Browsing News Entries

Dairy farm to the episcopate: Stockton gets a new bishop

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2018 / 05:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday the Vatican announced that Bishop Myron Joseph Cotta, who grew up on a dairy farm and has until now served as Auxiliary bishop of Sacramento, has been tapped to take the reins in the Diocese of Stockton.

In a Jan. 23 communique, the Vatican announced that Cotta will be taking over for Bishop Stephen Blaire, who has passed the age of 75, the when bishops are traditionally required to retire.

Born March 21, 1953, in Dos Palos, Cali., Cotto grew up on a dairy farm in Merced County and attended public school, graduating from Dos Palos High, according to a biography on the Sacramento diocese's website.

After graduation, Cotta obtained an associate's degree from West Hills Junior College in 1973. He entered St. John's College Seminary in Camarillo in 1980 to finish his undergraduate studies. From there, he entered major seminary where he finished his theological education and received a Master's degree in Divinity.

He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Fresno in 1987. After his ordination, Cotta carried out several pastoral assignments, including St. Anthony parish in Atwater; the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Laton; and the Shrine of Our Lady of Miracles in Gustine.

In July 1999 he was named Vicar General for the diocese of Fresno, and since that time has also served in various capacities, such as Moderator of the Curia, Vicar for Clergy, Director of Continuing Education of the Clergy, supervisor of the Safe Environment Program and director of the office for the Propagation of the Faith.

Cotta was named “Chaplain to His Holiness” in 2002, and “Prelate of Honor” in 2009, receiving the title “Monsignor.”

He then served as diocesan administrator for Fresno from 2010-2012 after the passing of the late Bishop John Steinbock. In 2014 Cotta was named Auxiliary Bishop of Sacramento. He was ordained March 25, 2014.

Within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cotta also serves as part of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs. In addition to English, he also knows Spanish and Portuguese.

Belgian deacon on trial for murder

Bruges, Belgium, Jan 23, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Ivo Poppe, a 61-year old Catholic deacon in Belgium, went on trial this week under the suspicion of killing at least ten people, including multiple family members.

In 2014, Poppe was arrested after telling his psychiatrist that he had “euthanized” dozens of people, according to the BBC.

Based on the deacon’s diary, the death toll could exceed reach as high as 50.

Most of the alleged victims died from an injection of air into their bloodstream, causing fatal embolism. Among those who died were multiple relatives, including Poppe’s 89-year old mother, his two great-uncles, and his father-in-law. Poppe had claimed that his mother wanted to be euthanized, but her doctors denied that she had expressed any wishes to end her life.

Before he became a deacon, Poppe was a nurse and worked for 20 years at a clinic in the town of Menin.

Poppe, made two partial confessions during an investigation, saying that he killed “out of compassion, to spare the physical and mental suffering” of his victims, according to Expatica.

However, Poppe later withdrew his confessions and now denies  the murder charges against him.

Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, head of the Poppe’s diocese during the killings, offered the church’s full cooperation in the investigation, saying he was “stunned” by the accusations, Expatica reported.

Officials from the diocese will testify at Poppe’s trial, along with other witnesses, relatives, and psychiatrists.

The trial, which started on Monday in the northwest city of Bruges, is expected to last two weeks. If convicted, Poppe would be considered the most prolific serial killer in Belgian history.

 

Damascus bombing kills 9 in Christian districts

Damascus, Syria, Jan 22, 2018 / 06:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An estimated nine people were killed in a bombing on Monday afternoon in Damascus. The shelling targeted the Bab Touma and al-Shaghour districts, which are historically Christian areas, and several churches were damaged as well.

At least 18 additional people in Old Damascus were injured in the bombings.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.

A bomb reportedly caused “severe damage” to the Maronite cathedral in Damascus. According to Archbishop Samir Nassar, the bomb also knocked out water and electricity.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">From Archbishop Samir of Damascus &quot; Another bomb hit the Archdiocesan complex which includes the Cathedral at 14h today January 22nd . There is severe damage . We are without water and electricity. <br>3 bombs not far from here have claimed 15 victims.<br>We pray to the Lord.&quot; <a href="https://twitter.com/acn_uk?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@acn_uk</a></p>&mdash; Edmund Adamus (@EdmundPAdamus) <a href="https://twitter.com/EdmundPAdamus/status/955450206018994176?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 22, 2018</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">BREAKING NEWS: Another bomb hit the Maronite Archdiocesan buildings in Damascus, Syria today, 22 January at 14:00 - damage is severe. 3 bombs close by claimed 15 victims. Please pray for them <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Prayforus?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Prayforus</a></p>&mdash; Aid to the Church (@acn_uk) <a href="https://twitter.com/acn_uk/status/955464058970558465?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 22, 2018</a></blockquote>
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This is not Archbishop Samir’s first brush with death this month: a bomb hit his bedroom Jan. 8. He survived unscathed due to an extremely well-timed trip to the bathroom before the bombing began.

