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‘Newman converts’ come home to Rome for canonization

Vatican City, Oct 13, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The canonization of St. John Henry Newman Sunday drew “Newman converts” to Rome from throughout the English-speaking world, all of whom followed Newman’s writings across the Tiber River and into the Catholic Church.

Elayne Allen, 24, is one such “Newman convert.” She came into the Catholic Church in December 2017. Allen decided to become a Catholic after a friend loaned her a copy of Newman’s “An Essay on the Development of Doctrine.”

Allen traveled to Europe for the first time so that she could be present at Newman’s canonization Oct. 13.

“It was ... deeply personal and gratifying to see someone who’s impacted my thinking and prayer life so much become a saint. The grace God has given me through this saint made me think of the beautifully intricate and various ways God chooses to reveal himself to us,” Allen told CNA after the canonization Mass.

Newman was canonized by Pope Francis along with Mariam Thresia, Marguerite Bays, Giuseppina Vannini, and Dulce Lopes, during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square, with an estimated 50,000 people in attendance.

“The Church’s universal mission kept returning to my mind. I thought it a splendid image of the Church’s catholicity that Mother Vannini, who grew up as an Italian orphan, and John Henry Newman, widely considered among the Church’s greatest theologians since Thomas Aquinas, honored side by side,” she said.

Allen, who had been had been raised attending non-denominational evangelical churches, was introduced to the writings of Newman as a student at Baylor University during a class on 18th and 19th century literature.

“I had never even heard of Newman … the existence of a formidable Catholic intellectual tradition was completely alien to me,” she said.

“I quickly found Newman to be a demanding but electrifying writer. He is known for sentences that occupy an entire page, piling one qualifying or descriptive clause after another. His lucid, crisp but recondite prose utterly absorbed me.”

Allen credits Baylor’s Great Texts program for providing her with an introduction to Catholicism and Church history. By the time she reached graduation, she was reading early Church history on her own with an eye on both Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

“My reading pointed to Rome or Constantinople. It seemed evident that the Church is an institutional body protected the Holy Spirit to safeguard doctrine, but I wasn't certain which communion was most consistent with Scripture and early ecumenical councils,” she said.

That is when a friend gave her a copy of “An Essay on the Development of Doctrine.”

Allen said she was “elated by the...simplicity and vigor” in “Newman’s groundbreaking explanation of the way ideas crystallize over time through contact with various circumstances, contexts, and even errors.”

“He says the ‘deposit of faith,’ the earliest revelations of Christianity, imply a variety of interconnected doctrines that require time and contact with living reality to be realized. Newman crucially argues that, while the power of human reason can detect and discern these developments, Christ promises the Holy Spirit as the ultimate protector against error,” she explained.

“I soon became convinced that the Catholic Church, even with all its excesses and eccentricities, is the only communion where doctrine actually develops and knew that I wanted to become Catholic,” Allen said.

She was received into the Catholic Church on Dec. 6, 2017. She continues to ask regularly for Newman’s intercessions and has “not been able to stop reading his work.”

“I read ‘The Grammar of Assent’ earlier this year, a challenging but rewarding book. His ‘Apologia Pro Vita Sua’ revealed to me his spiritual sensitivity and the turmoil he faced before and after his conversion,” she said.

As a recent convert, Allen says she has also enjoyed discovering the beauty of the Church in Rome for the first time this weekend.

“It’s positively overwhelming and enchanting to be here. It’s made me realize the ways in which God chooses to use human artifice and genius to demonstrate His glory. Breathtaking artwork and written works crafted by men and women to glorify Him are ever-displayed throughout Rome,” she said. “It has been a treasure to behold!”
 

 

How a miracle through Cardinal Newman saved a mother and baby in a dangerous pregnancy

Chicago, Ill., Oct 12, 2019 / 04:01 am (CNA).- Melissa Villalobos spoke to our podcast, CNA Newsroom, for our Cardinal Newman episode, which can be found here. This article is an adaptation of that conversation.

 

 

 

When Melissa Villalobos first heard about Cardinal John Henry Newman, she had no idea the pivotal role he would play in her life, nor the pivotal role she would play in his cause for sainthood. The Catholic wife and mother from Chicago stumbled into a show about Newman on EWTN “just by accident” in 2000, while she was getting ready for work and ironing her clothes. She was struck by what the show had to say about him.

 

“These priests and scholars were talking about him and his life and what a holy man he was, and what a tremendous influence he had on the church and on other people in his life,” Villalobos told CNA.

“I was really taken by it and I thought, ‘This man is so amazing,’” she said. But it wasn’t until a year later, when her husband brought home two holy cards of Cardinal Newman, that Villalobos’ devotion to him really began.

