Browsing News Entries

Decline in Hispanic Catholics a 'direct challenge' to the Church in the US

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Last week’s Pew report revealed that Catholics are no longer a majority among U.S. Hispanics—a stark challenge to the Church in the U.S. to evangelize.

 
“What we’re not doing well as a Church is that we’re not building a culture in the parish where the family is truly welcome, and for Hispanics, that really is unforgivable,” said Carlos Taja, associate director to the Secretariat on Evangelization and Catechesis at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an interview with CNA.
 
Last week, the Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life published the results of surveys of American adults conducted in 2018 and 2019.
 
The report showed a precipitous decline over the past decade in the percentage of the U.S. population that identifies as Christian, with the percentage of those religiously “unaffiliated” rising substantially in that time.
 
Overall, the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian has fallen by 12% in the last decade to 65% of the population, according to Pew. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans not identifying with any religion at all has risen by 9% to 26% of the American populace.
 
Protestantism saw a large decline from 51% of the population to 43% in the last decade, while Catholicism fell from 23% to 20% of the population.
 
This decline appeared within the Hispanic demographic as well. Hispanics identifying as Catholic fell by 10% over the last decade from 57% to 47%; those “unaffiliated” with a religion grew from 15% to 23% in that time span.
 
This drop in the percentage of Hispanic Catholics should not come as a surprise, said Hosffman Ospino, a theology and education professor and director of graduate programs in Hispanic Ministry at Boston College. Ospino authored a report in 2014 on “Hispanic Ministry in Catholic Parishes” that examined the challenges to the future of the Catholic Church in the U.S. among Hispanics.
 
While Pew has historically underreported the numbers of Hispanic Catholics, he said, a decline is palpable—and not surprising.
 
“Why should we be surprised?” Ospino asked rhetorically of the decline in numbers. “The truth is that many Catholics in the United States,” he said, “still do not fully understand the reality of the Hispanic experience, and who Hispanics are, and what Hispanics bring to the Church.”
 
Among religious immigrant populations, each successive U.S.-born generation usually trends more secular, Ospino observed. In the 1990s, around half of the Hispanic U.S. population were immigrants, but today 64 percent are U.S.-born, he said, and thus according to demographic trends there should be more Hispanics today who are not Catholic.
 
Another social trend is the urbanization of the Hispanic population, Ospino said. More Hispanic families either live in cities or the children move to cities once they leave their family home; cities are generally more secular than rural communities, and there the youth may discover that they can live without their family’s faith.
 
And secularization is not just increasing in the U.S. but also in Latin America, said Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ, a distinguished scholar in pastoral theology and Latino studies at Loyola Marymount University in California.
 
While many variables might affect this increase in secularization, what is clear is that the Church in the U.S. cannot simply rely upon immigration to fill the pews without actively evangelizing, experts said.
 
“There’s this naivete, I think, where the belief that the influx of the Hispanic population through immigration was going to simply revitalize the Church in the United States by sheer numbers, without any desire to actually sometimes minister or accompany these people in the different stages of their lives,” Taja said.

The decline in the parish community and a failure to accompany new Hispanic families has led to alienation of Hispanic Catholics on a mass scale, he said.
 
“Most of the time, it is the reality that there is a sense that they’re just not wanted,” Taja said.
 
Many Latino immigrants have suffered violence or abuse on their journey to the U.S., he pointed out, yet suffering and redemption through the Cross is not a message preached at U.S. parishes.
 
“No one in the Church will actually speak to their reality of the things they have suffered,” he said. “What happens when you suffer, and the Lord Who died for you on the cross is not spoken with the depths of His infinite mercy for those who suffer? What happens when redemptive suffering is just never spoken about?”
 
Parishes have also failed to actively seek out those who might come to Church but haven’t yet walked through the doors, Ospino said.
 
“The Church, her identity is to be on mission, to be the Bride of the Groom,” Taja said, “to proclaim and live the ministry of Jesus Christ.”
 
“When she does not do this, when she becomes self-referential, she becomes sterile,” he said.
 
So with a long-term decline in the Catholic population in the U.S., including within the Hispanic community, what must be done?
 
“Every diocese, every bishop in the United States of America must engage in synods, or conversations or assemblies that bring the Hispanic Catholic experience and the needs of the Hispanic Catholic community forward as a priority,” Ospino said. “We cannot keep treating Latinos, Hispanic Catholics, as second citizens in our Church.”
 
“If the parish community fails, the family has no place to go,” Taja said, and the family is at the crux of Hispanic culture.
 
In many Hispanic families, he said, the grandparents are the ones drawing the children to the faith, but many U.S. parishes don’t take this into account. Instead, for family events, they might invite husbands and wives but not grandparents.
 
A relationship with the parish priest is also critical in Hispanic culture, Taja said, especially for youths who have questions about the faith or doubts, or need someone to talk to.
 
