Browsing News Entries

Facebook uses AI to tackle revenge porn on social media

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 16, 2019 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- Facebook has announced that it will begin using AI software to prevent and restrict the distribution of non-consensual sexual material – also known as revenge porn.

In a March 15 statement, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, said the new technology will detect nude videos or pictures distributed without permission on Instagram and Facebook.

“This means we can find this content before anyone reports it, which is important for two reasons: often victims are afraid of retribution so they are reluctant to report the content themselves or are unaware the content has been shared,” she wrote.

Davis said the machine learning and artificial intelligence technology will identify the problematic material. The company’s Community Operations team will then determine whether the content violates Facebook’s policies and, if it does, likely disable the account of the offender.

The company already had a policy of removing content with sexual violence or exploitation, including intimate images shared without consent and advertisements of sexual services, once it was reported to them.

Use of the new technology is an attempt to be proactive in finding such content more quickly.

The program will build on a pilot project, which ran in Australia in 2017. Under this initiative, individuals fearing retaliation from an angry ex-partner may submit intimate photos to Facebook proactively. The social media platform will then use a digital fingerprint of the picture to preemptively ban the image from ever being distributed on its website.  

Davis said Facebook will also launch “Not without my consent” – a victim-support center. Here, individuals who have been targeted by revenge pornography can learn about actions they can take to delete the content and prevent its further promotion. The support center is a joint project of numerous international groups including the U.S. Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

In addition, Facebook hosted a March 15 event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City with Dubravka Šimonović, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and other advocates and experts.

The goal of the event was to “discuss how this abuse manifests around the world; its causes and consequences; the next frontier of challenges that need to be addressed; and strategies for deterrence,” said Davis.

Revenge porn laws have been on the rise, both in the U.S. and globally. Forty-three states and Washington D.C. have laws banning the distribution of this material in place. New York is the most recent state to criminalize revenge porn, earlier this year.

 

Pocket Prayer for SUNDAY 3/17


If you'd like one of these pocket Crosses for your own, check here.  Each day this Lent I'll offer a brief thought here (Pocket Prayers) about how Jesus might touch our lives in this holy season.  I hope this will help all of us to be more faithful on our Lenten journey to Easter.

Pocket Prayer for SUNDAY of the Second Week of Lent
     (and Saint Patrick's Day!)

It's Saint Patrick's Day, Lord,
and as I hold my pocket Cross this morning
I'm reminded of all the ways your gentle touch
is felt in an old Irish blessing:

May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
and until we meet again
may the Lord hold you
in the palm of his hand...

Meet me with your touch today, Lord,
and let me feel the rush of your wind
upon my shoulders...

Let the light of your face warm mine, Lord,
and hold me, hold me in your arms, in your heart
and in the hallowed hollowed palm
of your hand...

Jesus,
touch my life
today!

Amen.


 

    
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Pause for Prayer: SUNDAY 3/17


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today, and for the past two days, I've been featuring different musical settings of a  prayer attributed to St. Patrick (387-461 A.D.), titled The Lorica (breastplate) of St. Patrick.

Today's setting is by composer John Rutter, directing the Cambridge Singers - a finer combination of conductor and chorus would be hard to find!  This presentation is prayerfully gentle.  The lyrics of Rutter's composition follow the video and below that you'll find a longer version of Patrick's inspirational prayer.





Christ be with me
Christ within me
Christ behind me
Christ before me
Christ beside me
Christ to win me
Christ to comfort and restore me
Christ above me
Christ beneath me
Christ in quiet
Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The Lorica of St. Patrick
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation,
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion and his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection and his ascension...

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of angels...
In the hope of the resurrection,
In the prayers of ancestors in the faith,
In the preaching of the apostles,
In the faith of martyrs
In the innocence and purity of the deeds of the righteous.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power
that opposes my body and soul,
Against false prophets, false laws and idolatry...

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.




     
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Abortion rights advocates to challenge pro-life bills in Kentucky

Frankfort, Ky., Mar 16, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- The Kentucky legislature passed two pro-life bills this week, which are expected to be signed by the governor. The bills, which would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and for discriminatory reasons, are already facing planned legal challenges.

