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Catholic leaders call for better treatment of Haitians, other migrants at border

Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington (left) and Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, USA (right) / Catholic News Agency (left) and CCUSA (right)

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 16:02 pm (CNA).

Catholic leaders on Wednesday called for better treatment of Haitians and other migrants crowded under a bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We call on the U.S. government to reassess its treatment of migrants in Del Rio and elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border, especially Haitians, who face life-threatening conditions if returned to Haiti and possible discrimination if expelled to third countries,” stated Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, and Sister Donna Markham, OP, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.

They said they were “saddened to see such a disregard for human dignity” on the border.

Thousands of migrants have crowded under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas in recent days, at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the migrants are from Haiti and reached the border through Mexico and Central American countries. Some told reporters they left Haiti years ago and moved north to the United States, citing diminished employment opportunities where they were.

The Biden administration, in response, has said it is bringing more federal personnel to the border, is continuing to expel asylum-seekers under Title 42 authority, and is placing other migrants in immigration removal proceedings. Under Title 42, the administration can expel certain individual asylum-seekers due to health concerns from the ongoing pandemic.

“We have reiterated that our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey,” stated Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, at a Sept. 20 press conference in Del Rio. 

“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned.  Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family's lives,” he said. Mayorkas added that DHS is providing water, towels, portable toilets, and emergency medical technicians to deal with the surge in migrants.

According to some federal officials, many Haitian migrants are being released into the United States and are not being turned away or deported at the border – although they still have notices to appear at an immigration office in 60 days, the Associated Press reported.

In response, the USCCB on Wednesday said that the increase in federal personnel and closure of the border, as well as deportation flights for the migrants in Del Rio, were unacceptable. The conference said that Haiti has been rocked by a presidential assassination, an earthquake, and a tropical storm in recent months.

 “Policies such as Title 42 and expedited removal all too often deny the reality of forced migration, disregard the responsibilities enshrined in domestic and international law, and undermine the vulnerability of those against whom they are applied,” Dorsonville and Markham stated. “These are not hallmarks of a ‘fair, orderly, and humane’ immigration system.”

“After all, it is in the face of each migrant that we see the face of Christ,” they said.

Haiti has been granted Temporary Protected Status, a designation allowing migrants to stay in the United States for 18 months if conditions in their home countries are too dangerous to return. However, the status only applies for Haitian migrants who have resided in the United States since July 29.

Photos and videos circulated on social media this week of federal agents on horseback whipping some of the migrants with horse reins.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday cited the “horrific video” showing Border Patrol agents using “brutal and inappropriate measures against innocent people.” The agents involved had been placed on administrative leave, she said.

Psaki referred reporters to the Department of Homeland Security for updated numbers on migrants who had been deported, processed, or allowed to stay in the United States.

Psaki on Wednesday explained that expulsions continue under Title 42, and that others who cannot be expelled under the policy but have no legal basis to remain are placed in removal proceedings.

Former USCCB president Bishop Pilla dies at 88

The late Bishop Emeritus Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland. / Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Cleveland/Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

Bishop Anthony Pilla, who led the Diocese of Cleveland for 25 years and served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, died Tuesday, Sept. 21. He was 88. 

“It is with deep sadness that I share with the Catholic community of the Diocese of Cleveland the news of the passing this morning of Bishop Anthony M. Pilla,” said Bishop Edward Malesic of Cleveland on Tuesday. “Bishop Pilla died peacefully at his personal residence.” 

Malesic described his predecessor as a “very warm, kind-hearted and deeply faithful shepherd” who was “generous with his time and sharing his knowledge and concern for the diocese with me.” 

Pilla, said Malesic, was dedicated to the people he served in Cleveland, and served as an inspiration to him throughout his priesthood and episcopate. “As a leader in the community and a friend to so many, he will be greatly missed,” Malesic said. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), echoed Malesic’s sentiment in a Wednesday statement on Pilla’s death.

“[Pilla] led the bishops’ conference in the 1990s as president, and those who worked with him have expressed that his deep love for the Church was evident through his faithful commitment and desire for unity within the Church which he expressed through his pastoral leadership of the Conference,” said Gomez. He offered prayers for Pilla’s family and friends. 

“May the Lord grant him eternal rest,” said Gomez.