However, in many dioceses there may be one priest for several parishes. For a parish with limited hours when the church is open, or when the pastor is only available by appointment, “that’s nuts,” Taja said. “It’s unknown, because he [the priest] is such a link to the Lord and to the Church.”
 
Pope Francis has provided a blueprint for evangelization, especially through his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, and the Church in the U.S. needs to take note.
 
Catholics must be “active” and “go out and look for these people” who aren’t coming to Church “and engage them,” Ospino said.
 
Latinos make up a sizable portion of Catholics in the U.S., particularly among young people, and they need to be put in more positions of leadership in the Church, Fr. Figueroa said.
 
“Latinos, even though they are a very large percentage of the Church,” he said, “do not enjoy positions of leadership in the Church anywhere near their numbers.”
 
Many Hispanics also want to be Catholic and want to be better catechized, Ospino and Taja said.
 
Many in the community may not know Church teaching on a particular matter, but they do want to learn it in order to please God, Taja said. In contrast, many in the Anglo community may know Church teaching but are comfortable holding a belief contrary to it.
 
“Latinos are still here,” Ospino said. There are millions of young Hispanics in the U.S. who “want to be Catholic, they want a Church, they want to be in love with Jesus Christ,” he said.

Texas court favors woman seeking gender transition for 7 year-old son

Austin, Texas, Oct 23, 2019 / 04:04 pm (CNA).- A Texas jury this week ruled against a father who wants to block the hormonal gender transition of his 7-year-old son James into a girl named Luna.

Texas dad Jeffrey Younger had appealed to a state court to obtain sole custody of his twins, Jude and James, in part to save James from a hormonal gender transition that the boy’s mother has been planning, according to the Washington Examiner.

The jury ruled on Monday that Dr. Anne Georgulas, the mother of the twins, would maintain sole custody of the boys, which would allow her to proceed with her plan to have James undergo a gender transition and be called “Luna.” Georgulas believes James identifies as a girl because of his affinity for the Disney movie “Frozen” and its female character leads, according to Town Hall.

Expert witnesses called in the court reportedly expressed doubts as to whether James actually strongly identified as female.

“There is still some fluidity in his thinking,” Dr. Benjamin Albritton said in his testimony, according to the Washington Examiner. “Neither child appears to be depressed, anxious or aggressive ... He [James] gave no indications of other significant psychological difficulties.”

Georgulas reportedly wants to enroll James as a patient at the GENECIS in Dallas in their “Gender Affirming Care Program” for youth. On their website, the clinic says it offers hormone therapy and puberty suppression therapy along with mental health and social services. It does not currently offer gender transition surgery.

The case of James Younger has met with outrage from critics who say it raises multiple ethical considerations, including the rights of parents as well as the best interest of children experiencing gender dysphoria.

According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose guidelines GENECIS follows, “Pubertal suppression is not without risks. Delaying puberty beyond one’s peers can also be stressful and can lead to lower self-esteem and increased risk taking. Some experts believe that genital underdevelopment may limit some potential reconstructive options. Research on long-term risks, particularly in terms of bone metabolism and fertility, is currently limited and provides varied results.”

Numerous doctors and ethicists have previously raised concerns about whether it is ethical to treat children with gender dysphoria with hormones, puberty blockers or surgery.

In a December 2018 article for The Christian Post, multiple pediatrics doctors said they would treat gender dysphoria as a psychological issue, and not an endocrinological or physical issue.

“[Parents] need to continue to love their children. They need to continue to affirm their human dignity. Yet they shouldn't have to jettison biological reality to be able to put what they're being told into practice, in terms of disrupting normally timed puberty,” Dr. Paul Hruz, an associate professor of pediatrics and endocrinology at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Christian Post.

The article featured interviews with several doctors who said synthetic hormones could put children on a pathway to permanent sterilization, and many other long-term repercussions which may not be felt for years.

“The reality is that there is no long-term data about treating children, and the only data that we have in adults indicates that medical interventions to align the appearance of the body to a transgendered identity does not fix the problem,” Hruz told The Christian Post.

“There is a core of very diabolical people who are filtering large sums of money into this and using mass social pressure,” added Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist in private practice in Atlanta.

The doctors said they also objected to medical interventions for children with gender dysphoria because most children will grow up to re-identify with their biological gender.

In 2016, many doctors protested after the Department of Health and Human Services announced that health providers could not refuse treatment, including surgery, for “gender transition” services if they were asked for them, even if they believed them to be harmful to the patient. The rule was struck down after challenges in court by nine states as well as by religious groups and doctors.

New US rep to United Nations in Geneva hailed for pro-life beliefs

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2019 / 03:18 pm (CNA).- The Senate’s confirmation Tuesday of Andrew Bremberg as U.S. Representative to the UN in Geneva drew praise from a pro-life leader, and condemnation from Planned Parenthood.

On Oct. 22 the Senate voted 50-44 to confirm Bremberg, assistant to the president and senior advisor for domestic policy at the White House, as the U.S. Representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva. Bremberg was nominated for the position by President Trump Sept. 28, 2018.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement that Bremberg “will be a strong advocate for the cornerstone of all human rights, the right to life, and will stand up to the international abortion lobby at the United Nations.”

