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Salman Rushdie attacked at lecture in New York

Salman Rushdie speaks at the Frankfurt Bookfair, Oct. 12, 2017. / Markus Wissmann/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Aug 12, 2022 / 12:01 pm (CNA).

The author Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” led to a call for his assassination from Iran’s Supreme Leader in 1989, was stabbed in the neck on Friday while onstage in New York state.

The Associated Press said one of its reporters “witnessed a man confront Rushdie … and begin punching or stabbing him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced” Aug. 12.

Rushdie, 75, was preparing to speak at the Chautauqua Institution, an educational center and resort in Chautauqua, New York, about 70 miles southwest of Buffalo.

Henry Reese, who was to interview Rushdie about the U.S. as a haven for exiled writers and artists, also suffered a minor head injury. Reese is co-founder and president of City of Asylum, a nonprofit housing exiled writers.

The attacker has been arrested, and Rushdie has been taken to hospital.

Rushdie, who was born in Bombay in 1947, won the Booker Prize in 1981 for “Midnight’s Children.”

“The Satanic Verses” was published in 1988. The book of magic realism, set in the present day, includes dream sequences involving Muhammad. These were considered blasphemous by some Muslims. 

Ruhollah Khomeini, then the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s killing the following year. There was an assassination attempt that year, and in 1991 Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of “The Satanic Verses,” was murdered. 

A bounty has been offered for Rushdie’s killing, and he lived in hiding for some time.

Bishops urge passage of bill that would give same sentences to crack and powder cocaine offenders

null / Inked Pixels/Shutterstock.

Washington D.C., Aug 11, 2022 / 16:50 pm (CNA).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops pressed the U.S. Senate to make the penalty for distributing crack cocaine the same as that imposed on those caught dealing powder cocaine.

In an Aug. 1 letter to Congress, the bishops announced their support for legislation passed in the House of Representatives that would eliminate a disparity in federal sentencing the bishops say has a disproportionate effect on Black people.

“Although crack and powder cocaine are simply two forms of the same drug, crack cocaine is cheaper; therefore, it is more accessible than powder cocaine to persons experiencing poverty, many of whom are persons of color,” the letter read.

“We cannot ignore the racial impact of current federal cocaine sentences when Blacks are more than three times as likely to be convicted for crack cocaine trafficking as for powder cocaine trafficking,” wrote Bishops Paul S. Coakley and Shelton J. Fabre of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

An amendment to add the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act to the defense authorization bill passed the House of Representatives on July 19 with bipartisan support. 

If approved by the Senate the EQUAL act would impose the same penalty on both forms of cocaine. In 1986 Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act which established separate sentences for cocaine and crack cocaine offenses. If two individuals were caught with the same amount of cocaine, the one with crack cocaine would receive a sentence 100 times as severe as the person convicted of distributing powder cocaine. 

In 2010, Congress passed reforms to reduce that disparity to 18:1. Today, the penalty for 500 grams of powder cocaine is the same as for 28 grams of crack cocaine. The EQUAL Act would eliminate the disparity altogether.

In their letter, the bishops called for an end to long sentences for drug offenses and a focus on rehabilitation and treatment of offenders.

“As pastors, the Catholic bishops understand concerns regarding recidivism, substance abuse, and overdoses; yet public safety is not served by excessively long sentences. We believe these concerns would more effectively be addressed through programs that focus on root causes of crime through rehabilitation, treatment, education, literacy, and job-placement,” they wrote.

The EQUAL act has an uncertain future in the Senate. Since it has 11 Republican co-sponsors, it could pass as a stand-alone bill. However, the ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, has his own bill to address disparities in drug sentencing. His legislation would reduce but not eliminate the disparity. 

The prospect of the legislation's passage as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is far from guaranteed even though the legislation enjoys bipartisan support. Unrelated amendments attached to the NDAA often get removed in the process of reconciling the House and Senate bills.

Olivia Newton-John attended Catholic Mass, said ‘favorite prayer’ daily

Olivia Newton-John arrives for G'Day USA Los Angeles Black Tie Gala Jan. 27, 2018, in Los Angeles. The singer and actress died Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, at age 73 after a decades-long struggle with breast cancer. / Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 11, 2022 / 13:51 pm (CNA).