She displayed one of the cards in the living room, the other in her bedroom, and “I would pass by his image every day, and I would look into his eyes and I would pray to him and I would just talk to him as a mother,” she said. “And I felt like his expression was matching my emotions at the time. If I felt sad for some reason he looked sympathetic, if I felt joy, he looked pleased, and I just felt like we were really living life together,” Villalobos recalled. She invoked Cardinal Newman often, and considered him one of her closes spiritual friends. Eventually she started looking up his writings online, and described the experience like “finding gold in the backyard.”

“He was every bit as holy and loving as I had suspected he was by looking at his face. He had such a tremendous affection for ordinary people, which I discovered by reading his letters, and I felt like I could be one of those ordinary people in his life.”

Born in 1801 in London, John Henry Newman was originally an Anglican priest before his conversion to Catholicism in 1845 at the age of 44. He would soon become a renowned Catholic priest, theologian, poet, homilist, and, in 1879, a cardinal. His works are considered among the most important contributions to the thought of the Church in recent centuries.

His conversion to Catholicism was controversial in the birthplace of Anglicanism, and he lost many friends as a result, including his own sister, who refused to speak to him again. Newman was also a devoted educator and founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England in two locations. He died in Birmingham in 1890 at the age of 89. The Vatican announced his Oct. 13 canonization date in July. The more Villalobos learned about Newman, the closer she felt to him, and she would eventually come to rely on his intercession in a major way. In 2013, more than a decade after first hearing about Newman on EWTN, Villalobos was pregnant with her fifth child and was experiencing serious complications. In her first trimester, Villalobos started bleeding continuously, and she learned she had a condition called subchorionic hematoma, a blood clot between the placenta and the uterine wall that causes the placenta to be “partially ripped and detached from the uterine wall.” “It was a life-threatening problem because I could hemorrhage to death,” Villalobos recalled. 
The prognosis was grim. There was no cure to be found in medicine or surgery. Villalobos was ordered to be on strict bed rest to give her baby the best possible chance. She did the best she could, but Villalobos was still caring for her other four young children in the meantime. On the morning of May 15, less than a week after being diagnosed with the condition, Villalobos woke up in a pool of her own blood.
With her husband away on a work trip, Villalobos debated when she should call 9-1-1. She decided to give her kids some breakfast first, and then she locked herself in the bathroom to figure out what to do. But by then, Villalobos had lost so much blood that she collapsed on the floor.

“Unfortunately though, somehow I did not have my cellphone with me,” she recalled. “I couldn’t believe it.”

She considered shouting for one of her kids to bring her phone, but worried that the shouting would cause more bleeding or a miscarriage. Desperate, she called out to her old friend, Cardinal Newman. “I said, ‘Please Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop.’ And just then, immediately it stopped. And I stood up and I smelled roses that filled the bathroom air.”
The smell of roses is often considered the “scent of holiness”, with many stories of saints leaving a rosy scent in places where they have intervened in prayer. “And I said, ‘Oh Cardinal Newman, did you just make the bleeding stop? Thank you!’ And then there was this second burst of roses. And I knew I was cured, and I knew Gemma my daughter was ok,” Villalobos said. Villalobos had an ultrasound scheduled for that afternoon, and the doctor found what Villalobos attributes to Cardinal Newman’s intercession: the bleeding had completely stopped.

“The doctor saw that there was no more bleeding and he was amazed, and he said, ‘the baby looks perfect.’”

It was vastly different than Villalobos’ previous experience in the pregnancy. 

“The doctors (had) said you will probably miscarry if you’re lucky, the placenta could barely hold up to the third trimester, and she’ll be born but she’ll be really small and she’ll have medical problems,” Villalobos recalled. “Thanks be to Cardinal Newman and to God that I was cured and Gemma was born completely healthy.”

Villalobos said she waited until after Gemma was born to report the miracle to Fr. Ignatius Harrison, the postulator for Newman’s cause for canonization. After receiving her letter, Fr. Harrison came to Chicago to meet with Villalobos, her husband, Gemma, and the doctors. He examined medical records and conducted interviews, and told Villalobos to keep the potential miracle a secret until it could be investigated by the Vatican. She got brief updates about twice a year, she said, but for the most part, she did not really know how the cause was advancing, she just prayed with her family that Newman would soon be canonized.

“There was really no one to ask to say, ‘Well how does this usually work?’ You know sometimes if you’re going through something in your life you say ‘Oh, well how did it work for you?’ But there was no one to ask to say ‘Well, when you were miraculously cured, how long did it take to hear from the postulator?’” she said.

