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US:    Illinois to fund abortion clinics after Title X Protect Life Rule

Springfield, Ill., Jul 19, 2019 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- Illinois will provide state funding to abortion clinics and clinics that refer for abortions in the light of new changes to Title X rules, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday.

Earlier in the week, part of the “Protect Life Rule,” which created new eligibility guidelines for Title X family planning funds, went into effect.

“President Trump’s gag rule undermines women’s health care and threatens the providers that millions of women and girls rely on, and we will not let that stand in the state of Illinois,” said Pritzker in a July 18 statement. The state’s Department of Public Health will instead fund the 28 clinics in the state that received Title X funds and also refer for or provide abortions. The clinics were due to receive about $2.4 million in federal funds through the end of September, the current fiscal year.

Planned Parenthood locations in Illinois received 40 percent of the Title X funds distributed in the state, despite only operating 17 of the more than 70 clinics who received funds each year. Approximately 112,000 people in Illinois acquired birth control through Title X.

Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide currently receive about $60 million in federal funds annually from this program, more than 10 percent of the half-billion dollars in total federal funding it receives per year.

Shortly after the Protect Life Rule and Title X changes were announced in February, Planned Parenthood of Illinois announced that they had no plans to comply with the new rules.

“We will not violate our own medical ethics, and because of what the gag rule does, which blocks patients from getting accurate information about their care, we won’t accept the money,” Julie Lynn, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune at the time.

Lynn stated that Planned Parenthood of Illinois would adjust to ensure that their patients were still able to receive contraception, and forgo Title X funds.

Six days after the Protect Life Rule was finalized, Planned Parenthood of Illinois announced a new initiative, dubbed “Access Birth Control”, that would distribute contraception pills or devices, including IUDs, condoms, and Depo-Provera shots, free of charge to eligible persons.

On its website, Planned Parenthood of Illinois said that the program will run through January 2021, the end of President Donald Trump’s first presidential term, in apparent expectation of a victory for an opposition candidate more favorable to abortion.

The Department of Health and Human Services informed Title X fund recipients July 15 that they will no longer be permitted to refer mothers for abortion services, and must keep finances separate from facilities that provide abortions.

As of March 2020, abortion facilities will no longer be allowed to co-locate with clinics that receive Title X moneys. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion may still receive funds.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.


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US:    Michigan considers two pro-life ballot initiatives

Lansing, Mich., Jul 19, 2019 / 02:26 pm (CNA).- The Michigan Catholic Conference is urging state residents to support a petition drive for an initiative to ban “dismemberment abortions” instead of a separate petition drive that seeks to ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

The two competing initiatives are backed by different groups. The dismemberment abortion ban is being conducted by a group called Michigan Values Life, while the heartbeat ban is supported by the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition. The Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan are both supporting Michigan Values Life.

The ban on “dismemberment abortions” would make it a felony for a physician to perform a dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortion, and the ballot initiative seeks to update the state’s existing ban on partial-birth abortions.

D&E abortions are typically done in the second trimester of pregnancy and involve the dismemberment of an unborn child.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has said she would veto any pro-life legislation. The ballot initiative push is a way for these bills to become law outside of her signature.

Presently, Michigan law prohibits all abortion. This law is not enforced due to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, but would go into back into effect if the decision were ever to be overturned. If the proposed heartbeat bill were to become law and Roe were to be overturned, it would actually liberalize existing Michigan abortion law and permit the abortion of infants prior to the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

“At worst, the heartbeat ban could be interpreted to create a conflict in the law and replace the 1931 ban, actually allowing abortions up until a baby’s heartbeat is detected,” said a fact sheet released by the Michigan Catholic Conference.

While it is not uncommon for pro-lifers to oppose heartbeat legislation due to the potential of expensive legal and constitutional challenges, this is relatively unusual as pro-life groups are opposing the heartbeat bill due to the existence of an even stronger piece of anti-abortion legislation.

Several states have passed “heartbeat bills,” and those bills have been signed into law. None of the bans have been allowed to actually go into effect due to legal challenges. “Heartbeat bills” will not be considered constitutional until the Supreme Court either overturns the Roe v. Wade decision or makes a different ruling on an abortion case.

Supporters of either petition drive must get approximately 350,000 signatures to force the legislature to vote on the legislation.

 

Ed. note: This story has been updated for clarity.

 


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US:    Vatican announces sanctions on disgraced Bishop Bransfield

Wheeling, W.V., Jul 19, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, Bishop emeritus of Wheeling-Charleston, will no longer be allowed to participate in public Masses or live within his former diocese. He must “make personal amends” for the harm he brought to the diocese, Pope Francis announced in a communique released on Friday afternoon.

Bransfield is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his time as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He was also found to have given large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.

The July 19 Vatican communique, which was published Friday on the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s website, was sent from the Apostolic Nuncio of the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis on Sept. 13, 2018, five days after Bransfield reached the retirement age of 75.

When Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation, he appointed Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore as the apostolic administrator of the diocese. He also authorized Lori to start an investigation into the allegations made against the retired bishop, which at the time were described as financial abuses and the sexual harassment of adults.

A hotline for the investigation that was set up in September received more than three dozen calls during its first two weeks.
In March, Lori announced that he had restricted Bransfield’s ministry in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston as well as in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and that the Holy See would be conducting an additional evaluation of the investigation. That assessment was released on Friday.

“Pending the assessment of the findings of the Holy See, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, I have directed that Bishop Bransfield is not authorized to exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry either within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or within the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Lori said in a March 11 press release.

The Holy See’s communique expands that restriction, and adds the additional prohibition on living within the diocese. Further, the Vatican wrote that Bransfield has “the obligation to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused.”

Per the release, “the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston.”

