United States Catholic News

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2017 / 03:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote in the Senate Thursday to advance a measure allowing states to once more have the freedom to avoid funding Planned Parenthood clinics with federal “family planning” grants.  

The vote was “a victory for all Americans who don’t want to see their tax dollars subsidizing the abortion industry and its ghoulish trafficking in aborted baby’s organs,” Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, stated on Thursday.

At issue is a rule created by the Obama administration last December which forbade states to withhold Title X “family planning” grants to Planned Parenthood clinics on account of the fact that they perform abortions. States had been instead looking to fund other health clinics.

On Thursday, the Senate was voting to advance a joint resolution of disapproval that already passed the House. It would cancel the HHS rule.

With Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) joining Democrats in opposing the repeal, the vote was evenly divided 50-50 before Pence broke the tie and voted for its advancement.

It was the “first abortion-related vote in the Senate” since 2015, according to the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

“We are so grateful that Vice President Mike Pence, who began the battle to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion corporation when he was a Congressman, traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to cast the tie-breaking vote in defense of human dignity and babies lives,” Ferguson stated.

Back in December, the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that states could only withhold Title X “family planning” funds from health centers if the clinics failed to adequately provide the range of services the funding was meant for, like contraceptives, pregnancy tests, and infertility treatments.

Thus, the fact that Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider could not be the factor for states withholding Title X funds from their clinics.

According to Planned Parenthood’s most recent fiscal year report from 2014-15, the organization performed over 323,999 annual abortions. It received over $550 million in federal, state, and local funds in that year, or “government health services grants & reimbursements.”

The organization has drawn controversy for its role in the trade of fetal body parts from aborted babies, obtained by tissue harvesters and ultimately used for purposes like medical research.

The Center for Medical Progress had aired a series of undercover videos, starting in the summer of 2015, from conversations they had with Planned Parenthood officials. The videos showed doctors discussing prices for fetal tissue with actors posing as tissue harvesters.

The organization was investigated by states, but has not currently been charged for illegal sales of tissue – reimbursement at “reasonable” levels for expenses like operating costs is allowed by federal law. However, a House Select Investigative Panel released a report in January detailing some abuses within the organization.

For instance, Planned Parenthood officials had admitted that clinics had not followed the organization’s procedures on important matters like fetal tissue transfers or ensuring that abortion procedures were not illegally altered for the purpose of tissue harvesting.

Another investigative report released around the same time by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute showed that, according to federal audits, Planned Parenthood clinics had overbilled Medicaid reimbursements and other public health funds by a total of over $130 million.

In some cases in Nebraska and New York, public funds including Medicaid reimbursements had paid for abortion-related claims and services at Planned Parenthood clinics, according to audits.

States should be free to disperse Title X funds to clinics they believe provide true health care, especially in light of Planned Parenthood’s recent controversies, insisted Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

If the resolution is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, it would “undo former President Obama’s parting gift to the abortion industry,” she stated.

“Never again will the federal government thwart efforts by states that – acting on the will of the people – want to fund real women’s health care, not abortion.”

 

Posted: March 30, 2017, 9:27 pm

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2017 / 09:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops have criticized President Donald Trump’s recent executive order which rolls back environmental protections, noting their concern that it offers no alternative for effective environmental stewardship.

“The USCCB, in unity with Pope Francis, strongly supports environmental stewardship and has called consistently for ‘our own country to curtail carbon emissions,’” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“This Executive Order places a number of environmental protections in jeopardy and moves the U.S. away from a national carbon standard, all without adopting a sufficient plan for ensuring proper care for people and creation,” the bishop said in a March 29 statement. “Yesterday’s action means that, sadly, the United States is unlikely to meet its domestic and international mitigation goals.”

On March 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that revokes a half-dozen executive orders from the Obama Administration targeted at halting the progress of climate change and regulating carbon emissions. Under particular scrutiny are the policies put in place by Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce emissions from power plants – one of the largest sources of pollution and greenhouse gasses in the United States – by 32 percent from 2015 to 2030. Other rules set for re-examination are rules regarding fracking and those restricting greenhouse gas emissions from oil and natural gas operations.

The new order will also roll back the Environmental Protection Agency’s “social cost of carbon” calculations that had previously guided rule making surrounding environmental concerns.

President Trump has not yet taken a public stance on withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, but the new order, without additional regulations to take their place, will effectively remove the policies the United States had put in place to meet its commitments.

While the U.S. bishops do not specifically support any one set of policy or technical approaches to climate change, they have offered their support for several of the Obama Administration’s carbon emission standards in recent years. Bishop Dewane reinforced in his statement that while the Clean Power Plan is not the only means of addressing climate change or reducing carbon emissions, he is concerned by the Trump Administration’s failure to present an alternative plan in its place.

The bishop also echoed previous statements by EPA officials and other environmental experts that environmental policies can both protect the environment and foster growth. “An integral approach can respect human and natural concerns and still achieve these aims, if properly done,” he said.

Bishop Dewane pointed to states that have already made steps towards doing both under the previous Clean Power Plan, adding that “this momentum ought to be encouraged and not hindered.”

He pointed to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter Laudato si as highlighting the importance of protecting the environment for the sake of all humanity.

“With this recent order,” the bishop commented, “the Administration risks damage to our air, our waters and, most importantly, our people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, without proposing a concrete and adequate approach to meet our stewardship obligations as a nation.”

 

Posted: March 30, 2017, 3:26 pm

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In recent months, national debates over immigration and deportation have reached a fever pitch in the wake of President Trump's election.

But for Archbishop Jose Gomez, both Catholic principles and the history of America as a home to people from a variety of backgrounds means that the immigration debate has higher stakes than just law enforcement or national sovereignty.

“For me, and for the Catholic Church in this country, immigration is about people. It is about families,” the archbishop said in a March 23 talk at the Catholic University of America.

“We are talking about souls, not statistics.”

Born in Monterrey, Mexico, the archbishop explained that he too was an immigrant, even though he has been an American citizen for more than 20 years. He pointed out that his family has been living in what is now Texas since the early 19th Century, and his family's relationship to both America and immigration reaches back generations.

He also explained that his archdiocese – the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – is not only the largest, with around 5 million Catholics, but the most diverse.

Within the archdiocese, Mass is celebrated and parishioners ministered to in more than 40 languages, from nearly every country in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

“The Church is alive here – and active,” he said. “And we are really a Church of immigrants.”
 
Nearly one million of these immigrants who live within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are undocumented.

