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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.
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What is the state’s role in promoting virtue?

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 12:30pm

Washington D.C., Sep 6, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- The debate over competing culturally conservative visions for the future of the U.S. continued Thursday night at the Catholic University of America, as Sohrab Ahmari and David French offered their prescriptions for moral decline in society.

 
Historic Christianity was never private, but has been “a collective experience,” said Ahmari, op-ed editor of the New York Post and a Catholic. He added that Christians “have to restore” the societal structures supporting the practice of virtue through the powers of the state and stop the public expression of certain problematic viewpoints.
 
David French, senior writer for National Review and a Protestant, said, “We live in a nation of enduring ethnic, religious, cultural differences,” and Christians need to accept that there will be hostile views in the public square with which they will need to co-exist under First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion.
 
“There is no circumstance under which any political movement in this country can create a superstructure where the people that you like always, win and the people you don’t like and you think that are bad are always going to lose, and you’re going to always like that outcome,” French said.
 
“And if you try to do that, you’ll rip this place to pieces. The only way this place survives as a united country is if we apply 18th century solutions to this 21st century division, rediscover the First Amendment of the United States, rediscover religious freedom.”
 
The debate between Ahmari and French on “Cultural Conservatives: Two Visions” was hosted Sept. 5 by the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America.
 
While the conversation began cordially enough, tension immediately rose as the two launched into their positions—and their analysis of the other’s position—in the continuation of an online debate this past spring.

The debate hinged upon what means Christians can and should use to promote public virtue and discourage vice in the U.S. Ahmari emphasized that Christians need to use the force of the state to fight back against threats to public virtue, including through laws that might silence public views deemed a threat to virtue.

Ahmari’s first anecdote was his recent discovery that a local library was hosting a “drag queen story hour” for children. He said this use of the public space threatened to scandalize children and that local Christians should take control and put a stop to it.
 
“It is a threat, and it is demonic,” he said, reading a description of a similar event that was held in the UK where children at a library were taught how to twerk. “To me, that should raise a five-alarm cultural fire,” he said.
 
French said that in such a large, pluralistic country there will be moral failings and differences of opinion on morality. Christian efforts to use the state to silence views they don’t like simply won’t work in a society with so many different views and beliefs, he said.
 
A problem “infinitely worse” than “drag queen story hour” is the phenomenon of “tens of millions of Christian men addicted to porn,” French said. 
 
When pressed by French on what actions he might take against drag queen story hour, Ahmari responded that the head of the “Modern Library Association” could be subpoenaed by Congress and face tough questions, or a local ordinance could be passed curtailing drag queen story hour.
 
Such a local action would be subject to review by the courts, French said. The constitution has carved out a space for Christians to proclaim Christ without being silenced by the government—and a space is all they need to operate, he said.
 
Ahmari countered that the public square has become so corrupt that it is quite difficult for families and children to remain virtuous, and the government has a role in protecting children from pornography and other problems. While society was formerly majority-Christian with a more common definition of what was acceptable or unacceptable in public, he said, now that common definition has eroded and Christians need to be assertive to bring it back.
 
Christianity can’t just be for an “elite elect,” Ahmari said, noting that his son statistically would be likely to encounter pornography before the age of 12; children should not be exposed to pornography and be expected to live a heroic moral life on their own, he said.
 
French argued that Christians should desire the salvation of all but should not skirt the constitution—or walk right up to the line of violating it—to discriminate against viewpoints they believe are evil. If they do, they should expect their opponents to use the force of law to silence them, he warned.
 
“You cannot take these things on a case-by-case basis and say ‘free speech for me and not for thee,’” French said, because “if you have wrecked legal institutions,” then “there’s a price that’s paid there.”
 
That exchange revealed one fundamental difference between the positions—French said that any Christian attempt to silence views they don’t like would violate “viewpoint-neutrality,” the practice of the government not discriminating against any one belief. The First Amendment is clear that such actions would be unconstitutional, he said.
 
Ahmari said later in the debate that “public decency” laws might have protected against problems like drag queen story hour—while French said such an event wouldn’t even have violated obscenity laws from the 1800s.
 
The two also differed on the direction of societal moral decay. Ahmari argued that it has reached a crisis level where government action needs to be taken to protect virtue; French acknowledged that there are serious evils in today’s culture, but maintained that they will always be present in some form.
 
There have been positive signs in recent years, he noted, notably the continuous decline in the number of abortions for decades and “the advances that we have made” in respect for free speech and religious freedom by the courts.
 
“These battles are not won and lost in any one presidential cycle,” he said, in reference to support for President Donald Trump to use his administration to push pro-life policies. French argued against what he saw as using non-Christian means—supporting a flawed candidate like Trump—of promoting Christian beliefs in policy.
 
Ahmari said that Trump, while imperfect, is the most pro-life president in history; French, who has long opposed Trump, said that other presidents have supported pro-life policies and that Christians risk losing their credibility by attaching themselves to such a controversial figure.
 
The two agreed that Christians need to witness to their faith in the public square, but the debate revealed fundamental differences in their visions. The chief tension was whether Christians should violate, or come close to violating, the First Amendment to stop immoral public events and plagues such as pornography or library story hours.
 
Another underlying difference between the two was the role of the state in promoting virtue—as French said that Christians have a “space” to do so without resorting to using the levers of power to accomplish it, while Ahmari argued that the state has a proper authority to support a virtuous public square and Christians should use it assertively.

In response to restrictions, Planned Parenthood expands telemedicine program

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 2:04am

Washington D.C., Sep 6, 2019 / 12:04 am (CNA).- After several months of new pro-life legislation aimed at restricting abortion or defunding Planned Parenthood, the organization’s national branch has announced the expansion of its telemedicine program to all 50 states by next year.

The Planned Parenthood Direct app, through which users can request birth control delivery, UTI treatment prescriptions, and appointments at Planned Parenthood, is currently available in 27 states.

According to its website, Planned Parenthood has also used telemedicine to prescribe mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs used in medical abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states require that a licensed physician be physically present during medical abortions, effectively banning abortions prescribed via telemedicine.

“As politicians across the country try to restrict or block access to critical reproductive and sexual health care, the Planned Parenthood Direct app is just one part of the work we do to ensure that more people can get the care they need, no matter where they are,” Planned Parenthood CEO and acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement released Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood said the app will help remedy the “vast unmet need for sexual and reproductive health care in the United States,” by helping patients “overcome barriers” such as travel distance or lack of childcare during appointments.

The organization noted in its release that the expansion of the app was, in part, a response to a new pro-life policy at the federal level.

“In the wake of increasing restrictions on sexual and reproductive health care, the Planned Parenthood Direct app is helping to break down barriers and get people the timely care and information they need,” the statement said.

Last month, Planned Parenthood announced its plans to opt out of the Title X family planning program, following the passage of the Protect Life Rule, which bans recipients of Title X money from referring women for abortions, and from being located in buildings with abortion clinics. It also requires the financial separation of government-funded programs with programs that perform abortions.

By opting out of Title X, Planned Parenthood chose to forgo roughly $60 million in annual funds, or about 15% of its annual federal funding.

The Protect Life Rule came amidst numerous attempts at the state level to close Planned Parenthood clinics or restrict abortions. So far this year, Alabama, Arkansas and Utah have passed laws that would ban abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. Other states, including Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio, passed heartbeat bills that would restrict abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs between six and eight weeks of pregnancy. A lengthy clinic licensure debate in Missouri could mean the closure of the last Planned Parenthood in the state.

Many of these state laws have not yet gone into effect, and are all being challenged in the courts by Planned Parenthood or other abortion advocacy groups.

How Catholic charities are helping in the wake of Hurricane Dorian

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 6:46pm

Raleigh, N.C., Sep 5, 2019 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- With Hurricane Dorian leaving widespread destruction in the Bahamas earlier this week, and now moving up the eastern U.S. coast, Catholic agencies are coordinating response efforts for those affected by the storm.

“The devastation, especially on Abaco and Grand Bahama, is significant,” said Nikki Gamer, media relations manager for Catholic Relief Services.

Dorian slammed into the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane on Sept. 1, becoming the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall there.

For the next 36 hours, the storm pounded the islands, stalled by an unusual wind pattern over the western Atlantic. When the storm finally moved on, it left entire neighborhoods under water, with storm surges up to 18 feet higher than normal tide levels, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Many residents are now homeless, with little ability to communicate with their loved ones as they face ongoing flooding.

The International Red Cross suggested that up to 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or suffered severe damage from the hurricane, which saw winds exceeding 100 mph. The U.N. World Food Programme is estimating that some 60,000 people may need immediate food aid.

Gamer told CNA that Catholic Relief Services is still working to assess the needs in the area, but it is clear that the destruction is extensive.

“We will be sending a member of our emergency response team to the Bahamas in coordination with a representative of Caritas Granada to support assessments and early response programming,” she said. “We are also coordinating with Caritas Puerto Rico who are planning to send relief supplies based on an update of needs from those on the ground. Other coordination is underway with the Archdiocese of Miami.”