After the investigation, Archbishop Lori confirmed that investigators had established a pattern of sexual malfeasance, and serious financial misconduct by Bransfield throughout his time as bishop.

“The investigative report determined that during his tenure as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Bransfield engaged in a pattern of excessive and inappropriate spending,” Lori said, citing renovations to multiple residences and the misuse of Church funds “for personal benefit on such things as personal travel, dining, liquor, gifts and luxury items.”

Some bishops who received cash gifts from Bransfield pledged to return them.


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Europe:    English bishop: Let's be cautious responding to comatose girl's situation

London, England, Jul 19, 2019 / 11:05 am (CNA).- The English and Welsh bishops' representative on life issues urged Thursday that the public be reserved in judgement on the case of Tafida Raqeeb, a comatose five-year-old whose parents want her transferred to Italy for treatment after UK doctors ordered the removal of “life-sustaining treatment.”

Raqeeb has been in a coma since Feb. 9, after she suffered an arteriovenous malformation which resulted in a burst blood vessel in her brain.

The AVM triggered cardiac and respiratory arrest, as well as a traumatic brain injury. Doctors at the Royal London Hospital say there is no chance she will recover from her coma, and declared any further medical treatment futile.

Two doctors from the Gaslini Children’s Hospital in Genoa, Italy, however, disagree. They were able to examine Raqeeb via a video link July 12, and they agreed to care for her in Italy. They said they did not believe her to be brain dead.

Raqeeb's parents asked the High Court in London July 16 to allow her to leave the country.

Bishop John Sherrington, an auxiliary bishop of Westminster, said July 18 that “Difficult dilemmas have to be faced. In that process, I hope that all due weight will be given to the wishes of her parents, while also respecting the clinical judgement of the doctors caring for her. Those of us not in possession of all the relevant information might best be reserved in our judgement.”

“I trust that the doctors from the Gaslini Children’s Hospital in Genoa will be given time and opportunity to come to a well-informed view and to share their prognosis with their colleagues here in London,” Sherrington wrote.

“Such international cooperation is essential good practice in the care of tragically difficult lives.”

The bishop also offer prayers for strength for Raqeeb and her parents.

“The tragic illness and circumstances of little Tafida Raqeeb will touch everyone who hears of it. I hope it will also move them to pray, as it does me.”

He said: “I pray for this little girl that she and her parents are strengthened by the presence of God, by the mercy of God and by the support of all who know and love her.”

An online petition supported by the family requesting that Royal London Hospital allow Raqeeb to be transferred to Gaslini Children’s Hospital insists that the child should remain on life support.

“Following extensive brain surgery at King’s College hospital, doctors informed her parents that she was brain dead and to consider making preparations for her funeral,” reads the petition.

“A brain stem test indicated that Tafida did not meet the qualification of ‘brain death’ as she made gasping movements and therefore could not be removed from the ventilator.”

Since then, Raqeeb has remained on a ventilator at Royal London Hospital. According to the family, a neurologist has declared her to be in a “deep coma,” from which she is beginning to emerge. Her parents say she is able to open her eyes and move her limbs, as well as being able to swallow and react to pain.

Raqeeb's mother, Shelina Bergum, has said that doctors initially proposed giving her a tracheostomy and allowing her to return home, to continue recovery.

“The medical team have now changed their mind and want to withdraw ventilation to end her life,” Bergum wrote as part of a separate online petition organized by the family.

Tafida's case follows similar campaigns by parents in the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, who were both terminally ill children in NHS care. In 2017, doctors sought to remove Charlie Gard from his ventilator, despite his parents’ wishes to transfer him to a hospital in New York City. He died in hospice at the age of 11 months, after life support was removed.

Less than a year later, the parents of Alfie Evans also objected to NHS attempts to remove his ventilator, saying they wished to move him to a hospital in Italy. Evans' life support was eventually removed, and he survived for five days breathing on his own before dying just short of his second birthday.


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Asia - Pacific:    South Asia floods: 'Everything is coming to a complete standstill'

Patna, India, Jul 19, 2019 / 10:44 am (CNA).- Catholic Relief Services is working with local partners to provide aid amid severe flooding and landslides in parts of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, the group said Thursday.

“The most immediate need right now is clean water and food,” said Caroline Brennan, director of communications for CRS’ humanitarian response team, in a July 18 statement.

“With wells flooded, people aren’t able to access water that’s safe to drink, safe to bathe with, or safe to give to their livestock. Until the water recedes, people in the heavily affected areas are going to need ways of getting enough food to feed their families. Their livelihoods, especially for farmers, are also at risk,” she said.

Heavy rainfall, beginning over a week ago, has led to flooding and landslides that have cut off routes for emergency aid, CRS says, necessitating the use of boats to provide aid in some areas. The aid group UNICEF estimates that more than 12 million people, including about five million children have been affected.

Estimates of the number of casualties vary widely, with officials from various affected countries reporting at least 227 dead, according to CNN. UNICEF is reporting at least 93 children are among the dead.

At particular risk are an estimated 1 million Rohyngia Muslim refugees, who have fled persecution in Burma and are currently in camps in Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, CRS reports, roads have been washed away, houses have collapsed and croplands have been submerged leaving more than 20,000 families in urgent need of support. More than 4.3 million people are in urgent need of support in one northeastern region of India alone, the group says.

Access to food is a major concern, as many croplands in the region have been underwater for more than six days, leading to fears that farmers may not be able to harvest.


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US:    Planned Parenthood eschews federal funding to continue abortion referrals

Washington D.C., Jul 19, 2019 / 12:31 am (CNA).- As a new regulation takes effect, barring Title X recipients from making abortion referrals, Planned Parenthood has reportedly decided to forego the federal funds in order to continue directing women to abortion.