Then in February 2019, Villalobos received the news that Pope Francis signed the degree recognizing the miracle.

“I’m surprised at how many people tell me that they’re happy to know that God still performs miracles,” Villalobos said, “I’m glad they know that. I feel like I’ve known that, and I want other people to know that God has never abandoned us. I know it’s hard to believe in miracles because we don’t always get what we want, but we know that God the Father in his love always gives us what’s best for us.” Villalobos, Gemma, and the rest of the family traveled to Rome to be there for Newman’s canonization, which will take place this Sunday.

“I just love him dearly and I hope that anybody who needs help, whether you’re a mother, or a student...or a convert, he can really touch the lives of so many people. I just hope they’ll reach out to him and see a friend in him. He’s so loving and amazing.”

 

Kate Veik contributed to this report.

Millionaire pornographers charged with sex trafficking in California

San Diego, Calif., Oct 11, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The owners and two employees of two related pornography websites were charged in federal court with sex trafficking on Thursday, Oct. 10. 

Michael James Pratt, 36, Matthew Isaac Wolfe, 37, and Ruben Andre Garcia, 31, are all charged with “Sex Trafficing by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which carries a minimum of 15 years in prison and maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and a woman named Valorie Moser, 37, are additionally charged with “Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which also has a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Pratt and Wolfe are the owners of two pornographic websites, GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys. Garcia is described in the release as an “adult film performer and producer,” and Moser is an administrative assistant. 

According to the release from the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, Garcia was arrested on Wednesday, Wolfe was placed into custody by immigration officials and transferred into federal custody on Tuesday, and Moser will be arranged on Friday. Pratt is described as a “fugitive” who is at large. On Wednesday, the FBI raided the websites’ office in San Diego. 

The four are accused of placing ads for “modeling jobs” that would pay $5,000. In fact, the jobs were for pornographic films. The complaint alleges that Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser told the women they could remain anonymous and that their videos would not be shared online. The charges allege that this was not true, and that the videos were made exclusively for the internet. 

Financial records show that the two websites earned more than $17 million for Pratt and Wolfe. 

The complaint alleges that instead of a modeling job, women were “pressured” into signing documents they were not given the chance to read thoroughly, and were threatened with legal action or “outing” if they did not “perform” in a video. Others alleged victims say they were not allowed to leave the location of the shoot until a video was complete, and that their families and friends saw their videos online, which resulted in harassment and estrangement from their families. 

The complaint also says that at least one performer was raped during a shoot, and others were sexually assaulted. The complaint states that performers would be forced to perform things they did not want to, or else they would not receive payment for their work or be allowed to leave. 

The FBI in San Diego is requesting that any additional victims come forward and share their experiences. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.

“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” the Catechism says.

Abortion funding fight looms over Senate appropriations process

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- When the Senate returns for business on Oct. 15, it will have little more than a month to pass legislation funding the government—and pro-lifers are concerned that attempts to circumvent protections against taxpayer funding of abortion could be successful.

Shortly before the Senate left for the October recess, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) successfully included an amendment in a funding bill for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and related agencies, that increased U.S. international family planning assistance and reinstated funding of the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA).

Some pro-lifers are concerned that this is problematic because the appropriations could end up increasing funding of groups that promote abortions abroad.

The bill including Shaheen’s amendment was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and, like other bills funding various parts of the government, will have to be approved by the full Senate. After that, any differences between it and the House funding bill would have to be resolved in negotiations between members from both chambers; the final product would then have to pass both chambers to reach the President’s desk.  

However, for pro-life advocates, the approval of Shaheen’s amendment by the full Senate Appropriations Committee set a troubling precedent because it established a “ground floor” in fights over abortion funding in the budget negotiations.  

Shaheen had previously tried to offer an amendment directly repealing the Mexico City Policy but, she claimed, she was denied the opportunity to do so by Senate Republicans.

The Mexico City Policy bars U.S. family planning funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning. The Trump administration expanded upon this policy, applying the funding prohibition to an estimated $8.8 billion in U.S. global health assistance.

Shaheen’s amendment that was successfully approved by the committee would increase international family planning and reproductive health funding to $665 million. If the Mexico City Policy were to be repealed in the future—as it has been by the last two Democratic presidents—this increased funding would go to organizations that promote abortions abroad.

Certain domestic organizations promoting abortions already receive foreign aid, and could stand to receive even more funding if Shaheen’s amendment is enacted into law in spite of the Mexico City Policy.

