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As Pope Francis calls for a 'synodal' Church, some US dioceses are holding synods

Baltimore, Md., Nov 16, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- As some U.S. dioceses convene local synods to discuss topics ranging from the family to evangelization, bishops are preaching the need to discover a true sense of synodality.

Pope Francis has called in recent months for a more synodal Church, suggesting that “synods,” or gatherings intended for discussion and discernment of the Church’s direction, are an important aspect of an engaged and missionary Church.

At the annual fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, CNA spoke with bishops who have recently held synods or are preparing to hold them, asking them to explain what “synodality”is and  how the Holy Spirit was present at their gatherings.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit told CNA that a synod, to be an authentic exercise of discernment, has to begin with prayer, and interior conversion on the part of attendees.

A synod is not a democratic assembly to draw up a five-year plan, he said, but something much greater—a “vehicle” for the Holy Spirit to renew the church, if participants engage prayerfully to discern the will of God.

In November 2016, the Archdiocese of Detroit held a synod for the first time in almost 30 years.

Hundreds of people from around the archdiocese gathered to share thoughts on how the archdiocese could proclaim the Gospel better than it already was.

Several months afterward, Vigneron published his letter “Unleash the Gospel” as a result of the synod, outlining a pastoral plan for evangelization. Some critiques of the church he included in his letter were “a worldly notion of the church,” “fear,” and “spiritual lethargy,” while prescriptions included “docility to the Spirit,” “confidence in God,” and “apostolic boldness.”

Ultimately, the synod concluded that evangelization needs to become the very “form” of the Church in coming years, Vigneron said.

The archbishop added that the reason the archdiocesan synod was so successful was because of prayer and docility to the Holy Spirit.
 
“A synod in the history of the Church has been a privileged vehicle for the working of the Holy Spirit,” Vigneron told CNA.

Two years before the Detroit synod even took place, prayer groups were formed at the parish level to pray and fast for the upcoming gathering, asking the Holy Spirit to be present at the synod.

“We had some very extended periods of prayer and formation for anyone who was going to be a participant in the synod,” Vigneron said. “To come into the synod, a person has to undergo a conversion.”

The very “template” of a synod, he said, “is the Holy Trinity,” not a “democratic assembly.” In a synod, the bishop acts in the role of God the Father as the “leader,” allowing the lay faithful to act as a “communion of persons” while not hindering “his own setting of a direction,” he said.
 
As a result of the Detroit synod’s docility to the Holy Spirit, there has been an abundance of spiritual fruit in the archdiocese, Vigneron said.
 
“It was of inestimable worth for us to have a synod,” he told CNA on Tuesday, nearly three full years after the gathering. It “galvanized the diocese from bottom to top,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the church is preparing for a synod in 2021, through prayerful discernment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda told CNA.

In recent years, the archdiocese has dealt with the resignation of its archbishop, bankruptcy, and fallout from a serious sexual abuse crisis in the region.

Several years ago, in 2015, then-Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned after the archdiocese was charged with mishandling sexual abuse cases.

The years-long efforts to deal with the pressing clergy sex abuse crisis put other important priorities such as evangelization on the “back burner,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a June letter announcing the synod.
 
Now the church needs to turn toward these priorities without abandoning its work of rebuilding from the abuse crisis, he said.
 
“Without losing sight of either the critical importance of our Catholic schools or the urgency of creating safe environments and engaging in outreach to those who have in any way been harmed by the Church, we now need to be deliberate in moving forward on other fronts,” Hebda wrote.
 
A diocesan synod, Hebda said, draws from the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law and can be “a tool for the bishop to engage the People of God (laity, clergy, consecrated men and women, and bishops all walking together) in exercising the responsibility that flows from our common baptism, always in the hope of strengthening the communion that is the Church.”
 
In preparation for the synod, 20 listening and prayer events have been scheduled, seven of which have already taken place, Hebda told CNA. He plans to attend each session, with auxiliary bishop Andrew Cozzens attending most of them.
 
Each gathering lasts around three hours, he said, the first half of which is spent in guided prayer followed by small group discussions for the second half. Discussions feature participants sharing their view of God’s blessings and challenges in their lives, and where God is leading the church.
 
Attendance at the sessions has been greater than expected, Hebda said, and the results of the meetings will be collated for discussion at the parish level next fall.
 
Some of the main points of discussion have been concern for baptized Catholics who have drifted away from the faith—especially among youth and young adults—as well as “connecting catechesis and evangelization” and “the importance of liturgy as a means of drawing people to the truth of the faith,” Hebda said.
 
He emphasized trying to help the lay faithful listen to the Holy Spirit and to discover the “gifts” God is bestowing upon the lay faithful, and “seeing that as a possibility for really hearing what it is that the Lord wants us to know and to do.”
 
Healing from the abuse crisis has also been a point of discussion at the meetings, Hebda said, as at most events attendees hear from a “victim survivor of abuse.”

 

US bishops and Knights of Columbus voice solidarity with Iraq, Lebanon

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops and the Knights of Columbus have professed their solidarity with the people of Iraq and Lebanon, telling the Catholic patriarchs of the region that they are praying and working for peace and security.

“The Catholic bishops of the United States and the Knights of Columbus stand in prayerful solidarity with you and your people at this difficult time,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services U.S.A., and Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said in a Nov. 13 letter.

