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Botched abortions at Missouri's last abortion clinic raise questions

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 19, 2019 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- In a legal battle over the closure of Missouri’s last functioning Planned Parenthood, state health department officials cited four botched abortions as part of the reason that they do not want to renew the clinic’s license, according to reports from the AP.

The closure of the clinic would mean the closure of the last abortion clinic in the state. Last month, Planned Parenthood sued the state of Missouri after the health department declined to renew the clinic’s license.

On Friday, June 14, the state’s health department sent the St. Louis clinic and the court “documents, a letter and statement of deficiencies,” the AP reported, which included details on the four botched abortions at the heart of the licensure dispute.

The records, which were published by pro-life group Operation Rescue in an expose, were ordered to be sealed by St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer on Monday, June 17, after Planned Parenthood voiced concerns that the publication of the documents violated their patients’ right to privacy, the AP reported.

William Koebel, a state health department official, told the AP that the records now sealed by the court documented the failed abortions of three patients, whose babies survived after the botched abortions, and required additional surgical or medical abortions to end the pregnancies. Koebel noted that one of the patients with a failed abortion developed sepsis, a serious bacterial infection of the blood stream.

A fourth patient’s abortion at 21 weeks of pregnancy was completed at the clinic, but the patient was hospitalized afterward with “life threatening complications,” Koebel told the AP. He also noted his concerns that some of the botched abortions were done by resident doctors, who have failed to comply with the state health department’s investigation of the clinic.

In early June, Stelzer ruled that doctors, including doctors in residence, who were not currently employed by the St. Louis Planned Parenthood did not have to testify in the state’s investigation of the clinic. Stelzer dismissed the subpoena for their interviews as an “undue burden” on those doctors.

Koebel told the AP that their cooperation is “imperative” for a full investigation.

“Refusal of health care providers to cooperate in the Department's investigations thwarts the Department's ability to conduct meaningful review of troubling instances of patient care, and obstructs the Department's ability to ensure that problems will not be repeated,” Koebel said.

Lawyers representing the Planned Parenthood affiliate secured a restraining order in late May from Stelzer, which allows the clinic to continue operating while its licensure is disputed in court. The clinic’s ability to operate is up for review again on June 21.

In a separate case, on Friday, June 14, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge David Dowd ruled that Missouri’s legislature cannot cut funding from the Planned Parenthood clinic, after the clinic argued that it not only provided abortions, but other health care services, according to a local Fox News affiliate. Missouri Governor Mike Parson said the decision will be appealed.

Parson also recently signed a bill that punishes abortion doctors who perform abortions on a woman who is past eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies which seriously threaten the life or quality of life of the mother. The law does not penalize women who obtain abortions.

Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis called the eight-week abortion ban “a giant step forward for the pro-life movement.”

Analysis: One year after McCarrick, what's next for the Church?

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- Exactly one year after revelations about the sexual abuse of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick were made public, the Church in the U.S. remains in a state of serious scandal, and Catholics remain angry and discouraged. But what’s next for the Church - what happens after McCarrick - depends as much on the decisions of ordinary Catholics as it does on the policy decisions of the U.S. bishops.

McCarrick told the Washington Post in 2002 that to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse uncovered that year, “everybody has to have a plan, everybody has to have a procedure, everybody has to have a policy."

His fellow bishops needed to begin "really tackling this in a more comprehensive way,” McCarrick told reporters.

In the months that followed those remarks, McCarrick would become an architect, and a tireless promoter, of the U.S. bishops’ plans and policies to address clerical sexual abuse.

“I think we have to somehow make sure that our people know what we're doing, that the people know that the bishops are taking this seriously.”

People did not, in fact, know what McCarrick had been doing. By 2002, Theodore McCarrick had serially sexually abused at least two minors, and sexually coerced dozens of young priests and seminarians.

Knowing now what he knew then, it seems incredible that McCarrick was celebrated in the Post as a “national leader” on clerical sexual abuse.

But he was.

In April 2002, a scholar from Notre Dame told the Washington Post that McCarrick “understands the depth of the problem and the need to address it transparently...If his style of leadership were emulated, I think the church would be in better shape."

One year ago, on June 20, 2018, the Church learned far more than about McCarrick’s “style of leadership” than was expected. And the revelations about his decades of sexual abuse and coercion gave the Church a new look at the “depth of the problem.”

