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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 19 min ago

Hoya no more: Georgetown rescinds McCarrick's honorary degree

5 hours 21 min ago

Washington D.C., Feb 20, 2019 / 09:56 am (CNA).- Georgetown University announced on Tuesday that it would rescind the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters the school conferred on disgraced former archbishop Theodore McCarrick in December 2004.

“With the concurrence of our Board of Directors, Georgetown University is rescinding the honorary degree granted to Theodore McCarrick fourteen years ago,” said Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia in an email sent to the Georgetown University community Tuesday.

This is the first time the school has revoked an honorary degree.

“We are called to forge a new culture, to create a context in which the most vulnerable among us will be safe and protected, to create a context in which the abuse of power can be identified and eliminated. As a University, founded in the Jesuit tradition, we are uniquely positioned to respond to this call,” said DeGioia.

Similar to the University of Notre Dame, which rescinded an honorary degree from McCarrick on Saturday, Georgetown University had elected to wait until the conclusion of the canonical penal process against McCarrick before making a decision about his honorary degree. McCarrick was laicized and removed from the clerical state on Feb. 16.

DeGioia’s email, forwarded Feb. 20 to CNA, explained that a working group was created in the fall of 2018 to “examine a range of issues related to honorary degrees.”

“The Working Group has welcomed input from members of our community, and its work has helped to shape our response today,” said DeGioia.

A petition spearheaded by Georgetown undergraduates requesting that the school rescind honorary degrees from both McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl garnered over 1,300 signatures since it was launched in September. Georgetown has not revoked the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters the school conferred on Wuerl in 2014. Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation from the Archdiocese of Washington in October 2018.

Grace Laria, a senior at Georgetown who helped start the petition, met with the university’s working group, along with fellow Georgetown senior Julie Bevilacqua. The students urged the school to rescind the degrees.

In November, Laria and Bevilacqua spoke to CNA outside the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Fall General Assembly. The two were there with several other Georgetown students who are active in campus ministry. Laria told CNA that she had been inspired to travel to Baltimore to demand that the bishops demonstrate sort of initiative that indicates they “are willing to stand up for survivors and take action.”

Bevilacqua told CNA in November that she had been angered and hurt by the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis, and that she felt there was “a sense of urgency for some kind of action and for us to see some change.”

Supreme Court rejects appeal to make Texas bishops release abortion communications

8 hours 47 min ago

Washington D.C., Feb 20, 2019 / 06:30 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal in the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Texas Catholic Conference et al, in which the abortion provider sought to force the Catholic bishops of Texas to hand over all internal communications related to abortion.

 

The Feb. 19 decision was the last in a series of setbacks for Whole Women’s Health as they tried to compel a massive disclosure of in-house documents by the Church in Texas, in response to the bishops' support for a law which would require the burial or cremation of all aborted children.

 

In a statement released to CNA, the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the decision by the Supreme Court which, they said was a vindication of their religious freedom rights.

 

“The bishops are very grateful the Supreme Court has upheld the ruling of the Fifth Circuit, which protects the private religious communications of the bishops from a fishing expedition by abortion providers seeking access to our ministry information,” said the statement.

 

A 2017 law passed in Texas required that the remains of unborn children must be buried or cremated rather than disposed of by other means, including be flushed into the sewer system or sent to landfills.

 

At the time the law was passed, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) voiced their support for the legislation and offered free burials for the remains of aborted babies.

 

Whole Woman’s Health responded by subpoenaing the bishops and demanded access to all internal communications regarding abortion, including any theological and doctrinal debates on the issue. The subpoena was filed despite the bishops not being party to the suit.

 

The Texas bishops released more than 4,000 pages of external communications on abortion, but applied for emergency relief to preserve their private correspondence.

 

In July 2018, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the trial court’s application of the subpoena, and the full court declined to hear the case in August. Whole Women’s Health then applied to the Supreme Court, which rejected the appeal on Tuesday.

 

In the Fifth Circuit Court’s decision, the judges described the subpoena as going “to the heart of the constitutional protection of religious belief and practice as well as citizens’ right to advocate sensitive policies in the public square.”

 

The court said that the Catholic bishops were left with a “Hobson’s choice” of either “retreating from the public square or defending its position.”

 

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Texas bishops in the case, released a statement praising the outcome.

 

Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket said in the statement that the court “saw this appeal for what it was: a nasty attempt to intimidate the bishops and force them to withdraw their offer to bury every child aborted in Texas.”

 

“Abortion groups may think the bishops ‘troublesome,’ but it is wrong to weaponize the law to stop the bishops from standing up for their beliefs,” he said.

 

In an earlier comment on the Fifth Circuit’s decision, Rassbach noted that “Constant surveillance of religious groups is a hallmark of totalitarian societies, not a free people.”

There are alternatives to abortion, says Archdiocese of New York

10 hours 56 min ago

New York City, N.Y., Feb 20, 2019 / 04:21 am (CNA).-
After a January law expanded abortion protections in New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City has reaffirmed the Church’s promise to support any pregnant woman, regardless of her circumstances.

“We are enthusiastically committed – and have been for half a century – to providing women with a warm, embracing, life-giving alternative [to abortion],” the cardinal said.

Dolan spoke at a convent of the Sisters of Life in New York City on Feb. 18. Mother Mary Agnes Donovan, the order’s foundress, hosted the press conference, which reiterated Church’s dedication to pregnant women.

Dolan’s announcement followed the signing of a New York’s  Reproductive Health Act, which took place on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
The law limits abortions to the first 24 weeks of pregnancy but allows for abortions to be conducted later in gestation if the wellbeing of the mother is at risk. Some experts say that loophole will allow for practically unrestricted late-term abortion in the state.

The law also decriminalizes the procedure, and strips it of most regulations and safeguards. Non-doctors will now be permitted to perform abortions.

At the meeting on Monday, the cardinal expressed concern that these abortion expansions will influence women to think that abortion is the only viable option to a difficult pregnancy, according to the National Review.  

“We’re here. We love you. We welcome you. There is an alternative here,” he said.

Dolan said the Archdiocese of New York offers services to pregnant women confidentially.

“It does not matter what your marital status, religion, or immigration status might be,” he said.

“We are here to help, and all of our services are confidential. Any woman facing a difficult pregnancy and tempted to an abortion is assured of a warm welcome, encouragement, and loving support.”

The press conference included additional speakers like Christopher Bell, co-founder of Good Counsel homes in New York and New Jersey; Mother Donovan, who is also superior general for the Sisters of Life; and Dr. Anne Nolte, who runs the Gianna Center, which provides reproductive health to women.

Brhane Love, a mother and immigrant who struggled with her own pregnancy, also spoke at the event. Love spoke about the pressure she felt to abort. She said the Sisters of Life provided support in immigration, career, babysitting, and housing. She was introduced to the nuns after a man intercepted her on the way to Planned Parenthood.

“He took me to meet the sisters and I talked to them for hours. They told me they were with me, that I wasn’t alone, and that they would help me,” said Love, according to National Review.

“I love my daughter,” she added. “She changed my life. I am so happy.”

The Sisters of Life have helped almost 10,000 women since their religious community was founded in 1991. According to National Review, Mother Agnes said the sisters serve an estimated 600-1000 women a year, noting the number is growing.

As their ministry gain greater publicity, Mother Agnes expressed hope that more women will discover alternative options to abortion like the Sisters of Life provide. She said the sisters are there to work with women, providing encouragement and practical support.

“Standing in radical solidarity with a woman, during an unexpected or difficult pregnancy, the Sisters and the woman together find a pathway through fear, a path defined by realistic and ongoing emotional and practical support that she may respond with courage and dignity to one of life’s most difficult moments.”

 

Colorado’s Catholic bishops will open abuse records for review

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 10:51pm

Denver, Colo., Feb 19, 2019 / 08:51 pm (CNA).- An agreement between Colorado’s attorney general and the state’s Catholic bishops aims to investigate clergy sex abuse of minors in the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses the dioceses’ past handling of sex abuse, and current procedures and responses to abuse allegations.
 
“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said at a Feb. 19 press conference held with the Colorado attorney general.
 
This process will involve “painful moments” and “cannot ever fully restore what was lost,” the archbishop said.
 
“We pray that it will at least begin the healing process,” he said. Transparency for the Church’s history on child abuse is needed, said the archbishop, who hoped that the programs offer a “path to healing for survivors and their families.”
 