Singer and actress Olivia Newton-John, perhaps best known for her role as Sandy Olsson in the 1978 film “Grease,” shared her favorite prayer last year. She passed away Monday at age 73. 

The prayer was, she revealed in a 2021 interview, the Lord’s Prayer. 

She began reciting it daily after she became pregnant with her only child, Chloe, she said on the podcast “A Life of Greatness.”

“I was close to losing her at one point,” she recalled. “I asked God to please save Chloe and, if he did, I would say the Lord’s Prayer every night for the rest of my life.”

“So I have,” she said. “I think it’s a beautiful prayer. It’s a powerful prayer. I believe in prayer, I think prayer is very powerful.” Chloe was born in 1986.

Newton-John learned the Lord’s Prayer as a child, she said, adding that her family attended church while her father served as the head of a Presbyterian college — Ormond College at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

“I believe all the beliefs have validity and meaning to a lot of people,” she added, “but I find that prayer a very powerful one.”

In response to her death, which came after a decades-long struggle with breast cancer, Capuchin friar and deacon Brother Vince Mary remembered Newton-John on Twitter. He shared that Newton-John attended Catholic Mass.

Olivia Newton-John appears in the back pew at the Capuchin novitiate at San Lorenzo Seminary in Santa Ynez, California. Date unknown. Photo courtesy of Capuchin Brother Mick Joyce from Borromeo Seminary Cleveland
Olivia Newton-John appears in the back pew at the Capuchin novitiate at San Lorenzo Seminary in Santa Ynez, California. Date unknown. Photo courtesy of Capuchin Brother Mick Joyce from Borromeo Seminary Cleveland

“She was a frequent visitor to our Capuchin Novitiate in Santa Ynez for masses,” Brother Vince Mary tweeted. “God grant her eternal rest!”

He told CNA that Newton-John attended Mass frequently at the novitiate that has attracted other celebrity visitors — San Lorenzo Seminary in Santa Ynez, California. 

Newton-John lived near the friars. According to the Santa Barbara Independent, she passed away at her 12-acre residence in Santa Ynez Valley.

Father Jim Sichko, a papal Missionary of Mercy from the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, called Newton-John a close friend of his whom he kept in touch with constantly. Among other things, she wrote the afterward to his book published in 2021, “Encountering God,” and supported his Catholic ministry and outreach in Kentucky.

He had intended to introduce Newton-John to Pope Francis, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted their plans. It was his hope, he told CNA, that the pontiff would bless or anoint her.

Sichko said he first met her and her husband, John Easterling, roughly four or five years ago on a flight to Melbourne, Australia. He initially did not realize who she was. She asked him to pray for her and he gifted her a cross blessed by Pope Francis. That’s when she began to cry and revealed who she was.

Olivia Newton-John and her husband, John Easterling, take a photo with Father Jim Sichko at a Catholic church in Cranbourne, Australia. Courtesy of Father Jim Sichko
Olivia Newton-John and her husband, John Easterling, take a photo with Father Jim Sichko at a Catholic church in Cranbourne, Australia. Courtesy of Father Jim Sichko


That evening, he spotted Newton-John and Easterling at a talk he gave at a Catholic church in Cranbourne. At the end of the talk, he found the couple kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. She was still wearing, around her neck, the cross he gave her. She wore it regularly ever since that day.

He remembered Newton-John as a person with “such strong deep faith” and as someone “in tune with God.”

“She died with great grace,” he said. “There’s no doubt that she’s in communion with God.”

He told CNA that he plans to attend her memorial service in September.

In March 2020, Newton-John publicly shared her appreciation for one Capuchin Franciscan. Newton-John posted a poem on Instagram written by a Capuchin Franciscan in Ireland, Brother Richard Hendrick, where he wrote about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was sent this poem by a friend and it said many things I was thinking — because I also believe that good things are coming out of this difficult time — which too will pass,” she commented. “Father Richard Hendricks says it so beautifully here.”

It is unclear what faith or religion Newton-John practiced before her death. During the 2021 podcast interview, she spoke about praying and chanting with her friends who are Buddhist and about experiencing spirits. 

She also talked about life after death.

