.e., determining that there is nothing morally or doctrinally objectionable in the proposed corporate structure. It does not convey approval or agreement with the proposal.”

Both health care systems are sponsored by canonical organizations overseen directly by the Vatican, which, according to canon law, will also need to approve the merger.

A new name for the proposed system will be announced sometime after mid-2018, pending final approval from federal and state officials as well as Catholic officials.

The leaders of both health care systems said the proposed merger would be better for health care.

“We are joining together to create a new Catholic health system, one that is positioned to accelerate the change from sick-care to well-care across the United States,” said Kevin E. Lofton, the CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives.

He said the organization will have “the talent, depth, breadth, and passion to improve the health of every person and community we serve,” the Houston Chronicle reports.

Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Dignity Health, said the merger will build upon a shared mission and will “expand our commitment to meeting the needs of all people with compassion, regardless of income, ethnicity, or language.”

“We foresee an incredible opportunity to expand each organization's best practices to respond to the evolving health care environment and deliver high-quality, cost-effective care,” he continued.

Currently Catholic Health Initiatives has hospitals in 17 states, while Dignity Health has facilities in 22 states, including those operating under brands such as U.S. HealthWorks, the Sacramento Bee reports.

CNA contacted Dignity Health, and the Archdiocese of Chicago for comment but did not receive a response by deadline. Catholic Health Initiatives was unable to respond to a request for comment.

In 2012 Dignity Health, adopted a new board structure and changed its name from Catholic Healthcare West, deemphasizing its ties to the Catholic Church. Then-Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco determined the changes were consistent with Catholic morals.

At the time, it was reported that the system’s Catholic hospitals would continue to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

The system’s non-Catholic hospitals adhere to the system’s “Statement of Common Values.” Those rules prohibit abortion and in-vitro fertilization but not sterilization procedures like tubal ligations.

Catholic Healthcare West, later renamed Dignity Health, came under scrutiny following a 2009 incident at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, which is part of the health system. The hospital’s ethics board decided that a direct abortion could be performed on a woman who was suffering severe medical complications, in violation of Catholic teaching that direct abortion is inherently evil.

In December 2010 Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix revoked the Catholic status of the hospital after an investigation found both the hospital and its parent company involved in a pattern of behavior that violated Catholic health care ethics, including creating and managing a government program that offers birth control, sterilization procedures and abortion.

In January 2012 the health network’s CEO, Dean, said concerns about the system’s Catholic affiliation hindered potential agreements with other hospitals.

The expansion of Catholic hospitals operating according to Catholic teaching has drawn opposition from critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the MergerWatch project. Those groups co-authored a 2013 report that claimed the growth of Catholic hospitals was a “miscarriage of medicine.”

The report said the ACLU’s advocacy in the area was backed by various funders including the Arcus Foundation, which is a major funder of an influence campaign to restrict religious freedoms in areas that run counter to the foundation’s vision of LGBT advocacy and reproductive health.

Christmas cash for the homeless: The legacy of one Denver priest continues

Denver, Colo., Dec 14, 2017 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It was a chilly Thursday in December, with a dusting of snow on the ground. But that didn’t stop hundreds of poor and homeless people from packing the Denver Cathedral for what the pastor calls “the greatest day of the year” for the parish.

It was the Father Woody Christmas cash giveaway, the annual event when the cathedral hosts a prayer service and gives $20 - in the form of two $10 bills - to all of the poor and the homeless who attend.

The idea behind the two bills? It gives the recipients the option of giving one of the bills away.

“I got kind of a crabby e-mail about this event, saying ‘Why are you giving the homeless money, they’re just going to spend it on alcohol or drugs,’” Fr. Ron Cattany, pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of Immaculate Conception in Denver, told CNA.

“And I responded back with a line from Father Woody: ‘Everybody needs a little cash in their pocket at Christmas,’” he said.

It gives them a sense of dignity, and a sense of generosity, he added.