From there, the agency will work with local partners to help provide emergency shelter, food, and clean water to families. The agency is accepting donations to help with relief efforts.

Less than 200 miles away, residents of Miami were spared a direct hit as the storm instead skimmed the Florida coast. Some 140,000 people lost power, although the outages were expected to be brief, a Florida Power & Light representative said. Authorities warned of flooding, storm surges and rip currents along the coastline for several days.

Mary Ross Agosta, communications director for the Archdiocese of Miami, told CNA that the local Catholic community is working to assist with the short- and long- term needs of those facing devastation in the Bahamas.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski and the head of the local Catholic Charities branch are “in constant communication with Archbishop Pinder of the Bahamas,” she said, and “strong relief efforts are in place.”

“As with all disasters, people in South Florida – and around the world – seem to be at their best,” Agosta commented. “Donations to the Catholic Charities’ website, www.miamiarch.org, have been rapid and constant. It is with these donations, of which 100% is used for relief efforts, that the Archdiocese can respond to the needs of the people; at first, ships with goods, including diapers, formula, rice and, then financial resources to help recover.”

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities agencies further north are encouraging people to prepare as Dorian continues its trek up the U.S. coast.

Daniel Altenau, communications director for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, told CNA that the agency “has been simultaneously working to help families recover and prepare for the next storm ever since the destruction of Hurricane Florence.”

That hurricane his North Carolina last fall, causing serious flooding, power outages, and an estimated $17 billion in damages in state.

Altenau said the goal has been to work with partner agencies to help families be better prepared for Hurricane Dorian and future storms.

“In the days leading up to Dorian making landfall, our Wilmington office worked with families to distribute preparedness supplies and review the disaster plan to make sure they stayed safe during the storm,” he said. “Our offices across the diocese have been sharing information about shelter openings and evacuation orders.”

Hurricane Dorian hit South Carolina as a Category 2 storm on Thursday and is expected to move up the coast of North Carolina overnight.

“As the storm now begins to impact our area, our staff and volunteers have been instructed to seek safe shelter until after the storm,” Altenau said. “As soon as conditions are safe, we will begin the process of distributing donated supplies such as food, water, cleaning supplies, diapers, and hygiene items.”

The agency is currently collecting donations at www.CatholicCharitiesRaleigh.org/disaster to aid in recovery efforts.

'Despicable,' 'repugnant,' 'extremist': Pro-life activists respond to Bernie Sanders on abortion 

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 4:05pm

Washington D.C., Sep 5, 2019 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- Pro-life leaders have denounced Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) statement that he would repeal the Mexico City policy and promote abortion in “poorer countries” in response to a question on population growth.

Sanders made the comments during his appearance on CNN’s “climate town hall,” a seven-hour broadcast during which 10 Democratic candidates for president were each given 40 minutes to present their plan for addressing environmental concerns.

Sanders was asked by a member of the audience to discuss his thoughts about population control and overpopulation.

“I realize this is a poisonous topic for politicians, but it’s crucial to face,” said the audience member, who was identified as a “teacher.” 

“Empowering women and educating everyone on the need to curb population growth seems a reasonable campaign to enact. Would you be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key factor of a plan to address climate catastrophe?” 

Sanders replied by stating that it is a “fact” that women “have a right to control their own bodies and make reproductive decisions,” in reference to abortion.  

He then took aim at the Mexico City policy, a decades old provision that forbids U.S. foreign aid from going to programs that promote or perform abortions. 

Sanders erroneously told the audience that the Mexico City policy “denies American aid to those organizations around the world that allow women to have abortions or even get involved in birth control, to me is totally absurd.” 

“So I think especially in poor countries around the world, where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies and where they can have the opportunity through birth control to limit the number of kids they have--something I very, very strongly support,” said the Vermont senator. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said in a statement provided to CNA that Sanders rhetoric was promoting the use of taxpayer dollars to go to abortion providers was “despicable” and “wildly out of touch with mainstream America.

“Taking the lives of unborn children is never a solution.” 

A January Marist/Knights of Columbus poll found that three out of four Americans are opposed to taxpayer funds being spent to promote abortion abroad. This figure includes 94 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of independents, and 56 percent of Democrats. 

“Bernie Sanders’ repugnant ‘solution’ to climate change – eliminating the children of poorer nations through abortion, paid for by American tax dollars – should be condemned across the political spectrum,” said Susan B. Anthony’s List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement provided to CNA. 

She referred to Sanders as an “extremist,” and said he has “no business being president of the United States.” 

Dannenfelser said that Sanders took “Democratic abortion extremism to a new low,” and called for every Democratic candidate to be questioned on “where they stand on eugenic population control.” 

“Such paternalistic attitudes are behind coercive regimes like China’s, where child-limitation policies are ruthlessly backed by forced abortions,” she said.

CNN television host S.E. Cupp condemned Sanders remarks as a “vile idea” and said that he was promoting eugenics. The top 20 countries with the highest fertility rates are all located in Africa. 

“Let’s just state for the record: talking about needing ‘population control’ through ABORTION for teh sake of CLIMATE is talking about EUGENICS,” said Cupp on Twitter. “The fact that [Sanders] is willing to entertain this vile idea is not only disgusting, but should be disqualifying.” 

The Sanders campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment or clarification.

Marriage is 'colorblind' but not 'sex-blind', says Catholic author

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 5:05am

Booneville, Mississippi, Sep 5, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- After a wedding venue employee in Mississippi cited her Christian beliefs in refusing to host the wedding of a mixed-race couple, a Catholic scholar clarified that “marriage is a colorblind institution.”

“A man and a woman, regardless of their race, can unite as one-flesh as husband and wife, and that marital union can give rise to new life and connect that life with his or her mother and father,” said Ryan T. Anderson, the John Paul II Teaching Fellow at the University of Dallas and a co-author of “What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense.”

Anderson told CNA that race is not relevant to the nature of marriage, and the race of a person does not negate any of the requirements of a valid marriage.

His comments come after a woman in charge of a wedding event venue in Mississippi apologized for declining to host the wedding of a mixed-race couple, something she had claimed violated her “Christian belief.”

According to the Washington Post, a black groom-to-be and a white bride-to-be had scheduled their wedding celebration to be held at Boone’s Camp Event Hall in Booneville, Mississippi. They were finalizing plans when they were informed that the venue retroactively declined to host their celebration because the wedding would violate the owner’s Christian beliefs.

The groom’s mother and his sister, LaKambria S. Welch, drove to the venue to demand answers. In a filmed exchange first posted by the website Deep South Voice, Welch can be heard calmly asking a woman in a gray shirt about the cancellation.

“Well we don’t do gay weddings or mixed race,” the woman in the video said. “Because of our Christian race - I mean our Christian belief.”

Welch told the woman that she, too, is a Christian, and asked the woman from where in the Bible her belief came.

“Well, I don’t want to argue my faith,” the woman responded. “We just don’t participate. We just choose not to.”

“Ok. So that’s your Christian belief, right?” Welch said.

“Yes ma’am,” the woman replied.

After the video spread on social media, the venue issued an apology that has apparently since been deleted. According to The Washington Post, the apology was reportedly written by the woman in the video, who said she did not know that the Bible did not condemn mixed-race marriages.

“As my bible reads, there are 2 requirements for marriage and race has nothing to do with either!” the apology post said, according to the Washington Post. “All of my years I had ‘assumed’ in my mind that I was correct, but have never taken the opportunity to research and find whether this was correct or incorrect until now.”

The incident drew intense criticism on social media as well as from Booneville city officials, who said on Facebook that they were “aware of the comments recently made by a privately owned business located within the city of Booneville. The City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status. Furthermore, the City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not condone or approve these types of discriminatory policies.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not object to interracial marriages. In fact, when the Catechism speaks about “mixed marriages,” it is in reference to couples of mixed creeds who marry - for example, a Catholic marrying a Protestant (or other baptized non-Catholic).

“Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ,” the Catechism states.

“But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home,” it adds.

The Catechism, and other Catholic documents, do not mention interracial marriages as immoral for any reason.

The Catholic Church does teach, however, that the sacrament of marriage must be between one man and one woman: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”

The Catechism adds that men and women must give themselves to each other in marriage freely, totally, and fruitfully, meaning that the couple must be open to life. The sacrament of marriage also “requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses.”

For a same-sex couple, marriage is impossible according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, because sexual acts between same-sex couples are “contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved,” the Catechism states.

Instead, people with same-sex attractions “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and are “called to chastity,” the Catechism states.

Anderson clarified that interracial marriage differs from same-sex marriage, because the biological sex of the individuals involved is directly relevant to the nature of marriage, unlike their race.

Because the Catholic Church is concerned for the good of spouses, children, and the greater society, Anderson said, it teaches that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

“While marriage must be a colorblind institution, it can't be sex-blind. Only a man and a woman can unite as one-flesh, and every child has a mother and a father,” he said.

