United States Catholic News

Toledo, Ohio, Jul 27, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Together is partnering with a Toledo Catholic parish to create a summer camp for women and children refugees – providing education, opportunities for networking, and information about American culture.

“The purpose of the summer camp is to educate women and children, to empower women to develop physical and language skills, and to provide cultural education and assimilation to their new country,” Corinne Dehabey from U.S. Together told CNA July 26.

“They also learn about all of the education, cultural, and sports activities available in their new community.”

U.S. Together was established in 2003 in response to the needs of immigrants in the central Ohio area. Teaming up with Christ the King Parish in Toledo and serving two dozen refugee families, the two will launch the summer camp for the first time this year.

Christ the King Parish began working with immigrants after Middle School students heard current pastor Father Bill Rose give a homily about the affects of the war in Syria. In 2015, students collected 20 laundry baskets full of cleaning supplies, food, and the basic necessities for immigrating families.

Both Christ the King Parish and U.S. Together aim to serve anyone regardless of gender, religion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the summer program is limited to refugee children and mothers.

According to Cindy Robert, a volunteer and religion teacher at the parish, many of the women and children from Muslim countries have not experienced the diversity of ethnicities and religions in the U.S. A major aspect of the organization and the camp is getting refugee families to mingle with the community to experience culture outside of their social norm.

“We have been able to see them as individuals, and the longer we have the camp, the more they have come out of their shells, and we see their different personalities.”

Women and children will attend the five week summer camp three days a week for free. The summer camp will include a trip down the Maumee River, swimming lessons, art classes, and a visit to the Toledo Zoo.

Attending activities from 10-3 p.m. each day, refugees are also able to practice English, participate in local leisure activities, given transportation information, and helped with obtaining documents like library cards.

Although policies put in place by the Trump administration have influenced the process for migrants and split some families apart, Cindy said Toledo has experienced an openness to immigrants, noting how unique individuals have been seen and not as “just a 'bloc' of refugees.”

“Personally, I have been able to have some good, long conversations with various refugees and they are able to ask me questions about life here, about grammar, about my children, etc. It's opened my world a great deal!”

Posted: July 27, 2017, 10:00 pm

Washington D.C., Jul 27, 2017 / 08:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas (R) on Wednesday was nominated by President Donald Trump to be the next Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Dr. Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, hailed the choice as “excellent.”

Farr explained that “because of his experience,” Brownback “fully meets the two qualifications critical for this position: first, a vigorous understanding of the meaning and value of religious freedom for all, and the ability to communicate that understanding, both as a universal moral value and as a political institution that can serve the interests of every society.”

The religious freedom ambassador position was created through the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. That law established the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department, which is tasked with “promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy,” as the office states.

The ambassador is charged with monitoring religious freedom abuses worldwide, meeting with religious leaders around the globe, and discussing with foreign governments how they could better respect the freedom of religious minorities to practice their faith publicly without harassment or state action.

Rabbi David Saperstein, the previous ambassador, served during the second term of the Obama administration and was a “model” for the position, former congressman Frank Wolf told CNA recently. Most notably on his watch, the State Department declared that genocide was taking place against Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in Syria and Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State.

The position is vital, religious freedom advocates say, because countries where freedom of religion is respected also see fewer acts of terror and extremism, and enjoy stronger civil and human rights than other countries where religious freedom is not respected.

Now Brownback will look to continue progress made within the State Department in this area. The agency has historically not viewed promoting religious freedom as a priority in U.S. foreign relations, although according to Saperstein the office has made strides in the last two years particularly in advocating for prisoners of conscience.

Brownback “has the experience, gravitas, and bureaucratic skill to sell this understanding” of the importance of religious freedom, Dr. Farr said, “and to build a successful policy, within a resistant bureaucracy at the Department of State and a largely indifferent political class.”

Other religious freedom advocates applauded the selection of Brownback for the position. Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, said that Brownback’s record on defending religious freedom during his time in the Senate proves his qualification.

“As a U.S. Senator, Brownback was a passionate defender of the rights of all people to worship freely, and courageously confronted offenses against human dignity in trouble spots such as North Korea, Iraq, China, Sudan, Vietnam, and Egypt,” Ferguson said.

His nomination comes at a crucial time, she said, “given the global instability caused by the severe religious persecution that 77 percent of the world’s population live under.”

Brownback converted to Catholicism in 2002, after years of being a mainline Protestant and then an evangelical.

Before serving as Governor of Kansas, Brownback was a U.S. senator from 1996 until 2010. He served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

When he retired from the Senate in 2010, Brownback was hailed in the chamber as someone “known around the world as a champion of religious freedom.” The senator introduced resolutions or bills defending human rights abroad and shaming human rights abusers.

In 2010, he introduced a measure “condemning the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities” and calling for the release of the “Baha’i Seven,” seven Baha’i leaders held captive by the state for their religious beliefs.

In 2008, Brownback introduced a resolution calling for a Jewish cemetery in Lithuania to be protected against planned construction projects, and insisted that it “should not be further desecrated.”

He also introduced a resolution that year welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to the United States and honoring “the unique insights his moral and spiritual reflections bring to the world stage.”

Brownback spoke out against persecution of religious minorities in Russia in a 2005 resolution that called on “the government of the Russian Federation to ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities and end the harassment of unregistered religious groups.”

He also called for a “National Weekend of Prayer and Reflection for the people of Darfur, Sudan” in July of 2005, a year after the U.S. declared genocide was taking place there at the hands of the government and militia groups. Brownback introduced a concurrent resolution in the Senate declaring that genocide was taking place there.

Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), who wrote the administration in April asking them to nominate an international religious freedom ambassador, emphasized the importance of the ambassador position.

“As anti-religious freedom regimes expand around the world, the United States should clearly speak out for human rights, including religious liberty,” he stated on Wednesday.

 

Posted: July 27, 2017, 2:45 pm

Columbus, Ohio, Jul 27, 2017 / 06:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders in Ohio stressed the need to replace the death penalty with mercy and spiritual conversion, following the execution of convicted child murderer Ronald Phillips.

“The Catholic Church believes that the death penalty is an unnecessary and systemically flawed form of punishment,” the Ohio Catholic Conference said in a statement.

“The Catholic bishops of Ohio sought mercy for Mr. Phillips because of the belief that spiritual conversion is possible and that all life – even that of the worst offender – has value and dignity.”

“May his soul, through the mercy of God, rest in peace,” the conference said.