The group Pathfinder International, for instance, receives U.S. assistance and says on its website that it works “to ensure access to comprehensive abortion care for all women.” The group Population Council says it teaches safe abortions, and claims that “[w]here abortion is not legal, we document the public health and cost burden of unsafe abortion.”

Other abortion-supporting groups that could receive more U.S. assistance include Engender Health and PATH.

Shaheen’s amendment also reinstated funding of the UNFPA. The Trump administration has redirected funding away from the UNFPA for three straight years because of the fund’s partnership with the Chinese government, which has instituted a coercive two-child policy and has enforced it through forced abortions and sterilizations.

Currently, the $32 million in funding of the UNFPA under Shaheen’s amendment could not be used in China, cannot be “comingled” with other UNFPA funds, and would be blocked if UNFPA funds abortions.

In addition, it would be subject to the Kemp-Kasten amendment prohibiting funding of organizations that perform or participate in forced abortions and sterilizations; the administration has invoked this amendment as an authority when announcing that UNFPA funding is being redirected.

Nevertheless, the reinstatement of UNFPA funding would seek to undercut the administration’s policy and could at least be a statement of support for the organization despite its partnership with the Chinese government on family planning.

Shaheen’s amendment comes after several attempts in the Senate to insert “poison pill” amendments into appropriations bills to undo pro-life policies, despite an early bi-partisan agreement not to do so during the appropriations process.

The chamber had to pass a dozen appropriations bills by Sept. 30 to fund various government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year, but disagreements on border wall funding and pro-abortion amendments derailed the process.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tried to repeal the Title X Protect Life Rule in a proposed amendment for a bill funding the Departments of Labor, HHS, Education, and related agencies. The Protect Life Rule forbade Title X family planning grants from going to entities that were co-located with abortion clinics, or that referred for abortions.

Instead of passing the appropriations bills, Congress instead passed a continuing resolution that would temporarily fund the government through November 21, setting up the new deadline for perhaps another showdown over abortion funding.

Also included in Shaheen’s amendment was a mechanism to enforce an Obama-era nondiscrimination rule, that USAID contractors cannot discriminate against beneficiaries on the basis of “gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy.”

The 2016 USAID rule was interpreted as a prohibition on discrimination against individuals identifying as LGBTI, but the inclusion of “pregnancy” has led some pro-lifers to believe it could also be interpreted to prohibit “discrimination” against women seeking abortions.

For instance, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibited discrimination on basis of sex, which HHS interpreted to include discrimination by health care providers against the “termination of pregnancy.”

Shaheen’s amendment would also mean that USAID has to create a mechanism to investigate claims of discrimination. As a press release by Shaheen’s office explained, “The investigation would ensure biases by the administration regarding reproductive health do not interfere or alter the delivery of services on the ground.”

Republicans in the committee inserted a mandate that such investigations be conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and not from within the State Department.

Tax churches that oppose gay marriage, Democratic candidate says

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A Democratic candidate for president has said religious institutions should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage. 

On Thursday night, during and Equality Townhall hosted and broadcast on CNN, Robert Francis O’Rourke, a former congressman, was asked by CNN anchor Don Lemon if he thought that  "religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same sex marriage?"

O’Rourke answered “yes,” and after applause and cheers from the crowd, added, “there can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so, as president, we’re going to make that a priority, and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.” 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another presidential candidate, was asked earlier in the night if he would strip the tax-exempt status of churches who were opposed to same-sex marriage. Booker said that such a move would entail a “long legal battle,” but signaled his sympathy with the idea. 

“I’m saying I believe fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination,” he said. “And if you are using your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory [body].”

Both O’Rourke and Booker are averaging less than 2% in polls of democratic voters. 

Of the five largest Christian denominations in the United States--the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the Church of God in Christ--none condone or perform same-sex marriages and all consider same-sex activity to be sinful. 

Same-sex activity is banned in most mainstream forms of Islam, and most Orthodox Jewish rabbis will not conduct same-sex marriages. 

Tax-exempt status for religious institutions is protected by Supreme Court precedent.

In the 1970 case Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York, the court found that exempting religious institutions from taxes did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 

On the contrary, the Court decided that taxing churches could increase government entanglement with religion, as a church may be unable to pay its tax bill and be shut down. In order to avoid this from happening, the court instead the court found in favor of continuing to exempt religious institutions from taxation. 

Tax exemptions for organizations opposed to same-sex marriage have been an open question since the oral arguments of Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that resultred in same-sex marriage being legalized throughout the country. 

During arguments, Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who was arguing on behalf of same-sex couples, if colleges or churches would face the same fate as Bob Jones University. In the 1983 case Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court found that the IRS was right to deny a tax exemption to the school on the grounds that it engaged in racial discrimination by banning inter-racial dating (Bob Jones University dropped its anti-interracial dating policy in 2000, and regained federal tax-exempt status in 2017). 