“So it's for good reason that marriage is about uniting the two halves of humanity--male and female--for a common good they participate in that, in turn, benefits the general common good.”

Cardinal Tobin blesses immigration protest

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 8:00pm

Newark, N.J., Sep 4, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, blessed a group of protesters on Wednesday, as a they demonstrated in front of the city’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office. 

The group gathered Sept. 4 to protest the Trump administration’s policies that separate children from their parents if the parents are found to have entered the country illegally. Some carried images of children who have died at the border or in U.S. custody. 

Speaking to the crowd, the cardinal offered his own voice in opposition to the policies.

“These draconian measures are not a solution to our broken immigration system. They are violations to human dignity,” said Tobin. He encouraged Catholics to contact their elected officials, “and urge them not to manipulate immigrant families as political pawns.” 

Tobin also led the group, which was estimated to be in the hundreds, in a recitation of the Rosary. 

Protesters also carried a stylized image of the Madonna and Child depicted as Latin Americans and framed behind a piece of chain-link fencing. 

Some of the group, who had agreed to risk arrest in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, blocked traffic by laying down on the road in the shape of a cross. The number of arrested was not immediately available. 

Wednesday’s protest was similar to an event in July staged at the Russell Senate Office Building. 

The Newark demonstration was held one day after the release of a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General which said that children separated from their parents at the border are showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“According to program directors and mental health clinicians, separated children exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress than did children who were not separated,” said the report. 

“Separated children experienced heightened feelings of anxiety and loss as a result of their unexpected separation from their parents after their arrival in the United States. For example, some separated children expressed acute grief that caused them to cry inconsolably.”

The report made many suggestions as to what can be done to improve the mental health of children who are in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody. 

The report recommended that the ORR “should identify or create resources that can improve facilities’ readiness to meet the mental health care needs of children of all ages, including very young children and pre- or non-verbal children.” This includes the creation of a “technical assistant group” that would assist facilities with their treatment strategies. 

Among other things, the report suggested that the ORR work to assist facilities with hiring and retaining mental health clinicians, create “therapeutic placement options” for children who are in need of “more intensive mental health treatment,” and to “take all reasonable steps” to reduce the time a child has to stay in ORR custody. 

“ORR should assess current policies and procedures to ensure that they do not present unnecessary barriers to children’s release to appropriate sponsors and adjust, as appropriate,” said the report. 

“Lastly, ORR should establish procedures to ensure that future policy changes prioritize child welfare considerations and do not inadvertently increase the length of time a child remains in ORR custody.”

HHS announces $2 billion to fight opioid addiction

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 5:00pm

Washington D.C., Sep 4, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration announced on Wednesday it will send almost $2 billion in grant funding to the states to fight the opioid crisis.

The administration will disburse $1.8 billion in grant funding to the states through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to fight the addiction epidemic, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Sept. 4. The funding was appropriated by Congress at the President’s request.

The grants will be awarded in two parts. One part is $932 million in State Opioid Response grants, under the HHS Substance Abuse Mental Health Services (SAMSH) program, for all 50 states and several territories.

Providers receiving the grants “must make available medication-assisted treatment, which is the gold standard of treatment for opioid addiction,” Secretary Azar told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday.

Funding is sent to state health departments, territories, and local health departments; states can use the grant funding in a variety of ways, such as “medication-assisted treatment,” “community-based prevention efforts,” “employment coaching” programs, or distribution of naloxone, which is a drug used to counteract opioid overdoses, Azar said.

An additional $900 in grant funding will be sent to 47 states, Washington, D.C., 16 localities, and two territories, under the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Overdose Data to Action Grant Program. The grant money will fund better data collection on opioid overdoses and help victims get the treatment they need, Anzar said.

“These funds will be delivered to the communities where the help is most needed,” President Trump said on Wednesday at the White House.

The funding comes in response to 70,000 deaths by drug overdose in 2017. Over two-thirds of those deaths involved opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Opioid-related overdose deaths increased by a factor of six between 1999 and 2017, though last year provisional overdose deaths fell by five percent, Azar told reporters on Wednesday.

Trump also noted indications of a drop in overdose-related deaths in his comments on Wednesday afternoon, saying that in the last two years indicated that deaths were substantially down in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, and New Hampshire.

“The battle has only just begun,” President Trump said. “We’ll not rest until every American child can grow up free of the menace of drugs, empowered to realize their full and unlimited potential. So many lives are stopped cold by drugs.”

Secretary Azar told EWTN on Wednesday that faith-based organizations would be eligible to receive funding.

“We obviously encourage faith-based organization participation throughout the states” he said regarding the grants.

As an example, he said that the NIH HEALing Communities Initiative would provide around $400 million in funding to four communities in Kentucky, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York. 

The recipients were selected on the criteria of a “whole-of-community approach” to fighting the opioid epidemic “to show that, with the right community efforts, including the faith community, we can tackle this,” Azar said.

However, the states will determine which faith-based organizations receive the grants, senior administration officials said.

The announcement comes just over a week after pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered by an Oklahoma district court judge to pay $572 million for its role in helping drive the state’s opioid epidemic by using deceptive marketing to push the sale and prescription of painkillers.

There are currently over 2,000 cases being litigated against pharmaceutical companies by state and local governments for their alleged roles in the opioid epidemic. When asked by NPR where the administration thinks damages—such as those ordered to be paid by Johnson & Johnson—should be used in the opioid epidemic, senior administration officials said that the administration does not currently have an opinion on that, as multi-district litigation is ongoing.

Kellyanne Conway, White House Senior Counselor, told reporters that the administration is trying to focus on the threat of fentanyl, which caused 32,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2018.

“The fact that this nation is in such a predicament is because federal policies in our overall healthcare system has failed many Americans who are suffering,” Conway said.

Medical groups support North Carolina's 20-week abortion limit

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 3:25pm

Raleigh, N.C., Sep 4, 2019 / 01:25 pm (CNA).- Four non-profit medical groups have filed a brief with a federal appeals court in support of a 20-week abortion limit in North Carolina.

The state of North Carolina has “legitimate interests in regulating and limiting the practice of abortion,” the brief said.

“These important interests include using the State’s voice and regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the ‘life of the unborn’ and protecting the health of women from ‘the outset of [] pregnancy’,” it continued.

“North Carolina also has significant interest in regulating a ‘brutal and inhumane procedure’ to avoid ‘coarsen[ing] society to the humanity of not only newborns, but all vulnerable and innocent human life’ and in protecting the integrity of the medical profession.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, and the American College of Pediatricians filed a brief in Bryant v. Woodall on Sept. 3. The case is being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

The case concerns a 1973 North Carolina law that limits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. U.S. District Judge William Osteen ruled in March that the law was unconstitutional.

Although the law banning abortion after 20 weeks has been on the books for decades, it has never been enforced. Osteen ruled that the law, even if not enforced, was unconstitutional and could deter people from engaging in behavior that is legally protected by the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and various laws.

In their brief, the medical organizations argue that Osteen’s ruling erroneously considered a 20-week baby’s viability as the only factor in the constitutionality of the North Carolina law.

“[T]he viability line is problematic because medical advances make it a moving target,” they said, and because the ruling fails to recognize the state’s other legitimate interests in regulating and limiting abortion.

“Advances in genetic science have undermined one of Roe v. Wade’s core assumptions, namely, that a pre-born child is not yet human,” Kevin Theriot, vice president of the Center for Life at Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed the brief on behalf of the medical organizations.

“North Carolina’s commonsense law protects an unborn baby who can feel pain from the brutality of a dismemberment abortion and protects the child’s mother from the physical and psychological complications of a late-term abortion.”

The North Carolina law originally included exemptions that permitted an abortion to protect the health of the mother. A 2015 amendment to the legislation clarified this to mean when a “major bodily function” would be at risk if the pregnancy continued.

That change prompted abortion advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, to file a 2016 suit against the law.

With the law struck down, abortion remains legal for any reason in North Carolina until a doctor determines that the unborn child can survive outside of the womb.

Denise Burke, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that “abortion carries health risks for the mother, and those risks get more frequent and more severe the later in pregnancy she resorts to abortion.”

“Also, thanks to scientific advances like ultrasound, we know that babies have a heartbeat at six weeks, are fully formed at 12 weeks, and can feel pain in the womb at least by 20 weeks,” Burke said. “In light of these realities, and the Supreme Court’s precedent on the subject, North Carolina’s commonsense law limiting abortion after 20 weeks deserves to be upheld.”

If the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision were to be overturned, states would be free to set their own abortion policies. Some states have codified the Roe decision into law in the event it would be overturned, while others have “trigger laws” that would automatically ban abortion entirely if the case were overturned.

'This could be the end for me,' Buffalo bishop says in taped conversation

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 1:30pm

Buffalo, N.Y., Sep 4, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Recordings of private conversations appear to show that Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the diocese removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Bishop Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported on Wednesday by WKBW in Buffalo. In the conversations, Bishop Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the Seal of Confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

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

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

The conversations were secretly recorded by Biernat as the bishop discussed how to deal with accusations against Nowak by then-seminarian Matthew Bojanowski, who accused Nowak of grooming him, sexually harassing him, and violating the Seal of the Confessional.