The July 26 execution was the first in Ohio since a botched 2014 execution. Phillips, 43, was executed by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, the Associated Press reports. He was convicted for the 1993 rape and killing of three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's daughter.

He gave his final statement ten minutes before his death.

“Sheila Marie didn't deserve what I did to her,” Phillips said, telling the girl’s family “I’m sorry you had to live so long with my actions.”

Phillips had spent much of the morning praying, kneeling and reading the Bible. Ohio Gov. John Kasich had rejected clemency in 2016, citing “the extremely brutal nature of the offense committed against an innocent 3-year-old child.”

The Ohio Catholic Conference previously cited Pope Francis' address to Congress in which he had called for an end to the death penalty.

Karen Clifton, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said her organization was “deeply saddened” by the resumption of the executions.

“Our prayers are with the victim, her family and all those who were asked to participate in Ronald Phillips’ execution,” she said.

“Ronald Phillips committed a horrific crime, but through the grace of God's transformational love became a person who asked for forgiveness and journeyed with others from anger and hate to repentance,” Clifton continued. “Today’s execution highlights the need for mercy and reconciliation in our justice system.”

She called on Ohio to reconsider the 26 other scheduled executions.

Other opponents include the group Ohioans to Stop Executions, which had delivered over 27,500 signatures to Gov. Kasich asking him to postpone the state’s executions, including that of Phillips. The group sought better safeguards to prevent sentencing innocent people to death and endorsed 56 recommendations the Ohio Supreme Court’s death penalty task force made to the state legislature, Cleveland.com reports.

European pharmaceutical companies have barred the sale of their drugs for the purpose of executions, causing difficulties for Ohio state officials in charge of executions. Officials say they have enough of the drugs to carry out three executions.

Executions had been halted following the January 2014 execution of Dennis McGuire, in which he was seen clenching his fists, trying to sit up, gasping for breath and choking as the drugs took a record 26 minutes to kill him.
 
The execution used an untested drug cocktail that included the sedative midazolam and the morphine derivative hydromorphone. In a letter to Gov. Kasich, 17 former corrections officials and administrators had warned of possible errors in the use of midazolam, warning that a disturbing execution could traumatize corrections officials.

McGuire was condemned for the 1989 murder of a woman and her unborn child. In the months before his execution, he had returned to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and was an attendee at the prison’s weekly Masses for inmates. At the Mass before his execution, he was a recipient of the anointing of the sick and dying, and received spiritual direction.

Since capital punishment resumed in Ohio in 1999, 54 people have been executed.

Posted: July 27, 2017, 12:07 pm

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Family members of American citizens imprisoned in Iran pleaded with members of Congress on Tuesday to advocate for their safe release.

“Please help me bring my father and brother home. I am losing my entire family. We are simply running out of time,” Babak Namazi, who has both a brother and a father in Iranian prisons, told members of the House Subcommittee on North Africa and the Middle East in a July 25 hearing.

Family members of four prisoners in Iran testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the subcommittee in the hearing “Held for Ransom: The Families of Iran’s Hostages Speak Out,” pleading for Iran to release their loved ones in custody.

Bob Levinson, who formerly worked for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, is the longest-missing of the four, and is the “longest-held hostage in American history,” according to his son Douglas who testified on Tuesday.

Three days after his father went missing, an Iranian news outlet reported that he was “in the hands” of state officers. Yet “Iran has repeatedly changed their story,” Douglas Levinson said. “Iran is responsible, and they know exactly where he is.”

On Wednesday, the House passed a resolution, H. Res. 317, which called on Iran to unconditionally release the Americans who are being detained for political reasons. It also calls on President Donald Trump to prioritize their release.

Currently, there are four Americans (three citizens, one legal permanent resident) who are being detained by the state because of alleged spying or working with a hostile foreign government: Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Xiyue Wang, and Nizar Zakka.

Robert Levinson has been missing from Iran’s Kish Island since 2007, and despite its commitment to his safe return to the U.S., “the regime has not remotely fulfilled its commitments to help bring him home,” Rep. Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated on Wednesday.

“Iran continues to engage in the despicable practice of detaining foreigners on fabricated criminal charges,” he said, and according to former political prisoners there are reports of “electric shock, forced drug withdrawal, whippings, and solitary confinement.”

“We stand in solidarity with these Americans and their families as we call for their release,” Royce said.

Iran holds many political and religious prisoners, including political dissidents and members of religious minorities. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has labeled Iran a “country of particular concern” as one of the countries with the worst records of protecting religious freedom.

The commission noted in its most recent annual report that the number of religious prisoners has increased since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013.

Iran held Pastor Sayeed Abedini in custody from 2012 until January 2016 when he was released in a prisoner exchange with the U.S. A Christian pastor who became an American citizen, Abedini worked with house churches in Iran and was arrested after working at an orphanage for allegedly threatening Iranian national security.

Religious freedom advocates claimed he was arrested by the state because of his Christian faith. During his time in prison there were reports of his torture and abuse suffered at the hands of the regime.

The three witnesses who testified on Tuesday expressed serious concern for their loved ones in Iran.

Babak Namazi, whose brother Siamak was arrested in Iran in October of 2015 and whose father Baquer was detained in February of 2016 during a trip to Iran where he tried to see his son, told of how both have suffered while in prison, including while in solitary confinement.

His 81-year-old father has a “severe heart condition that requires medication and may shortly require a pacemaker,” Namazi said, and “has been twice been hospitalized for a week at a time” in recent months.

“It is obvious that his condition, both physical and mental, is rapidly deteriorating. My father’s prison sentence is a death sentence,” Namazi said.

Meanwhile, his brother has suffered in “horrific” conditions, he said, including prolonged isolation and regular beatings and tazings.

Omar Zakka testified about his father Nazir who has been imprisoned in Iran for two years. Nazir, who has suffered physical abuse in prison, is currently on a hunger strike, Omar said.

“All of this pain and suffering has led my dad to this ongoing hunger strike; he told me the other day that we do not put our heads down for anyone,” Omar said.

“My dad said that he would rather die for his cause than live with injustice and what they are doing to him. In fact, he said this phrase to us, in Arabic, that translates to ‘liberty or death’.”

Douglas Levinson said his father, due to his long absence, has missed several of his children’s weddings and graduations, and has never met five of his grandchildren.

“We need Bob Levinson, we need my father back now,” Douglas said on Tuesday. “It’s been 10 years. He’s missed so much.”

