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How do you foster Catholic community in quarantine?

Denver Newsroom, Jan 16, 2021 / 02:00 am (CNA).- Like many in 2020, Catholic author Leah Libresco Sargeant found much solace in the past year in spiritual reading— as well as in copious amounts of baking. 

“The big thing this year, especially with the new baby, is making large batches of cookies and then freezing a bunch of the dough so that there could always be fresh cookies, even if it's a very busy day and it's not plausible to make any. It's great,” she laughed. 

Leah is a convert from atheism, and writes and thinks a lot about ways to build up strong Christian communities. In fact, she wrote a book about it a couple of years ago, called “Building the Benedict Option,” in which she encourages Catholics to create opportunities in their lives to interact more with their faith community.

These additional, intentional interactions can include taking the initiative to host people more often for dinner or events at your home, especially on feast days. Her book offers tips on how to make these interactions more successful in building tight-knit Christian communities. 

Although many of the suggestions in Leah’s book are predicated on face-to-face interactions, she said she has found ways to adapt her community-building practices during coronavirus times. 

“I think one of the hard things is just having a routine shattered; some of the connections you have with other people vanishing. And it takes a bit of work, then, to build up from scratch what you otherwise could rely on from other people,” she noted. 

For example, she’s taken the initiative to maintain several penpals, keeping friendships alive by conversing via snail mail. A habit Leah practiced even before the pandemic was sending things to people that she found spiritually enriching— such as book passages, or information about interesting saints— in the hopes that they would find it spiritually enriching too. 

Most dioceses in the United States, save for a few in the West, have reopened almost all their churches for Mass with continued precautions such as social distancing and mask wearing. Catholic churches in Princeton, New Jersey where the Sargeants live have generally been accessible since the summer of 2020, but Leah says there have been times when the Sergeants have had to miss in-person Mass and instead participate from home via livestream. 

“We try and make that an opportunity to pray for people who are in more remote places, who have a traveling priest who doesn't come every week, even in normal times— or people who are living under persecution,” Leah told CNA. 

“To try and take this unexpected and unwanted fast from the Mass as an opportunity to pray for people for whom [access to the sacraments] is an ongoing struggle, pandemic or no.”

Part of the key to making it through “unexpected fasts” from the sacraments is to reach out to others and offer to walk through it with them, she said. 

“If you can't go to Mass, or can't go to Mass as often as you used to, part of the question might be: do you have a friend who is also in this position?” she said, adding that you could call that person on the phone and offer to pray with them. 

“Is there a way that this can become something you share with others, rather than just a time of isolation?

Adding that she does not want to “sugarcoat” the difficulties in keeping a sense of community alive during the pandemic, Sergeant said restrictions on public gatherings, including Mass, have made spontaneous, organic interactions with her neighbors more difficult. 

“I think in some ways what the pandemic has done is strengthened some of my ties with people who I've fallen out of touch with a little, and who don't live nearby, and weakened them a bit with my actual neighbors,” she said. 

On the other hand, Sergeant said she has found that the extra time spent at home during the pandemic has helped her and her family to pray more in their home. 

Leah and her husband Alexi welcomed their first child in January 2020, so a lot of their domestic church traditions in the past year have been shaped by that joyful fact. For example, the Sargeants decided against putting out a physical Advent wreath in 2020. 

“A lot of our traditions have to be things that are less tangible, because literally everything in the house goes into [the baby’s] mouth,” she laughed. 

One “intangible” habit that Leah and her husband have gotten into is doing spiritual reading every Sunday, out loud, to each other. They’ve made their way through works such as the biblical poetry of Gregory of Nazianzus and “The Day is Now Far Spent” by Robert Cardinal Sarah. 

Leah has also continued her habit of blogging, attracting several hundred followers to an email newsletter in which she writes on topics such as motherhood, the benefits she has found from working from home, and a variety of others from a Catholic feminist perspective. 

One of the keys to a healthy spiritual life is silence, and cultivating periods of silence every day for prayer and peacefulness. Leah says she’s been working on this for a while, and added that the birth of her first child has, perhaps paradoxically, helped her to find quieter moments than she had before. 

“For me, a baby is sometimes an excuse not to find those periods of silence. But...a baby forces you to be fully present in the moment, to put aside some of your own goals or own plans for the day,” she explained.  

“And if she falls asleep on top of you after what's been a rough afternoon, suddenly it is enforced silence...and if you weren't planning to have any silent prayer too bad, now is the time!”

The human toll of the pandemic has a lot of people thinking about death— not only the deaths of others, but their inevitable own. Leah says for Catholics, who believe in resurrection, thinking about death is not necessarily a bad thing. 

“The Church has always told us to meditate on our own death, and to make that part of our spiritual practice,” she pointed out.