“We are not going to comply with a regulation that would require health care providers to not give full information to their patients,” Jacqueline Ayers, the group's top lobbyist, said Tuesday as reported by ABC News.

The Trump administration announced July 15 that parts of the Protect Life Rule, which prohibits recipients of Title X family planning funds from referring or performing abortions, will go into effect immediately. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion may still receive funds.

Pro-life advocates have praised the regulations as a commonsense way to ensure enforcement of already-existing rules against taxpayer money being used for abortions.

“A strong majority of Americans have consistently voiced their opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion – it is even unpopular among Democrats and self-described pro-choice Americans,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List last week.

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.”

The Protect Life Rule will strip about $60 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood, whose clinics both refer for abortion services and are co-located with abortion facilities. Planned Parenthood presently receives about one-fifth of the total amount of Title X funds distributed and serves about 40 percent of all clients who benefit from Title X.

Title X does not pay for abortions, but recipients have in the past been able to refer patients for abortion.

The Department of Health and Human Services informed Title X fund recipients on July 15 that they will no longer be permitted to refer mothers for abortions, and must keep finances separate from facilities that provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood described the court’s decision as “devastating” and “crushing news,” though the organization remains eligible to receive $500 million in other federal funding.

As of March next year, abortion facilities will no longer be allowed to co-locate with clinics that receive Title X money.

HHS received $4.1 million in Title X funds in April to disburse to almost 70 service sites, many of which are Planned Parenthood affiliates, The Hill reports.

The rule is being challenged in federal court, but the administration says there is currently no legal obstacle to enforcing it, ABC News reports.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

An independent family planning provider in Maine announced that it too would continue to refer for abortions and eschew federal funding.

Planned Parenthood’s president Dr. Leana Wen parted ways with the organization earlier this week, saying her employment had been ended due to “philosophical differences” with the board “over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”

Wen noted that when she was interviewed for the role of president, she asked the search committee whether they viewed the organization primarily as an advocacy organization “with medical services that are necessary to strengthen its impact” or as a health care organization “with advocacy as a necessary vehicle to protect rights and access.”

Wen said that she firmly believes Planned Parenthood to be fundamentally about health care, and has spent her eight months as president focusing on patient care and the promotion of reproductive rights as health care.

The board, however, wanted to move in a different direction, emphasizing abortion advocacy as their fundamental mission, she said.

Wen was appointed head of Planned Parenthood in September 2018, following the 12-year presidency of Cecile Richards. Political organizer Alexis McGill Johnson has been named as acting president.

 


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Americas:    Mexican bishop considers life sentence for 'El Chapo' to be just

Chilpancingo, Mexico, Jul 18, 2019 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- The bishop of one of Mexico's most violent areas has said that Wednesday's sentencing of drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera to life in prison plus 30 years is proper and prudent.

Guzmán, known as “El Chapo”, is a fomer head of the Sinaloa Cartel. He was sentenced July 17 by a judge in New York, after having been found guilty of 10 charges, including drug trafficking and money laundering.

“I believe there is justice by God and human justice,” Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency.

“I believe he was properly judged. I have more confidence in American laws than Mexican, and I believe that they judged it to be prudent to give him life in prison plus 30 years,” Bishop Rangel stated.

Guzmán's sentence “is the fruit of the criminal acts he committed, and in particular I believe this should help many other criminals to see that sooner or later they will have to face justice and the we all have to answer for the evil deeds we have done,” the bishop said.

“I believe it's a just sentence given to that man and especially so it's an example for everyone else.”

“Hopefully this will also rein in crime a bit here in Mexico,” he added.

Guzmán had been captured by Mexican authorities in 2014, but escaped from a maximum security prison in July 2015. He was re-captured in Junary 2016, and extradited to the US in 2017.

In addition to his prison sentence, Guzmán was also ordered to pay $12.6 billion in forfeiture.

The Department of Justice said that the drug trafficker's trial brought out the methods used by the Sinaloa Cartel to transport tons of drugs to the United States as well as the violence the organization  “relied on to maintain its power throughout the region and beyond.”

Mexico faces much violent crime, often related to drug trafficking. According to the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, 15 of the 50 most violent cities in the world during 2018 were in Mexico.

According to the Mexican daily El Universal, the first six months of 2019 have been the most violent on record in Mexico's history.

Bishop Rangel lamented that “the circumstances in Mexico are very tough. I believe what does the most harm is the corruption in the different levels of government, as well as in society itself, in business.”

“In the end, what's predominating is political and economic expediency, and I believe these criminal gangs will hardly go away as long as we don't get to the root of the problem: for example, the lack of opportunities in education and the economy,” he said.

For the Mexican prelate it is critical “to remake the social fabric, which has unraveled for us. And this, as we know, can only be achieved on the basis of principles and values.”

“We must shore up values within the family, the school, society, the Church. We must all aim at those values, because unfortunately we have generations lacking those values.”

After noting the violence with which organized crime tortures and murders it victims, Bishop Rangel stated that “we must teach them that we must love life, respect it, and care for it.”


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US:    Villanova historian says Chaput, Cordileone, and Strickland are ‘devout schismatics’

Denver, Colo., Jul 18, 2019 / 06:35 pm (CNA).- A Church historian at Philadelphia’s Villanova University has said three U.S. bishops are “devout schismatics” who try to diminish the authority of Pope Francis.

“They are devout in the sense that they publicly display their preference for a traditionalist Church and its devotions, such as the rosary. They are schismatics because they openly promote the undermining of the bishop of Rome among the Catholic faithful,” Massimo Faggioli wrote in a July 16 essay for La Croix magazine.

Faggioli made specific mention of three U.S. bishops among those he called “devout schismatics”: Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas.