Also speaking at the press conference were Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who took office in January; Colorado’s immediate past attorney general Cynthia Coffman; and Father Randy Dollins, vicar general of the Denver Archdiocese. In addition to the Archdiocese of Denver, the Colorado Springs diocese and the Pueblo diocese are parties to the agreement.
 
“It’s well known that child sexual abuse is a societal-wide program,” Weiser said. “It demands our attention and action. I am so pleased the Church today has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for survivors.”
 
The process involves an independent review of church records, a compensation process for victims, and a victims’ support service to aid their participation in the compensation program.
 
Robert Troyer, former U.S. Attorney for Colorado, will conduct the independent review. The agreement with the dioceses gives him “full access” to their files on sexual abuse of minors by diocesan clergy, according to a Feb. 19 joint statement from Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and the Catholic bishops of Colorado.
 
The review will examine the records and policies of Colorado’s three Roman Catholic dioceses about the sexual abuse of minors. A public report will be drafted and released to the public. The review aims to ensure that there are “no known or suspected abusers in active ministry.”
 
The review aims to provide transparency regarding abuse in the Church and the dioceses’ historic responses. The report will analyze dioceses’ current policies and procedures for abuse prevention and their response to abuse allegations.
 
The independent review aims to provide “recognition of past wrongdoing” and an opportunity for healing. The report process is not a criminal investigation, but an “independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church.”
 
The joint statement from the attorney general and the bishops said that they are not aware of any previously unreported criminal conduct. Should the review find any abusers, they will be reported to law enforcement immediately.
 
The report is expected to be released by fall 2019. It will not identify victims by name to protect their privacy. It will name diocesan priests with “substantiated allegations” of sexually abusing minors. It will detail these substantiated allegations, including the assignments of abusive priests and the years of the alleged abuse.
 
Misconduct with minors, described as “inappropriate but not illegal behavior,” will also be included in the report, but those accused of misconduct will not be named.
 
The term “diocesan priest” does not include religious order priests, who, according to the agreement, are “assigned, transferred, and subject to the control of their own religious orders and religious superiors,” and not subject to the governance of the Colorado dioceses.
 
While sexual misconduct with adults is not a focus of the report, if adult victims of abuse come forward, the attorney general’s office will support them, Weiser said.
 
Half the costs of Troyer’s independent review will be met by the three dioceses, and the rest by anonymous donors.
 
The Catholic dioceses will also fund “an independent, voluntary program that will compensate victims of abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred,” the joint statement said.
 
The program will be developed by nationally recognized claims administrations experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros.
 
They were involved in compensations in the wake of the Aurora, Colo. theater shooting in 2012 and are also been involved in Catholic sex abuse victims’ compensation programs in New York, New Jersey and other states.
 
Colorado’s bishops and the attorney general agreed that the program must accept claims through the public release of the independent review, as well as for “a reasonable period of time” after.
 
Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown will chair an independent commission overseeing the reparations program.
 
The reparations program will be augmented by a victims’ support service that will be created to aid victims or survivors. The service will be staffed by professionals who can discuss the reparations, program, hear stories from abuse victims, answer possible claimants’ questions, and help support the submission of documentation to the program.
 
Coffman, Weiser’s predecessor as Colorado attorney general, initiated action investigating Catholic clergy sex abuse in Colorado in late 2018.
 
“There is a recognition that childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution,” Coffman said. “The spotlight is on the Catholic Church but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on the activity.”
 
After a July Pennsylvania attorney general report compiled allegations against over 300 Catholic clergy, with over 1,000 reported victims, Coffman’s office began receiving calls from Colorado citizens who had suffered sexual abuse in the past. Some were abused in other states by priests who were no longer alive.
 
“There is a recognition that childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution,” Coffman said at the press conference. “The spotlight is on the Catholic Church but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on the activity.”
 
Representatives of the group Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests asked the Colorado attorney general to conduct a grand jury investigation into sex abuse of children in the Catholic Church in Colorado. The request was part of the group’s national effort to engage every state attorney general.
 
While some states’ attorneys general have the authority to launch such investigations, Colorado’s does not.
 
Coffman’s office began examining alternatives for uncovering previously undisclosed abuse involving Catholic priests. That effort drew a response from the Catholic bishops, who reached out to understand the effort. Her office discussed options on investigations.
 
Meeting with Aquila, Dollins, Bishop Stephen Jay Berg of Pueblo, and representatives of the Colorado Catholic Conference, Coffman said, “demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”
 
She voiced gratitude for their “cooperation and collaboration.”
 
Aquila referred questions about the Denver archdiocese’s current policy on abuse of minors to a website the archdiocese created to provide information.

 

Notre Dame rescinds McCarrick's honorary degree

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 7:52pm

South Bend, Ind., Feb 19, 2019 / 05:52 pm (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame has rescinded the honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree it conferred on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2008, becoming the latest of a growing number of schools who have rescinded honorary degrees from the defrocked former archbishop.  

“The Vatican has announced the conclusion of the adjudicatory process against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, finding that he transgressed his vows, used his power to abuse both minors and adults and violated his sacred duty as a priest,” said the University of Notre Dame in a statement posted to its website on Saturday, the day McCarrick was laicized, or removed from the clerical state.  

“In accord with University President Rev. John I. Jenkins’ statement of Aug. 2, 2018, the University of Notre Dame is rescinding the honorary degree conferred in 2008.”

In August, Jenkins said that the school would revoke the degree if McCarrick were found guilty at the conclusion of his canonical process, but would hold off on a decision until that point.

McCarrick, who was Archbishop of Washington until his retirement in 2006, was found guilty on Saturday of charges of sexually abusing adults and minors, as well as soliciting sex from the confessional. Prior to his laicization, he was forbidden from public ministry and had been sentenced to a life of prayer and penance while the canonical process was ongoing. He is currently living at a friary in Kansas.

In July 2018, he resigned from the College of Cardinals after the Archdiocese of New York received two credible and substantiated claims that he had abused minors.

After these allegations were made public, it was revealed that the Archdiocese of Newark and the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton had paid two settlements to men who had been abused by McCarrick when they were adult seminarians in New Jersey. More people came forward throughout the summer of 2018 to describe a culture of abuse and sexual harassment that permeated seminaries in New Jersey while McCarrick was the Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark.

During his time as a bishop, McCarrick was awarded honorary degrees by more than 30 colleges and universities from around the world. Since June, a number of universities have rescinded honorary degrees they had conferred upon McCarrick.

His honorary degrees from Fordham University, Catholic University of America, College of Mount Saint Vincent, Siena College, University of Portland, and University of New Rochelle were all rescinded in 2018 after he resigned from the College of Cardinals. Georgetown University is currently reviewing whether or not to rescind the Doctor of Humane Letters it conferred on McCarrick in 2004. Providence College and St. John’s University, which conferred honorary degrees on McCarrick in 1987 and 1974, respectively, did not respond to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication.

Until Monday, the only other honorary degree that the University of Notre Dame had rescinded was an LL.D. the school conferred on comedian Bill Cosby in 1990. The school rescinded the degree after Cosby was convicted on numerous sexual assault charges in 2018 and sentenced to 3-10 years in prison.

Why the USCCB is speaking out against payday loan rule rollbacks

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 6:43pm

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2019 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Feb. 14 officially proposed to rescind a rule to protect borrowers from predatory lending, prompting concern from Christian groups nationwide that the CFPB may weaken existing protections against loan sharks.

Catholic Charities USA and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined a coalition of Christian groups to sign a letter last week expressing concern that rescinding the so-called “small dollar lending rule” could harm low-income borrowers.

“We encourage you to take this opportunity to strengthen, not weaken, the rule,” the letter reads, penned by the group Faith for Just Lending.

“The rule as finalized seeks to protect vulnerable individuals and families in time of financial crisis from debt traps designed around their inability--as opposed to ability--to repay their loan...We believe that the rule was a step in the right direction, but more must be done.”

The “small dollar lending” rule, which the financial agency announced in Oct. 2017, was designed to protect financially vulnerable consumers from annual interest rates of up to 300 percent on so-called payday loans and auto title loans. The bureau announced Feb. 6 that it seeks to delay the rule’s implementation until 2020 and remove key requirements on lenders.