According to an abridged transcript of the recordings provided by WKBW, Malone said in March that “the simple version here is we've got victims and we have a perpetrator, and the perpetrator is Jeff Nowak, and he's done things that are clearly wrong, and I think he's a sick puppy. That’s my amateur analysis of the whole thing.”

Despite this assessment, Nowak was not removed from ministry until Aug. 7, one day after the seminarian’s mother publicly accused Malone of allowing Fr. Nowak to remain in ministry despite the allegations against him.

The diocese issued a statement on August 18 that Malone had “never” kept a priest in active ministry who had a “credible allegation of abusing a minor” made against him, and “has never ignored” the accusation that Nowak violated the sacramental seal.

Malone started an investigation of the complaint, the statement said, and “[w]hen the individual who made the complaint was first questioned, his response was vague and needed follow up.”

In a statement released on Sept. 4, the diocese said it “stands by” its previous statement.

The seminarian, Matthew Bojanowski, raised the allegations in a letter to Bishop Malone dated January 24, 2019, saying Nowak had also admitted to “inappropriate actions” with minors. 

According to WKBW, Bojanowski first made the accusations known in October 2018, before he wrote Bishop Malone in January.

The recordings were reported by WKMB on Sept. 4 and were made by Biernat after Nowak became jealous of the close friendship between the seminarian and the bishop’s secretary. 

“I thought, 'I need to do something,' so I started recording those meetings because they say one thing but they do nothing,” Biernat told WKBW. “And so you have one recording in March then [a] week later, another recording, and nothing is being done.”

The diocese confirmed in a public statement that Malone had previously asked Biernat to take a leave of absence after Nowak obtained a letter between him and Bojanowski. According to a conversation taped Aug. 2, the bishop was concerned that media coverage would focus on a possible “love triangle” between Nowak, Bojanowski, and Biernat.

According to taped conversations, which date back to March of this year, Malone appears to admit that Bojanowski’s accusations are credible, and he considered sending Nowak to the St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland for psychiatric treatment.

Bishop Malone referenced Bojanowski’s allegations and called them “frightening concerns”; he said that “it became very clear to me that Jeff-- was very interested in a-- an-- I think an inappropriate relationship [for] himself with Matthew.”

Malone also receiving a letter from Nowak which he suggests confirms the accusations. 

“I got this very carefully crafted-- letter you've all seen now that details, I think, and gives evidence-- that-- that do back up the concerns that Matthew has,” Malone said, including the allegations of the violation of the Seal of Confession by Nowak.

Nowak “has some serious, serious issues,” Malone concluded. “We're gonna send-- and we're gonna send him off to-- for-- assessment at St. Luke's Institute of Maryland.”

Despite this apparent resolution, Malone later said he was concerned that Nowak would “go ballistic” if told he would be sent to St. Luke’s. In a taped conversation in July, Malone said that he told Nowak to either “go to Southdown”—an institute in Toronto that specializes in mental health and addiction problems for religious and clergy—or receive a leave of absence, and that Nowack decided to go to Southdown. 

Nowak was still in active ministry in the diocese by the beginning of August.

In a year of scandals related to clerical sexual abuse, Bishop Malone has repeatedly found himself at the center of media attention. 

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

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

McCarrick created 'culture of fear and intimidation,' Seton Hall review finds

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 11:00am

Newark, N.J., Sep 4, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick created a “culture of fear and intimidation” at the Seton Hall University seminary, according to a report released by the university on Aug. 27. 

“McCarrick used his position of power as then-Archbishop of Newark to sexually harass seminarians. No minors or other University students were determined to have been affected by McCarrick,” said the statement. 

Seton Hall is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Newark, which McCarrick led from 1988-2000. The Archbishop of Newark serves as president of the university’s board of trustees.

It is one of the oldest diocesan-run Catholic universities in the country and has about 10,000 students, including 6,000 undergraduates. Seton Hall is also home to Immaculate Conception Seminary and St. Andrew’s Hall college seminary.

The “independent, unrestricted review” was announced by interim university president Mary J. Meehan on Aug. 23 last year. It followed an Aug. 17 report published by CNA that detailed a series of allegations made by priests in the Archdiocese of Newark. 

Some of the priest’s accounts related to former archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Others detailed allegations of recent or ongoing behavior at the two seminaries, including a specific allegation concerning a former rector of St. Andrew’s Hall.

The review was conducted by the law firm Lantham & Watkins. It found that while Seton Hall University’s present Title IX policies are “consistent with state and federal law,” they were “not always followed” at Immaculate Conception Seminary or St. Andrew's Hall.

These policy lapses “resulted in incidents of sexual harassment going unreported to the University,” said the statement. 

“Individuals, communities and parishes across the country have been affected by former archbishop McCarrick and others who have profoundly and forever negatively altered so many lives,” the University statement said.

“The University community prays for all victims of harassment and abuse of any kind. Seton Hall remains committed to advancing its mission and providing seminarians, students, faculty, priests, staff and administrators with a safe and welcoming environment to learn, live and grow.”

Both seminaries and Seton Hall University are now fully in line with Title IX regulations, said the statement. 

The university also announced that it had developed a “series of proactive measures” to address the fallout of the McCarrick scandal among the community, and that “progress” had been made. 

The measures included a commitment to sharing as much of the report’s findings with the university community as is possible under privacy law. 

Additionally, the university announced that a new Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer would be hired to “ensure University-wide adherence to Title IX laws, policies, and practices” and the school will require Title IX training each year for everyone within the Seton Hall community. The school pledged to conduct “prompt reviews” of allegations of sexual harassment. 

The university also said that efforts were underway to “improve the structural relationship” between the main university, Immaculate Conception Seminary, and the Archdiocese of Newark, that will “enhance oversight, control and compliance to prevent recurrence” of past problems.

In October last year, the university was forced to respond to several reports that seminarians had been subjected to harassment on campus by other students, following the public scandal surrounding McCarrick.

“Recently my office has been informed of several instances of foul language and incivility being aimed at members of our Immaculate Conception Seminary,” wrote Meehan in an email sent to the university community on Oct. 15.

This behavior is “unacceptable,” she said, and “cannot be tolerated.”

The August 27 statement said that steps had been taken to “underscore the importance of Immaculate Conception Seminary and St. Andrew’s Seminary to Seton Hall’s Catholic identity,” and work to “better integrate” these schools with the university. 

Seton Hall University’s Board of Regents unanimously endorsed all of the proactive measures.

A Catholic school removed Harry Potter from the library. Should Catholics read the books?

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 5:05pm

Washington D.C., Sep 3, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- A Catholic elementary school in Nashville has banned the seven books of the Harry Potter series due to concerns the books promote witchcraft and black magic. An exorcist and a Catholic author talked with CNA about the Harry Potter books and the Catholic faith.

“These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception,” Fr. Dan Reehil, pastor at Saint Edward School in Nashville, said to parents in an Aug. 28 email.

“The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text,” the priest added.

Reehil said that the books “glorify acts of divination; of conjuring the dead, of casting spells among other acts that are an offense to the virtue of religion — to the love and respect we owe to God alone. Many reading these books could be persuaded to believe these acts are perfectly fine, even good or spiritually healthy.”

Reehil told parents he made the decision to ban the books after consulting exorcists in both the United States and Rome.

Saint Edward teaches students from pre-K through eighth grade.

The Harry Potter books have been controversial since the first book was published in 1997. The American Library Association listed the Harry Potter series as its first-most challenged books in 2001 and 2002. The books were challenged due to claims of being “anti-family,” containing “occult/satanism” content, and violence.

Series author J.K. Rowling has rejected the idea that her books contain anti-Christian messages. In a 2007 interview, the author said that she believed there were parallels between the series’ title character, Harry Potter, and Jesus Christ.

Monsignor Charles Pope, a priest and exorcist of the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA that “it’s always good to err on the side of caution in these matters,” adding that the decision to remove the books from the library was a “prudential judgment.”

“I think that in times like these we need to be extra cautious, and so as a general rule I’d support it, but I think every individual parent would have to work with their own kids on these matters,” Pope said.

Pope told CNA that he has not read the Harry Potter books nor seen the movies apart from “some excerpts,” and said with a laugh that the series is “way past (his) age.”

Rosamund Hodge, an author of young adult fantasy novels and a lay Dominican, told CNA she thinks concerns about the “magic” in Harry Potter are overblown.

“The magic in these books is about as ‘real’ as Cinderella’s fairy godmother singing ‘bibbidi- bobbidi-boo,’” she told CNA.

“While [Author J.K.] Rowling does occasionally draw from actual occult folklore for some of her world-building...the spells her characters use are usually just fake Latin describing what they’re supposed to do.”

Hodge does not believe there is a risk of children accidentally conjuring evil spirits through repeating the “spells” used in the books.