Broglio signed the letter in his role as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. Anderson heads the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, with close to 2 million members worldwide.

“Today, in Lebanon and Iraq, we are witnessing critical moments as protests grow against corruption and foreign interference,” Anderson and Broglio’s letter said. “We pray that the effect of these protests will be a more just society for all the citizens of these two countries.”

Their Nov. 13 letter was addressed to the leading Catholic patriarchs of the region: Cardinal Bechara Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites and All the East; Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Primate of the Syriac Catholic Church; Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch of the Greek Melkites; Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldeans; and Gregory Petros XX Ghabroyan, Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholic Church.

In their letter, Anderson and Broglio stressed the need for an outcome in Iraq and Lebanon that respects “the sovereignty and autonomy of these two countries.”

Protests in Iraq began in Baghdad Oct. 1 and have spread to the south of Iraq. They are dominated by young people who object to the poor response to government corruption and a lack of economic growth and proper public services. Protesters are calling for reform of the country’s sectarian power structure. They want the resignation of the Iraqi government, the Associated Press and Reuters have reported.

More than 300 Iraqis have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Anderson and Broglio’s letter cited Pope Francis. In the Oct. 30 Wednesday general audience, the pope called for the Iraqi government to “listen to the cry of the people who are asking for a dignified and peaceful life.”

On the matter of events in Lebanon, Anderson and Broglio acknowledged “growing instability” there but noted that the protests have generally not suffered from violent opposition.

They echoed the pope’s Oct. 27 Sunday Angelus address, in which he said that a resolution to the Lebanon crisis would work “for the benefit of the entire Middle East Region, which suffers so much.”

Protests in Lebanon began Oct. 17 after the government announced a new tax on internet-based calls made over WhatsApp. Lebanon has high levels of public debt and low employment. Protesters called for the removal of corrupt government officials.

Government riot police intervened after Hezbollah supporters attacked and injured non-sectarian protesters Oct. 24-25.

On Nov. 12 one protester, a supporter of Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, was shot dead in an altercation with soldiers. The soldier who fired on him has been detained.

Several leading politicians have warned that the protests are comparable to previous times of serious tension.

Lebanon’s caretaker defense minister Elias Bou Saab said the situation is “very dangerous,” Reuters reports. The unrest reminded him of the start of the country’s devastating civil war, which lasted from 1975-1990.

In their letter, Anderson and Broglio cited the words of Pope John Paul II: Lebanon “is more than a country, it is a message of freedom and example of pluralism for East and West.”

“We pray that peace and security may come to this region, and that those who have suffered so much may be able to rebuild their lives in an environment consistent with their rights to human dignity,” they added.

“We continue also to watch closely and with concern the situation in other countries in the region where so many have suffered from war and violence, and in the case of Christians, have been targeted often simply for professing their belief in Christ.”

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 destabilized the region and led to many Iraqis - Muslim, Christian and others - fleeing their country. A March 2011 revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad quickly drew support from the U.S. and regional powers, with Russia and others siding with Assad against the rebels. The resulting civil war, which is ongoing, has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions to become internally displaced persons or refugees who fled abroad.

As of Oct. 31 there were about 1 million U.N.-registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone, a country of fewer than 6.9 million residents. Its political and social systems are a sometimes delicate, always complex balance of rival factions splitting the loyalties of Christians and both Sunni and Shia Muslims.

In 2014, the Knights of Columbus launched an advocacy campaign for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. The organization has given about $25 million to support persecuted religious minorities from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region.

The fraternal organization launched a successful effort to secure the U.S. State Department’s recognition of the Islamic State group’s crimes against Christians, Yazidis and others in Iraq and Syria as genocide. In 2016 the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a resolution declaring that the Islamic State group had committed genocide. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry recognized the group’s actions as genocide as well.

Advocates of the official designation said it could aid investigation and indictment of those responsible for genocide and would emphasize the obligations of the U.S. government under international conventions against genocide.

In a separate Nov. 15 opinion essay at the New York Post, Anderson said that a mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East would be catastrophic.

“What happens in the next few weeks in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is crucial for Mideast Christians — and the stability and pluralism of these countries and the wider region,” he said.

While Christians made up about 20% of the population a century ago, they are now 5% or less, he said.

“In Iraq, protesters are demanding an end to sectarian government and equal citizenship for all regardless of ethnicity or religion,” he said, blaming protester deaths on “Iran-backed militias.”

“The future of the Iraqi state hangs in the balance,” he continued. “Either it will become more sectarian under the influence of its more powerful neighbors — or it will become the pluralistic country sought by thousands marching in the streets, including Christians.”

In Lebanon, Anderson said, Christians fear an economic collapse that could result in the fall of the largely Christian Lebanese Army, resulting in crisis and mass emigration.

“Many Christians persecuted elsewhere in the region have fled to Lebanon,” Anderson said. “If Lebanon were to lose its gift for pluralism, that could spell the end of the concept in the rest of the region.”

Anderson also objected to incursions from Turkey in northeastern Syria.

He said the U.S. must play a “decisive” diplomatic role and must make the wellbeing and physical security of Christian communities in the Middle East “a permanent agenda item in all U.S. aid and military assistance discussions with regional governments.”