Though an estimated 12 million customers use small-dollar loans each year, the agency has long chronicled the risks these loans pose to the vulnerable. Faced with having to repay a loan along with high interest and fees, borrowers risk “defaulting, re-borrowing, or skipping other financial obligations like rent or basic living expenses such as buying food or obtaining medical care,” according to the CFPB.

Many borrowers will end up repeatedly rolling over or refinancing their loans, racking up more debt in the process and possibly running the risk of having their vehicle seized, the bureau says.  

The new rule would have required lenders to conduct a “full-payment test” to determine upfront that borrowers can afford to repay their loans within two weeks or a month without re-borrowing. It also would have capped at three the number of loans that could be given in quick succession, the CFPB said in its Oct. 2017 release.

The U.S. bishops’ conference and others said that the finalized rule would have also contained a loophole to allow customers to take out six successive 300% interest loans under certain conditions.

“This sanctioning of usurious loans not only contradicts our own faith traditions, but also contradicts the CFPB’s own reasoning laid out in its rule,” the Feb. 15 letter says.

“The CFPB recognizes in its proposal the harmful consequences of unaffordable loans, such as defaulting on expenses or having to quickly re-borrow. By the CFPB’s own reasoning, allowing six loans in a year in rapid succession, as exceptions to the assessment of a borrower's ability to repay, is too many.”

The letter notes that Scripture provides guidance for “honorable lending and borrowing,” which includes the principles of not taking advantage of the weak, not charging usurious interest, and seeking the good of the other person.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns usury as theft and a violation of the Seventh Commandment, specifically mentioning the “forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another.”

“A business that targets vulnerable people with a product that leaves most of its customers worse off does not contribute to the common good,” the letter says.

Bishops throughout the U.S. have decried the use of payday loans, and have backed legislation which would restrict the effect these loans on have on the borrowers.

In November of 2013, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, then-chair of the committee on domestic justice and human development for the U.S. bishops’ conference, wrote the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about payday lending abuses, calling such lending immoral because it “preys on the financial hardship of poor and vulnerable consumers, exploits their lack of understanding, and increases economic insecurity.”

Bishops elsewhere have fought for payday loan reforms, like in Texas, where the state’s Catholic Conference has pushed for regulations at the state legislature.

Dr. Robert Mayer, a professor of political theory at Loyola University Chicago, told CNA in a 2016 interview that regulations on payday lenders could successfully curb lending abuses, but they could also carry adverse consequences for some people needing a fast line of credit, including perhaps those who have successfully paid off such loans in the past without incurring large amounts of debt.

This is where the Church and faith-based organizations could step in to help those who need emergency cash at a low cost, including local St. Vincent DePaul societies and Catholic Charities branches.

Local Catholic Charities in places like Salina, Kansas already have offices that can help customers refinance their debt after falling into a cycle of predatory lending. Catholic Charities in Kansas started a program in 2016 that provides small, low interest loans, with a maximum of a $1000, so that people who do have an immediate need are able to borrow funds.
 

Philadelphia archdiocese has authorized $8.4 million to abuse victims

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 6:40pm

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 19, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has so far authorized more than $8.4 million in compensation to survivors of child sexual abuse by members of clergy, according to an interim report released on Feb. 15.

The report analyzed the first three months of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP), which was formally launched in mid-November 2018. All who were abused as minors by members of the clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are eligible to apply for compensation, even if the statute of limitations has expired.

All 348 people who had previously reported abuse to the archdiocese were mailed information on the program and filing a complaint.

In addition, 120 people who had not previously reported a claim have registered for the program on the IRRP website, and of these, 72 were deemed eligible to file a claim, and 39 were ruled ineligible. Nine of these claims are still pending approval.

Only those who were abused as a minor by a member of the clergy within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are eligible for compensation. All of the rejected claims from the IRRP website were denied because the alleged abuse was not by a member of the clergy from the archdiocese, or the alleged abuse was committed by a layperson or non-Catholic employee of a church.

Per the report, the IRRP website has led to an “unearthing of new allegations” and so far has resulted in one priest in active ministry being placed on leave after an allegation of abusing a minor in the 1970s. This priest had not previously been accused of misconduct, and the complaint is being investigated by law enforcement.

Since November, there have been 86 claims filed for compensation. All but 16 were from previously-known claimants. There have been 36 claims that have been given determination letters, and of these, 16 offers of compensation have been accepted by the abuse survivor. Twenty claims have been authorized to be paid, but the offers have not yet been accepted by the claimant and are still under consideration.

Out of the $8.4 million authorized as compensation payments, a total of $4.5 million has been paid to compensate survivors of abuse. There is no cap on the amount an abuse survivor can be compensated, nor is there a limit on how much the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will pay all survivors.

The claimant is not under any obligation to accept the compensation offered by the IRRP, but none of the settlement offers so far have been rejected. One person agreed to drop his pending litigation against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia after being offered a settlement through the IRRP.

Counseling is also offered to all who request it as part of their claim with the IRRP. Since the program began in November, 25 claimants have requested counseling services.

The archdiocese does not control the IRRP, which is being administered by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, the same people who are administering a similar program for survivors of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy in New Jersey.

The IRRP is being overseen by Former Sen. George J. Mitchell and Hon. Lawrence F. Stengel and Hon. Kelley B. Hodge. Lynn Shiner is working as victim support facilitator.

The next report will be released in May, six months into the program. Claimants have until September 30, 2019 to file for compensation.

 

Supreme Court overturns death penalty for man with intellectual disability

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 5:29pm

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2019 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a ruling released Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the death penalty sentence of a Texas inmate whom the court found to be intellectually disabled.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network applauded the court’s decision, saying it “parallels a growing consensus among the American public that the death penalty is falling out of favor.”

“It is encouraging to see that even in Texas, one of the last strongholds for capital punishment in the U.S., executions like this will no longer be tolerated,” CMN's Executive Director, Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy said in a Feb. 19 statement.

“Though Texas accounts for 13 of last year’s 25 executions, in the years since Bobby James Moore was sentenced to death, we have seen a growing number of TX District Attorneys pledging to seek the death penalty less frequently.”

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court found that “on the basis of the trial court record, Moore has shown he is a person with intellectual disability.”

Bobby James Moore had been convicted in 1980 – and again in 2001 on a retrial – of robbing a convenience store and killing an employee. He was given a death sentence.

A state habeas court, however, said that Moore met the clinical criteria for being intellectually disabled – which would exempt someone from execution under the Eighth Amendment, as the Supreme Court had ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002.

With Moore, the habeas court used the standard “three-prong” test to determine intellectual disability, which is part of the clinical consensus on the matter, the Supreme Court found.

This test looked for “intellectual functioning deficits,” or an IQ score of around 70 adjusted for error; “adaptive functioning deficits”; and whether these deficits began to show when the person was still a minor.

A Texas criminal appeals court, however, disregarded five of Moore’s seven IQ scores that factored into the habeas court’s ruling, keeping only scores of 74 and 78 that Moore received in 1989 and 1973, respectively, and “discounted the lower end of the standard-error range associated with those scores,” as the Supreme Court’s opinion noted.

The appeals court ruled that according to an earlier medical standard of intellectual disability – which was in place before Moore was convicted in his 2001 re-trial – as well as according to the state’s “Briseno factors” test, Moore was eligible for the death penalty.

The Briseno factors test is a standard used by Texas in addition to the three-pronged standard for disability. The test includes questions like whether someone is able to lie, and if their neighbors thought they were disabled as a child. Critics have insisted that these factors are non-clinical.

Critics also note that the Briseno factors are not used to determine one’s eligibility for other state programs like social services. They have been used to deem others in Texas fit for the death penalty, including in 2012 a man who scored a 61 on an IQ test.

Moore’s case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-3 decision in 2017, the Court overturned the criminal appeals court’s decision, saying the Briseno factors were outside of the clinical consensus means of evaluating one’s mental capacity and adding that the appeals court strayed from Supreme Court precedent in its decision.

The Supreme Court told the lower court to reassess Moore’s eligibility for the death penalty using the updated standards. The appeals court reconsidered the case but again concluded the Moore was eligible for the death penalty.

However, the Supreme Court said Tuesday that the appeals court demonstrated “too many instances in which, with small variations, it repeats the analysis we previously found wanting, and these same parts are critical to its ultimate conclusion.”

“We conclude that the appeals court’s opinion, when taken as a whole and when read in the light both of our prior opinion and the trial court record, rests upon analysis too much of which too closely resembles what we previously found improper,” the Supreme Court found. “And extricating that analysis from the opinion leaves too little that might warrant reaching a different conclusion than did the trial court.”