At the time of oral arguments in Hodges, Verrilli admitted that he did not have an answer to Alito’s question “without knowing more specifics,” and said that “it’s certainly going to be an issue.” 

Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that he did not believe O’Rourke’s suggestion was constitutionally sound.  

"Stripping the tax-exempt status of religious groups simply because they hold beliefs that the government dislikes is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Goodrich. 

“It's also foolish because those groups provide billions of dollars in essential social services to their communities. Churches and ministries should be allowed to hold centuries-old beliefs without fear of government retribution." 

Transgender issues were also discussed on Thursday night, and transgender activists interrupted the townhall several times throughout the event. A nine-year-old girl who identifies as a transgender boy questioned frontrunner Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) about what she would do to protect transgender children in schools. Warren said she would dismiss the current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who she characterized as one of the worst people to hold the position. 

"I want to make sure that the person I think is the right secretary of education meets you and and hears your story, and then I want you to tell me if you think that's the right person and then we'll make the deal," Warren said to the child.

Praying for souls, and runs: The parish serving Washington’s baseball fans

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- In a rapidly-gentrifying Washington, D.C., neighborhood, a historic parish is putting the New Evangelization into practice by reaching out to a specific crowd—baseball fans.  

The parish of St. Vincent de Paul features a “Nats Mass,” a noon Sunday Mass for fans of the local baseball team, the Washington Nationals, who are traveling to the nearby stadium for a Sunday afternoon game.

“Let’s go to where they are,” said Fr. Andrew Gonzalo, pastor of St. Vincent in Southeast Washington, D.C., when explaining the concept of a “Nats Mass” and evangelization.

St. Vincent de Paul parish, canonically established in 1903, sits on a busy street corner with a view of the U.S. Capitol Building to the north, just one block away from the baseball stadium. For Nationals fans traveling to a baseball game along South Capitol Street, they will likely walk or drive past the over-100 year-old parish.

St. Vincent’s is situated in between D.C.’s Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront neighborhoods, a rapidly gentrifying area that now features new high-rise apartment buildings and townhouses, restaurants and bars, a waterfront park, and a new soccer stadium. The demographics of the parish have changed, and with it, the plan for evangelization.

“It’s a unique pastoral challenge, in the parish,” Fr. Gonzalo told CNA. The demographics of the neighborhood were once mostly African-American, but the area is now more racially and economically diversified, he said.

Nearby Nationals Park, finished in time for the 2008 baseball season, hosted a papal Mass of Pope Benedict XVI on April 17, 2008, during his apostolic visit to the U.S. and the UN headquarters.

With the parish adjacent to the stadium, then-pastor Fr. Andrew Royals added a noon Mass to the St. Vincent Sunday schedule in 2014, whenever the Nationals had a scheduled Sunday afternoon game. Attendance at the “Nats Mass” shot up from five people to more than 120 by the following season, he told EWTN News Nightly in 2015.

“For me it was kind of a no-brainer,” Fr. Royals told EWTN News Nightly in 2015. “We’ve been serving the community for over 100 years, and now our community includes a baseball stadium.”

Five years in, the “Nats Mass” is advertised with a large white banner hanging from the side of the church announcing the Mass time. The Mass draws fans from all over the D.C. metropolitan area—and has helped transform some Catholics into regular Sunday mass-goers.

Fr. Gonzalo said some have told him that they had not been to Mass for some time, but saw the banner and decided to attend.

“They came, and they are now regulars,” he said, and some have frequented the noon Mass even when no game is scheduled; the noon Mass time is now a part of the year-round Sunday schedule.

The local O’Boyle Knights of Columbus council cooks hot dogs in the parking lot for attendees to socialize between Mass and the first pitch.

It’s an “opportunity also for evangelization,” Fr. Gonzalo said. “I embraced it right away,” he said of the Mass, because “baseball is a kind of national pastime for us here.”

“Baseball gathers people together,” he said, “and the Church should also do something like that.”

Fr. Gonzalo spoke to CNA on Wednesday, ahead of a pivotal win-or-go-home playoff game for the Nationals in Los Angeles

“I am praying that they will win,” he said.

Perhaps in part because of the prayers, the Nationals rallied from being three runs down for a stunning 7-3 victory on the road to advance to the National League Championship Series.

Although no home playoff game is scheduled for this Sunday at Nationals Park, a noon Mass will be celebrated at St. Vincent’s with confessions scheduled for half an hour beforehand.

