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CNA - Daily News

US:    Six lay men installed as acolytes in Spokane

Spokane, Wash., Dec 14, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane installed six laymen who are not in formation for holy orders as acolytes Wednesday.

“The men were chosen for their dedication to the cathedral family, and their service at the Altar reflects their commitment to service in the wider community,” Fr. Darrin Connall, vicar general and rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes,  said Dec. 12.

The six men insalled as acolytes are Dave Gibb, Gene DiRe, Justin Bullock, Dennis Johnson, Thomas Lavagetto, and Rick Sparrow.

The installation of acolytes is effected by the bishop praying over the candidates, and then giving each the Eucharistic vessels.

The ministry of acolyte is most often conferred upon men in who are in formation for the diaconate or priesthood, but the Code of Canon Law does provide that “Lay men who possess the age and qualifications … can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.”

Becoming an acolyte does not grant one the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.

In the dioceses of the US, the qualifications to be installed as a lector or acolyte are having completed one's 21st year, and possessing the skills necessary for an effective service at the altar, being a fully initiated member of the Church, being free of any canonical penalty, and living a life which befits the ministry to be undertaken.

Lay persons who are not installed acolytes can supply certain of their duties, when the need of the Church warrants it and ministers are lacking.

However, installed acolytes are permitted to purify the Eucharistic vessels, which task cannot be supplied by another lay person.

The installation of lay men not in formation for holy orders as acolytes is not common among dioceses in the US, though the Diocese of Lincoln is among those which do so.

Bishop Daly, 58, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1987. He was consecrated a bishop in 2011, serving as auxiliary bishop of San Jose until he became Bishop of Spokane in 2015.


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US:    Gun deaths in US reach record-high

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 06:44 pm (CNA).- The number of gun deaths in the United States reached almost 40,000 last year, the highest number since firearm deaths were first recorded in mortality data nearly 40 years ago.

According to an analysis from CNN, 39,773 people died by guns last year.

The analysis, using CDC data, found that nearly 24,000 people died from suicide by guns in 2017. This number is the highest in 18 years, and a more than 7,000 death increase from 1999.

“In 2017, nearly 109 people died every single day from gun violence,” said Adelyn Allchin, director of public health research for the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

“Gun violence has been part of our day-to-day lives for far too long. It is way past time that elected leaders at every level of government work together to make gun violence rare and abnormal.”

The U.S. bishops have long called for more restrictive gun legislation.

In their 2000 statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration,” on crime and criminal justice, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supported certain gun laws in the name of safety.

“As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns,” the bishops stated.

In April of 2013, four months after the Sandy Hook school shooting, then-chair of the domestic justice and human development committee Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton wrote members of Congress.

Among the policies Bishop Blaire cited for support were “universal background checks for all gun purchases,” restrictions on civilian purchases of “high-capacity ammunition magazines,” and an “assault weapons” ban. He cited Pope Francis’ call “to ‘change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace’.”

A similar statement encouraging public debate on gun control was released last year after mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada and the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas,

Earlier this year, after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 people, the heads of the bishops’ committees on domestic justice and Catholic Education released another statement on gun laws.

“Once again, we are confronted with grave evil, the murder of our dear children and those who teach them. Our prayers continue for those who have died, and those suffering with injuries and unimaginable grief. We also continue our decades-long advocacy for common-sense gun measures as part of a comprehensive approach to the reduction of violence in society and the protection of life,” they said.

Last month, after a shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago left four dead, including the gunman, the president of the U.S. bishop’s conference again reiterated the call for “reasonable gun measures.”

“In our desire to help promote a culture of life, we bishops will continue to ask that public policies be supported to enact reasonable gun measures to help curb this pervasive plague of gun violence,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Nov. 20.


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Asia - Pacific:    After China deal, two underground bishops step down at Vatican's request

Beijing, China, Dec 14, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two underground bishops in China have agreed to step aside in favor of bishops of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, in the wake of a deal signed between the Holy See and the Chinese government.

AsiaNews reported Dec. 13 that Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin of Mindong (Ningde) has agreed to become auxiliary bishop and that Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu will become Bishop of Mindong.

The agreement was made at a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, in the presence of Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

At the same meeting, Archbishop Celli announced that Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou will give way to Bishop Joseph Huang Bingzhang.

Both Bishop Zhan and Bishop Huang had been excommunicated, and were reconciled to the Holy See as part of a September agreement between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China.

According to AsiaNews, at the meeting Archbishop Celli gave Bishop Guo a letter from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and from Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, asking that he give up his role as Bishop of Mindong in favor of Bishop Zhan.

“Also according to the report of the priests of Mindong, Msgr. Celli would have told Msgr. Guo that Pope Francis himself asks for this gesture of obedience 'and of sacrifice for the general situation of the Chinese Church',” the news outlet reported.

AsiaNews also noted that in previous cases in which a bishop of the CPCA was reconciled to the Holy See, he would become auxiliary bishop to an existing bishop of the underground Church.

Bishop Guo, 59, was detained by the Chinese authorities overnight in March. While he was released after only a short detention, he was ordered not to officiate as a bishop while saying Mass because he is not recognized by the government.

He was taken away because he refused to concelebrate with Bishop Zhan at a Chrism Mass.