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch dissented from the majority ruling, saying that the Supreme Court had not been clear in stating how lower courts should apply standards for evaluating intellectual disability. They said the role of the Supreme Court was to consider the standards used by lower courts, not to review factual findings of a particular case.

In their response to the ruling, the Catholic Mobilizing Network said they “continue to pray for Bobby James Moore’s victim, James McCarble, and his family,” and encouraged Catholics to defend all human life.

“As a Church, we are called to the work of building a culture of life that upholds human dignity,” Murphy said. “Catholics should pay attention to death penalty cases before the Supreme Court such as this one, because they serve as important measures of how the highest court in the land is working to defend or disregard human life.”

 

Assisted suicide threatens the entire medical profession, Maryland doctor warns

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 3:14pm

Baltimore, Md., Feb 19, 2019 / 01:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Assisted suicide contradicts the foundations of medical ethics, violates the basic standards of medical care, and threatens people who most need the assistance of the medical profession, warned a doctor who is opposing Maryland’s proposal to legalize the practice.

“If we allow this form of euthanasia into our health care system, it will inevitably corrode and destroy the values that define the health professions and lead to public trust in them,” said Dr. Joseph Marine, a Maryland cardiologist. “No one will be immune to its long-term corrosive and destructive effects on the health care system.”

Marine is a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who has practiced medicine for close to 20 years. He is also a member of the coalition Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide.

His Feb. 18 essay in the Baltimore Sun made a case against a proposal in the state legislature to legalize assisted suicide.

“Physician-assisted suicide is not medical care,” Marine said. “It has no basis in medical science or medical tradition. It is not taught in medical schools or residency training programs.” The drug combinations used to end patients’ lives “come from the euthanasia movement and not from the medical profession or medical research.”

The doctor warned that “patients will not trust physicians who prescribe death.”

Laws permitting assisted suicide create a new class of “human beings denied the protection of the law” and hinders the work of medical professionals who are “committed to preserving rather than taking life,” he said.

Marine’s commentary followed the introduction of the “End-of-Life Option Act” in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year, listed as House Bill 399 and Senate Bill 311.

If passed, the bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medications to patients with a terminal illness and an estimated six months left to live, while protecting prescribing doctors from prosecution. The bill would supersede a 1999 ban on assisted suicide.

The proposal is supported by Compassion and Choices, an Oregon-based group formerly known as the Hemlock Society, which advocates for assisted suicide.

Delegate Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat from Howard County who chairs the Health and Government Operations Committee is again sponsoring the bill after previous years’ versions were withdrawn before being voted down.

“Every person is one bad death away from supporting this bill,” she said. “Many of us have been there and many of us are on the way to another one of those.”

Pendergrass said she believes the bill can pass this year, the Baltimore Sun reported. The legislation has a new co-sponsor, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee vice-chairman Sen. Will Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat.

For Marine, physician-assisted suicide is a dangerous practice, with promised safeguards “an illusion.”

“Suicidal impulses of everyone else in society are treated with crisis intervention,” said Marine, who argued that patients who qualify for legal assisted suicide are denied such intervention and are “tacitly or explicitly encouraged to take their own lives.”

He objected to the lack of required formal psychiatric evaluation and minimal informed consent for a patient seeking assisted suicide. No witnesses are required for the consumption of the lethal drugs, and legal assisted suicide proposal lacks routine audits and impartial third-party oversight.

“In addition, physicians and other participants are given broad legal immunity and records are excluded from legal discovery or subpoena. There is no accountability,” Marine said in his Baltimore Sun essay.

In practice, assisted suicide means prescribing a non-FDA-approved lethal overdose of a drug or drugs to a person “believed to have a terminal illness.”

In Washington state, doctors experimenting with new physician-assisted suicide drug cocktails caused some patients to scream in pain before dying, said Marine, who cited a Kaiser Health News report published Feb. 16, 2017 in USA Today.

The lack of medical witnesses for 80 percent of patient deaths in assisted suicide means it is unknown whether complications took place.

Marine said assisted suicide advocates make false assumptions about the reliability of a terminal medical prognosis. Some patients who received a prescription for assisted suicide drugs, but did not use it, continued living for several years.

In practice, doctors are unable to determine whether a patient considered “terminal” has six months to live with “sufficient reliability,” Marine said. This means some patients would die needlessly.

The “vast majority” of doctors will not take part in assisted suicide, he added. Where it is legalized, almost all prescriptions are “written by a small handful of doctors who may know little about the patients requesting it.”

After the District of Columbia legalized doctor-assisted suicide in 2017, only two of the 11,000 licensed physicians signed up to prescribe the relevant drugs, Marine reported.

Marine cited opposition to physician-assisted suicide from the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the World Medical Association. Almost all disability rights organizations also oppose the practice.

Doctor-assisted suicide has led to wider forms of euthanasia in every country that has legalized it, he said.

Marine praised Maryland’s palliative and hospice care, saying its programs are recognized as among the best in the country. He said support for these programs should be the primary focus of the state legislature, and not assisted suicide.

Maryland’s latest assisted suicide bill is the fourth proposal in five years. Similar bills were introduced in 2015, 2016 and 2017 but were withdrawn before they could be voted down.

The legislation has also drawn opposition from the Maryland Catholic Conference, the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Baltimore City Medical Society.

“As Catholics we stand firm with our partners across the state to strongly oppose this legislation,” Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said Feb. 1.

“Our state has repeatedly rejected this group’s agenda and with good reason: assisted-suicide threatens Maryland’s most vulnerable, putting those with disabilities, the elderly, our veterans, and those battling prescription drug addiction at grave risk,” she said.

Assisted suicide is legal in seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

 

Bishops ask Supreme Court to hear case on racism in death sentencing

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 5:27am

Atlanta, Ga., Feb 19, 2019 / 03:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Three U.S. bishops have called on the Supreme Court to take up the case of a death row inmate in Georgia whose sentence may have been prejudiced by the racism of a juror.

“There is no toxin more pernicious than hatred based on racial stereotypes,” the bishops warned in a Feb. 17 opinion piece in The Atlantic.

They said that despite some progress in overcoming racism, it still exists in America today.

“Whenever personal prejudices surface in a trial, society relies on appellate courts and especially the Supreme Court to rectify these biases.”

The opinion piece in The Atlantic was written by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

The bishops pointed to the case of Keith Tharpe, who was convicted in 1990 of two counts of kidnapping and the murder of his sister-in-law, Jacquelyn Freeman.

Tharpe was scheduled to be executed in September 2017. The Supreme Court intervened with a temporary stay of execution just hours before the inmate was set to be put to death. The Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court in Atlanta to re-examine the claim that one juror’s racist views had prejudiced the case. In an affidavit after the trial, the juror had used racial slurs and said he “wondered if black people even have souls.”

The appeals court barred Tharpe’s appeal on procedural grounds and ruled that the Supreme Court’s 2017 opinion allowing courts to consider evidence of jurors’ racial prejudice could not be retroactively applied to Tharpe’s case.

Now, Tharpe has asked the Supreme Court to consider the merits of his case - to examine whether the inmate was unconstitutionally sentenced to death based on the racism of a juror. The Supreme Court has yet to announce whether it will take up the case.

Since there is clear evidence that racism may have played a part in Tharpe’s sentence, the bishops said, the Supreme Court should take up the case and “correct the clear, documented racism in the case by granting him a new sentencing hearing.”

Last November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter recognizing the stain of racism on the history of the United States and reaffirming the importance of fighting the sin of racism today.

The letter, entitled “Open Wide Our Hearts – The Enduring Call to Love,” stressed that racism is a failure to recognize human dignity.

“In our pastoral letter, we explain that racism comes in many forms—and one of them is the sin of omission,” the bishops said in the opinion piece for The Atlantic.

“This occurs when individuals, communities, and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered. To do justice requires an honest acknowledgment of our failures and the restoring of right relationships among us. That’s why we are speaking out about Tharpe’s case.”

Archbishop Gregory, Bishop Dewane, and Bishop Fabre offered prayers for Freeman – Tharpe’s victim – and her family.

They also noted that the Catechism teaches that the death penalty is as inadmissible violation of human dignity, even for those who have committed violent crimes.