“Children are about as likely to summon demons by play-acting Harry Potter as they are to accidentally sell their souls by proclaiming ‘Abracadabra!’ while performing card tricks,” Hodge said.

Hodge said that while Rowling “does not write with a Catholic imagination,” she is not concerned with the allegations of “occult” content in the Harry Potter books.

The author told CNA that Catholic children might learn something from the books, even though the series characters do not possess a Catholic worldview.

“I think the proper response is not to ban the books, but to discuss them,” she said. “If children learn how to cope with Harry and his friends sometimes believing the wrong things, perhaps they'll be prepared for the Thanksgiving dinner where their favorite uncle announces that euthanasia should be legal.”

Pope told CNA that, no matter their decision about Harry Potter, Catholics should guard against any sort of dabbling with the occult or witchcraft.

“Once you’re into actual witchcraft you are in the dark side, since there’s nothing of God in this. It’s a violation of the First Commandment,” he said.

“I mean, I’ve had to look this devil in the face,” the priest added. “He’s very real. He’s very pernicious. He’s also very sly. We need to be sober about his present action in the world.”

 

In rare interview, McCarrick maintains his innocence

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 4:17pm

Salina, Kan., Sep 3, 2019 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- In an interview last month with Slate staff writer Ruth Graham, Theodore McCarrick said he doesn't believe he committed the acts of which he has been accused.

McCarrick, 89, has been in public disgrace since June 2018, when credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor were made known. He was dismissed from the clerical state in February 2019, after an administrative penal process by which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty of solicitation in the confessional, and sexual abuse of minors and adults, aggravated by abuse of power.

“I’m not as bad as they paint me,” McCarrick told Graham Aug. 14 at the St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kan., about 90 miles west of Salina, where he resides. “I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of.”

Graham wrote in an article published Sept. 3 that when she challenged McCarrick saying he “makes it sound as if he’s leaving it an open question,” and that it sounded as though he thought it was possible he had committed the acts, he responded no.

McCarrick was Archbishop of Washington from 2000 until 2006.

He resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, and took up residence in the friary that September.

Graham spent at least several days in Victoria, interviewing locals as well as friars who live with McCarrick.

She said McCarrick spoke with her briefly before lunch at the friary. He told her he doesn't leave the friary, even to enter the adjoining Basilica of St. Fidelis; a condition of his residence is that he remain on the grounds of the friary. He indicated that he spends much of his time in the chapel and the library.

McCarrick discussed in particular the accusations by James Grein that he had solicited him during confession: “The thing about the confession, it’s a horrible thing. I was a priest for 60 years, and I would never have done anything like that … That was horrible, to take the holy sacrament and to make it a sinful thing.”

The former cleric told Graham that he thinks men who said he abused them while they were seminarians during weekend trips to his New Jersey beach house “were encouraged” to develop similar stories, attributing this encouragement to unnamed “enemies.”

“There were many who were in that situation who never had any problems like that,” he said.

McCarrick also addressed the claims of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, emeritus apostolic nuncio to the US, who said McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct had been known to some Vatican officials for years, eventually leading to a restriction on the archbishop’s ministry by Benedict XVI and a subsequent restoration of McCarrick’s place as a papal advisor by Pope Francis.

The now-layman said Viganò “was talking as a representative of the far right, I think,” adding, “I don’t want to say he’s a liar, but I think some of the bishops have said that he was not telling the truth.”

Father Christopher Popravak, the former provincial of the Capuchin's St. Conrad province, told Graham that McCarrick will likely remain at St. Fidelis Friary, saying: “It’s become impossible for him to move because no one will have him.”

According to Graham, McCarrick had hoped to return to the east coast, but told her, “I don’t know how many years are in my calendar. One tries one’s best to accept where one is.”

The former cardinal said he receives little mail, and “the vast majority of the mail I get is looking for some help. I don’t have a lot of money, but I try to be helpful. It’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Once he was dismissed from the clerical state, McCarrick's room and board of about $500 a month were no longer paid for by the Archdiocese of Washington, and he offered to pay out of pocket.

According to Graham, Fr. John Schmeidler, pastor of the Basilica of St. Fidelis, declined McCarrick's offer.

Fr. Popravak said: “I know that itself could be construed as problematic, like the church is continuing to cover for him or harbor him. But we’re not attempting to profit from this. This is simply an attempt for us to show mercy.”

Graham wrote that McCarrick participates in the friary's daily routine, including Mass, breakfast, and evening prayers, as well as weekly confession.

Judge dismisses wrongful death suit filed on behalf of aborted baby

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 2:28pm

Montgomery, Ala., Sep 3, 2019 / 12:28 pm (CNA).- A judge in Alabama has dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the father of a six-week old aborted baby.

Court documents allege that a then-16-year-old Alabama woman obtained a medication abortion in February 2017, despite the protestations of her boyfriend, Ryan Magers who said he was the father of the child.

Magers subsequently sued the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville, saying that he had wanted to keep the child.

Alabama voters approved changes to the state constitution – Amendment 2 – in November 2018 to establish a right to life of unborn children, known as a “personhood clause.” The measure passed with 60 percent support from the public. The state also has statutes defining “personhood” as beginning at conception, as well as several opinions from the Alabama Supreme Court doing the same.

In an Aug. 30 ruling, however, Madison County Circuit Judge Chris Comer said none of these measures are legally applicable, due to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that established a “right to abortion” nationwide, as well as federal and state laws on abortion that are currently in effect.

Magers’ attorney had created an estate for the unborn baby, arguing that doing so granted personhood to the baby, identified in court documents as Baby Roe.

But Judge Comer disagreed, saying the estate creation process was “ministerial in nature.”

Brent Helms, Magers’ attorney, told CNA in March that the case is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, and hopes to establish a new precedent in what is legally “uncharted territory.”

The lawsuit names as wrongdoers the manufacturer of the pill that terminated the unborn baby's life, the abortion clinic, the doctor, the nurses, and all those who participated in the abortion.

If those entities are found liable for the wrongful death of Baby Roe, Helms said in March, then what was once a profit-making industry will now be subject to liability.

“And the question for them will be, ‘are we more subject to liability than we are to profitability?’ If a drug manufacturer determines that they're going to be held liable for an abortion in the state of Alabama, I doubt they're going to send any kind of pills to Alabama for an abortion,” he said.

“So I would think [their] conclusion would likely be that liability outweighs profitability, and therefore abortion is eliminated in the state of Alabama. It's just a simple business decision.”

Helms told local WHNT News 19 this week that they plan to appeal Judge Comer’s decision, saying, “As this is the first case of its kind, we expected to have to appeal to a higher court. At this point, we are exactly where we thought we’d be.”

Why organized labor is (still) a Catholic cause

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 5:49pm

Washington D.C., Sep 2, 2019 / 03:49 pm (CNA).- At a time when labor unions are weak, Catholics still have a place in the labor movement, said a priest who emphasized the Church’s historic efforts to teach the rights of labor and train workers to organize.

“On the local and state level, Catholics are a major part of the labor movement. They took to heart our Catholic social teaching, and tried to implement it in their workplace,” Father Sinclair Oubre, the spiritual moderator of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.

However, he said, there is sometimes a disconnect between Catholics and support for organized labor.

“Like in so many areas of our faith, the heresy of radical individualism, a lack of knowledge about why unions were formed, and a general ignorance of what options workers have, have led to many Catholics to either not realize that the Church has favored workers’ associations, or that the Church even has a teaching that has to do with the workplace.”

Union membership peaked at 28 percent of the American workforce in 1954. According to 2017 figures, about 34 percent of public sector employees are unionized, but under 7 percent of private-sector employees are, CBS Moneywatch reports.

Unions continue to enjoy strong approval in the U.S., with 62 percent of respondents telling a recent Gallup survey they support organized labor.

But union support among some Catholics has waned, in part due to labor unions’ political support for legal abortion and pro-abortion rights political candidates, among other issues.

For Fr. Oubre, this shows the need for more faithful Catholics to join a union, not withdraw.

“The fact that many of the cultural war issues have been embraced by labor unions is a concern to me,” he said. “However, the Church and Labor have been here before.”

“From the 1930s to the 1950s, there was a real effort by communists to take over the U.S. unions, and in some cases, they were successful. Instead of saying, ‘Catholics can’t join unions because they are communists,’ which was not accurate because many were not, the Church instead set up labor schools by the hundreds in parish basements.”

“The Church taught workers their rights under the law and Robert’s Rules of Order. It encouraged Catholic workers to run for union office, and bring their Catholic social teachings to bear,” the priest said. “This was very successful, and led to the purging of many communists from the union ranks.”

Catholics have historically played a major role in the U.S. labor movement, as evidenced by several prominent Catholics who have headed the AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the U.S.

Oubre said unions are a place for Christian evangelization and contribution.

“We cannot write off whole groups of people because part of their agenda is not in line with Catholic teaching,” he said. “Rather, we are called to engage these groups, be active in the organizations, and like in the past, direct these organizations in ways that respect God’s truth.”