Bishop Guo was also detained ahead of Holy Week in 2017.

In January, Asia News reported that a Vatican delegation asked Bishop Guo voluntarily to accept a position as coadjutor bishop under Bishop Zhan. This was also among the conditions Chinese officials had proposed to Bishop Guo during his 2017 detention.

Bishop Guo told the New York Times in February that “we must obey Rome's decision,” and that “our principle is that the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican; the connection cannot be severed.”

But he also indicated that while “the Chinese government doesn’t say explicitly that we need to disconnect” from Rome, “in some circumstances it has such an implication.”

In March, at the Chinese Communist Party's annual meeting, Bishop Zhan told China's Sing Tao Daily: “There are no obstacles [to a China-Vatican deal] if everyone just thinks of the benefit of the church for the sake of peace.”

Bishop Zhuang, 88, was asked to retire in late 2017 by the Holy See, but he reportedly refused the request at that time. He was consecrated a bishop in 2006, with the approval of the Holy See.

In December 2017 Bishop Zhuang was reportedly escorted to Beijing, where he met separately with leaders of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, officials from China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, and the Vatican delegation.

If Bishop Zhuang resigned, the Holy See delegation reportedly said at that time, he could nominate three priests, one of whom Bishop Huang would choose as his vicar general. “Bishop Zhuang could not help his tears on hearing the demand,” Asia News’ source said, explaining “it was meaningless to appoint a vicar general, who is still a priest that Bishop Huang could remove him anytime.”

 


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US:    Catholic groups support prison reform bill

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic groups expressed optimism at a criminal justice reform bill, as the “First Step Act”  legislation makes its way through the U.S. Senate.

The full title of the bill is “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act.”

The bill, which has received bipartisan support, including from President Donald Trump and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), aims to reform the country’s prison system and better assist with integrating former prisoners into society after they have served their sentence.

Among other things, the bill will increase credits for good behavior and for participating in “evidence-based recidivism reduction programming”and other “productive programming.”

A total of $250 million would be authorized for the creation of educational, vocational and other skill-building programs for those in prison. Nonprofit organizations, including faith-based groups, would be permitted to assist with the creation and implementation of these programs.

These provisions would only apply to prisoners who were incarcerated for certain crimes. Those in prison for violent offenses, such as assault of a spouse, arson, or sex trafficking, are not eligible to receive these earned time credits.

The First Step Act would also ban the practice controversial practice of shackling pregnant women, and require that feminine hygiene products be provided to female prisoners free-of-cost. The bill also mandates that prisoners be held no more than 500 driving miles away from their families, because evidence suggests that increased time with loved ones assists with societal reintegration.

Under the bill, prisoners deemed to be “low” or “minimum” risk would be instead be held in either a halfway house or home confinement. The minimum age for “compassionate release” would be lowered from 65 to 60.

Two Catholic organizations told CNA that they are optimistic about the bill and that they feel as though it is a way to improve the country’s criminal justice system.

“The First Step Act is exactly what it sounds like: an important first step by the federal government as part of our ongoing national conversation about draconian punishments, disparate sentencing, and collateral consequences,” Griffin Hardy, a spokesperson for anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, told CNA.

While Hardy acknowledged that there is still much work that can be done in terms of easing re-entry for those who were incarcerated, “it’s even more important to remember that passage of this bill would mean that real people get to return home to their families.”

“You just can’t overstate that,” he added.

Hardy’s comments were echoed by the Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), an organization that promotes restorative justice and an end to the death penalty.

CMN “considers the First Step Act an important piece of legislation deserving of the collective attention of U.S. Catholics and all Americans,” a spokesperson for the organization told CNA in a statement.

“The timing of the bill coincides with the recent release of the Catholic bishops pastoral letter against racism, which highlights the ways in which racial prejudice has become enshrined in our social structures, especially prisons,” they added.

This bill is a “modest but critical foundation” for confronting these issues, and “creates an opportunity for faithful Catholics to respond to the bishops’ call to ‘shape policies and institutions for the good of all.’”

 

 


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US:    New Mexico upholds textbook lending for private schools

Santa Fe, N.M., Dec 14, 2018 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to uphold a book-lending program that gives school children at public and private schools equal access to state-approved textbooks.

The Becket law group, which represented the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools, called the decision a victory for low-income students and against religious discrimination.

“In shutting the book on religious discrimination, the New Mexico Supreme Court has opened access to quality textbooks for all students,” Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement on the ruling.

“All kids deserve an education free from discrimination,” he added.

When it comes to public education, New Mexico consistently ranks poorly in comparison to other states. A 2017 report from Education Weekly ranked them second-to-last among the 50 states for quality of public education. A U.S. News report from the same year put them in last place.

Becket said in their statement that stopping the textbook loan program had most disadvantaged minority and low-income students living in rural areas.

In its Thursday, the state Supreme Court sided with Becket, and ruled that the textbook program “furthers New Mexico’s legitimate public interest in promoting education and eliminating illiteracy.”

In 2011, two parents challenged the 80-year-old textbook lending program. They claimed that New Mexico’s state constitution bars education funds from being used “for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.” This language is commonly known as a “Blaine Amendment.”