“What’s beautiful is that sometimes what you’ll see here...is one of the guys will come up and say, ‘Today’s my birthday, will you give me a bunch of (McDonald’s) cards so I can take my buddies out to lunch on my birthday?’ And of course you do that because even from where they are, they’re giving and sharing with other people,” Cattany said.

The event all started 28 years ago, when an endowment fund was set up in honor and in the spirit of Monsignor Charles B. Woodrich - better known as Fr. Woody - a Denver priest renowned for his generous spirit and can-do attitude.

During his time as a priest, he established school lunch programs for poor children, opened up the doors of his parish to the homeless during cold winter nights (most famously during the blizzard of ‘82), and would routinely give his friends on the street the coats off his back and the cash in his pockets. Today, the name Father Woody is synonymous with charity in the Denver community.

The attendees of the Father Woody giveaway often line up outside the cathedral for hours before the event begins.

On Thursday, they filled the pews to standing room only, and attended a prayer service before receiving their cash, along with hugs and greetings of ‘Merry Christmas’ from numerous volunteers from the Christ in the City program, Regis University’s Father Woody program, and several other groups and private volunteers.

“It’s so cool to be here with so many people who experience homelessness, and so many of them we can call our friends, and to know that God loves them the same and that they are so welcome here,” Emma Rashilla, a missionary with Christ in the City, told CNA.

“These are the people who are usually on the outside looking in, and now they’re on the inside, and it doesn’t matter if they’re Catholic or Christian,” or have no faith, all are welcome, Fr. Cattany added.

After they receive their money and McDonald’s gift cards, hot chocolate, new socks and homemade hats are waiting for them outside.

“It shows the real meaning of giving, of sharing gifts and showing your emotional and spiritual awareness of the real reason for Christmas which is that Christ is born that day,” Kevin, one of the attendees, told CNA.

“When you don’t have much to give, you don’t feel so jolly, but when someone gives you something, it makes you feel more generous,” he added.

“It’s people getting together and seeing old friends, (I feel) highly favored and blessed,” said Wilma, another attendee.  

Odalis Hernandez, a senior at Regis University who was helping hand out colorful, homemade knit hats from the students in the university’s Father Woody program, said she was inspired to start helping people after seeing a movie about Fr. Woody.

“It’s something that I wouldn’t have done without the inspiration of someone like that,” she said.  

Lovey Shipp, a spunky nonagenarian who worked as Father Woody’s secretary for several years before he passed away in 1991, still cherishes the many “Father Woody-isms” that she remembers. She has participated in every cash giveaway since its official beginning 28 years ago.

“Father Woody used to say, ‘service is the rent you pay for the space you take up,’” she told CNA.

“He taught people with money how to give. It’s not yours, it’s by God’s grace that you have it, you could be one of the homeless if he saw fit to do so,” she said.

She encouraged anyone who desires to help the homeless this season to “keep an open mind and have your heart match. That’s what Father Woody did.”

“Just give,” she added. “Give from the heart. And smile!”

 

 

Keep internet neutral, U.S. bishops say

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday, the Federal Communication Commission voted to repeal net neutrality regulations, which the U.S. bishops have called essential to fair use of the internet by for nonprofits and individuals.

“Without open internet principles which prohibit paid prioritization, we might be forced to pay fees to ensure that our high-bandwidth content receives fair treatment on the internet,” said Bishop Christopher Coyne, Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Communications.

“Non-profit communities, both religious and secular, cannot afford to pay to compete with profitable commercialized content.”

The bishop’s statement was released on Nov. 28, after the FCC announced a proposal to repeal the protections, which were created in 2015. The rule was officially repealed on Dec. 14.

Net neutrality rules require internet service providers, like Comcast or AT&T, to provide equal access to the internet. This means internet providers cannot block, slow down, or charge for content from particular websites or web-based services.

For example, in 2007 Comcast was accused of providing slower internet service to subscribers who were using peer-to-peer file-sharing services. People using BitTorrent, which is a file-sharing network, claimed they had slower or blocked access when uploading files.