Archbishop Gomez argued that this issue of large numbers of undocumented persons is something his adopted country desperately needs to address. This is incredibly important, he said, not only for immigrants and their families, but for America as a whole.

“Everybody right now knows that our immigration system is totally broken and needs to be fixed,” the archbishop said. However, while the United States has a right to secure its borders and enforce its laws, it also has to take responsibility for creating and benefiting from the situation that lead more than 11 million people to come to the country without documentation, he said.

“For many years our country did not enforce its immigration laws,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Why not? Because American businesses were demanding 'cheap' labor. So government officials looked the other way.”

The archbishop argued that “we need to recognize that we all share some of the blame for this broken immigration system.”

“Business is to blame. Government is to blame,” Archbishop Gomez said. “And you and I – we have responsibility, too. We 'benefit' and depend every day on an economy that is built on the backs of undocumented workers. It is just a fact. Immigrants grow our food, they serve us in our restaurants; they clean our rooms and our offices, they build our homes.”

He noted that while undocumented persons may be living here in violation of the law, “we aren’t putting business owners in jail or punishing government workers who didn’t do their job.”

“The only people we are punishing is the undocumented workers,” he charged. “They are the only ones.” While some punishment, such as community service or other requirements to stay in the United States may be appropriate, Archbishop Gomez commented, it is unfair to the families of nearly 11 million people to deport people with families – some of whom have been here for years.

“That is not fair. It is cruel, actually,” Archbishop Gomez said. “These are just ordinary moms and dads – just like your parents – who want to give their kids a better life.”

To balance love, laws, justice, and mercy, Catholics should consider principles that focus on the human person. The first principle, he said, is to recognize that “every immigrant is a human person, a child of God,” regardless of their legal status or background. The second Catholic principle to consider is that"immigration should keep families together.”

Archbishop Gomez pointed out that over a quarter of deportations break up families, and overwhelming majority of these deportations do not apply to violent criminals.

“I do not believe there is any public policy purpose that is served by taking away some little girl’s dad or some little boy’s mom. We are breaking up families and punishing kids for the mistakes of their parents. And that’s not right.”

While some common place policies could quickly resolve the issues surrounding immigration, Archbishop Gomez argued that the real conflict has more to do with ongoing questions about America – questions like what it means to be an American and what America’s mission is in the world.

The archbishop noted that almost all Americans are of immigrant heritage. “But immigration to this country has never been easy.” He pointed out that immigrant groups like the Irish have faced discrimination and hardship.

Yet, the history of America owes much to its immigrant – particularly Hispanic – roots, which long predate the arrival of English settlers, the archbishop said.

“For me – American history begins with Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Archbishop Gomez reflected. Before the founding fathers were born or before the Revolutionary War was fought, Spanish and Mexican missionaries and Philippine immigrants were settling in what is now the United States, celebrating the nation’s first Thanksgiving and establishing churches.”

“Something we should think about: the first non-indigenous language spoken in this country was not English. It was Spanish. We need to really think about what the means,” he said.

What it means, in his opinion, is that we “can no longer afford to tell a story of America that excludes the rich inheritance of Latinos and Asians.”

Conceptions of American identity that don’t incorporate the rich history of these groups, he said, are not only incomplete and inarticulate, they are not as well-set to adjust to the changing landscape of the United States. America is changing, and if America wants to be great, he argued, it needs to speak to the conscience and realities of the United States.

“That is what’s at stake in our immigration debate – the future of this beautiful American story,” Archbishop Gomez concluded. “Our national debate is really a great struggle for the American spirit and the American soul.”

Posted: March 30, 2017, 9:02 am

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 29, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The undercover journalists whose work appeared to implicate Planned Parenthood officials in the illegal sale of unborn baby body parts now face 15 felony charges in California, but one insists the allegations are phony.

David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress characterized the allegations as “bogus charges from Planned Parenthood’s political cronies.”

“The public knows the real criminals are Planned Parenthood and their business partners like StemExpress and DV Biologics – currently being prosecuted in California – who have harvested and sold aborted baby body parts for profit for years in direct violation of state and federal law,” he said March 28.

California Attorney General Xavier Beccerra has charged that Daleiden and his co-investigator Sandra Merritt filmed 14 people without their consent in Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco and El Dorado. The two are also charged with conspiracy to invade privacy.

Beccerra said his office “will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”

“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” he said Tuesday.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan funding watchdog, appear to show that Beccerra has received several minor donations from Planned Parenthood, totaling some $6,000 in the last 20 years.

In the current case, court papers claim the undercover investigators’ surreptitious recording of officials involved in Planned Parenthood and other sections of the abortion industry were illegal. An affidavit filed in San Francisco Superior Court justified the conspiracy charges on the grounds the investigators used pseudonyms, fake California drivers’ licenses, and a front medical research company, Biomax Procurement Services, in order to secure a booth at the National Abortion Federation’s 2014 conference in San Francisco.

Daleiden compared the California charges to Texas charges that had been filed against him and dismissed in June 2016, including a charge he had used a fake California driver’s license to access a Texas Planned Parenthood building.

“They tried the same collusion with corrupt officials in Houston, Texas and failed: both the charges and the district attorney were thrown out,” he said.

The Center for Medical Progress videos gave great momentum to efforts to end state and federal taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives about half a billion dollars in federal funds annually, about 40 percent of its operating budget. While this money is forbidden by law from funding abortions, critics charge that these rules may not always be followed, and that any federal funding frees up other money for abortions.

In January 2017, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives Select Investigative Panel investigating fetal tissue procurement released its report declaring that there are abuses and possible criminal violations in the area. The procurement of fetal tissue for profit is illegal.

Although a dozen states opened investigations into the organizations involved, they did not find legally admissible evidence of wrongdoing.

Backers of Planned Parenthood have charged that the videos were deceptively edited, a charge Daleiden has strongly contested, releasing the full videos to support his claim.

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Mary Alice Carter said that the California charges show “the only people who broke the law are those behind the fraudulent tapes.” Carter denied that Planned Parenthood has done anything wrong.

Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation charged that the videos resulted in a “flood of hate speech, threats and violence” to abortion providers.

Daleiden, however, defended his work.

“We look forward to showing the entire world what is on our yet-unreleased video tapes of Planned Parenthood’s criminal baby body parts enterprise, in vindication of the First Amendment rights of all,” he said Tuesday.

On March 29, the Center for Medical Progress released its latest video, which involved Dr. DeShawn Taylor, a past medical director of Planned Parenthood who served as an abortion provider at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.