US House oversight committee hears testimony on abortion regulation

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee heard testimony Thursday on abortion from a new mother, as well as a mother who aborted her child because of a fatal fetal diagnosis.

“I am here today as a mom, fighting for a future for her kids in which rights are not dependent on whether a person is wanted, but upon their humanity,” Allie Stuckey, a conservative Christian commentator, told members of the committee Nov. 14.

“With broken hearts, we knew that the greatest act of love that we could undertake as her parents would be to suffer ourselves instead to end the pregnancy, grant Libby peace, and spare her tiny, broken body a short life full of pain,” Jennifer Box, a mother of three who aborted one of her daughters, Libby, who was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, said.

Missouri’s abortion law, and the state’s last remaining abortion clinic, were in the spotlight at the hearing in the Democratic-controlled House on “State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care.”

Ahead of the hearing, the committee said that states "have been taking draconian steps to restrict their residents’ access to comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion."

The committee heard the testimony of five witnesses, four of whom are supportive of abortion rights.

Both Box and Dr. Colleen McNicholas, OB/GYN, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, spoke to state laws or policies that they said were designed to coerce all abortion clinics in the state into closing.

Missouri enacted a law earlier this year that criminalized abortions after eight weeks gestation, and banned abortions conducted solely because of the baby’s race, sex, or diagnosis of disability. If the eight-week ban were to be overturned in court, that would “trigger” other bans set up in the law at 14, 18, and 20 weeks.

Currently, Missouri has just one abortion clinic open, and that is solely because of a court order.

In June, the state’s health department refused to reissue a license for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic after it submitted a “statement of deficiencies” to a court; the state cited an “unprecedented lack of cooperation” by the clinic in its investigation, along with “failure to meet basic standards of patient care” and lack of compliance with state safety regulations.

In one case, the state said, the clinic would not have been prepared to handle a case of “severe hemorrhaging” of a female patient that she later suffered at a hospital. The clinic also agreed to perform extra pelvic exams on women before refusing to do so, the state said.

The clinic did submit a “Plan of Correction” but it did not sufficiently address all the stated deficiencies, the health department said. The state’s Administration Hearing Commission conducted a hearing on the matter in October, and the clinic will remain open until a final decision is made.

McNicholas said on Thursday that the state “weaponized” the licensing process, and that officials “admitted under oath” that they targeted Planned Parenthood for extra scrutiny. Planned Parenthood did not want to perform the “extra” pelvic exam on patients that was unwarranted, she said.

In a later exchange with Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), McNicholas was questioned about efforts to fight against protecting babies who survive botched abortion attempts.

“There is no way to oversimplify the medical conditions” of second trimester abortions, she said, noting that the “Born-Alive” act which would require doctors to give standard medical treatment to babies surviving abortions makes such botched abortions seem like a “real thing.”

Stuckey testified in the minority.

Abortion advocates used to advertise “safe, legal, and rare” for the procedure, but now they champion abortion-on-demand through nine months of pregnancy, Stuckey said, despite evidence that doctors can feel a baby’s heartbeat at six weeks gestation, and that babies can feel pain at 20 weeks, and survive outside the womb as early as 21 weeks.

“In speaking of abortion, its defenders ignore the existence of the child entirely,” Stuckey said. “I am here as a woman who believes that female empowerment, equality and freedom are not defined by her ability to terminate the life of her child.”

“I’m here as a human being, horrified by the violence, the oppression and the marginalization of a defenseless people group based solely on where they reside, the womb,” Stuckey said.

Her testimony followed that of Box, who said she aborted her daughter because of a “fatal fetal diagnosis.”

In her testimony in February before a Missouri state house committee, Box said her daughter was diagnosed with Trisomy 18. She said she was first informed that he daughter was at “high risk” of the chromosome abnormality when she was 13 weeks pregnant, in a May op-ed for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the baby “would likely die within minutes or hours of birth,” if not before.

Most babies with Trisomy 18 die before birth, and only around ten percent survive the first year of life. Abortion rates are high for babies with fetal chromosomnal abnormalities such as Trisomy 18.

Fearing her daughter would have to endure a “life of immediate and repeated invasive medical intervention,” Box said she and her husband chose to procure an abortion.

However, she did not have insurance coverage for the abortion, Box said. According to the Guttmacher Institute, private insurance in Missouri only covers abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. A Catholic hospital which delivered her two other children refused to perform the abortion.

“My actual abortion procedure was the most compassionate care I have ever received from a. physician,” Box said. “Jake and I left that day knowing that we made the most loving and merciful choice for our daughter.”

In her op-ed in the Post-Dispatch, Box said she recently discovered she was pregnant but would not find out the results of pre-natal tests until she was 24 weeks pregnant. At the time, Missouri had just enacted several bans on abortions, including at 20 weeks post-gestation.

“When we got to the car I sobbed, ‘At 24 weeks it will be illegal in Missouri to have an abortion,’” Box wrote. “I don’t want to fly to Colorado to end this pregnancy if something goes wrong.”

“I speak for Libby,” she said on Thursday. “It is an honor to share her name with this committee and the country today. Libby Rose Box.”

