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Notre Dame conference to focus on call to lay leadership

South Bend, Ind., Nov 22, 2019 / 12:39 am (CNA).- A professor at the University of Notre Dame has offered his reflections on lay leadership in the Church, in preparation for a conference on the subject, which will be held at the university next year.

Leadership in the Church should not be understood merely as the hierarchy, insisted John Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life and a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Rather, he said, all members of the Church, especially the laity, are called to be leaders in the New Evangelization.

This idea of lay leadership will be a major theme at the “Called & Co-Responsible” conference taking place at the University of Notre Dame March 4-6. The conference will analyze the call for lay leadership issued by popes over the last 65 years, ranging from Pope Paul VI in Vatican II to Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium.

“Our conference hopes to make this ‘co-responsible’ form of leadership visible as such, and at the same time to make the theology that empowers it visible as such as well,” said Cavadini.

“Lay people do not have a responsibility for mission that is limited to participating in a governance structure already fully intact, in which they are then slotted into subordinate roles,” he said. “It means that lay leadership is not limited to (though it certainly includes) ‘lay ecclesial ministry,’ which is a subordinate participation in the ministry specific to the ordained.”

He pointed to an address from Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke at the 6th Ordinary Assembly of the International Forum of Catholic Action in 2012. The pope made an important distinction between the role of the laity as “co-responsible” for the Church’s mission rather than merely “collaborators” of the clergy, he said.

Benedict XVI defined the mission of the Church as “guiding people to the encounter with Christ” and “proclaiming his message of salvation,” Cavadini said, and this is a mission that belongs to all Catholics.

“This great challenge is not presented to only a few in the Church - it is not directed to the hierarchy alone - but instead is the challenge properly belonging to all the faithful,” Cavadini said.

He also pointed to the words of Pope Francis, who has stressed the importance of formation for the laity in order for them to be equipped to fulfill their responsibilities.

“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority - ordained ministers - are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church,” Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium.

“At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities.”

The “Called & Co-Responsible,” conference will delve into these questions about leadership in the Church and formation of the laity. It will consider structures for consolidating lay leadership, the difference between governance and management, what it looks like for clergy to empower the laity for leadership, and how to ensure this leadership is ordered toward the sacramental life of the Church.

“Actually, we believe the answer is just under our nose!” Cavadini said. “It is already visible in the concrete and fully ‘co-responsible’ leadership of lay people and of clergy, already striving, almost instinctively, towards this new conception of leadership that Benedict introduced and Francis has developed.”

“We want to make this striving more visible and to reflect upon it consciously,” he said.

China pressures Trump to veto bill of solidarity with Hong Kong protesters

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- After the US Congress passed a bill Wednesday showing solidarity with Hong Kong protesters, China threatened President Trump if he would not veto the legislation.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang demanded Nov. 20 that Trump veto the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act “before it’s too late,” adding that "If the US continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” according to al-Jazeera.

The bill was passed in the House by a vote of 417 to one.

The act shows solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong, a special administrative region on China’s coast that for a century was a British colony, until its return to China in 1997.

The agreement of Hong Kong’s return was that the region would retain its own economy and legislature, although there have been ongoing concerns about Beijing’s efforts to influence and exert pressure on Hong Kong.

Massive protests in Hong Kong began in June over an extradition bill, but have morphed into larger actions against police brutality and in favor of democracy and greater freedoms.

The legislation passed by Congress on Wednesday directs sanctions against human rights abusers in Hong Kong. It would ensure that nonviolent protesters who have been arrested or detained would not have that record held against them as a primary reason for denial of entry into the U.S.

It also seeks to hold the island’s government accountable for any U.S. technology that is transferred into the Chinese mainland for mass surveillance or policing activities by the central government.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored the final bill S. 1838 in collaboration with the House, that passed both chambers.

Both the Chinese central government and Hong Kong’s government “continue to violate the basic rights of the Hong Kong people,” Rubio stated on Wednesday, and “the United States must make clear that we continue to stand with Hong Kongers fighting for their long-cherished freedoms.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) cosponsored the bill, saying it provides “additional tools to back up our long-time commitment to Hong Kong with action.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, authored the companion bill to Rubio’s legislation that passed the House in October. He first introduced the legislation in 2014 amid growing concerns over the increasing influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong.