“As bishops, we take very seriously Jesus’s call to visit those in prison,” they said. “We have visited prisoners, including those on death row. In most parishes with prisons or jails, a priest or deacon visits every week to offer religious services.”

“We have been blessed to witness true rehabilitation and meet prisoners who earnestly seek redemption through God’s grace.”

The bishops emphasized their duty as religious leader to insist that racism be challenged on the grounds that “we are all brothers and sisters, equally made in the image of God.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court must intervene in his case to ensure that fairness is protected and justice is defended—before it’s too late,” they said. “To do nothing would be tragic not only for Tharpe, but for our collective dignity.”

 

Emergency declaration raises new questions about Texas border chapel

Mon, 02/18/2019 - 3:00pm

Brownsville, Texas, Feb 18, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border has again raised the possibility of a barrier being constructed through La Lomita Historical Park, blocking access to an historic chapel on the site.

 

A recent congressional funding compromise allocated more than a billion dollars for border barrier construction, but expressly forbid the use of appropriated funds to construct a barrier through La Lomita and a handful of other locations. But the president’s subsequent moves to access other sources of funding for the project have raised questions about the effectiveness of the site’s congressional protection.

 

La Lomita Historical Park is a small park located in Mission, Texas, which contains the La Lomita Chapel, built in 1865. The chapel is owned by the Diocese of Brownsville and administered by the nearby Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. If the border wall were to be constructed as planned, the chapel would be located on the southern side of the wall and would be much harder to access by the wider community.

 

On Feb. 15, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act into law, which included the stipulation that “none of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing” or any other barrier in La Lomita Historical Park.

 

That bill allocated $1.3 billion in funding for the border wall, far short of the $5.7 billion Trump had requested.

 

The same day Trump signed the bill into law, he declared a national emergency along the southern border and invoked the National Emergencies Act. The declaration is expected to grant Trump access to the remainder of the funds he had requested to build a border wall, plus further additional funding.

 

With the national emergency declaration, it is now uncertain if the exclusion of the La Lomita site and the other locations specifically mentioned in the bill remains intact, as the emergency funding may not be subject to the same spending restrictions as the money allocated by Congress.

 

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal cited a senior administration official who claimed that the White House considers the restrictions in the appropriations bill only to apply to the $1.3 billion it allocated by Congress, and not to the additional money accessed by the emergency declaration.

 

A source familiar with the case told CNA that there is no clear precedent to determine whether or not the emergency funds can be used to build in La Lomita Historical Park.

 

The source told CNA that an argument could be made that, by including the exemption in the appropriations bill, Congress had prohibited the use of any funds for border wall construction in those specific places, and that any attempt by the administration to build in the exempted areas would be highly contentious.

 

Shortly after the emergency declaration was announced, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced he would be filing suit against the Trump Administration to dispute whether the current situation on the U.S.-Mexico border constitutes an emergency.

 

The Diocese of Brownsville has been contesting the possible construction of a border wall near La Lomita Chapel for months.

 

Earlier in February, a federal judge ruled against the diocese, who had argued that allowing the government to survey the land around the chapel to determine its suitability for a wall was a violation of religious freedom. The judge ruled that the act of surveying land did not require or impede access to the chapel or the exercise of religious liberty.

 

Lawyers representing the Diocese of Brownsville told CNA that they were not surprised by this decision, but felt as though they would have a stronger case if the construction of the wall were to move forward and cut off worshippers’ access to La Lomita Chapel.

 

In response to the passage of the appropriations act and the declaration of emergency by the president, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville released a statement to CNA calling the congressional exemptions “commendable” given the “the significance of the La Lomita chapel to the Catholic community” and to the history of the region.

 

Flores then said that he would be praying that those charged with planning any construction  would use prudence in making their decisions.

 

“I pray that in the days to come a spirit of good will and good judgment will animate all of our national leaders as they make decisions that affect daily life in our local communities along the Border,” Flores said.

Catholic Charities unveils plan to fight chronic homelessness in Southern Nevada

Sun, 02/17/2019 - 6:48pm

Las Vegas, Nev., Feb 17, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- As part of a new nationwide program, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada is hoping to reduce chronic homelessness in the area by 20 percent in the next five years.

Las Vegas is one of five cities taking part in the Healthy Housing Initiative – a partnership announced Feb. 13 between Catholic Charities USA, local Catholic Charities and Catholic health care agencies. Detroit, Portland, St. Louis, and Spokane are also part of the initiative.

Deacon Thomas Roberts, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, said the partnership simultaneously tackles shelter issues and the root problems beneath many cases of chronic homelessness – mental health and addiction.

“We think that it’s important to recognize the reasons why people have become chronically homeless and to address those issues,” he told CNA. “I think that is where we can have really meaningful change.”

Within five years, the project hopes to have built 100 homes, in either one or two buildings. Roberts said this will be enough to support 20 percent of the just over 500 chronically homeless individuals surveyed to be in south Nevada. He explained that the chronically homeless are those who have been homeless for at least two years.

The initiative does not stop with housing development. Instead, it includes plans to develop mental health offices in the housing units or transportation to a location off campus.

“Often, because [homeless people] don’t have transportation, if you don’t bring the resources close to them or provide them access to get to resources, you have got them housed but you have not addressed the underlying cause of what got them homeless,” Roberts said.

Having worked for Catholic Charities for six years, Roberts has witnessed homeless people continue to abuse alcohol and drugs as they struggle with mental health issues. This creates additional obstacles for people during their rehabilitation, he said.

He also pointed to the 2018 housing survey from Help Hope Home, which found that out of 16,641 cases of homelessness last year, nearly half were linked to mental health or addiction.

“Half of the people are stepping up and saying that mental health and addiction are primary cause for homelessness,” he said.

“If you don’t address that along the way, then people get into housing and they fall right back into…where they started.”

Roberts said the partnership will unite the strengths of three different organizations: Catholic Charities USA offers institutional and financial resources; Dignity Health can implement mental health and addiction programs; and the local Catholic Charities branch understands the regional community and can execute programs accordingly.

The initiative is a practical implementation of social justice, rooted in faith, he said, pointing to Pope Francis’ emphasis on caring for the vulnerable.

“As the Pope would say, we should be medics and we should smell like the sheep,” said Roberts. “Homelessness, mental illness, and addictions are ground zero for hopelessness, so it’s exactly where the Church belongs.”

 

How to pregame Lent: Septuagesima, Carnival, and Shrovetide

Sun, 02/17/2019 - 6:21am

Denver, Colo., Feb 17, 2019 / 04:21 am (CNA).- Sunday, Feb. 17 is Septuagesima Sunday, followed by Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays. Sunday kicks off Carnival season, which comes right before Shrovetide, which culminates in Shrove Tuesday - more popularly known as Mardi Gras.

If all but the last of those holidays sounds foreign to you, you are likely not alone - they haven’t been officially a part of the Roman Rite’s liturgical calendar since the 1960s, after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

These strange-sounding days once marked a period of pre-Lenten preparation and feasting that is still observed by some rites within the Catholic Church and other Christian traditions.

“Septuagesima is kept in the personal ordinariates established by Pope Benedict XVI for former Anglicans, now within the full communion of the Catholic Church,” said Father James Bradley, a priest from the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in the United Kingdom.  

“Septuagesima is still marked in the older Anglican prayer books, and is part of the Anglican patrimony preserved by Divine Worship: The Missal, used by the ordinariates,” Bradley told CNA.

Pre-Lent Sundays: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima

Septuagesima is the ninth Sunday before Easter, or the third Sunday before Lent.  The name comes from the Latin word for seventieth, since the Sunday falls roughly within 70 days of Easter Sunday. The succeeding Sundays are also named for their distance from Easter: Sexagesima (60), Quinquagesima (50). Quadragesima Sunday (40) is the first official Sunday of Lent.  

Septuagesima Sunday is also symbolic of the 70 years of Babylonian captivity.

“Whilst Lent mirrors the 40-year exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to freedom in the Promised Land, Septuagesima mirrors the 70 years of the Babylonian captivity. Both lead from captivity to freedom, and so also point to salvation won for us by Christ: freedom from slavery to the Promised Land of Heaven,” Bradley said.

Septuagesima Sunday traditionally marked the beginning of some of the more somber practices that characterize the season of Lent - it was the day when the saying or singing of “Alleluia” would be suspended until Easter, and the first day that priests would wear penitential purple vestments. The last alleluias would traditionally have been sung after Vespers the previous night.