 

Posted: July 26, 2017, 10:29 pm

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Congress prepares to vote on whether to fund the further construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have been outspoken against such a policy.

“While countries have a duty to ensure that immigration is orderly and safe, this responsibility can never serve as a pretext to build walls and shut the door to migrants and refugees,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas said in his July 18 pastoral letter on migration, “Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away.”

Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” the bishop wrote, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”

The House will reportedly vote this week on approving $1.6 billion in funding for construction of a wall along part the U.S.-Mexico border, as requested by President Donald Trump in his FY 2018 budget proposal.

Trump had campaigned for president by repeatedly promising to build a wall on the border. Around 700 miles of the approximately 2,000 mile-long border is already fenced.

In a January executive order on immigration, President Trump stated:

“It is the policy of the executive branch to…secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.”

He also called for the allocation of federal funding “for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall along the southern border” and to “project and develop long-term funding requirements for the wall.”

Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border, however, said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas said he was “disheartened” by the President’s request.

“This action will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm's way,” he said.

“Construction of such a wall will only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers,” he said. “Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.”

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas tweeted after the executive order was issued: “Walls only impede and put at risk the poor and children, because those who have resources always find other options.”

The Mexican bishops’ conference responded as well to the call for the further construction of the wall. In their Jan. 26 statement “Value and Respect for Migrants,” they expressed “pain and rejection” at the announcement and said that the wall would interfere in the multi-cultural societies that have developed where there are cities directly across the border from each other.

“We express our pain and rejection over the construction of this wall, and we respectfully invite you to reflect more deeply about the ways security, development, growth in employment, and other measures, necessary and just, can be procured without causing further harm to those already suffering, the poorest and most vulnerable,” the conference stated.

For over 20 years, the statement added, the bishops in dioceses including both borders have worked to achieve “the best care for the faithful that live in the sister countries, properly seen as a single city (from a faith perspective); communities of faith served by two dioceses (such as Matamoros and Brownsville, or Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, for example).”

“What pains us foremost is that many people who live out their family relationships, their faith, work or friendships will be shut out even more by this inhuman interference,” the conference said.

The bishops also said that the U.S. has a right to enforce its own border, but that “a rigorous and intense application of the law” would “create alarm and fear among immigrants, breaking up families without further consideration.”

President Trump requested $1.6 billion for a wall in his FY 2018 budget request. He also directed the Department of Homeland Security to spend $100 million of existing appropriations on “border security, fencing and infrastructure.”

Tom Homan, director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, told reporters on June 28 that “the border wall is one tool to help control the border,” among other actions like the presence of border patrol agents and law enforcement.

When asked by a reporter after a July 7 bilateral meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto if he still wanted Mexico to pay for the construction of the wall, President Trump responded “absolutely.”

Bishop Seitz explained in his pastoral letter “When Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away” that the construction of a border fence poses harm to migrants in forcing them to cross the border in more dangerous areas.

“The burning sands of our desert are an unmarked grave for too many migrants who have died attempting to cross,” he wrote. “Increased militarization and more walls will only make this journey even more dangerous.”

And, he said, walls that separate cities directly across the border from each other – like El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico – interfere in the societies there and separate loved ones.

“Misguided policies and walls are widening the divide between us and our sister city of Ciudad Juárez,” he said. “I am pastor of a diocese divided by walls and checkpoints that separate individuals from loved ones.”

Pope Francis said Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border in February 2016 at Ciudad Juárez. He asked all those in attendance to pray for “the gift of tears” amidst the hardships of migrants and their “exploitation.”

“Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts,” Pope Francis said at the Feb. 17 Mass. “No more death! No more exploitation!”

 

Posted: July 26, 2017, 9:40 pm

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:35 pm (Church Pop).- Pro-lifers lauded a bill that will restrict abortion access in Missouri, granting the state attorney general more power to prosecute violations, and requiring both stricter health codes and proper fetal tissue disposal.

“Today is a great victory for pregnancy care centers that help women and children all over the state,” Governor Erik Greitens said in a statement according to the Associated Press.

“I'm proud that many of Missouri's lawmakers stood strong to protect the lives of the innocent unborn and women's health.”

The bill passed through the state's Senate 22-9 on July 25. Missouri's Catholic Conference supported the move by promoting it at the parish level and encouraging Catholics to contact their senator.
 
Greitens said the bill was in response to local ordinances aimed at curbing so-called reproductive health “discrimination,” which affected the state capital's pregnancy centers and religious organizations. The bill was also in response to the ruling of a federal judge which struck down some of Missouri's previous anti-abortion laws.

The legislation overturns a previous move that made St. Louis an “abortion sanctuary city,” which added abortion and contraceptive use to existing non-discrimination laws. It also prohibits St. Louis forcing religious schools from hiring abortion advocates and landlords from renting to abortion clinics.

Josh Hawley, the state's attorney general, will now have the power to prosecute abortion legislation violations, in order to balance concern surrounding a left-wing prosecutor who may not pursue abortion offenses. The bill also ditched a provision which would have forced the attorney general to notify prosecutors 10 days before action is taken.

Additional provisions include mandatory inspections by Missouri's health department once a year and stricter requirements on how clinics dispose of fetal tissue after the abortion.

The bill will also restrict which medical staff may refer women for an abortion and may have state-mandated discussions about the procedure. Before inducing an abortion to save the mother's life, the clinics must also get approval from the health department.

The law will be sent to the republican governor next, who is expected to sign into effect soon.

Posted: July 26, 2017, 9:35 pm

Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 10:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On one of the hottest days of the year, more than 1,300 young people from around the country gathered together for WYD Unite, bringing together alumni of former World Youth Days as well as pilgrims from at least 52 Catholic dioceses around the nations.

They gathered for the all-day event at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, named for the Pope who in 1984 began the World Youth Day celebrations to bring together millions of young people from around the globe to share and grow in their Catholic faith. From their starting place in Rome, World Youth Days have traveled across the world to six continents, most recently in 2016 to Pope John Paul II’s homeland of Poland.

The smaller United States gathering focused upon the theme, “The Mighty Has Done Great Things for Me and Holy is His Name.” The gathering explored the radical “Yes” Mary gave at the Annunciation, as well as gratitude for how God has acted in our lives.