The Maronites are an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with Rome. There are about 3 million Maronites in the world. Although the church originated in the Levant, there are now significant Maronite populations in Brazil, Argentina, and the United States. The Maronites have faced persecution throughout their history.

The Syrian civil war began nearly seven years ago, in March 2011. More than 400,000 people have been killed. At least 4.8 million have become refugees, and another 8 million have been internally displaced.

What began as demonstrations against the nation's president, Bashar al-Assad, has become a complex fight among the Syrian regime; moderate rebels; Kurds; and Islamists such as Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State.

OneLife LA event an opportunity to celebrate life, face culture of death

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2018 / 05:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Thousands gathered in Los Angeles on Saturday for a rally and march supporting the dignity of every human life and proclaiming that every human person is “made for greater.”

“God made a decision to make each one of you. He decided to make you, to make me. This is how special we are to him,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez in his homily during the Requiem Mass for the Unborn, which concluded the Jan. 20 OneLife LA event.

“[God] comes to us to proclaim the Gospel of Life,” he said. “We are called to announce this good news to every person that we are made for greater things,” he said, citing the event’s theme, “Made for Greater.”

Archbishop Gomez told CNA that the event was created four years ago. The archbishop said he saw the need for both an annual celebration of life and an opportunity to address the challenges in the culture of death, such as abortion and assisted suicide.

The day began with a youth rally at 11 a.m., where young people from Southern California gathered at La Placita Olvera.

There, bands led the crowd in praise and worship, and Daniel Rangel-Santos, executive board vice president of the USC Caruso Catholic Center, shared the story of how his parents were advised to abort him when doctors discovered a likely birth defect.

“Immediately, my parents strongly refused to have the abortion. For them, despite their financially humble situation at the time, a birth defect was neither an issue nor an excuse for an abortion. They loved me and they wanted to meet the new son God sent them,” he told CNA.

Shortly after noon, dozens of students, families, seminarians, clergy, and religious made their way to the Los Angeles State Historic Park, chanting along the way, “We are the pro-life generation” and “OneLife LA.”

Karen Gaffney, worldwide pro-life speaker and the first person with Down syndrome to ever swim the 21-mile stretch of the English Channel, was the keynote speaker at the event. She decried the abortion industry’s effort to target babies with Down syndrome, saying, “They want to screen us out.”

However, she also expressed gratitude for the steps taken by schools, businesses, and individuals to work toward greater inclusion for people with Down syndrome.

“We are musicians and artists, actors and fashion models, we own black belts in Taekwondo. And some of us have even escaped from Alcatraz … 15 times,” she said jokingly, referring to her own accomplishments of crossing the San Francisco bay 15 times.

Gaffney encouraged the crowd to take the time to learn more about Down syndrome.

Also in attendance was Bishop W.C. Martin, pastor at Bennet Chapel Baptist Church who has helped members of his parish adopt 76 children; Jose Arellano who aids Homeboy Ministries, which helps teens escape gang violence; and Patricia Heaton, pro-life advocate and star in ABC’s Sitcom “The Middle.”

“I love the fact that so many of these diverse groups can all get together and support each other… I think that’s also the other important thing – to look around and see how much support there is from all kinds of people – everybody has a stake in this,” said Heaton.

The day concluded with Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Some After the liturgy, 180 candles were lit and processed to the base of the altar in memory of the 180 unborn lives aborted that day in Southern California alone.

For many OneLife LA attendees, the march is just one way to witness to the dignity of life all year round.

Father Alan Benander, a Norbertine priest prays for the unborn at every Mass he celebrates. He is also the Right to Life Moderator at St. Michael’s Preparatory School in Silverado, California, where he is also a teacher and coach.