The historian said the “schismatic instincts” of those bishops were manifested in August 2018, when they “sided with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to Washington who called on Francis to resign.”

Viganò released on Aug. 25, 2018 a “testimony,” which, among other things, accused Pope Francis of ignoring warnings about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual deviancy, and then raising McCarrick’s status within the Vatican.

After the testimony was released, Strickland issued a statement calling Viganò’s allegations “credible,” and Cordileone said he could confirm that some of Viganò’s statements were true.

Contrary to Faggioli’s claim, however, Chaput did not endorse Viganò’s allegations. A spokesman told reporters in August that Chaput “enjoyed working with Archbishop Viganò during his tenure as Apostolic Nuncio,” adding that Chaput found Viganò's time at the nunciature “to be marked by integrity to the Church.”

However, the spokesman said that Chaput could not comment “on Archbishop Viganò’s recent testimonial as it is beyond his personal experience.”

In July 19 comments to CNA, Faggioli said that he “did not state that the Archbishop called on Francis to resign or that he created a schism, only that he vouched for Viganò’s integrity. That seems like siding with Archbishop Viganò especially in the context of his continued silence about Viganò’s request for the resignation of the pope.”

Faggioli added that “Viganò put pressure on the pope to resign. One would expect a bishop - and especially an archbishop metropolitan who has twice received the pallium, a sign of special unity with Christ and of communion with the Successor of Peter - to defend the pope’s integrity and to say that no one has the right to ask the pope to resign.”

Shortly after Pope Francis was elected in 2013, Chaput told radio personality Hugh Hewitt that the election had made him “extraordinarily happy, because quite honestly, he is the man I was hoping would be Pope eight years ago.”

Two years later, Chaput hosted Pope Francis in Philadelphia for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. Reflecting in 2018 on that meeting, Chaput wrote that the pope’s “time with us was filled with powerful public moments and deeply grace filled intimate gatherings hallmarked by an overarching spirit of mercy, compassion, and charity.”

“[Pope Francis] has repeatedly challenged us to bear witness to Christ through concrete action—by serving the poor, by helping immigrants, by preserving families, and by protecting the sanctity of life. It’s the kind of challenge we can and should answer with a hearty yes each day,” Chaput added.

In his essay criticizing “devout schismatics,” Faggioli wrote that “dissent against this pope has become radicalized with schismatic instincts because this kind of political devotion is more about a partisan ideology than about the Church. Catholicism was exposed to ideological manipulation by those who do not really care for the Gospel, but who are more interested in a particular conservative political culture.”

Chaput, among those identified as a “devout schismatic,” has frequently emphasized his unwillingness to align with a political party, and criticized partisanship within the Church.

In 2016 he criticized Catholics, especially politicians, who accept “the transfer of our real loyalties and convictions from the old Church of our baptism to the new ‘Church’ of our ambitions and appetites,’ in order to achieve political or personal goals. he group of those who do so “cuts across...both major political parties,” Chaput said.

The Church's canon law defines schism, the charge Faggioli makes against the three bishops, as “the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

 

Ed. note: This story was updated July 19 to include comments e-mailed to CNA by Faggioli.

 


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Europe:    UK is 'hijacking' N Ireland on abortion, bishops say

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Jul 18, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Northern Ireland noted their alarm Wednesday at the British parliament's passage of a bill that will legalize abortion and same-sex marriage in the region, highlighting the value of human life and the importance of devolution.

The House of Lords approved the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill July 17. It had passed the House of Commons the week prior.

“With the thousands of others who have voiced their concern in recent days, we wish to express our alarm at the unprecedented way in which the Westminster Parliament has used the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to rush through legislation which will have a devastating impact on the right to life of unborn children,” read a July 17 statement from the four bishops whose dioceses include territory in Northern Ireland.

“The equal right to life, and love, of a mother and her unborn child is so fundamental to the common good of every society that citizens deserve the fullest participation in the democratic debate about the legislation which governs it. This also applies to decisions regarding the nature of marriage.”

They noted that “what is happening in Westminster during these days recklessly undermines this fundamental right of citizens and the principle of devolution at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. It should be a matter of grave alarm for every citizen in Northern Ireland and all who cherish the right to life as the most fundamental of all human rights.”

The bishops urged prime minister Theresa May and her government “to move to overturn this hijacking of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill for purposes for which it was never intended and to uphold the right of citizens in Northern Ireland, under the Good Friday Agreement, to decide these matters for themselves.”

They also asked that citizen in Northern Ireland “give expression to their commitment to the care of every mother and unborn child by asking their political representatives to ensure the equal right to life is upheld in our devolved legislation.”

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill and its amendments legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage will take effect only if the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been suspended the past two years due to a dispute between the two major governing parties, is not functional by Oct. 21.

The bill is meant to keep the region running in the absence of a functioning devolved government.

The House of Lords approved the amendment liberalizing abortion provision in Northern Ireland by a 182-37 vote.

May's government has said there will be an eight to twelve week consultation period to discuss how abortion provision is to be implemented.

The upper house also passed an amendment delaying the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland until January 13, 2020, allowing “the government and the Northern Ireland civil service more time to make necessary changes to legislation as well as the essential operational changes.”

Lord Tebbit said the bill had been introduced poorly and was “fatally flawed,” calling for devolution to be repealed and for Westminster to “take over in an honest manner.”

The bill returned to the Commons July 18, where an amendment was added meant to keep a new prime minister, due to be announced July 22, from suspending parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit.

Liz Parsons, advocacy director for Life Charity, told The Catholic Universe that “This Bill with its abortion amendments is a vicious slap in the face of the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives at Westminster. It represents a mad opportunistic rush by allies of the abortion lobby to exploit the current absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly to bully the people of Northern Ireland into accepting abortion.”