“Most humans, we want to believe that we go on,” she said. “I don’t know if that is so and I hope that I can let people know when it happens if it is.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 12 to include comments from Father Jim Sichko.

Religious freedom objections to mandatory health care coverage part of broader lawsuit

null / Gorodenkoff via Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Aug 11, 2022 / 13:39 pm (CNA).

Religious freedom violations are among the claims of a federal lawsuit challenging mandatory “preventive care” coverage in employee health plans. But the lawsuit’s other challenges to federal rule-making could have far-reaching consequences.

Though the Texas-based plaintiffs echo previous challengers in objecting to abortifacient contraceptives as mandatory “preventive care,” they also object to mandatory no-cost coverage of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug regimen intended to reduce the risk of HIV infection; STD tests and STD counseling; and drug use counseling.

“The government cannot possibly show that forcing private insurers to provide PrEP drugs, the HPV vaccine, and screenings and behavioral counseling for STDs and drug use free of charge is a policy of such overriding importance that it can trump religious-freedom objections,” said the lawsuit in Kelley v. Becerra.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020, but argued only last month before U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor.

John A. Di Camillo, an ethicist and director of personal consultations with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that the objections raise valid moral questions.

“It certainly is an important moral consideration to know whether or not funding this kind of drug or this kind of procedure may actually incentivize or encourage or enable your employees to engage in immoral behaviors,” he said Aug. 9.

Alleged religious freedom violations constitute one of the eight claims made in the lawsuit. This claim charges violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the federal government may not “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion, unless there is a “compelling government interest” in doing so, and it is carried out in the “least-restrictive” manner possible.

A narrow court ruling on the issue of religious freedom could avoid a broader ruling about administrative law. A broad court ruling, however, could eliminate all requirements that insurers provide preventive care coverage at no cost, Bloomberg Law reported in April.

The lawsuit describes one plaintiff, orthodontist John Kelley of Tarrant County, Texas, as a Christian with religious objections to purchasing some health plans that subsidize abortifacient contraception or PrEP drugs that “encourage homosexual behavior and intravenous drug use.” He does not need or want health insurance that covers Truvada or PrEP drugs “because neither he nor any of his family members is engaged in behavior that transmits HIV.” He has no desire for contraceptive coverage “because his wife is past her child-bearing years.”

The other plaintiffs are Kelley Orthodontics, Joel Starnes, and Braidwood Management, Inc. Some plaintiffs, like Braidwood owner Steven F. Hotze, also object to mandatory coverage of STD screenings and counseling for those engaged in non-marital sexual behavior.

The plaintiffs claim a grounds for class action because the mandates still limit their options for health insurance that excludes or limits coverage as they desire.

Di Camillo, who has worked on ethics reviews of Catholic health insurance programs, told CNA that self-insured plans mean the employer is “actually directly paying out of pocket for the medical expenses.” This is in contrast to standard insurance programs where a large outside company pays for expenses.

“There's a more direct relationship, and so there's a heightened level of moral concern or responsibility for the employer in those situations,” he said.

Other claims in the lawsuit involve aspects of administrative law known as the non-delegation doctrine, which requires Congress to provide agencies with sufficient principles, policy, and standards to guide their action. The Supreme Court has not sided with claims of excessive delegation since two cases in 1935. The lawsuit charges that Congress wrongly delegated the definition of “preventive care” to regulators under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had ruled that mandatory preventive care in employee health plans must include contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion. It did not provide exemptions for those with objections to the coverage. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against this mandate in favor of Hobby Lobby, a closely-held company whose Christian owners had a religious objection to abortifacients. In 2020, the high court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who objected to providing contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

If the Kelley v. Becerra case results in a broad ruling against the regulatory mandates, it would eliminate mandatory no-cost coverage of cancer screenings, vaccines, counseling for alcohol abuse, diet counseling for those at risk of chronic disease, and other preventive services, National Public Radio reports.  The American Medical Association has led a coalition of more than 60 medical organizations in warning against a broad ruling.

Di Camillo considered the ethical questions involved in health care plan coverage and employers’ moral objections.

“We don't want to be forcing a company to have to subsidize all of the consequences of immoral behaviors,” he said. “On the other hand, we can take the approach of a Christian mercy that sees we’re all sinners and sometimes people make bad decisions.”