The record of Catholic social teaching also backs labor and the right of workers to organize, Oubre said.

In the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII recognized that economic changes introduced new relationships between those who had wealth and those who did not.

“As cities grew, and manufacturing and industry developed, the relationship of responsibility that has existed in the past between the landowner and the peasant no longer existed,” Oubre explained.

“Pope Leo XIII recognized the natural right of people to associate with each other, whether these were religious associations or work guilds, he endorsed the importance of collective bargaining to promote the common good, and recognized the unequal contractual relationship between the worker and the employer.”

The labor market meant that workers were negotiating not only with an employer, but competing against all the other workers seeking the same job. Leo XIII said these pressures to accept employment at ever-lowering wages could lead workers “to agree to employment terms that did not supply the basic needs for a dignified family life.”

The labor-focused traditions of Catholic social teaching have continued especially through the work of Popes Pius XI, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

The Second Vatican Council’s apostolic constitution Gaudium et Spes names the right to found unions for working people as “among the basic rights of the human person.” These unions “should be able truly to represent them and to contribute to the organizing of economic life in the right way.” These rights include the freedom to take part in union activity “without risk of reprisal.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All” also addresses the place of labor in Catholic thought and action.

In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME struck down a 1997 Illinois law that required non-union public employees to pay fees to public sector unions for collective bargaining.

A U.S. bishops’ conference spokesperson said the decision threatened to mandate a “Right-to-Work” environment in government employment in a way that undermines the ability of workers to organize.

Oubre said Catholic union backers object to such a legal principle “because it works against the principle of solidarity and the right of association.”

“‘Right to Work’ laws have their primary intention of weakening the organizing power of unions, and allow people to receive the benefit the union, without taking on the responsibility of being part of the union,” he said.

In Oubre’s view, a union-friendly legal environment is critical.

“One can pass laws that promote workers ability to organize together, or to discourage it,” he said.

He noted the proposals for a “card check” unionization effort, in which an employer must recognize a union if a majority of workers express a desire for a union using signed cards.

Obure said this effort now faces legal obstacles and simply “begins a long process where union avoidance experts are brought in, one-on-one meetings take place with workers, sometimes the leaders are fired, and every effort is made to dishearten the workers.”

“When the election comes around, the will of the workers has been crushed,” he said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issues annual Labor Day statements which continue “the long tradition of support for workers’ right to organize and join unions,” Oubre said.

In 2018, the statement stressed the importance of just wages for workers, especially for those who have difficulty securing basic needs. It also discussed problems of income inequality between the wealthy and the poor, as well as between ethnic groups and between the sexes.

“This Labor Day, let us all commit ourselves to personal conversion of heart and mind and stand in solidarity with workers by advocating for just wages, and in so doing, ‘bring glad tidings to the poor’,” the bishops’ message concluded.

 

This article was originally run on CNA Sept. 3, 2018.

What does a just economy look like? One bishop reflects

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 5:43am

Washington D.C., Sep 2, 2019 / 03:43 am (CNA).- The head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development called on Catholics to reflect this Labor Day on Catholic Social Teaching and its implications for building a more just economy.

In the Christian view, “workers and owners both have rights and duties towards each other; a business enterprise must view itself as a ‘society of persons’ rather than a mere commercial instrument,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice in a statement dated Sept. 2.

The bishop called for an economy that values the human person and the dignity of work over the profit and capital. He emphasized that Catholic social teaching does not hold a “just wage” to be merely synonymous with a free market wage.

“Today’s economy, if measured by the stock market, has the most money and wealth it has ever had, and unemployment is around the lowest it has been in fifty years,” he said.

“And yet, roughly four in ten Americans cannot afford an unexpected $400 bill, and would fall below the poverty line after three months without income. More than one in five jobs in the United States is in a low-wage occupation where the median wage pays below the poverty threshold for a family of four. Real wages have been largely stagnant for decades, and workers’ share of the fruits of the economy has been declining for decades.”

Dewane reflected in his Labor Day message on the “Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction,” released 100 years ago by the body of U.S. bishops that preceded the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Many of the considerations in the Bishops’ Program, raised shortly after World War I, are still valid today, the bishop said.

The Bishops’ Program of 1919 voiced serious concern about monopolies, highlighting the principle of solidarity and stressing the state’s authority to step in when monopolies interfere with healthy development.

“New research suggests that anticompetitive behavior from employers has resulted in lower wages in many labor markets, particularly for lower wage workers,” Dewane said.

“In theory, low unemployment should raise wages, but recent research suggests that this may be offset by the increasing concentration of employers—in other words, fewer numbers of employers are employing larger shares of the labor force, giving employers greater power to keep wages down.”

Countering these trends will require a cooperative effort, the bishop said. State and federal government should act to prevent anticompetitive behavior that leads to lower wages, and unions should track and report such behavior. Business leaders consider workers when making merger decisions.

As an alternative to monopolies, Dewane pointed to employee ownership as a positive model, in which workers can access the fruits of the companies they work for and participate in management.

“Recent research has shown the great benefits of employee ownership to workers, including higher wages than otherwise comparable firms, more stable employment, more job training opportunities, opportunities to participate more in firm decision-making, better benefits, and much more wealth over the course of one’s career (this holds true for low- and moderate-income workers as well),” he said.

“The advantages of worker ownership are especially pronounced for young people, women, and people of color.”

Models of employee ownership include Employee Stock Ownership Plans and cooperative enterprises, the bishop said, pointed to the latter as being “expressly favored in the Church’s teaching.”

Lawmakers should consider tax incentives to encourage greater levels of worker ownership, Dewane said, and business owners should consider this model for the good of their employees. Consumers can also support companies that use employee ownership models, and they can support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which helps workers achieve employee ownership.

The bishop also praised unions as a means for workers “to negotiate for just wages, benefits, and working conditions, and to look after the rights of vulnerable workers, including those with injuries and disabilities.” He noted the vocal support of unions by Pope Leo XIII and his successors.

Ultimately, Dewane said, “no merely technocratic policy changes will bear the fruit that is so desperately needed today.”

He called on Catholics to turn to “the treasury of the Church’s social teaching” to consider new ways to promote justice for workers.

How a Kansas humanities program shaped a generation of Catholic leaders 

Sun, 09/01/2019 - 2:23pm

Denver, Colo., Sep 1, 2019 / 12:23 pm (CNA).- Almost 50 years ago, the University of Kansas established a new humanities curriculum. It lasted only about ten years. But those ten years inspired conversions, priestly vocations, and so many Catholic initiatives that the program is still leaving its mark on the life of the Catholic Church.

On Saturday, a memorial dedicated to the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program (IHP) was unveiled at KU’s Catholic student center, gathering alumni like Bishop James Conley of Lincoln and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City.

“The professors saw that the modern students who came to the university might be very bright academically, but their memories and imaginations were so affected by the modern world. They were sort of bankrupt when it came to the imagination,” said Conley, who attributes his conversion to Catholicism to the experiences and friendships that came out of the program.

“They began by appealing to the heart and to the imagination, and the students just responded,” he added.

“They were able to introduce these great ideas that colored and flavored the imagination, and students fell in love with learning and fell in love with wanting to know more of truth, goodness, and beauty,” Conley told CNA.

The project was led by three Catholic professors: John Senior, Dennis Quinn, and Frank Nelick. While each brought something to the table, the most famous is Senior, a professor of classics who wrote a number of well-known books, including “The Death of Christian Culture.”

Senior was born in New York in 1923. As a child, he wanted to be a cowboy. When he was13, he ran away from home to become a ranch hand. He worked in the Dakotas and in Wyoming, and he was shaped by his life on the plains - sitting around campfires, singing songs, and gazing at the stars.

When he attended Columbia University, he came under the influence of Mark Van Doren, a poet and an English teacher. Searching for meaning, Senior explored religions and philosophies, among them communism and eastern spirituality. He eventually discovered the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Henry Newman.

Senior became Catholic in 1960.

Later that decade, he left a job at a college in Wyoming and began teaching at the University of Kansas.

Patrick Callahan, a classicist and the coordinator of a leadership and ethics program at Emporia State University, told CNA that Senior was known for his deep affection for poetry, sometimes even reciting bits of poems at random, and for his profound introspection.

Callahan also said the teacher had meaningful personal relationships with his students.

“He would work personally with students to help them get internships and apprenticeships in the manual arts as well. That is one way he would look for the dignity of the worker in all tasks, not just the intellectual life,” said Callahan, who ran a similar program on KU’s campus ministry during the 2010s.

The Integrated Humanities Program officially began in 1970, though a trial program began the year before. There were 20 students in the first year, and, by the second year, the program had 140 students.

The students of the IHP were given an education through classical literature, poetry, stargazing, and even waltzing lessons. Callahan said class lectures were complemented by experience, poetry memorization, and an effort to inspire within students an attitude of wonder.

He said Senior advocated for “poetic learning.”