On the Hosue floor before the vote on Wednesday, Smith noted recent abuses such as “the kidnapping of booksellers, the disqualification of elected lawmakers, and the political prosecutions of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Benny Tai and others.”
“Today, Hong Kong is burning,” Smith said, warning that “the brutal government crackdown on democracy activists has escalated” and that Chinese president Xi Jinping has threatened “crushed bodies and shattered bones.”

“And the Hong Kong government prefers bullets and batons over peaceful and political dialogue that would address the Hong Kong people’s rightful grievances,” Smith said.

Around 1 million took to the streets of Hong Kong in protest of the extradition bill in June; the bill would allow extradition of alleged criminals into mainland China for trial.

Although the bill was soon suspended, and then finally removed from consideration in October, the protests—largely non-violent at the outset—have continued with some outbursts of violence against both police and protesters.

Crackdowns by police that have fueled serious concerns about brutality. Authorities have used rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons, and even live rounds in several instances as one protester was shot by police at point-blank range in a video taken Nov. 10.

Some protesters have resorted to violence against police or against other protesters, as evidenced in video showing protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police and in one instance a masked protester setting a man on fire.

Two protesters have died in November, one falling from a parking garage during a clash between police and protesters, and another hit by a hard object from other protesters.

Some Catholics have participated in the protests as a means to fight for religious freedom. They have also expressed fears that the extradition bill could have been used by the central government to further control religion; some Catholics have been subject to a travel ban to the mainland by the central government, which is reportedly wary of mainland Catholics working with Hong Kong activists to fight for greater religious freedom on the mainland.

Local bishops have asked for an “independent commission of inquiry” to investigate police abuses and for the extradition bill to be pulled. The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Ha Chi-shing, has also called for Catholics to pray the rosary and fast on Fridays for peace and reconciliation.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) was the lone “No” vote on the Hong Kong bill, saying on Fox Business on Wednesday that its use of sanctions against human rights abusers would “escalate” U.S.-China tensions. “You don’t pull a gun unless you’re ready to shoot it,” he said.

Federal executions put on hold while court case moves forward

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction halting federal executions in the U.S., saying that a challenge to the proposed execution method should be given time to receive a court ruling.

The Trump administration had announced over the summer that it was planning to resume federal executions, after a 16-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty for federal prisoners.

Attorney General William Barr ordered executions to be scheduled for five inmates on death row. Four of those inmates challenged the lethal injection protocol that was scheduled to be used. The fifth inmate had his execution halted separately in October.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the District of Columbia said Nov. 20 that the four death row inmates must have a chance to argue their case in court.

The challenge involves the use of a three-drug cocktail, which sedates, paralyzes, and stops the heart of the person upon whom it is used.

The drugs have been controversial. In several botched executions, prisoners took as long as two hours to die, and appeared to be in excruciating pain, leading to questions about whether the paralyzing drug simply gave the appearance of a peaceful death rather than actually ensuring one. Critics have argued that the execution method constitutes a form of “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited by the constitution.

After a series of rulings against the three-drug protocol, which was used commonly in state executions, the Obama administration in 2003 placed the federal use of the death penalty on hiatus, while the Justice Department revised execution protocols.

In resuming federal executions, Attorney General Barr announced that the adoption of a single drug protocol. However, Judge Chutkan pointed to a stipulation in the Federal Death Penalty Act requiring federal executions to be conducted “in the manner prescribed by the state of conviction.” Two of the men sentenced to die had been convicted in states using the three-drug protocol.

Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was revised to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible,” citing the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, the unchanging dignity of the person, and the importance of leaving open the possibility of conversion.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are currently 62 federal inmates on death row.

Archbishop Gomez: The Church belongs to Christ

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 21, 2019 / 11:39 am (CNA).- Following his election as president of the US bishops' conference, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles has noted that what is of importance is not his own vision for the Church, but that of Christ.

“In interviews this week, I am getting asked a lot about my 'vision' for the Church. It is a good, sincere question. But I’m not sure it is the right question,” he wrote in a Nov. 19 column at Angelus News.

“The Church does not belong to any archbishop, even the president of the bishops’ conference. The Church does not belong to any of us. She belongs to Jesus, the Church is his Body and Bride.”

