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Pause for Prayer: SATURDAY 2/22

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Sometimes, Lord, I feel at home in my soul,
in my skin, in my faith,
in the circle of my family and friends,
in my work, in the world,
in your love...

But sometimes, Lord, in one or more of those venues,
I feel out of place, ill at ease, mismatched
- like a stranger, unfamiliar with my surroundings...

And that can be a good thing, Lord:
when I've wandered where I don't belong
to places I'm not meant to be,
apart from your desires for me...

But more often not, Lord, I feel out of place
when I'm not accepting of my life and lot,
when I'm champing at the bit to be somewhere else,
to do something else, with someone else
- when I wish I could be someone else!

When I'm not at peace with you, Lord,
not reconciled with those around me,
when I can't find my place in the universe
then I can't be at peace with myself
and that's when I don't feel at home
in my soul, in my skin, in the world,
in your love...

I need your help, grace and guidance, Lord,
to help me be at home in the place where I live,
at peace with the folks who people my life,
content with the journey you walk with me,
secure in your love,
in good times and in bad...

I want nothing so much as to be at home
in my soul, in my skin, in the world as I know it,
and in you, Lord, and in your love for me...

Make me restless to find my home, Lord,
until I find and make my home in you...

Amen.








 

    
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Fla. bishops laud parental consent for abortion bill as it goes to governor

Tallahassee, Fla., Feb 21, 2020 / 03:21 pm (CNA).- The Florida bishops applauded Thursday the passage through both houses of the state legislature of a bill requiring parental consent for minors seeking to procure abortion. The governor has said he intends to sign the bill.

The Florida House of Representatives passed SB 404 by a 75-43 vote Feb. 20. It had cleared the Senate by a 23-17 vote earlier this month.

“We praise our state’s legislative leaders for advancing this pro-life legislation, especially bill sponsors, Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) and Representative Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach), who took on the difficult task of guiding it through the committee process and onto the floor of the Senate and House,” the Florida bishops' conference said Feb. 20.

“We also commend the Democratic lawmakers who courageously crossed party lines and voted to ensure vital protections for parents and their children.”

The bill would require minors to received notarized approval from a parent or guardian, or to get consent from a judge after a hearing, before procuring an abortion.

Under the bill, minors seeking an abortion will be required to receive notarized approval from at least one parent, guardian, or from a judge. Doctors who perform abortions without the parental consent of a girl under 18 would face up to five years in prison for a third-degree felony.

The permission requirement would not apply in cases of “medical emergencies” when there is not sufficient time to obtain written permission from a parent.

The bishops noted that “Parental consent is required prior to a minor's medical treatment in most every instance, this includes simple medical interventions such as taking an aspirin or getting one’s ears pierced. This legislation is a common-sense measure that holds abortion to the same consent requirements as most every other medical decision involving a child.”

Ingrid Delgado, associate director for social concerns and respect life for the Florida bishops' conference, commented that “standards that relate to children's health care should apply especially in the context of abortion, which critically affects the lives of two children.”

Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, voted for the measure, calling it “a good bill for our children,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, a sponsor of the measure, said: “It is indisputable that abortion ends a life, and the decision to end a life is permanent and life-altering not only for the baby, but for the girl, the father and the family.”

Those opposed to the bill said it will create more difficulties for young girls who are already in a desperate situation, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said that “we don't live in a Utopia where parents always love and advise their children and young girls never get pregnant.”

The Florida legislature first enacted a parental consent law in 1979, but the state Supreme Court struck it down a decade later, saying it violated privacy rights.

Governor Ron DeSantis has said he thinks parental consent “deserves to be reconsidered” at the court, adding that parents “want to be involved with what’s going on with their kids.”

The Florida House passed a similar bill last year, but it failed to make it out of Senate committees for full debate.

Existing Florida law requires a minor seeking to procure abortion to give notice to their parent, or a judge.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, 1,398 minors, 193 of whom notified a judge rather than her parents, procured abortion in the state in 2018.

Twenty-six states require parental consent for a minor's abortion.

More than 207,000 sign petition to shutter porn website after trafficking violations

Sacramento, Calif., Feb 21, 2020 / 11:26 am (CNA).- Underage pornography and trafficking videos have been found on the online pornography platform PornHub.

By Feb. 21, a petition on change.org calling on the site to be shut down and its executive held accountable for aiding trafficking had more than 207,000 signatures.