In ordinariate communities, the “goodbye” to the Alleluia takes place on the Sunday before Septuagesima, when the hymn “Alleluia, song of gladness” is traditionally sung, Bradley said.

“This is an English translation of an 11th century hymn, wishing ‘farewell’ to the Alleluia, which disappears from the liturgy until Easter, replaced instead by a Tract (verses typically of the Psalms sung instead of the ‘Alleluia’),” he said.  

“The idea of ‘burying the Alleluia’ for the length of these penitential seasons is taken one step further in some places, where a depiction of the Alleluia is literally buried until the chanting of the great Paschal Alleluia during the Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter,” he added.

Septuagesima was also, in the early Church, the beginning of the Lenten fast, since according to the old liturgical calendar, Thursdays and Saturdays, in addition to Sundays, were days that Christians would not fast.

“Just as Lent today begins 46 days before Easter, since Sundays are never a day of fasting, so, in the early Church, Saturdays and Thursdays were considered fast-free days. In order to fit in 40 days of fasting before Easter, therefore, the fast had to start two weeks earlier than it does today,” Catholic author Scott P. Richert noted in a 2018 article for ThoughtCo.

Farewell to meat, cheese, fun: Septuagesima-tide, Carnival, and Shrovetide  

Septuagesima Sunday traditionally kicks off a season known by various names - Septuagesima-tide, or Carnival (typically the name for more worldly celebrations during this time), or Shrove-Tide (particularly in Anglican traditions). The point of the season, Bradley said, is to prepare well for Lent.

“Pope Saint Paul VI is said to have described the progressive move toward Lent in Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, like church bells that call the faithful to worship, 15, 10, and 5 minutes before Mass,” Bradley said.

“Each week in the lead-up to Lent is a nudge that the great and holy fast is around the corner, and our preparations for this should intensify.”

These days were also practical for Christians in pre-refrigeration days - they would use the pre-Lenten season to use up the rich, perishable foods such as meat and cheese that they had in their house before Lent began, and the unused foods would spoil, Michael P. Foley, Catholic author and associate professor of Patristics at Baylor University, noted in a 2011 article.

Days of preparation for Lent are also found outside the Roman liturgical traditions, Bradley said. “For example, in the East Syrian liturgy (as celebrated by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church), the week before Septuagesima is marked by Moonnu Nombu, which recalls Jonah remaining three days in the belly of the whale. Moonnu Nombu is a short, three day fast, in preparation for the coming major fast of Lent.”

In Byzantine and Orthodox traditions, they even have designated “meatfare” and “cheesefare” Sundays, which focus on clearing the house of meats and dairy, respectively.

“Similarly, in Russia and other Slavic countries the week before Lent is called ‘Butter Week’; in Poland it is called ‘Fat Days,’” Foley noted. 

Carnival is the term for the more festive, wordly events associated with the pre-Lenten season, and is celebrated throughout the world with parades, parties and feasts. Still, the word itself is Catholic in origin, coming from Latin Carnem levare (carnelevarium) which means "withdrawal" or "removal" of meat, according to “The Easter Book” by Father Francis X. Weiser, S.J.

The intensity of some Carnival celebrations comes from the intensity of the fasting of old, which was much more restrictive than it is today, Weiser noted.

“The intensity of this urge, however, should not be judged to stem from the mild Lenten laws of today but from the strict and harsh observance of ancient times, which makes modern man shiver at the mere knowledge of its details. No wonder the good people of past centuries felt entitled to ‘have a good time’ before they started on their awesome fast,” he said.

“Carnival music” has Spanish, Portuguese, Native American and African influences, and is typically associated with the regions of the Caribbean and Brazil, which has some of the largest Carnival celebrations in the world.

“Though it varies from country to country, Carnival music has a common origin in bidding a fond farewell to fun before the forty-day fast of Lent,” Foley noted.

One last chance: Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday

The last day before Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent, is called Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, depending on the country or region.

“Mardi Gras” is French for Fat Tuesday, the biggest celebrations of which in the United States take place in New Orleans, Louisiana, with parades and parties on Bourbon Street and throughout the city. 

Besides being the last day to clear the house of indulgent foods, it is also traditionally the last day to clear the soul from sin before the start of the Lenten season. According to Weiser, the name “Shrove Tuesday,” typically more common in Anglican areas, was thus called because it was a day to be “shriven from sins.”  

The ubiquitous pancake breakfasts, most often associated with parish breakfasts sponsored by the Knights of Columbus in the United States, may also have their origins in Shrove Tuesday, as pancakes were a traditional English food served on the day to rid the house of any last sugar, butter and eggs.

Lent this year begins on March 6.

 

U.S. bishops react to McCarrick laicization

Sat, 02/16/2019 - 11:32am

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2019 / 09:32 am (CNA).- Bishops from across the United States have reacted to the news that Theodore McCarrick has been found guilty of sexual abuse and expelled from the clerical state.

 

The disgraced former cardinal and archbishop of Washington and Newark was found guilty in a Vatican decision announced Saturday.

 

A Vatican administrative penal process concluded that McCarrick had solicited sex in the confessional and molested minors and adults, crimes aggravated by his abuse of authority. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handled the canonical process, imposed a penalty of laicization.

 

“The imposition on former Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of the penalty of his dismissal from the clerical state, thus prohibiting him any type of priestly ministry, underscores the gravity of his actions,” a Saturday statement from the Archdiocese of Washington reads.

 

McCarrick was Archbishop of Washington from 2001 until his retirement in 2006.

 

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Vatican’s penalty is “a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated.”

 

“No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church. For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgement will be one small step, among many, toward healing,” Dinardo said.

 

DiNardo said that his fellow bishops were strengthened in their resolve to be accountable to the Gospel, and that he is grateful for the way Pope Francis has responded to claims of abuse.

 

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of McCarrick’s former diocese of Newark, said in a statement that McCarrick and other clerical abusers had “violated a sacred trust” and “caused incalculable harm” to the lives of victims - young and old.

 

“To all those abused by clergy, especially the victims of Theodore McCarrick, I continue to express my profound sadness and renew my heartfelt apologies for the life-long suffering you have endured,” Tobin said.

 

“Despite the reprehensible misconduct and crimes of all who have abused minors, we must challenge ourselves to continue to follow Christ our Redeemer in our Church, where the healing power of God’s love is manifest each day.”

 

The Archdiocese of Washington expressed hope the Vatican decision will assist survivors with the healing process, and reassure those who have “experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done.”

 

Since last summer, McCarrick has been in residence at a Kansas friary, living a life of “prayer and penance” at the orders of Pope Francis, pending the outcome of his canonical process.

 

Now that McCarrick has been laicized, it is unclear if and for how long he will remain at the friary, or where he will go from there. McCarrick is 88 years old.

McCarrick abuse trial: A CNA timeline

Sat, 02/16/2019 - 4:14am

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2019 / 02:14 am (CNA).- Theodore McCarrick has been laicized, nearly 10 months after sex abuse allegations against him were first made public. Here is a timeline of major events since last summer.

 

June 20 – The Archdiocese of New York announces that an allegation of sexual abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been found to be “credible and substantiated.” 

July 19 – The New York Times reports a new allegation by a man who says he was serially abused by McCarrick beginning in 1969, when he was 11 years old.

July 28 – Pope Francis accepts the resignation of McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and suspends him from the exercise of any public ministry. He directs McCarrick to observe a life of prayer and penance, pending the canonical process against him.

August 16 – The U.S. bishops’ conference calls for a Vatican-led investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up surrounding McCarrick.

August 17 – CNA interviews reveal numerous Newark priests claiming McCarrick had a widely-known reputation for sexual advances toward seminarians.

August 25 – Former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano releases a “testament” claiming that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

August 26 – Asked during an in-flight interview about Vigano’s letter, Pope Francis says he “will not say a single word” on the subject and instructs journalists to use their “journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.”

August 30 – Archdiocese of Washington confirms that seminarians were permitted to serve as assistants to McCarrick while the archbishop was being investigated for the alleged sexual abuse of a teenager.

September 12 – Pope Francis calls for all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world to meet at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 to address the protection of minors.

September 19 – The administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announces new accountability measures, including a code of conduct for bishops and the creation of an independent reporting mechanism for complaints against bishops. The committee also calls for a full investigation into the allegations against McCarrick and the Church’s response to these allegations.