Since June 20, 2018, the Church in the U.S. has reeled from the Pennsylvania grand jury report, allegations of startling misconduct, neglect, or outright cover-up from many trusted or influential bishops, from the August letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, international reports concerning Bishops Gustavo Zanchetta, Jose Pineda, and Franco Mulakkal, from revelations concerning large cash gifts proffered by a bishop abuser, and from a USCCB and Vatican response to these disclosures that, in the judgment of many observers and commentators, has been tepid, at best.

It seems likely, even now, that more scandals, especially regarding finances, will be soon to emerge.

One year after McCarrick, what’s next? What will the Church face, and how will she face it?

It should be noted that the U.S. bishops’ conference has, despite multiple serious setbacks, passed some norms and policies intended to respond to this crisis. Those policies, are, in the view of many experts, a good start to policy reform in the Church, though only in the limited spheres they deign to address.

Those reforms have been panned by some critics as insufficient, merely reactionary, and totally inadequate to addressing an apparently complex constellation of problems, which includes immoral sexual activity, some of it coercive, by some priests and bishops, an apparent reluctance to stridently address those matters when they arise, a clerical culture that sometimes includes self-interest and self-protection, financial malfeasance, and a lack of accountability regarding those matters.

McCarrick called for policies in 2002, and in 2019, the bishops now have policies to address McCarrick.

But just as 2002's policies did not stop the McCarrick or Bransfield scandals, the USCCB’s measures are insufficient to resolutely address the scandal’s cluster of problems.

The bishops would be wise to recognize more publicly and directly the limited impact of policies and procedures, and the importance of personal integrity, virtue, accountability, and personal holiness.

But many Catholics say that while they have heard some bishops articulate that sentiment, they remain skeptical about even the just implementation of the bishops’ own reform policies. And their discouragement over those norms reflects a broader shift.

In fact, the most striking effect of the Church’s year of scandal is the degree to which faithful and practicing Catholics - among them priests, religious, and lay ecclesial staffers - have become discouraged, demoralized, and hesitant to trust.

And it has become clear that the U.S. bishops are unlikely to regain that trust in one fell swoop - through one grand or dramatic gesture of transparency, accountability, contrition, or condemnation. They had an opportunity for such a gesture at their November 2018 meeting, when they considered a resolution calling for the Vatican to release all available material on McCarrick. But that resolution failed.

It is clear that reform, and holding malfeasant bishops to account, will be a long-term project of limited success. Catholics will continue to call for greater accountability, transparency, and for basic answers to basic questions, but it remains to be seen whether their calls will be answered. If they are not, the scandal will be prolonged, and Catholics will likely grow even more demoralized.

In the meantime, the Church will suffer the loss of some Catholics, who have or will become less engaged in the practice of the faith in the wake of this scandal.

Of course, it is not only bishops who are responsible for preserving the bonds of ecclesial communion.

The Church has before faced crises occasioned by the sinfulness of its leaders. In each of those crises, believers have had to decide whether or not to remain in the communion of the Church, and to work themselves for reform and renewal. This case is no different.

No policies or procedures can overcome the reality of fallen humanity. Each Catholic must ask himself, in the wake of the McCarrick scandal, what it is reasonable and just to expect of a Church predicated on the premise that each of its members is a sinner in need of redemption.

This exercise should not make excuses for malfeasance and ineptitude, but it should be an honest assessment of the limits of all human endeavors for reform.

One year after the initial disappointment, and then the compounding disappointments of cover-ups, denials, and missed opportunities, Catholics must begin to ask themselves whether they will still commit to communion with a Church of woeful sinners, and whether they will commit to its mission.

And, in this moment, each Catholic must ask himself whether his righteous indignation has become self-righteous hubris. After the initial shock of the last year has worn off, a protracted hermeneutic of suspicion or reactive anticlericalism is not likely to contribute to a renewal of the Church in the United States. But those things are a temptation.

Also temptations are endless bureaucratic tinkering, empty promises, and covering up cover-ups. Bishops must ask themselves how radically committed they are to their promises of reform.

In short, saints will move the Church forward, and each Catholic must ask himself whether he wishes actually to become a saint.

The project of the new evangelization is that of reproclaming in the Gospel in once Christian cultures. As the influence of the Church wanes - even on the moral and spiritual lives of Catholics - the secularity of American culture is, for many Catholics, laid clearly bare.

The McCarrick scandal could be the moment in which the Church steps back, to ask more fundamental questions about why so few people baptized as Catholics practice the faith into adulthood, and what can be done about it. Some bishops seem to have seriously taken up those questions in recent years, and others have not. Some bishops will see in this scandal the bigger picture, and others will not.