The video appeared to show Taylor saying her facility's treatment of babies who show “signs of life” after an abortion depended on “who’s in the room.”

The release of the investigation’s first video took place in July 2015. It and subsequent videos have drawn a massive response from Planned Parenthood and its allies. A 2015 grant listing from the Open Societies Foundation, published after a foundations’ computer system was hacked, found a planned $7-8 million campaign to respond to the videos. The Hewlett Foundation and the Democracy Alliance were named as other partners in the campaign.

 

Posted: March 29, 2017, 10:07 pm

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new undercover video shows an Arizona abortion clinic doctor saying her facility's treatment of babies who show “signs of life” after an abortion depended on “who’s in the room.”

Dr. DeShawn Taylor, who runs an abortion and Ob/Gyn clinic in Phoenix, Ariz. and who was formerly the medical director at Planned Parenthood Arizona, was filmed undercover saying that according to Arizona law “if the fetus comes out with any signs of life” at an abortion clinic, “we’re supposed to transport it … to the hospital.”

However, when asked on camera, if at her clinic “is there any standard procedure for verifying signs of life?”, she didn’t answer with a specific procedure, but rather said: “I mean, the key is you need to pay attention to who’s in the room, right? Because the thing is the law states that you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise so it’s really tricky.”

Arizona law mandates that clinics call emergency services if a fetus survives an abortion or has signs of life such as breathing, heartbeat, “umbilical cord pulsation”, or “definite movement of voluntary muscles.”

Additionally, if an abortion is performed after 20 weeks gestation, there must be “at least one person who is trained in neonatal resuscitation … present in the room” to provide emergency care to a “viable fetus.”

The undercover video was filmed by members of the Center for Medical Progress and is the latest in their Human Capital Project, a series of investigative videos on the fetal tissue trade that first aired in 2015.

David Daleiden, the project lead for Center for Medical Progress, was charged with 15 felonies by California Attorney General Xavier Beccera on Tuesday, related to his work on the undercover videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood and tissue procurement officials.

Beccera is a former Democratic member of Congress. He and former state attorney general Kamala Harris – now a U.S. senator – received thousands of dollars from Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups in their congressional elections, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Members of the Center for Medical Progress, posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company, approached current and former Planned Parenthood officials at a George Tiller Memorial Networking Reception in October of 2014, and secretly taped their conversations.

One of the former officials was Taylor, who worked at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and was the medical director at Planned Parenthood Arizona before moving to her own abortion and Ob/Gyn practice in Phoenix, where she was at the time of the conversation.

She said her clinic received abortion referrals from Planned Parenthood, and performed an average of 30 abortions per week.

Posing as representatives of BioMax, CMP asked Dr. Taylor how they could collaborate on the transfer of fetal tissue from abortion clinics in the Phoenix area.

When asked about abortion procedures for ensuring intact baby body parts for tissue harvesters, Taylor noted that “part of the issue is, it’s not a matter of how I feel about it coming out intact, but I got to worry about my staff and peoples’ feelings about it coming out looking like a baby.”

She was then asked about using digoxin, a feticide sometimes used to kill the baby before an abortion procedure, which could render the fetal tissue unsuitable for harvesting.

Taylor said, “that really presents an issue because in Arizona, if the fetus comes out with any signs of life, we’re supposed to transport it … to the hospital.” Digoxin, she said, ensures the baby is dead after an abortion procedure.

Taylor was asked if her clinic had a procedure for determining if a baby showed signs of life after an abortion. She replied that “the key is you need to pay attention to who’s in the room, right?”

She continued, explaining the law’s requirements as a reason for why she mostly uses digoxin to ensure the baby is dead in an abortion.

“Because the thing is, the law states that you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise so it’s really tricky,” she said, adding that “most of the time we do dig[oxin], and it usually works. And then we don’t have to worry about that because Arizona state law says if there’s signs of life, then we’re supposed to transport them. To the hospital.”

“Yeah, it’s a mess, it’s a mess,” she said.

Daleiden accused Taylor of breaking the law.

“This footage shows a longtime Planned Parenthood abortion doctor willing to sell baby parts for profit, use criminal abortion methods to get more intact body parts, and even cover up infanticide. This doctor was trained by Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, and encouraged by her to participate in the fetal body parts market.”

Taylor clarified in the video that she no longer worked at Planned Parenthood, but had her own clinic.

“Well I used to work for them [Planned Parenthood Arizona], and then I left them, and so they’re still recovering,” she said to laughter, when asked why she sees referrals from Planned Parenthood.

Also in the video, she expressed her concern when a dead baby is delivered intact after an abortion procedure. “Arizona is so conservative, I just don’t even want to send a full fetus to – for cremation, or any of that,” she said.

Taylor also went into graphic detail on obtaining intact body parts from abortion procedures, especially through induction.

She noted that “we’re going to start the procedure before we get to that point” of where the baby’s head comes out with enough dilation. “So it’s really like, in order to get you an intact calvarium, the patient’s really going to have to go into labor,” she added.

“So, ideally, you know the patient would have dilated in the E-phase enough that it’s all just going to come out,” she said.

She joked about going to the gym to better perform more strenuous late-term abortions.

“Research shows that dig[oxin] doesn’t make the procedure easier in someone who is well-trained, but I have to tell you anecdotally, my biceps appreciate when the dig works,” she said of procedures where digoxin kills the baby in an abortion.

“So I remember when I was a fellow and I was training and I was like ‘oh, I have to hit the gym for this … I need to hit the gym,” she said. When asked “at what age does it start getting really difficult?” she responded “at 20 weeks [gestation].”

Pro-lifers were appalled at the revelations in the video.

It “once again lays bare the inhumanity of abortion,” stated Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List.

“The abortionist may laugh as she describes the force needed to dismember a five-month-old unborn child struggling to survive, but even the staff are not immune to the terrible sight of aborted children and babies possibly born alive and left to die.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) argued for a ban on abortions performed after 20 weeks gestation – the late-term abortions described in Taylor’s “gym” comments.

“Science has shown that children as young as 20-weeks-old can feel pain, yet these same children are subjected to horrific abortions, being crushed and dismembered,” he said.

He also insisted on federal legislation protecting infant survivors of abortion.

“Some babies, though miraculously, survive a botched abortion and instead of receiving life-saving care, are left to die on a hospital table. It’s time to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. We cannot be a nation that does this to our children,” he said.