September 28 – The Diocese of Salina and Archdiocese of Washington announce that Archbishop McCarrick has begun his life of prayer and penance at St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas.

October 6 – The Vatican announces that Pope Francis has ordered a review of all Holy See files pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick.

November 12 – U.S. bishops gather for annual fall meeting in Baltimore; the Vatican instructs them to delay until after the February meeting a vote on two proposals intended to be the foundation of the U.S. Church’s response to the abuse crisis.

November 14 – The U.S. bishops fail to pass a resolution that would have “encouraged” the Holy See to release all documents on the allegations of misconduct against McCarrick.

December 27 - James Grein testifies in a canonical deposition by the Archdiocese of New York, saying he was serially sexually abused by McCarrick, beginning when he was 11 years old.

January 14 – Archbishop Vigano writes open letter urging McCarrick to publicly repent of the sexual abuse and misconduct of which he has been accused.

February 11. - McCarrick is laicized. Also known as losing the clerical state, he no longer has the right to exercise sacred ministry in the Church, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death. In addition, he no longer has the canonical right to be financially supported by the Church.

February 13 - McCarrick appeals decision against him.

February 15 - Appeal rejected and decision confirmed.

NJ bill would expand window for sex abuse victims to sue

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 8:18pm

Trenton, N.J., Feb 15, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- The New Jersey legislature is considering expanding the legal window to file civil actions for sex abuse against both individual perpetrators and institutions.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference backs expanding the statute of limitations for civil actions related to future crimes. However, it is arguing that only individual offenders, not institutions, should face civil action for past acts of abuse.

“The Catholic Bishops of New Jersey are committed to keeping our teaching, worship and ministry spaces safe for everyone, especially children,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference.

“All of our dioceses have committed to assisting victims of abuse whenever and however we can,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At present, criminal cases of sexual assault have no statute of limitations under state law. The statute of limitations for civil action is two years.

If the proposed New Jersey bill becomes law, victims of sex assault would have an expanded statute of limitations for civil action against both individuals and institutions.

The bill would allow child victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55 or until seven years from the time they become aware of the injury, whichever comes later. Adult victims of sexual assault would have a seven-year time frame after the incident to file a civil lawsuit, or until seven years after they become aware of the abuse, the Wall Street Journal says.

Further, the bill would create a one-time two-year legal window for civil complaints for anyone previously barred from filing civil actions due to the time limit.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy backs the proposed law.

“Victims of sexual abuse, especially those victimized in childhood, deserve to find doors held open for them as they seek justice against their abusers,” he said Feb. 14.

Bill sponsors are Sen. Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, both Democrats. Senate President Steve Sweeney, also a Democrat, supports the legislation, the Wall Street Journal said.

The New Jersey State Senate’s Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposed legislation March 7.

Similar legislation in New York, passed Jan. 28, met with some initial resistance from New York’s bishops, who had expressed concern about retroactive provisions in the bill. Once those provisions were amended, the state’s bishops dropped their concerns.

New Jersey dioceses have set up their own victims’ compensation fund as an alternative to civil lawsuits. According to Brannigan, the fund has “significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.” It promises “an attractive alternative to litigation” and “speedy and transparent process.”

After agreeing on and receiving a settlement, abuse survivors will not be able to pursue additional legal action against the diocese. All settlements will be funded by the dioceses themselves.

On Feb. 13, all the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey released lists of clergy who had been “credibly” accused of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1940.

On the list is disgraced former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who headed New Jersey’s Diocese of Metuchen from 1981 until 1986 and the Archdiocese of Newark from 1986 until 2000. He retired as Archbishop of Washington.

A total of 188 clerics, including deacons, were listed. The Archdiocese of Newark list had the most names, with 63, and the Diocese of Metuchen had the fewest with 11.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said in a statement that the release of the list of names of credibly accused clergy was part of “an effort to do what is right and just.”

“It is our sincerest hope that this disclosure will help bring healing to those whose lives have been so deeply violated,” said Tobin. “We also pray that this can serve as an initial step in our efforts to help restore trust in the leadership of the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 after being credibly accused of abusing two minor boys. He faces numerous charges of sexual abuse against minors and adults over a period of decades.

A verdict following McCarrick’s canonical process for his abuse of minors is expected at any time. Many expect the punishment to remove him from the clerical state.

Kentucky Senate approves fetal heartbeat bill

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 6:23pm

Frankfort, Ky., Feb 15, 2019 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy.

The bill passed 31-6 on Feb. 14. It will now head to the state’s House, which has a Republican majority.

During a committee review of the measure earlier on Thursday, the heartbeat of a Kentucky resident’s unborn baby was played live through an electronic monitor. The woman, April Lanham, is a resident of the district of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Matt Castlen (R).

“That child in her womb is a living human being,” said Castlen, according to the Associated Press. “And all living human beings have a right to life.”

Lanham, who is 18 weeks into her pregnancy, told reporters that she thought her baby’s heartbeat would be a “powerful noise” for lawmakers ahead of the vote.

If the law passes, an examination would be required before an abortion to determine whether the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected. If so, an abortion would be illegal, unless the mother’s health is determined to be in danger.

The Kentucky bill is one of several similar heartbeat bills being considered throughout the country.

Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia have also introduced fetal heartbeat bills this year. A handful of states have passed similar bills in recent years, although they generally face court challenges.

Opponents of the bill promised similar legal challenges if Kentucky’s legislation becomes law.

“This law is patently unconstitutional,” said Kate Miller, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. “The second it is signed, the ACLU of Kentucky will file a lawsuit. And much like the other laws you have passed, we expect that you will be held up in litigation unsuccessfully for years.”

Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood and now pro-life activist, spoke in favor of the legislation at the committee hearing on Thursday.

“Abortion can never, on its face, be safe, because in order for an abortion to be deemed successful, an individual and unique human with a beating heart must die,” Johnson said, according to WDRB.

McCarrick has 'private income' in the event of laicization

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 5:11pm

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2019 / 03:11 pm (CNA).- Ahead of an expected decision in the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, new details have emerged about his likely financial status in the event that he is laicized.

Sources close to the former cardinal told CNA that McCarrick has previously declined an income from the Church, and that he has private means of support in place.

McCarrick’s conviction and possible laicization have been the subject of consistent media speculation and expectation in recent days. He faces numerous charges of sexual abuse against minors and adults over a period of decades. A decision in the case is widely predicted to be announced ahead of a Vatican summit on child sexual abuse, which begins Feb. 21.

While no decision or penalty has yet been announced, sources close to the archbishop told CNA Friday that, in the event he were defrocked, he would still have a personal income.

This could prove significant, as clerical offenders of advanced age or poor health are often kept in a penitential assignment, in recognition that they might otherwise have no means of support. If McCarrick were known to be able to provide for his own living outside of Church support, it could weigh against him in any deliberation about imposing a penalty of laicization.

As a cleric and former archbishop of Washington and Newark, and former bishop of Metuchen, McCarrick currently has a right to financial support from the Church. At present, expenses at the Kansas monastery where McCarrick is living in “prayer and penance” are being met by the Archdiocese of Washington which, as the last diocese of his assignment, has an ongoing obligation to provide basic “sustenance” under canon law.

That right would cease, along with many others, if he were expelled from the clerical state - laicized - following a conviction for sexual abuse.

But sources close to the former cardinal told CNA that he never drew either a salary or a pension from any of the three dioceses he led. They said that he declined to take remuneration from his former dioceses, but that he does have a private income from savings and monthly annuities.

“While he is not without resources, they are modest, in keeping with what one might expect of a parish priest,” one source close to McCarrick told CNA.

The same source told CNA that the annuities had been privately purchased over a period of years.

Questions remain, however, about the scale and sources of McCarrick’s private income. If, as those close to him have indicated, he declined any formal remuneration from the dioceses he led as a bishop, what was the source for any savings he might have, and how did he come to purchase the annuities to give himself a private income in retirement?

One source close to McCarrick speculated that the annuities could have come from “friends or benefactors” of the archbishop before his fall from grace.

The web of formal and informal financial networks around him remains hard to untangle, but what is known gives a strong indication of his access to funds.

In 2001, McCarrick established the Archbishop’s Fund, which he continued to personally oversee during his retirement, only ceding control to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in June last year.

According to the Archdiocese of Washington, that fund was designated for McCarrick’s personal “works of charity and other miscellaneous expenses.”