The position is an important diplomatic post, representing the U.S. in front of more than 100 international organizations on issues ranging from refugee resettlement to human rights, arms control, and the environment.

As a key advisor to the White House domestic policy, Bremberg had a role in crafting and implementing the administration’s expansion of the Mexico City Policy.

The Mexico City Policy, originally begun under President Reagan and reinstated by the Trump administration, bans U.S. family planning funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning.

The administration’s expansion of that policy, Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance, applied the same funding prohibitions to $8.8 billion in global health assistance.

Bremberg was also the policy director for the 2016 Republican Party platform, which called for stronger refugee resettlement and immigration restrictions, said pornography was a “public health crisis,” and which was hailed by some pro-life leaders for its proposals to ban late-term, disability, and sex-selective abortions.

50 Republicans voted for Bremberg’s confirmation, and 41 Democrats opposed it. Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Democrats in voting against Bremberg’s confirmation.

The confirmation was also opposed by 38 organizations in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho); the organizations included pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes International, the National Abortion Federation, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and the National Organization for Women.

“Mr. Bremberg’s record and confirmation hearing leave no doubt he will use the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva to strip away reproductive rights and LGBTQI rights around the world,” the letter stated.

At his confirmation hearing June 20 in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bremberg faced tough questions on his views on abortion, LGBT rights, and refugee resettlement policy, among other problems.

Menendez asked Bremberg if he thought rape victims should be able to access abortions where it is legal to do so. “I don’t believe abortion is a moral solution to any problem,” Bremberg responded.

Bremberg told Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) that he accepted “reproductive rights” as outlined in two international documents—the 1995 Beijing Conference Strategic Objective, and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development—as “important rights.”

However, he added that the language in those international documents does not include promotion of abortion as a method of family planning.

When pressed by Menendez on proposed funding cuts to refugee assistance at a time when more than 70 million people have been displaced from their homes, Bremberg responded that “we need to see other countries step up and do their fair share” in refugee resettlement.

When pressed again by Menendez on his views on access to abortions for survivors of rape, Bremberg said that “I am pro-life, I believe that all human life is sacred, and that human life begins at conception.”

“So when you’re raped, a woman has no rights?” Menendez responded. Bremberg said that “suggestion” was “horrific,” and later clarified that “any suggestion that I do not have care for victims of rape, I find horrendous. I have family members that were raped, Senator.”

“Well—and I am deeply sorry. But—” Menendez responded, before Bremberg interrupted and said he accepted the apology.

“I am not apologizing,” Menendez retorted before telling Bremberg, “You should apologize to the women who are raped, who you say have to live with the rape.”

Planned Parenthood Action tweeted its disapproval of Bremberg’s confirmation on Tuesday, saying that Bremberg “has the power to erode the rights of women, LGBTQ people, & immigrants around the world.”

In his statement to the committee at his confirmation hearing, Bremberg criticized the UN Human Rights Council for not speaking out on certain human rights problemss such as China using its position on the council to pressure members not to attend an event on its treatment of Uyghurs. He stated his intent to work “to protect US sovereignty and the broader world order we have fought so hard to create.”

Bremberg has attended Franciscan University of Steubenville and the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America. He was for a time the top health policy expert at the Mitre Corporation, Politico has reported.

How should Americans think about religious liberty? New book explores

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2019 / 02:39 pm (CNA).- Helping Americans understand the importance of religious freedom, as well as a measured view of contemporary threats to it, is the goal of a new book from a leading attorney in the field.

Luke Goodrich has spent more than a decade at Becket, and has worked on the legal team in several high-profile religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court, including Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Holt v. Hobbs, and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.

Goodrich’s new book, “Free to Believe: The Battle over Religious Liberty in America,” explores the current religious freedom landscape in the United States today.

In an interview with CNA, Goodrich explained that when religious freedom conflicts arise, hostility is not usually to blame.

“You will sometimes have a case where the government is out to get religious people because of their religion, although that’s fairly rare. You will sometimes have a case where religious people are simply wreaking havoc on society because of their religious practices,” he said.

“But the vast majority of religious freedom conflicts involve neither of those situations, and instead simply involve situations where our very large government is going about its business regulating society, and religious people are going about their business worshipping God, and because of the breadth of government regulation and the diversity of religious practice, you end up with a conflict.”

In these cases, he said, it is important for government to leave religious practice as untouched as possible.

“In the vast majority of cases, there is a workable solution, where the government can accomplish its interest, and where religious people can be left free to practice their faith.”

Unfortunately, Goodrich said, the rhetoric in society does not always match this reality. Exaggerations and inflammatory rhetoric mean that the government is sometimes accused of persecution, while religious people may be falsely accused of bigotry or asking for a “license to discriminate.”