Posted: March 29, 2017, 9:40 pm

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 29, 2017 / 11:01 am (National Catholic Register).- When a Phoenix mother lost her eyesight due to a rare medical condition, she feared she would never be able to see her four children again. But then St. Charbel came to her aid.

Dafne Gutierrez suffered from benign intracranial hypertension (BIH), a condition that causes increased pressure in the brain. In 2012, the increased pressure caused her to lose vision in her right eye. Three years later, in November 2015, the Catholic mother lost sight in her left eye, as well.

Phoenix’s local CBS affiliate, KPHO, quoted Gutierrez’s plea to God:

“For me, I was like, ‘Please God, let me see those faces again. Let me be their mother again.’ Because I feel like [my kids] were watching me, taking care of me 24/7.”

 

Phoenix Mother: St. Charbel Cured My Blindness https://t.co/J9FXeruQUR

— N. Catholic Register (@NCRegister) March 25, 2017


 

For more than a year, Gutierrez struggled to adjust to her disability, which now included occasional seizures, as well as blindness. Then, in January 2016, when Phoenix’s St. Joseph Maronite Church announced that the relics of St. Charbel Makhlouf (also spelled “Sharbel”) would be visiting the church, Gutierrez’s sister encouraged her to visit and to pray for the saint’s intercession.

Although she is not a member of the Maronite rite, Gutierrez visited the church Jan. 16, prayed before the relics, went to confession and was blessed with holy oil by the pastor, Father Wissam Akiki. Gutierrez recalled that, immediately afterward, her body felt “different.”

The following morning, she rose and returned to the church for Sunday Mass. Again, she experienced a different sensation.

And early in the morning Jan. 18, Gutierrez awoke with a searing pain in her eyes. She remembers how much they burned. And when her husband turned on the lights, she said the brightness hurt her eyes. She claimed, at 4 a.m., that she could see shadows; but her husband insisted that was impossible because she was blind. He later described what he called “an odor of burned meat” coming from her nostrils.

According to The Maronite Voice, the newsletter of the Maronite Eparchies of the U.S., “That morning she called her ophthalmologist, and she was evaluated the next day. Her exam showed that she was still legally blind, with abnormal optic nerves. Two days later, she saw a different ophthalmologist, and her vision was a perfect 20/20, with completely normal optic nerves. Subsequently, she saw her original ophthalmologist one week later, and her vision was documented to be normal, with completely normal exam.”

No Medical Explanation

Dr. Anne Borik, a board-certified internal medicine physician who later testified regarding Gutierrez’s healing, was called in by the Church to review the case. Earlier this month, Borik – a member of St. Timothy’s Roman Catholic parish nearby, but who attends St. Joseph Maronite frequently – talked by phone with the Register about her findings. She explained that the brain condition Gutierrez suffered from causes the optic nerve to constrict. Once the optic disc – the spot at which the optic nerve enters the eyeball – is damaged, it’s too late to fix. Because, when the pressure in the brain reaches high levels, as it did in Gutierrez’s case, the optic nerves become strangulated.

“Unfortunately, once the blindness occurs,” said Borik, “it’s irreversible.”

Images of Gutierrez’s optic disc revealed significant damage: “We have pictures,” said Borik, “to confirm that the optic disc was chronically atrophied. There was significant swelling, or papilledema.”

But after Gutierrez’s vision returned, Borik reported, there was no evidence of the aberrations that were evident on earlier images. “In the post-healing pictures,” Borik said, “her optic disc is back to normal. Her vision is completely restored. She has no more seizures. That is why I, as a medical doctor, have no explanation.”

A medical committee, led by Borik, undertook a thorough review of Gutierrez’s medical records, as well as repeated examinations. The committee wrote, “After a thorough physical exam, extensive literature search and review of all medical records, we have no medical explanation and therefore believe this to be a miraculous healing through the intercession of St. Charbel.”

Unexpected Healing Strengthens Faith

Borik is enthusiastic about the healing, telling the National Catholic Register, “It has changed my practice! It has changed how I relate to patients. Now,” she said, referring to her relationship with those entrusted to her care, “prayer is such an important part of what we do.”

Father Wissam Akiki, pastor of St. Joseph Maronite Church, had a devotion to St. Charbel, and he installed a large picture of the saint in the parish shortly after his arrival in 2014. Then, in 2016, he arranged to bring St. Charbel’s relics to his parish as part of a U.S. tour.

Father Akiki remembers when Gutierrez showed up to venerate the relics. Father Akiki approached her. “I heard her confession,” he told the National Catholic Register. “We prayed together, and I said to her daughter, ‘Take care of your mom, and your mom is going to see you soon.’ Then, in only three days, she called the church to report that she could see.”

Father Akiki acknowledged that Gutierrez’s healing has strengthened the faith and changed the face of St. Joseph Maronite Church. “People are coming here to pray, traveling from Germany, Bolivia, Canada, Australia, Jerusalem.”

Following the healing, Father Akiki planned to erect a shrine to St. Charbel at his parish, with a two-ton sculpture of the saint cut from a single stone and imported from Lebanon. The shrine will be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Father Akiki expected that the dedication of the shrine March 26 would draw crowds, including Maronite Bishop A. Elias Zaidan, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted and many local dignitaries.

Bishop Zaidan attributed Gutierrez’s recovery to the intercession of St. Charbel. “May this healing of the sight of Dafne,” he wrote in The Maronite Voice, “be an inspiration for all of us to seek the spiritual sight, in order to recognize the will of God in our lives and to act accordingly.”

Cristofer Pereyra, director of the Hispanic Office of the Phoenix Diocese, told Fox News that Bishop Olmsted spoke with the doctors and reviewed the case. “The bishop wanted to make sure there was no scientific explanation for the miraculous recovery of Dafne’s sight,” Pereyra reported.

The greatest change, of course, has been for Gutierrez and her children. Since her eyesight was restored, Dafne’s life has changed dramatically: She can once again check her children's homework, watch them at play with friends, and manage her household chores without extra assistance.

Her prayer was answered.

Who Was St. Charbel?

Born Youssef Antoun Makhlouf in the high mountains of northern Lebanon in 1828, St. Charbel (also spelled Sharbel) was the youngest of five children in a poor but religious family. His baptismal name was Joseph; only when he entered a monastery at the age of 23 was he given the name Charbel, after an early martyr. He studied in seminary and was ordained a priest in 1858. For 16 years, Father Charbel lived with his brother priests; theirs was a communal life of prayer and devotion to God.