“Certainly, in a Catholic perspective, we often look not to just whether something is tied to immoral behavior, but whether there are grounds for helping an individual in need, even if that need arises from immoral choices,” he said.

There are questions about whether the exclusions in the case would mean no coverage for those at risk of disease, such as a dependent minor, or no coverage for an employee at risk of disease because of an adulterous spouse.

There are also questions about whether a moral objection is too rigorous, but Di Camillo cautioned that objections should be taken seriously.

“I think there is a tendency to quickly assume someone else is misapplying or misunderstanding (ethics), (but) sometimes we ourselves may be the ones who are misapplying or misunderstanding.” 

Di Camillo emphasized that employers do have a duty to make clear to prospective and current employees any conscientious objection exclusions in their health coverage so that “this is not sprung on them as a surprise.”

Catholic schools’ free lunch funds jeopardized by Biden LGBT rule change

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic school leaders need to be aware that their schools could be cut off from the federal government's free and subsidized lunch program if their policies don't comply with the Biden administration's revised rules against LGBTQ discrimination, experts warn.

Earlier this year the administration re-interpreted Title IX's federal ban on sex discrimination to include “sexual orientation or gender identity.” Religious freedom and free speech advocates warn that the proposed rule change could be used to enforce mandates on hiring, bathrooms, using preferred pronouns, and dress codes. 

The broadened definition now also applies to the National School Lunch Program, a federally funded meal assistance program administered by the Department of Agriculture that provides subsidized or free lunches to more than 30 million public and private school students from low-income households.

That change promises to put pressure on religious schools not aligned with the Biden administration’s LGBTQ agenda, especially those serving low-income populations that rely heavily on the federal funds.

Fifty-two percent of U.S. Catholic schools participate in the federal lunch program, said Sister Dale McDonald, vice president of public policy at the National Catholic Educational Association, which represents nearly 150,000 educators serving 1.6 million students in Catholic schools, universities, and religious education programs.

One private school, Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa, Florida, managed to secure a religious exemption last week from the state's agriculture department — but the school had to file a lawsuit first to get it.

And Grant Park Christian’s religious exemption “was the only one approved by the federal and state government,” said Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, legal counsel with the nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the school in court.

“Other religious schools are not protected and will need to seek their own religious exemption in writing," she told CNA.

"There is no telling how long it will take for the government to respond to them without a pending lawsuit," she added, "and they have no idea if they need to comply with the unlawful mandates in the meantime.”

Until then, the lawyer stressed, “All schools will continue to be injured by the Biden administration’s overreach in redefining Title IX without going through the proper processes."

Catholic schools 'need to be ready'

The Tampa private school filed a lawsuit in July against Biden and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried after Fried threatened to cut off the school's lunch money. 

On Friday — just over a week after the lawsuit was filed — Fried informed the academy that the school’s application for a religious exemption would be approved, restoring the funds.

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes and defends Catholic education, warned that although the lawsuit was a win for one school, religious schools that participate in the lunch program should be warned. 

“The fact remains that a religious school was forced to sue the government to protect its constitutional rights, and every Catholic school needs to be ready to do the same,” Reilly told CNA. 

“This was blatant bullying by the Biden administration to advance its radical agenda," he added.

"Moreover, they exploited the fact that many schools, including Catholic schools, felt compelled during the COVID pandemic to greatly expand their participation in the federal school lunch program," Reilly said. "You try to help needy families using federal money, and your religious freedom is endangered."

Several archdioceses contacted by CNA Wednesday did not respond for comment prior to publication time.

In a statement to CNA, the Archdiocese of New York said that it was "studying the applicability of the USDA’s Title IX regulations, and their potential impact on our Catholic schools.”

Britney Spears clarifies she asked for a Catholic church wedding: ‘I don’t like being called a liar’

Singer Britney Spears attends the MTV Bash at the Hollywood Palladium on June 28, 2003 in Hollywood, California. / Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

American pop star Britney Spears said that she asked to get married in a Catholic church in California, pushing back against claims that she never contacted the parish.

“There was a lot of backlash saying I never asked to get married at the church I pictured,” the 40-year-old wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday. “[I]t’s not a big deal, but I don’t like being called a liar when their church says I never asked !!!”