“[God] defeated death and freed us from fear of it, but that doesn't make it easy. That's why we talk about this as a spiritual practice, something we have to do deliberately again and again, to build up that trust in God and that knowledge of who He is. And so I think the pandemic is really forcing that good spiritual practice on us in a much more stressful and frightening way than if we'd chosen it ourselves.”

This meditation on what it means to die, and for things to end, applies not just to individuals, but to the Church as a whole. Even in non-pandemic times, there are always going to be people at Mass who are journeying through grief and suffering, and pastors shouldn’t shy away from addressing that, Sergeant said, seeking to assure people that experiencing spiritual aridity and grief does not make them “bad Christians.”

“There's always someone in your neighborhood, in your parish, who's going through a time that's just as hard as it is now [in the pandemic], but it isn't shared,” she said.  

“So part of the question is: Whatever's going on now that's helping us take care of each other, how do we continue that when there isn't the shock of a pandemic to remind us that people around us are suffering?”

The pandemic hasn’t only brought challenges, however. There have also been some fun opportunities for enhancing the Sargeant’s family life— several of which involve baking. Leah recommends seeking out a sourdough starter, as it makes for a fun baking activity as well as a potential gift to pass on to others. 

“If you're only feeding one thing in your house, it should be the baby, not the sourdough starter,” she laughed. 

This interview originally aired on Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. It has been adapted for print. Listen to the interview below, beginning at 9:40. 



CNA Newsroom · Ep. 89: Taking Back the Year  

US bishops applaud Supreme Court ruling in favor of FDA abortion pill regulations

CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 10:06 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ pro-life chair on Friday praised a Supreme Court decision allowing federal regulations of the abortion pill to stand during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision reversed a federal judge’s injunction on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) safety regulations of the abortion pill.

The ruling allowed the FDA to use its authority as requested and continue to prohibit remote prescriptions and dispensing of the abortion pill during the pandemic.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the FDA’s ability to enforce important and long-standing health and safety requirements related to chemical abortion drugs,” stated Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee.

In Tuesday’s 6-3 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the federal district court did not have sufficient authority to mandate regulatory changes to the FDA’s public health standards, due to the pandemic.

Since 2000, the FDA had placed the abortion pill regimen on its REMS list, reserved for higher-risk drugs and procedures. This listing meant that the abortion pill could only be prescribed in a health clinic setting, in-person, by a certified prescriber.

Pro-abortion groups sued, however, claiming that the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic warranted that women be able to obtain the abortion pill via mail without having to make a visit in-person to a health clinic. Judge Theodore Chuang of the Maryland district in July ruled in their favor and placed an injunction on the FDA regulations during the pandemic.

Roberts on Tuesday wrote that “courts owe significant deference to the politically accountable entities with the ‘background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.’”

“In light of those considerations, I do not see a sufficient basis here for the District Court to compel the FDA to alter the regimen for medical abortion,” he wrote.

On Friday, Archbishop Naumann said that the FDA is right to regulate chemical abortions, which if prescribed and dispensed remotely could carry special health risks for women.

“Mail order mifepristone compounds the risks and trauma of abortion by encouraging women to end the lives of their children in their own bathrooms, often without any medical attention or follow-up care,” he said.

“This dangerous, painful, and emotionally bleak process results in the death of innocent unborn lives and often has lasting negative impacts on women,” he said. “The inalienable dignity of women and their unborn children deserves so much more.”

After Chuang’s initial decision, Justice Department attorneys appealed the case to the Supreme Court; the court sent the case back for reconsideration, instructing that the administration be able to present new evidence.

In a Dec. 9 decision, Chuang did not lift the injunction, saying that the challenges of the pandemic had not changed. The administration then appealed its case again to the Supreme Court.

 

Becerra, Biden’s HHS pick, has shown ‘hostility to nonprofit institutions’, scholars argue

CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Conservative scholars argued this week that Xavier Becerra, president-elect Joe Biden’s pick for HHS secretary, has a history of “hostility to nonprofit institutions and the donors who support them,” particularly religious nonprofits.

In a Jan. 13 opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote that Becerra, currently serving as California’s attorney general, has a history of supporting initiatives aiming to “use the tax code to redirect charitable giving toward causes [he] finds worthwhile.”

Notably, they say, Becerra has taken steps to attempt to force organizations such as pro-life pregnancy centers and religious foster-care agencies to violate their principles.

“Religious organizations run many of America’s hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, foster and adoption agencies, after-school programs and hospices. Mr. Becerra seems to want the power to cast their principles aside in favor of his own ideological mission,” the authors assert.

“He holds many views of this kind, well outside the American mainstream, and would have broad discretion to act on them as health and human services secretary.”

As California attorney general, Becerra has frequently taken legal action against pro-life organizations and other religous groups. The authors of the op-ed expressed worry that in his likely new position as head of HHS, Becerra will use his influence to pressure such groups.