In 1875, Father Charbel was granted permission to live a hermit’s life. In his rugged cabin, for the next 23 years, he practiced mortification and sacrifice – often wearing a hair shirt, sleeping on the ground, and eating only one meal a day. The Eucharist was the focus of his life. The holy priest celebrated daily Mass at 11 a.m., spending the morning in preparation and the rest of the day in thanksgiving.

Father Charbel was 70 years old when he suffered a seizure while celebrating Mass. A priest assisting him was forced to pry the Eucharist out of his rigid hands. He never regained consciousness; and eight days later, on Christmas Eve in 1898, Father Charbel died. His body was interred in the ground without a coffin and without embalming, according to the monks’ custom, dressed in the full habit of the order.

For the next 45 nights, a most unusual event occurred: According to many local townspeople, an extraordinarily bright light appeared above his tomb, lighting the night sky. Finally, after the mysterious light persisted, officials at the monastery petitioned the ecclesiastical authorities for permission to exhume Charbel’s body. When the grave was opened four months after Charbel’s death, his body was found to be incorrupt. Twenty-eight years after his death, in 1928, and again in 1950, the grave was reopened, and his body was also found to be without decay.

Numerous medical researchers were permitted to examine the remains, and all confirmed that the saint’s body was preserved from decay. For 67 years, the body remained intact, even when left outdoors unprotected for an entire summer – although it consistently gave off a liquid that had the odor of blood. Finally, though, Charbel’s body followed the natural course. When the tomb was again opened at the time of his beatification in 1965, it was found to be decayed, except for the skeleton, which was deep red in color.

The inexplicable restoration of Dafne Gutierrez’s eyesight is not the first healing credited to St. Charbel. Dr. Anne Borik reported that there have been hundreds – perhaps thousands – of miracles attributed to the saint.

Pope Francis is said to have a deep devotion to St. Charbel. Last Christmas, Borik reported, the Holy Father asked to have a relic of St. Charbel sewn into the hem of his vestments.

 

This story was originally published at the National Catholic Register.

 

Posted: March 29, 2017, 5:01 pm

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Supreme Court case about pension plans of religious hospitals could decide something much bigger – whether religious groups are legally part of churches.

“There’s really a big problem if you decide ‘church’ is sort of narrowly ‘worship’,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“That’s really something that a church should be deciding, whether they just worship or whether they go out and serve other people outside of the four walls of the sanctuary,” Rassbach told CNA.

The Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, a consolidation of three cases involving the pension plans of religious hospitals like Advocate and St. Peter’s HealthCare System in New Jersey.

The employers are looking to move the plans, regulated like other plans of for-profit corporations, into a religious category exempt from some of those regulations.

The law in question, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, regulates pension plans of for-profit corporations, requiring the employers to hold an additional amount of funds in reserve. Setting up these reserves could be cost-prohibitive especially for community hospitals, some of whom “are not going to be able to do that,” Rassbach said.

“If Advocate and hundreds of other religious hospitals around the country were forced to follow for-profit rules, money currently used to serve the poor and inner city communities would be lost and many would be forced to shut down,” the Becket Fund argued.

Congress has recognized a religious exemption for pension plans of churches, and entities like St. Peter’s Hospital in New Jersey applied for this exemption after operating their pension plans according to the federal regulations for years. The plaintiffs bringing the suit, employees of the health care networks, claim their pension plan agreements are being unfairly altered.

The religious exemption applies to plans “established” and “maintained” by churches. In the case of St. Peter’s HealthCare, decided by the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court ruled that since the Catholic Church (through a diocese or parish) did not “establish” the pension plans, they were not eligible for the ERISA religious exemption, even if a “church agency” like a religious order set up the plan.

St. Peter’s is a non-profit health care system sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen. The court conceded that it has Catholic ties, like daily Mass offered at the hospital, Catholic devotionals present there, and many board members who are appointed by the local bishop.

“But can a church agency, in addition to maintaining an exempt church plan, also establish such a plan? The District Court concluded that it cannot. We agree,” the appeals court decided.

It also conceded that for years, plans set up by “church agencies” were recognized by the courts as religiously exempt: “In the decades following the current church plan definition’s enactment in 1980, various courts have assumed that entities that are not themselves churches, but have sufficiently strong ties to churches, can establish exempt church plans.”

“However,” the court added, “a new wave of litigation, of which this case is a part, has sprung up in the past few years and has presented an argument not previously considered by courts – that the actual words of the church plan definition preclude this result.” New lawsuits are shedding light on the “plain text” of ERISA that churches and only churches can set up pension plans that meet the religious exemption, the court said.

There are around 100 similar lawsuits involving religious hospitals – many of which are Catholic, Rassbach noted. New litigation is “taking from the poor to give to the rich class-action lawyers,” he argued.

Not only did the courts recognize that these religious entities were eligible for the pension exemption, but the IRS did as well, he maintained.

This question was raised in Monday’s oral arguments, where Justice Stephen Breyer pressed James Feldman, representing the respondents suing the health care networks, on whether orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor should be recognized as part of churches.

Justice Breyer asked “if it's a legitimate organization like, let's say the Little Sisters of the Poor, really affiliated with the church,” if they would be recognized as part of a church.

The U.S. bishops’ conference and religious freedom legal groups like the Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom have sided with the health care networks in the case, saying that it is a religious freedom issue.

In their amicus brief siding with the St. Peter’s HealthCare and Dignity Health, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that while Catholic health care providers may not be officially part of a church or parish structure, their plans should meet the religious exemptions under ERISA.

“Indeed, charity has always been a core component of the Catholic Church’s activities, ‘as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel’,” the USCCB said, quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.”

This charity is lived out “through myriad Catholic ministries” like health care providers, they added, which should be treated as part of the Church.

And these charities may or may not be directly affiliated with Catholic dioceses and parishes or with the Holy See, they continued, “yet, as a matter of Catholic theology, the various ministries that the Church recognizes as Catholic ministries are all part of the Church” even though “they may be (and often are) civilly, structurally, and financially independent entities.”

These employers must be given a religious exemption, the bishops’ conference added, saying that “long before” the ERISA regulations were enacted for pension plans, “Catholic charitable organizations provided their workers with generous benefits.”

“In recognition of that reality (which is not unique to the Catholic Church), and to avoid imposing potentially crushing new obligations on such organizations, Congress has long exempted the benefit plans of church-affiliated organizations from the sometimes burdensome requirements of ERISA,” they continued.

And the Court must recognize this, they concluded, or this could bring about more problems in determining which religious groups are treated as part of a church.