Throughout the day, pilgrims toured the exhibits of the National Shrine, and had opportunities for Reconciliation and spiritual direction. The day also featured performances by Tony Melendez and Audrey Assad. Melendez is a master guitarist who was born without arms, but learned to play guitar using his feet. Previously he has performed before Saint Pope John Paul II in 1987. Assad, a daughter of a Syrian Christian refugee, is an acclaimed musician and songwriter who also often speaks on behalf of persecuted Christians of the Middle East.

Childcare and children’s catechesis was provided both by the event and by the Sister Servants of the Lord.

The first keynote message of the day was given by Bishop-elect Nelson Perez, who will soon take over the Diocese of Cleveland. He reminded attendees that “God meets us where we are in our brokenness, lowliness.”

While encounter with Christ may inspire a person to be kind or compassionate or have a loving family, these traits are not a mark of a Christian themselves, he continued. Instead, the Christian holds to the truth that Jesus “moved, He rose from the dead, and He continues to move in us and through us and about us.”

Bishop-elect Perez also urged the young Christians present to embrace gratitude for all that God has given, and to view one’s life as not only a gift but a tool for God to use. He recalled a personal story of a young woman he had spoken to rudely. Three years later, the bishop said, as the same young woman lay on her deathbed, she told Bishop-elect Perez it was the closest she had ever felt to God.

“Never underestimate the power of God’s spirit working in you, through you and despite you, and most of the time unbeknownst to you and to me,” the bishop reflected.

Later, the participants attended Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., told attendees to bring their neighbors and peers “into the ongoing mission of the Church.” He warned the youth not to be discouraged by the threat of modern secularism, instead placing hope in and offering a witness of God’s love.

Returning in a procession to the Saint John Paul II Shrine, participants were joined by an image of “Our Lady Undoer of Knots,” which was present for the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and blessed by the Pope during his visit there.

A second keynote was then delivered by Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn.

Bishop Caggiano focused on the radical message of the Annunciation and Mary’s acceptance of God’s plan. “It was her ‘yes’ that allowed ourselves to come here, and her ‘yes’ that enabled us to say yes to her Son,” he said.

He challenged the young people to accept God’s love of them, but also noted that that acceptance of God’s love compels us to bring that love “to everyone you and I meet.”

“Life will give you a thousand reasons to doubt God’s love,” he warned the youth, but to be missionary disciples, Christians need to “say yes to the fact that Jesus is extending his hand to us in friendship.”

After the keynote, the night ended with Eucharistic Adoration and prayer, accompanied by music.

Posted: July 26, 2017, 4:34 pm

Springfield, Ill., Jul 26, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A prominent media priest who criticized Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s restatement of norms regarding church funerals “gets a lot wrong,” the bishop said in a response noting the importance of repentance for everyone.

Bishop Paprocki explained his decree in a July 9 video on the Diocese of Springfield’s website. He reminded everyone with a ministry in the Church that “while being clear and direct about what the Church teaches, our pastoral ministry must always be respectful, compassionate and sensitive to all our brothers and sisters in faith, as was the ministry of Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd and our everlasting model for ministry,” the bishop said.

“People with same-sex attraction are welcome in our parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois as we repent our sins and pray for God to keep us in his grace,” he said.

On June 12 the Bishop of Springfield had issued an internal decree discussing same-sex marriage and pastoral issues in his diocese. The decree was leaked.

Father James Martin, S.J., an editor-at-large of America Magazine, had claimed on Twitter that the bishop’s diocesan norms regarding a ban on church funeral rites only focused on “LGBT people” and would not be applied to others living in public sin, such as a man and a woman in an irregular union, or private sin, such as users of birth control. Fr. Martin suggested such a focus constituted unjust discrimination.

Bishop Paprocki had said his decree was “totally consistent with Catholic teaching.” The decree was “a rather straightforward application of existing Catholic doctrine and canon law” in a new situation where same-sex couples are receiving a legal marital status in civil law, contrary to Catholic teaching.

“Father Martin gets a lot wrong in those tweets, since canon law prohibits ecclesiastical funeral rites only in cases of ‘manifest sinners’ which gives ‘public scandal,’ and something such as using birth control is a private matter that is usually not manifest or made public,” the bishop said.

Bishop Paprocki rejected the characterization of his decree as focusing on “LGBT people.” Rather, he said, it focused on “so-called same-sex marriage, which is a public legal status.”

“No one is ever denied the sacraments or Christian burial for simply having a homosexual orientation,” the bishop continued. “Even someone who had entered into a same-sex marriage can receive the sacraments and be given ecclesiastical funeral rites if they repent and renounce their marriage.”

The bishop said the priest-commentator missed the key phrase in the decree: the section saying that ecclesiastical funeral rites are to be denied to those in same-sex marriages “unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death.”

“This is a direct quote from canon 1184 of the Code of Canon Law, which is intended as a call to repentance,” Bishop Paprocki said.

He cited Christ's public proclamation in the Gospel of Mark: “This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

The bishop further explained the Church’s response to church burial rites.

“This does not mean that unrepentant manifest sinners will simply be refused or turned away,” he said. “Even in those cases where a public Mass of Christian Burial in church cannot be celebrated because the deceased person was unrepentant and there would be public scandal, the priest or deacon may conduct a private funeral service, for example, at the funeral home.”

Bishop Paprocki did find a point in the priest’s criticism.

“Father Martin’s tweets do raise an important point with regard to other situations of grave sin and the reception of Holy Communion. He is right that the Church’s teaching does not apply only to people in same-sex marriages,” he said.

Citing canon law, the bishop said everyone conscious of grave sin should not receive Holy Communion without first going to confession and receiving absolution. This is relevant to everyone who has committed a grave sin, whether it is sexual sin, missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation without grave cause, procuring an abortion, or having attempted remarriage after a divorce without obtaining a decree of nullity.

The bishop noted that a couple who agrees to live as brother and sister in an irregular union, if there is no public scandal, could receive Holy Communion after repenting, going to confession, and amending their lives. This similarly would apply to two men or two women who live chastely with each outher.

Bishop Paprocki’s decree drew significant media coverage.

“The fact that there would be such an outcry against this decree is quite astounding and shows how strong the LGBT lobby is both in the secular world as well as within the Church,” he said.

Citing Pope Francis’ comments against judgementalism, the bishop noted that the Pope had warned against any form of lobbies, including a “gay lobby.”

Burial rites were only one part of the June 12 decree, which concerned topics including the use of Catholic facilities and diocesan personnel in same-sex ceremonies, as well as the response to people in same-sex unions and to any children who live with such couples and are presented for the sacraments or Catholic education.