The HHS has authority over a broad range of concerns, including federally-funded adoption agencies, regulation of the abortion pill, refugee resettlement, anti-human trafficking efforts, global health, and family planning. HHS works with many nonprofit organizations, the authors asserted.

Becerra has said in the past that tax exemptions for charitable foundations lead to “disproportionate giving...skewed against people of color,” and that the government has an obligation to ensure that the tax exemptions enjoyed by charities serve a public good.

The IRS lists 29 types of organizations that qualify as tax-exempt charitable organizations. These include 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes most religious nonprofits and churches.

“Many foundations fund medical research, schools and religious organizations that benefit people of all races...Foundation money is private money and foundation leaders have a moral and even legal obligation to disperse it in the way donors have directed,” the authors asserted.

Becerra’s predecessor as California attorney general, Kamala Harris, prosecuted journalist David Daleiden for his undercover videos claiming that Planned Parenthood unlawfully profited from the trade in fetal tissue of aborted babies. Becerra continued that fight in court.

Becerra also defended a 2014 state mandate that employers cover abortions in health plans, despite religious communities such as the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit not being exempted from the mandate.

Becerra had defended the state’s Reproductive FACT Act, a law passed in 2015 before his tenure as attorney general, which required pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions. Pro-life groups claimed the state actively worked with the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) to craft the legislation.

During January 2020, the HHS Office for Civil Rights concluded that California had violated the Weldon Amendment—which bars federal funding of health care groups that force the provision or coverage of abortions— and gave the state 30 days to comply with the law. Becerra refused to comply with the HHS demand, saying that the state “has the sovereign right to protect women’s reproductive rights.”

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a message of faith, hope and love, niece tells EWTN

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2021 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- In an interview with EWTN News Nightly (ENN), the niece of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Alveda King, highlighted that her famous uncle was a man of faith, who always looked for "nonviolent and Bible-based" solutions to the challenges of his time.  

ENN's host Tracy Sabol opened the interview, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Jan. 15, highlighting that "honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still give us as a nation an opportunity to pay tribute to his enduring legacy," before asking King, director of Civil Rights for the Unborn for Priests for Life, about the civil rights icon's place in history.

"When I remember my uncle during the Martin Luther King holiday week, I think about his messages of faith, hope and love,” she said, adding that in "all of his life, he exemplified solutions that were nonviolent and Bible-based.”

King remembered that her uncle used to say that faith is "like climbing a staircase; you take one step at a time and the faith builds. And so he was very sure that if he continued to trust in the Lord and to have faith and hope and love, then he could carry a message that God had given him to carry."

"My uncle was a nonviolent man. He believed that we were one human race … God made all people to live together on the face of the earth. And as one human race, we really could learn to live together as brothers and sisters and not perish together as fools. All of his sermons and his messages led us to understand that our answers would come from God and that we must unite and learn to get along,” King also said.

She also recalled that Martin Luther King Jr. "decided to stick with love." 

"Hate is too difficult a burden to bear. And then we bear each other's burdens and concerns, seeing each other as human beings, regardless of skin color. We could see skin color, of course, we really are not colorblind. We could see, but we should see ethnicity as something to be celebrated, not to be fought over,” she said.

"Martin Luther King Jr. lived a life of service and love," said his niece in closing. 

"If he were here today, he would be praying for us and with us and encouraging us to set aside strife and to come together in love. And as we do that, we can surely be blessed, and 2021 will be a very different year than 2020 turned out to be."

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year. The holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 but was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

 

What happens to the pro-life movement in a post-Trump era?

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2021 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump on Wednesday became the first president in American history to be impeached by the House of Representatives twice.

The vote came a week after supporters of the president breached the U.S. Capitol, delaying the formal certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election by several hours and instigating a deadly riot.

Both the violent scenes from the riot and the second impeachment vote—which followed unproven claims from Trump that the election was stolen from him—are likely to loom large in Trump’s legacy.

And the pro-life movement that largely embraced Trump will have to grapple with this legacy, even as it braces for an incoming presidential administration that ran on a heavily pro-abortion platform.

Catholic theologian Charles Camosy told Catholic News Agency that as he watched coverage of the riot at the Capitol, “Like so many of us, including the overwhelmingly large number of pro-lifers I know, I was disgusted and horrified.”

“Especially with respect to the loss of human life that happened and, due to the now clear plans of many who put the Capitol under siege that day, the even greater loss of life that could have taken place,” Camosy said.

Camosy is a former Democrats for Life of America board member, who resigned from the position in 2020, saying the party’s embrace of extreme positions on abortion left him no choice but to abandon the party and join the American Solidarity Party.

Asked if the pro-life movement should sever its ties with Trump, Camosy said, “I've been warning against this relationship from the very beginning.”