“What I’m trying to do in the book, and what we’re often trying to do in court in these cases is show that Americans are deeply divided over God, over sex, over human life. And yet we need to find a way to live together in relative peace, and protecting religious freedom is a starting point for that, and there are all kinds of solutions that will allow religious people to practice their faith without compromising the goals of society.”

All people, even those who are not practicing any religion themselves, should care about religious freedom, Goodrich said.

The American founders firmly believed that the type of government they were establishing would only be successful in governing a morally virtuous population, he stressed. “And religion is one vital source of moral virtue that’s necessary for our form of self-government.”

There are practical benefits to the flourishing of religion in society, he added, such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, soup kitchens, and halfway houses, which are often run by religious organizations.

In addition, he said, religion has historically reduced social conflict, and it is a protection for dissent and diversity, important elements of American society.

“Religious freedom is a source of protection for all of our other rights, because religious freedom starts from the premise that there’s an authority higher than the government, and the government can’t take that away,” he said.

“This recognition of some source of rights outside of and above the government is a foundational protection of all other rights – free speech, free assembly, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.”

But perhaps the most important reason to care about religious freedom, Goodrich said, is that it is a fundamental right, rooted in our nature as human beings.

Every person is born with a longing for truth, beauty, and goodness – ultimately a longing for God, he said.

“We all have this religious impulse and it can’t be directed by coercion, it can only be directed voluntarily by conscience,” he said. “So when the government tries to coerce us in matters of transcendent truth and our relationship with God, it’s going against human nature and violating a fundamental human right. Everyone should care about religious freedom, because you cannot fully respect human beings unless you respect their religious freedom.”

Still, religious freedom cannot be invoked to justify every type of behavior, Goodrich acknowledged.

“Like any right, religious freedom has limits, and they generally come from the government’s duty to protect other people’s rights – the right to life, the right to property etc.,” he said. Freedom of religion cannot be used to protect acts of terrorism or child sacrifice, for example.

Finding the correct balance of religious freedom claims against government interests can be tricky, but the legal system has worked out tools to help find this balance, he explained.

“I think in general, it’s essential to identify precisely what is the religious practice at issue and precisely what is the government’s interest at issue, and is the government consistent in the way that it pursues that interest.”

For example, difficult cases arise in a prison context, where prisoners are deprived of many liberties, but do not lose all of their freedoms, including religious freedom. Inmates motivated by religious conviction may seek to maintain a certain religious diet in prison, or groom their hair and beard in a certain way, or access religious literature. Meanwhile, the government has valid and weighty interests in restricting the liberty of prisoners.

Balancing these two sides requires asking the questions: “What is the religious practice at issue? What is the government trying to accomplish? Is there any way it can accomplish its goal while still allowing religious freedom?” Goodrich said.

Another key test is that of sincerity, he continued.

“Religious freedom ultimately flows out of the human thirst for transcendent truth and obedience to conscience,” he said. “And so because of that, religious freedom only protects sincere religious beliefs and practices.”

Determining the sincerity of one’s stated religious beliefs is similar to other questions of truth-telling in the law, Goodrich said. Courts look at consistency, how long views have been held, and sometimes basic knowledge of a belief system.

“That becomes relevant in prison, when a prisoner fakes a religious belief in order to get, for example, a diet that he thinks is better. It’s relevant in a military context, where someone says they are conscientiously opposed to war – you have to make sure that’s a genuine belief and not a convenient way to get out of military service. It comes up with parody religions like pastafarians, where they absolutely have free speech rights, but when they’re trying to parody religion and protest religion without sincere religious beliefs themselves, they don’t get religious freedom protection.”

Goodrich also discussed the questions behind conflicts of religious liberty and LGBT claims, among the most contentious religious freedom debates in the U.S. today.

In the book, he argues that “there are strong arguments for protecting religious freedom in the context of gay rights,” similar to the way that conscientious objectors are not forced to fight in war or participate in abortion.

“[W]hen our society is deeply divided on an important moral issue, we look for ways to protect both sides,” he writes. “Protecting conscientious objectors respects the fundamental right of religious freedom and allows our divided society to live together in peace.”

Christians should recognize that there is a “significant risk” posed by conflicts between gay rights and religious freedom, Goodrich advises in the book. They should anticipate such conflicts and possible mitigation, and they should avoid being overly reliant on government funds. But they do not need to give in to panic or alarm – they should also recognize that there are good arguments for protecting religious freedom in LGBT cases, and there is reason to believe these arguments will continue to prevail in courts.

Looking at the current state of religious freedom in the U.S. – and looking ahead to the future – Goodrich told CNA he is “very hopeful.”

“We have a stable legal system with strong guarantees of religious freedom, due process, and the rule of law, and a deep national commitment to religious freedom. Just looking at the legal system and what it’s been delivering, there are plenty of reasons for hope and for optimism.”

He noted that Becket has a 90%-win rate in all of its cases, and is undefeated at the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, though, he has a deeper reason for hope as well. As a Christian writing to other Christians, he said, “we have a source of hope that goes much deeper than the current composition of the Supreme Court or the current occupant of the White House. We have hope ultimately rooted in a person, in Jesus, who said, ‘In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world’.”