But nothing precludes laity, religious, and clerics aggrieved and angry about scandal to ask that question, and to look for answers that will bear more fruit than perduring fulmination against the failures of bishops.

Answers will be diverse. They should include ongoing and serious efforts for reform, but they should not be limited to those efforts.

Doubtless, some Catholics will say that a renewal of the Church will come from a resurgence of more traditional liturgical forms. Others will make mention of ecclesial movements like the NeoCatechumenal Way or Communion and Liberation. Still others will suggest evangelical initiatives like Focus or Word on Fire. That diversity - a motley flurry of evangelical activity - is likely the key to real renewal in the life of the Church in the U.S.

The history of the Church proves that there is not one methodology or program that has the corner on evangelization - that instead various spiritualities and movements can be fruitful, if they are rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.

That focus - which points toward a renewal far beyond hurried policy documents - is the key to a fruitful and living Church after the McCarrick scandal. Some bishops may lead on those fronts, while others disappoint, or seem to miss the mark. Some scandals will be addressed, while others may long go unresolved, and new ones will emerge. The life of the Church will be often messy, often disappointing, often frustrating, and always in need of renewal, reform, and conversion. Catholics, bishops included, will face the choice of working towards those ends, or not.

But a serious commitment to apostolic and evangelic activity- to the proclamation of the Gospel - is also the best prospect for reform. A holier Church, dedicated more zealously to mission, will also be a more just and less corrupt Church.

A great deal has changed in the aftermath of the McCarrick scandal. But sin, corruption, betrayal, and failure are not new to the Church. Nor is Jesus Christ, the source of grace, justice, and renewal, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  
 

 

One year since the McCarrick allegations: A CNA timeline

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- June 20 marks one year since the announcement that credible allegations of sexual abuse had been raised against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In the months that followed, a major crisis of abuse and cover up within the Church in the U.S. was revealed, and Church officials have responded with new policies and pledges of transparency. Here is a timeline of major events in the last year:


June 20
The Archdiocese of New York announces that an allegation of sexual abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been found to be “credible and substantiated.” In the following months, additional allegations will be raised against McCarrick, including claims that McCarrick had a widely-known reputation for sexual advances toward seminarians.

July 3
The Diocese of Cheyenne says Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart has been credibly accused of sexually assaulting two boys after he became bishop of the diocese in 1976. A third credible allegation is confirmed a few weeks later.

July 28
Pope Francis accepts the resignation of McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and suspends him from the exercise of any public ministry. He directs McCarrick to observe a life of prayer and penance, pending the canonical process against him.

August 14
A grand jury report in Pennsylvania details allegations against some 300 priests, from more than 1,000 victims in six of the state’s Catholic dioceses over a 70-year period. The report was met with national outcry and prompted more than a dozen other states to follow suit.

August 16
The U.S. bishops’ conference calls for a Vatican-led investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up surrounding McCarrick.

August 25
Former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano releases a “testament” claiming that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

August 26
Asked during an in-flight interview about Vigano’s letter, Pope Francis says he “will not say a single word” on the subject and instructs journalists to use their “journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.”

September 12
Pope Francis calls for all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world to meet at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 to address the protection of minors.

September 19
The administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announces new accountability measures, including a code of conduct for bishops and the creation of an independent reporting mechanism for complaints against bishops. The committee also calls for a full investigation into the allegations against McCarrick and the Church’s response to these allegations.

October 6
The Vatican announces that Pope Francis has ordered a review of all Holy See files pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick. The results of that review have not, to date, been released.

November 12
U.S. bishops gather for an annual fall meeting in Baltimore; the Vatican instructs them to delay until after the February meeting a vote on two proposals intended to be the foundation of the U.S. Church’s response to the abuse crisis.

November 14
The U.S. bishops fail to pass a resolution that would have “encouraged” the Holy See to release all documents on the allegations of misconduct against McCarrick.

January 2-8
At the suggestion of Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops hold a retreat to consider how to respond to the still ongoing sexual abuse crises facing the Church.

January 11
McCarrick is laicized. Also known as dismissal from the clerical state, he no longer has the right to exercise sacred ministry in the Church, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death. In addition, he no longer has the canonical right to be financially supported by the Church. A statement from the Vatican announcing the laicization is released Feb. 16.