The Senate passed HB 5 by a 32-4 vote March 13, meant to prevent discriminatory abortion decisions. The House approved SB 9 March 14 by a vote of 71-19, a legislation that bans abortion after a heartbeat has been detected. Both pieces of legislation passed through their legislative counterparts last month.

The bills need to be signed by Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who has emphasized the state’s pro-life stance and is expected to the sign the bills into law.

Shortly after the legislation was passed, American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the anti-discrimination bill and promised to open another case against the fetal heartbeat ban. The organization is acting on behalf of the state’s only abortion clinic, located in Louisville.

Following the lawsuit’s announcement, Governor Bevin responded on Twitter, challenging the organization to face the pro-life attitude of Kentucky.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bring it!<br><br>Kentucky will always fight for life...<br><br>Always!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreProLife?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreProLife</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreKY?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreKY</a> <a href="https://t.co/Qioq9iEQb8">https://t.co/Qioq9iEQb8</a></p>&mdash; Governor Matt Bevin (@GovMattBevin) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovMattBevin/status/1105957222796984321?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 13, 2019</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

HB 5 prohibits abortions to be performed because of the baby’s gender, race, national origin, or disability. Under the bill, doctors would be required “to certify a lack of knowledge that the pregnant woman's intent” was in line with discrimination. The doctors would subjected to losing their license if the measure is violated.  

According to Cincinnati Public Radio, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a sponsor of the bill, said the legislation was anti-discriminatory.

"House Bill 5 would hold the abortionist accountable for performing an abortion for a specific reason: because the baby is a boy or a girl, because the baby is a particular race or because they might be born with a known or suspected disability," Alvarado said.

In a March 13 statement, Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the law restricts a woman’s ability to make a decision on abortion.

“Kentucky women must be able to have private conversations with their health care providers and must be able to decide whether to have an abortion. We see this legislation for exactly what it is – part of a campaign to prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion if she needs one – and we won’t stand for it,” she said.

The heartbeat ban would require an examination to determine whether the fetus has a heartbeat or not. If so, an abortion would be prohibited, unless the mother’s health is at risk.

“It recognizes that at the sound of a heartbeat, that a child is living,” said Rep. Chris Fugate, according to the Associated Press.

“And at the sound of a heartbeat, those who would kill the unborn child would not be allowed to do so anymore. Senate Bill 9 recognizes a heartbeat as a sign of life.”

In a March 14 statement, Amiri said the abortion heartbeat ban was a common move by anti-abortion groups, noting that Kentucky has become the most recent state to pass this bill. In recent years, a handful of states have passed similar legislation, although they generally face difficulties in court.

“These bans are blatantly unconstitutional, and we will ask the court to strike it down,” she said.

Last month, testimonies were given in front of the Kentucky Senate before votes were cast. April Lanham, a local resident, allowed the heartbeat of her unborn baby to be played through an electronic monitor. Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic and now pro-life activist, also spoke at the event.

“Abortion can never, on its face, be safe, because in order for an abortion to be deemed successful, an individual and unique human with a beating heart must die,” Johnson said, according to WDRB.

Pause for Prayer: SATURDAY 3/16


Happy St. Patrick's Day - in advance!

St. Patrick's Day comes tomorrow but many will be celebrating over the course of this whole weekend. Yesterday, today and on Sunday my Pause for Prayer will feature different musical settings of a  prayer attributed to St. Patrick (387-461 A.D.), a prayer titled The Lorica (breastplate) of St. Patrick.

Today's offering is Arvo Part's haunting setting of a portion of the Lorica (Christ with me...) This music has the power to stir the depths of my soul. It's not something I pray with every day but there are definitely days when it's just the prayer I need, especially when I most need to know that Christ is near me, at my side and deep within my heart.  I hope it might stir your soul, too...








     
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Pocket Prayer: SATURDAY 3/16


If you'd like one of these pocket Crosses for your own, check here.  Each day this Lent I'll offer a brief thought here (Pocket Prayers) about how Jesus might touch our lives in this holy season.  I hope this will help all of us to be more faithful on our Lenten journey to Easter.