A native of Cleveland, Pilla was born on Nov. 12, 1932, and discerned a vocation to the priesthood while in high school.  He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland at the age of 26 on May 23, 1959.

Almost exactly 20 years later, on June 30, 1979, Pilla was named as an auxiliary bishop of Cleveland by Pope John Paul II. He was consecrated as a bishop on Aug. 1, 1979, and, after just under a year, was named the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Cleveland after Bishop James Hickey was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Washington. 

Pilla was officially named the bishop of Cleveland on November 13, 1980, becoming the first native of the city to lead the diocese. He was installed as the ninth bishop of Cleveland on Jan. 6, 1981. 

In November 1995, Pilla was elected president of the USCCB. At the time, he was just the second bishop to be elected president; typically, the role went to an archbishop. He served his three-year term until 1998. 

Throughout his time as bishop of Cleveland, Pilla was known for his desire to unite the Church, and for his deep love for the people of his hometown. He started a program called “Church in the City,” which aimed at partnering people who lived in the urban, suburban, and rural parts of the diocese to work together. 

Pilla retired from the episcopacy in 2006, at the age of 73, reportedly for health reasons. He spent the entirety of his episcopacy, and his priesthood, in the diocese of his birth. 

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced. 

Archbishop Cordileone calls abortion bill ‘child sacrifice,’ urges prayer and fasting

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Archbishop of San Francisco warned that an abortion bill to be voted on in Congress this week amounts to “child sacrifice.” He called on Catholics to pray and fast for the defeat of the bill. 

“This proposed legislation is nothing short of child sacrifice,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a Tuesday statement regarding the Women’s Health Protection Act (H.R. 3755). 

The bill, introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), recognizes the “statutory right” of women to have abortions. It also states the “right” of doctors, certified nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners and doctor’s assistants to perform abortions. It prohibits many limitations on abortion, such as state pro-life laws requiring ultrasounds or waiting periods before abortions.

“Any reasonable person with a basic sense of morality and inkling of decency cannot but shudder in horror at such a heinous evil being codified in law,” Cordileone said.

The bill overrides prohibitions on “pre-viability” abortions, and would also allow for late-term abortions without “meaningful” limits, the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned, calling it “the most radical abortion bill of all time.” The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House this week.

“This deceptively-named, extreme bill would impose abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy through federal statute,” wrote Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, in a Sept. 15 letter to members of Congress.

“It would force all Americans to support abortions here and abroad with their tax dollars,” he added, and “would also likely force health care providers and professionals to perform, assist in, and/or refer for abortion against their deeply-held beliefs, as well as force employers and insurers to cover or pay for abortion.”

Archbishop Cordileone on Tuesday said the bill “shows to what radical extremes the supposedly ‘Pro-Choice’ advocates in our country will go to protect what they hold most sacred: the right to kill innocent human beings in the womb.”

He expressed support for Archbishop Naumann’s warning about the bill, and advocated for members of Congress to instead pass legislation supporting both mothers and children.

Cordileone called it “especially shameful that any self-professed Catholic would be implicated in such an evil, let alone advocate for it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic who resides in the San Francisco archdiocese, announced the House vote on the bill earlier this month after a Texas pro-life law went into effect restricting most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. She vowed to “enshrine into law reproductive health care for all women across America.” 

Cordileone pointed to Pope Francis’s recent statements calling abortion “murder,” during a press conference on a papal flight. 

“This principle is so clear, and to those who cannot understand, I would ask two questions: is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem?  Scientifically, it is a human life.  The second question: is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem?’” Pope Francis said. 

Archbishop Cordileone on Tuesday said that the Women’s Health Protection Act “is surely the type of legislation one would expect from a devout Satanist, not a devout Catholic.”

He concluded with a call for “all Catholics in our country immediately to pray and fast for members of Congress to do the right thing and keep this atrocity from being enacted in the law.”

“A child is not an object to be thrown away, and neither is a mother’s heart,” he said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the answer to a woman in a crisis pregnancy is not violence but love.  This is America.  We can do better.”

Catholic University president says he will step down next year

Dr. John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, discusses religious freedom at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16, 2013 / CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 09:05 am (CNA).

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., will be stepping down from his role as of June 30, 2022, the school announced today. 