“We urge all parties in Northern Ireland to do the decent thing and resist this undermining of devolution by Westminster and return to the table before 21st October in order to stop these dangerous abortion amendments,” Parsons added.

Liam Gibson, a SPUC representatives in Northern Ireland, said, “it is outrageous that MPs and peers from England, Scotland and Wales cared so little for the rule of law that an overwhelming majority were prepared to disregard the right of the people of Northern Ireland to maintain legislation which has saved the lives of over 100,000 children since 1967.”

He stated: “By ramming abortion on demand down our throats Parliament has torn-up the devolution settlement and is treating Northern Ireland as a colony.”

Michael Robinson, another SPUC representative, commented that “Upon leaving office next week, Theresa May will only be remembered as the Prime Minister who undermined devolution in Northern Ireland and ushered in one of the most ruthless abortion regimes in the world. Anyone who values human life must urge the new Prime Minister to refuse to implement this inhuman and unconstitutional law.”

May said in the past that abortion should be a devolved issue for Northern Ireland.

Abortion and same-sex marriage are both legal in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Elective abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks, while currently it is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

Northern Irish women have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

The abortion amendment was introduced by Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who represents a London constituency. Earlier this year Creasy intended to propose an amendment to a draft Domestic Abuse Bill that would give the British parliament jurisdiction over abortion laws throughout the United Kingdom. However, the bill's scope was restricted to England and Wales by the Conservative government.

Creasy also introduced an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 to repeal Northern Irish law on abortion and gay marriage, which was defeated.


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Europe:    New study suggests link between autism and gender dysphoria

London, England, Jul 18, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- A new study suggests a link between autism, autistic traits, and identifying as transgender or non-binary, raising new questions about the growing use of so-called “gender transition” procedures as a treatment for gender dysphoria.

The study, which was released July 14 and will appear in the September issue of the academic journal European Psychiatry, was led by Dr. Steven Stagg of Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom. The study examined 177 people who identify as transgender, non-binary, or as the gender of their biological sex. 

A person who identifies as “non-binary,” which is also referred to as “genderqueer,” identifies as neither male nor female or on the male/female binary. A person who identifies as transgender identifies as the opposite sex than their biological sex. A transgender person may opt to undergo cross-sex hormonal or surgical treatments in order to better resemble the gender with which they identify.

Of the 177 people studied, four percent of those identifying their gender with their biological sex were diagnosed with autism. For the transgender or non-binary group, that figure rose to 14%. An additional 28% of the transgender or non-binary group exhibited traits that would result in an autism diagnosis, which the authors of the study say could mean that autism is potentially being underdiagnosed, particularly among girls.

Among the autistic traits identified by Stagg were a difficulty in empathizing, as well as “an overreliance on systematic, rule-based reasoning.”

"One of the striking findings was the number of individuals born female who met the cut off for autism spectrum disorder. This is particularly important given that individuals born female are twice as likely to be referred to gender identity clinics,” said Stagg. 

In England, girls make up 74% patients at the country’s only gender clinic for minors, Tavistock. In 2019, more than half the patients referred to Tavistock were under the age of 14. Data has shown that 2.8 girls are referred to Tavistock for every boy.

"People with autism are also more likely to seek unequivocal answers to the complex issues surrounding gender identity,” said Stagg. Given that the study also suggested that autism is underdiagnosed in girls, this could be contributed to the percentage of girls seeking gender reassignment.

The number of minor girls who have been referred to Tavistock has jumped from 32 in 2008-2009 to 1,740 in 2018-2019. In July, the UK government announced an inquiry into why so many young girls were seeking to change their gender. 

“The statistics we have been made aware of show that more and more young people, particularly girls, are using health services to explore changing their gender,” said Penny Mordaunt, Minister for Women & Equalities. 

“It is vitally important that we prioritize finding out why this is the case, making sure we gain an understanding of the driving factors behind this whilst doing everything we can to support these individuals and their families,” she said. 

Stagg suggested that gender clinics screen for autism before performing any sort of treatment, and then adapt their approach as necessary. 

While the Stagg study was small, it is not the first time that a link between autism and identifying as transgendered has been identified. A 2018 report from Slate noted that researchers began in the 1990s to study the co-occurence between gender dysphoria and autism spectrum disorder.

Slate reported a "growing consensus" in the medical community that there is a disproprortionate correlation between the two.

Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the author of “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” told CNA that this study is further proof of how little understanding there is about the best means of treating cases of gender dysphoria.

"This is another in an ever-growing list of studies which reveal just how little we know about the underlying causes of gender dysphoria,” said Anderson. 

“It should prompt people to exercise great caution before making any life-altering medical interventions on the bodies of young people," he added.

In June, the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education released a document warning against the “radical separation between gender and sex, with the former having priority over the later,” and the damage it was doing to society and individuals. 

“In all such [gender] theories, from the most moderate to the most radical, there is agreement that one’s gender ends up being viewed as more important than being of male or female sex,” the document stated.

 


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US:    Religious persecution is a global problem, Pence and Pompeo tell Ministerial

Washington D.C., Jul 18, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Religious persecution is a concern for the entire global community, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a religious freedom gathering on Thursday.

“We’re gathered here, 106 nations strong, because we believe in the freedom of conscience—the right of all people to live out their lives according to their deeply held religious beliefs,” Vice President Pence told religious and civic leaders from around the world at the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.

The Ministerial was hosted by the U.S. State Department from July 15-19. Religious and civic leaders from all over the world, as well as over 100 foreign delegations, gathered to bring attention to global religious persecution and discuss strategies to promote and defend religious freedom.