“Significantly, many of the pro-life leaders and organizations who have been in some kind of friendly relationship with him over the past four years, themselves warned about Trump during the 2016 GOP primaries,” Camosy said. “Something changed. Proximity to power in order to do genuine good in the short run is a huge temptation, and those of us who never supported Trump should acknowledge the good things that were gone, but we are now seeing what many of us warned about.”

Camosy added that he thinks “it would have been difficult enough to try to undo the damage that having the pro-life movement associated with Trump even without the assault on the Capitol.”

“But now the task is absolutely gargantuan,” he said. “It is far too late to sever ties now.”

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, told Catholic News Agency she watched in horror, but not surprise, as the riot at the Capitol unfolded last week.

“I think for a lot of us who were opposed to Trump four years ago, we saw this coming,” Herndon-De La Rosa said. “This was an inevitability and I think for the pro-life movement to have attached itself to him so strongly—really any political candidate is always a dangerous thing—but especially as volatile as he is. He has shown us his true colors all along.”

Trump won the 2016 election after campaigning heavily on pro-life promises, including a pledge to appoint only pro-life Supreme Court justices. But his candidacy and election posed a dilemma for the pro-life movement, with some arguing that his record--particularly his treatment of women--made him a poor choice to represent a cause claiming to be pro-woman.

But despite these misgivings from some, Trump became a de facto face of the pro-life movement. In 2018, Trump became the first president to address the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., via satellite from the White House, although previous Republican presidents had done so by phone. Two years later, Trump became the first president to attend the March in person.

While these high-profile appearances drew attention to the annual D.C. event, not everyone in the pro-life movement was happy with the president’s attendance. Then-Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), among the most prominent pro-life Democrats, backed out of the 2018 March for Life, where he was scheduled to be a featured speaker, after Trump’s satellite address was announced. Lipinski said at the time he could not put himself in the “potentially morally compromised situation” of sharing a stage with a president whose words were unpredictable and often offensive.

Lipinski, who recently left Congress after a primary defeat last year, called the Jan. 6 riot “unbelievable.”

“The U.S. Capitol is the symbol and the real seat of our democratic republic and to see it attacked was just very concerning,” he told CNA. “It’s still something that’s hard to comprehend.”

 Lipinski said he had expressed concern about tying Trump too closely to the pro-life movement from the beginning. He acknowledged some positive policy accomplishments on pro-life goals by the administration, but said “we have to win the hearts and minds of people.”

“He’s hurting us in terms of recruiting more people over to our side,” Lipinski said. “We need more people who are with us, and one way that you get people with you is to have a good image of what it means to be pro-life, what type of person is pro-life. And so it’s good to have people who are viewed positively, who are good role models, to be seen as pro-life leaders. And in that respect I think Donald Trump was harmful over the last for years and in the long run.” 

As Trump’s presidency ends with a second impeachment--and polls showing a majority of Americans saying he should be removed from office--some pro-lifers worry that the president’s legacy could continue haunting the pro-life movement for years to come.

While some tout legislative and judiciary victories on pro-life goals, other pro-lifers worry that the president’s reputation could drive people away from the pro-life cause--or portray the pro-life movement as oppressive to women. While polls consistently show voters favoring substantial limits on abortion, support for Roe v. Wade hit an all-time high during Trump’s presidency.

Herndon-De La Rosa offered a biblical analogy to the pro-life movement’s association with Trump.

“The Supreme Court nominees that Trump promised, those were the 30 pieces of silver, and so we were willing to overlook these grievous offenses and problems with his character, because those Supreme Court seats were so vital and now we’re suffering the repercussions of that,” she said.

Trump’s legacy, Herndon-De La Rosa said, would still have been difficult to come to terms with prior to the riot, pointing to remarks Trump made about women revealed during his presidential campaign.

“We spent decades trying to show people how we are pro-woman,” she said. “The second we aligned ourselves with a man who made such degrading comments about women, we lost credibility. This was always a dangerous alliance, and now we’re seeing that it was more of a suicide pact.”

As for Trump’s association with the pro-life movement, Herndon-De La Rosa argued, “I don’t know that there’s recovering from it.”

“This is going to have to be a phoenix rising from the ashes moment where we really do some introspective soul-searching,” she said.

Herndon-De La Rosa said she and some of her allies have adopted terminology like “consistent life ethicist” to differentiate themselves from some other facets of the pro-life movement.

“And that’s either going to go nowhere, or it’s going to be something that is ultimately a bigger tent,” she commented.

Camosy offered a more hopeful view of the future. While he thinks the pro-life movement will be “tarnished” by its association with Trump “for at least a generation - maybe longer,” he also thinks there are things pro-life advocates can do to promote healing.

Looking forward, he said, pro-lifers must “pursue our goals in a very non-partisan way.”

“[We should] work, especially at the state level, for prenatal justice--which is most likely to come from alliances with Republicans,” he said, but “we should also work to save babies' lives--and support their mothers--by working on the ‘demand side’ of abortion,” pointing to steps to address poverty and intimate partner violence.