Pocket Prayer for SATURDAY of the First Week of Lent

Could it be, Lord,
that you choose to touch my day
with blessings, warmth and peace
while, at the same time,
you seem to hold back your hand
when a madman goes on a killing spree
in a city called Christchurch?

I don't understand, Lord...

I often don't understand
why some are blessed
and others left to suffer...

I don't understand, Lord,
why you reach out here and there
- but not everywhere...

I don't understand how you who love all,
who love each and everyone of us,
fashioned by your hand,
how you allow your beloved to suffer
when there's no end to the blessings
you might offer...

Nor do I understand, Lord, why you,
so truly, purely innocent,
why you were not spared
but suffered, too,
and on behalf, in the place of us
so undeserving of your grace...

It's a mystery to me, Lord,
and most likely, it's a mystery meant to be:
that you love us all and yet allow us all,
in large and smaller ways,
to share in the suffering from which
not even you were spared...

When suffering is mine, Lord,
help me remember days of blessing
and when those very days are upon me,
help me to share the blessings I receive...

And in the mystery of your love, Lord,
touch our lives today,
touch the lives of all you call your own,
and teach us to touch one another
with the blessing, warmth and peace
that is always yours to give
and always ours to share...

Amen.


 

    
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New Mexico Senate blocks repeal of state abortion ban

Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:26 pm (CNA).- The New Mexico Senate on Thursday rejected a proposal to repeal the state’s law criminalizing abortion, which dates to 1969. The state’s Catholic bishops had strongly opposed the law’s repeal.

Eight Democrats joined all 16 Republicans in opposing House Bill 51, voting it down 24-18. The House of Representatives passed the bill last month, and Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham had promised to sign the measure into law.

At issue is a New Mexico law which makes it is a felony for any doctor to perform abortions, except in instances of congenital abnormalities, rape, and a danger to the woman’s health. The law has not been enforced since 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision that found a constitutional right to abortion.

Democratic Sen. Gabriel Ramos reportedly cited his religious beliefs and the Catholic Church before voting against House Bill 51, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

“This is one of the toughest decisions any of us will ever have to make,” he was quoted as saying in the Journal.

“I stand unified against legislation that weakens the defense of life and threatens the dignity of the human being.”

The debate over the bill lasted for hours and featured emotional and sometimes tearful testimonies from both opponents and supporters, the Journal reported.

Advocates for House Bill 51 had expressed concern about a possible repeal of Roe v. Wade. Representative Joanne Ferrary, co-sponsor of the bill, has said the bill was a necessary protection to ensure abortion services are “safe and legal.”

"It is time to remove this archaic law from New Mexico's books," she said, according to Las Cruces Sun News.

"With the threat of a Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe, we need to pass this bill to protect health care providers and keep abortion safe and legal.”

In a Jan. 7 statement ahead of the House passing the bill, Bishop James Wall of Gallup voiced his opposition and encouraged lawmakers to focus on policies that support human prosperity at all stages of life.

“While the law is currently not enforced due to federal legalization of abortion through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, I nevertheless urge opposition to any bills that would loosen abortion restrictions,” he said.

“New Mexico consistently ranks low or last among other states in education results, economic opportunities, poverty, and childhood health. An abortion will not fix the obstacles many women and families face, such as economic instability, access to education, and a higher standard of living.”

Eight other states have laws that would also ban abortion and four additional states have “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

Michigan governor asks for additional $2m to investigate clergy sex abuse

Lansing, Mich., Mar 15, 2019 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has asked the state’s legislature for an additional $2 million in funding for the state’s ongoing sex abuse investigation into Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses.

Spurred by the release of the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania last year, which documented hundreds of cases of clergy sex abuse that took place over several decades in almost every diocese in the state, Michigan’s then-Attorney General Bill Schuette launched the state’s own investigation in August 2018.

This week, Whitmer asked the state legislature for additional funding to cover the costs of the rest of the investigation, which is expected to last two years, The Detroit News reported.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, told The Detroit News that while the investigation had thus far been covered internally by the state department, “the sheer size and scope of the investigation requires that we ask the Legislature to appropriate funds for this project.”