A 2015 New Mexico Supreme Court decision, Moses v. Ruszkowski, sided with the plaintiffs and ended nonpublic school students’ participation in the program.

In May, Becket challenged the ruling’s reliance on the Blaine Amendment, saying that the 19th century law was “originally designed to disadvantage New Mexico’s native Catholic citizens” and “was all about anti-Catholic animus.”

Becket appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which urged the Supreme Court of New Mexico to reconsider it in light of a ruling on a similar case in 2017, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, which granted public funds to help update a Lutheran school playground.

In their Thursday statement, Becket added that the Blaine Amendment has historically been used for discrimination in everything from trying “to stop children with disabilities from attending schools that best meet their needs, to prevent schools from making their playgrounds safer, to stop food kitchens from helping the poor, and to close service providers that help former prisoners successfully reintegrate into society.”

Becket said that the state Supreme Court acknowledged on Thursday the Blaine Amendments’ “malicious history, noting that ‘New Mexico was caught up in the nationwide movement to eliminate Catholic influence from the school system.’”

“New Mexico’s kids are better off today because the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected 19th Century religious discrimination,” John Foreman, state director of the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools, said in a statement on the ruling.

The court’s ruling has effectively reinstated the textbook lending program.

 


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Asia - Pacific:    After guilty verdict, questions raised about Pell trial

Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- After reports of a guilty verdict emerged in the trial of Australian Cardinal George Pell, some in Australia have questioned the integrity of a process undertaken under the veil of a media blackout.

The cardinal was convicted Dec 11. on five charges that he sexually abused two altar servers while serving as Archbishop of Melbourne in the late 1990s. The unanimous verdict followed an earlier mistrial in which, CNA has confirmed with multiple sources, a jury was deadlocked at 10-2 in favor of a “not guilty” verdict.

The guilty verdict comes ahead of a second trial, scheduled for February 2019, in which Pell will face further accusations of abuse dating back to the 1970s, during his time as a priest in Ballarat.

Reporting restrictions imposed by the County Court of Victoria mean that the progress or outcomes of the trial cannot be covered by local media or broadcast electronically into Australia. No media discussion of the accusations or Pell’s defense is permitted in the country.

Those who violate the gag order could be subject to contempt of court charges by Victoria prosecutors.

Nevertheless, CNA has spoken to several sources familiar with the Pell case, all of whom expressed disbelief at the verdict. The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the legal gag order imposed by the court.

“They have convicted an innocent man,” one source directly familiar with the evidence told CNA. “What’s worse is that they know they have.”

An individual who attended the entire trial in person but is unconnected with Pell’s legal team, told CNA that Pell’s lawyers had made an “unanswerable defense.”

“It was absolutely clear to everyone in that court that the accusations were baseless. It wasn’t that Pell didn’t do what he’s accused of - he clearly couldn’t have done it.”

The allegations are understood to concern Pell assaulting the two choristers in the sacristy of Melbourne cathedral on several occasions immediately following Sunday Mass.

The defense presented a range of witnesses who testified that the cardinal was never alone in the sacristy with altar servers or members of the choir, and that in all the circumstances under which the allegations are alleged to have taken place, several people would have been present in the room.

The sacristy in Melbourne’s Cathedral has large open-plan rooms, each with open arches and halls, and multiple entrances and exits, the defense noted.

Defense attorneys also produced a range of witnesses who testified that Pell was constantly surrounded by priests, other clergy, and guests following Sunday Masses in the cathedral, and that choristers had a room entirely separate from the sacristy in which they changed as a group, before and after Mass.

Observers also questioned whether some courtroom tactics used by state prosecutors were intended to stoke anti-clerical feelings in jury members.

One priest, a Jesuit, was called as an expert witness by the defense, but was consistently referred to as a “Christian Brother” by prosecutors - a move, the court observer told CNA, that seemed calculated to invoke the religious order at the center of a widely known clerical sexual abuse scandal in the country.

“It was a blatant move, but it sums up the sort of anti-Catholic, anti-clerical drift of the whole trial,” CNA’s courtroom source said. “The jury were being winked at.”

Full discussion of the charges and the evidence laid against Pell remains impossible because of the media blackout. The gag order was imposed at the request of prosecutors in June, who argued that media attention could bias the case.

“It’s absurd,” another source directly familiar with the trial told CNA. “Any Catholic in Victoria can tell you that our media has been steeped in anti-Catholic, anti-clerical and especially anti-Pell coverage for more than two decades. The prosecutors were perfectly happy with all of that leading up to the trial, and for it to carry on now.”

“The only thing you can’t talk about are the facts of the case,” the source said.

In a May 2015 column for The Australian, journalist Gerard Henderson said that Pell was the victim of a “modern-day witch hunt.” Henderson drew specific attention to what he called biased and inaccurate coverage of Pell by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“The lack of balance in the media’s reporting of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church reflects the fact many journalists detest Pell’s conservatism,” Henderson wrote.

Henderson also noted that as Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell brought in a new program to deal with accusations of sexual abuse and to compensate victims within months of his arrival.

“On all the available evidence, Pell was among the first Catholic bishops in the world to address the issue of child sexual abuse by clergy,” Henderson concluded.

The cardinal’s legal team is said to be scrupulously complying with the gag order as lawyers work towards filing an appeal against the guilty verdict.