The petition points to several instances of child rape pornography found on PornHub in the past year.

Laila Mickelwait, Exodus Cry's Director of Abolition and the author of the petition, said there may be more instances of this illegal material on this site as well.

“We already have evidence, and it is just the tip of the iceberg,” the petition states. “It’s time to shut down super-predator site Pornhub and hold the executives behind it accountable.”

The petition will be sent to the US Department of Justice, the FBI, US President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and several US Congressmen.

Mickelwait’s organization was established to abolish commercial sex abuse, sexual exploitation, and global sex trafficking. Exodus Cry is based on two principles: altering mindsets and changing laws.

Dr. Melissa Farley, executive director of Prostitution Research & Education, said the petition is proposing a fair and moderate position. She said the actions which occurred on PornHub's watch are already illegal.

“Laila and her organization are taking a very reasonable stance. They're only talking about children and they're only talking about children that are being advertised for sale. Any prostitution of a child according to U.S. federal law is trafficking,” she told CNA.

“This is pictures of the trafficking of kids, in other words, pictures of the prostitution of children. To prosecute PornHub for profiting from photographs of the sexual assault of children for money...I'm delighted that her organization is taking this on.”

While Mickelwait did not originally plan to make a petition, she told CNA the initiative came about after she received feedback from people who were angry at the news regarding PornHub’s negligence regarding illegal material on its site.

“Everybody's in agreement that children should not be trafficked and raped. Women should not be trafficked and raped for profit, for the sexual pleasure of billions of people who visit that website. There's just no arguing with that,” she said.

During last year, 58 videos of sexual abuse and rape of a 15-year-old girl appeared on PornHub. The girl had been missing for a year when her mother found her on the adult website, leading to the arrest of her captor, Christopher Johnson, a 30-year-old Florida man.

Mickelwait said the 15-year-old girl had been approved by the supposed “verification system” of Pornhub, despite the girl being underage. She said that to upload a video, all that is needed is a valid email address.

“They had verified that 15 year-old-girl who was raped and assaulted on 58 videos on their platform … that was part of kind of what's been called an explosive revelation of what's happening on this website,” she said.

Michael James Pratt, head of GirlsDoPorn, was sued for over $12.7 million by 22 women who had been led to believe they were applying for “modeling jobs.” As it was actually a pornography shoot, the women who agreed to participate were told they would only appear on physical DVDs published in other countries and not online. The women were aged between 17 and 22.

Pratt is now facing charges in the US for trafficking and producing child pornography. He is reportedly on the run in New Zealand.

According to BBC, Rose Kalemba was abducted, beaten, and raped at age 14. Later a video of her sexual abuse appeared on PornHub. She found out about the videos through her classmates, who sent her links and bullied her for it.

After she discovered the videos, she would email PornHub over the next few months pleading for the content to be taken down and emphasizing her status as a minor, BBC reported. The website only obliged once she posed as her own lawyer.

Mickelwait said that because of the massive amount of content on Pornhub, she believes there are more instances of the sexual exploitation and child pornography than has been reported.

“If you go on my Twitter and you just scroll through, you could see case after case, after case, after case of instances where real rape, real trafficking is being uploaded to PornHub and PornHub is profiting off of that exploitation. It's a huge problem,” she said.

“If we know that there's 10, 12, 15, 20[cases], [then] there's probably hundreds, thousands [of cases of sexual exploitation]... We have no idea how huge this could be based on the amount of content they have on their site.”

Mickelwait said the company that owns PornHub has a monopoly on the pornographic industry, having consolidated nternet porn.

“When people do things that are not okay, they need to be held accountable for that. But it also sets a precedent and example for anybody else who would try to do something like this and allow it, promote it, profit off of it. The public in the world is not going to put up with that,” she said.

“If it can happen to the world's largest, richest, most powerful internet porn company, it could happen to anyone. I think that that's why this is particularly important.”

She said that viewers of pornography are also harmed: “Experimental exposure to porn leads men and women to have a diminished view of women's competence, morality, and humanity,” she said.

“Studies have been done that show that and demonstrate that when you watch hardcore violent pornography, it creates what's called permission-giving beliefs about rape. It makes people believe what's called the rape myths: that women want rape, that they deserve rape.”

Farley told CNA that all violent pornography is a problem, which may lead to extreme and violent fetishes or cases of prostitution. She said that all people harmed by sexual assaults in pornography should be compensated.