February 21 - 24
The Vatican holds a sex abuse summit with the heads of bishops’ conference from countries around the world. The summit’s stated purpose is to educate the world’s bishops on their responsibility for protecting minors from abuse within the Church.

April 4
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith upholds a 2018 verdict finding Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agana, Guam, guilty of several abuse related charges. Apuron is deprived of his office as archbishop and forbidden to use the insignia of a bishop or live within the jurisdiction of the archdiocese. He is not removed from ministry or the clerical state, and is not instructed to live in prayer and penance.

May 9
Pope Francis issues new experimental norms for the handling of some sex abuse allegations. The norms place seminarians and religious coerced into sexual activity through the abuse of authority in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. They also establish obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, require that every diocese has a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations of abuse or negligence against suffragan bishops.

June 4
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, is accused of mishandling an allegation of sexual coercion made against his former vicar general by permitting the priest to transfer to another diocese and continue in ministry. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston disputes the claim, saying the priest underwent a rehabilitation process, and was recommended to be returned to ministry by the professionals who assessed him.

June 5
An investigation finds credible allegations of sexual harassment and coercion of adults by former Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, as well as the fostering of “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” that prevented his conduct from being discovered or reported. Pope Francis had accepted Bransfield’s resignation the previous September when he turned 75.

June 12-13
At their annual spring meeting, the U.S. bishops approve the creation of a national third-party reporting mechanism, directives to apply the pope’s new norms, protocol for a diocesan bishop to restrict the ministry his predecessor when needed, and a set of non-binding moral commitments pledging to hold themselves to the same standards applied to priests.

House Democrats pass appropriations bill with Hyde Amendment intact

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives passed a combination appropriations bill on Wednesday afternoon that renews the Hyde Amendment, preventing federal Medicaid funds from being used for abortions.

The bill passed by a vote of 226-203 on June 19 and contains funding for four separate spending areas, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the provisions of the Hyde Amendment.

The vote was cast almost entirely along party lines. All but seven Democrats voted for the spending bill, and no Republicans voted for it. A last-ditch bill amendment effort by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) to remove the Hyde Amendment from the bill was rejected as a violation of the House procedural rules.

Democratic presidential candidates have expressed an increasing consensus in favor of overturning the Hyde Amendment, and scrapping the policy was part of the Democratic Party platform in 2016.

Former vice president Joe Biden, who currently leads the field of candidates for the Deomcratic nomination for president, recently announced a reversal of his position on the Hyde Amendment and now backs its repeal after over four decades of supporting the measure.

Despite widespread opposition to the policy within the Democratic Party, the Hyde Amendment was included in this year’s spending bill in recognition of the need for approval in the Republican-controlled Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump.

Senate Republicans have indicated that they would not vote for an appropriations bill without the Hyde Amendment, and it is considered unlikely that President Trump would sign such a bill.

The Hyde Amendment was first passed in 1977, and prohibited the use of federal money for abortions, except in cases where the woman’s life is at risk. The amendment was slightly modified in 1994, when exceptions were added for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest.

The Hyde Amendment applying only to federal funds, individual states are free to use their own Medicaid funds for abortions.

'Transgender' track rules violate Title IX, ADF says

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The governing body for high school sports in Connecticut is facing a federal complaint after allowing male students to compete in female events.

Three female students, supported by Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit group advocating for the defence of religious liberty, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights after male students were allowed to compete in the 2018 female outdoor track season.

The complaint alleges that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which is a governing body for high school sports in Connecticut, is violating federal Title IX norms by allowing male athletes who identify themselves as females to compete in sports against female athletes.

CIAC member schools include many of the state’s Catholic high schools.

The two male students, who identify themselves as female, were allowed to compete during the track season and placed well ahead of their female competitors.

Since 2017, the CIAC allows athletes to compete in leagues consistent with “preferred gender identity.”

In the spring 2018 outdoor track season, a sophomore runner who had already competed in the 2018 indoor track season on the boys’ team changed his gender identification and was permitted to compete as a female.

In the 2018-2019 seasons, he, along with another female-identifying male runner, have consistently placed as the top-two finishers in their events against female runners. One of the males now holds 10 state records in female track events. Previously, these records were held by 10 different runners.

ADF is requesting that the Office for Civil Rights investigate alleged Title IX violations, and compel the CIAC to change its athlete policy.

Title IX of the 1972 Educational Ammendments Act states that "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

ADF asserts that allowing male athletes to compete in female events is discriminatory against female athletes.