Her comments came after she reportedly said in a previous Instagram post that she wanted to celebrate her wedding at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, near Los Angeles.

At the time, she wrote: “when I wanted to get married there they said I had to be catholic and go through TEST!!! Isn't church supposed to be open to all???”

Later that day, entertainment site TMZ reported that a church representative said there was no record of Spears requesting to be married there. 

Spears ended up celebrating her wedding with actor Sam Asghari at their home in the Los Angeles area in June. 

In her post Tuesday, she shared that she hired a high-profile wedding planner who has organized weddings for celebrities such as Madonna.

“[A]nd yes my first request was to get married in that church pictured,” she said of a photo she previously shared of St. Monica.

“I was told 6 weeks later … I could not get married there !!!” she added. “During the 2 years of Covid, I also wanted to go there … I was told no due to the pandemic.”

Along with her comments on Tuesday, she posted a photo of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Father Matthew P. Schneider, L.C., who teaches theology at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina, previously outlined for CNA four main requirements for a wedding to take place in a Catholic church.

Either the bride or groom must be Catholic and free from any impediments, such as marriage to another person. Both the bride and groom must “intend what the Church does,” including recognizing marriage as something permanent, exclusive, and open to life. 

They must also plan to raise their children Catholic.

Schneider also told CNA is it unclear whether Spears is Catholic. He said that, to be married in a Catholic church, she would need annulments for her two previous marriages.

Kansas woman arrested after allegedly striking pro-life teen ‘with fists’ to the head

Students for Life Action volunteer Grace Hartsock / Courtesy of Students for Life

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Grace Hartsock was knocking on doors to encourage Kansas citizens to vote for a pro-life amendment when, she says, she was attacked.

The 18-year-old from Austin, Texas — a rising freshman at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas — walked away from one house after encountering a woman who opposed the amendment. That is when she heard “yelling and cursing” coming from inside, she told CNA.

“As I was walking back towards the street, the woman’s adult daughter came out of the house, still yelling, and started following me,” Hatsock recalled of the July 31 incident in Leawood, Kansas. “She pushed me with both hands, and hit me with her fists.”

Students for Life Action, the pro-life group with which Hartsock was canvassing, claimed in a blog post that the woman “shoved Hartsock in the chest with both hands and began violently hitting her in the head with closed fists.” 

When Hartsock reached the end of the driveway, she said the woman threw a dinner roll at her and continued to follow her as she yelled “I hope you get raped” and “I hope you get run over by a car.”

Students for Life later shared a 5-second clip that it said showed the woman who assaulted Hartsock. In the video, a woman shouts “f*** you” as she sticks her middle finger in the air. Another woman, in the background, instructs her to “stop it!”

The audio also captures the panting of the person holding the camera.

Capt. Brad Robbins at the Leawood Police Department confirmed that an 18-year-old female contacted them about the incident on July 31 just after 2 p.m.

“She stated that an hour earlier she had been going door-to-door representing Students for Life,” he told CNA in a statement. “At one address in the 11200 block of Granada Lane the victim was advised they did not wish to discuss the issue. As she was walking away from the address, she was yelled at and then struck by a female resident.”

As part of the police investigation, Robbins said that a 37-year-old suspect was arrested and charged in Leawood Municipal Court with misdemeanor battery and released.

“While an arrest has been made, it is still consider[ed] an open investigation and we will not be releasing any additional details of the event,” he said.

Robbins said that the victim was not visibly injured.

While Hartsock had a headache after being hit in the head, the local emergency room confirmed that she suffered from no serious injuries, she said. She added that, at the time, she also felt “nervous and shaken up.”

She shared what she would tell her alleged attacker, if she had the opportunity.

“I would tell her that rather than being ‘pro-woman’ as the pro-abortion movement claims to be, she is showing the world with her actions just how anti-woman she really is,” she said. “This is the hypocrisy of the pro-abortion side. Rather than being pro-woman, they condone violence against pro-life women just because we disagree with their narrative.”

Rather than being discouraged, Hartsock said that the incident left her even more motiviated in her pro-life advocacy, adding that “we as pro-lifers need to be more courageous than ever in not backing down and standing up to defend the vulnerable women and children in our communities.”