“We must work to resist the social-structural problems which push so many women to have abortions and this likely will mean alliances with Democrats,” he said.

“Though perhaps, as the GOP figures out what it wants to be, we can help push Republicans to join us in this approach as well,” he added. “Political idolatry is poison more generally--just to human nature--but it is particularly poisonous to the pro-life movement. We must be more politically nimble and non-partisan in our pursuit.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and a vocal supporter of President Trump, did not immediately respond to an interview request through a spokesperson. But during the riot, she condemned the violence, writing in a tweet that it is “not reflective of pro-life Americans and Trump supporters who align with his call to support police today.”

 

Violence in pursuit of upholding justice and the dignity of the human being is nonsense at best. What is happening in the Capitol now is not reflective of prolife Americans and Trump supporters who align with his call to support police today.

— MarjorieDannenfelser (@marjoriesba) January 6, 2021  

Buffalo diocese rebuts claims it misrepresented seminary finances

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 15, 2021 / 04:04 pm (CNA).- The Buffalo diocese has responded to claims that it misrepresented the financial state of its seminary before closing it last year.

 
“The seminary has had sustainability issues for a long time, and for at least over the past 15 years. The financial information was readily available to all interested parties,” a spokesman for the diocese told CNA on Friday.
 
“In short, the seminary was running out of students, time and money,” spokesman Greg Tucker told CNA Jan. 15.

In February 2020, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, then-apostolic administrator of Buffalo, announced that the diocese’s Christ the King Seminary would cease operations at the end of the spring semester. He cited a 10-year average financial deficit of $500,000 a year as a primary reason for the decision.
 
However, WKBW reported Jan. 14 that one diocesan donor was questioning the financial reasons given for the seminary’s closure. According to the report, the seminary had actually been operating financially at a net positive from 2010 through 2019, after suffering a massive financial loss in 2009.
 
The nearly $3 million hit in 2009, when combined with the net gain of more than $150,000 from 2010-2019, did result in a $2.7 million net loss from the years 2009-2019—but not at the annual level reported by the diocese, the donor claimed.
 
Rather than an annual $500,000 financial deficit, the seminary’s loss was around $250,000 per year for the 11 years, according to the WKBW report—and the seminary had a net financial gain from 2010-2019.

"A false narrative. A $500,000 false narrative," former volunteer Jim Grubka told WKBW.
 
According to diocesan spokesman Greg Tucker, however, the seminary had deep, long-standing problems of sustainability, including operating losses for the last six years.
 
According to Tucker, seminary expenses were increasing and revenue was declining, with the seminary having kept afloat by “extraordinary” donation sources including annual diocesan subsidies—sources that might dry up due to the diocesan bankruptcy process.
 
Subtracting “extraordinary” donations from the seminary’s financials, he said, the seminary reported operating losses of around $800,000 a year, "which is the actual number vs. what the diocese reported at as averaging approximately $500,000 per year.”
 
“Operating cash was being depleted,” he said, and was estimated by management to be at only 12 months’ supply; reserves were also declining, he said.
 
Enrollment was also declining, with only 26 students at the seminary and only two first-year students from the Buffalo diocese at the time it closed. Tucker also cited concerns about the seminary maintaining its accreditation, an “underfunded” lay pension fund, and the seminary’s tarnished reputation as other challenges for its sustainability.
 
WKBW reported the story on the day before Bishop Michael Fisher would be installed as Buffalo’s 15th bishop.
 
On Friday, Bishop Fisher offered his installation Mass, preaching that “[i]t is Jesus Christ who has the words of eternal life - who makes sense of all that we confront in our lives and that often doesn’t make sense. It is Jesus Christ who never disappoints, though we confront deep disappointment; It is Jesus Christ whose promises are true and abiding, even when we have been disillusioned and left to wonder how it is we might recapture the zeal and joy that led us to become followers in the first place.”
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Bishop Fisher inherits a diocese rocked by scandal in recent years, and currently undergoing a bankruptcy process due to the number of clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed in the last 17 months under the Child Victims Act.
 
The former bishop Richard Malone resigned in December 2019, after a Vatican-ordered visitation of the diocese in October. Whistleblower reports by his former executive assistant and former secretary alleged a gross mishandling of clergy sex abuse cases.
 
In November 2020, the state of New York filed a 260-page lawsuit against the diocese, alleging that bishops and staff repeatedly mishandled abuse accusations.
 
In November 2019, the National Catholic Register reported a three-part series on scandals at Christ the King Seminary; the series included allegations of sexual harassment and violation of the seal of the confessional made by former seminarians against their confessor, and decades of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Lansing diocese adopts gender identity policy consistent with biological sex

CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Lansing launched Friday a policy on gender identity requiring that its schools, parishes, and charities recognize persons by the biological sex with which they were born.