Posted: July 26, 2017, 12:01 pm

Chicago, Ill., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Taking its cue from the recent and massive Convocation of Catholic Leaders in the U.S., one Chicago-based organization is partnering with parishes to form missionary disciples.

The convocation took place in Florida July 1-4, drawing several thousand participants. Aimed at equipping and invigorating Catholic leaders, the event addressed challenges that inhibit parishes from evangelization, especially the deflating attendance of parishioners in Catholic churches.

In a July 20 interview with CNA, president of L'Alto Catholic Institute Tim Glemkowski said “the way this New Evangelization is going to be accomplished is by forming each lay Catholic as a missionary disciple, for normative Catholicism to be heroic Catholicism.”

Established this year, L'Alto works closely with the parishes of Chicago to form disciples according to each community, taking into account the goals and people of each parish rather than imposing a generic formula without understanding specific needs.

Glemkowski said the organization's goal is to walk with parishes who long to develop this culture of discipleship but face obstacles or do not know where to begin. Developing disciples is a lifelong process, he said, adding L'Alto may give parishes a starting boost, and help chart a course during a church's beginning stages.

Additionally to working closely with parishes, the organization has developed three other initiatives: a school of prayer, a bi-weekly discipleship group for high school women, and a three-day parish event filled with the sacraments and geared toward a personal encounter with Jesus.

When asked about his reference to a quote by Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI, stating that true conversion follows an encounter with Christ as a person and not just as an ethical solution, Glemkowski said the Christian faith must contain a personal encounter with Christ because “the reality is, though, that people will find it difficult to die for a detached notion.”

“Catholicism requires sacrifice, at times the ultimate sacrifice of the martyrs, but even just every day sacrifices that result from living according to a belief system that runs contrary to the world.”

At the convocation, the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Robert Barron, said that every era's crisis is met by a movement of the church, a movement which Glemkowski believes will arise from a commitment to the “New Evangelization” by the clergy, religious, and especially the lay people.

“It is not the role of the clergy alone to form disciples. It is the task of the entire Church, lay included.”

Glemkoswki said that indifference and relativism are major problems within our culture today, noting a lack meaning in hearts of people which is substituted by inadequate things.

“The human heart cannot live without meaning. Where meaning is not found, all kinds of strange substitutes take its place, and what we are seeing in the world are the strange reactions to billions of human hearts desperately craving a reason to live.”

Even within the Church, there are a number of Catholics who do not know its teachings and are not interested. He referenced a 2008 study by Pew Research Center that showed that less than 50 percent of Catholics believe religion contains a personal relationship with God. Additionally, he said about six Catholics leave the Church per every convert who comes into the Church, according to another study by Pew Research Center in 2015.

The decrease in numbers and zeal paints a picture of a church that hasn't been creating disciples to spread the message of the Gospel, Glemkoswki said. He also pointed towards the encounter of the faith as identified in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles – saying that this is not a reality for people at Catholic parishes today, leaving the guest or parishioner to wonder if it's even the same faith.

“Community, shared life, joy, apostolic zeal; these things should be the normative experience for Catholics, and often, our communities just don't measure up,” he said.

“I don't think when most people walk into your average Sunday liturgy, they feel like they're worshiping God with a multitude of saints.”

Glemkowski said this was a major concern for the convocation in Florida. In reference to Pope Francis' 2013 encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, the conference strongly recognized the need for developing missionary disciples to spread the Gospel within the culture.  

“To be a disciple means to adopt the yoke of Christ meaning you have an active and growing prayer life, you participate frequently in the life of the Church, and you are attempting to conform your every moment to His teachings through ascesis and purgation.”

However, creating discipleship is more than an ethical problem – and Catholicism is more than “an intellectual system with a moral code attached to it.”

He said he understands why the Church at times mistakenly pushes a stringent morality as a response to a perceived ethical laxity on the part of Catholics.

But the faith can't be sustained solely as an idea, or even as the sacrifice required in the Christian life and as seen in martyrs and saints, he said. Rather, it's sustained through the love of the person of Christ.

Glemkowski quoted Saint John Paul II, saying: “It is necessary to awaken again in believers a full relationship with Christ. Only from a personal relationship with Jesus can an effective evangelization develop.”

Posted: July 26, 2017, 9:02 am

New York City, N.Y., Jul 26, 2017 / 12:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Why do people migrate in the first place? And what if there was a way we could address the international crisis better by going after the root problems?

A priest at the United Nations spoke of the connection between migration and sustainable development, calling on the international community to help make migrants' homelands safer and the immigration process more welcoming.

“All of us know that poverty and the lack of prospects for development frequently spur so many individuals and families to seek ways to survive in distant lands,” said Fr. Michael Czerny, the Undersecretary of the Section for Migrants and Refugees Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“The profound linkages between migration and development can first be seen, sadly, in the absence or breakdown of many of the pillars of sustainable development that have compelled millions to go on the move,” he said, pointing to hunger, violence, and poverty as many of the reasons why citizens have been uprooted from their homes.

Fr. Czerny's words were addressed to the UN session titled “Contributions of migrants to all dimensions of sustainable development: the linkages between migration of development” on July 24 at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Throughout his address, Fr. Czerny underscored the importance of the “right to remain” in sustainable development, saying that it is the duty of the international community to help citizens remain in their homeland by promoting efforts to improve the conditions within these countries.

“That makes migration a choice, not a necessity,” he said.

He also encouraged efforts that would allow citizens to actively participate in the sustainable development of their own countries, so that local individuals could contribute their talents to rebuilding their own communities.

Additionally, Fr. Czerny believes that when individuals do leave their homelands, they must be welcomed and treated with dignity when they enter a new country.

“Migrants must first be received and treated as human beings, with dignity and full respect for their human rights, and protected against all forms of exploitation or from being permanently socially, economically or legally cast-away,” he said.

Fr. Czerny noted that the success of migrants hinges on “whether they are helped to transition from objects of emergency care to dignified subjects of their own development.”

Because of this, when countries do receive migrants they should make efforts to welcome, protect, promote and integrate them in their community, Fr. Czerny said.  But he also noted that this endeavor should not take away from other, on-going efforts to help those in need on a local level.  

“One way to do this is through the adoption of development and donor policies that set aside a percentage of the direct assistance provided to migrants and refugees for local infrastructure and for the benefit of local families and communities experiencing economic and social disadvantages,” he said.  

He also encouraged migrants themselves to adopt an attitude of openness, saying that they should “respect the values, traditions and laws of the community that takes them in.”