Archbishop Gomez said that the Church's mission and identity given her by Christ is “to tell the world about his life and what he has done for us, and to help them know that Jesus is the way that leads to the truth about their lives, to the love and happiness that they long for.”

The baptized “are called to be people who evangelize, disciples who are missionaries … this is the true nature of the Church. And our mission is urgent.”

The archbishop noted that our culture is confused “about the meaning of human life and freedom,” and that “there are many competing narratives now about how to find happiness and what is essential in life.”

The Church, he said, has a duty “to reach out to those who are no longer practicing any religion and also to those who come to church regularly but may not be sure what it means to be Catholic, or what the Church teaches and why.”

Archbishop Gomez called for the Church “to find new ways to propose Jesus Christ as the answer to the questions that every person holds in their hearts and minds. We need to call every man and woman to experience the full beauty of the gospel, the joy and newness of life that we have in Jesus Christ. We need to call them to find their home in the Church, in the saving mysteries of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.”

“So, my 'vision' is that we work together — priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated men and women, lay people in every walk of life — all of us seeking to do God’s will, spreading the good news of Jesus and his salvation and calling everyone to holiness.”

This is possible only by God's grace and “in union with Christ’s vicar on Earth,” he recalled.

Pope Francis “is leading us and calling all of us in the Church to rediscover this idea: that God has created us, and in baptism has given us a part to play in his plan of salvation — to be missionary disciples.”

Archbishop Gomez said he is honored and humbled by the support and confidence indicated by his Nov. 12 election as USCCB president.

He said the election “is a reflection of the growing diversity of the Church in this country, and I also think it is a reflection of what we are doing here in Los Angeles.”

“Certainly, the bishops recognize the presence and importance of Latinos in the Church and in our nation,” he added.

The universality of the Church is seen “in the amazing diversity of the local Church here in Los Angeles,” the archbishop stated. “But more and more, the face of the Church is changing in dioceses across the country.”

He said this is beautiful, reflecting that “Christ intends his Church to be a home for all people, God’s family on earth, with children of God from every race and culture, every nationality and language all following him and living as brothers and sisters.”

“This is the only reason the Church exists: for this great mission of calling the family of God into being, building God’s kingdom on Earth.”

Archbishop Gomez solicited prayers as he takes on the responsibility of USCCB president, and entrusted his time in the role “to the maternal care of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

“May she intercede for us and inspire every Catholic to follow Jesus with deep love and a true desire to share his message of salvation with the people of our time,” Archbishop Gomez concluded.

Democratic candidates: Protecting abortion is ‘what we do and what we stand for’

Atlanta, Ga., Nov 21, 2019 / 10:37 am (CNA).- Democratic presidential candidates struggled to respond when asked if pro-life politicians have a place in the party during a debate on Wednesday night. The candidates, however, did pledge their support for abortion and exhorted voters to do the same.

“I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), said at Wednesday night’s debate hosted by NBC News in Atlanta.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) challenged men to support abortion as a pro-woman issue. “Well let me just tell you that if there’s ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment,” he said.

Democratic presidential candidates faced off in the fifth debate in advance of the 2020 elections, in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday night. They were questioned by moderators from MSNBC and NBC News on health care, immigration, voting laws, climate change, and other issues.

Towards the end of the debate, moderator and MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow brought up the topic of abortion.

Maddow asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) if, in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court and the states have the authority to outlaw abortion, she would “intervene as president” to preserve abortion access in states where it “disappears.”

“Well, of course,” Klobuchar replied, calling for a codification of Roe into law at the federal level. Several candidates, including Warren and fellow frontrunner Joe Biden, have called for federal legislation on abortion rights in their campaign platform to prevent states from limiting the practice it in the event of a furture Supreme Court decision.

Maddow then asked if there is “room” in the Democratic Party for pro-life candidates, citing the re-election of Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards this past weekend; Edwards is outspoken in support of the pro-life cause and signed a “heartbeat” bill into law that banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six to eight weeks in a pregnancy.

“Is there room in the Democratic Party for someone like him?” Maddow asked Warren. “Someone who can win in a deep red state, but who does not support abortion rights?”