“My concern as somebody who's been studying the sex trade for 20 years is that pornography is filmed documentation of sexual assault, humiliation, degradation, threats, and things like that. So any photograph of sexual assault is a problem,” she said.

“I would go much further. I would say that any pornography that harms anyone, whether they're six, 16 or 60 years old, whether they're male, female, trans, anyone who's prostitution is filmed, who's abuse is film, if they can show harm, they should sue PornHub for just everything it's worth,” she added.

Pause for Prayer: FRIDAY 2/21

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Before I went to bed last night, Lord,
you knew just how this day would go for me...

Before I opened my eyes
you knew all the times and ways I'd need your help today...

As my feet hit the floor this morning
you stood ready to walk each step by my side...

So, open my mind and heart, Lord,
open my thoughts and imagination
to find you at every twist and turn
as I make my way with trust in you...

Amen.


 

    
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US bishops: Pope Francis talks Fr. James Martin, euthanasia, at private meeting

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- During a private meeting with bishops from the southwestern United States, Pope Francis talked about his 2019 meeting with Fr. James Martin, SJ, and about pastoral care and assisted suicide.

The pope met Feb. 10 for more than two hours with bishops from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

Several bishops present at the meeting told CNA that in addition to discussions about his then-pending exhortation on the Amazon region, and on the challenges of transgenderism and gender ideology, Pope Francis discussed his Sept. 30 meeting with Martin, an American Jesuit who is well-known for speaking and writing about the Church’s ministry to people who identify themselves as LGBT.

"The Holy Father's disposition was very clear, he was most displeased about the whole subject of Fr. Martin and how their encounter had been used. He was very expressive, both his words and his face -  his anger was very clear, he felt he'd been used," one bishop told CNA.

Martin met with Pope Francis shortly after a Sept. 19 column by Archbishop Charles Chaput criticized “a pattern of ambiguity” in Martin’s work, which Chaput said “tends to undermine his stated aims, alienating people from the very support they need for authentic human flourishing.”

“I find it necessary to emphasize that Father Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church, and to caution the faithful about some of his claims,” Chaput added.

The meeting between Martin and the pope was taken by some as a response to Chaput’s column.

The meeting took place in a papal library ordinarily reserved for high-level audiences with the pope, which some journalists saw as a significant decision.

“By choosing to meet him in this place, Pope Francis was making a public statement. In some ways, the meeting was the message,” America Magazine reported of the encounter.

But bishops who met with the pope this week said that while Pope Francis had accommodated a request for a meeting with Martin, he was clear with them that he did not intend for it to convey any significance.

In fact, one bishop at the meeting told CNA that Pope Francis has said he “made his displeasure clear” about the way the meeting was interpreted, and framed by some journalists.

"He told us that the matter had been dealt with; that Fr. Martin had been given a 'talking to' and that his superiors had also been spoken to and made the situation perfectly clear to him," another bishop said.

"I do not think you will be seeing that picture of him with the pope on his next book cover," the bishop told CNA.

For his part, Martin told CNA Feb. 20 that “I can't comment on what the Holy Father told me, since he asked me not to share the details with the media, other than to say that I felt profoundly inspired, consoled and encouraged by our half-hour audience in the Apostolic Palace, which came at his invitation.”

Two bishops told CNA that Martin’s work in regards to the LGBT community was also discussed with the heads of numerous Vatican congregations, and that some officials expressed concern about aspects of the priest’s work.

According to bishops present at the papal meeting, Pope Francis also spoke about euthanasia, and was asked about comments from Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who said at a December symposium that priests should “let go of the rules” in order to be present with people who have initiated assisted suicide.

At the symposium Paglia mentioned that he would hold the hand of someone dying from assisted suicide, and that he does not see such an action as lending implicit support for the practice.

Pope Francis apparently told bishops that while priests must love mercifully those who have terminal illnesses, they can not “accompany” someone who is in the act of suicide, which the Catholic Church teaches to be gravely immoral.

One bishop told CNA that the same matter was brought up with the heads of Vatican offices, and “they were really clear that what [Paglia] said was a big problem, and that other bishops have brought it up.”

Vatican officials said “you just can’t do that,” a bishop said, in reference to any pastoral action that might seem to imply approval of, or cooperation with, assisted suicide.

 

Ed Condon contributed to this report.

 

Retired judge hears arguments about NFL emails in clergy abuse case

New Orleans, La., Feb 20, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A retired New Orleans judge heard arguments on Thursday on whether private correspondence between an NFL franchise and the Archdiocese of New Orleans should be made public.