While open discussion of the case remains impossible in Australia, concerns about a biased jury pool in the second trial have begun to surface indirectly.

On December 13, Victoria state Attorney-General Jill Hennessy told the Australian newspaper The Age that she had asked her department to examine the option of judge-only trials in high profile cases, where an impartial jury might be difficult to find. The state of Victoria is one of the few jurisdictions in Australia not to permit the option of a bench trial in cases like Pell’s.

Earlier this year, former Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson was tried and convicted before a magistrate’s court in the state of New South Wales, on the charge of failing to report clerical sexual abuse. His conviction was overturned on appeal. Appellate judge Roy Ellis noted that media portrayals of the Church’s sexual abuse crisis might have been a factor in the guilty verdict.

Such portrayals “may amount to perceived pressure for a court to reach a conclusion which seems to be consistent with the direction of public opinion, rather than being consistent with the rule of law that requires a court to hand down individual justice in its decision-making processes,” he said.

Victoria has faced sustained criticism for the use of suppression orders by the state’s courts. Despite an Open Courts Act passed in 2013 aimed at improving judicial transparency, Victorian courts issued more than 1500 suppression orders between 2014-2016.

One source close to Pell told CNA that the cardinal’s treatment during his trial had been “Kafka-esque.”

“Prosecutors can retry him - in secret - until they get a conviction, but there can’t be any discussion of what he’s accused of, no scrutiny of the evidence against him, and no questioning the verdict. On what planet is this justice?”

Cardinal Pell is expected to be sentenced in January. He can appeal the guilty verdict to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

 


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Europe:    A ‘clericalist and apostate state:’ Why Jacob Rees-Mogg wants out of the EU

London, England, Dec 14, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The question of how the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, and on what terms, has monopolized British politics since the 2016 referendum in which voters decisively opted out of the international body.


Since that vote, debate about Brexit has created a cultural and political divide in the U.K.  Many argue that by leaving the EU, Britain is turning its back from more than a political structure, but from its long-standing commitment to international cooperation.

 

The Church has no official position on Brexit, but many bishops have expressed their personal views on the subject, mostly in favor of the E.U.

 

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, an Englishman and the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, came closest to voicing an official Vatican line when he said, shortly before the Brexit vote, that the British departure was “not something that would make a stronger Europe.”

 

As with most political questions, individual Catholics are free to form their own opinions in good conscience, and in Britain Catholics can be found on both sides of the debate.

 

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Member of Parliament for North East Somerset, is one of the most visible Catholic politicians in the U.K. He is also one of the leading voices in favor of Brexit. He spoke to CNA about his views on the Catholic case for leaving the EU, and why he finds it unsurprising that many in the Church appear to have a preference for the union.

 

“I think there is a great deal of residual affection for the EU because of its origins,” he told CNA. “As a project, it was first put forward by Christian Democrats from the founding member states, and it was intended to have a Christian and democratic ethos.”

 

But, Rees-Mogg said, while its origins may have been rooted in a democratic and Christian vision of Europe, this inheritance has long since been left behind.

 

“It is worth recalling that, over the strong objections of successive popes, there was no reference to either God or the Christian heritage of Europe in the proposed EU constitution [which was rejected by French and Dutch voters and became the Lisbon Treaty]. Whatever its origins were, the EU is now a profoundly secular state.”

 

The MP said that examples of liberal secularism taking precedence in the EU’s governance are not hard to find.

 

In 2004, Rocco Buttiglione was nominated by the Italian government to serve on the European Commission, the body that proposes EU legislation and manages the union’s day-to-day business. His nomination was withdrawn after other EU politicians objected to his Catholic views on marriage, family, and homosexuality, characterizing them as incompatible with a senior position in the union.

 

Rees-Mogg pointed out to CNA that the EU has also been staunchly supportive of the spread of abortion in Africa, calling the policy a “small but indicative” part of the union’s work and values.

 

Instead of a Christian organization, or even a secular-but-neutral one, Rees-Mogg suggested that the EU might be better understood as “arguably moving in the direction of an apostate state; what the Church has historically considered the very worst outcome.”

 

As a political structure, the EU is meant to function as a democratic body, in which participating countries pool their collective sovereignty in service of the good of all.

 

Recently, Pope Francis has spoken frequently about “clericalism” in the Church, in which authority is exercised, even abused, for the benefit of those in power and without reference to the people they are meant to serve, or accountability to them.

 

According to Rees-Mogg, a similar kind of dynamic is at work within the EU which, he says, functions in practice as a “clericalist state” in which the sovereignty of the people is lost to an elite, not shared among equals.

 

“If you look at how European leaders come to power in the EU, they are appointed by and accountable to each other, not the people. The European Commission is the final destination for so many politicians rejected by voters in their own countries, even their own parties. They are an elite which looks after its own.”

 

“From the U.K. alone, we see a litany of politicians like Chris Patten and Neil Kinnock, who lost elections and yet were given more power as European Commissioners than ever they had as elected politicians in Britain. In that respect it is worse than the House of Lords.”

 

One of the principles of Catholic social teaching is subsidiarity, the organizing principle in which decisions made at the lowest level possible, to allow for greater accountability and responsiveness to the needs of the community. It is also a principle incorporated in to many of the EU’s founding treaties.