When Fr. Benander leads his students on pro-life outings, he reassures them of the power of prayer and fasting.

“On this trip I took 20 students, and I said, ‘We are going to pray for an end to abortion, and we might not be able to stop every abortion from happening … but pray for one particular girl right now who is thinking of killing her unborn child,’” he told CNA.

In addition to prayer, Father Benander said Catholics should aim to educate themselves more thoroughly, so that they can be sources of catechesis for those who support abortion.

Rangel-Santos, from the USC Caruso Catholic Center, agreed. He told CNA that he worked to support “The Real Sex Week” at the USC, where he is a senior. As part of the initiative, he spoke to students at the secular college about “the effects of pornography, developing healthy relationships, resources for reproductive health, support for victims of sexual assault, self-defense classes, and the effects of sex in the media.”

In addition to advocating and praying for an end to abortion, march participants also focused on end-of-life care. California legalized assisted suicide in a high profile bill in 2016.

Sister Isabella, a Carmelite of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus of Los Angeles, has spent the last seven years caring for the elderly in the area. Those she works with often face suffering and depression, but Sister Isabella said the answer is not in handing them pills that will kill them.

“We are God’s hands and feet in this world, and we have to say yes to the love,” she told CNA. She recalled how an elderly man once told her, “When you all are near, the suffering doesn’t matter anymore, because the love is greater.”

“That’s what we have to do when someone is suffering. It’s a call for help, it’s a call to love to a greater degree, and if we don’t listen to that call, our brothers and sisters…won’t feel God’s love for them.”

March for Life in Paris draws 40,000 despite heavy rain

Paris, France, Jan 22, 2018 / 04:51 pm (ACI Prensa).- Heavy rains did not deter huge crowds from gathering in the streets of Paris for the city’s March for Life on Sunday.

Organizers estimated that about 40,000 people showed up for the march, which had as its theme, “From darkness to light.”

Despite the heavy rain, the marchers completed the entire route. The march lasted about four hours, starting from Porte Dauphine and ending in the Trocadero esplanade, in downtown Paris.

A minute of silence was held during the march for those who have lost their lives to abortion.

More than 200,000 abortions are performed each year in France, according to government statistics.

March for Life spokesman Emil Dupont told CNA’s Spanish-language sister agency ACI Prensa that “it is important to break the silence and speak about the consequences of abortion, which no one want to say anything about. So we've got to do it.”

“It is very important to work together for life,” he stressed. 

Ana del Pino, the European coordinator of the OneOfUs Federation, agreed, emphasizing the need for unity and cooperation among all the European pro-life groups “to present a common front in defense of motherhood, the family and life.” 

In addition to protection for the unborn, this year the March for Life placed special emphasis on end-of-life issues.

Although active assisted suicide is illegal in France, a bill passed in January 2016 allows for “terminal sedation.” For those who are determined to be near death, the law permits “heavy and continuous sedation,” administered until the patient dies either from the illness or starvation. 

In addition to the tens of thousands of French who took to the streets to demonstrate for life, several pro-life groups from Holland, Spain, Germany, Italy and Portugal also joined in the march.

Pablo Siegrist from the Jerome Lejeune Foundation in Spain told ACI Prensa that his group participated in this demonstration in France because the laws on surrogate motherhood, abortion and euthanasia have “a clear crisscross effect between countries, and that's why we believe we have a much more encompassing goal to offer, which is to defend everyone's life.

“We believe that life is a treasure regardless of the physical or mental abilities a person may have and that everyone has a lot of contribute. We stand up for everyone, no matter what their situation is,” Siegrist stressed. 

Alvaro Ortega, president of the Spanish +Life Foundation, one of the numerous groups of young people attending the March for Life, said the reason they came was because “we believe it is absolutely necessary to defend the most innocent and defenseless which is the child who has been conceived but not yet born.”

Ortega also stressed the importance of an international presence in demonstrations such as this one because issues like abortion and euthanasia “come from an agenda organized on the international level, and so the response has to also be international.”

Analysis: Did Cardinal O’Malley open a door to papal criticism from US bishops?

Denver, Colo., Jan 22, 2018 / 04:37 pm (CNA).- It is no secret that the pontificate of Pope Francis has been a challenge for Church leaders to navigate, and the bishops of the United States are no exception.  A man often called the Pope of surprises, who has encouraged Catholics to “make a mess,” the pontiff’s spontaneity, new approaches, and willingness to rebuff traditional consultative mechanisms has, more than once, seemed to catch American bishops off-guard.