The Jan. 15 policy aims to ensure "the highest standards of pastoral care for those with gender dysphoria while also ensuring that Catholic entities, such as parishes and schools, have the capability and confidence to safeguard those in their care from contemporary gender ideologies," according to the diocese's statement. 

It was developed in response to the Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2019 document Male and Female He Created Them, which "rejected any 'gender theory' that denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman.”

The policy makes explicit what is already implicity contained in the diocese’s code of conduct and employee handbook.

“Informed by faith and reason, the Church teaches that our differences as male and female are part of God’s good design in creation, that our bodies – including our sexual identity – are gifts from God, and that we should accept and care for our bodies as they were created,” says Richard Budd, Director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Lansing and co-author of the new guidelines.

“Gender dysphoria is a real psychological condition which causes real human suffering that has to be met with genuine compassion, rooted in truth and love, and accompanied by the highest standards of pastoral care,” Budd also says.

“Gender dysphoria” is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “clinically significant distress or impairment related to a strong desire to be of another gender, which may include desire to change primary and/or secondary sex characteristics.” This desire to change sex and its accompanying distress may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life.

The diocesan policy means that students and parents will be addressed with pronouns in accord with their biological sex; students will participate in sports and use bathrooms and locker rooms in accord with their biological sex; and Catholic schools will not cooperate in the administration of puberty-blocking or cross-sex hormones.

The diocese encourages counseling for those distressed or confused by their sexual identity, and it expects that its counselors “hold a correct Christian anthropology of the human person and understand and adhere to Catholic teaching.”

According to Budd, “the Church teaches that the human person is a body-soul union, and the body — created male or female — is a constitutive and integral aspect of the human person and, as such, everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his or her God-given biological sex and the sexuality that corresponds with that gift – only in this way lies a path towards an integral, sustainable and happy life.” 

“Invasive treatments, especially for children, can inflict irreversible physiological damage coupled with long-term psychological, emotional and spiritual damage upon an already vulnerable person,” says Jenny Ingles, Director of Fertility and Life Ministries in the Diocese of Lansing and co-author of the new guidelines.

The diocese's statement notes that the launching of its policy coincides with the emergence of legal actions brought by adults alleging malpractice by health authorities who, it is claimed, recklessly encouraged them to “transition” as children.

“Our wonderful Catholic teachers are overwhelmingly motivated in all they do by the love of Jesus Christ and they seek to bring that love to the care of their students,” said Tom Maloney, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Lansing.

“Applying that compassion to new ethical dilemmas such as gender dysphoria can be challenging – that’s why this new diocesan policy on gender identity will help our teachers form our students in truth and love in order to promote authentic happiness and uphold the common good,” he concluded.

With the new policies, the diocese also issued a theological guide, "The Human Person and Gender Dysphoria", which explains the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding human anthropology, the human person, and the pastoral challenges posed by transgender ideology.

Breaking: March for Life 2021 goes virtual

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2021 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The 2021 March for Life will take place virtually, organizers announced Friday.

The March for Life Education and Defense Fund, the organization behind the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., said the decision was made due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the risk of unrest in the nation’s capital. This year’s march, now virtual, will take place Jan. 29.

In a Jan. 15 statement announcing the decision, Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life, said, “The protection of all of those who participate in the annual March, as well as the many law enforcement personnel and others who work tirelessly each year to ensure a safe and peaceful event, is a top priority of the March for Life.”

“In light of the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic which may be peaking, and in view of the heightened pressures that law enforcement officers and others are currently facing in and around the Capitol, this year’s March for Life will look different,” Mancini said. “The annual rally will take place virtually and we are asking all participants to stay home and to join the March virtually.”

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, with over 383,000 deaths to date in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. faces the aftermath of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Organizers said participants will be able to follow the march and participate virtually on its website.

The march will still happen, Mancini said, but in-person attendance will be confined to a small number of pro-life leaders who will represent the movement.

“We will invite a small group of pro-life leaders from across the country to march in Washington, DC this year,” she said. “These leaders will represent pro-life Americans everywhere who, each in their own unique ways, work to make abortion unthinkable and build a culture where every human life is valued and protected.” 

A representative for the March for Life told Catholic News Agency that this small group of pro-life leaders will carry roses with them, which they will leave at the Supreme Court, in honor of the lives lost to abortion.

Mancini said the March for Life “is profoundly grateful for the countless women, men, and families who sacrifice to come out in such great numbers each year as a witness for life – and we look forward to being together in person next year. As for this year’s march, we look forward to being with you virtually.”

The March for Life, which organizers describe as the world’s largest annual human rights demonstration, takes place every year on or near Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

As of Friday, law enforcement officials locked down huge portions of the nation’s capital city following the attack on the U.S. Capitol building last week and in anticipation of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20. The National Mall is closed to the public through at least Jan. 24, just days before the planned March was to take place on Jan. 29. According to the Associated Press, the number of National Guard troops in Washington to secure the locked down area is about 21,000.