 

But, Rees-Mogg warned, the EU’s references to subsidiarity are in themselves no guarantee of accountability.

 

“Subsidiarity is a principle which I treat with the greatest of caution. We must remember that it is taken from perhaps the most centralised organization in the world, after all. It is the nation-state which is, in the end, subject to the people through elections, and it is the nation-state which properly serves the people and defends their interests.”

 

As the U.K. government searches for a post-Brexit settlement acceptable to both the EU and the British parliament, trade remains a serious sticking point; the free flow of goods across the Irish border is one of several key considerations.

 

Many in the U.K. wanted to see a common agreement on the minimum standards of goods, to ensure that free trade can continue. But, from Rees-Mogg’s perspective, EU regulations are often directed at creating a barrier to trade, not preserving common standards. The EU imposes regulatory standards on a rage of goods, including - for example-  a minimum and maximum acceptable curvature for bananas.

 

“These non-tariff barriers are not about maintaining common standards. What they are is a conscious effort to block imports, even from some of the poorest countries, and they serve the European Union as an organization, not the people.”

 

As Prime Minister Theresa May attempts to forge a last-minute deal that will satisfy all sides, it remains to be seen what final form Brexit will take.

 

In the meantime, Rees-Mogg told CNA he will continue to work for a Britain free from what he sees as an elitist institution- the EU.

 

“In a democracy, the first duty of a government is to protect the freedom of its people and the first freedom of the people is to hold their leaders to account.”


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Vatican:    Vatican Christmas concert will support refugees in Iraq, Uganda

Vatican City, Dec 14, 2018 / 10:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- This Christmas it is particularly important to support refugees and migrants, Pope Francis said Friday, ahead of the Vatican Christmas Concert fundraiser in support of young refugee education.

“Christmas is always new because it invites us to be reborn in faith, to open ourselves to hope, to rekindle charity,” Pope Francis said in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace Dec. 14.

“This year, in particular, calls us to reflect on the situation of many men, women and children of our time - migrants, displaced persons, and refugees - marching to escape wars, miseries caused by social injustice and climate change,” the pope continued.

Pope Francis stressed his particular concern for the “little ones” among migrants, who face dangerous situations and “long marches on foot” when they should be “sitting among the school desks, like their peers.”

“They too need training to be able to work tomorrow and participate as citizens, aware of the common good,” he commented.

The Holy Father expressed gratitude for the work of two papal charities that support young refugees in Iraq and Uganda. “Missioni Don Bosco” in Uganda and “Scholas Occurrentes” in Iraq will both receive proceeds from the Vatican Christmas Concert taking place in Vatican City’s Paul VI Hall Dec.14.

“Missioni Don Bosco” is an Italian Catholic charity supporting the education of disadvantaged youth in developing countries. Their Salesian missionaries in Uganda aid refugee families from South Sudan. One of their educational projects in the Palabek refugee camp provides vocational training to 1,500 students, who also receive one meal a day.

The Pontifical Foundation’s “Scholas Occurrentes” was founded by Bergoglio while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires as an initiative to encourage social integration and the culture of encounter through technology, arts and sports.

On Friday, Pope Francis met with young Iraqi refugees supported by “Scholas Occurrentes,” and the artists performing in the Christmas concert, and shared his message on the importance of education and solidarity.

The pope drew a direct link between the Christmas story and the needs of child refugees today. “When the violent anger of Herod struck the territory of Bethlehem, the Holy Family of Nazareth experienced the anguish of persecution, and guided by God, took refuge in Egypt,” he said.

“The little Jesus reminds us that half of the refugees of today, in the world, are children, innocent victims of human injustices,” he continued.


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US:    House passes farm bill and controversial rule on Yemen debate

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- An agriculture bill supported by a coalition of Catholic groups passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday with bipartisan support. During debate over the bill, lawmakers also passed a controversial rule regarding debate on US involvement in Yemen.

The bill now moves to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The “farm bill” concerns agricultural programs and food assistance. It is renewed each year, and this process can sometimes be quite lengthy due to additions and amendments added to the bill by members of Congress.

The version of the farm bill passed Dec. 12 was a compromise that eliminated some of the more controversial aspects of an earlier version of the bill. Those controversial provisions included expanded work requirements for people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. That bill passed the House of Representatives in June, but only had the support of Republican members.

SNAP is used by approximately 38 million Americans each year to purchase food items. Currently, able-bodied SNAP recipients who are between the ages of 18 and 49 who do not have dependents under the age of six, must work or volunteer for 20 hours a week or participate in a job-training program in order to receive benefits. The proposed bill would have upped the upper age limit of this requirement to 59, but that provision was dropped in the compromise bill.

In a controversial procedural move, a mostly party-line passing vote on rules for floor debate of the farm bill also included a provision that would block legislators from forcing a vote on military aid to Saudi Arabia's intervention in the Yemeni civil war.

This effectively limits the Senate's Dec. 13 vote to withdraw military aid from Saudi Arabia to a symbolic gesture.

This amended bill passed by a vote of 369-47 in the House of Representatives, and 87-13 in the Senate. The Senate passed the bill Dec. 11.

The bill was praised by a coalition of Catholic organizations.