“I have a rose tattoo above my heart so that she is with me every day. I am her mother, and she is my daughter and will always be my daughter. I made decisions from day one as her mother, and then made the most important decision of Libby’s life when together with my husband, we decided to terminate the pregnancy. It was a sacred, painful, personal decision.”

Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, testified that “it’s not lost on me” that abortion is under its gravest threat “on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when some women first gained the right to vote.”

Court rules Daleiden's undercover videos caused 'substantial harm' to Planned Parenthood

San Francisco, Calif., Nov 15, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- A pro-life organization said that “justice was not done,” after a federal court found that pro-life advocate David Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress caused “substantial harm” to Planned Parenthood by secretly recording meetings with abortion doctors and staff to expose their business practices.

“Justice was not done today in San Francisco. While top Planned Parenthood witnesses spent six weeks testifying under oath that the undercover videos are true and Planned Parenthood sold fetal organs on a quid pro quo basis, a biased judge with close Planned Parenthood ties spent six weeks influencing the jury with pre-determined rulings and suppressing the video evidence, all in order to rubber-stamp Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit attack on the First Amendment,” the Center for Medical Progress said Nov. 15

“This is a dangerous precedent for citizen journalism and First Amendment civil rights across the country, sending a message that speaking truth and facts to criticize the powerful is no longer protected by our institutions,” the group added.

The federal court in San Francisco has ordered Daleiden’s organization to pay Planned Parenthood $870,000 in punitive damages.

The decision was issued Nov. 15, after U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick ordered the jury to find Daleiden guilty of trespass on several separate occasions in the course of his work.
 
“I have already determined that these defendants trespassed at each of these locations. Because I determined that these defendants trespassed, the law assumes that Planned Parenthood has been harmed and is entitled to an award of nominal damages such as one dollar for each trespass,” Orrick told the jury on Thursday, leaving jury members only with the determination of how much to award the abortion provider.
 
Daleiden’s lawyers argued that he was investigating violent felonies committed against children born alive in Planned Parenthood facilities. They had previously petitioned to have Orrick removed from the case, alleging bias on the part of the judge.
 
During the six-week trial, Orrick ruled that jurors could not take into account any information discovered by Daleiden in the course of his investigation which would retrospectively justify his actions, but only the information he possessed when he began his work in 2012.
 
Planned Parenthood's legal team told the court that Daleiden’s actions were “not to find crimes, and it was not about journalism. It was about using any means, including illegal means, to destroy Planned Parenthood.”
 
The jury found that Daleiden’s work showed the “requisite malice” needed to award punitive damages.
 
The suit concerns covert recordings made by Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, who posed as representatives of an invented human tissue company called BioMax to meet with Planned Parenthood personnel. Beginning in 2015, the Center for Medical progress released a series of videos of the meetings which allegedly demonstrate the illegal sale of body parts and fetal tissue from aborted babies.

The released videos appeared to show various Planned Parenthood and StemExpress executives discussing, often callously, their methods for obtaining and selling fetal body parts. Daleiden alleged that Planned Parenthood was profiting from these sales, which is illegal under federal law.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., has said it abides by all relevant laws and has charged that the videos were deceptively edited. It faced a congressional investigation into the allegations related to the videos.

Soon after the Center for Medical Progress videos were released, Planned Parenthood’s lobbying arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, launched an emergency response campaign, with initial costs projected at $7 to $8 million in partnership with allies and funders such as the Open Society Foundations, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Democracy Alliance.
 
The Center for Medical Progress has faced several lawsuits seeking to halt the release of the videos. Legal charges against two of its members were dropped in Texas.
 
In April the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal seeking to dismiss a lawsuit against Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress on the grounds of First Amendment freedoms.

Ukrainian auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia retires at 75

Philadelphia, Pa., Nov 15, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- The resignation of Bishop John Bura, an auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia, was accepted Nov. 15, five months after Bura turned 75.

The archeparchy is led by Archbishop Borys Gudziak, with the assistance of Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy. It also has two archbishops emeritus.

Bura was born in Germany in 1944, and was ordained a priest of the Philadelphia archeparchy in 1971. He was appointed as an auxiliary bishop of the archeparchy in 2006.

The Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia includes the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and eastern Pennsylvania, and serves around 13,000 faithful in 62 parishes and two missions. It has three suffragan eparchies, in Parma, Chicago, and Stamford.

Rockville Centre diocese challenges Child Victims Act over due process

Rockville Centre, N.Y., Nov 15, 2019 / 01:31 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Rockville Centre filed a suit challenging New York's Child Victims Act on Tuesday, claiming it is barred by the due process clause in the state constitution.

The act opened a one-year window for adults in the state who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits against their abusers. It also adjusted the statute of limitations for both pursuing criminal charges and civil suits against sexual abusers or institutions where the abuse took place.

The diocese's motion, filed Nov. 12 in the New York Supreme Court in Nassau County, says that “the Due Process Clause allows the legislature to revive formerly time-barred claims only where they could not have been raised earlier,” which it adds “is not so here.”

“The formerly time-barred claims revived by the legislature pursuant to the Child Victims Act all could have been brought within the then-applicable three- or five-year period, after plaintiffs attained the age of majority,” according to the diocese.