Garvey revealed his decision in a Sept. 22 letter to the university community. He is the university’s third lay president, and has served in the role since 2010.

“The time has come to turn the responsibility over to those younger minds and stronger lives,” Garvey said. He noted that conversations with university board members about his decision began around six months ago.

Garvey said that he largely achieved the goals he set for his presidency, having entered the role “hoping I could contribute something to building up the institution.” 

“I did not foresee how much I would fall in love with it. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as President of this University,” he said. 

Garvey described his tenure leading the university as “a time of tremendous growth” that had “reinvigorated our Catholic intellectual life.” During his time as president, Catholic University established the Busch School of Business and the Conway School of Nursing. 

“We have greatly increased the wealth of the University by raising more than half a billion dollars and nearly doubling our total assets,” said Garvey in his letter. “And we have made much of this possible by changing our form of corporate governance to ensure episcopal oversight while entrusting the laity with leadership.” 

Prior to his time as president of the university, Garvey served as dean at Boston College Law School. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School. 

“Living on campus has allowed Jeanne and me to see students at Mass in the morning and in the President’s Office during the day,” said Garvey. “Students come to Nugent to borrow our sleds and walk our dog. We attend their concerts and games, work with them on service days, and march with them for life and other worthy causes. These are daily occurrences, and every day they give me just a little more pride in our University.”

Leading the school has been “an honor and a privilege,” he said, noting he was “grateful to the bishops, and to the board of trustees, for their support and collaboration in building a strong foundation for the University’s future.” 

The Catholic University of America is a pontifical university and is the only college or university in the United States to have been founded by the U.S. Catholic Bishops. The school was established in 1887. 

The university has already begun its search to replace Garvey, and the new president is expected to be hired by July 1, 2022.

Diocese, former orphanage residents in Vermont differ in views of recovery process

null / Manfred Antranias Zimmer via Pixabay (public domain)

Burlington, Vt., Sep 21, 2021 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

Some former residents of a long-closed Catholic orphanage in Vermont say they are dissatisfied with the local diocese’s response to their complaints of abuse, while the Diocese of Burlington maintains it has been transparent and helpful. 

St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington was founded in the mid-1800s. It was operated by the Sisters of Providence, and overseen by Vermont Catholic Charities. It closed in 1974.

The Vermont attorney general’s office launched an investigation into allegations of abuses at Catholic institutions after an August 2018 article in BuzzFeed News described allegations of murder and sexual abuse at the orphanage.

The investigation concluded in December 2020, and “sufficient evidence to support a murder charge was not found.”

Alleged abuses at St. Joseph's Orphanage were the subject of lawsuits brought by former residents in the 1990s. Some of the cases were dismissed, and some reached settlements.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington announced in September 2018 that the diocese was waiving nondisclosure agreements for abuse victims, and that the diocese had not required nondisclosure agreements on the part of victims since 2002.

"It is my hope that this past action as well as the present one will allow the truth of what happened to survivors and their families to be heard," Bishop Coyne wrote. "I pledge to you, as the bishop of Burlington, that I will do everything that I can to make sure this never happens again and to work for healing and reconciliation with those who were so badly abused by clergy."

A group of former St. Joseph’s residents, the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, is involved in efforts to find restitution.

“We want to be known as working for change and justice for children, and to never let anybody that's in a foster home group just be thrown in there and forgotten.” Brenda Hannon, a spokesperson for VSJO, told CNA Sept. 20.

Some of their initiatives include letter writing campaigns to the pope, creating an anthology of their experiences, working to build a memorial, and working to remove statutes of limitations. 

Hannon told CNA one of VSJO’s successes was the passage in May of a law repealing the statute of limitations for civil actions based on childhood physical abuse.

One of their requests has been for the diocese to pay for their therapy bills. 

They say their requests to the diocese have been dealt with unsatisfactorily.

The Burlington diocese said in a statement last week that Bishop Coyne, Vermont Catholic Charities, and diocesan representatives “have been meeting with former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage one-on-one as they have requested and will continue to do so.” 

“Each meeting is unique, each person’s story is unique, and the help we offer each former resident is specific to them,” they added. “If the person feels they would be helped through counseling, we will work with them as needed.”