“Agriculture policies should promote the production and access of nutritious food for all people, using the bounty from the land God has called us to tend and steward to aid the least of our brothers and sister in this country and around the world,” read a Dec. 12 letter to the House of Representatives signed by several Catholic organizations, including the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA.

“We are pleased that the recently released Farm Bill Conference Committee Report includes provisions that protect global and domestic nutrition programs and strengthens rural supports and employment training programs,” they added.  

The letter also stated support for the inclusion of two programs that contribute to rural development, as well as the bill’s changes to international food security programs. These changes will make the programs “more effective and allow them to serve more people.”

The Catholic coalition expressed disappointment with other parts of the bill, including subsidies to farmers and ranchers and a decrease in funding to conservation programs. Each year, one of the hotly-debated points of the farm bill concerns subsidies that are distributed to farmers, and critics of this say the money does not always go to farmers who are in need of assistance.

The farm subsidies should be “prioritized” for struggling farmers, says the letter.

“It is disappointing that the Conference report does not take modest steps to limit subsidy payments to farmers who are actively engaged in farming.”

 

 


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US:    Trial begins for priest accused of assaulting San Diego seminarian

San Diego, Calif., Dec 13, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A trial began Tuesday for the San Diego priest accused of sexually assaulting a seminarian in February. The alleged victim testified Wednesday that the priest groped him in a restaurant bathroom.

The seminarian told the court that he and another seminarian had drinks with Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo at a bar and restaurant on Feb. 3, after an event at St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, where Castillo served as parochial vicar. He said they had several drinks, and that the priest encouraged him to drink to excess.

The seminarian testified that he went to the bathroom sick after midnight. While he was in the restroom, Castillo allegedly approached him from behind and groped his genitals, twice.

The seminarian said he told the priest to “get away.”

“I walked out of the stall, and I look at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘Oh my God, what has happened to me?’” the seminarian said, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

The alleged assault was reported to police and diocesan authorities almost immediately, sources say.

During his opening statement Dec. 12, Castillo’s attorney told a jury that there is no evidence for the seminarian’s claim.

"This is the uncorroborated word of a person who was throwing-up drunk."

"This is a 'he said/he said' where both he’s are drunk and there is no corroborating evidence," the attorney said.
 
Castillo, 35, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. He was charged in May with one count of misdemeanor sexual battery.

The seminarian told the court that he is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, an attorney and former Judge Advocate General. He entered the seminary after retiring from the Navy.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego, told CNA in September that Castillo no longer has priestly faculties in the diocese.

Castillo was listed as a parish priest in the St. Patrick’s bulletin until late March, six weeks after the alleged assault, although Eckery told the San Diego Union Tribune that the priest was removed from his assignment on Feb. 4, the same day the diocese was made aware of the allegation.

Although Castillo was the subject of a criminal investigation at the time he was removed from the parish, the diocese did not disclose the circumstances of his departure to parishioners, or make any statement at the time Castillo was charged with sexual battery.

Eckery told CNA in September that the diocese did not disclose to Castillo’s parish the allegation of sexual assault because “it would be wrong for us to influence the case.”

“We need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear,” he added.

The diocese would not explain the priest’s removal from ministry to the parish where he served, Eckery told CNA, without trying first to determine if an act of sexual misconduct took place, and whether any sexual act was “non-consensual.”

Castillo was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

A spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office told CNA in September that if he is convicted, Castillo could face up to six months of incarceration, and be listed on California’s sex offender registry.

 


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US:    Ohio 'heartbeat abortion' ban advances toward governor's veto decision

Columbus, Ohio, Dec 13, 2018 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Ohio Senate has passed a modified bill to ban abortions when the unborn child has a detectable heartbeat, and backers could have enough votes to override a promised veto from Gov. John Kasich.

The 18-13 vote on House Bill 258 came Oct. 12, with four Republicans voting against the bill. Though 20 votes are required to override a veto, two absent Republicans’ votes could still help the bill become law.

An override vote would have to take place during the week of Christmas before the official end of the legislative session Dec. 31. Senate president Larry Obhof did not seem enthusiastic about the possibility of a Christmas week vote, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Kasich, a Republican, has a strong pro-life record, signing into law at least 18 abortion regulations or restrictions, including a 20-week abortion ban. The heartbeat bill is the only one he has vetoed, doing so in 2016, when legislators did not have the votes to override him.

Kasich is about to leave office in January for Governor-elect Mark DeWine, a Republican who supports the legislation.

The Ohio Senate passed an amendment clarifying that the bill would not require the use of a transvaginal ultrasound to detect a heartbeat, which would extend the period of pregnancy before a heartbeat can be detected. It removed language that would have allowed the state to suspend a doctor’s medical license before a crime related to abortion is proved in court.

The law allows exceptions to prevent a woman’s death or bodily impairment, or in cases of medical emergency.

Republican votes in committee and on the Senate floor rejected several Democratic amendments, including one that would have added exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

The House of Representatives passed the bill last month by a vote of 60-38, exactly the number of votes needed to override. Once the House agrees to the Senate’s changes to the bill, the governor would have ten days from a bill’s passage to veto it, excluding Sundays.