Net neutrality advocates have expressed concern that content providers who pay more money will be given better access to internet users, placing smaller companies and nonprofits at a disadvantage.

Bishop Coyne argued that fair access to the internet is critical for the Church to fulfill its mission in the modern world.

“Strong net neutrality protections are critical to the faith community to function and connect with our members, essential to protect and enhance the ability of vulnerable communities to use advanced technology, and necessary for any organization that seeks to organize, advocate for justice or bear witness in the crowded and over-commercialized media environment,” he wrote

Dioceses, schools, parishes, and other religious institutions, must have access to high speed internet to not only to communicate internally, but also to spread the Gospel through media, he said.  

Strong internet protections help the Church “to share religious and spiritual teachings, to promote activities online, and to engage people – particularly younger persons – in our ministries,” he said.  
According to NPR, the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, said the regulations prevented companies from improving the internet by stifling investments, but net-neutrality advocates have said that ending the regulations will give too much power to internet providers.

“I have heard from innovators, worried that we are standing up a 'mother-may-I' regime, where the broadband provider becomes arbiter of acceptable online business models,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, according to NPR.

 

Ohio bill one step closer to prohibiting Down syndrome abortions

Columbus, Ohio, Dec 14, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, the Ohio State Senate passed a bill that would penalize doctors who perform abortions, if the abortion is chosen “in whole or in part,” because the unborn child has received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The bill, which passed the Senate 20-12, will now be sent to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has 10 days to sign the bill into law. The governor’s office noted that Kasich has called the measure “appropriate,” but has not yet confirmed that the governor will sign the bill.

Proponents of the law are optimistic that Kasich will approve the measure, given that the Republican governor has passed over a dozen laws which have limited abortion protections or funding in the past six years.

The law would charge physicians with a fourth-degree felony, and the potential of a revoked medical license, if they perform an abortion wholly or partially motivated by Down syndrome. Mothers would not face charges.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused when an individual’s DNA contains an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. Also known as trisomy-21, Down syndrome is a relatively common genetic disorder, affecting around one in 700 babies born in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has risen dramatically in recent decades, thanks to modern resources and healthcare. A 2011 study found that people with Down syndrome report high levels of happiness and personal satisfaction, as do their siblings and other family members.  

However, data from a 2012 study have shown that 75 percent of women who are pregnant with a child who has received a Down syndrome diagnosis will terminate the pregnancy.

While the measure has caused some backlash from advocates for abortion, who wore shirts with the message “Stop the Bans” during the vote on Wednesday, pro-life groups in the state have applauded the bill as a victory.

“Every Ohioan deserves the right to life, no matter how many chromosomes they have,” said Mike Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, according to Reuters.

Because it is unclear how the motivating factors for abortion can be proven, there will likely be some legal challenges to the bill if it Governor Kasich approves it. The ACLU has opposed the bill, calling it unconstitutional.

Similar measures were passed in Indiana and North Dakota, but the Indiana law was revoked by a U.S. District Judge in September after a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU. The North Dakota law has not faced legal challenges.

Former priest to serve life for 1960 murder in Texas

Brownsville, Texas, Dec 13, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 60 years after Irene Garza disappeared after going to confession in her Texas hometown, the last person who saw her – who was a priest at the time – has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

John Feit, an 85-year-old former priest has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Garza on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1960.

Irene Garza was a 25-year-old schoolteacher, former beauty queen, and figure in the McAllen Tex. Catholic and Mexican-American communities. Friends and neighbors remember her as a young woman of faith.

“Remember the last time we talked, I told you I was afraid of death?” Garza wrote to her friend mere days before her death. The letter was later published by Texas Monthly. “Well I think I’m cured. You see, I’ve been going to communion and Mass daily and you can’t imagine the courage and faith and happiness it has given me.”