The diocese added that the state Court of Appeals “has held that the Due Process Clause allows for the exercise of what it has characterized as an exceptional legislative power 'to remedy an injustice' created by circumstances that prevented the assertion of a timely claim.”

It said claims under the Child Victims Act “do not fit within the scope of this narrowly circumscribed legislative authority.”

The one-year window opened Aug. 14.

The Child Victims Act was signed into law Feb. 14 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In addition to opening a one-year window for suits, it allows child abuse victims to file criminal charges up to age 28, and lawsuits up to age 55. Previously, they had until the age of 23 to file charges or a civil claim.

Other New York dioceses have not indicated they would challenge the act.

Sean Dolan, spokesman for the Rockville Centre diocese, said the diocese is committed to providing “pastoral care and equitable compensation” to child sex abuse victims through its independent reconciliation and compensation program.

As of August, that program had paid a little more than $50 million to 277 claimants since its 2017 institution. Between 75 and 80 claims were still being processed, and 370 people had filed claims with the program.

The spokeman added that “the diocese supported the CVA as a mechanism for all survivors of sexual abuse to seek redress through the court system for sexual abuse – that took place in any organization, municipality or organization. At the same time, the diocese supports the rule of law and, in particular, the rights of all citizens of this state to have access to the courts and to invoke the protections afforded to all of them by our laws of civil procedure and the New York state Constitution. The diocese’s motion and its brief present these important issues to the judiciary for resolution.”

The Times Union reported Nov. 13 that nearly 1,100 cases have been filed under the Child Victims Act.

The day the one-year lookback was opened, Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston was named in a lawsuit accusing him of sexually abusing a young man while he was a priest of the Rockville Centre diocese, starting in 1978. The bishop has said he is innocent of the accusation.

In January, Dennis Poust, director of the New York Catholic Conference, told CNA the conference had not opposed the final version of the act, which provided the same protections for child abuse victims in public insitutions, including schools, as it did for private institutions.

Earlier versions discriminated between public and private institutions, but once that was amended “the conference dropped any opposition to its passage,” he said.

When the bill was passed, the New York bishops issued a joint statement saying, “We pray that the passage of the Child Victims Act brings some measure of healing to all survivors by offering them a path of recourse and reconciliation.”

The Diocese of Rockville Centre said Aug. 14 that it “takes seriously and investigates all allegations of sexual abuse … While the ultimate effects of the Child Victims Act on the Diocese of Rockville Centre and its parishes are not yet known, and may not be known for some time, we expect the daily work of the diocese’s many ministries to continue uninterrupted. Bishop Barres and his leadership team at the Diocese of Rockville Centre have been working for months with financial and legal experts to prepare for this day.”

In preparing for the one-year window, the diocese created an independent advisory committee in May “to review its financial position and related party transactions.”

“The diocese has diligently prepared over the last several months to meet the challenges presented by the Child Victims Act, while ensuring it continues to meet its responsibilities to parishioners and its ministries. The diocese also continues its efforts to extend to survivors of abuse: pastoral care, healing and support services,” it stated.

Bishop John Barres of Rockville Centre said Aug. 11 that “we have worked diligently with our financial and legal advisors to assess our financial position and maximize the availability of insurance coverage to meet the demands that will likely be imposed by anticipated CVA litigation.”

Archbishop Gomez prays for victims of California high school shooting

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 15, 2019 / 11:03 am (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has encouraged the community to pray for victims of a shooting at a high school in southern California, where two people were killed Thursday morning.

“May God comfort their families and loved ones,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Pray also for all the young people and faculty in the school and their families and pray for all the first responders and law enforcement officers.”

On Thursday morning, a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita - located about 40 miles from Los Angeles - opened fire in a crowded school courtyard before the first class of the day, police said.

Two students - ages 16 and 14 - were killed, and three students were injured in the shooting. The names of the victims have not been released. Captain Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department said there is no known connection between the suspect and the victims.

The suspect was found with a self-inflicted gun wound to the head, according to police, and is currently in the hospital in critical condition.

In his statement, Archbishop Gomez asked for the intercession of the Virgin Mary and urged members of the archdiocese to pray for all those affected.

“May Our Blessed Mother keep them all in her maternal care and may God give them peace,” he said.

Ivanka Trump hails 'exciting' progress on paid family leave

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Family leave is more than a women’s issue, it is a family issue, Ivanka Trump said Thursday at the National Review Institute’s event “A Conversation on Paid Family Leave and Childcare” with writer Ramesh Ponnuru.

“For the first time in the history of the paid family leave discussion, we’re getting to a place with legislators, where it’s not ‘should paid family leave be a policy priority?’ but ‘what’s the best design for a paid family leave program?,” Ms. Trump said. 

Trump lauded an “exciting” time to be involved in paid family leave projects, as new attention is being brought to the issue, and members of Congress are positing different, but not incompatible, ideas on how to better serve new mothers and their families. “And that was not true when [the Trump administration] arrived two and a half years ago,” she said. 

“There was very little bipartisan support--there was one plan that had been proposed, and re-proposed, and re-proposed for many years,” without any sort of bipartisan support or real progress through the legislature, said Trump. 

About a quarter of new mothers in the United States return to work within two weeks of having a child, said Trump, who pointed out that 40% of households have a woman as the primary breadwinner, directly linking the availability of paid family leave to those families’ household incomes.