Survivors of religious persecution were present and shared their stories; these victims have endured prison sentences, mob violence and state-sanctioned terror,” Pence stated on Thursday, the last day of the Ministerial. For some others, they have been killed for their beliefs, he said.

Pence noted that “on a personal level, my faith in Jesus Christ has brought meaning and purpose to me and my family every day of my life.”

The Vice President was baptized Catholic, but said has said that while in college, his faith became “real” when he “made a personal decision for Christ”; in a 1994 interview he identified as an “Evangelical-Catholic,” began attending an Evangelical megachurch with his family and calls himself a “Christian.”

Also on Thursday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered his keynote remarks at the Ministerial. He stated that “religious freedom isn’t just a Christian concern, a Jewish concern, a Muslim concern, a Buddhist concern, a Hindu concern, or a humanist concern. It’s all of our concern; it is everyone’s concern.”

In their remarks, Pompeo and Pence mentioned persecution of religious minorities in the Western Hemisphere in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, as well as anti-Semitism in Europe, genocide against Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria, and the persecution of religious minorities in Iran, China, and North Korea, as well as the “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims in Burma.

“In Nicaragua,” Pence said, the regime “condones thugs who repress and intimidate Catholic Church leaders for defending democracy and religious freedom.” Meanwhile, in Venezuela, “dictator Nicolas Maduro is using so-called ‘anti-hate’ laws to prosecute Catholic clergy who speak out against his brutal regime,” he added.

 Pence drew attention to the mass detention of more than one million Chinese Muslims and ethnic Uighurs in the Xinjiang province of China; they have endured brainwashing by Chinese authorities in what survivors have described as “a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith,” Pence said.

The Chinese Communist Party has targeted Uighur Muslims as well as Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners in its brutal campaign of “sinicizaition” to forcibly bring religion under its control, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) stated in his remarks at the Ministerial on Wednesday.

“Under sinicization, all religions and believers must comport with and aggressively promote communist ideology—or else,” Smith said. The government has harassed, surveilled, detained and tortured believers, burning Bibles and crosses, destroying churches, and rewriting Bibles and religious texts, he said.

“Muslim-majority countries must protest these abuses even at the risk of endangering the benefits from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure projects,” Smith said.

Pence reaffirmed U.S. support for “people of faith in China” regardless of the outcome of U.S.-China trade negotiations. He also stated the administration’s support for religious freedom in North Korea while talks continue on the country’s denuclearization.

Certain countries actively suppressed or tried to intimidate attendees of the Ministerial, Pompeo said. Cuba prevented four Evangelical pastors from attending the Ministerial, and China tried to intimidate delegations from other countries into not attending.

“If you’re here today and you’re a country which has defied the Chinese pressure to come here, we salute you and we thank you,” Pompeo said.

The Secretary of State urged those in attendance to attend regional roundtables and conferences on religious freedom to be held in Albania, Columbia, Morocco, and the Vatican.

August 22 will be the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly and “thanks to Poland’s efforts,” Pompeo said.

Both Secretary Pompeo and Vice President Pence announced funding for victims of religious persecution and actions the U.S. has taken to punish human rights abusers.

This week, the U.S. sanctioned four military officials in Burma, including two high-ranking leaders, and also placed additional sanctions on two leaders of Iranian-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, Pence said. Iranian-backed militias are harassing Christians in the Ninewa Plain as they return home from the ISIS genocide, and have posed some of the greatest security threats in the region to Christian minorities.

Meanwhile, the State Department “trained nearly 12,000 employees on how to identify religious discrimination and persecution and how to work closely with faith leaders all across the world,” Pompeo said. a 2016 law authored by Rep. Smith, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, required training on international religious freedom for all foreign service officers.

In addition, the agency established an International Religious Freedom Fund for victims of persecution; the fund has helped with the medical bills of some of the survivors of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, which targeted churches and hotels on the holiest weekend of the year for Christians, Pompeo said.

In addition, over $340 million in U.S. assistance has supported “vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq, particularly those that ISIS had targeted for genocide,” he said.


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Middle East - Africa:    Ebola outbreak in DRC an international health emergency, WHO declares

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jul 18, 2019 / 04:26 pm (CNA).- The nearly year-long Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has reached the level of an international health emergency, the World Health Organization declared yesterday.

The declaration, which critics say is long overdue, could bring greater resources to the region, where violence and skepticism of international medical personnel have hampered treatment and prevention efforts.

Officials made the international health emergency designation – for only the fifth time in history – after a priest died from Ebola in Goma, a city of some 2 million residents, which serves as a major crossroads on the border with Rwanda.

Risk of the virus being transmitted to neighboring countries is “very high,” WHO officials said, although outside of the immediate region, risk remains low.

For months, public health experts have feared that the deadly virus in DRC could spread to surrounding countries. Two Ebola fatalities were confirmed in Uganda last month, after the victims returned from a funeral in DRC. Kenya and Rwanda have also been on high alert for signs that the virus may have entered the country.

The Ebola outbreak began in the DRC in August 2018. Since then, it has infected more than 2,500 people in the country and killed more than 1,600, making it the second largest outbreak in history.

Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, voiced hope that the emergency declaration would prompt a unified international response.

“The reality check is that a year into the epidemic, it’s still not under control, and we are not where we should be,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”

The Associated Press reported that internal WHO documents showed a reluctance to make the emergency declaration over concerns about whether it might prompt border closures that could negatively affect economic and health care efforts, and deter countries from reporting outbreaks in the future.

The DRC health department displayed skepticism over the emergency declaration, suggesting that it may have been made as a fundraising move, while some residents of eastern Congo voiced fear that neighboring countries would close their borders, which provide trade routes that are vital to DRC’s economy, the Associated Press reported.