 

Posted: March 29, 2017, 12:01 pm

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 29, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced a new initiative on marriage and family life: a three-year course which will be offered to both the clergy and lay people throughout its parishes.

“There is a serious need to shift our previous approach to marriage and family life which ignores the consequences of poor catechesis and the lack of personal encounter to a more evangelical and relational approach,” the archdioceses said in a press release.

The extensive program, titled Remain in My Love, will direct its focus at a different target audience every year for three years. The outreach will begin in May 2017 and will end in December 2019.

The first year will specifically address the staff members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, and will focus on the theme of “renewing our mission in service to married couples and families.”

“These gatherings will help us rediscover our shared mission to support, heal, and strengthen the married couples and families who have been entrusted to our care in the local Church of Philadelphia,” reads the archdiocesan website.

“As the pastoral arm of his leadership and ministry in the service of all the Archdiocese, a reinvigorated…understanding of marriage and family life becomes a lens through which to encourage the same understanding in our parishes and institutions.”

Year two will begin in January 2018, and will cater to the staff of archdiocesan institutions such as parishes or schools. Their theme will focus on “renewing our mission of pastoral care of married couples and families.”

“It will be designed as an opportunity for growth and transformation as well as mutual support, encouragement and discussion fueled by study materials, dynamic presentations, and beautiful videos.”

The third and final year is aimed at all married couples and families within the archdiocese, beginning in January 2019. This program will highlight the goal of “rediscovering the mission of marriage and the family.”

“Married couples and families of the Archdiocese will be invited to encounter the splendor of what Christ has revealed about marriage and family life through large and small group gatherings.”

Each year is made up of three sessions, covering theological material such as the sacramentality of marriage, the goods of marriage, and the family as the domestic church. The classes will underscore the institution of marriage, the threats to marriage, and the mission of the family in the world.

In addition, the participants will also be involved with a 12-session small group class called CanaVox. These small group sessions will read and discuss relevant topics about marriage and the family through Church documents and current events.  

“The project, for all three years, moves in two directions, inviting a committed investment on the part of all.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is hoping that this new program will reach out to couples after their marriage, as a continuation of the conversation that marriage prep started. Pope Francis has also recently spoken out about marriage, calling for better marriage prep, and pointing to the need for a “new catechumenate in preparation for marriage.”

Remain in My Love will aim to “reinvigorate our understanding, practices and celebrations of Christian marriage and family life,” to “every member of the clergy, lay faithful, and to every parish and institution” within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

More information about Remain in My Love can be found at www.archphila.org/remain

Posted: March 29, 2017, 9:02 am

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 29, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the centennial year of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco will consecrate his archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“I am confident that the archdiocese will receive many graces through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary if we are spiritually prepared and properly disposed,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “For this act of consecration to bear fruit, we must prepare ourselves spiritually and with catechesis for this significant day.”

Archbishop Cordileone said the consecration comes in response to “numerous requests from the faithful.”

The Oct. 7 consecration falls on the same day as the archdiocese’s Annual Rosary Rally, which takes place on the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.

It comes in the 100th year since the 1917 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three young children in Fatima, Portugal. The apparitions took place from May 1917 to Oct. 13, 1917 when tens of thousands of people who had gathered near Fatima witnessed the sun dance.

The Virgin Mary apparition delivered a message to the children, asking for prayer and reparation for sins throughout the world.

The archdiocese website has a section dedicated to the upcoming consecration that includes Marian prayers and explanations of Our Lady of Fatima.

It describes the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a devotional name for the internal life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, including “her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her virginal love for God the Father, her maternal love for her son Jesus, and her compassionate love for all people.”

The archdiocese website lists several activities and suggested prayer intentions for each month leading up to the consecration. It is holding art contests and writing contests for students and has plans for a Marian retreat May 6.

 

Posted: March 29, 2017, 6:08 am

Sacramento, Calif., Mar 28, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The California Catholic Conference has announced that it is sponsoring a bill to help attract and retain teachers in response to the state's shortage of K-12 educators.

“Additional measures are needed in order to assure that our new teachers are given the appropriate preferential option that supports their development and commitment in their noble profession,” the conference said in a March 16 statement.

This “in turn translates to better service and better education of our youth.”

The conference, tied to the state's Catholic conference of bishops, is the official voice of the Church in California's legislative arena. It is proposing a bill which would give greater tax breaks to new teachers in the process of receiving their permanent credentials.  

Besides paying back student loans and serving at the lower end of the salary scale, new teachers must “enroll in costly induction and professional development programs aimed at converting their preliminary credential to a permanent or 'clear' credential.”

California has suffered from a lack of educators since the recession hit in 2007. The conference says easing a teacher’s financial difficulties would incite greater quality and quantity of new blood to the profession.

The state requires teachers to complete the “clear” credential within the first five years of being employed, but schools or districts are not required to pay for these programs. Local educational agencies have an average annual fee of $2,000, and universities or colleges may charge up to $5,000 yearly to complete the induction programs.

New teachers are forced to pay out-of-pocket, and the legislative groups says the financial strain ultimately affects their students.

The bill, AB 516, would either give teachers working towards a “clear” credential a tax credit or a deduction for professional expenses. Newly accredited teachers would have the option to either claim up to a $500 credit or deduct $2,500 from their state income taxes to balance the fees required for these programs.

Over 310,000 teachers were employed in California, but after the economic recession in 2007, it has dropped to less than 296,000 in the 2014-2015 school year. According to the Learning Policy Institute, a study in 2013 reveals that California's student-teacher ratio was 24 to 1 and is the highest ratio in the nation compared to the national average of 16 to 1.

The conference cited a study from the Learning Policy Institute that “the number of intern credentials, permits, and waivers it has issued” has nearly doubled between 2013 and 2016. These permits are issued to teachers who have not yet finished their permanent credential. The study also stated that the greatest growth occurred “in emergency-style permits known as Provisional Intern Permits (PIPs) and Short-Term Staff Permits (STSPs),” which are only issued when classrooms have an immediate need.

California not only needs an increase of teachers but a better system “to support, develop and retain qualified teachers,” the conference added.
 
“The most effective way to achieve this goal of offering a good education is to have qualified and prepared teachers in the educational work force committed to their profession.”

Posted: March 29, 2017, 2:02 am

Houston, Texas, Mar 28, 2017 / 03:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See directed last week that the oldest Catholic parish of the Anglican Use, located in San Antonio, will be transferred from the local archdiocese into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.

“Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church and its school, the Atonement Academy, have been transferred to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, effective March 21,” read a statement. The ordinariate of St. Peter's chair is a special ecclesial jurisdiction for Catholics in the United States and Canada who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition or whose faith has been renewed by the Ordinariate.

“At the direction of the Holy See, all parishes of the Pastoral Provision are to be incorporated into the Ordinariate,” read the March 21 communique.

Our Lady of the Atonement parish had been founded in 1983 as part of the “pastoral provision” established by St. John Paul II to allow former Anglicans to form Catholic parishes within existing United States dioceses. Until last week, the parish was part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

Subsequently to the pastoral provision, Benedict XVI established ordinariates, which effectively provided former Anglicans with their own dioceses within the Catholic Church.

“With the establishment of the North American Ordinariate in 2012 and the ordination of its first bishop in 2016, the Holy See now expects all Pastoral Provision parishes in the U.S. to be integrated into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter,” the ordinariate's statement explained.

“The Ordinariate expresses its deepest gratitude to the Archdiocese of San Antonio for welcoming and caring for Our Lady of the Atonement since its inception, and for the Archdiocese’s ongoing commitment to the Church’s care for the unity of Christians. Through continued collaboration in the coming months, the Archdiocese and the Ordinariate will remain dedicated to supporting the natural evolution of this Pastoral Provision parish into the Ordinariate.”

While the ordinariate's statement only includes Our Lady of the Atonement by name, the transferral would also presumably apply to the Congregation of Saint Athanasius, a pastoral provision parish located in a Boston suburb and heretofore part of the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Vatican's directive that Our Lady of the Atonement should be transferred to the ordinariate is the outcome of several months of conflict between the parish and the San Antonio archdiocese.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio had in January begun proceedings to remove Atonement's pastor, Fr. Christopher Phillips, who had been pastor from the parish's founding.

In a Jan. 19 letter the archbishop cited “pastoral concern” about Fr. Phillips relating “to expressions in the life of the parish that indicate an identity separate from, rather than simply unique, among the parishes of the archdiocese.” Another priest was appointed administrator of the parish, and Fr. Phillips was asked “to dedicate some time to reflect on certain specific concerns.”

Late in 2016, Fr. Phillips had sought to join the ordinariate.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, the ordinariate's spokesperson, Jenny Faber, indicated Fr. Phillips will remain at the parish as pastor emeritus, and a new pastor will be appointed in due time.

The Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter includes more than 40 parishes and communities. Its ordinary, Bishop Steven Lopes, was appointed in November 2015 and had previously served as an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The North American ordinariate is one of three such bodies; it has counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Posted: March 28, 2017, 9:54 pm

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2017 / 03:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new high-ranking official at the Department of Health and Human Services could give the agency a significant shift in how it treats religious freedom and life issues.

“Roger Severino, a seasoned champion of religious liberty and the pro-life cause, is just the right person to correct the course of HHS’s efforts at enforcing anti-discrimination principles in federal law,” said Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute.

Franck spoke to CNA following Severino’s appointment as director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights.

Severino, a Harvard Law graduate, comes to HHS from the Heritage Foundation, where, according to his bio, he worked on religious freedom, marriage, and life issues and directed the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity.

He wrote about concerns over the Pentagon’s radical new gender policy, his disagreements with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hellerstedt abortion case, and religious freedom concerns in the Little Sisters of the Poor case at the Supreme Court, among other issues.

Severino brings with him a strong background in the field of civil rights law. Prior to his work at Heritage starting in 2015, he served as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division for seven years.

There, Severino litigated cases including HIV discrimination, racism, and housing discrimination.

One of the cases he worked on was United States v. Birdie Wren, where a 26 year-old mother – who was HIV-positive – and her four year-old son were denied consideration for an apartment lease in Chicago because of the woman’s medical condition.

In another case he worked on, United States v. Stonebridge at Bear Creek LLP et al, an apartment complex and the management company had systematically screened out persons of perceived Middle Eastern or South Asian descent and segregated them into separate buildings from the rest of the tenants.

The Justice Department successfully sought fines and damage payments for violations of the Fair Housing Act.

Before his time at the Justice Department, Severino was chief operations officer at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

He will be needed at HHS because of the agency’s recent bias against pro-life groups, Franck argued:

“During the Obama administration, HHS became an aggressive discriminator against employers, insurers, and health care providers who only wanted to be left alone to act on their moral principles in favor of innocent human life, and on their religiously informed consciences against cooperation with evil.”

For example, when the state of California forced employers – including churches – to include abortion coverage in health plans, the HHS office for civil rights would not honor a challenge to that mandate from churches and religious freedom advocates.

Then-director Jocelyn Samuels said the mandate did not violate the Weldon Amendment, which bars federal funding of states and localities that discriminate against health providers who refuse to perform or assist abortions. Samuels said the entities bringing the challenge were not themselves health providers.

The U.S. bishops’ conference called the office’s decision “shocking.”

Franck predicted that Severino could help in such cases, and that his appointment “is very good news for the advancement of that office’s true mission.”

 

Posted: March 28, 2017, 9:53 pm

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2017 / 02:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a death penalty case with national implications, the Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a Texas court ruling that a man with possible intellectual disabilities was eligible for execution.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network hailed the Court’s ruling in Moore v. Texas as “the needed step towards justice for some of the most vulnerable in our society” and a “victory for life.”

“In affirming a person with intellectual disabilities should not be executed, the Court made it clear that states must uphold the needs of all of its citizens,” said Karen Clifton, executive director of the network. “CMN applauds the Court for calling attention to this grave injustice and demanding that we do better to provide justice for all involved in the legal system.”

In Moore v. Texas, a man Bobby James Moore had been convicted in 1980 – and again in 2001 on a retrial – of robbing a convenience store and killing an employee. He was given a death sentence.

A state habeas court, however, said that Moore met the clinical criteria for being intellectually disabled – which would exempt someone from execution under the Eighth Amendment, as the Supreme Court had ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002.

With Moore, the habeas court used the standard “three-prong” test to determine intellectual disability, which is part of the clinical consensus on the matter, the Supreme Court found.

This test looked for “intellectual functioning deficits,” or an IQ score of around 70 adjusted for error, “adaptive functioning deficits,” and whether these deficits began to show when the person was still a minor.

A Texas criminal appeals court, however, disregarded five of Moore’s seven IQ scores that factored into the habeas court’s ruling, keeping only scores of 74 and 78 that Moore received in 1989 and 1973, respectively, and “discounted the lower end of the standard-error range associated with those scores,” as the Supreme Court’s opinion noted.