Only 6% of women making less than $75,000 annually have access to paid maternity leave, Trump explained. She said women making more than $150,000 annually have a significantly greater likelihood of access to paid leave than is typical.

Trump and Ponnuru also discussed the country’s fertility rate, which is reportedly now at its lowest level ever. 

Ponnuru told CNA at the conclusion of the event that “cultural change” is needed to increase the country’s dwindling fertility rate, an issue the “government has limited power to influence.” 

“But I think that there are things that we can do to make it easier for families,” he said. “We have for many years had evidence that Americans have fewer children than they would like to have, so this is not a matter of trying to get people to want children, so much as it is making it possible for them to do something they already want to do.”

Ponnuru said that an uncertain “economic picture” plays a role in explaining why couples are hesitant to have children, and that legislative steps should be taken to address this--such as increasing the child tax credit and lowering the cost of education.

“Making that more affordable, so [parents] may be a little less economically fearful about starting and growing a family,” he said. 

Trump said that women and children lacking paid family leave also suffer negative health consequences. 

“We actually have the highest rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the developed world,” she said. “Because if you’re that one-in-four mom who is returning to work within two weeks of having a baby, most institutional care centers won’t take a child until they’re between six to 12 weeks of age.” 

Due to lack of affordable childcare options for young babies, Trump said, parents often turn to less-desirable, often unsafe options. 

In addition to the health benefits that come with a woman being able to take paid leave and stay home with her child, Trump touted the societal economic benefits as well. A woman who has access to paid leave is 40% less likely to use public assistance, she said. 

Trump said motherhood is one of the main reasons why a woman declares bankruptcy — something that can be avoided with access to paid family leave.

Planned Parenthood launches web tool to promote abortion clinics

New York City, N.Y., Nov 14, 2019 / 06:49 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood is already the largest abortion provider in the U.S., and its new web tool aims to direct more women to its abortion clinics.

The “Abortion Care Finder” tool, located on the abortion provider’s website, shows the nearest Planned Parenthood abortion clinics who are able to perform legal abortions based on the user’s self-reported age, ZIP code, and last menstrual cycle.

It then shows users the nearest Planned Parenthood clinics, explains any relevant state laws and abortion methods, and describes the services of each clinic and provides information about financial assistance, the New York Times reports.

Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in the United States. In 2016, the organization performed about one out of every three abortions that year.

In cases where the nearest Planned Parenthood is more than 60 miles away, the web tool refers users to a map from the National Abortion Federation.

The Planned Parenthood app results can be misleading in states like Kentucky or Mississippi, whose abortion clinics are not Planned Parenthood-operated.

Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s acting president, told the New York Times that Planned Parenthood “wanted to make sure that we were connecting them directly to our centers.”

In the past decade, Planned Parenthood has seen its number of patients decline. The number of cancer screenings, contraceptives distributed, and prenatal services provided by the organization decreased as well.

The number of abortions, however, has increased by about 10 percent since 2006, despite Planned Parenthood seeing fewer patients.

Planned Parenthood said that search queries on its website and online spiked for the phrase “abortion near me” in spring 2019, when abortion restrictions and bans were debated and passed in state legislatures.

McGill Johnson said prospective clients became more desperate for information about that time.

“Restrictions have just been coming so fast and furious,” she told the New York Times.

Changes in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court are believed to increase the likelihood that a future ruling on abortion could modify or strike down precedents that mandate legal abortion nationwide.

An iPhone app mapping nearby abortion clinics, called Cara, dates back to late 2016, the New York Times reports. It was created in response to accusations that some crisis pregnancy centers presented themselves as abortion providers when one of their goals is to dissuade women from performing abortion.

Pro-abortion rights advocates have also objected to internet search algorithms that sometimes take women seeking abortions to crisis pregnancy centers.

Planned Parenthood itself is in a time of tumult.

In July the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America fired its president, Dr. Leanna Wen, only eight months after she took over the role.

Wen said there were philosophical differences over the direction of the organization. She saw the organization as a health care organization “with advocacy as a necessary vehicle to protect rights and access.” She contended her critics on the board aimed “to double down on abortion rights advocacy.”

The debate about whether Planned Parenthood’s public image should be that of a health care provider or abortion advocacy group comes as cuts in funding and abortion restrictions in dozens of states across the country have put the organization on the defensive.

In addition, a rule under the Trump administration prevents Title X fund recipients from performing or referring for abortions. It bars abortion clinics from sharing facilities with entities that receive Title X money.

Planned Parenthood stands to lose about $60 million in federal funding as a result of the rule.

Since 2015, Planned Parenthood has also faced increased scrutiny following the release of a series of undercover videos in which executives at the organization and leaders in the National Abortion Federation appear to be discussing the transfer of body parts from aborted babies for money, a practice that would violate federal law.

In response to the controversy over the videos, Planned Parenthood and its supporters launched a multi-million-dollar publicity campaign.

Analysis: The USCCB 'abortion debate,' and what came after

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday, 69 U.S. bishops voted against the inclusion of a paragraph in a letter they plan to soon publish. Within hours, a conservative social media figure said those bishops “are not Catholic,” and ignited an online firestorm. Here’s how that happened:

The bishops were at the fall meeting of their episcopal conference, discussing proposed amendments to a short letter they intend to issue, as a supplement to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their 2015 document on voting and public life.