“We have hope rooted in an eternal perspective, so that regardless of the outcome of this or that case or that or that election, we have a strong foundation for hope, and that’s part of what I’m trying to accomplish with the book, is call Christians back to the ultimate source of our hope, as well as the ultimate source of religious freedom,” he said.

In this attitude of hope and confidence, Goodrich hopes his book will help Americans to better understand the nature of contemporary religious freedom threats, and be prepared to take practical action.

“We’re called in scripture to be innocent as doves, but also to be shrewd as serpents, so we need to take stock of where we’re at, and be ready for the challenges ahead,” he said.

Appeals court rules against Little Sisters' exemption from HHS mandate

San Francisco, Calif., Oct 23, 2019 / 01:26 pm (CNA).- Attorneys for the Little Sisters of the Poor reiterated their call for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in after a second appeals court ruled against the sisters’ exemption from the federal contraception mandate.

“The Little Sisters never wanted this fight and have spent 8 years trying to focus on caring for the elderly poor instead of fighting senseless legal battles. The states in these lawsuits should leave the nuns alone,” said Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, the law firm representing the sisters.

In an Oct. 22 statement on Twitter, Alvarado noted that Becket and the U.S. Solicitor General have asked the Supreme Court to review the matter.

“It must step in to fix the mess and secure #religiousfreedom for the Little Sisters,” she said. “Enough is enough.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Little Sisters of the Poor on Oct. 22, joining the Third Circuit, which in July also ruled against the order and other pro-life organizations that benefitted from a religious exemption policy against the requirements of the HHS Mandate.

The mandate, initially issued by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act, requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering free contraception, sterilization, and some early abortion drugs.

“The panel affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction barring enforcement in several states of final federal agency rules that exempt employers with religious and moral objections from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that group health plans cover contraceptive care without cost sharing,” said the Ninth Circuit decision.

The ruling was made by Circuit Judges J. Clifford Wallace, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, and Susan P. Graber. Wallace authored the majority opinion, and Kleinfeld dissented.

“We acknowledge that we are in uncharted waters,” says the opinion. “The Supreme Court has yet to address the effect of a nationwide preliminary injunction on an appeal involving a preliminary injunction of limited scope.”

The opinion says the judges would “welcome guidance from the Supreme Court.”

The contraception mandate has been controversial since it was first unveiled in 2011, prompting lawsuits from more than 100 private individuals, religious organizations, states and for-profit businesses who held religious objections to its terms.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order dedicated to the care of the elderly poor, did not qualify for the religious exemption included in the original mandate, which was reserved for houses of worship and their direct affiliates.

Five years after the announcement of the mandate, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters, and ordered that a workaround be developed that appeased all sides. The Trump administration created a new religious exemption rule that exempted those with religious or moral objections to contraception from having to provide it through their insurance plans.

This rule is being challenged in court, as 14 states have argued that the sisters should not receive an exemption from the mandate.

“The states are arguing that even though there’s injunctions in the mandate in the Little Sisters’ case in this country, it violated the law for the federal government to issue a religious exemption,” Diana Verm, senior counsel with Becket, told CNA in early October.

“The Little Sisters just want to go back to serving the elderly poor,” said Verm. “If the Supreme Court rules in their favor, they’ll be able to do so.”

Lawyers for the Little Sisters of the Poor have noted that those opposing them have yet to present an example of a woman who was unable to access birth control due to the views of her employer.

Florida bishops ask governor to stay planned execution

Tallahassee, Fla., Oct 23, 2019 / 12:26 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Florida have called on Governor Ron DeSantis to halt the scheduled execution of James Dailey, who is on death row for murder in a controversial case from nearly 35 years ago.

The bishops leading the seven dioceses of Florida signed a joint letter Oct. 21. While they noted their objections to any use of the death penalty in the state, they said Dailey’s case is “especially alarming” because of the evidence of innocence surrounding him.

“There is strong evidence that James Dailey’s death sentence was yet another failure of justice,” the bishops said. “Another man, Jack Pearcy, has signed a sworn affidavit that he, and he alone, was responsible for the tragic death of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio.”

Dailey, a 73-year-old veteran, is scheduled to be executed Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, whose body was found repeatedly stabbed and drowned near St. Petersburg.

There is no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony connecting Dailey to the murder, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Rather, Dailey’s housemate and co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, accused him of taking part in the crime. Pearcy is currently serving a life sentence for the murder.

Inmates at the prison where Dailey was being held were interviewed, initially yielding no results. A few days later, however, three inmates said they had heard Dailey make incriminating statements. The inmates received reduced charges in return for the information, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. One of the inmates was known as a prolific informant, giving testimony over the years that has sent four men to death row and being convicted himself of more than 20 crimes of deception.