Six days later, Garza went to go to confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church before Easter services. She never returned. Her body was discovered days later in a ditch.

Later, police determined that she had been raped, physically restrained, and beaten for several days before suffocating to death.

Feit, who was a 27-years-old visiting priest at the time, was a main suspect early on in the case: he was the priest who heard Garza’s confession, and his portable slide viewer was found alongside Garza’s body.

Suspicion grew after Feit was charged and pled “no contest” to assaulting and the attempted rape another young woman, Maria Guerra. Guerra was attacked while she was praying at another church in a nearby Texas town only three weeks before Garza’s death.

However, Feit was not charged with Garza’s murder until over five decades later.

Feit left the priesthood in 1972, and afterwards married and worked for the St. Vincent de Paul charity in Phoenix.

After Feit left the priesthood, two priests told the authorities of their suspicions that Feit murdered Garza, with one claiming the priest had scratches on his face after Garza’s disappearance, and another saying that Feit told the priest that he had murdered a young woman, and offered details on how he committed the crime. At the time, however, the then-priest (who himself also left the priesthood) did not know the crime Feit described was Garza’s murder.

After the priests’ statements to authorities in the 2000s, the case was re-opened in 2015. Feit was arrested and charged in 2016, and the trial began Nov. 28, 2017 after several setbacks. He was sentenced Dec. 8.

Pennsylvania governor promises veto of 20-week abortion limit

Harrisburg, Pa., Dec 13, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would limit abortions to 20 weeks into pregnancy and ban dismemberment abortion, but Gov. Tom Wolf intends to veto it.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, criticized the governor’s pledge to veto.

“His extreme pro-abortion stance is radically out of step with Pennsylvanians as he prepares to face the voters in 2018,” she said Dec. 13.

The Susan B. Anthony List cited a 2013 Harper Polling survey that said 82 percent of Democratic primary voters in the state think abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the legislation, Senate Bill 3, by a vote of 121-70 on Dec. 12. Six Republicans opposed the bill, while 12 Democrats voted in favor.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 32-18 in February. There are likely not enough votes to override a veto.

Wolf opposed the bill, saying it violated the doctor-patient relationship. He objected to its lack of exceptions for abortion in cases of pregnancy by rape or incest.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I will veto <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SB3?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SB3</a> because I stand with every woman in Pennsylvania who deserves to make her own health decisions. <a href="https://t.co/QHoKydPy9a">https://t.co/QHoKydPy9a</a></p>&mdash; Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorTomWolf/status/940739354355519488?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 13, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

“These women deserve our support, not to be maligned by politicians in Harrisburg for making medical decisions about their bodies for their families with their doctors,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

Dannenfelser had another view.

“The Pennsylvania legislature just took a bold step to protect unborn children and their mothers,” she said. “We are encouraged by the legislature’s action and look forward to the day when all unborn children are protected under the law.”

The state currently bars abortions 24 weeks or later into pregnancy.

Backers of the bill cited progress in medicine that allows premature babies to survive earlier in pregnancy than before.

The bill would preserve current exemptions for when a mother’s life is at risk, or if she is at risk of a serious permanent injury, the Associated Press reports. It would not allow exemptions for rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities.

Dawn Keefer, R-York, said the issue should not be framed only in terms of women’s rights. Rather, she asked, “what about the rights of those pre-born women in the womb being exterminated?”

Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, characterized the bill as an attempt to control women “by imposing the views of some legislators on women, and I think that's wrong – that's morally wrong.”

The dismemberment abortion ban would in effect ban dilation-and-evacuation abortion, the most common method of abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy.

“Dismemberment abortion is completely inhumane, it's barbaric,” said Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York.

Federal legislation to bar abortion after 20 weeks has made some progress. On Oct. 3 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act late by a vote of 237 to 189, largely along party lines. It was expected to fail in the Senate.

Dannenfelser, however, claimed, “Momentum is building to pass a national ban on late-term abortion more than halfway through pregnancy.”