Warren said that “abortion rights are human rights” but did not specifically address the matter of pro-life candidates in the party. She did say that the party is “fundamentally” about preserving abortion access.

“Protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party,” Warren said.

Maddow followed up by asking “Is there room for [Edwards] in the Democratic Party with those politics?”

Warren answered, “I have made clear what I think the Democratic Party stands for.” She added that “I’m not here to try to drive anyone out of this party. I’m not here to try to build fences.”

“I want to be an America where everybody has a chance,” Warren said of abortion access.

In addition to calling for legislative codefication of Roe, Warren also called for federal laws to overturn state regulations of abortion such as “geographical, physical, and procedural restrictions and requirements” and “restrictions on medication abortion.” 

She has also supported taxpayer funding of elective abortions, coverage of abortion and contraceptives in health plans and in Medicare-for-All, services to educate and inform women about abortion access, and protections against workplace discrimination of abortion.

During the debate, the president of the organization Democrats for Life of America, Kristen Day, tweeted that in “talking to dems on the ground” in Atlanta, she was “surprised about how many people do not know that their candidate supports late-term abortion.”

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List tweeted that “79% of Americans OPPOSE late-term abortion” and that the “candidates’ abortion extremism is a major political vulnerability in November 2020.”

While late-term abortions were not a specific topic of discussion at Wednesday’s debate, candidates did not elaborate on any proposed limits to abortion access.

Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.) said that the matter of state abortion laws “is a voting issue” and “a voter suppression issue,” claiming that Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams lost her 2018 race against current governor Brian Kemp because of “voter suppression, particularly of African-American communities.”

“The ‘heartbeat’ bill here, opposed by over 70% of Georgians, is the result of voter suppression,” Booker said of Georgia’s “heartbeat” law that outlawed abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Gov. Kemp signed the bill into law in May, but the law was temporarily prevented from going into effect by a federal judge.

Booker implied that Gov. Kemp used the law as a weapon against the African-American community in Georgia. “When you have undemocratic means, when you suppress peoples’ votes to get elected, those are the very people you’re going to come after when you’re in office,” Booker said of the “heartbeat” bill.

Day tweeted in response that “If Stacey Abrams had taken a moderate position on abortion, she would have won,” referring to the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.

“The only Democratic Governor in the south is a pro-life Democrat. Abortion extremism & an abortion litmus test suppresses votes,” Day tweeted, referring to John Bel Edwards in Louisiana.

Edwards won his race with a high turnout of the African-American vote.

In an interview with local NPR affiliate WRKF, Edwards’ campaign consultant Greg Rigamer said that the African-American turnout in the election was higher in number than in the previous gubernatorial race, although representing a smaller share of the overall vote. Edwards, he said, “got literally-- unequivocally-- over 98% of the African American votes.”

Pro-life stem cell research finds success—and seeks more support

Iowa City, Nov 21, 2019 / 03:03 am (CNA).- A Catholic medical research institute has claimed some successes in providing alternatives to research that harvest cells from human embryos--but it says such research needs more resources to compete.

“There aren’t very many research organizations that we have seen that have taken a pro-life stand that we have, namely we won’t either support embryonic stem cell research or participate in it,” Jay Kamath, president of the Iowa-based John Paul II Medical Research Institute, told CNA Nov. 7.

The research institute, now based in the Iowa City suburb of Coralville, was founded in 2006. It has a research staff of about 12.

In recent years, the institute has pioneered a new technique to create adult stem cells, and its products have helped explore treatments for at least one rare disease. The organization hopes to build on these successes and demonstrate the effectiveness of ethical stem cell research.

Stem cell research today relies on cells taken from either human embryos or mature tissue. Stem cells harvested from embryos have a high degree of potential because they are capable of developing into any other tissue type in the body. However, they require the destruction of a human life at an early embryonic stage, making them ethically controversial. In addition, these cells can show instability and have a propensity for developing tumors. Critics note that despite significant federal funding, embryonic stem cells have failed to deliver cures for any diseases thus far.

Research on adult stem cells is more limited because these cells have less capacity to develop into various types of tissue. However, this research does not destroy a human life, because it is taken from developed tissue rather than a human embryo.