'Vos estis' should guide diocesan policy, advocacy group says

Denver, Colo., Oct 10, 2019 / 10:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Benefits Association said last week that sexual abuse norms introduced by Pope Francis in May will likely require U.S. dioceses to amend their own internal policies regarding the definition and reporting of sexual abuse and misconduct.

In an Oct. 3 webinar, L. Martin Nussbaum, general counsel for the Catholic Benefits Association, told diocesan leaders and administrators that Vos estis lux mundi, the motu proprio on sexual abuse and misconduct issued by Pope Francis May 7, takes important steps to provide a safer environment in the Church, which require implementation by dioceses.

Vos estis, Nussbaum said, expands diocesan duties regarding vulnerable persons and abuse of authority,  protects Church whistleblowers, increases the role of laity in receiving reports and in conducting investigations, improves transparency regarding discipline of bishops, heightens the ecclesial role of metropolitans, and expands offers of assistance to the families of abuse victims.

“Families are injured, often, when a family member is abused...especially if it’s a minor,” Nussbaum told Church leaders.

“The outreach should also be to families,” he said, noting that Vos estis explicitly recognized that reality, and called dioceses to respond to it.

Nussbaum also explained that diocesan sexual abuse policies should take into account the Church’s expanded delineation of canonically criminal sexual behavior, which Vos estis broadened to include any kind of coercive sexual harrasment or abuse of office, and a broadened understanding of the canonical concept of “vulnerable persons.”

Diocesan policies should focus on the sexual abuse, harassment, coercion, etc, of both adults and minors, Nussbaum said, in recognition of the Church’s expanded delineation of canonical crimies involving sexual abuse or harassment of adults. Revisions to diocesan policies must also include Vos estis’ call to report allegations of misconduct by bishops to the metropolitan archbishop of the diocese.

The Catholic Benefits Association, which advocates for the religious liberty of dioceses and other Catholic institutions, makes resources related to Vos estis available to its member dioceses.

 

Bishops urge mercy on World Day Against the Death Penalty

Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The death penalty is outdated and promotes a culture of violence, three bishops said during a livestream conversation on Oct. 10, marked as World Day Against the Death Penalty. 

Archbishops Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Wilton Gregory of Washington were joined by Bishop Frank DeWane of Venice (FL) for the roundtable discussion facilitated by Catholic News Service. DeWane is the current chairman of the USCCB’s domestic justice committee, and will be succeeded by Coakley in a few weeks’ time. 

“There’s no question that we are living in an age where violence has captured the hearts and minds of a lot of people,” said Gregory, offering that social media in particular has put “despicable” human carnage on display. 

On Wednesday, the day before the livestream, an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue in Germany resulted in the murder of two people. The attack was broadcast over the streaming site Twitch. 

“What the Church wants us to understand is that taking a life, even the life of one who may have been guilty of a horrendous crime, is itself a continuation of violence,” said the Washington archbishop.  

“It makes us violent to do violence against another human being” regardless of the circumstances, Gregory said. 

October is also Respect Life Month, during which the Church makes special efforts to promote its teachings on the sanctity of life, something Coakley said is “foundational” to the Church’s teachings on human dignity and which, he emphasized, is not granted by a government, but endowed by the creator.

The Church’s positions are “very consistent in affirming human life and human dignity at every stage,” he said.

DeWane concurred with Coakley, saying that throughout the entirety of a person’s life, “we have to see that life is sacred.”

Catholics, said DeWane, have a moral obligation to “say something” when life is not being respected, especially in instances that involve people who cannot speak for themselves. 

Coakley pointed out that there is another side of the death penalty debate that is often forgotten: the victims of violent crime and their surviving friends and relatives. While it is important to champion the rights of accused, and even convicted criminals, Coakley stressed, it is important of acknowledge that some survivors--as well as those in the community--want to see the death penalty carried out in as a form of justice. Their desire for justice, Coakley said, cannot be ignored, even while accepting that the death penalty is not the answer.

“I think in our conversations about the death penalty, even though we’re speaking out in favor of abolition of the death penalty, we have to affirm and acknowledge--not just give lip service--to the suffering of victims as well,” said Coakley, noting that his archdiocese is home to the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in this country’s history. 

As a result of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Coakley said that many within his archdiocese remain supportive of capital punishment. 

Speaking to CNA after the discussion, Coakley developed his point. 

“Revenge is not the same as justice,” said Coakley. “And as even William Shakespeare said, ‘mercy seasons justice,’ I think just as many people who maybe see the perpetrator of a violent crime executed, would acknowledge that it did not bring them the release and the relief and the peace that they expected that it might.”