Hannon told CNA that “most of us feel that he [Bishop Coyne] is offering this and the one-on-one stance so that he can control the meeting and the situation.”

She said the members harbor these concerns because Bishop Coyne is “refusing” to meet with the VSJO as a group, the meetings are not recorded, and there is “some type of a counselor person evaluating you as you’re talking.”

She also said that going to the diocese to meet with Bishop Coyne is a “hard trigger” for many of the members.

Hannon said that “if this person that sits in the meetings determines that this person needs counseling, it will be with [diocesan] counselors of their choosing and not with the members current counselor that they have been seeing and paying for years.”

She added that Bishop Coyne has affirmed that he would help members of the group, but said nothing has come to fruition.

Hannon also said that Catholic Charities of Vermont will not release orphanage records to the members. She said that members are only allowed to see their records, which contain redacted information, while they are sitting in a room with a staff member of Catholic Charities. 

The diocese told CNA Sept. 21 that “Bishop Coyne has offered one-on-one meetings to former residents which includes a support person of their choice.” 

“Bishop Coyne has offered to invite the Vermont Catholic Charities’ victim assistance coordinator to the meeting with consent, if the former resident has chosen not to bring a support person,” the statement says.

“An initial screening is completed by the victim assistance coordinator to verify basic information prior to moving forward with a therapy request,” the diocese said. “Thus far, Bishop Coyne has never denied a request for additional therapy.”

Hannon told CNA that “not one person” has chosen to move forward with the process offered by the diocese.

The diocese told CNA that “there is a process for requesting records on the Vermont Catholic Charities website” noting that “Vermont Catholic Charities adheres to all Vermont Adoption laws outlined here.”

Doctor sued under Texas abortion law

Pro-life advocates at the 45th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2018. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

Austin, Texas, Sep 21, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

A Texas abortion doctor who said he performed an abortion in violation of a new state law was sued Monday by two non-Texas residents, in what appears to be the first legal action taken since the law took effect this month. 

A Texas pro-life group has criticized the lawsuits, however, calling them “imprudent” and “self-serving.” 

Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio abortion doctor, took to the opinion page of The Washington Post on Sunday to announce that he had violated Texas’ new law Sept. 6 by performing an abortion on a woman whose unborn baby had a heartbeat, and did so because of “a duty of care to this patient...and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights is reportedly representing Braid. 

Texas’ law, which is designed to be enforced through private lawsuits, prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, around six weeks gestation, except in medical emergencies. The law took effect Sept. 1. 

The law allows for at least $10,000 in damages in successful lawsuits, which can be filed by residents or non-Texas residents against anyone who “aids and abets” an illegal abortion; women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law. 

In early September the Supreme Court ruled that the abortion providers challenging the law had not made a sufficient case for relief from it, and declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision. The U.S. Department of Justice, at the direction of President Joe Biden, filed a legal complaint in a federal district court Sept. 9, arguing that Texas acted “in open defiance of the Constitution” in restricting “most pre-viability abortions.” 

Despite the law’s intentions, neither of the two men filing lawsuits against Braid appear to have done so because of anti-abortion convictions. 

One of the lawsuits was brought by Oscar Stilley, an Arkansas man and self-described “disbarred and disgraced” lawyer currently serving a 15-year house arrest sentence for tax evasion. Stilley told the New York Times that he is “not pro-life” and filed the lawsuit in an attempt both to “vindicate” the Texas law and to collect the up to $10,000 he could be awarded if he wins the suit. 

The second lawsuit was filed by an Illinois man, Felipe Gomez, who in the complaint described himself as “pro-choice” and opined that the Texas law is “illegal.” He said if he is awarded money, he would likely donate it to an “abortion rights group” or to the patients of the doctor he sued, NPR reported. 

Texas Right to Life criticized the two lawsuits as “self-serving legal stunts.”

“Neither of these lawsuits are valid attempts to save innocent human lives,” John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, told the New York Times. 

Braid claimed the law had “shut down about 80 percent of the abortion services we provide.” 

“I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested,” he wrote. 

Catholic bishops around the country reacted with praise to the law, and noted that women experiencing a crisis pregnancy have resources available, instead of abortion.

The bishops of Texas have said that opponents of the law, who have described a fetal heartbeat as “electrically induced flickering of embryonic tissue” or “embryonic cardiac activity,” are making a “disturbing” effort to “dehumanize the unborn.”