The appeals court ruled that according to an earlier medical standard of intellectual disability – which was in place before Moore was convicted in his 2001 re-trial – as well as according to the state’s “Briseno factors” test, Moore was eligible for the death penalty.

The Briseno factors test is a standard used by Texas in addition to the three-pronged standard for disability. The test includes questions like whether someone is able to lie, and if their neighbors thought they were disabled as a child. Critics have insisted that the factors are non-clinical.

Critics also note that the Briseno factors are not used to determine one’s eligibility for other state programs like social services. They have been used to deem others in Texas fit for the death penalty, including, in 2012, a man who scored a 61 on an IQ test.

Moore’s case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-3 decision on Tuesday, the Court overturned the criminal appeals court’s decision, saying the Briseno factors were outside of the clinical consensus means of evaluating one’s mental capacity and adding that the appeals court strayed from Supreme Court precedent in its decision.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that although the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing an intellectually disabled person violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, states could still determine one’s eligibility for the death penalty so long as their standards were within the clinical consensus.

Some states, however, thought this decision gave them broader discretion than was warranted to determine disability, he said. States like Texas and Florida used non-clinical standards, which led to later cases like Moore and Hall v. Florida where the Court found those standards unconstitutional.

“I think what the Court intended in Atkins, that discretion was not set up so that states could nullify Atkins by creating inappropriate hurdles for proving intellectual disability,” Dunham noted.

The majority opinion in Moore, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, “said the state’s discretion is not unfettered,” Dunham said.

“All the members of the Court agreed that the intellectual disability determination needs to be informed by the diagnostic framework.”

Texas’ Briseno standard for evaluating intellectual disability is “an invention of the CCA [Criminal Court of Appeals] untied to any acknowledged source,” the Court stated, saying the standards were an “outlier” as other states had not adopted them and Texas did not even use them for cases other than the death penalty.

“Not aligned with the medical community’s information, and drawing no strength from our precedent, the Briseno factors ‘creat[e] an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed’,” the opinion stated.

“Mild levels of intellectual disability, although they may fall outside Texas citizens’ consensus, nevertheless remain intellectual disabilities,” they insisted.

The dissent, written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, admitted that the Briseno factors “are an unacceptable method of enforcing the guarantee of Atkins.”

However, Roberts added that he did not think the appeals court “erred as to Moore’s intellectual functioning.”

Furthermore, the Court majority set about determining what was the “medical consensus about intellectual disability” when that judgment should be left to “clinicians,” Roberts insisted.

Ultimately, the Court sent a strong message not only to Texas but to other states who craft their testing for intellectual disability outside of the clinical consensus, Dunham said.

“This case, Moore and Hall read together, sends a clear message. That is, if you follow the clinical definitions of intellectual disability, you aren’t going to have these kinds of problems. When you start substituting lay stereotypes and myths for the clinical criteria, you’re risking having your court judgments overturned.”

“This decision sheds light on one of the many broken aspects of the death penalty. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is another step towards justice for all life,” Clifton stated.

 

Posted: March 28, 2017, 8:43 pm

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 28, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Health care providers and institutions opposed to assisted suicide gained more legal protections under a new Arizona law that aims to help ensure doctors and nurses aren’t fired for their beliefs if the practice is ever legalized.

Senate Bill 1439 was “an important rights of conscience bill,” according to the bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference.

“S.B. 1439 will help protect health care providers not wanting to participate in services causing the death of their patients,” the state’s four bishops said March 24, adding they were grateful that it has become law.

The bill lists assisted suicide, euthanasia, or “mercy killing” as some activities that a doctor, nurse or health care entity may decline to participate in.

Bill sponsor Sen. Nancy Barto said the bill would help ensure that individuals would not lose their jobs if they have objections to these practices.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed the legislation on Friday.

The Arizona bishops’ conference said federal law already protects health care providers who decline to participate in assisted suicide or similar actions, but the bill adds state-level protections and clarifies that providers cannot face discrimination in employment.

The bill bars discrimination against state health care providers and facilities if they refuse to assist in services that result in a person’s death or if they refuse to provide items that result in a person’s death.

Assisted suicide is illegal in Arizona, though the conscience protection bill comes at a time when several other states have legalized the practice.

Posted: March 28, 2017, 6:02 am

Birmingham, Ala., Mar 27, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After 111 years of serving the community of Birmingham, Alabama, the city's only African American Catholic elementary school could close due to financial struggles.

Over its long history, Our Lady of Fatima has become an integral part of the community, serving students from all backgrounds: of its 64 children, 11 percent are Catholic, and 89 percent are non-Catholic.

“It's looked at as a community school,” the school's principal Al Logan told the Birmingham Times.

“Most of these children are neighborhood children and their parents are struggling to send them here for a Catholic education,” staff member Cynthia Pinkard noted, according to CBS WIAT.

Closing the school “would really hurt the neighborhood,” she said.  

Our Lady of Fatima is the oldest Catholic elementary school in Birmingham, serving students from pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade. The school is located in the Titusville area, and is also connected with Our Lady of Fatima parish in the Diocese of Birmingham.

“We've seen a decline in enrollment,” Logan said. “It's just because of the way our housing market went a few years ago. It all plays into that same arena. I don't think it has personally anything to do with Catholic or non-Catholic (schools); it just happens.”

Logan believes that the school can raise the necessary funds to keep the school open for at least another year. The school is asking for $150,000 in donations for the 2017-2018 academic year, which needs to be raised by August. The Diocese of Birmingham has chipped in over the years, but the school will need more to keep its doors open.

“I really think we will be able to keep it open,” Logan said, saying that they have already received donations from all across the country from places like Indiana and Florida.

“With the support of everyone who's interested in seeing a good, Catholic education be afforded to the kids, we'll find a way to keep the school open,” he added.

However, Our Lady of Fatima is not the only school on the chopping block. Across the country, private and Catholic schools in particular have faced financial trouble due to lower enrollment.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there has been a two percent enrollment decrease in private schools over the past 20 years for elementary or secondary students. Over 1,000 Catholic schools have also been forced to close or team up with other schools since 2006.

Looking to the future, Logan is hopeful that the school will receive the money necessary to keep the school open and asked for continued donations.

“We would like for the community to step up and to give us whatever they can donate, and likewise, anyone who would like to (donate) from any city or location in the country.”

Donations to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School can be received by phone at 205-251-8395 or through the mail at 630 1st Street S., Birmingham, AL, 35205.

Posted: March 28, 2017, 2:02 am
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