Additionally, the ADF has requested that the CIAC retroactively recognize runners who would otherwise have won or qualified for events had they not been competing against males.

One of the three girls represented by the ADF complaint is Selina Soule, a 16-year-old from Glastonbury High School in Connecticut. Soule, who runs track, missed qualifying for the state finals in the 55-meter dash by one place. The top two finishers in the event were both males identifying themselves as female.

The other two complainants, who also run track, have chosen to remain anonymous.

“Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. Forcing female athletes to compete against boys is grossly unfair and destroys their athletic opportunities,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb in a statement posted on the organization’s website.

“Title IX was designed to eliminate discrimination against women in education and athletics, and women fought long and hard to earn the equal athletic opportunities that Title IX provides. Allowing boys to compete in girls’ sports reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women under this law.”

Speaking on Fox News, Soule said that she has received “nothing but support” from her teammates and from other athletes, but she has “experienced some retaliation from school officials and coaches.”

In a 2018 interview after the state championships, Soule said that she had “no problem with [the male athletes] wanting to be a girl,” but that she did not think it was right that she had to race males.

“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands,” she said in 2018. The New England championships serve as a scouting venue for many college-level coaches.

Earlier this month, the Congregation for Catholic Education issued a document laying out principles for Catholic engagement with so-called gender theory, which posits that biological sex and gender are intrinsically mutable and seperable.

The document, titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” called gender theory an effort “chiefly to create a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution, since such beliefs claim specific rights for the individual and across society.”

“There is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated,” said the document.

“The denial of this duality not only erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation but creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who ‘chooses for himself what his nature is to be.’”

California bishops call Catholics to 'ecological spirituality'

Sacramento, Calif., Jun 19, 2019 / 10:26 am (CNA).- On the fourth anniversary of Laudato Si’, the bishops of California challenged the community to grow in an “ecological conversion” that respects God, man, and creation.

The California Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a June 18 pastoral statement reflecting on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On care for our common home.”

The bishops reflected on the call to stewardship of the environment and how concrete actions are necessary to exercise this stewardship in preserving the natural beauty of California.

“The astonishing diversity of landscapes across California - formed by the dynamic interplay of diverse natural forces - moves us to recognize God’s artistry in creation,” the bishops said.

“We propose a practical application of the Laudato Si’ message of ecological spirituality - that the ecological well-being of California is meant to be deeply embedded in a spirituality that unites all creatures and all creation in praising God.”

Man is responsible for caring for creation, the bishops said in their message. They encouraged people to find ways to prevent waste and ensure sustainability. They suggested Catholics invest in energy efficient appliances, residences, and vehicles. In two examples, the bishops said families may consider adding solar panels to their homes, and businesses may reflect on the environmental impact of the products they produce.

In addition, the bishops highlighted the importance of dialogue about environmental issues and the development of educational materials to further awareness on the topic. They called for works of art that reflect the beauty of creation in order to “inspire a culture of ecological and human care in the light of the moral applications of the Pope’s encyclical.”

The California bishops said climate change harms both the environment and people, especially the most vulnerable. They noted that Pope Francis has included the issue in his admonitions of a “throwaway culture,” which also includes consumeristic excess, abortion, and euthanasia.

“The disruption of the earth’s climate is one of the principal challenges facing humanity today, with grave implications for the poor, many of whom live in areas particularly affected by environmental degradation and who also subsist largely on access to natural resources for housing, food, and income,” they said.

It is the responsibility of the local community to work together to overcome climate change, the bishops stressed, calling particularly on young people, businesses, and public officials to be involved.

“Subsidiarity presents an opportunity for all of us to act locally, but with an eye to broader social transformation to advance sustainability and climate protection,” they said.

In recent years, California has faced significant drought, as well as the largest fire in state history, which took place last year, when more than 400,000 acres were burned in and around Mendocino County. The state’s four hottest years on record occurred from 2014-2018.

To respond to these climate crises, the bishops said, it is important to ensure that people have access to clean, affordable water and to provide proper fire education and prevention measures.

They also called for efforts to strengthen aqueducts and water ways to withstand drought, as well as greater investment in attempts to better understand the effects of climate change on water systems.

“The Laudato Si’ call to live integral ecology means listening to creation and observing what is happening in it,” the bishops said. “To live out a spirituality of the common good, we must recommit ourselves to fostering greater harmony in our relationship with the earth.”