“Abortion is a human rights issue; the most fundamental human right is the right to life,” said the Texas bishops Sept. 3. “Abortion is not healthcare. Abortion is not freedom. Abortion does not help women. Abortion is never the answer. It is always the violent taking of innocent human life.”

Pro-life leaders pointed out that the state legislature recently increased public benefits for low-income mothers, expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and funding the Alternatives to Abortion program.

“Texas is further leading in compassion for women and families with its $100 million Alternatives to Abortion state program and ten times as many pro-life pregnancy centers as abortion facilities,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law a ban on the use of abortion-inducing drugs in the state seven weeks into a pregnancy. The measure is set to take effect in December.

As Biden looks to raise refugee cap, Catholics argue he can do more

President-elect Joe Biden addresses a virtual 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services on Nov. 12, 2020. / Jesuit Refugee Services/Vimeo

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2021 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

Catholic refugee advocates on Tuesday praised President Joe Biden for pushing to raise the refugee cap in the coming fiscal year, and urged even more refugee admissions.

On Monday, President Biden recommended that the United States double its limit on refugee resettlement in the coming fiscal year, to 125,000 refugees from 62,500. The U.S. bishops’ conference has also pushed for an increase in the refugee cap to 125,000.

"The number announced today is a step in the right direction and signals the President's commitment to return to our nation's moral leadership and track record of welcoming refugees,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA in a statement on Tuesday.

"However, we would have hoped that this number was higher,” Rosenhauer said, pointing to the recent refugee crisis in Afghanistan and arguing for a total cap of 200,000. Saying the United States “has a moral and legal duty” to help refugees, she noted that “[t]he Afghan refugee crisis only made the need to increase this number more pressing.”

Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission and mobilization at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told CNA on Tuesday that he welcomed Biden's announcement.

“It is very good to see the United States increase its welcoming of these very vulnerable people fleeing conflict, and CRS sees in so many parts of the world – Afghanistan is top of mind – how innocent people get caught in situations of violence, and need to flee for safety,” O'Keefe said.

“The Church calls us to welcome the stranger, and this year, more than in recent years I can remember, we need to do that."

Each year, the President makes a report to Congress recommending a limit on the number of refugees the United States will accept in the coming fiscal year.

While outgoing President Obama had set the refugee cap at 110,000 for the 2017 fiscal year, President Donald Trump several months later lowered it to 50,000 for that year; the United States still resettled more than 53,000 refugees during that fiscal year. Trump progressively lowered the refugee cap during his presidency, setting it at just 15,000 refugees for the 2021 fiscal year.

Biden in May acted to raise the refugee admissions cap for the 2021 fiscal year to 62,500. However, he admitted that the goal of 62,500 admissions would not be achievable by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The United States has only resettled a fraction of that number, as of Aug. 31; only 7,637 refugees had been admitted at that point in the 2021 fiscal year, according to U.S. State Department data.

“We’re in a moment of history when displaced people need our help more than ever. More than 80 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the highest levels in recent history,” Rosenhauer said on Monday. “Far less than 1% have successfully resettled in the United States so far this fiscal year.”

“Raising the number to 200,000 would have allowed for the accommodation of a significantly higher total number of refugees from Afghanistan and around the world,” she said.

As the last U.S. military forces left Afghanistan in August, thousands of Afghan civilians were still reportedly seeking to evacuate as the Taliban took control of the country.  

The Biden administration says it will prioritize resettlement of certain classes of refugees, including those from Central America, those identifying as LGBTQI+, “at-risk Uyghurs,” Hong Kong refugees, and Burmese dissidents and Rohingyas. In addition, the administration says it will expand access to the refugee admissions program “for Afghans at risk due to their affiliation with the United States.”

The chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also praised Biden’s announcement on Tuesday.

USCIRF vice chair Nury Turkel called on the administration “to expand its P-2 designation granting access to the refugee program for certain Afghan nationals to include members of religious groups at extreme risk of persecution by the Taliban."

In November 2020, Biden had promised to increase the refugee cap to 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year, in remarks to the 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services. However, several months into his administration, he had not taken executive action to do so for the 2021 fiscal year.