During 2016 debates over the bill, some pro-life critics voiced concern it could result in a counterproductive Supreme Court decision that would strengthen legal abortion in the U.S. It is unclear how the Supreme Court will rule with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, even if a legal challenge is made and progresses to the high court.

While groups like Ohio Right to Life have remained neutral on the bill due to constitutional concerns, backers of the legislation have said it is specially designed to pass Supreme Court scrutiny.

The Ohio Catholic Conference on Nov. 15 said it supports “the life-affirming intent of this legislation,” but stopped short of endorsement. The conference said it will continue to assist efforts to resolve “differences related to specific language and strategies.”

“In the end, the Catholic Conference of Ohio desires passage of legislation that can withstand constitutional challenge and be implemented in order to save lives,” the Catholic conference said.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, who is a past leader of Ohio Right to Life, said Dec. 12 that women who had testified against the bill spoke about their abortions with “tears in their eyes, pain in their heart,” the Columbus Dispatch reports.

“I have never had a woman cry when she said she chose life. Not once. Not a single time,” she said. “Because in our hearts we know this is a human life.”

Bill opponents like Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, charged that the bill sends the message that women “don’t have the capacity to make decisions themselves.” Women would still have abortions, in “a cruel and very dangerous way,” she said.

The bill’s text makes clear that a pregnant woman who undergoes an abortion is not considered in violation of the law. Rather, it allows her to take civil action against the abortion doctor involved if it is proven he or she broke the law, on grounds related to the “wrongful death of the unborn child.”

A doctor who performs an abortion in violation of the law would commit a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine, the New York Times reports. The bill requires state inspections of abortion facilities to ensure their compliance with reporting requirements. It also establishes more ways to promote adoption.

The legislature is expected to pass a bill to ban the dilation and extraction abortion procedure, typically used between 13 and 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Ohio law currently bars abortion 20 weeks or more after conception, based on when an unborn child can feel pain. Pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is considering a legal challenge to that law.


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Asia - Pacific:    Australian PM promises bill to protect against religious discrimination

Canberra, Australia, Dec 13, 2018 / 03:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid competing claims of religious freedom rights and LBGT rights, the Australian prime minister said Thursday the government will next year introduce a bill to protect against discrimination based on religious belief or activity.

“Australia is a place where discrimination on the basis of a person’s identity – including their religious identity – is unacceptable,” the office of Scott Morrison said Dec. 13.

“It is also a place where we respect the right of religious institutions to maintain their distinctive religious ethos. Our laws should reflect these values.”

Morrison also plans to appoint a freedom of religion commissioner at the Australin Human Rights Commission.

The government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also hopes to ensure that groups rejecting same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status.

The proposals are among the government's response to a review on religious freedom in Australia, which was finished in May.

Australia has seen debate over religious freedom in recent years with respect to the seal of the confessional, hiring decisions, and same-sex marriage.

The religious freedom review made 20 recommendations, of which the government will implement 14 as soon as practicable.

One recommendation, a Religious Discrimination Bill, will be “implemented following consultation to seek bipartisan support.”

Five more recommendations “require further consideration,” the government said. These include provisions relating to employment and enrolment in religious schools.

The head of the religious freedom review panel, Phillip Ruddock, told the Guardian Australia that it had “looked for examples of questionable conduct” against LGBT employees and students, but such examples were “few and far apart and ill-defined”.

Morrison's governing Coalition alliance has been at odds with the opposition Australian Labor Party over efforts to legislate regarding religious schools' ability to discriminate against LGBT students and staff.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney noted earlier this year that “we cannot take the freedom to hold and practice our beliefs for granted, even here in Australia,” and that “powerful interests now seek to marginalize religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life. They would end funding to faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, strip us of charitable status and protections.”

For example, in July, a group of trade unions in the country passed a motion saying that they will lobby to restrict the right of religious organizations to make hiring decisions based on adherence to Church teaching on sexuality.

And when same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia in 2017, efforts to include amendments that would protect religious freedom failed during parliamentary debate.


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US:    Bill recognizing 'reproductive rights' as human rights introduced in US House

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 02:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bill was introduced Monday in the US House of Representatives to require that the State Department include “reproductive rights” in its annual human rights report.

The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act of 2018 was introduced Dec. 10 by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), and was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The Trump administration's State Department included statistics on “coercion in population control” rather than “reproductive rights” in its 2017 annual human rights report.

The State Department's decision was applauded by pro-life leaders.

“‘Reproductive rights’ has long been a euphemism for destroying human life in the womb,” said Lila Rose, founder and president of the pro-life group Live Action, said when the report was released in April.

“A phrase that sounds like empowerment is a really only code for the subjugation of preborn children,” Rose added.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told CNA at the time that abortion is an “inappropriate indicator of human rights.”

The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act is a direct response to the State Department's decision.

A statement from Clark's office said that “removing women’s right from the annual report in 2017 was a dramatic and dangerous shift in U.S. efforts to protect the international rights of women.”

The State Department began including “reproductive rights” in its human rights report in 2011.

Clark commented that “documenting and reporting human rights violations is a major part of eradicating their existence. This bill would ensure that our State Department maintains its vital role as an international watchdog and protector of women’s rights no matter the ideology of our White House.”