Rossman-McKinney told The Detroit News that the requested funding would come from state settlements, and would be used to cover “additional investigatory resources and victims’ advocacy services,” pending approval by the state legislature.

The investigation covers all seven Catholic dioceses in the state - Gaylord, Lansing, Marquette, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and Detroit - and includes cases of sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s.

After the announcement of the investigation in the fall of 2018, the dioceses said they welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Detroit said at the time that they “looked forward” to cooperating with state officials and actively participating in the investigation. The archdiocese also emphasized its confidence in its safe environment practices already in place, but added that the investigation would be the next step toward healing.

While the dioceses have pledged cooperation, in a press conference last month, Nessel warned dioceses against “self-policing,” using non-disclosure agreements with victims, and “failing to deliver” on their promises to cooperate with state authorities.

The Archdiocese of Detroit countered that Nessel was making “broad generalizations” and that she should clarify which dioceses, if any, were being uncooperative.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit does not self-police,” the archdiocese said Feb. 21. “We encourage all victims to report abuse directly to law enforcement.”

“Clergy with credible accusations against them do not belong in ministry,” it added. “Since the attorney general’s investigation began, the Archdiocese of Detroit has not received notification from that office regarding credible accusations against any of our priests. Should we become aware of such a complaint, we will act immediately.”

The Detroit archdiocese noted its support for mandatory sex abuse reporting laws and its efforts to widely publicize the state’s sex abuse tip-line. It added that the archdiocese places no time limits on the reporting of sex abuse of minors by priests, deacons and other personnel. The archdiocese added that the attorney general’s office has not asked it to stop internal review processes.

Other dioceses responded in kind, asking for clarification and reiterating their dedication to cooperation and transparency.

Each diocese was subject to a raid by state authorities last October as part of the investigation, for which the dioceses pledged full cooperation, including Saginaw, which had undergone an earlier, local raid in March, in which local authorities cited a lack of cooperation from diocesan officials.

In a statement, Saginaw emphasized its willingness to cooperate with the state raids in October.

According to The Detroit News, the Michigan Attorney General’s office has received approximately 360 complaints since the investigation began in August.

Last year the state extended the statue of limitations in sexual assault cases to 15 years in criminal cases, and 10 in civil. Indictments for abuse of minor victims can be filed within 15 years of the crime or by the victim's 28th birthday.

State officials have urged victims of clergy abuse or those with tips pertinent to the investigation to file complaints with the clergy abuse hotline at (1-844-324-3374) or online at mi.gov/clergyabuse.

What Catholic universities are doing to address the sex abuse crisis

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Late last summer, as accusations of abuse against then-cardinal Theodore McCarrick surfaced, a grand jury report from Pennsylvania detailed decades and hundreds of cases of clerical abuse, and dioceses began listing their priests accused of sexual abuse, lay Catholics horrified by the news grasped for something they could do.

Some started letter-writing campaigns, prayer campaigns or petitions. Others launched anonymous watchdog websites. A social media campaign with the hashtag #SackClothandAshes encouraged the laity to offer fasting and sacrifices for the sins of the clergy.

Now, several Catholic universities have announced how they’re joining in the reform efforts.

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. recently announced the launch of ‘The Catholic Project’, an initiative aimed at bringing healing and reform to the Church after the sex abuse crisis.

Leaders at the university have said that as the pontifical university in the U.S., CUA is uniquely situated to respond to the crisis in a number of ways.

“CUA has a unique place in the American Catholic landscape, being sort of the bishop’s university that has a special relationship with the Vatican, but it’s also a lay-led institution,” Stephen White, who was named executive director of the project, told CNA.

It also makes sense geographically for CUA to respond to the crisis, White said, since it sits across the street from headquarters of the U.S. bishop’s conference and is in Washington, D.C., the same city where the now-laicized McCarrick had previously served as cardinal and archbishop.

Furthermore, White said, CUA has a host of invaluable resources at its fingertips.

“(CUA) has all of these assets at its disposal - a law school, a canon law faculty (the only one in the country), theologians, social workers who’ve been working on these questions for decades now,” White said. “It’s sort of a perfect place for a response to the crisis.”