McCarrick also sat on the board of numerous grant-making bodies during his time in office, at least two of which combined to donate more than $500,000 to his personal charitable fund. These included nine grants of $25,000 each from the Minnesota-based GHR Foundation designated for the “former archbishop’s fund” or the “former archbishop’s special fund,” according to tax records.

The Virginia-based Loyola Foundation made grants of $20,000 - $40,000 per year to the archbishop’s fund for at least a decade. According to the foundation, the sums were “specifically designated by Archbishop McCarrick” who as a trustee could allocate “limited discretionary grants” to qualified 501(c)(3) organizations.

While the archdiocese told CNA in August 2018 that the fund was audited annually and that “no irregularities were ever noticed,” it would not confirm the balance of the fund at the time McCarrick turned over control, or how much money had passed through the fund over the years, or where it had gone.

McCarrick was known for producing sizable donations for projects and funds with which he was associated, including the Papal Foundation, as well as individual projects in dioceses around the world. At the same time, he was also well known for his more personal acts of generosity.

In September 2018, a cardinal who formerly served as a curial official recalled McCarrick’s habit of doling out large sums, in cash, to senior officials in Rome.

“When he would visit Rome, Cardinal McCarrick was well-known for handing out envelopes of money to different bishops and cardinals around the curia to thank them for their work,” the cardinal told CNA.

“Where these ‘honoraria’ came from or what they were for, exactly, was never clear – but many accepted them anyway.”

Given that McCarrick has access to a private income, unconnected to the Church, it is unlikely that any of the three dioceses which he once led would put themselves forward to offer him additional support in the event he were laicized.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Metuchen confirmed to CNA that McCarrick had not received a pension from the diocese but could not confirm if he drew a salary as bishop, citing diocesan files on salaries which only date back seven years.

Both the Archdiocese of Newark and the Archdiocese of Washington declined to comment on McCarrick’s private financial circumstances. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington referred CNA to the archbishop’s personal attorney.

Bishops 'deeply concerned' by Trump border emergency declaration

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 4:00pm

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border. Trump made the declaration as part of an attempt to secure full funding for the construction of a border wall.

 

“We are deeply concerned about the President’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall,” said the statement, which was jointly written by USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.

 

The two bishops said they were against the use of additional funds for the construction of a border wall. In the latest appropriations bill, Congress allocated $1.3 billion to erect barriers along parts of the southern border, but included several exceptions for locations where the funding may not be used to construct barriers.

 

Trump had requested $5.7 billion to fund the entire project.

 

On Friday, in an effort to suppliament the funding allocated by Congress, the president declared a national emergency on the southern border. By invoking the National Emergencies Act, the president can gain access to sources of funding otherwise unavailable to him. The 1976 act does not contain a specific definition of what constitutes a “national emergency.”

 

“The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency,” said Trump in a declaration announcing the state of emergency.

 

“The southern border is a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics,” Trump said.

 

The president asserted that illegal immigration is a worsening problem on the border, and therefore action must be taken to address this issue.

 

The bishops disagreed with the president's assessment of the situation at the border, and on the suitability of a border wall.

 

In their statement, DiNardo and Vasquez said the wall was a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

 

“We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls,” they added.

 

On Feb. 14, the House of Representatives and Senate both passed a bill to provide $1.3 billion in funding for the construction of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but which contained a list of five specific places where these funds cannot be used to build a wall. One of these was the site of La Lomita Chapel in Mission, TX, in the Diocese of Brownsville.

 

The Brownsville diocese has been contesting government attempts to survey public land around the chapel ahead of a border wall being erected.

 

The diocese filed suit against the federal government arguing that the construction of a border wall restricting access to the chapel would be a violation of religious freedom.

 

On Feb. 6, U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane ruled that allowing the federal government to survey the land surrounding the chapel to determine if a wall could be built would not interfere with the exercise of religious freedom rights.

Satanic Temple loses abortion religious freedom case in Missouri

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 6:51pm

Jefferson City, Mo., Feb 14, 2019 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Missouri Supreme Court has rejected a legal challenge against an informed consent abortion law from a self-described Satanic Temple adherent who claimed the state violated her religious beliefs.

Chief Justice Zell M. Fischer, writing in a concurring opinion, said that the U.S. Supreme Court “has made it clear that state speech is not religious speech solely because it ‘happens to coincide’ with a religious tenet,” St. Louis Public Radio reports.

State law requires abortion providers to distribute a booklet from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services which includes the statement: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

The plaintiff, who goes by the name Mary Doe in the lawsuit, became pregnant in February 2015. In May 2015 she traveled from southeast Missouri to a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic for the abortion.

She told her doctors that she held religious beliefs contrary to those of the booklet. She claimed her religious beliefs meant they did not need to follow the informed consent requirements. Planned Parenthood declined to ignore the law’s provisions, which include a mandatory 72-hour waiting period and offering an ultrasound.

Doe’s lawsuit, filed during the waiting period, claimed the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause barring the government establishment of an official religion. The woman also claimed her free exercise of religion had been restricted, in violation of the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

According to St. Louis Public Radio, the plaintiff’s complaint cited Satanic Temple tenets professing a belief that a woman’s body is “inviolable and subject to her will alone” and a belief that health decisions are made “based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others.” The complaint said a pregnancy is “human tissue” and “part of her body and not a separate, unique, living human being.”

The state’s Supreme Court rejected the claim that the informed consent law adopted a religious tenet. It noted the law did not require the woman to read the booklet, have an ultrasound, or listen to the fetal heartbeat, because the statute “imposes no such requirements,” Judge Laura Denver Stith said in the decision.

W. James MacNaughton, a New Jersey lawyer representing Doe, said that the court “really avoided dealing with the issues.”

In January 2018 MacNaughton had told the Washington Post the lawsuit was prompted by the Hobby Lobby decision which sided with the art-and-craft company owners whose Christian beliefs conflicted with federal mandates to provide abortifacient contraceptives in their employee health plans.

The attorney thought religion was the defining issue in the case.

“Are you committing murder when you have an abortion? That’s a religious question,” he said.

A Cole County judge had dismissed the case, but on appeal the Missouri Court of Appeals sent it to the state Supreme Court, saying the case raised “real and substantial constitutional claims.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt praised the state Supreme Court’s decision, saying the law is “a commonsense measure designed to protect women from undue pressure and coercion during the sensitive decision of whether or not to have an abortion.”

“Judy Doe,” another self-professed adherent of the Satanic Temple, has filed a different challenge to Missouri’s informed consent requirement for abortion in a case pending in federal court. She is also represented by McNaughton.

The temple, based in Salem, Mass., was founded by self-described atheists who profess disbelief in a literal Satan.

While the Satanic Temple currently appears to support legal abortion, a previous version of its beliefs lacked the relevant tenet. According to a March 2013 cache of its website at the Internet Archive, it previously claimed “all life is precious in the eyes of Satan” and “the Circle of Compassion should extend to all species, not just humans.”

At present the Satanic Temple website rejects claims that media attention is its primary object, or that it is a hoax or trolling. At its origins, however, are credible reports indicating it was launched for a mockumentary, with several of its founders having a background in film and entertainment.

In a July 22, 2014 Village Voice article, former Satanic Temple collaborator Shane Bugbee said he at first saw the group as a prank and “a joke on the public at large and, in general, the grossly inept media.”

He said the group’s purpose seemed to shift quickly, from an initial effort to make a mockumentary about satanism to “a real religious sect.” He contended that the group was exploiting Satanism while engaging in social climbing and “slick psychological marketing tricks.”

Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves, whose real name is Douglas Mesner, contended that Bugbee had quit working for the group over a financial dispute. He said that his effort is “a mission… especially for me.” Mesner said the group planned to leverage the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby religious freedom decision to advance “a women’s rights initiative.”

In a 2013 interview with Vice, Mesner said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

“So at the inception, the political message was primary,” he said, contending that the group has “moved well beyond being a simple political ploy and into being a very sincere movement that seeks to separate religion from superstition and to contribute positively to our cultural dialogue.”

Other initiatives by the Satanic Temple include efforts to place satanic statues on the grounds of government buildings and claims of planning black mass re-enactments.

The Satanic Temple has crowdfunded expenses to help pay for a Missouri woman’s abortion, though it is unclear whether this was linked to the legal cases. It has also crowdfunded its “reproductive rights” campaign, gathering over $45,000 by July 2015.

 

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