The WHO will reassess the situation in three months to determine whether an international health emergency still exists. Such an emergency is defined as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”

Efforts to contain the disease have been hampered by misinformation and distrust on the part of local communities, who in some cases have retaliated against health teams by attacking them. Nearly 200 attacks on medical centers and staff have been reported this year, according to the BBC. This has limited many of the health services that non-governmental organizations are able to provide.

Catholic Relief Services has been supporting local Caritas partners in responding through education campaigns to help residents know how to prevent and respond to the virus.

More than 160,000 people have received the Ebola vaccine, which is 99% effective, according to the BBC, but many more are fearful of it and refuse to receive it. In addition, violence in the eastern part of the DRC has made it difficult to reach some areas of the country, and difficult to monitor the virus as it spreads.

Ebola is a deadly virus that is primarily spread through contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pains and occasional bleeding. The disease is fatal in up to 90 percent of cases.

Several outbreaks have taken place in Africa in recent decades. An outbreak in 2014-2016 in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people and spread briefly to Spain, the United States and the UK.

During that outbreak, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas worked to treat those who were infected, support Ebola orphans, provide food support and educate people on hygiene practices to help avoid the spread of the virus, such as hand washing and avoiding contact with dead bodies.

Suzanne Van Hulle, a Catholic Relief Services team member who worked on the agency’s response to the West Africa outbreak, stressed the importance of education in fighting Ebola.

“During an Ebola outbreak, information and understanding people’s perception about the virus is just as important as medicine or a vaccine,” she said in a statement last month.

“Local community leaders play a critical role in educating people around Ebola and how to prevent both acquiring the virus and ongoing transmission.”


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US:    Priests and sisters arrested with protestors at immigration demonstration on Capitol Hill

Washington D.C., Jul 18, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A group of Catholics were arrested at the Russell Senate Building on Capitol Hill on Thursday during a peaceful protest organized as a “Catholic Day of Action.” The group, including priests, religious sisters, and lay people, sought to draw attention to the situation at the southern border of the United States and the detention of children in particular. 

“We felt like it was time for something more significant, and needing to take more of a risk to raise the consciousness of Catholics across the country,” demonstrator Maggie Conley told CNA during the demonstration, held July 18. 

Conley, who works with the justice team of the Sisters of Mercy explained that she would like to see immigration reform presented as a pro-life issue, and expressed hope that Catholic members of Congress and the Trump administration will offer a more public witness on Catholic teaching and immigration.

“It’s challenging when we don’t hear [a call for action] coming from the pulpit as often as we want, and as integrated as some of the rituals of our faith,” said Conley. 

Religious orders present included the Sisters of Mercy, the Bon Secours Sisters, the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Jesuits, and Franciscan friars. There were also several men at the protest wearing clerical collars, who did not appear to be part of any order.

Members of the group who intended to provoke arrest wore yellow bracelets, and many wore signs with pictures of migrant children who had passed away in U.S. custody and the date of their deaths. Five people laid in the center of the Russell Senate Building rotunda, forming the shape of a cross. 

Among those arrested included Sr. Pat Murphy, age 90, a member of the Sisters of Mercy. Sr. Pat has worked in immigration and migrant advocacy in the past, and has held a weekly prayer vigil outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Chicago for over a decade. 

Sr. Judith Frikker, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, was not one of the people who got arrested, but was still present at the protest “to stand in solidarity with my sisters, and more importantly, with immigrants.” This was not Sr. Judith’s first time participating in demonstrations of this kind, and she told CNA that she believes that “immigrants, detainees, their families--especially children--are being treated in a way that violates their human rights.” 

Sr. Judith told CNA that she believes the crisis at the southern border is not about immigration itself but about how immigrants are received into the country as they try to enter. 

“The crisis isn’t the people coming in, the crisis is what is happening to the people when they try to enter,” she said. “They’re seeking to live with dignity. Many people are seeking asylum and their rights are being denied. We have to act against that.” 

Frikker said that she advocates for policy options to address immigration, asylum processing, and detention at the border which do not require changes to infrastructure.

“Instead of building a wall, I would increase our judicial system [in a way] that would allow the processing of immigrants and their asylum cases so they could enter here,” she said.  

Katie Murphy, a local resident and Catholic, said she was attending the event out of “concern for the children, and also for the character of our nation, the soul of our nation.” 

“I feel that the way we treat the most vulnerable is who we are, is like our character. I am deeply saddened and distraught over what our nation is doing. We have a crisis on the border, and we need to address that crisis in a way that dignifies the values that we stand for.” 

The demonstration occurred just days after the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference publicly denounced action by the Trump administration to tighten rules on asylum seeking at the southern border, and to enforce court-ordered removals against thousands of people who had exhausted their legal appeals to remain in the country. 

On Tuesday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo issued a statement condemning a newly-announced rule which requires that those seeking asylum along the U.S. southern border first apply for asylum in any country they may pass through along the way.

“The rule adds further barriers to asylum-seekers’ ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection,” DiNardo said.

The cardinal also spoke out against a recent series carried out by ICE in cities across the United States. 

“Enforcement actions like those anticipated this week by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency separate families, cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities,” said DiNardo.

“I condemn such an approach, which has created a climate of fear in our parishes and communities across the country. I recently wrote the President asking him to reconsider this action.”


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US:    Wheeling-Charleston Diocese launches new financial accountability plan

Wheeling, W.V., Jul 18, 2019 / 03:22 pm (CNA).- In the wake of reports of financial and sexual misconduct on the part of former Bishop Michael Bransfield, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia announced several new financial policies and procedures for increased transparency.