“The idea of a way in which we can come to know the world in a poetic way through the imagination,” Callahan explained.

Kyle Washut, academic dean at Wyoming Catholic College, lamented a trend toward increasingly abstract specialization in academic research and teaching. He likened the situation to a professional astronomer who is unable to identify a single constellation in the sky.

Washut said Senior pushed for tangible experiences, adding context and texture to learning.

“The love of ‘the real’ is also really important for John Senior. There is a sort of moral formation from being rooted in the land, rooted in this real direct experience, either through that raw encounter with nature or through a vicarious, poetic experience,” he said.

“[A person] has to go out and experience that world, look at that world, know that world as [their] own and then … engage with more careful reflection on that world,” Washut added.

The IHP was a two-year program for students. Its inclusion of classic literature and poetry fulfilled several core curriculum requirements at the University of Kansas, making it attractive even to students who might not otherwise seek out such a program.

Students read epics of Homer and Virgil, the philosophy of Plato, Greek and Roman historians, and the Bible. They also read St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer, Don Quixote, and Shakespeare.

Twice weekly, students would listen to the three professors discuss the texts together. As part of their weekly class, students would also engage in discussions, and conduct poetry recitations. Students took an immersive Latin class, which was based on rhetoric, rather than a more systematic approach to the language.

IHP was also renowned for its extracurricular activities, and seemingly unconventional methods of education. Students were encouraged to attend stargazing sessions, ballroom dances, and medieval banquets. Before every lecture, an upperclassman would teach the students a song, usually an English ballad or American folk melody.

The program has inspired similar initiatives, including Wyoming Catholic College. In 2005, the college was founded by Bob Carlson, who was a graduate assistant for IHP and an undergraduate student for Senior when he taught in Wyoming. Washut said Carlson was inspired by Senior and sought to create a similar experience.

“That humanities course, like it was at Pearson, it was not any one discipline, but it was a combination of literature, history, and even some philosophy text, and occasionally some theology texts, but all read with the goal of encountering them and engaging them in much the way that students would have engaged them at the IHP,” he said.

“[It is] a raw encounter with the natural realities as a necessary foundation for further studies. So we have a field science, we have a backpacking trip, we have a horse riding class,” he said.

IHP inspired conversions and religious vocations. The founding monks of the Benedictine Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma were students of the humanities program. After they graduated from KU, many students traveled abroad and discovered the Abbey of Our Lady of Fontgombault in France. Some of the travelers became monks in the order, and, in 1999, they returned home to establish a monastery in Oklahoma.

Coakley and Conley, who were roommates at KU, were spiritually inspired by the program.

Both bishops told CNA that they grew up with little interest in Christianity. Coakley was raised Catholic, but he said it was not until he entered the program that he appreciated his faith. Conley grew up going to Presbyterian church, but he said the program, especially the readings of Augustine and Newman, inspired him to convert to Catholicism during his junior year.

They described themselves as “70s kids,” who wore long hair and listened to rock music.  But they said that because of the IHP, they were captivated their freshman year by a world of beauty - full of literature, poems, music, and nature. It was the world of the IHP.

“It was an incredibly effective program, in terms of awakening a sense of wonder in students and a love for learning. In fact, the motto of the program was ‘Nascantur in admiratione’: ‘Let them be born in wonder,’” Coakley told CNA.

“The overarching theme was to immerse the students into the good, the true, and the beautiful, so that we might ask the big questions: ‘What is life all about?’ ‘What is death?’ ‘What is eternity?’ ‘What is evil?’ ‘What is good?” Conley reflected.

“We students began to look deeper into those perennial questions. And for many, like myself, it led us to our faith and to the Catholic Church,” he further added.

When asked about their favorite aspects of the program, both bishops said they enjoyed the literature, the poetry, and the adventures, but they especially appreciated the joy of a community unified by its pursuit of truth.

“This community was formed based on really deep study of those perennial truths as they were taught through literature, art, music, [and] architecture,” said Conley. 

“I was with others who were on the same journey searching for the truth. That combined experience really changed my life.”

On Sept. 1, the memorial ceremony was held at the St. Lawrence Catholic Center, adjacent to the University of Kansas. A barbecue was held the day before.

Mass was offered by Archbishop Coakley, and concelebrated by Bishop Conley and some of the Clear Creek monks. After Mass, participants processed to the memorial, which was completed last November..

Sculpted from Indiana limestone, the memorial commemorates the founders, and depicts a scene from “Don Quixote,” - the famous battle with a windmill.

 

 

Maine teens hike 70 miles in pilgrimage of prayer to end addiction and depression

Sun, 09/01/2019 - 9:00am

Portland, Maine, Sep 1, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- For the second year in a row, 11 Maine teens embarked on a 70-mile pilgrimage to pray for their communities and to raise awareness of issues that have impacted their lives: teen addiction, depression, and suicide.

The pilgrimage began Aug. 21 at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Augusta, Maine, and ended four days later at St. John’s Catholic Church in the city of Bangor. At night, the pilgrims camped out on the lawns at the homes of people they knew along the way. 

Patrick Carter, 18, who has walked the pilgrimage both years and was one of the people who helped create the event, told CNA that the two churches were chosen because they were centrally located, and because they are “just absolutely beautiful.” He said it was important that their pilgrimage begin and end at a church, and that it just so happened that these churches were 70 miles apart.

Each day on the road, the pilgrims would pray “about three rosaries a day,” as well as the Divine Office and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Every time they encountered a cemetery, the group would stop and pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and a Glory Be for all of the souls who were buried there, especially for those in purgatory. 

“It was something that we decided very early on to do because of this relating to what we’re doing,” said Carter. He also solicited prayer intentions on Facebook so he could “take the needs of the community and put them into our prayers.”

Over the four days, the pilgrims walked with a purple flag, emblazoned with a turquoise ring surrounding a scallop shell. Carter said that flag was designed to reflect their prayer intentions, purple and turquoise are colors symbolizing addiction, and the scallop shell is a traditional symbol of Christian pilgrimage linked to the tradition of St. James. 

The teens said that the chose to focus their prayer on the issues of addiction and suicide as they have been directly impacted by these topics. While other walking pilgrimages often focus on ending abortion, Carter said he and his friends felt, as teens, that they should chose issues which reflected the particular struggles of young men their own age in their communities. 

Maine has a higher suicide rate than the national average, and has an opioid overdose death rate that is more than double the national average. 

“We were definitely looking for something that has personally affected us, but is also a major issue in the community that everybody agrees is a major issue,” said Carter. “We thought about it for a while, and then (the topics of) teen addiction, depression, and those considering suicide and the souls of those who have committed suicide really came to mind.” 

After a positive community response the first year, the group decided to keep the focus on addiction, suicide, and depression. 

Although not formally affiliated with the Diocese of Portland, the state’s only Catholic diocese, the group came to know each other and conceive the idea for the pilgrimage through a discernment group administered by the diocese’s vocations director. 

“Fr. Seamus [Griesbach], the vocations director, was kind of pushing us to do something to really help the community,” Carter told CNA. “We thought a pilgrimage was a really good idea, so then we got a core team together and just started planning.” 

They were also given a blessing before embarking on the journey, and a priest celebrated Mass for the group along the way. 

In the future, Carter said he would like to expand the pilgrimage, and that they will definitely be doing it again. But for now, he plans on keeping the group small--for logistical reasons. 

Part of the issue with affiliating with the diocese, Carter explained, is that the participants are all in their teens, and thus would require adult chaperones in accordance with the Diocese’s child safety policies. 

“We’re waiting until some of us get a little bit older, so that we could chaperone ourselves, and then we’ll grow the pilgrimage to be statewide,” he said.

“We definitely are going to be doing it again next year.”

After latest in 'epidemic' of mass shootings, bishops again call for prayer and action

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 11:35pm

Odessa, Texas, Aug 31, 2019 / 09:35 pm (CNA).- Several U.S. bishops offered prayers Saturday evening after a gunman killed at least 5 people and injured more than 20 in a Texas shooting spree that included the hijacking of a mail truck and the shooting of several police officers.

“May the Spirit of Peace envelop those families mourning the loss of their loved ones and those directly injured by such cruel acts of violence,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, wrote in a statement Saturday.

“Our prayers are with everyone directly impacted by this senseless and horrific act in the Midland/Odessa area. Let us pray for everyone’s safety, especially first responders and those whose heroic actions have saved lives already,” Seitz added.

The Aug. 31 shooting, which took place in Midland and Odessa, Texas, was at least the 18th deadly mass shooting to take place in the U.S. in 2019.

This shooting began when an unidentified man was stopped by police for a traffic violation, and shot at officers as they approached him. After the shooter fled from that scene, he shot at pedestrians and people in cars. Among those shot was reportedly a 17-month-old girl. The shooter, who hijacked a mail truck during his shooting spree, was eventually shot and killed by police outside a movie theater.

Details are still emerging.

51 people have been killed in the U.S. by mass shootings this month, according to the NY Times, including the five killed Aug. 31. Twenty-seven of them were killed in Texas.