The state bishops promised to work with pastoral leaders to spread the message of Laudato Si’. They challenged parishioners and communities to undergo a spiritual conversion and grow in virtues which will positively affect the environment.

“At the heart of all spirituality is conversion. We all need to change for the better. Conversion is not just turning back to God, but always embraces new thinking and new decisions - a new way of life as we move into the future,” they said.

“Ecological conversion challenges us to advance in culture, to grow spiritually, and to be better educated about the world entrusted by God to our care. The heavens and the earth belong to God, but we have been called to be good stewards.”

 

Families are a radical witness to hope in modern society, Archbishop Gomez says

South Bend, Ind., Jun 19, 2019 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The Christian family must become a “radical” sign against a climate of despair and isolation Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said Tuesday.

Gomez, who serves as the vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivered the speech June 18 as part of a four-day conference on Liturgy and the Domestic Church at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

“Our society has rejected what twenty centuries of Christian civilization considered a basic fact of nature — that most men and women will find their life’s purpose in forming loving marriages, working together, sharing their lives, and raising children,” Gomez said.

The archbishop explained that in previous decades preserving and promoting the family involved a cluster of issues, including divorce, cohabitation, contraception and abortion, same-sex relationships, and the sexual confusion of society. Now, he argued, the basic human imperative to marry and have children is being abandoned.

“Many young people are debating whether it is ‘ethical’ to have kids in an age of global warming. There is an even larger conversation going on among millennials about the ‘value’ of starting a family,” Gomez said.

Just Google that simple question: ‘Should I have kids?’ It is sad, the results that come back. Not only that. It is sad how many people are asking these kinds of questions.”

“The truth is this: for whatever reasons, people have already stopped having children.”

Gomez said that the decline of birth rates, and the rejection of the concept and worth of family, is a sign of more than just selfishness: it is an indication of despair. Without minimizing the importance of climate change, Gomez said, a cultural narrative of coming dystopia has emerged, in which children are considered to be better off having never been born.

“These same kinds of bleak scenarios are being spun out daily in newspapers and magazines, in books, in the media, in classrooms,” Gomez said, and it is the mission of the Church, expressed through the witness of the Christian family, to respond.

“The question for us is: how are we going to live as Christians in this culture, and how are we going to raise our children and evangelize this culture? In these times, what case can we make for marriage, for the family, for children?”

In the Los Angeles archdiocese, he said, a community of more than five million Catholics was baptizing 50,000 infants every year. “These are not just numbers,” Gomez said, “these are souls, entrusted by God to our care. As a pastor, I do not want a single one to be lost.”

It is vital, he said, to discover and promoted the “Domestic Church” of the family, rooted in a parish able to sustain and support them.

“In my opinion, forming small faith communities is crucial,” Gomez said, while insisting that continuous sacramental and faith formation was essential to the life and mission of the Church.

“When we marry a couple or baptize a child — we need to see that as the beginning of a relationship. We need to find ways to nurture that relationship, to support that child and that couple, to help them grow in their love of Jesus and their commitment to living the Gospel in their families.”

Formation of families in the faith is, Gomez said, central to the Church’s mission at a time when the Gospel message is once more seen as antithetical to the culture.

“We need to rediscover the radical ‘newness’ of the Christian message about the family,” he said.

“Before Christianity, no one had ever spoken about marriage in terms of a love that lasts a lifetime, or as a calling from God, or as a path that can lead to holiness and salvation. It was a new and thrilling idea to speak of man and woman becoming ‘one flesh’ and participating in God’s own act of creating new life.”

The simplicity of the family, mirroring the hidden life of Christ in the Holy Family of Nazareth, offers the opportunity to evangelize by a witness to hope and to authentic human happiness – something which society is losing along with the will to have children.

“The first Christians evangelized by the way they lived. And the way they lived was to be in this world but not of this world. They lived the same lives as their neighbors, but in a different way,” Gomez said.

“They rejected birth control and abortion and welcomed children in joy as a gift from God and treated them as precious persons to be loved and nurtured and brought up in the ways of the Lord.”

“The first Christian families changed the world — simply by living the teachings of Jesus and his Church. And my friends, we can change the world again, by following the same path.”

US Supreme Court will soon decide 'Peace Cross' First Amendment case

Washington D.C., Jun 18, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- Before the month is out, the US Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in an establishment clause case with the potential to create a new standard for dealing with problems related to religious liberty, religious symbols, and the relationship between religion and public life.