Mancini told Catholic News Agency, “I welcome the prayers of my fellow Catholics during this unique moment in history as we work together to build a culture of life in our country. ‘With God all things are possible.’”

Fr. James Martin connects Catholic leaders to Capitol riots; Bishop Stika unimpressed

CNA Staff, Jan 14, 2021 / 08:42 pm (CNA).- Bishop Richard Stika of Nashville voiced skepticism of Father James Martin’s recent essay claiming that Catholic leaders’ criticism of President-elect Joe Biden's stance on abortion helped contribute to the conditions for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Martin’s essay, “How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol,” ran Jan. 12 at the website of the U.S. Jesuits’ America magazine, where Martin is editor-at-large.

Martin collected various bishops’ and priests’ comments critical of Biden’s stand on abortion and questioning whether a Catholic could vote for him. Though these criticisms ranged from respectful to inflammatory, Martin argued that their criticism “does not adequately reflect church teaching” and sent the message that the election was “an almost apocalyptic battle between good and evil.”

The priest suggested that “perhaps these comments were contributing to the unrest in the nation.”

Stika responded to Martin’s criticism of his comments about Biden.

“I don’t apologize for the tweet as I agree with the (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) that abortion is the preeminent issue in this day and age,” Stika said on Twitter Jan. 13. “Mr. Biden likes to speak about his Catholic faith. Perhaps he should realize that abortion is a human rights issue as well as the ultimate child abuse. Perhaps I missed something in the article concerning abortion as the preeminent issue.”

The dispute follows violence and riots at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump supporters last week, leading to several deaths and dozens of injured police officers. Prosecutors appear to have a suspect in custody linked to two explosive devices left at the major political parties’ respective headquarters.

In a lengthy essay, Martin sought to connect the unrest to vocal critics of abortion. He alleged there was “widespread personal vilification of candidates from Catholic leaders” in the run-up to the violence at the U.S. Capitol. He named various figures before quoting from two Aug. 21 Twitter comments from Bishop Stika.

“(I) don’t understand how Mr. Biden can claim to be a good and faithful Catholic as he denies so much of Church teaching especially on the absolute child abuse and human rights violations of the most innocent, the not yet born,” Stika said in one tweet.

"And he also praises his sidekick who has shown time and time again in Senate hearings that she is an anti-Catholic bigot,” The bishop also said on Twitter, in a possible reference to incoming Vice President Kamala Harris’ controversial questioning of Catholic judicial nominees who were members of the Knights of Columbus.

The remainder of Stika’s Twitter comment, which was not quoted by Martin, concluded: “So sad for this team. But also, I never thought the current President was all that pro-life but he is anti-abortion as well as helpful in religious liberty.”

After citing Stika, Martin immediately cited a deleted, inflammatory tweet from Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life and a former member of the Trump campaign’s Catholics for Trump group.

“Why is it that the supporters of this (expletive deleted) loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God hating Democrat party can’t say a (expletive deleted) thing in support of their loser candidate without using the word Trump?” Pavone had said.

Pavone has drawn significant controversy for his campaign efforts on behalf of Donald Trump. He used the preserved remains of an unborn baby in a video attempting to rally support for Trump before the 2016 election.

Martin argued “personal vilification from members of the clergy inevitably gives rise to a lack of respect from the faithful, making it easier for those in the pews to revile government and civic leaders.” He alleged “an alarming number of Catholic clergy contributed to an environment that led to the fatal riots at the U.S. Capitol. Ironically, priests and bishops who count themselves as pro-life helped spawn a hate-filled environment that led to mayhem, violence and, ultimately, death.”

Although President-elect Biden was a longtime supporter of some abortion restrictions, he changed his views to support for permissive abortion laws and federal funding for abortion during the 2020 Democratic primaries. He boasted of his 100% rating from the pro-abortion group NARAL Pro-Choice America. His 2020 campaign platform called for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law.

Martin’s essay criticized priests who had enjoyed some internet popularity like Father James Altman of the Diocese of LaCrosse. Altman’s viral YouTube video “You Cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat” drew some 1.2 million views before the election. The video drew some criticism from the priest’s local bishop, Bishop of LaCrosse William Patrick Callahan, but was recommended by Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas.

Other objects of Martin’s criticism included Cardinal Raymond Burke’s comment that Biden was involved in “grave, immoral evil that is the source of scandal.” Martin also cited Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane’s question asking how a Catholic can vote for “a candidate like Biden” if “abortion is an intrinsic evil.”

The priest also cited the claims of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former apostolic nuncio to the U.S., who has called Biden “a puppet manipulated by the elite, a puppet in the hands of people thirsty for power and willing to do anything to expand it.”