In recent years, the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells has brought hope to researchers looking for additional options. These cells have the ability to become any type of cell but are created from adult stem cells, avoiding the ethical concerns posed by embryonic stem cell use.

Still, funding for embryonic stem cell research continues, Kamath said, contrary to what some people believe.

“The reality is that embryonic stem cell research is still being well-funded and still continues,” he said. “It is something that the large number of medical research organizations either participate in directly or support participation in. The National Institutes for Health and the like are funding this kind of research.”

The John Paul II Medical Research Institute hopes to be a leading figure in offering alternatives to embryonic research. Since the institute’s founding in 2016, it has seen a number of significant accomplishments.

“We’ve been able to differentiate these stem cells into every type of tissue that’s available in the human body,” Kamath said. “We have a huge repository of stem cells.”

While induced pluripotent stem cells are often created through the use of viruses or a type of tumor-creating gene called oncogenes, Kamath said, the John Paul II Institute has developed new, different methods.

Dr. Alan Moy, M.D., co-founder of the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, has co-authored papers on the virus- and oncogene-free process for creating stem cells in two different papers: one in Regenerative Medicine dated Nov. 28, 2018 and one in Future Science OA, dated May 12, 2017.

Research at the John Paul II Institute has also helped two sisters who suffer from Niemann-Pick disease type C, a rare disorder that affects the body’s ability to transport cholesterol and other fatty substances within the cells. The disorder can cause dementia-like problems at an early age, and can kill if left untreated.

Researchers harvested stem cells through a biopsy of the patients and used these cells to test a drug called cyclodextrin, in participation with a National Institutes of Health lab.

“We were one of the first to collaborate and show that this drug is effective in a laboratory setting through our clinical research,” Kamath said. Researchers were able to advance the drug to a small-scale clinical trial. That trial has grown and is “helping these children fight off this disease.”

The institute’s researchers presently are developing two separate adult stem cell lines, from placenta and cord blood. The cell lines are in a process called “immortalization” – a technical term for the state in which cells grow indefinitely in artificial cell culture conditions.

Human embryonic kidney cell line, numbered HEK-293, is widely used in medical research for gene therapy, vaccine production, pharmaceutical applications for drug discovery, protein development, and medical manufacturing.

Kamath hopes the institute’s two cell lines can advance some research “to displace or replace the human embryonic kidney cell line in drug development or vaccine development.”

He said the research institute aims to use adult stem cells to build a “platform” to research various types of diseases: cancer; neurological diseases, like Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Multiple sclerosis; chronic diseases such as pulmonary disease, heart disease and diabetes; and rare diseases that number in the thousands but affect few people in number.

The institute encourages people with rare diseases to sign up for its patient registry so that it can potentially help the latter if any relevant research moves towards clinical use.

Looking to the future, Kamath said securing continued funding and raising awareness about the ethical research at the institute is an ongoing obstacle.

In 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media, asking people do dump ice water buckets on their heads and challenge others to do the same, while encouraging donations to the ALS Association, which funds efforts to cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Catholic commentators, including several bishops, noted that the ALS Association at the time was willing to use embryonic stem cells, and they referred potential donors to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute instead.

Still, the institute says, more support is needed.

Moy, the medical research institute’s founder, warned that there is little evidence that the pharmaceutical industry is interested in creating new ethical cell lines.

“This is going to create a moral and financial challenge for Catholic health care workers, Catholic medical researchers, Catholic hospitals, and a moral and health care challenge for Catholic patients and pro-life individuals who will someday need these advanced medicines that need to be free of cells that are created from abortion,” Moy said in an Oct. 19 YouTube video published by the institute.

“It’s our goal to someday validate that these cell lines can achieve and exceed the performance of aborted fetal cells currently used in biomanufacturing,” Moy said.

Kamath warned that if alternatives are not developed, Catholic hospitals could face compromising choices in what treatments they offer. If they offer such treatments, Catholic patients might be unwilling to undergo them. If they do not offer such treatments, he told CNA, Catholic hospitals could be perceived as failing to offer standard care.

The John Paul II Medical Research Institute’s Campaign for Cures seeks to raise $300,000 by the close of 2019. It is currently about one-third of the way to the goal.