But what form will that response take? There are many, White said.

“It’s sort of an all-of-the-above approach which is sort of why the name of this project came to be ‘The Catholic Project,’” White said.
“We came to realize that there were so many aspects to this and so many things the University can do, that we chose a broader, more generic name.”

Some of those aspects of response began before The Catholic Project existed, such as listening sessions the university hosted with students, a forum where students could vent their frustrations and fears about the crisis. It included a panel discussion “Church in Crisis” series, which included panel discussions about the crisis.

One of the upcoming initiatives of the project will be a collaboration with the USCCB, which will bring bishops together with abuse victims who want to share their story and help the Church heal.

“(They) understand that the Church needs bishops, and they understand that if the Church is going to heal from this, and move forward from this, that the bishops need to understand the survivor’s perspective and that survivors have something to give to heal the Church, even though they are the ones who are least responsible for where we are,” White said.

The project will also be promoting research into sociological questions surrounding the crisis, White said, such as: “What was it that made the abuse spike like it did in the middle of the 20th century? Why did that happen? Was this unique to the Catholic Church or were there other institutions who saw similar spikes? Has the Dallas Charter (the bishop’s previous abuse prevention plan) worked? And if it has worked, what parts of it have worked? Are there parts that have been implemented but that didn’t really make much of a difference, or parts that worked, and what are those parts?”

Another part of the project will work with the business school to come up with ways to help priests and bishops be better managers of their parishes and dioceses.

“When you have an organization that’s run transparently and efficiently and well, you’re less likely to have parts of the organization where bad things can fester,” White said.

“So there’s lots of different components to (the project),” he added.

White also recognized that academic work and research are not going to solve completely the problem.

“But it’s important, and the work that’s going to have to be done in chanceries, and parishes, and bishop’s conferences, is work that can be helped by the things that we’re going to be doing at CUA,” he said.

Other Catholic universities and colleges are responding in similarly strong and broad ways.

Fordham University in New York recently announced a lecture titled “Reckoning and Reform: New Horizons on the Clergy Abuse Crisis” as a part of their ongoing response to the abuse crisis.

David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, told CNA that the event will be a two-part presentation aimed at helping people understand the crisis and what can be done moving forward.

“People are upset and understandably just aghast at what is going on, but in order to find some solutions we have to figure out what has happened,” Gibson told CNA.

Gibson said that by hosting the event in the late afternoon and evening, he hoped to catch some “Catholic regular working folks who are vitally interested in this kind of thing and they can attend,” he said.

“Academic conferences are good and a lot of people are doing those kinds of things, but I think it's also really important that we do things that can get regular Catholics coming to attend them and to get informed on these kind of things so it's not just ‘professional Catholics’,” he said.

Gibson added that Catholic universities and colleges will be “indispensable” in the response to the sex abuse reform, for several reasons: because of their vast array of resources, because, as lay institutions, they now have more credibility with many Catholics than the bishops, and because they are positioned all throughout the country, where they can reach many people.

Another prominent Catholic institution of higher education, the University of Notre Dame, recently published a statement outlining the ways that university has and will continue to address the abuse crisis.

Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame, noted in the statement that in October 2018 the university created two task forces to begin the work of reform: a Campus Engagement Task Force, which “was charged with facilitating dialogue and listening to the observations and recommendations of our campus community,” and the Research and Scholarship Task Force, which “considered ways in which Notre Dame might respond and assist the Church in this crisis through its research and scholarship.”

He then outlined both the immediate and ongoing steps the university will take to address the crisis, as informed by the task forces.

As for immediate steps, Jenkins said the university will “initiate prominent, public events to educate and stimulate discussion.” The focus of the first event will be “where the Church is now, identifying steps that have been taken and problems that must be addressed.”

The second event “will focus not only on the issue of sexual abuse, considered narrowly, but also on the broader questions the current crisis raises, such as structures of accountability in the Church, clericalism, the role of women, creating and sustaining ethical cultures, and the continued accompaniment of survivors.”