Martin said such examples led to violence and merited correction.

“Bishops and priests need to understand the real-life effects of such contemptuous and even dehumanizing language. Catholic bishops and priests are meant to teach morality, but they are not meant to judge others (as Jesus said clearly) or to treat people with such bitter contempt. The real-world effect of this kind of language was revealed at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” said Martin.

“The mistake for which Catholic leaders should be corrected, the mistake for which the church now needs to repent, is not simply casting this election in terms of good and evil; it is pretending that real questions of good and evil could be simplified to the point where violent responses, even acts of domestic terrorism, become thinkable and then are carried out,” he said.

The Jan. 6 protests drew a large number of Trump supporters, who began at the White House and moved to the Capitol.

It is still unclear to what extent the incursion into the Capitol was planned, and debate continues over whether law enforcement and security personnel were adequately prepared.

Rioters at the Capitol included devotees of QAnon, a fringe conspiracy theory that sees President Trump as a savior who will liberate the country from a powerful Democratic cannibalistic sex trafficking cabal. Some rioters sported anti-Semitic garb, and at least one bore a Confederate flag.

Prosecutors have filed dozens of cases against the most visible participants, many of whom posted their exploits on social media. Charges include violent entry and disorderly content, though Justice Department officials say these could be replaced with more serious charges, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Charges of seditious conspiracy are under consideration and officials are investigating the extent to which the disorder was planned by some rioters, including those with military training.

One of those charged, 70-year-old Lonnie Coffman, faces 17 criminal counts. He allegedly brought 11 Molotov cocktails and a weapons cache in his pickup truck that included a handgun, a rifle, a shotgun, large-capacity magazines, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a crossbow, a stun gun, several machetes and a smoke device. Prosecutors appeared to link him to two explosive devices left at the headquarters of both the Democratic and Republican political parties.

Those arrested include Olympic gold medalist swimmer Klete Keller, who faces charges including obstruction of law enforcement, entering a restricted building without permission, and “violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.”

Prior to the riot, President Donald Trump refused to concede the election and claimed it had been stolen. Trump’s critics claimed that the violence at the Capitol was an insurrection incited by the president.

“Can anyone doubt that the moral calculus proposed by some Christian leaders, including Catholic priests and bishops, framed in the language of pure good versus pure evil, contributed to the presence of so many rioters brandishing overtly Christian symbols as they carried out their violence?” Martin asked in his essay.

The year 2020 saw a significant amount of civil unrest, including sometimes-violent protests against police brutality, systemic racism, and coronavirus restrictions.

There was also a wave of vandalism against Catholic churches and Catholic figures including St. Junipero Serra.

 

US bishops disagree with designation of Cuba as terrorism sponsor

CNA Staff, Jan 14, 2021 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- The US bishops’ chair for international justice and peace has expressed his disagreement with the State Department’s return of Cuba to a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The decision was based in part on Cuba’s provision of haven to Colombian rebel leaders and fugitives from US justice, as well as Cuba’s support of Nicolas Maduro, the disputed president of Venezuela, who is not recognized by the US.

“As Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, I would like to express my profound disagreement with Secretary Pompeo's decision to add Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism,” Bishop David Malloy of Rockford said Jan. 12.

“As our committee has said many times, we need more relations between the United States and Cuba, not less, in order to construct mutually beneficial trade, cultural, and scientific ties that will yield a lasting prosperity for both our nations. I pray that we never tire of working towards these goals and that both sides recognize the need for friendship and collaboration,” he stated.

“For decades, in conjunction with the Holy See and the majority of the international community, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged collaboration and mutually beneficial relations between the United States and Cuba, as well as the full lifting of the economic embargo against the island nation.”

In announcing the designation of Cuba Jan. 11, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it has provided “support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.”

He cited Cuba’s refusal to extradite 10 leaders of a Colombian rebel group which bombed a police academy in January 2019, and its harboring of at least three US fugitives.

The Secretary of State noted that by May 2020 the State Department had certified Cuba as not cooperating fully with US counterterrorism efforts.

Pompeo added that “the Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces, assisting Nicholas [sic] Maduro to maintain his stranglehold over his people while allowing terrorist organizations to operate. The Cuban government’s support for FARC dissidents and the ELN continues beyond Cuba’s borders as well, and the regime’s support of Maduro has created a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.”

Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terror “subjects Cuba to sanctions that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with Cuba, restricts U.S. foreign assistance, bans defense exports and sales, and imposes certain controls on exports of dual use items,” Pompeo said.

Cuba had been removed from the list in 2015 by the Obama administration; it had first been placed there in 1982 under Ronald Reagan.

After Sudan was recently removed, only three other countries are included on the list of a state sponsor of terrorism: North Korea, Syria, and Iran.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla condemned the U.S. action in a tweet on Monday, calling it “hypocritical and cynical” and characterizing it as “political opportunism”.