Judge Carolyn Jefferson, a retired judge of the Civil District Court for Orleans, presided over Thursday’s hearing over whether email correspondence between the NFL’s New Orleans Saints franchise and the Archdiocese of New Orleans should be available to the public, the AP reported.

The correspondence relates to a lawsuit against the archdiocese which claims it failed to protect a minor from an alleged sexual abuser in the 1970s and 80s.

In that case, lawyers for the plaintiffs have also alleged that the Saints improperly aided the archdiocese in public relations efforts to conceal information on clergy sex abuse when the archdiocese released its 2018 report on credibly accused clergy.

The Associated Press has filed a motion to have public access to email correspondence between the franchise and the archdiocese. Lawyers for the AP argued on Thursday that concerns over privacy “are minimal” when compared to the magnitude of the case.

Thursday’s hearing would not result in an immediate decision by Judge Jefferson, but rather in a recommendation made to the judge overseeing the sexual abuse lawsuit against the archdiocese, Judge Ellen Hazeur of Orleans Civil District Court.

The archdiocese is being sued by a man who alleged he was sexually abused by George Brignac, a deacon in the archdiocese who was removed from ministry in 1988 after allegations that he sexually abused minors in the 1970s and 1980s. Brignac was listed in the archdiocese’s 2018 report of clergy who had been credibly accused of abuse.

The abuse case of John Doe versus the Catholic Church of New Orleans and Deacon George Brignac was first reported by local news station WVUE. The lawsuit alleges that the archdiocese failed to protect the plaintiff from Brignac.

Brignac was originally accused of raping an altar boy at Holy Rosary School in the archdiocese, which resulted in a settlement with the archdiocese of more than $500,000, the New Orleans Advocate reported. The lawsuit filed in 2018 alleges that he molested another boy at the same school between 1977 and 1982, the Advocate reported.  

Lawyers also requested to view email correspondence between the Saints and the archdiocese, alleging that the franchise improperly helped the archdiocese with damage control in the release of its 2018 report.

The franchise responded that it did assist the archdiocese, but did so in the interest of “disclosure” and not “concealment.

On Thursday, a lawyer for the archdiocese said the allegations of colluding with the archdiocese to conceal information are "nothing more than a clear attack on the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church for wrongs of the past that the church has acknowledged,” the AP reported.

Tennessee governor denies clemency to death row 'model inmate'

Knoxville, Tenn., Feb 20, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The governor of Tennessee has denied a clemency request for a condemned prisoner described as a “model inmate,” clearing the way for his execution on Thursday, February 20. The decision was made despite appeals to spare his life from the family of one of his victims, and from prison officers.

Nicholas Sutton, 58, was sentenced to death in 1988 after he and another inmate murdered a fellow prisoner, Carl Estep, by stabbing him nearly 40 times on January 15, 1985. At the time of Estep’s murder, Sutton was serving a life sentence for the murder of his grandmother, Dorothy Sutton, whom he killed when he was 18. 

Gov. Bill Lee (R) denied the request for clemency on Wednesday morning. 

“After careful consideration of Nicholas Sutton’s request for clemency and a thorough review of the case, I am upholding the sentence of the State of Tennessee and will not be intervening,” said Lee. 

Sutton was also convicted of murdering two men--Charles Almon, 46 and John Large, 19--in North Carolina, also at the age of 18. In those cases, Sutton took a plea deal and received two additional life sentences. 

His attorneys argued that he underwent a change of heart since the four murders, and had “gone from a life-taker to a life-saver,” protecting the lives of prison officials during riots. 

“I owe my life to Nick Sutton,” said former prison officer Tony Eden in an affidavit for his clemency. Eden recounted a story where, during a riot at the Tennessee State Prison in 1985, five armed inmates attempted to take him hostage.

“Nick and another inmate confronted them, physically removed me from the situation and escorted me to the safety of the trap gate in another building,” said Eden. “I firmly believe that the inmates who tried to take me hostage intended to seriously harm, if not kill me.” 

Six other current and former Tennessee Department of Correction staff members have advocated that Sutton be granted clemency. Sutton’s clemency affidavit contends that, while he was in prison, he saved the lives of five people, including three prison staff members. 

The family members of some of his victims have also argued that he should not be executed. 