During the roundtable, DeWane also questioned the common assertion that executions bring any sense of relief to the families of victims. Instead, he said, the act of taking a life in an execution hurts society as a whole, while observing that there is little evidence that the death penalty serves as a deterrent against crimes. 

Gregory also highlighted the many cases in which a person is released from death row having been exonerated by either new evidence or modern DNA testing.  

“With the death penalty, there are no re-tries. It concludes and ends a life that may have been wrongly [convicted],” Gregory said. The Washington archbishop went on to point out the significant racial disparity in the application of the death penalty in the United States.

At the same time, Gregory said that favoring the abolition of the death penalty does not mean any lessening of the requirement to keep society safe. The choice, he said was not between killing or releasing the most violent offenders. Instead, “our society has the capacity to take violent personalities and put them away so they don’t harm others,” he said.  

“The Gospel calls us to mercy. Mercy is never cruel,” said Gregory. 

“I think our Church has to be a voice that is faithful to the call of the Gospel, which calls us to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us,” Coakley told CNA after the livestream. 

“I think that’s incumbent upon us -- because we have to affirm the dignity of human life, that every person has been created in the image and likeness of God--even for the person who was guilty of heinous crimes. They don't forfeit their human dignity as a result of their criminal activity.” 

The World Day Against the Death Penalty was first observed in 2003. This year, the theme is “Children, Unseen Victims,” which is focused on increasing awareness of the children whose parents were executed or have been sentenced to death.

Brooklyn’s Bishop DiMarzio begins visitation of scandal-hit Buffalo diocese

Buffalo, N.Y., Oct 10, 2019 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn has begun his apostolic visitation of the scandal-hit Diocese of Buffalo.

A statement released by the Diocese of Brooklyn Thursday said that DiMarzio had traveled to the diocese of Bishop Richard Malone and interviewed more than 30 people earlier this week.

“The Bishop takes his role as Visitator seriously and is determined to continue the fact-finding mission he has been directed to carry out by the Holy See,” said the Diocese of Brooklyn in the Oct. 10 statement.

“Both lay faithful and clergy, members of the Diocesan staff, and others have been invited to be a part of this process so that Bishop DiMarzio can gather information from several perspectives as part of this fact-finding mission of the Buffalo Diocese.”

DiMarzio was appointed to inspect the Buffalo diocese by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, last week. In an announcement released Oct. 3, the apostolic nunciature to the United States released a statement underscoring that the process was “non-judicial and non-administrative,” meaning that no formal charges are currently being considered against the scandal-plagued Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo.

The statement also made clear that the apostolic visitation was not being conducted or authorized under the provisions of Vos estis lux mundi, the policy document on sexual abuse and diocesan administration issued May 7 by Pope Francis, which came into effect June 1. That document provided new norms and mechanisms relating to misconduct by bishops who failed to act or attempted to cover up instances of sexual abuse.

Although the investigation is not being conducted under the terms of Vos estis, Bishop Malone has repeatedly found himself at the center of media attention.

In November 2018, a former employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse.

In August, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

Thursday’s statement from the Diocese of Brooklyn said that Bishop DiMarzio has “pledged to do his best to learn the facts and gain a thorough understanding of the situation in Buffalo,” and that when he has concluded his work he will submit a report to the Congregation for Bishops.

At the time his appointment was announced, DiMarzio underscored his determination to get to the “truth so that justice might be served and god’s mercy experienced” in Buffalo, and invoked Pope Francis’ devotion to  “Our Lady Untier of Knots.”

Malone, 73, has led the Buffalo diocese since 2012. He was ordained a priest of Boston in 1972, and became an auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 2000, two years before a national sexual abuse scandal emerged in the United States, centered on the Archdiocese of Boston and the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. Malone was Maine’s bishop from 2004 until 2012.

A day in the park for L.A.'s foster families

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 10, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is hosting a day in the park to not only celebrate foster families throughout the archdiocese but to get to know these "heroes,” who are often unknown among the Catholic community.

“To be a foster parent is really to be a hero, honestly,” said Kathleen Domingo, the archdiocese's senior director of the Office of Life, Justice, and Peace.
 
“We know for sure that there are thousands of Catholic families in our parishes and in our schools who are fostering; we just don’t always know who they are. Part of the reason that we are doing this event is to help them come out of the woodwork a little bit so we can get to know them and find out better ways to support them.”

The event is titled “Catholics Love Foster” and is part of the archdiocese’s march for life organization, OneLife LA. It will take place Oct. 13., beginning a Mass said by Archbishop Jose Gomez.

Afterward, attendees will walk to LA State Historic Park, where there will be music, food, and games. There will also be 20 organizations with giveaways for kids and resources for foster parents.