Fr. Czerny then quoted Pope Francis, who recently said that “the presence of so many brothers and sisters who experience the tragedy of immigration is an opportunity for human growth, encounter, and dialogue between cultures in view of the promotion of peace and fraternity among peoples.”

By encouraging sustainable development in countries, Fr. Czerny believes that the international community will not only boost the success of local economies, but also help citizens stay in their homelands and eventually make migration a choice – not an emergency.

“No one should ever be forced to leave his or her home due to lack of development or peace.

Posted: July 26, 2017, 6:05 am

Louisville, Ky., Jul 25, 2017 / 02:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life activists in the Archdiocese of Louisville have spoken out against a city ordinance which resulted in the creation of a temporary buffer zone outside Kentucky's only facility where abortions can be procured.

The 15-by-7.5 foot buffer zone outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center was proposed last week and implemented on a temporary basis Friday. A federal judge is expected to rule today whether it will remain permanently.

The pro-life activists cite concerns that the ordinance would prevent women seeking abortions from obtaining all information necessary for a decision, as it would restrict the activities of sidewalk counselors.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville sent a statement to the July 19 Metro Council meeting that discussed the buffer zone before its implementation.

“I have always counseled that our pro-life efforts should be courageous, compassionate, and civil and that activities at abortion clinics be conducted in a prayerful, peaceful, and respectful manner that includes respect for just laws,” the archbishop said in his statement. He also noted their goal is to “support the mother and child whenever possible.”

His statement was read by Ed Harpring, who has been a sidewalk counselor for 33 years. Harpring detailed his “call to the sidewalk,” which he said came after seeing ultrasound images of his oldest daughter.

“I felt that God was asking me about the other children in the womb at that same age — who might not ever see the light of day, the children that are losing their lives to abortion,” he said, as reported by the archdiocesan newspaper The Record.

Harpring expressed concern that the buffer zone would impede his ability to inform women of their alternatives. He refers women seeking abortions to the pregnancy center A Women’s Choice, next door to EMW. The center’s resources include free ultrasounds, as well as financial, medical, mental, and spiritual help during pregnancy.

Patricia Horton, a director of Louisville Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, also spoke at the meeting. Horton’s group prays in front of clinics.

“I know that when I have important decisions to make if it’s buying a home, having a hip replacement surgery or dying my hair we all want information,” she said. “You cannot make good decisions without information.” She also expressed concerned at her group’s right to free expression being curtailed.

The buffer zone began as a temporary measure on Friday in anticipation of a meeting of Operation Save America (OSA), a fundamentalist group protesting abortion in the state this week. The U.S. Attorney’s office in the city had filed a motion three days prior to enforce the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which bars protestors from blocking those seeking to enter abortion clinics.

The order comes after 11 people from OSA were arrested outside the clinic in May for blocking the clinic’s entrance, according to the Courier-Journal.

“The Lord filled me with his peace and I knew I was obeying his will," said Eva Zastrow, one of those arrested, in speaking to the Courier-Journal. "I chose to sit in front of the doors, I'm not going to balk from the consequences. I'm not going to complain or regret it."

As a result of the arrests, a judge issued a temporary restraining order to keep those arrested and their affiliates away from the clinic entrance. That restraining order led to Friday’s buffer zone.

As part of its week of abortion protests in the city, OSA plans to set up a JumboTron downtown to display an abortion procedure.

Louisville is seen as a key location in the fight against abortion, as it is home to the last clinic in Kentucky that performs abortions. Other clinics have been shut down due to a law requiring that clinics have hospital admitting privileges.

Posted: July 25, 2017, 8:36 pm

Washington D.C., Jul 25, 2017 / 12:08 am (Church Pop).- As the Senate prepares to vote later today to begin the process of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, pro-life leaders are working to ensure pro-life language is included in the final version of the bill voted on.

“There is no reason for private non-governmental organizations, like Planned Parenthood, to receive millions of dollars every year in taxpayer money. I will keep working with my colleagues to include pro-life provisions in the healthcare bill because abortion is not healthcare,” Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) said.

The Senate is set to vote Tuesday on whether to proceed with repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, although it has not been announced which replacement bill will ultimately be voted on.

However, there are concerns that the final legislation voted on in the Senate will not include pro-life provisions.

On Friday, the Senate Parliamentarian sent out a guidance stating the pro-life provisions in the bill – stripping Planned Parenthood of Medicaid reimbursements for one year and prohibiting any tax credits from paying for insurance that includes abortion coverage – could be removed short of 60 votes.

Senate Republicans do not have the 60 votes usually required to move a bill to the floor for a vote, but they had planned to pass a bill under the process of reconciliation, where legislation pertaining to the budget can be passed with a simple majority of votes.

The Parliamentarian, however, advised on Friday that the pro-life provisions violated the “Byrd Rule,” which prevents language not pertaining to the budget from being included in a bill passed through the reconciliation process.

However, the language stripping Planned Parenthood of federal funds reportedly can be adjusted and re-inserted into the legislation voted on Tuesday. The language preventing federal funding of plans covering abortions, however, may still be blocked from a vote.

The 2016 Republican Party platform states that “we will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.”

“The news from the parliamentarian was another dip in the roller coaster ride,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, told the Washington Post on Sunday. “We have been reassured the problem can be fixed, so are in a tentative support mode still.”

The most recent Senate health care proposal, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would reduce spending on Medicaid and put a cap on Medicaid payments to states based on their population. Federal subsidies for coverage would also be reduced, and the penalties imposed on people who are without health insurance, along with the employer insurance mandate, would be done away with.

Scored by the Congressional Budget Office, it was determined to reduce the deficit by $420 billion over a decade, but would increase the number of uninsured by 22 million.

However, some have cautioned that the CBO scores are “flawed” as they consider only government actions while ignoring the private sector. Thus, if a government requirement for persons to have health insurance – the individual mandate – were to be repealed, that would be considered by the CBO for scoring, but not the effect of incentives for persons to buy insurance like tax credits and health savings accounts.

Critics have pointed to the nearly identical scoring of both a simple repeal of the ACA, which judged by the CBO to result in 22 million more uninsured persons, and the House-passed American Health Care Act, a repeal-and-replace bill, which was also determined to result in 23 million more uninsured.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, meanwhile said that the first version of the Senate bill was “unacceptable” and that the revised version did not contain enough improvements to change that determination.