On Monday Nov. 11, the bishops had been given the opportunity to review a draft text of the letter and propose changes. They had several hours to submit written amendments, which would be debated Nov. 12, before a vote on the entire letter.

Cardinal Blase Cupich proposed an amendment.

Cupich proposed to add into the letter paragraph 101 of Pope Francis’ 2018 Gaudete ex esultate. The paragraph cautions against those who would relativize “the social engagement of others,” or act as if “the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.”

The cardinal said in his proposal that he wished to add the text because “the draft proposed wording citing this paragraph omits ‘equally sacred’ from the start of that list of important concerns, defacing the point the pope was making, which is obviously that defense of the unborn is not the only thing that counts.”

Led by Archbishop Jose Gomez, the letter’s drafting committee reviewed the Cupich proposal, along with dozens of other amendment proposals, on the evening of Nov. 11, before presenting them the next day alongside recommendations about their adoption.

On the Cupich amendment, the committee asked the bishops to accept a compromise recommendation, namely, to include the phrase “equally sacred,” but not the entire paragraph Cupich proposed. The committee said the whole paragraph would add length to a letter already three pages long, but it encouraged adding the phrase Cupich said he wanted.

On Tuesday, Cupich rose to ask for a reconsideration of that recommendation. He said he appreciated the desire for brevity, but he wanted the whole paragraph.

From his view, the proposed paragraph contains “all of the elements in the call to holiness that we are to exercise as faithful citizens. He speaks about the need to make sure we avoid those kinds of ideological frameworks that our society today is so paralyzed in our political discourse by, but also, he wants to make sure...that not only do we avoid that, but we engage one another and he also makes sure that we do not make one issue that a political party or group puts forward to the point where we’re going to ignore all the rest of them.”

Bishop Frank Dewane said the committee had tried to accommodate the cardinal’s request, and suggested he could add even more additional language into the text as a compromise.

Cupich was not interested in that suggestion.

“I appreciate that attempt at accommodation. My point is that this is the magisterial teaching of Pope Francis put in a very succinct way, and I think we can all benefit from it as we speak to our people about issues...so I would still like to have the entire paragraph,” he said.

Gomez asked the body of bishops to debate and vote on the point in question: Should the committee summarize the pope’s text, or include the entire paragraph Cupich had mentioned?

The disagreement was not, at that point, perceived to be a matter of doctrinal debate.

To be sure, some bishops have suggested that Cupich wanted to include the full text to advance his commitment to a “seamless garment” vision of social justice, and to dilute the text's prioritization of the fight against abortion. Others, though, noted that Cupich has a regular habit of calling for greater use of the pope’s texts in conference documents; one bishop called this habit “obsequious.”

But several bishops, even some who regularly disagree with Cupich on serious doctrinal matters, took the suggestion at face value, telling CNA they thought the amendment was a good idea.

Up to that point, the question was about whether to include a text or to summarize that text. No one who had spoken disagreed with the substance of the paragraph; their conversation had been about how best to present it.



As the debate began, Bishop Robert McElroy rose to speak first. He said he supported Cardinal Cupich’s amendment for the reasons already stated, and because of his objection to a line in the bishops’ letter which said “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”

McElroy called that line “at least discordant” with the pope’s teachings, though he did not explain himself directly, or address repeated condemnations of abortion from Pope Francis.

The “preeminent quote,” McElroy did say, would be used to undermine what he understood the pope’s point to be in the paragraph suggested by Cupich.

“So either we should get rid of ‘preeminent,’ or, if we’re going to keep ‘preeminent’ in there, let’s at least give the pope a fighting chance with his view, to keep that whole paragraph in there, because that’s where he articulates his vision of this very controversial question.”

“It is not Catholic that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not. For us to say that, particularly when we omit the pope’s articulation of this question, I think is a grave disservice of our people...so either we shouldn’t have preeminent in there, or we should have the pope’s full paragraph where he lays out his vision of this same question, delicately balancing all of it in the words he does,” McElroy said.

Many bishops looked shocked by McElroy's words.

The draft language McElroy objected to, that abortion “remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself” came from an amendment proposed by Archbishop Joseph Naumann. Any bishop had been free to stand and ask that it be given separate consideration, rather than see it passed on a consent agenda. That was exactly what Cupich had done for his proposed amendment, and McElroy had been free to do the same for Naumann's.

But McElroy had not asked for debate on the Naumann “preeminent priority” amendment. Instead, the bishop made his objection to the language into a kind of diversion from the Cupich amendment that was then on the table.

In short, McElroy’s objection to “preeminent priority” was not formally manifested according to the rules of order, even though it could have been. The motion on the table was still about the Cupich amendment.



After McElroy spoke, Bishop Joseph Strickland was given the floor.

“I absolutely think ‘preeminent’ needs to stay,” Strickland said.

The bishop seemed to think that McElroy had changed the matter up for debate. Some journalists suggested he had gotten confused. Although he made his point plainly, “preeminent” was not up for debate, there was no formal question of taking it out.

Strickland has been lauded by some Catholics for the courage he is thought to have shown by his remark. But whatever his reasoning, the bishop contributed to McElroy's diversion: he weighed in on a debate the body wasn’t actually having. And it was not the first time at the meeting that Strickland seemed to be out of step with the conversation.