While the Saturday shooting spree was still ongoing, Bishop Robert Coerver of Lubbock, Texas, tweeted to request prayer “for our neighbors in the San Angelo Diocese in the midst of an ongoing active shooter situation in the Midland/Odessa region.

Seitz, whose own diocese of El Paso suffered a mass shooting Aug. 3 in which 22 people were killed, offered in his Aug. 31 statement a petition that the Holy Spirit would “illumine our hearts and minds to reverence and respect God’s extraordinary gift of life.”

Other U.S. bishops took to Twitter Saturday to express dismay or call for prayer after the Texas shooting spree. Among them were Beaumont’s Bishop Curtis Guillory and Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory

After a spate of at least 3 deadly mass shootings within one week of each other in late July and early August, the U.S bishops’ conference called for the passage of “responsible gun laws and increased resources for addressing the root causes of violence.” The bishops’ conference has repeatedly made such calls in the aftermath of mass shootings.

In their Aug. 4 statement the U.S. bishops urged President Donald Trump and members of Congress to “set aside political interests and find ways to better protect innocent life.”

That statement also called Catholics to “increased prayer and sacrifice for healing and the end of these shootings,”

“We encourage Catholics to pray and raise their voices for needed changes to our national policy and national culture as well,” the bishops said.

The bishops called mass shootings “an epidemic against life that we must, in justice, face.”

This story is developing and will be updated.

'Lives have been turned upside down': Priest sets up crisis center for families after ICE raids

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 5:57pm

Canton, Mississippi, Aug 31, 2019 / 03:57 pm (CNA).- Fr. Mike O’Brien doesn’t speak Spanish, though he still speaks English with the Irish brogue of his homeland.

However, that didn’t stop the priest from stepping up to the plate to help his parish after hundreds of people in the surrounding area, including many of his Latino parishioners, were arrested during U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) raids at seven local food processing plants in early August.

“It was a big shock for us. We weren't prepared, so it's hard,” O’Brien told CNA. “We're just winging it.”

Federal authorities told Fox News that investigations would be made into the food processing plants where the raids took place as well, to determine whether the owners knowingly hired undocumented workers.

O’Brien said he estimates that about 80% of the Latino families at his parish alone were affected by the raids, with one or more family members detained.

With help from outside agencies and lawyers in the days following the raids, O’Brien and his small, part-time volunteer staff at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton, Mississippi set up a crisis management center, where they are now helping 85 affected families.

“We're not just trying to serve Catholic families, but everybody who was affected by the raid,” he said. “Of course they lost jobs, they lost income...they're trying to pay their rent for their for homes and utility bills and all that kind of thing.”

Besides financial assistance, affected families need help with meals, legal assistance, psychological counseling, childcare and other services. They need to keep their phone bills paid, so that they can be contacted by the lawyers working on their cases.

O’Brien said he has been amazed by the “tremendous work” done by lawyers and counselors who came from throughout the country to offer their help. One group of lawyers from Colorado shut down their main office for a week and set up shop at the parish in Mississippi, O’Brien said, offering pro bono legal counsel to anyone who needed it.

He is also proud of the generosity of the rest of his parishioners, he said, noting that his parish is made up of a diverse group of Latino and non-Latino people.

“They’ve been very supportive, I must say. I'm very pleased with that. I'm very happy with that,” Father said.

Immediately after the raids, parishioners set up a fun event for the affected children after the Spanish Mass the following Sunday to try to lift their spirits, O’Brien said. They have also provided families with meals and childcare while the adults meet with lawyers in the evenings.

O’Brien said the parish center has also been helped by Catholic Charities and by other Christian churches in the area. Other Catholic parishes in the region of the raids have set up similar crisis management centers, he added.

Father said from the outset, he wanted his parish to put politics aside and help out the families affected by the raids.

“I didn't give them (the parishioners) too much of a choice, you know, either,” O’Brien said with a bit of a laugh. “I let the people know in no uncertain terms...these are my parishioners, and my parishioners are in trouble. Many of them are in jail, and this is a major crisis.”

O’Brien said he’s been calling it the parish’s own Hurricane Katrina. In August 2005, Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana and Florida, sending people whose homes had been damaged or destroyed flooding into Mississippi.

“The whole state was traumatized by that,” O’Brien said, “and this, that's how I'm feeling. We're right in the middle of Katrina, you know, people’s lives have been turned upside down and they're in great distress and greatly struggling to respond.”

Right now, O’Brien said, he and the crisis management team and lawyers are working to get the detained workers out on bail before their immigration hearings, so that they can be with their families in the meantime.

The priest said it was “shocking” to talk with another crisis management group in Iowa that helped about 35 families after a similar ICE raid. The group told O’Brien that it took more than $350,000 and more than a year to finish the work of helping families recover.

“So that's kind of shocking,” O’Brien said. “I thought if we got $20,000 or $50,000 we'd be in great shape.”

He added that he’s “purposely” stayed away from any political talk about the raids, and has focused on helping the families and parishioners in his care.

“What I need right now is not to talk about any political party,” he said. “I'm trying to keep my parish united.”

“And you know, there are two sides to the argument, and neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have solved it. Nobody's been able to solve it. Everybody is talking around it and sometimes it’s made into political football, and they play to their base and nothing gets done, except talk.”

But despite the difficulties, O’Brien said he believes he will look back on this time in five or ten years as one of the “highlights of my life as a priest.”

“I must say, in fairness, it's been an awesome experience, spiritually for me,” he said.

“I've seen the Holy Spirit like I've never seen the Holy Spirit, you know? Just things falling into place, events happening. I found myself making very fast decisions with very little thought...but that’s because I had to do it. That's just it. You have to jump in,” he said.

“I've seen the hand of God all over the place,” he said, including in the Gospel reading the Sunday after the raids.

“In the Scriptures the Sunday after it happened, oh my gosh. It was very powerful - Abraham leaving his home place, called by God to go out into the desert and to go to a new land and living in tents and depending on God and trusting in God.”

“And God could take care of them,” he said. “So the word of God came to life big time.”

 

Look to Newman for an education in friendship, Catholic students told

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 10:00am

Washington D.C., Aug 31, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Friendship is a central part of how character and thought are formed, students at the Catholic University of America were told at the opening of the academic year.

Addressing students and faculty at the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit, held Thursday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University president John Garvey invoked Cardinal John Henry Newman, saying that relationships are an essential part of the educational process.

“A good education is more than books, lectures, papers, and tests. This Newman knew well. A good education gets us outside ourselves. It counteracts the tendency to stick with settled ways of thinking,” Garvey said.

“Our relations with other people do something like this. Like education, friendship broadens our perspective. Friends help us see things through other eyes. In this way they enhance our self-awareness and expand our understanding of the world.”

Cardinal Newman, who will be canonized by Pope Francis on October 13, was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Originally an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism in 1845 and his works are considered among the most important contributions to the thought of the Church in recent centuries.

He also founded the Catholic University of Ireland, later reformed as Trinity College Dublin. His series of lectures at that school’s founding were later published under the title The Idea of a University.

Citing Newman’s sermon On Love of Relations and Friends, Garvey said the cardinal saw that “friendship is a kind of training for the practice of universal charity. Friendship challenges us to put others before ourselves in the real circumstances of the everyday.”

"The best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us," he quoted Newman as saying.

The Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC, is the national Catholic university, founded by the bishops of the United States after the second and third Baltimore Councils. The Mass of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the academic year and was presided over by Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who, as Archbishop of Washington, serves as the university’s chancellor.

Garvey told the assembly that “what education does for our intellectual powers, friendship does for our affective capacities. It expands the scope of our feelings and concern for others.”

“The real love of man must depend on practice, and therefore, must begin by exercising itself on our friends around us,” Newman wrote.

“By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences, and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth."

Ordained a Catholic priest in 1847, Newman was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. His conversion was a result of years of friendship and study in with other Christian thinkers as part of the Oxford Movement. When he announced he was becoming Catholic, the news was controversial in England, and resulted in him losing many friends, including his own sister -who never spoke to him again.

Garvey said this experience formed Newman in friendship and offered a Christian example to follow. “Newman didn’t retaliate. Late in life he was able to restore some of those lapsed friendships,” he said.

“What was true for him is true for all of us. The friends we make in life influence -- to a great extent they determine -- the paths we take in life and the people we become.”

“Newman’s motto on his coat of arms was Cor ad cor loquitur [heart speaks to heart]. It’s a phrase he took from St. Francis de Sales, and it refers to prayer. The heart of man speaks to the heart of God. But I think it also refers to the bond between friends when they open their hearts to one another.”

A good education, Garvey said, opens us up to new ideas and teaches us how to think and choose well as we navigate the world. 

“Friendship helps us get beyond our natural circle of self-interest, so we can live and do well for one another. Friends also help form us, and it’s important to surround ourselves with good ones.” 

This, Garvey said, is the hope for students at the beginning of the academic year, that they find both a good education and good friends.

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