The case, The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, hinges on the legality of the Bladensburg Peace Cross--a 40-foot stone cross that was erected in 1925 in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The cross honors those from the area who were killed in World War I. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has performed regular maintenance around the monument since 1961, as it is located on a median in the middle of a public road. This, the American Humanist Association has argued, is entangling government unnecessarily with religion.

Joe Davis, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that things appeared to be positive during oral arguments, and that “at least five” of the justices indicated that they felt as though the cross monument was legal. Oral arguments do not, however, always reflect what the justices decide months later.

If the Supreme Court does indeed rule in favor of keeping the peace cross, it is increasingly likely that they would have to use a new sort of legal test to justify how the cross is constitutional. Since 1971, the Supreme Court has used the “Lemon test” to decide these cases, something Davis described as “wildly inconsistent.” The application of the Lemon test has led to some religious symbols being found constitutional, and others not.

“(The Lemon test) has been heavily criticized over the decades," explained Davis.

It is a threefold standard, which examines if the action in question has a secular purpose, a primarily religious or secular effect, and if the action “entangles the government with religion” excessively.

The “test” was established in the Court's 1971 decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, which struck down a Pennsylvania law allowing the reimbursement of private school teacher's salaries from public funds.

In The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, those arguing in favor of the Peace Cross proposed alternative tests for the court to consider instead of Lemon.

"The parties defending the cross argued that (the Lemon test) should be replaced by a coercion test, when you ask if the government action is coercing some religious exercise,” said Davis. “And if it's not, it's not an establishment clause violation."

The governmental party defending the Peace Cross put forward an “independent, secular meaning test,” said Davis, which would be similar to parts of the Lemon test.

The Becket lawyers argued what Davis termed a “historical approach,” which would put the action in the context of what the founders of the United States intended when they created the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

“The idea would be, you take the government action and you say ‘Does this look like what establishment of religion looks like at the founding? Is this the kind of thing that the founders were concerned about when they ratified the establishment clause?’” said Davis.

This historical approach would work, said Davis, “because you can just compare whatever the current case is about to the historical data, and see whether it matches up.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in February. The court’s term ends at the end of the month, meaning that the decision will be released shortly.

Mom, target of doxing state rep, calls for Sims’ censure

Harrisburg, Pa., Jun 18, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- State Rep. Brian Sims is facing possible censure in the Pennsylvania legislature following his harassment and attempts to dox women and minors outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic last month.

In videos posted on social media May 2, Sims offered money to his followers if they would publish the names and addresses of pro-life demonstrators, including two women and several high school-age students. One of the demonstrators, Ashley Garecht of Lower Merion Township, travelled to Harrisburg June 17 to encourage state legislators to back the censure.

“It’s unclear to me why any member of this body would be hesitant to sign on to the resolution,” said Garecht, who can be seen with her daughters being harassed by Sims in one of his videos.

Garecht told local media that she thinks the incident highlights Sims’ abuse of power as much as his intolerance for pro-life speech.

“What happened to us was about an elected state representative who declared in his own video to be an elected state representative harassing and intimidating citizens out of their First Amendment rights--and three of those were minors. Then he took it a step further by offering money to expose their identities on the internet.”

So far, 36 lawmakers have supported the resolution, out of the 201 members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Carbon/Schuylkill) filed the resolution in early June. Knowles is seeking to remove Sims from the four committees he belongs to, as well as prevent him from being appointed to any additional committees or positions until the end of his term. Sims’ term expires Nov. 30, 2020.

“It should be noted that Representative Sims also used his elected position to intimidate the individuals with whom he was interacting, clearly stating on the videos that he was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,” said the memorandum issued by Knowles that was sent to other members of the Pennsylvania House.

In the videos, Sims referred to one woman as an “old white lady,” and in another, he targeted three teenage girls accompanied by Garecht.

Sims has not yet publicly apologized for attempting to dox the pro-lifers, but he did publish a video where he pledged to “do better for the women of Pennsylvania.”

Following outcry against Sims’ actions, a pro-life rally was held outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia on May 10, where Sims is a volunteer patient escort.

In the 2014 case McCullen v. Coakley the Supreme Court unanimously found “buffer zones” around abortion clinics, limiting the space where a person can either pray or protest, to be unconstitutional.

Garecht said she has forgiven Sims for his doxing threat and harassing comments, and that she and her family continue to pray for them. She may pursue some sort of civil action suit against Sims.