A Catholic, she said the faith and science support her pro-life position.

“While I am a faithful Catholic, and the Catholic Church teaches that all human life is made in the image and likeness of God,” she said, “I am pro-life because science shows that life begins at conception, where a unique human being comes into existence.”

Hartsock’s alleged attack is not an isolated one, according to Autumn Schimmer, the project manager at Students for Life of America.

“I was punched outside of the Supreme Court in September of 2020 while protesting a NARAL rally that was being held opposing the nomination of Justice Barrett to the Supreme Court,” she told CNA of a protest held by a pro-abortion group. 

She called violent attacks on pro-life advocates a “growing concern,” from the recent attacks at pregnancy centers to threats targeting Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins. 

“What happened to Grace in Kansas is unfortunately becoming more common in a post-Roe America,” Schimmer said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that previously legalized abortion nationwide. “Pro-life advocates should be aware of the violent acts pro-abortion supports are willing to carry out, without being fully deterred from advocating for the preborn and their mothers.”

Will Biden's Inflation Reduction Act work? Here's what cash-strapped families need to know

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Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2022 / 03:00 am (CNA).

President Joe Biden is poised to sign the $485 billion Inflation Reduction Act into law later this week, promising Americans relief from the rising cost of food and other necessities.

But the massive spending bill is drawing criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats who predict it will do little to stem record levels of inflation.

Soaring prices for everything from groceries to gasoline promise to be a major campaign issue for both parties heading into November’s midterm elections. Forty percent of Americans in a recent poll listed inflation as the No. 1 priority they want the government to address. The annual inflation rate jumped to 9.1% in June, a record 40-year high. 

Catholic families are among those feeling the squeeze. Nearly 90% of Catholics say they have had their finances significantly impacted by inflation, yet a majority (57%) say they do not have much or any confidence that Biden will be able to significantly curb inflation over the coming year, according to an EWTN/RealClear Opinion Research poll released in July.

Here’s a breakdown of what Catholic families worried about the rising cost of living need to know about the government’s plans to address the problem. 

Will the Inflation Reduction Act work?

From the Biden administration’s point of view, the bill would reduce inflation by investing about $485 billion into policy measures aimed at driving economic growth through tax breaks and spending on climate, energy, and healthcare.

The bill’s significant health policy changes include expanding Obamacare, providing free vaccines for seniors, and allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drug prices.

The act also designates $124 billion to the Internal Revenue Service for beefed up tax enforcement. Senate Democrats say the move will ensure that “wealthy millionaires and billionaires” pay their fair share. Republicans disagree, with the House Freedom Caucus saying in a statement that the proposal would create “an army of 87,000 new enforcement agents" targeting Americans.

In a statement Sunday, Biden said that the bill will “lower the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, and everyday energy costs, and reduce the deficit while making the wealthiest corporations finally pay their fair share.”

Biden emphasized that “[the bill] pays for all this by establishing a minimum corporate tax so that our richest corporations start to pay their fair share,” adding, “It does not raise taxes on those making under $400,000 a year — not one cent.”

Biden’s economic strategy centers on large spending packages and “offers government investments and incentives for domestic output, along with social support to bring more people into the labor market — while reducing environmental damage,” Bloomberg reported.

President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 28, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 28, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

But skeptics are speaking out about the bill’s projected flaws.

One of the bill’s more vocal critics is Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who referred to the legislation Saturday as “the so-called Inflation Reduction Act” in a speech on the Senate floor. Citing analyses by the Congressional Budget Office and other economic organizations, Sanders predicted that the bill “will, in fact, have a minimal impact on inflation.”

The Penn Wharton Budget Model — which Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia often relies on when assessing legislation — has predicted that the bill’s impact on inflation is “statistically indistinguishable from zero.” 

The analysis estimated that the bill would actually “slightly increase inflation until 2024 and decrease inflation thereafter … thereby indicating low confidence that the legislation will have any impact on inflation.”

However, Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, supports the bill, saying it will add a small amount of growth and “lean against inflation over the next decade.”

“It is more than paid for with tax hikes on large corporations and the well-to-do,” he added. 