The institute’s website is

Knights of Columbus give hundreds of new coats to Denver’s homeless before snowfall

Denver, Colo., Nov 20, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- It was a pleasant November morning in downtown Denver when volunteers with the Knights of Columbus set up tents for distributing new puffy winter coats, as well as snacks, socks and water, to homeless people.

But while roughly 150 people waited in line for the giveaway to start Nov. 20, the temperature outside crept down. The coats were coming just in time; a forecasted snowfall seemed likely as the afternoon approached.

Serena waited in line with a friend. She was looking forward to a new coat, she said, because her old one was getting too small.

“I’m very grateful to be able to receive a coat today,” Serena told CNA. 

Ted, who was at the front of the line in a worn red Marlboro coat, found out about the coat drive at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in downtown Denver, which distributes food to the homeless.

“It means a lot to me. My coat’s dirty, I need a new coat. And it’s going to snow tonight,” he said. 

Ted was eyeing the more colorful coats that were laid out on white plastic tables in the tent, waiting to be tried on and given away. He might take the blue and orange one, he said, because those are the colors of the Broncos, Denver’s NFL team.

Tracey sported a pink hat and yellow sunglasses while she waited in line for her coat. She said was excited to see some of her friends from Christ in the City, a Catholic mission for the homeless, at the event.

The giveaway was held in Lincoln Memorial Park in front of the state capitol building at the same time as Christ in the City’s weekly Lunch in the Park, an event that is just as it sounds. Hundreds of people got in line for lunch and then a coat, or first got a coat and then some lunch.

The coat giveaway for homeless people in Denver was a pilot event for the Knights, who are looking at replicating the event in other cities.

The project is similar to the Knights of Columbus’ Coats for Kids project, a national coat giveaway for children that the Knights have sponsored in the United States and Canada since 2009.

“We just felt that we needed to expand this program to the homeless. We’ve listened to Pope Francis and his word about taking care of the homeless, and we felt that this was one way that we can give the gift of warmth to people in need,” Knights of Columbus Supreme Secretary Michael O’Connor told CNA.

“We’re going to be getting bad weather tonight, there are two inches of snow predicted for tonight, so it’s the perfect time to be giving people new coats,” he said.

The giveaway also came just three days after the World Day for the Poor, which Pope Francis celebrated in Rome by having a meal with 1,500 homeless people.

“We’re just bringing the World Day of the Poor to Denver three days later,” O’Connor said. “So it’s in line with the mission of the Catholic Church, and we believe that we need to take care of those in need.”

O’Connor was one of several Knights who came from the organization’s national office in New Haven, Connecticut for the event.

The Supreme Council paid for and shipped more than 600 new winter coats and other supplies to Denver for the event, where they coordinated with local Council #539, located roughly two blocks away from the park where the giveaway was held.

“We have a lot of history in Denver,” O’Connor said. “The first council in the west was in Denver, it’s over 119 years old, it’s located 2 blocks from here. So for us, it seemed natural to have this event in conjunction with that council.”

Denver is also rich in resources for the homeless. Organizers with the Knights told CNA that they coordinated with Christ in the City because of the mission’s extensive experience working with the homeless and putting on events in the city park.

Sean Pott, a Denver native who now works in the national office in the department of Fraternal Mission, said he had the idea to do an event for the homeless in Denver because of the resources available there. Pott chatted with those in line for coats as they waited for the event to officially start.

“Sean had the idea to reach out on another level,” Andy Wheaton, a managing general agent in the insurance program of the Knights of Columbus, told CNA.

“It’s faith in action, and Christ in the City has been doing this a long time, and Sean (knows) the missionaries so he coordinated with them,” Wheaton added. “We’re using their rules and how they do everything.”

Wheaton said the missionaries held a training for the Knights last night about best practices when working with the homeless, including safety tips and easy topics for conversation.

Wheaton, who is local to Denver, said he was excited to see the collaboration with Christ in the City, a mission familiar to his family, and to be able to partake in the charitable event.

“Even though I work for them, I joined the Knights for this reason,” Wheaton said.


Support for religious freedom still strong despite culture wars

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2019 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- A new report by a leading legal group claims that, despite deep division and polarization in the U.S., there is still a national consensus for a broad interpretation of religious freedom.

“The central finding from this first year’s Index is that religious freedom has survived the culture wars,” the Religious Freedom Index released by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on Wednesday states.