Regarding the first version of the bill, he said in June that “it is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.”

“At a time when tax cuts that would seem to benefit the wealthy and increases in other areas of federal spending, such as defense, are being contemplated, placing a ‘per capita cap’ on medical coverage for the poor is unconscionable,” he said of the proposed per capita caps in Medicaid funding to states.

Regarding the repeal of the individual mandate, and its replacement with a penalty for going more than 63 days without coverage, he said that “many people are forced to use their resources to address immediate needs,” and that the penalty “will leave these individuals and families without coverage when they need it most.”

And the bill would also result in higher premiums and less relief for some of those who need it most, he said. “In many places, older and lower-income people will pay more than under current law because of decreased levels of tax credit support and higher premiums.”

When the revised plan was released, Bishop Dewane said in a July 13 statement that it was still unacceptable and that “more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill."

Last week, short of the needed votes to pass the bill through the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ultimately announced that a vote would occur to repeal and replace the ACA.

However, the Senate on Tuesday will reportedly vote on a “motion to proceed” on the House bill, the AHCA, and then would attach amendments to repeal and replace the ACA.

These amendments would include language from the 2015 repeal bill and a version of the Senate’s recent health care proposal. That language would reportedly not include the protections against taxpayer funding of insurance plans with abortions.

On July 21, Bishop Dewane said that the Senate would need an acceptable health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act if they voted to repeal the ACA.

He said that “in the face of difficulties passing these proposals, the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA without a replacement.”

“Yet,” he said, “reform is still needed to address the ACA's moral deficiencies and challenges with long-term sustainability.” The bishops had previously said that funding of abortion coverage in plans offered on the exchanges, as well as lack of coverage for immigrants, were among their concerns with the Affordable Care Act and their reasons for ultimately not supporting its passage.

Posted: July 25, 2017, 6:08 am

Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 24, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Too many young people are threatened with deportation because their parents brought them to the U.S. without documentation, and Congress needs to pass the Dream Act to help them, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has said.

The proposed legislation “would permanently lift the threat of deportation that right now hangs over the heads of more than one million young people who were brought to this country illegally or are living in the homes of undocumented parents,” Archbishop Gomez said July 21.

“We are talking about people who have grown up in this country since they were young children. America is all they know,” he said. They are presently in “limbo”, without any legal status even as they work, go to college, and serve in the armed forces.

“It is long past time for us to welcome these young immigrants as citizens and give them the opportunities they need to flourish and to help our country grow. A just and compassionate society cannot continue to punish innocent children for the mistakes of their parents.”

The archbishop spoke the day after the introduction of the Dream Act of 2017 by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The bill would grant permanent legal status to over 1 million young people who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 18, provided they meet certain criteria. These criteria include enrolling in college, joining the military, or finding jobs. Applicants must have lived in the U.S. for four years. Its name derives from the acronym Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.

The proposal would make permanent the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was implemented by executive order in 2012 by President Barack Obama, who cited lack of action from Congress.

Archbishop Gomez emphasized the situation of those who would benefit from the legislation.

“Under this legislation, these young men and women would now have the chance to earn permanent residency status and eventually to seek citizenship in our country,” he said. “This is the right thing to do and the compassionate thing to do.”

“In my experience, these are good kids who want to use their lives to make a difference in our country. These young men and women want to share the American dream,” he continued. “They exemplify what is best about the immigrant spirit that makes our country exceptional.”

Archbishop Gomez pledged his support and that of the Catholic community in Los Angeles, praying that leaders in Washington would enact the bill quickly. He prayed that the legislation would mark the start of “a more comprehensive reform” of the U.S. immigration system that protects national borders, that “enables us to welcome newcomers who have the character and skills our country needs to grow” and that provides “a compassionate solution” for the undocumented who are “forced to live in the shadows of our society.”

The attorneys general of 20 states urged President Donald Trump to maintain the DACA program. In a July 21 letter to the president, they said it represents a “success story” for the more than 750,000 people registered for it.

Registration for the program requires the submission of an application, passing a background check, and applying for a work permit. The attorneys general said recipients of DACA status benefit from a 42 percent boost in hourly wages, which gives them purchasing power that benefits everyone.

Rescinding DACA would have “severe” consequences both for the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries, their families, their employers, and their schools. If the program ends, the attorneys general said, there would be lost tax revenue and billions in turnover costs for businesses. They said DACA has helped young people report crime to police without fear of deportation.

The attorneys general cited “a number of troubling incidents” that raise concerns over whether Department of Homeland Security agents are adhering to DACA guidelines and to public assurances from the Trump administration that individuals eligible for DACA are not being targeted.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had been a vocal critic of DACA. White House officials suggested the president would not support the act, the Washington Post reports. At the same time the president recently told reporters aboard Air Force One that ending DACA is “a decision that’s very, very hard to make.”

A version of the Dream Act was first introduced in 2001 but has never passed both chambers in the same session. One version passed the House of Representatives in 2010 and passed the Senate in 2013 as part of a larger immigration bill.

In a June 29 letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, attorneys general from Texas and nine other states demanded the Trump administration end the DACA policy. The letter threatened to amend a lawsuit against another deportation deferral program in order to target the policy, Politico reports.

Posted: July 24, 2017, 9:02 pm

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2017 / 11:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic figures from Washington, D.C. are remembering the legacy of Fr. Arne Panula, former U.S. vicar of Opus Dei, and a beloved leader, mentor and friend of many throughout the city.

“Father Arne Panula is greatly identified with our Archdiocesan Catholic Information Center where he carried out a quiet, effective, evangelizing ministry that touched many including a large number of young professionals,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl Washington D.C. in a statement to CNA.  

“Both his erudition and spirituality were inviting qualities that helped so many others come to a deeper knowledge and love of the Lord. His priestly presence will be greatly missed.”

Cardinal Wuerl presided over Fr. Panula’s funeral Mass on Saturday, July 22 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Fr. Panula passed away at his Washington, D. C. home on July 19, 2017 after a long battle with cancer.

Born in Duluth, Minn., Fr. Panula graduated from Harvard University in 1967, before traveling to Rome to study Theology. While there, he lived with St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of the personal prelature Opus Dei.

Fr. Panula was ordained a priest in 1973 before serving as chaplain of The Heights School in Washington, D.C. He later served as the U.S. vicar of Opus Dei from 1998-2002.

Starting in 2007, Fr. Panula became the director of the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The center includes a bookstore and chapel, offering Mass, adoration, confession and spiritual direction, as well as talks from Catholic speakers.