On Monday morning, as they got underway, the bishops were asked to approve their meeting’s agenda, a standard part of the rules of order. Bishop Earl Boyea made a motion that an update on the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation be added to the agenda. Strickland seconded that motion. The bishops voted and Boyea’s motion, seconded by Strickland, passed by a voice vote.

Immediately after that vote, Strickland asked for the floor and was recognized.

“I echo the request for the investigation of the report on McCarrick,” Strickland said, before proposing that “future agendas” include a section “to address the questions of guarding the deposit of faith,” though the bishop did not specify what exactly he meant.

Strickland’s “echo” seemed out of place: He stood, it seemed, to “echo” a motion that he himself had already seconded, and that had already passed the entire assembly of bishops. In the press gallery, journalists asked one another whether the bishop understood that the idea had just passed, after he personally seconded it.



On Tuesday, it was Archbishop Charles Chaput who got the debate on the Cupich amendment back on track. He spoke after Strickland.

“I am certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s statement,” Chaput said.

“I think it’s a beautiful statement, I believe it,” the archbishop added, weighing in on the motion on the floor.

Chaput then turned his attention to McElroy’s remarks. He did not address the question of whether “preeminent” ought to remain in the document. But he did address, forcefully, the argument McElroy used to support the Cupich amendment.

“I am against anyone stating that our saying [abortion] is ‘preeminent’ is contrary to the teaching of the pope. Because that isn’t true. It sets an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true. So I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used. It isn’t true.”

“We do support the Holy Father completely, what he said is true, but I think it has been very clearly the articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the preeminent issue. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t equal in dignity, it’s just time, in the certain circumstances of our Church, in the United States,” Chaput said.

The bishops applauded Chaput.

An analysis of Chaput’s remarks suggests two things: that he might have been favor of Cupich’s amendment, of which he said he was "not against;" and that he opposed the argument used by McElroy to support that amendment.

After Chaput, Gomez said the committee preferred to leave the long quote out, mentioned that a reference to the full text was made in a footnote, said the committee was “called to have a brief document,” and called for a vote.

By a vote of 143-69, the bishops chose the committee’s summarized text over Cupich’s preference for a long excerpt from Pope Francis.

Some bishops might have thought, as Strickland did, that the vote was on “preeminence.” Some might have thought it was a vote on McElroy and Chaput's divide over Catholic social teaching. But the question was explained to them immediately before they voted; it seems likely most bishops understood what they were being asked.

Based upon his own remarks, it is reasonable to conclude that Chaput himself may well have voted in favor of including the whole text, which he called “beautiful,” even while he strongly disagreed with McElroy on the reasons to vote for it.



Shortly after the vote, Strickland weighed in again, this time by tweet. “Thank God the USCCB voted to uphold the preeminence of the Sanctity of the life of the unborn.  It is sad that 69 voted no,” he tweeted.

Strickland’s tweet went viral. It was an incorrect interpretation of the vote, based upon the bishop’s apparent belief that the language of preeminence was on the ballot. Not to belabor a point, but it never was.

A half hour after Strickland tweeted, a conservative YouTube commentator named Taylor Marshall retweeted the bishop’s text, adding his own brief comment: “69 USA bishops voted ‘no,’ which means 69 USA bishops are not Catholic.”

That tweet, like Strickland’s, took off into the ether of social media, and soon more voices weighed in, accusing bishops of heresy and spinelessness.

The vote was over whether bishops should quote a long paragraph, or summarize it. For that, bishops were accused of heresy.

On Nov. 14, Strickland weighed back in, tweeting about “the hard data that approx 1/3 of the bishops voted against the language of ‘preeminence.’”

“I pray for unity, Guarding the Deposit of Faith with Pope Francis,” he added.

By his own tweeted admission, the bishop who sparked an online backlash that ended with bishops being called heretics did not know what they had actually voted about.

The consequence of that backlash is that some Catholics may needlessly lose trust in their bishops, and lose confidence in the claims of the Catholic Church.



The U.S. bishops face a serious divide over their understanding of Pope Francis, occasioned by a small number who seem to have positioned themselves as the pope’s authoritative interpreters. It seems clear that divide may well boil to a head.

But the bishops are also divided by what seems to be a hermeneutic of suspicion, which allows some among their number to accuse others of voting against the dignity of human life, even when that misrepresents what’s actually happened.

The bishops are in danger of the kind of partisanship that could lead them to reflexively oppose those with a different viewpoint, rather than doing the hard work of listening carefully, condemning what is false while seeking unity whenever possible. That kind of partisanship would inevitably heighten disunity among practicing Catholics.

Bishops like Chaput and the late Cardinal Francis George, who sought unity with brother bishops even amid real disagreement, are often hailed as models for a conference that could address serious issues with an authentic spirit of fraternity. But whether those models will be heeded by future generations of leaders remains to be seen.

Praying for unity is important. So is the virtue which leads to it. In the social media era, bishops can feed the polarization and nastiness of hot-take culture, even inadvertently. Charity and prudence, especially amid disagreement, must be “preeminent priorities” of the apostles, if Christ’s Church is to live in unity.