Becket hosted the launch of the index on Wednesday, as a comprehensive study of American perspectives and views on religious freedom.

The index scores the views of Americans on six facets of religious freedom—religious pluralism, religious sharing, religion and policy, religion in action, religion in society, and church and state.

Data for the study was gathered by polling of a representative sample of Americans from around the country, conducted by Heart & Mind strategies.

Mark Rienzi, president and senior counsel at Becket, called the index “a new tool for understanding Americans’ sentiments towards our first freedom.”

The index’s three main findings are that Americans still support “a broad interpretation of religious freedom” despite the culture wars, are wary of governments penalizing people for the free exercise of religion, and support “accommodation" for minority religions.

The report found strong opposition to government taking adverse action against people or organizations for their free exercise of religion. Seventy-four percent of respondents answered that individuals and groups should not be penalized for saying that marriage is between one man and one woman; seven in ten answered that government should not interfere in the employment decisions of religious organizations.

Nearly three-in-four respondents, 74%, supported workplace accommodations for practice of minority religions, and 63% still supported such accommodations “when it creates an imposition or inconvenience for others.”

Certain racial minorities—African-Americans and Hispanics—were more likely to view religion as “part of the solution” in society, Montse Alvarado, Becket’s vice president and executive director, noted in a panel discussion following the release of the index.

Tim Carney, commentary editor for the Washington Examiner and author of the book “Alienated America,” pointed out that it can be “tricky” to explain the differing, seemingly contradictory, beliefs on the role of religion in society—often held by the same person.

For instance, he said, many Americans say there should be a “wall of separation” between church and state, yet also believe the government should be helping the poor.

However, the organizations with the best track record of serving the marginalized are often religious organizations, which brings up the question of government support of religious organizations.

While the “abstract” of such funding “bothers a lot of people,” he said, when the particulars of a situation are explained—the use of government funding for a church’s soup kitchen or a religious group that helps trafficking victims—people are usually more amenable to it.

Another common debate today over religious freedom, Carney said, is the freedom of churches and religious organizations to publicly hold beliefs deemed by some to be controversial and/or discriminatory.

For instance, failed Democratic presidential candidate Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke said in an October townhall that churches should face the removal of their tax exempt status if they teach that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Catholic adoption agencies have already closed their doors in some states, Carney said, and under such a mentality “you’re seeing the church retreat from the public square.” In these cases, the poor suffer, he said, but it also “reduces the appeal of the church” if its members or clergy are not seen in the public square.

For one of the questions of the importance of religion in the life of respondents, 43% answered that religion was “extremely” or “very” important, and 27% said it was “somewhat” important. 30% answered that it was either “not very” or “not at all” important.

Nearly six in ten respondents said it was “absolutely essential” or “very important” to act to protect religious freedom.

A majority (57%), given two different scenarios of a business owner or private organization “holding unpopular views” believed by some to be discriminatory, said that their belief was “somewhat” or “exactly like” that the owner or organization should be allowed to have their belief without losing their job or business.

Third judge finds against conscience protection rule for medical workers

San Francisco, Calif., Nov 20, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A third federal judge has struck down the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule for medical professionals who object to abortions because of their religious beliefs. 

U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled on Tuesday, Nov. 19, that the Department of Health and Human Services rule, “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority,” was too broad and would have permitted medical professionals that were not doctors or nurses, such as ambulance drivers and receptionists, to refuse to do their jobs if they involved abortion.

Alsup, ruling for the District Court for Nothern California, is the third judge to block the rule. In early November, federal judges in Washington state and New York also moved to strike the rule. 

"An ambulance driver would be free, on religious or moral grounds, to eject a patient en route to a hospital upon learning that the patient needed an emergency abortion,” said Alsup in his ruling. Alsup sits on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Presently, there are certain legal protections for medical professionals and conscience rights. Conscience rights campaigners say that these laws are not always followed or enforced, and the new rule was designed to clarify rights and entitlements available to those who have had their consciences violated. 

In 2011, HHS issued a rule which “provided inadequate enforcement of conscience rights,” according to the Trump administration. That rule was based on three laws. The 2019 rule was based on more than two dozen statutory provisions that protect conscience rights.