In April, the White House said that the refugee cap would remain at 15,000, before reversing that stance on the same day that it was widely reported. The executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) migration committee had told CNA on April 14 that he was “absolutely” disappointed with refugee admissions, which had at that point “effectively been halted."

This article was updated on Sept. 21 with comment from Catholic Relief Services.

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to uphold legal abortion  

null / Claudette Jerez/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The court on Monday had announced that oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a major abortion case, will be held on Dec. 1. The case involves a challenge to Mississippi’s restrictions on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state of Mississippi, in defending its law, has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its Roe ruling altogether.

In an amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court on Monday, the Justice Department argued that the state is seeking to overturn nearly 50 years of court rulings that upheld legal abortion, and asked the court to maintain its previous abortion rulings.  

“Petitioners insist that a woman’s decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term—perhaps the most intensely personal and life-altering choice a person can make—should enjoy no more protection than workaday social and economic matters that trigger rational-basis review,” the Justice Department stated in its brief.

“If the Court considers that new argument, it should decline to disturb Roe’s central holding—just as it did a generation ago,” the brief stated.

Mississippi’s law, the Gestational Age Act, restricts abortions after 15 weeks but includes exceptions for when the mother’s life or “major bodily function” is at stake, or if the unborn child has a condition “incompatible with life outside the womb.”

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, sued over the law, and is represented in court by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Supreme Court in May agreed to take up the case, after lower courts ruled against the law and the state of Mississippi appealed. The court is considering only one legal question in the case, “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional.”

The court’s decision to take up the case was seen as significant, as it had previously refused to consider appeals in favor of other state pro-life laws restricting abortions after 20 weeks, 12 weeks, and as early as six weeks.

On Sept. 1, the court also declined a challenge to Texas’ law restricting most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. By rejecting the legal challenge, the court allowed the law – which is enforced by private civil lawsuits and not by the state – to remain effective. In response, President Joe Biden promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas.

In its Supreme Court brief on Monday, the Justice Department invoked the legal principle of stare decisis to urge the court to respect and uphold its previous abortion rulings. The court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld Roe, the brief noted.

“And the passage of another three decades means that every American woman of reproductive age has grown up against the backdrop of the right secured by Roe and Casey, which has become even more deeply woven into the Nation’s social fabric,” the Justice Department argued.

“Roe and Casey were and are correct. They recognize that forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is a profound intrusion on her autonomy, her bodily integrity, and her equal standing in society,” the brief stated.

Although the Supreme Court upheld its Roe ruling in the Casey decision, the state of Mississippi has argued that the court should reconsider those two rulings altogether.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch in July argued that those decisions established “a special-rules regime for abortion jurisprudence that has left these cases out of step with other Court decisions and neutral principles of law applied by the Court.”

“As a result, state legislatures, and the people they represent, have lacked clarity in passing laws to protect legitimate public interests, and artificial guideposts have stunted important public debate on how we, as a society, care for the dignity of women and their children,” Fitch said in the state’s brief at the court.

“It is time for the Court to set this right and return this political debate to the political branches of government,” she wrote. 

The religious freedom cases the Supreme Court could hear – and refuse – this fall

Religious sisters show their support for the Little Sisters of the Poor outside the Supreme Court, where oral arguments were heard on March 23, 2016 in the Zubik v. Burwell case against the HHS Mandate. / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2021 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

In addition to a major abortion case, the Supreme Court this fall will consider cases on vocal prayer at executions and state tuition assistance for religious schools, and could decide take up other religious freedom cases.

Although the court usually decides death penalty cases on the “emergency docket” - reserved for urgent petitions outside the formal appeals process - the court will hear arguments in the case of a Texas death row inmate this term on its “merits” docket. The court recently halted the execution of Texas death row inmate John Henry Ramirez in order to consider his case; Ramirez is requesting his pastor be allowed to lay hands on him and pray out loud as he is executed by the state.

Current policy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice allows Ramirez’s pastor to be present with him in the execution chamber, but without physical contact or audible prayer as he is dying.

Prisoners ought to have the time-honored practice of clergy visitation and prayer at their time of execution, said Mark Rienzi, president of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, on a call with reporters last week. Becket filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in support of Ramirez’s case.