The university will also be making research grants available “across a wide range of disciplines that will address issues raised by the current situation. In accord with this recommendation, the President’s Office will provide up to $1 million in the next three years to fund research projects that address issues emerging from the crisis.”

For ongoing efforts to address sex abuse in the Church, the university will continue to “encourage and share relevant research and scholarship … with the goal of producing recommendations for ensuring that seminaries and houses of religious formation are safe environments free from sexual harassment.”

It will also “train graduates for effective leadership in the Church during and beyond the crisis,” through graduate programs in theology, teacher and leadership formation programs, and catechist training programs, which are all “committed to training ministers and teachers to be aware of issues of sexual abuse and policies and behaviors needed to prevent it.”

Jenkins also noted that university will “redouble” its efforts in preventing and addressing cases of sexual assault that occur on Notre Dame’s campus.

“As I join others in praying for survivors, I will do what I can to prevent these terrible offenses. I encourage everyone, each in their own respective positions and roles, to contribute to real and lasting change that will prevent sexual assault and abuse, in the Church and outside it, and to support survivors,” Jenkins noted.

“To the extent we can do this, the dark night of the current crisis will lead us to a hopeful dawn.”

Federal budget proposal draws criticism for slashing foreign aid

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 12:36 am (CNA).- A Catholic aid agency is asking Congress to maintain its commitment to international humanitarian funding, after the Trump administration proposed a federal budget that would cut foreign aid by 24 percent.

In a March 12 statement, Catholic Relief Services warned that the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request “would undermine dramatic progress in global poverty reduction over the past two decades, disproportionately affecting vulnerable and marginalized people.”

The budget proposal, released earlier this week, would cut foreign aid by nearly one-quarter, and would combine current departments for international food aid, disaster response, and migrant and refugee assistance.

Given drastic humanitarian crises currently ongoing throughout the world, the U.S. should be increasing, not decreasing, its funding for international aid, a top CRS official told a recent congressional subcommittee.

Bill O’Keefe, CRS executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy, told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs that violence, droughts and other disasters have left millions vulnerable and in need of aid.

“U.S. foreign assistance is a moral and practical imperative. Poverty not only causes unnecessary suffering, but also breeds instability. Aid empowers local leadership, builds local capacity and supports a community on its journey to self-reliance,” O’Keefe said.

The United States should be maintaining a leadership role in offering humanitarian aid, especially for the more than 68 million people displaced from their homes globally, he told the members of Congress on the subcommittee.

O’Keefe specifically called for U.S. money to be allocated for development aid, disaster response, migrant and refugee assistance, and disease eradication.

Catholic Relief Services highlighted the situation in Venezuela, where 3 million people have fled as extreme shortages of food, medicine, and water are compounded by political unrest.

In addition, the agency said, millions in the Horn of Africa are experiencing drought conditions that are expected to create widespread conditions of severe hunger this year, with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicting up to 30 percent crop failure in some areas.

Matt Davis, CRS regional director for East Africa, said the agency is “very concerned by the deteriorating conditions in the region where we are seeing families – whose lives rely on the land – unable to cope.”

He warned against changes to U.S. funding that “could abandon millions of families around the world just when they need help the most.”

Most families in the Horn of Africa are small-holder farmers, and “much of the livestock – which many families depend on for a living – has already died off, been sold, or eaten,” Catholic Relief Services said.

“In South Sudan, 7.7 million people – more than half the population – will need food assistance by August. That crisis has been caused by both conflict and drought,” the agency added.

Humanitarian aid is currently being offered to alleviate the situation in parts of the Horn of Africa, Davis explained, but more help is necessary.

CRS works with local groups to help the communities in the region prepare for droughts, as well as to increase their resistance against drought through new technology, micro-savings programs and education on nutrition and health.

The agency counts on U.S. foreign aid funding for these efforts, as well as emergency food distribution in times of crisis.

Similar foreign aid cuts were proposed by the Trump administration last year, but rejected by Congress. Catholic Relief Services asked Congress to again reiterate its commitment to foreign aid funding.

“Helping the poor is a moral imperative, and a wise investment in global stability,” Davis said.