Pearcy has acknowledged at least four times that Dailey was innocent of the crime, Dailey’s lawyers maintain, including in a 2017 affidavit, signed by Pearcy, which said, “James Dailey was not present when Shelly Boggio was killed. I alone am responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death.”

However, in January 2018, Pearcy took the witness stand and was questioned about the affidavit. He said some of the statements in it were untrue. When pressed further about which statements, he invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer.

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Dailey’s appeal, which argued that new evidence discrediting the jail informant testimony against Dailey should be permitted to be introduced. The court said Dailey should have raised this objection earlier. It ruled that all of his “newly discovered evidence claims were either correctly rejected as untimely or based on inadmissible evidence.”

The bishops of Florida voiced concern over the state’s high number of executions - and exonerations.

“Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations,” they noted. “Florida makes more mistakes than any other state in sentencing innocent people to death.”

Dailey would be the 100th execution in Florida since the state revived the death penalty in 1976.

“This use of the death penalty wounds our society by allowing a devaluation and coarseness of life in our community,” the bishops said.

Concerns over the scheduled execution have also been raised by three men who were sentenced to death but later exonerated due to poor evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.

The men, Juan Melendez, Herman Lindsey, and Derrick Jamison, have written a letter to Governor DeSantis asking him to reconsider Dailey’s case.

“The same types of evidence that led each of us to be exonerated are also present in James’ case,” they wrote. “The only difference allowing us to be spared from execution while James is set to be killed is whether or not a judge and jury has had the opportunity to review all the evidence.”

The bishops of Florida announced more than 30 prayer vigils throughout the state on Nov. 7, where Catholics and other community members will gather “to pray for the victim and aggressor, their families, for our society which continues to impose violence in return for violence, and for an end to the use of the death penalty.”

“As Pope Francis has stated, and as the Catechism has been updated to reflect, the death penalty is ‘inadmissible’ due to modern penal systems,” the bishops said. “At certain times in history, the teachings of the Church did not exclude recourse to the death penalty when it was the only means by which to protect society and guilt was properly determine.”

“Today, however, alternative sentences, such as life without parole, are severe punishments through which society can be kept safe,” they continued, stressing that these alternatives “do not degrade us by ending yet another life - perpetuating, rather than ending, a cycle of violence.”

Former finance director sues Jackson diocese

Jackson, Miss., Oct 22, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Jackson and its ordinary, Bishop Joseph Kopacz, are being sued by the diocese’s former director of finance, who says he was unjustly fired last year.

Arie “Aad” Mattheus de Lange was fired from the diocese Oct. 3, 2018, which was later changed to an administrative leave. In May, he was told that he was no longer employed by the Diocese of Jackson. He filed the lawsuit earlier this month, saying his firing was in retaliation for his complaints about how the budget is handled.

“The reasons proffered for de Lange’s termination were false, pretextual, and did not rise to the level of grave reason,” claims the lawsuit. The suit further states that it is “inexplicable” that de Lange was fired for a grave reason due to the lack of any sort of performance review during his employment.

“De Lange’s discharge was retaliatory in nature based upon his reasonable objection to the unrealistic budget proposed for Catholic Charities and the potential adverse impact it posed to the diocese,” said the suit. According to the filing, the Diocese of Jackson serves as the guarantor of Catholic Charities, and Catholic Charities does not need permission to remove money from the diocese’s checking account.

In the suit, de Lange claims he was wrongfully terminated, and that he had been defamed by the diocese, which negligently and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. He is not asking for a certain amount in damages, but requested that the jury determine an appropriate amount.

When de Lange was initially fired in October 2018, Kopacz sent him a letter stating that he was being fired due to a “weakened financial and administrative condition of the diocese,” an “unexpected large deficit” during that fiscal year, “internal problems reflected in the prior year’s audit report and anticipated in this year’s report,” and a “lack of leadership, communication and collaboration” between his office and diocesean leadership.

de Lange disputes these claims, and instead says that Kopacz had been looking to terminate him since 2016. That year, de Lange did not support Kopacz being named as the interim executive director of the diocesesan board of directors. De Lange said that he believed Kopacz being in this position created a conflict of interest, as board members of the board of directors were employees of the bishop and therefore could not fire him.

Normally, the board is able to terminate the executive director – but this would not be possible if the interim executive director is the bishop himself.

In a statement given to the Clarion Ledger, the Diocese of Jackson said they stood by their reasons for dismissing de Lange in 2018 and that is the “general policy of the Diocese not to comment on pending litigation and personnel matters.”

Pompeo highlights religious freedom, pro-life goals as among US priorities 

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Secretary of State listed promoting international religious freedom and fighting abortion as among U.S. foreign policy priorities in a Tuesday speech on diplomacy.

In his remarks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the U.S. State Department in July, with religious leaders and survivors of religious persecution from all over the world in attendance as well as delegations from more than 100 countries.

He also spoke about a joint statement of the U.S. and 20 other countries at a recent meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, “rejecting the claim that abortion is a human right.”

Secretary Pompeo addressed the conservative Heritage Foundation’s President’s Club meeting on Tuesday, at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C.