“This isn’t about a vendetta for me as a mother,” said Garecht. “This is about standing up specifically for my daughters to hold the person who attacked them to account.”

Supreme Court gives second chance to Oregon cake bakers who declined same-sex wedding

Portland, Ore., Jun 18, 2019 / 12:20 am (CNA).- An Oregon bakery whose owners declined to make a cake celebrating a same-sex commitment ceremony will get another chance in court, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 17 ruling ordered lower courts to reconsider a massive fine and other penalties in light of a similar Colorado case.

“The Constitution protects speech, popular or not, from condemnation by the government,” Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO and chief counsel of the legal group First Liberty, said June 17. “The message from the court is clear, government hostility toward religious Americans will not be tolerated.”

“This is a victory for Aaron and Melissa Klein and for religious liberty for all Americans,” added Shackleford.

The Kleins, who are practicing Christians, owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery in the Portland suburb of Gresham, Ore. In January 2013, the couple declined to bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony, citing their religious views. They then lost an effort to fight a lawsuit charging they had illegally discriminated.

First Liberty, a non-profit legal firm based in Plano, Texas, focuses on religious freedom cases with a nationwide scope. It is representing the Kleins as are two attorneys from its network: C. Boyden Gray, former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union; and Adam Gustafson, both of Boyden Gray & Associates.

Boyden Gray said the Supreme Court should decide whether its 2015 ruling that mandated legal recognition of same-sex marriage “can be wielded as a shield in defense of same-sex unions but also — as in this case — a sword to attack others for adhering to traditional religious beliefs about marriage,” NBC News reports.

The women who had attempted to commission the cake from the Klein’s bakery filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, claiming discrimination based on sexual orientation. The mother of Rachel Cryer, the woman who tried to order the cake, had asked Aaron Klein to reconsider, but he declined.

While the legal complaint was pending, Aaron Klein posted the first page of the couple’s complaint, which contained their names and contact information, on the Sweet Cakes by Melissa Facebook page. The women said they received death threats as a result of the posting, which was taken down after one day.

The State of Oregon in its filing with the Supreme Court had argued that the lower courts had ruled correctly. “Baking is conduct, not speech,” its filing said. “A bakery open to the public has no right to discriminate against customers on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

Requiring equal treatment for customers regardless of sexual orientation does not compel support for same-sex marriage “any more than the law compels support for religion by requiring equal treatment for all faiths,” said the state filings, according to NBC News.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa closed in September 2013, a decision that the owners described as a “devastating loss.”

In April 2015, the Oregon labor bureau ordered the Kleins to pay damages to the plaintiffs, ruling that by declining to design and make the cake, they had violated Oregon law barring discrimination in public accommodations. The labor bureau ordered them to pay a $135,000 penalty for emotional damages and issued a gag order that prevented them from “even talking about their beliefs,” First Liberty said June 17.

The Kleins initially attempted to raise the cost of the fine on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe, but their effort was taken down by the site, which cited a violation of their terms of service.

In their appeals, the Kleins claimed that their First Amendment right to free speech was violated by the state’s decision.

Their prior appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court was rejected in June 2018. This left in place the decision of the Oregon Court of Appeals, which rejected claims that a cake is a work of art. That court said “even when custom-designed for a ceremonial occasion, they are still cakes made to be eaten.” Those who attend a wedding might consider the cake to be an expression of the views of the couple who undergo the ceremony, not the views of the baker, the court said.

That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, owner of the bakery Masterpiece Cakeshop, who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not respected Phillips’ sincerely-held religious beliefs when it ordered him to make a custom cake for a same-sex couple.

There are 21 states that bar discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, among other categories.

Similar laws and regulations have affected wedding industry professionals in other states, including bakers and photographers. Such laws and regulations have also closed or stripped funding from Catholic and other Christian adoption agencies that decline to place children with same-sex couples.

The proposed federal Equality Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in May, would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law and strip defendants’ ability to appeal to religious freedom as a defense against discrimination claims.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop itself has faced two more lawsuits. It refused to bake a cake to a transgender person seeking a “gender transition cake,” with the lawsuit thrown out of court. A second lawsuit later came from the same person seeking to make a similar cake, but then added it was a birthday cake with special status for the individual as a self-identified transgender woman.

Wealthy philanthropic foundations have spent close to $10 million in targeted grants seeking to limit religious freedom protections on issues such as abortion access and compliance with LGBT concerns. About $500,000 of that went to advocacy and public relations campaigns related to the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Case, CNA has reported.