At a “bare minimum,” Rienzi said, the state ought to let an inmate have prayer and comfort of clergy as he is being executed.

The Supreme Court will also hear arguments in Carson v. Makin, involving Maine’s policy barring public tuition assistance for religious schools.

For Maine students who do not have a local public school, the state provides tuition assistance for them to attend another school of their choice. They may not, however, use the assistance for attending a “sectarian” school. The case before the court involves a challenge to the state’s policy, pushing for the state assistance to be allowed for religious schools as well.

The Supreme Court justices have “repeatedly” come together in defense of religious freedom in such cases, Rienzi said.

Perhaps the most notable Supreme Court case this fall is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, regarding Mississippi’s law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks. The court is considering the question of whether all state bans on pre-viability abortions are illegal.

Although Becket is not representing the plaintiffs or defendants in the case, it filed an amicus brief at the court explaining the impact of legal abortion on religious organizations.

When the court previously struck down state bans and regulations of abortion, those rulings “amped up the [abortion] controversy beyond what it may have been otherwise,” Rienzi argued, and supplanted the political process of settling differences on abortion at the state level.

As a result, numerous “proxy” fights have ensued in the courts, he said, with states or federal administrations forcing employers – including religious employers – to provide coverage of abortions or abortifacients in employee health plans. Becket is asking the court to consider the effects of its abortion rulings on religious groups who are facing such abortion mandates.

The Supreme Court’s upcoming fall term might be notable not only for the religious freedom cases on the docket, but also for the pending cases the court might accept or refuse in the coming days.

The Catholic dioceses of Albany and Ogdensburg, as well as other Catholic and Christian ministries, have appealed to the Supreme Court for relief from New York state’s 2017 abortion coverage mandate. The state had required employers to provide abortion coverage in health insurance for employees, but the plaintiffs argue that they “can’t in good conscience” buy an insurance policy for someone else covering the killing of a child, Rienzi said.

While the state crafted a religious exemption for some employers, “it’s an awfully stingy and, I think, illegally stingy” exemption, Rienzi said. Only religious employers which employ and serve members of the same creed could be eligible for an exemption.

“They drafted a religious exemption that Jesus Christ himself would fail,” Rienzi said. “It prefers a very, very narrow subset of religious groups.” The Supreme Court will decide later this month whether or not it will hear the case of Diocese of Albany v. Lacewell.

In another case, the California-based Dignity Catholic health system was sued for refusing to provide a sex-change operation. The court could soon decide whether it will take up the case this term, Rienzi said.

There are several other religious freedom cases where “cert petitions” have been filed, or requests for the court to take up a particular case.

In one case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a high school football coach in Washington state was fired for silently taking a knee and praying after games. He has appealed his case to the Supreme Court for a second time.

In the case of Seattle Union Gospel Mission, a faith-based homeless ministry is arguing it should be able to hire only employees of faith; the ministry faces a lawsuit from a man claiming the mission refused to hire him upon hearing he was in a same-sex relationship.

After a years-long court battle, the Little Sisters of the Poor gained relief from a federal contraceptive mandate when the Supreme Court upheld the sisters’ religious exemption to the mandate in 2020. That case, however, could be reignited if the Biden administration acts to remove the sisters’ religious exemption to the mandate.

“The case that never ends,” Rienzi quipped of the Little Sisters’ case, which is currently on hold in California and Pennsylvania. The Biden administration has asked judges for more time to act, but has not revealed any actions it might take.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the Biden administration has no place to go,” Rienzi said.  The Obama administration – which first issued the mandate – “was never able to win this in court,” he said.

“The law has actually improved on religious liberty since then. I don’t think there’s actually a path for the Biden admin to revive the contraceptive mandate successfully,” he said.

Local artists add beauty to Los Angeles exhibit ‘250 Years of Mission’ to celebrate Jubilee Year

Lalo Garcia's painting of Saint Junípero Serra is featured in the '250 Years of Mission' exhibit. / Lalo Garcia.

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 20, 2021 / 15:34 pm (CNA).

On September 11, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles began a Jubilee Year, Forward in Mission, to mark 250 years since the opening of the region’s first church, Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, founded in 1771 by Saint Junípero Serra. An exhibit titled 250 Years of Mission will be on display at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels through Sept. 10, 2022, to tell the story of the Catholic faith in the region.   