Moody’s says the bill “will modestly reduce inflation over the 10-year budget horizon,” becoming “more meaningful later in the decade.” 

Many American families, however, want inflation relief now, not incremental decreases over time.  

Controversial climate change costs

The 755-page bill also includes a proposed $369 billion in climate change provisions designed to shift Americans to green energy and propel the U.S. to being a global leader on climate change.

In a statement Sunday, Biden championed the bill as “the largest investment ever in combating the existential crisis of climate change.” 

Among the climate provisions are $3 billion for “environmental and climate justice” programs, $250 million for making federal buildings green, incentives for Americans to buy electric vehicles, and a methane emissions tax.

Yet some economists and other groups warn these measures could hurt those already facing pressure on their pocketbooks.

A recent report by CatholicVote, a non-profit advocacy group run by Catholic laity, says the poor will be negatively impacted the most.

Green energy measures have large up-front costs, which could lead to “increased utility bills for the lower-middle and lower-income families who still rely on these sources for heating, cooling, lighting, and refrigeration,” the report explained. 

Michael Stojsavljevich, a managing partner at the economic advisory firm Geostratix and former Department of Labor official, told CNA that the bill is “inefficient” and will lead to more burdens on families.

“It does not do anything to address the underlying causes of inflation, which are supply-chain based and spending-based. We’re spending more money and chasing fewer goods,” he said.

Stojsavljevich says that the bill instead “shifts the focus to pursuing green energy policies" and goods that the average American can't afford or is unlikely to buy.

In a letter to Congress, the American Gas Association estimated that the bill’s methane tax would increase energy prices up to 17% for the average family and would impose “major new costs” in the form of higher bills for families and small businesses who use natural gas. 

“These outcomes are inconsistent with President Biden’s commitment to pay for reconciliation without imposing new taxes on lower-income Americans,” the industry group wrote in the letter, emphasizing that the bill would harm lower-income Americans the most. 

Vatican enlists influencers to get young, disenchanted Catholics to answer Synod survey

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Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2022 / 16:34 pm (CNA).

Last fall, Catholics around the world began gathering in church basements and school gyms to, in the words of Pope Francis, “look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say.” These listening sessions were the first phase of the two-year-long Synod on Synodality that will end in 2023 when the bishops meet to chew over what they’ve learned.

Now that parishes have recorded testimony from the faithful and compiled it in official reports, the Vatican is sending the message that they want to hear from those they may have missed – young or inactive Catholics who failed to show up at the parish meetings.

Jimmy Akin, a Catholic apologist and a host of the popular radio call-in show Catholic Answers Live, is one of several lay Catholic “influencers” the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications asked to reach out to those unaccounted-for Catholics. 

Akin’s radio audience includes many non-Catholics, agnostics and atheists who try to trip him up with challenges to the faith. He answers respectfully, using logical arguments to defend the teachings of the Church, reminding his listeners that as a convert, he too faced similar obstacles before deciding to become a Catholic.

On Twitter Monday, Akin invited his 21,800-plus followers to participate in the Synod by filling out a survey. 

“The Vatican is doing an online survey to be submitted to the Synod of Bishops. They are interested in hearing from a wide range of people who may or may not be active Catholics. You can share your views here. The deadline is August 15,” he posted.

The survey, which he links to his website, asks respondents questions about their faith, how often they go to Mass, and whether they have had a personal encounter with God. 

Other questions, concerning attitudes towards the Church, provoked a negative reaction from some who took issue with the phrasing of the multiple choice answers.

One survey question, for example, asks, “Which of these attributes best define the Church?”

Survey takers are asked to select three adjectives from the following list: “supportive,” “selfish,” “authoritarian”, “participative,” “innovative,” “outdated,” “close,” and “distant.”

Another question, asking why people leave the Church, didn’t include enough options, some Twitter users suggested:

One Twitter user wrote, in response to Akin’s post, “I’m sorry Jimmy but this survey is rubbish, it is very clear that the one who made it is out of touch with the real challenges facing the Church nowadays (lack of reverence, suppression of tradition, relativism, religious indifferentism, going with the Zeitgeist etc. etc.).”

 

While the overwhelming majority of comments to Akin’s post were negative, there was some praise for the Vatican’s efforts:

Akin told CNA he wasn’t surprised at the reaction to the survey.