Former federal district court judge Kevin Sharp, who is serving as Sutton’s clemency attorney, said in a statement after the request was denied that his client “is a once-in-a-lifetime case for clemency.”

Sutton “has saved the lives of three correction officials during his incarceration; his request for clemency was supported by seven former and current Tennessee correction professionals, family members of victims, five of the original jurors and others,” said Sharp. 

Per the statement, correction officials were seeking to spare Sutton “so he could keep making the prison safer for guards and encouraging good behavior from inmates.” 

“Mr. Sutton has been a model inmate who seeks every opportunity to be of service to others,” said Sharp, explaining that Sutton cared for a disabled inmate every day who lost the ability to walk due to multiple sclerosis. 

Sutton’s execution is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday. He has opted for the electric chair to be the method of his execution, having previously argued that the lethal injection protocol is inhumane and accounts to torture. The preferred method for execution in the state is lethal injection, but inmates who were sentenced to death prior to 1999 were given the choice between lethal injection and electrocution. 

On Wednesday, it was reported that Sutton had ordered his last meal, which he will eat prior to his execution Thursday night. Sutton ordered fried pork chops, mashed potatoes with gravy, and peach pie with vanilla ice cream. 

The catholic bishops of Tennessee have repeatedly spoken out against the death penalty in the state and called on the governor’s office to half executions.

In May, 2019, the state’s three bishops wrote to Gov. Lee asking him to respect the dignity of all human life.

“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who does not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote to Governor Bill Lee last year.

The letter was published May 3, and was signed by Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis.

The bishops said that “Even when guilt is certain, the execution is not necessary to protect society.”

“We clearly state our strong opposition to the state carrying out the death penalty,” the bishops said. “We urge you to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions.”

Bishop Wall: Pope Francis 'passionate about life' from conception to natural death

Gallup, N.M., Feb 20, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- After visiting with Pope Francis for two and a half hours during his region’s ad limina visit, Bishop James Wall of Gallup told CNA that he was encouraged by the Holy Father’s passion for the pro-life movement, his love for the vulnerable in society, and his willingness to discuss anything.

“The Holy Father just (said), ‘What would you want to talk about?’” Wall told CNA.

“So I saw an opportunity, and it was kind of funny. I said, ‘Holy Father, we're pro-life.’ And he joked and he goes, ‘Well, so is the Holy Father.’”

Wall said he then told Pope Francis that he wanted to talk about how much of the Church, and society at large, has still rejected the message of Humanae vitae, St. Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical reaffirming the Church’s teaching on sexuality and against contraception, more than 50 years after it was written.

The rejection of Humanae vitae’s teachings has created a “vocational crisis,” Wall added, because parents are not learning to be generous with God, and therefore their children are not learning to be generous with God and to trust him with his plan for their lives.

Wall said Pope Francis responded that he especially sees this crisis in the disappearance of people with disabilities from society.

“(Pope Francis) said, ‘Yes, the question about why is it in our society that we see fewer and fewer people with disabilities?...Because we do tests of children in the womb, and if we see that they have a disability, then we abort them. This is a great evil.’”

People with disabilities are created in the image and likeness of God, as are all people, and they have “a unique role to play in society, because they help us to love and they teach us about love,” the Pope told the bishops.

“It's a beautiful line from the Holy Father,” Wall told CNA.

The bishops of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Region XIII met with Pope Francis Feb. 10. The region includes the bishops of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Wall said he discussed with Pope Francis that the Native American people in his diocese still value life - they care for children with Down syndrome, and they have great respect for their grandparents and elders.

Pope Francis then spoke about the importance of respecting life "from conception until natural death, the littlest to the oldest” and the need to protect the most vulnerable in society.

“It was awesome to see the Holy Father just really be so passionate about life, and passionate about life of people with disability. I thought that was beautiful,” Wall said.

One of the problems with the way society talks about life is that they use the term “quality of life,” Wall noted.

“That's such a loaded term,” he said. “My quality of life could be different from your quality of life, but that doesn't mean that my life is better or worth more than your life. Every life is worth it and worth living.”

“And whether somebody has a disability, whether somebody's old and young, whatever the case is, or if somebody makes a lot of money or doesn't, the quality of life is the same for everyone, (because) our quality of life is we're all created in the image and likeness of God.”

Priests should be preaching the truth about Church teaching regarding contraception and human life in order to foster a deeper culture of life among Catholics, Wall added.