Under Fr. Panula’s guidance, in 2013 the center began offering an educational fellowship, the Leonine Forum, to help young professionals learn more about the Church’s Social Teaching and service.

Members of Washington D.C.’s Catholic community remembered the priest for his influence in their lives. The Embassy of Poland also mourned his death, linking to his obituary and posting a picture of Fr. Panula giving an opening blessing at an event.

Chad Pecknold, theology professor at The Catholic University of America and leader of several Leonine Forum sessions, remembered the priest on Twitter: “Fr. Arne Panula died today. A hero of the Faith, I'm proud to have called him friend & Father. May God's perpetual light shine upon him. RIP.”

Leonine Fellow and communications professional Elise Italiano commented on social media that Fr. Panula “treated Washington elite, the homeless at his doorstep, and many in between with equal dignity and compassion.”

Another Leonine Fellow, Catherine Szeltner, host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, recalled that “Fr. Arne Panula was a man whose eyes were piercing – but his kindness – even more so. It was an honor to know you. Requiem aeternam.”

George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, noted that Fr. Panula served as a spiritual director to many from all walks of life, many of whom had colorful and difficult journeys to the faith.

Weigel, who is a frequent speaker at the Catholic Information Center, said that Fr. Panula helped turn the center into a “vibrant” source of authentic Catholic life and evangelization amid a city associated more with House of Cards than the House of the Lord.

“He was a man deeply in love with the gift of the priesthood, who was, I would also say, completely unclerical. He fully understood that sanctity is not limited to the sanctuary, that everyone is called by baptism to be a saint and he helped people do that,” Weigel added.

“He was really one of the most remarkable priests I have met.”

 

Posted: July 24, 2017, 5:59 pm

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2017 / 03:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For some, it was a health-conscious decision. For others, it was environmental. For still others, it was faith-based.

But no matter the reason, more and more women are ditching the pill and opting for fertility awareness methods as a natural way to achieve or delay pregnancy.

“In the US, there does seem to be an increase in the interest in fertility tracking and understanding the signs and symptoms of our bodies to plan and prevent pregnancy,” said Dr. Victoria Jennings, director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University.

“Our work has shown that simple fertility awareness messages are extremely attractive to a wide range of women and can address their family planning needs,” Jennings told CNA.

July 23-29 is national Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, coinciding with the 48th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae, which laid out the Church’s long-understood teachings on the sanctity of human sexuality.  

The Catholic Church has always taught that contraception is immoral, because it divorces procreation from the sexual act. However, the Church approves of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods, which allow couples to remain open to life.

Through Natural Family Planning, a woman learns to understand her body’s natural monthly cycle. By tracking the signs of her own fertility each day, she is able to determine when she is fertile and infertile. Decisions about whether to engage in sexual activity can then be made, based upon this knowledge, and the couple’s desire to achieve or postpone a pregnancy.

While NFP is sometimes mistaken for the primitive “calendar method” of generations past, it is actually an umbrella term for a collection of modern fertility awareness methods. Carefully evaluating each woman’s individual body and cycle, modern methods are rooted in science and are 99.6 percent effective when used correctly – a number that competes with the pill, according to the Couple to Couple League, a group that promotes Natural Family Planning.

Additionally, these methods are free from the host of side effects and health risks accompanying hormonal contraception. They don’t pollute the environment. And they can even help women identify underlying health problems that may otherwise go undiagnosed.

And Catholics are not alone in their use of Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM). Increasingly, they are being joined by women of various faiths and no faiths at all, as the benefits of natural methods draw new awareness.

In recent years, many Evangelicals and other Protestants have started to find fault with artificial birth control, and are turning to natural fertility-based methods instead.

“All women – Protestant, Catholic, Atheists, and nones – can appreciate this hormone free (and conscience free) alternative to chemical contraception,” said Chelsen Vicari, the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in an article last year.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the University of Utah found that more women, religious or not, are seeking alternatives to hormonal birth control without turning to surgery. And a 2015 study from the University of Iowa found that more than 1 in 5 women would be open to using fertility monitoring instead of the pill if they knew how it worked.

Methods for understanding fertility are also on the rise, and thanks to the help of modern technology and research, women are able to re-think the long list of side effects that can accompany hormonal contraception, such as depression, increased risk for stroke, and reported lower quality of life.

“Specifically in the app world, the use of fertility apps to track cycles or plan/prevent pregnancy is increasing exponentially,” Jennings said, noting that there are more than 1,000 fertility apps available on Apple and Google Play stores.

However, Jennings did warn that some of the apps have been proven to be inaccurate or “make claims that are either unsubstantiated or misleading, making it difficult for women to know which apps are most likely to meet their needs.”

Among the most well-respected fertility apps is Kindara. Launched in 2012, the iOS app offers charting tools to help women track when they are fertile by highlighting the ovulation period of a woman’s monthly cycle.

“Over the past couple of decades, fertility awareness has been studied a lot. We know scientifically, based on evidence now, that it does work, and it works very well if you use it correctly,” says Lauren Risberg, the Content Lead for Kindara.

Another fertility app, Natural Cycles, was started by a nuclear physicist in Sweden and was recently approved by the European Union as a certified method of birth control.

The growing interest in fertility awareness also comes at a time of concern over false expectations of reliability with artificial birth control.

New statistics released this month indicate that more than half (51%) of the abortions performed in the UK last year were due to failed contraception from the pill, implants or patches.

In an interview with the Telegraph, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi said that by encouraging women to use contraception, “you give them the sense that they can control their fertility.”

“Our data shows that women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone,” Furedi stressed.

In contrast, Church teaching surrounding Natural Family Planning emphasizes an openness to life, steering away from the notion that women control their fertility and instead empowering them with the knowledge to understand their bodies and cooperate with them to the fullest possible extent.

Emphasizing the gift of fertility and the ability to be co-creators with God to bring about a new human life, the Church teaches that couples should only avoid pregnancy through NFP when they have a just reason to do so.

With fertility awareness continuing to grow in popularity, the medical community would do well to pay attention, Jennings told CNA.

“Significant numbers of women worldwide don’t use birth control due to fears of side effects, negative beliefs about contraception, and because they don’t think they need it at the time,” she said.

“We believe the reproductive health community must take women's concerns seriously – and also take seriously evidence-based methods that rely on people knowing their own fertility.”

 

Posted: July 24, 2017, 9:13 am
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