“Many people are suspicious of the upcoming Synod on Synodality, and that itself would generate concerns. Also, from filling out the questionnaire myself, it was clear that whoever composed the questions and answers was not thinking from the perspective of many active, engaged, orthodox Catholics,” he said.

“I expected that there would be individuals who saw the questionnaire as slanted towards a particular set of viewpoints and answers,” Akin added.

On the whole, he thinks it is worth completing the questionnaire.

“My view is that if the Vatican asks for your opinions, it is better to cooperate and give them, even if the instrument is imperfect. Having your voice heard is better than not having it heard at all,” Akin said.

Akin added that he was glad to help when asked.

"I recognize that the Holy See is a place with people who have many different views, and nobody except the pope has the final say on a thing. But I believe in being helpful and constructive when asked, so I was happy to help the Dicastery for Communications," he said.

The Vatican, he said, was also aware that Akin’s audience and that of the other influencers is not representative of active Catholics.

“Someone at the Vatican clearly understood that they would not be getting the views of people who don't go to Mass from the diocesan surveys. They made a point to us that participants do not need to be active Catholics to share their views. They want to hear from people of goodwill who are willing to engage with the Church in some form, even if some do not presently practice the Faith,” he said.

The Vatican’s communications office conducted a similar campaign in France and in Spain, employing “priest influencers” to reach out to young people who failed to attend the parish Synod meetings.

"Following the synod, from which young people were largely absent, the dicastery met with a group of Spanish influencers," Father Gaspard Craplet told the French Catholic website La Croix.

"They said that the digital world should be consulted and submitted the question to the pope, who replied that we should go for it," he said.

Craplet told La Croix that the dicastery contacted him and other priests who have a following on social media and asked them to pass along the survey. 

"Unlike a parish, influencers reach people who follow them freely, like sheep choosing their shepherd," he said.

The survey distributed in Spain sparked backlash because a possible gender identification was reportedly listed as “I do not know.”

That part of the survey was said to have been amended to read, “Don’t want to respond,” the answer that was subsequently adopted by the American version of the survey distributed by Akin.

The Synod on Synodality was announced in March 2020. It is focused on discernment with the whole people of God, journeying together, and listening to one another.

It began with a diocesan phase, in which each bishop has been asked to undertake a consultation process with his local Church. The results of these consultations are to be sent to the Vatican by Aug. 15.

This will be followed by a continental phase, from September until March 2023. It will conclude with a Synod of Bishops held at the Vatican in October 2023.

Lightning strike causes major fire damage to historic Illinois Catholic church

Firefighters work to put out a roof fire at historic St. James Catholic Church, in Rockford, Illinois, on Aug. 8, 2022. The Diocese of Rockford said a lightning strike was a possible cause. / Screenshot of Rockford Diocese video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 9, 2022 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

A lightning strike caused a roof fire Monday that severely damaged a historic Catholic church in Rockford, Illinois, and left three firefighters injured, authorities said.

The Rockford Fire Department determined that lightning set the roof on fire at Saint James Catholic Church, Mike Rotolo, the department's fire prevention coordinator, told CNA Tuesday. The damage to the church may exceed $3 million, he said.

The city's building department posted a yellow sign with the message “Condemned: Do Not Enter” outside the church Monday, Rotolo said. This means that the building is not safe to use in its current condition, he said.

The church is located outside the Chicago metropolitan area in the far northern part of the state. The church was first blessed in 1853, according to the parish’s website.

In a statement, the Diocese of Rockford said the fire broke out before 7 a.m. on Aug. 8. The diocese posted a video on its Facebook page showing firefighters responding to the blaze.

No one was inside the church during the time of the fire and the pastor safely removed the Holy Eucharist from the building, the diocese said.

Three firefighters responding to the scene suffered non-life-threatening injuries, the fire department said in a tweet.

“Bishop David Malloy extends his profound gratitude to all the first responders, the vigilant neighbors, and all those around the diocese who have offered prayers during this extremely sad and unfortunate event,” the diocese’s statement said.

“Prayers are also being offered for those three courageous firefighters reported to have sustained injuries while fighting this fire,” the statement added.