According to Domingo, the event will be catered for free by a few local vendors, who will prepare enough food for 1,000 people.

Domingo said lots of Catholics in the archdiocese are foster parents, but these families are perhaps unknown to the parish community or their pastor. She said that since the archdiocese revamped its foster care efforts two years ago, parishioners have loved the idea but do not know who these families are or how to support them.

“A number of different parishes we have been working with told us that they are happy to have foster agencies come and speak and that they are happy to make these introductions… [However], they really felt like they wanted to do more for the families,” she said.

“They know that families are going through the process and they can tell sometimes when some families … come with kids they didn’t have before ... but they didn’t always know who they were or they didn’t always know if it would be okay if they [approached them].”


She said fostering needs extra support because it’s a 24/7 job with kids who face additional challenges. She said, very often, foster children come with almost nothing - sometimes only a garbage bag full of clothes - and experience instability, affecting mental health and school. She said the kids may have also faced abuses and court pressures.

“Because many of them have been through times of trauma in their young lives, they may come with some more needs where they may need some additional counseling or some therapy,” she said.

“What I hear from foster families is even just that extra help with tutoring and making sure that their kids have extra support in the classroom.”

She said the archdiocese will help connect foster families to a greater support system in the Church. She said numerous parishioners, who may not have foster kids themselves, have offered to provide physical aid like clothes, food, or daycare. She also stressed the spiritual support of a praying community.

“[Parishioners] loved doing this work to promote fostering, but, so often, they aren’t aware of who in the community is actually fostering and they would love to provide traditional support,” she said.

“[We want to] find out how can the parish can support you, how can we support your kids, how can we integrate them better and reach out in love to them.”

Daria Ongsing, a 53-year-old grandmother, and her husband Virgilio will be attending the event. This couple was approved to be foster parents in July, but they are not new to foster care.

Around five years ago, she and her husband took in the children of their daughter, who had been struggling with drug addiction and had her kids confiscated by Child Services. After two and a half years, her daughter was able to get her children back.

She told CNA that the experience awoke a desire within her to help other people through foster care. Then last February, the couple went on a pilgrimage to Cebu. Once they returned, they saw flyers on their back door for a foster care orientation at the parish.

“There were flyers in the back, for Foster ALL had come to our church to do like an orientation. I just felt in my heart again, look, God is calling us to this,” she said. 

After the couple was approved, the Virgilios received four siblings into their home for a few days at the beginning of August. Later that month, the family took in Bryant, who turned five in September, and Bri-Asia, who will be turning seven in December. The two siblings are still at her house and have become a source of joy, she said.

Ongsing said the process has been a struggle at times. She expressed hope to meet more Catholics at the event who may be a source of support and that it inspires other parents to take on this ministry which has a great need.

She is currently working for Kaiser Permanente as a certified ophthalmic technician, but she plans to enter into early retirement within the next few years and take on fostering full-time.

“The [fostering] need is so great. It's crazy. So my plan is to retire young in the next year or two and certainly give it even more than I can do now,” she said.

“It's quite challenging, but it's very rewarding. I keep praying and asking God to just get us to do the best thing for these kids while they need us,” she further added. “I'm just trying to share a little bit of our blessings.”

Domingo told CNA that the Catholic Church in California has been shut out of the foster system because they will not place children with same-sex couples. She said the archdiocese’s Catholic Charity has not acted as a foster care agency for nearly 20 years.

“When Catholic Charities got out of the business of doing foster care, what happened is nobody picked it up, nobody in the Church was tasked with working on foster issues. What I’ve come to realize is that that is a similar story in most dioceses,” she said.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles decided to ramp up its foster care efforts during the second OneLife event, after Nick Vuljicic, a motivational speaker born with no arms and no legs, encouraged the archdiocese to act “pro-life” to the unborn as well as those already born, like foster kids. Domingo said, at the time, LA County had an estimated 30,000 foster children.

Since then, Domingo has spoken to numerous parishes to booster fostering efforts. She said, although the archdiocese can no longer place kids into foster care, parishes in the area will host agencies to come talk to the laity.

Domingo said foster care is a “bridge-building topic” and supported by a variety of different people and groups. She also said good foster care is a solution to many issues in society.

“You can talk about fostering as a preventative for human trafficking, you can talk about it for keeping young adults off the streets, … you can talk about it in terms of helping birth parents, … who often get cleaned up and get prepared to accept their children back.”

“What we find is that when are talking about fostering and do these kinds of events, we are bringing people from different perspectives together to say we need to do something wonderful for these children and their families.”