“The Church has left such an indelible mark on our culture here from street names, the city names, and everything in between, to our radical charity in the community,” said Father Parker Sandoval, Vice Chancellor for Ministerial Services for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “We thought it was very important to put forward to everyone for free, in an accessible space, a display of beauty and an opportunity to learn the richness of our history.” 

Local artists Aurelio G. D. Mendoza, Lalo Garcia, and John Nava are featured in the exhibit, which spans four galleries inside the cathedral. The galleries include historical documents and artifacts; colonial art from Spain and Mexico; Native American religious art; and the contributions of Mendoza, Garcia, and Nava. 

“Historically, here in Southern California, the missions are extremely important, not only as a tourist attraction, but as the seed of Catholicism,” said Garcia, whose oil painting of Saint Junípero Serra is in the exhibit. “I hope that you get a feel of Southern California, who we are, the buildings that we have here in the Camino Real, feel proud of the heritage as Californianos, and see the good things that he [St. Junípero Serra] did.” 

Garcia’s painting, which was commissioned by Archbishop José Gomez in honor of the canonization of Saint Junípero Serra in 2015, measures 30-by-40-inches and has a halo made of 24-karat gold leaf. He hopes his works become an “instrument for historians, priests, seminarians, teachers, anybody who acquires the piece, so that they can actually talk about it,” he said.

“I spend a lot of time reading, meditating, and thinking about the piece that I am going to create,” said Garcia, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 13 years old. “It gives me more responsibility to create this type of art when I have seen people praying in front of an image that I have painted. I want the piece to be worthy of the space it’s going to take.” 

Two large oil paintings by Aurelio G. D. Mendoza (1901-1996) are also included in the exhibit. The two pieces are part of a trilogy called El Camino Real, which aim to depict both conversion of the Indigenous people and the construction of missions in California. In the first piece, which measures six-feet tall by five-feet wide, Mendoza painted Saint Junípero Serra pointing ahead, “signaling the way to follow,” said his granddaughter Lucy Mendoza. 

Mendoza’s second painting in the exhibit, titled Mision San Diego de Alcala, is five feet tall by eight-and-a-half feet wide. It shows Saint Junípero Serra with Father Sanchez, the architect of the San Diego mission, among both the Indigenous people and the Spanish soldiers.

“He took great care in making sure the Indigenous were portrayed with such beauty and grace,” said Lucy Mendoza.

Both pieces were completed in approximately 1976, when Mendoza was 75 years old. 

“You want people to feel a sense of pride in the history of California—and I know there's been some pain, there's been some controversy—but I also feel that there's so much good also,” said Lucy Mendoza. “My abuelito always said that so much can be learned through art.” 

The scale of Mendoza’s pieces, Father Sandoval said, are in themselves impactful. 

“They’re huge, they literally fill walls, and the images just pop,” he said. “Then, knowing that these were painted by people who have a devotion to the saints they are depicting makes them particularly beautiful.”

John Nava, the third local artist included in the exhibit, wove the tapestry for the Mass of Canonization of Saint Junípero Serra in 2015 in Washington, D.C.. Nava’s tapestry is on display in the same chapel as the other artists’ works. 

“It's not simply that they're great artists, but fundamentally they're people of faith,” said Father Sandoval. “That really comes through in the artwork.”

In addition to the local artists, 250 Years of Mission includes religious objects and art from Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, which fell victim to arson in July 2020, as well as materials from the archdiocesan archives. 

The exhibit aims to be both educational and beautiful, said Father Sandoval. 

“We live in a time where we are bombarded by bad news and ugliness on the newsfeed, on the front page, and on the screen,” said Father Sandoval. “That’s why we thought it was really important to accent the beauty of our faith and the history of the church and our mission here.” 

The exhibit is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Since the galleries line the sides of the cathedral, the exhibit is open anytime the cathedral is open to the public. 

“We hope that people not only enjoy the beauty and learn the history, but, above all, feel inspired to build on the legacy of faith that started here 250 years ago,” said Father Sandoval. “This is a summons to revival, to renewal, to refocus on what matters most, which is putting people in contact with Jesus.” 

“We hope we can bring as many people—especially young people—as possible to visit and feel moved to move into mission,” he said.