Rep. Nita Lowey, a co-sponsor of the bill, characterized the State Department's decision as the US “turn[ing] its back on the countless women around the world who are deprived of basic reproductive rights.”

Another cosponsor, Rep. Lois Frankel, asserted: “Women’s rights are human rights. There is no greater right for women than to be in charge of their own bodies.”

Among the 45 organizations which have endorsed the bill are the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Psychological Association, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated that “when women’s rights are limited and they are unable to access basic health care like contraception, safe abortion, and maternal health care, their ability to achieve economic, social, and political empowerment is fundamentally hindered.”

The State Department's report currently includes a section on “Coercion in Population Control”, under a larger section titled “Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons”. The new section appears under the subsection for “women” and features reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization procedures, and “other coercive population control methods.” There are also links to maternal mortality figures as well as the prevalence of contraceptives in a country.


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US:    Michigan lawmakers approve ban on telemedicine abortion pill prescriptions

Detroit, Mich., Dec 13, 2018 / 11:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Michigan has passed a bill that would continue to prohibit doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs through a teleconference call, permanently extending a ban that first took effect in 2012.  

The Detroit Free Press reports that the bill passed the legislature in the early hours of the morning Dec. 13 by a vote of 62-47, with one Republican joining all the Democrats in voting against.

The pro-life group Right to Life Michigan praised the decision to continue to disallow so-called “webcam abortions,” which they say the abortion industry uses as a cost-saving measure despite at least 22 women having died from the use of abortion-inducing drugs.

“The law poses a burden on the abortion industry, particularly Planned Parenthood,” the group wrote in a Dec. 13 blog post.

“They already utilize the abortion pill as a cost-saving measure over a surgical abortion. There are not many abortionists, due to the unattractive nature of the profession's involvement in taking human life...How much more money could the abortion industry save if the abortionist can be 500 miles away, dispensing abortion pills with the push of a button after a quick video conference?”

Michigan lawmakers had passed legislation in 2012 that allowed doctors to teleconference with patients on a wide variety of medical issues— a service particularly useful for rural patients who have limited access to hospitals and specialized doctors.

At the time, lawmakers banned the prescription of the abortion inducing drugs mifepristone and misoprostol via teleconference, in accordance with guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration.

Michigan’s ban would have expired Dec. 31, but the new bill, if it becomes law, will make the ban permanent.

The FDA’s guidelines regarding mifepristone, which was first approved for use in 2000, state that the abortion drug “may only be dispensed in clinics, medical offices, and hospitals by or under the supervision of a certified healthcare provider.” The FDA warns consumers not to buy mifepristone over the internet due to safety concerns.

The action to permanently extend the ban is one of many “lame duck” actions that the outgoing Republican-controlled legislature is undertaking in Michigan before a new group of lawmakers begin their terms on Jan. 1.

The bill now awaits a signature from outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder.  

 


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Middle East - Africa:    Pakistani province announces plan to protect religious minorities

Lahore, Pakistan, Dec 13, 2018 / 10:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Pakistani official announced this week a new “Minorities Empowerment Package” and the creation of a task force to ensure the rights of religious minorities in the province of Punjab.

According to Dawn, Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Ijaz Augustine said the package will include new legislation and implement existing laws to assist religious minority communities.

A newly formed task force will be composed of professionals in human rights, law, and academics from a variety of religious communities, with the purpose of monitoring the implementation of human rights policies.

Augustine made the announcement at the Alhamra Arts Council with the Christian Care Foundation, coinciding with Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.  The ceremony included the distribution of certificates for activists and employees of the human rights department.

The empowerment package will implement religious minority quotas in jobs, education, and housing. It also looks to establish a sentence remission system and skill development trainings. The money will be taken from a Minority Development Fund worth more than $3 million.

“We are also focusing on skills development and have kept aside Rs25 million (nearly $180,000) for scholarships. We are also working on development and housing schemes specifically for the minority community,” said Augustine, according to Dawn.

The minister said an action plan, drafted by the provincial Task Force on Human Rights, will aim to carry out the goals of the Punjab Human Rights Policy 2018.

“We have also established a web-based Complaint Management System designed by the Punjab Information Technology Board for effective communication and resolution of human rights issues,” he said.

A commission to oversee equality of religious freedom has been called for in the past. The Pakistani Supreme Court ordered the creation of a National Council for Minorities in 2014, but it was subsequently ignored by past governments.

The Pakistani constitution affirms Islam as the state religion, but articles in the document prohibit discrimination and aim to protect religious freedom of minorities.

In practice, however, “the government of Pakistan has not addressed the spread of sectarian or religiously motivated intolerant speech and has not prosecuted perpetrators of violent crimes against religious minorities,” according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The U.S. State Department this week declared Pakistan as one of 10 “countries of particular concern” when it comes to religious freedom. The designation allows for further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.

In July during his presidential campaign, the Pakistani President Imran Kahn said he supported laws imposing strict penalties for blasphemy – including desecration of the Quran or insulting Muhammad.

While no one has been formally executed for the crime of blasphemy in Pakistan, mob killings have followed public accusations of blasphemy.

Servant of God Shahbaz Bhatti was Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs and the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet. He was killed by the Taliban in 2011 after showing support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who in 2010 was sentenced to death for blasphemy. She was acquitted in October 2018, but her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets.


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