But for the most part, America’s church leaders have been careful to emphasize their unity with Pope Francis. The bishops have mostly expressed strong public support for Francis, even while offering widely differing takes on the meaning of his teachings, especially regarding the interpretation of the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.  

Although some sitting American bishops have privately expressed reservations about the Pope’s leadership, none had deemed it appropriate to publicly correct the Pope.

Ecclesiastical culture emphasizes fraternity, harmony, and the appearance of getting along, and the American bishops have seemed to stress those values during the Francis pontificate.
 
In 2013, Archbishop Charles Chaput told a reporter, “I’ve never been critical of the Holy Father and would never speak ill of him.” That sentiment might have been considered a universal commitment among America’s bishops.

At least until this weekend, when Cardinal Sean O’Malley issued a strong criticism of some recent comments from Pope Francis.

The criticism was a response to remarks Pope Francis made about a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros, who is accused of covering up acts of sexual abuse for his one-time friend, the disgraced Fr. Fernando Karadima. Barros has claimed to be innocent, and Francis has been a staunch defender. In 2015, he appointed him to lead the Diocese of Osorno, and shortly thereafter, he told an official at the Chilean bishops’ conference that opposition to the appointment was “silliness.”

“Think with your head, and do not be carried away by the noses of the leftists, who are the ones who put this thing together,” the Pope told Deacon Jaime Coiro during a brief meeting in May 2015 at the Vatican.

Karadima was a prominent figure in Chile, and many Chileans have been critical of the Vatican for the handling of his case. Although he was found guilty of sexual abuse by a Vatican tribunal, he was not laicized because of his advanced age. Before Francis arrived in Chile, there were large protests in the country, and several churches were vandalized. The matter of Barros’ appointment was a part of the conversation.   

On Friday, Francis told a reporter “the day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

Francis may have meant otherwise, and Barros’ situation is complicated, but the Pope was largely understood to be accusing Barros’ accusers, some of whom are Karadima’s victims, of calumny-- slander or detraction.  

For many, this was a bridge too far.

O’Malley’s statement called the Pope’s remarks a “source of great pain” for abuse survivors.  

“Words that convey the message ‘if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed’ abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile,” O’Malley’s statement read.

On his return flight from South America yesterday, the Pope apologized for his remarks, and tried to clarify them, while continuing to express support for Barros.

O’Malley’s statement praised the Pope’s support for abuse survivors, and it can hardly be called “speaking ill” of Francis. But it was certainly a direct criticism of his comments.
 
It is not surprising O’Malley was unhappy with the Pope’s remarks. O’Malley took over the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003, after the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, who was widely reported to have been negligent in his response to allegations of sexual abuse among the clergy. Boston was the epicenter of the “Long Lent of 2002,” which began the sexual abuse scandal in the United States, and O’Malley, arriving in the midst of the fervor, bore the brunt.

By many accounts, O’Malley handled that responsibility admirably. He met with victims, engaged in complicated litigation, dealt with canonical and civil trials of priests, and, to his chagrin, oversaw the closure of some Boston parishes.

He became, in many respects, the face of the American Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

But O’Malley was not alone. Since 2002, the leaders of the Catholic Church have worked, with a great deal of actual unity, to ensure safe Catholic environments for children and vulnerable adults. The 2002 documents guiding that work have led bishops to establish lay-led review boards, to implement background checks and abuse-prevention trainings, and to establish offices for child protection in their dioceses.

While some bishops have expressed concern about “mission creep” among child protection professionals, or advocated for a stronger stated correlation between homosexuality and some acts of sexual abuse, the bishops have been unified in recognizing a problem, and working to root it out.

Most American bishops have had the difficult experience of meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse, and apologizing for their suffering.

The issue has not been characterized by ideological division. The current chairman of the bishops’ committee on child and youth protection, Bishop Ed Burns of Dallas, is widely perceived to be hard-working, non-political, and collaborative. Most observers would say that those adjectives describe the character of the bishops’ approach to child-protection.

And, for the most part, their efforts have had effect. Sexual abuse prevention policies have largely worked to screen potential predators from among the clergy, and the Church in the US has begun to rebuild its credibility on the issue of sexual abuse.