“That's something that we shouldn't shy away from preaching - preaching the truth of Humanae vitae, preaching the truth of the theology of the body, preaching the truth of what all the Church teaches when we talk about the sacredness of life,” he said.

“And we need to be able to name it for what it is,” he added. “So when we talk about abortion, or we talk about contraception, and we talk about embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide - we call it for what it is. We pray for an end to these intrinsic evils in our society.”

Parishes should also give couples who are living according to Church teaching a chance to share their testimonies, Wall said, in order to counter the perception that everyone is using contraception and that it must be okay because it is so widely used.

Wall said he would also encourage Catholics to read Humanae vitae.

“It was a prophetic document from Pope St. Paul VI...because, in terms of the negative things, he said, ‘If the Church were to go down this rabbit hole (of approving contraception), these are all the things that we're going to see happen. We're going to see an increase in abortion. We're going to see an increase of violence, sexual acts of violence, sexual acts against women, men objectifying women. We're going to see an increase in divorce.’ All these things happened (when) society gave into it.”

“But, in the positive sense, Pope St. Paul VI said, ‘If we're faithful to God's plan for marriage and God's plans for life, what we're going to see is we're going to see a blossoming of marital life.’ So when we see couples that are open to God's plan, what we see is anywhere from a 2 to 4% divorce rate. In other words, we see in 94 to 96% success rate, meaning couples are together. They're being faithful to their marriage vows and staying together ‘til death do they part.”

Wall added that after his region’s ad limina visit, he felt very close to the Holy Father and appreciated his openness to discuss anything.

“We didn't send him a list of questions and have him get prepared for it. He wanted to talk about things. So if you asked him a question, he would sit there and he would really think about it. You could tell he was very thoughtful and very prayerful...and I found that very inspiring. I took away a great love for the Church and a real closeness to him.”

How California's abortion mandate trampled on Catholic nuns

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 19, 2020 / 05:35 pm (CNA).- California could lose federal funds for requiring employer health plans to cover elective abortion, federal officials have said.

But the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic consecrated women whose legal complaint helped trigger the threat, only want their voice heard and their conscience clear.

“They have a ministry that works closely with the farm worker community and with immigrants. They’re wonderful women,” Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, told CNA Feb. 18. “They just didn’t understand why their conscience rights were being ignored, so they took action for themselves and others.”

The Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit are consecrated women who live among the poor and needy in inner city and rural areas and serve them through activities like teaching religion classes and working with destitute Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Their June 26, 2017 complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights alleged that California’s 2014 rules mandating abortion coverage in health plans burdened their conscience rights and compelled them to fund “the practice of abortion on demand for other plan participants,” despite their Catholic beliefs that direct abortion is “gravely contrary to the moral law.”

Eckery told CNA that the California Catholic Conference saw the new state rules as “overreach” that impinged on the rights of conscience of Californians, especially the Guadalupanas.

“They didn’t understand why as Catholic nuns they were being forced to pay for elective abortion coverage and so they sought relief,” he said.

The Weldon Amendment, first passed in 2005, bars federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, abortions.

On Jan. 24, federal officials sided with the Guadalupanas and another complainant, the Skyline Wesleyan Church of La Mesa. The HHS Office of Civil Rights estimated that the state mandate wrongly affected at least 35 employer groups serving over 28,000 enrollees, including 13 groups that met California’s definition of “religious employer.”

In a document known as a notice of violation, the Office of Civil Rights said that California’s Department of Managed Health Care ignored its specific request to confirm or deny whether it would align its practices to the Weldon Amendment, and instead issued a response that “confirms its non-compliance.” The office gave California 30 days from Jan. 24 to agree to comply with the law or face limits on federal HHS funds.

The Guadalupanas province, headquartered in Los Angeles, declined to comment to CNA.

Eckert said that the California Catholic Conference is “pleased” that federal action has been taken, but he stressed the need to seek a resolution.

“We’re not out to start or continue a culture war. We’re just out to make sure that the beliefs of people like the Guadalupanas are respected.”

“We’re not seeking to cut off federal funds,” he said. “All we’re seeking is a respectful conversation, but one that is now clearly backed by the government which recognizes that this is a violation of conscience rights.”

“We’re interested in simply rolling back to the status quo that existed prior to 2014,” Eckert said.

In August 2014 California’s Department of Managed Health sent a letter to seven insurance companies stating that they are required to include elective abortions in their health plans. A 1975 state health care law, the California constitution, and court precedent, it said, prohibits health plans “from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.” The law requires all health plans to “treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” the state regulator said.