During his speech on “Trump Administration Diplomacy: The Untold Story,” Pompeo outlined the administration’s foreign policy priorities such as pressuring Iran to curb its nuclear program. Pompeo said that Iran was “the aggressor, not the aggrieved” in the Middle East.

Pompeo also addressed the recent controversy over President Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops away from the Turkey-Syria border. The White House had announced the troop withdrawal as Turkey was beginning a “long-planned operation” into Syria with the stated aims of repelling Kurdish forces in Syria perceived to be a threat to Turkish security, and creating a space within Syria in which to house 2 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.

The U.S. ultimately ceded responsibility to Turkey for ISIS militants in the area who had been captured in the previous two years. There have been reports of hundreds of detainees with links to ISIS escaping from camps in the region; around 950 ISIS supporters reportedly escaped one displacement camp in Northern Syria on Oct. 13.

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians warned that the Turkish invasion could prove perilous for around 40,000 Christians in Northeast Syria. On Oct. 14, Trump announced economic sanctions on Turkey for its invasion of Syria.

Pope Francis, in his Oct. 13 Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square, prayed for “beloved and tormented Syria” and “the people of the country’s northeast, who are forced to abandon their houses because of military actions.” He called for the international community to undertake “the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions.”

“It is a complicated story to be sure. The success of the outcome there is not yet fully determined,” Pompeo said on Tuesday.

During a question-and-answer portion of his appearance with Heritage’s executive vice president Kim Holmes, Pompeo explained in greater detail the administration’s strategy in promoting religious freedom.

The U.S. has a “selfish interest” in promoting religious freedom around the world, he said, because “nations that have more religious liberty tend to view the world much closer to the way the United States views the world.”

Pompeo said that his goal is to ensure U.S. ambassadors and embassy staff are trained to promote freedom of religion, saying that “if you travel to visit a U.S. embassy and meet someone on our team, an ambassador or whomever, I would have failed as a leader if they don’t understand that this is a real priority for this administration.”

The administration has even worked to hold U.S. allies accountable on religious freedom in the agency’s annual human rights report, Pompeo said. For example, the State Department’s 2018 report noted abuses in Saudi Arabia including “unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents.”

“We identify every single incident where we found some violation of human rights. So we do it; we list our friends,” Pompeo said.

Other countries “are watching what we’re doing,” he said, “they’re watching how America does this. They’re watching how President Trump addresses this set of issues. And I am convinced that the work we’re doing will enhance religious freedom for millions and millions of people around the world.”

Pompeo was also asked about the creation of an advisory commission to the State Department on human rights.

He answered that he had long been interested in human rights since he studied just war theory as a soldier, and that his interest was influenced by his evangelical Christian faith.

When he entered the State Department in 2018, however, Pompeo said he saw a lack of “clarity” and “grounding” in human rights at the agency.

The aim of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, he said, is to “lay down with clarity not only what these human rights are, these fundamental rights are, but from what it is they are derived, how we got there.” The commission will examine human rights in light of the Declaration of Independence and the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

“When you see Venezuela get on the Human Rights Council at the UN, it cries out for a re-examination of these fundamental first principles,” Pompeo said.

The U.S. issued a critical statement in light of Venezuela’s election last week to the UN’s Human Rights Council. Mauritania, a country where slavery is still reportedly practiced, was also elected to the Human Rights Council.

 

Letter urges Congress to guard pro-life protections in foreign spending

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2019 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- A coalition of pro-life leaders has sent a letter calling on federal lawmakers to oppose an amendment to a foreign funding bill that would give money to organizations that promote abortion overseas.

The letter, dated Oct. 17, was signed by nearly four dozen pro-life leaders, including the associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and the presidents of the March for Life and National Right to Life.

It was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif).

The Trump administration has already updated the Mexico City Policy into the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance (PLGHA) rule, which states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

However, organizations that exist domestically but do work overseas are still permitted to perform and promote abortions.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) successfully included an amendment in a State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) funding bill before the Senate left for its October recess. This amendment would increase U.S. international family planning assistance, as well as reinstated funding of the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA), which the U.S. has declined to support for the past three years.

“We are deeply concerned by the increase of funds for international family planning in the Senate SFOPs bill, which would provide even more money” to domestic organizations that promote abortion overseas, said the letter.

The bill includes $29 million allocated to Pathfinder International, which works with governments to build abortion facilities, as well as $6.7 million to Population Council, an organziation that promotes abortion in rural India, among other groups.

“Senator Shaheen’s amendment is clearly designed to undermine the life-saving policies of the Trump administration,” the signatories said.

In January, President Trump wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), promising that he would veto any legislation that weakens existing pro-life law. The Bipartisan Budget Agreement for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021 specifically states that there may be no policy changes increasing spending levels relative to the FY 2019 without approval from Congressional leaders and the president.