These new policies include the use of a new third-party auditing firm which will audit the diocese and publish the findings annually, the expansion and strengthening of the diocesan finance council, and the dissolution of the discretionary “Bishop’s Fund,” among other changes.

In a July 17 letter, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who serves as Apostolic Administrator of Wheeling-Charleston, announced the financial policy changes, which were decided at a meeting with the diocese’s finance council.

“From my visits and communications with people from throughout the Diocese I clearly understand that the Church has a long way to go to regain your confidence and trust,” he said.

The reports about Bransfield’s “excessive spending and extravagant lifestyle,” as well as sexual misconduct, Lori said, have caused “great pain and caused many to rightly ask: How could such behavior go unchecked for so long a time? Is there a process in place to check a bishop’s behavior when he takes advantage of his co-workers or when he misuses diocesan funds that should be dedicated to the Church’s mission?”

“These are questions that must be addressed not only in West Virginia but also in the wider Church,” Lori added.

Lori was named apostolic administrator of Wheeling-Charleston in September 2018 by Pope Francis, following a series of allegations made against Bransfield including sexual and financial misconduct.

According to reports made public by the Washington Post, Bransfield used diocesan money to fund an extravagant lifestyle, including luxurious personal travel, a multi-million dollar home renovation, large monthly amounts spent on alcohol and fresh flowers, and large financial “gifts” to other members of the clergy.

The gifts of money he conferred on fellow clergy in the years leading up to his retirement totaled $350,000, the Washington Post reported.

An investigation into Bransfield also found that while there was not conclusive evidence that he sexually abused minors, there was credible evidence of Bransfield’s sexual misconduct with adults.

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September, eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope. Lori subsequently barred him from public ministry in both Wheeling-Charleston and Baltimore.

In his July 17 letter, Lori also announced that a third-party reporting system was being put in place in the diocese, “to make it easier to report abuse, harassment and malfeasance by bishops.”

Other policy changes include rebalancing the distribution of resources in the diocese so that greater resources will remain with parishes, restructuring the diocesan school board, enhancing the training of advisory bodies, reviewing the administration of Wheeling Hospital and Wheeling Jesuit University, and entering into a Contract of Sale for the former bishop’s home.

Lori added that a review of best financial practices for the diocese is still underway, and that additional details or updates will be announced “in a spirit of openness and with the goal of restoring your confidence and trust” as they are made.

“When a bishop is entrusted to care for a diocese, he is expected to be a wise and honest steward of its resources. He has responsibility to ensure that these resources are for the Church’s mission of faith, worship and service. The Church has also put into place structures to help ensure that funds are used well and wisely,” Lori said.

Several such checks and balances existed under Bransfield, though he managed to circumvent them. Lori said he hopes the new policies will strengthen the measures in place and prevent such financial abuse by bishops in the diocese in the future.

Lori added that although bishops, like priests, do not take a vow of poverty, “they are expected to lead a simple lifestyle and to manage their own finances.”

“Excessive financial expenditures and the personal use of diocesan funds by any bishop stands in contrast to those bishops who engage in responsible stewardship of the resources entrusted to them and who abide by the fiscal policies and controls in place to ensure a fiscally healthy Church,” he said.

Lori concluded his letter by calling for prayer for the appointment of a new bishop to the diocese, and urged Catholics to entrust the future of their diocese to God.

“In the darkest days of exile, Jeremiah told the Chosen People that God had plans for them, plans for ‘a future full of hope,’” Lori said. “As a diocesan church rooted in Christ’s saving love, how much more confident we should be as we look to the future? Together, as the People of God, let us walk together, undaunted.”

According to diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop, Lori’s letter was sent directly to approximately 40,000 Catholics in the diocese, and it was published on the diocesan website and through its social media channels as well.


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Europe:    UK government considering sanctions for religious freedom violators

London, England, Jul 18, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- UK Ambassador to the Holy See Sally Axworthy said this week that the UK government will consider a recommendation to impose sanctions on foreign governments that violate religious freedom.

“The Foreign Secretary …  has said that we will look at imposing sanctions on people who commit violations of freedom of religion and belief, as we do impose sanctions on people who commit other kinds of crimes,” Axworthy told EWTN News Nightly July 15.

The ambassador’s comments came after the publication of an independent review to assess the response of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to the global problem of Christian persecution.

The report concluded that the UK government’s opportunities for independent action on the global stage have been under-utilized, and that the UK’s changing relationship with the European Union provides an opportunity for the Foreign Office to do more to preserve the rights of persecuted Christians, who make up 80 percent of those affected by global religious persecution.

Among the report’s recommendations to the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Anglican Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen, who oversaw the report, recommended that the UK government be prepared to impose sanctions against perpetrators of “freedom of religion or belief” abuses.

“The Foreign Secretary has said that we are going to accept all of the recommendations in the report, and of course now we study how we do that,” Ambassador Axworthy said.

The results of the report were shared at an event at Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island July 15.

“The plight of Christians suffering torture and death is particularly distressing for those of us who also share with them a deep spiritual bond,” Mons. Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican Under-Secretary for Relations with States, said at the report launch in Rome.

“Governments must ask themselves to what extent are they really committed to defending religious freedom and to combating persecution based on religion and belief,” Camillieri said.

“How many refrain from condoning such acts, or even condemn them, yet still ‘collaborate’ politically, economically, commercially, militarily or otherwise, or simply by turning a blind eye, with some of the most egregious violators of this fundamental freedom?”

The Vatican Under-Secretary for Relations with States underlined that the “growing tendency, even in established democracies, to criminalize or penalize religious leaders for presenting the basic tenets of their faith, especially regarding the areas of life, marriage and the family” is also a concern.

“The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person, and it is not only an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture but also a condition for the pursuit of truth that does not impose itself by force,” Camilleri said.

 


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