California officials mandated the coverage after two Catholic universities in autumn 2013 announced that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions and had secured state approval for the new health plans.

Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions, according to emails published in court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

In June 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the California Catholic Conference’s federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it “found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action.”

At that time, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law.” They said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

The federal action against California was announced Jan. 24.

Some California officials, like Gov. Gavin Newsom, were defiant in response.

“Despite a federal opinion four years ago confirming California’s compliance with the Weldon Amendment, the Trump Administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right… California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

Eckery, however, rejected partisan political interpretation of objections to the state rule.

“People who want to impose partisan political logic on issues of morality are off-base,” Eckery told CNA. “For us, this is not an issue of partisanship. We refuse to engage in partisanship on these matters. Why would one trade the moral teachings of the Church for just becoming another political party?”

“It’s unfortunate we live in a time of polarization. If we had a lot more respect and spent a lot more time listening than shouting, we’d all be better off.”

In a Jan. 31 statement, the California Catholic Conference said that the Weldon Amendment provision to withhold all federal funding from a state seems “impractical” to most observers and is a reason why the amendment has not been enforced previously.

“Catholic organizations and have been advocating for years for more effective consequences and for a private right of action in such cases,” the conference said.

Diocese of Harrisburg files for bankruptcy amid new sex abuse lawsuits 

Harrisburg, Pa., Feb 19, 2020 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania announced Wednesday that it is filing for bankruptcy.

A landslide of clergy abuse lawsuits have been filed against the diocese after a watershed Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse was released in August 2018 and a change to state law allowed new litigation on old cases.

“This decision was made after countless hours of prayer and careful deliberation with our financial experts, attorneys, and our Diocesan Consultative Bodies,” Bishop Ronald W. Gainer said in an announcement on the diocese’s website.

“Despite the success of the Survivor Compensation Program, which helped 111 survivors of clergy child sexual abuse, or 96% of those who participated in the program, we already are in receipt of half a dozen new lawsuits, any one of which could severely cripple the diocese,” he said. 

The bankruptcy filing will allow the diocese to reorganize its finances in order to keep its main ministries afloat and to pay off its existing debts. Pending lawsuits against the diocese will be frozen until after a bankruptcy judgment is made, the Washington Post reported.

In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 301 credibly accused priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses. It also presented a devastating portrait of alleged efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations - either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal. The text of the report was drafted by the office of the state attorney general Josh Shapiro.

The two dioceses not included in the report, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, had undergone previous investigations.

While the statute of limitations in the state of Pennsylvania prevented most victims from filing lawsuits against priests who are still alive, a recent decision from Pennsylvania’s Superior Court ruled that victims may file lawsuits against dioceses in some cases, even if the statute of limitations for a lawsuit against the alleged perpetrator of the abuse had passed. The decision allowed a wave of lawsuits against the Diocese of Harrisburg.

“Our current financial situation, coupled with changes in the law both here and in New Jersey, where we are already named in one lawsuit and where we anticipate more to follow, left us with no other path forward to ensure the future of our Diocese,” Gainer said.

Harrisburg joins more than 20 U.S. dioceses and religious orders that have filed for bankruptcy due to sex abuse lawsuits since 2004, according to the website bishop-accountability.org. They are the fifth diocese to file since the summer of 2018, during which accusations of sexual abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick came to light, and the Grand Jury report was published.

“The diocese was in need of right-sizing,” Matthew Haverstick, an attorney for the Diocese of Harrisburg, told the Washington Post. “Bankruptcy is really the responsible way to do it, so it can continue to do all the things it does, spiritually and charitably.”

Shaun Dougherty, who has campaigned for changes to the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, told the Washington Post that the diocese’s decision is “horrendous” because he fears victims will not get justice or fair compensation.

“That’s how [Catholic dioceses] operate. They’re protecting the secrets, the assets,” Dougherty told the Washington Post.

Gainer said in his statement that he hopes to bring the bankruptcy process to a conclusion “as soon as is reasonably possible and in a way that allows us to be present to the community, as we have been for the past 152 years.”

He added that anyone with further questions can find more information on the website for the Diocese of Harrisburg.

“I humbly ask for your prayers for our diocese as we move forward in this process. May God grant us every grace needed during this difficult time,” he said.

“May Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother, intercede with Her Son to be our strength and support as well.”