In response to the 2019 rule, a coalition of 19 states, the District of Columbia, local governments, and pro-abortion groups including Planned Parenthood’s national federation and Northern New England affiliate, all sued the administration.

“This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life,” said Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino. “Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it’s the law.”

“Laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” he added.

Tuesday’s ruling was in response to three lawsuits that were filed by the city of San Francisco, the state of California, and Santa Clara County, along with doctors and clinic workers. Prior to the ruling, San Francisco had already pledged not to protect conscience rights if the rule were to have gone into effect. 

California filed suit against the Trump administration three weeks after the rule was announced in May. In a statement announcing the suit, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that the conscience rule was dangerous to American lives and that “a war is being waged on access to health care across our country.” 

After Tuesday’s decision, Becerra referred to the conscience protection rule as President Trump’s “heartless, unlawful attempt to restrict the healthcare rights of women, LGBTQ individuals, and countless others.” 

Becerra was joined in the suit by the attorneys general from several other states. According to a statement released by the city, San Francisico could lose up to $1 billion in federal funding if the rule comes into effect since the city does not intend to comply with the conscience protection laws.

The state of California could have lost nearly $78 billion in federal funding for not complying with the rule. 

The rule was due to go into effect on Nov. 22 and the administration is expected to appeal the decision. 

Greensburg adoption, foster program shuts down amid legal battle

Greensburg, Pa., Nov 19, 2019 / 06:35 pm (CNA).- Catholic adoption and foster care agencies in Pennsylvania are continuing to close their doors as Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) continues a legal battle with the city of Philadelphia over the agency’s policy of not placing children with same-sex couples.

The Diocese of Greensburg announced Oct. 1 that it had closed its adoption and foster care program, which had been operating since 1954. The Greensburg program also provided adoption services for the Pittsburgh diocese.

“Due to a purely political attack on our ability to perform our adoption work, while at the same time being permitted to exercise our religious freedom, we have been frozen out of the major source of contracts related to these two fields of work,” said Monsignor Raymond Riffle, managing director of Catholic Charities of Greensburg.

The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ approximately 30 contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.

One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS), that had been working with foster children since its founding.

Run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, CSS has noted that no same-sex couple has ever sought certification through the agency and been denied. If such a couple were to do so, the agency says it “would refer the couple to one of 29 other agencies in Philadelphia—several within blocks of Catholic’s headquarters.”

Referrals are common, the agency notes, and are routinely carried out for reasons including geographic proximity, a specific agency’s medical or behavioral expertise, language needs, or a specialization in pregnant youth or other types of foster situations.

CSS is now suing the city of Philadelphia, arguing that the city’s decision to stop foster referrals violates their religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.

Lawyers representing CSS noted that earlier this year, the city of Philadelphia put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents, due to a shortage of beds for children in the foster care system.

CSS has served approximately 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time and been in operation in the city for more than a century.

In April, the Third Circut Court of Appeals ruled that city contractors— including CSS— in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide to hear the case as soon as Nov. 22, though it previously declined to review it.

Local media report that the Greensburg diocese, along with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services of the Diocese of Erie, sought a religious exemption from the state policy in 2018 but were denied.

According to TribLive, Greensburg Catholic Charities facilitated 167 adoption and foster care placements for both dioceses through its state contract, and also handled 158 adoption and foster care cases outside the state system, through a Harrisburg-based program known as Women in Need.

Adoption and foster care agencies have had to close in recent years for similar reasons in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Washington D.C.

In Buffalo, New York, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.

TribLive reports that as of now, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg is still an adoption provider for the state, along with St. Joseph’s Center of Scranton.

The Supreme Court was asked to take up the case in July, after declining to hear the case last year.

Andrea Picciotti Bayer, legal advisor for the Catholic Association, told CNA that it is possible that the court could make a decision on whether to hear the case this term.

“The State of Pennsylvania has now joined the city of Philadelphia in demanding that faith-based agencies choose between meeting...the needs of vulnerable children and violating their deeply held religious beliefs on marriage and family,” she commented.

“Our hope is that the Supreme Court will review the case brought by Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia and find that the Constitution does not allow such invidiousness against faith-based organizations, so that champions of children like CSS can continue finding loving homes for needy kids in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching,” she said.