The Shaheen amendment “must be eliminated in any SFOPs bill going forward,” said the letter. “Consistent with the bipartisan budget agreement, we ask that you reject the Shaheen amendment.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony list and leader of the coalition of signatories, said the language in the funding bill is a “nonstarter” and should be dropped under the bipartisan budget agreement.

“We trust that President Trump, Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Minority Leader McCarthy will continue to stand against efforts to weaken the extraordinary progress made by the Trump administration in implementing pro-life policies internationally by rejecting the Shaheen amendment,” she said.

Meet the Catholic chaplain to the Washington Nationals

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2019 / 11:53 am (CNA).- A professional baseball clubhouse might not be considered a particularly religious place today, but one chaplain says the Catholic priesthood is needed—and desired—as much as ever there.

“When I walk in the [clubhouse], they kind of light up a little bit,” Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a chaplain to the Washington Nationals professional baseball team, told CNA. “It’s not me,” he clarified, “it’s that they see a Catholic priest.”

“I think that the priesthood continues to be a sign that God is with us,” he said. “You see ‘okay, despite how secular this world is, there is a need in all of us to have God as part of our lives’.”

Monsignor Rossetti, who is also a research associate professor at The Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and former president of the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, said he has been a chaplain to the Washington Nationals for 10 years.

In that decade, Rossetti has observed the organization from the inside during its low point of floundering last-place finishes in 2009 and 2010, its ascendancy to one of the winningest clubs in Major League Baseball from 2012 through 2019, four disheartening first-round playoff exits, and now the pinnacle of success.

On Tuesday night, the Nationals will be introduced to the “Fall Classic” as they are set to play in their first World Series game since the organization moved to Washington, D.C. from Montreal in 2005. They will be facing off against the Houston Astros.

The television broadcast of the Nationals’ World Series-clinching win last Tuesday evening showed Monsignor Rossetti in the General Manager’s booth, intently watching the game.

What is it like being a chaplain to a professional sports team? One thing that must be considered, Rossetti told CNA, is that the 162-game baseball season from April through September—not counting the October playoffs or Spring Training which runs around six weeks in February and March—is a “grind,” and the players are “human beings” with needs like everyone else.

“It’s a lot of pressure. These guys, most of them are in their twenties, and the world’s watching them,” Rossetti said. “I just try to be supportive.”

Catholic players may have their home parishes elsewhere, but as they spend much of their time at or near the stadium during the season, Rossetti administers the sacraments as any parish priest would, celebrating Sunday Mass, hearing confessions, baptizing babies, or teaching marriage prep.

However, he also seeks to evangelize any way he can, whether through speaking an encouraging word, asking players about their families, or giving them blessings.

“If you’re waiting for people to come into your church, some will, but most people won’t,” he said. “So I think that a key point is that we try to go where people are and bring Church to them.”

Rossetti has found that the players to whom he ministers, Catholic or not, love to receive blessings. “They want to be blessed, and they can feel like it’s a sign that God still loves them and supports them and wants to give them His help,” the priest said.

“God blesses people through the Church,” he said. “They want to be prayed with, they want to be prayed over.”

Rossetti is the author of the book The Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift, in which he writes about the history and power of priestly blessings, what the Church teaches about blessings and sacramentals, and the importance of rediscovering blessings and sacramentals as a part of everyday life.

Priestly blessings, he said, are a key part of the mission of the priesthood—yet one that might be overlooked by many Catholics today.

“Despite our weaknesses as a Church,” he said, “there still is this notion—which I think is true, the Vatican Council supported it—there is a ‘sacred power’ to the priesthood.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1667 says that sacramentals “are sacred signs instituted by the Church,” which “prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.”

This last line, the sanctification of everyday life, is a characteristic that needs to be rediscovered today, Rossetti said.

Priestly blessings of persons, objects, or places, or sacramentals such as the sprinkling of holy water, are a concrete way “to realize that God wants to be part of our everyday lives, not just Sunday for an hour,” Rossetti said.

Holy water fonts, crucifixes, and prayers before meals used to be more common in homes, he said, and showed that “our total lives were lived in the presence of the Lord” without “compartmentalizing religion.”

One genius of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on ecology “Laudato Si” was that “it recognizes the sacramentality of creation, the fact that we need to care for it, and it becomes taken up and transformed in some way,” he said.

As the Nationals now turn their attention to the 2019 World Series, Rossetti is excited to be watching - and cheering them on. He described the atmosphere in the clubhouse as nothing short of “electric.”

The 2019 Nationals season has been a roller coaster ride, from the team’s woeful 19-31 record at the beginning to their red-hot finish.

An unofficial team motto is “Stay In the Fight,” adopted from an oft-spoken mantra of team manager Davey Martinez. It fits this year’s team, Rossetti said, because it is often viewed as an underdog to juggernauts like the Dodgers, Yankees, or Astros. “Just when you think they’re down and out,” he said, “they come from nowhere.”

“I’ve never experienced something like this before,” Rossetti said of the clubhouse atmosphere after the team clinched the National League pennant. “The place is on fire.”