O’Malley’s statement emphasized the Church’s concern for victims of sexual abuse, and its commitment to safe environments. While his concern for Karadima’s victims rang true, the statement may have also been motivated by a concern that the Pope’s remarks would be a step backward for the public credibility of the Church in the US, which has taken many painful steps in order to move forward.

Given the difficult work American bishops have done to address sexual abuse, it makes sense that O’Malley offered a response to the Pope.  But his statement was certainly outside the norm for American bishops in the modern era.

In the Church’s long history, criticism from bishops aimed at the Pope is not uncommon.  But contemporary critique from American bishops is usually far less direct and far more veiled than O’Malley’s statement. His statement may prove exceptional: a singular correction on a unique issue. Or it may have pave the way for other kinds of statements.

O’Malley’s concern was likely shared by other American bishops, but, since Pope Francis has apologized, it seems unlikely that there will be more statements from American bishops on this issue.

But other significant issues are looming.

This year, the Pope will lead a synod on vocations and young people, where some expect that clerical celibacy may be an issue for discussion. And during this year, the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, some predict debate on the encyclical’s interpretation.

Humanae Vitae, especially, is an issue that the bishops of the United States have stressed over the past few decades. Several American bishops have long-standing affiliation with natural family planning apostolates, and, especially since the 2012 HHS mandate, the USCCB itself has invested in a pastoral emphasis on the teachings of Humanae Vitae.  If there was any perception that those teachings were at risk of being de-emphasized, American bishops might view that as a bridge too far, as O’Malley did in this case.

And, given the work the bishops have done to promote priestly vocations over the past twenty years, they could be similarly concerned if they felt that Rome might give conflicting signals about clerical celibacy.

The American bishops might stick to their emphasis on unity and fraternity. But, with difficult conversations on the horizon, and with O’Malley setting a new precedent, it’s possible that other bishops might feel empowered to offer more direct criticism, if they felt it was needed.

On those issues, of course, it is not clear whether the Pope would respond to criticism with a mid-flight apology.  

Commentary: Respect is pro-life

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2018 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- Last week, I attended the national March for Life in Washington, D.C. I have attended the march on several occasions before, and it is always a beautiful and encouraging experience.

But unfortunately, I also witnessed something at this year’s march that was discouraging. As marchers arrive at the Supreme Court – the end of the march route – they usually encounter a few dozen counter-protesters, waving signs and chanting slogans in support of abortion under the guise of women’s “freedom” and “choice.”

This year, however, there were also a few demonstrators waving signs about immigration: With Congress in a stalemate over DACA and the threat of government shutdown looming just hours away, the immigration issue was in the spotlight in Washington that day.

I didn’t hear what the people with the immigration signs said to the marchers. But suddenly, a whole group of pro-life marchers started chanting, in unison, “Build that wall! Build that wall!”

This is wrong. Whatever one’s views on immigration, it is a matter of basic courtesy to maintain respect and courtesy when discussing an issue. DACA is not just a heated political topic. It is a policy question with human consequences: family members facing separation and young adults whose entire lives may be uprooted. Uncertainty causes real suffering for hundreds of thousands of people impacted by DACA. The “Build that wall” chant tossed out so casually by the pro-life marchers did not express a coherent argument or invite reasoned debate. All it did was harm.

There are several issues being debated within the pro-life movement. One is how to respond to the inconsistencies of President Trump. Another is which social initiatives and political policies will best achieve the goals of the pro-life movement. Still another is the question of whether abortion is the sole issue under the pro-life banner, or whether other issues – the death penalty, for example – fall under the same umbrella.

People of good will may debate and strongly disagree on these questions. What’s not up for debate, however, is the necessity of respect for other people, no matter who they are, and what they think. Taunting people at a march themed “Love Saves Lives” discredits pro-life claims about the dignity of every human person.

Shortly before the march began, I talked to Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. Now 45 years after the Supreme Court mandated legal abortion nationwide, I asked him if he is hopeful about the future of the pro-life movement. He said that he is hopeful, first and foremost, because the pro-life movement is joyful. Because of this joy, he said, the pro-life movement is growing.

My own experience supports Archbishop Lori’s observations. The pro-life movement is a joyful movement, and people take notice. One young woman at this year’s march shared with a CNA reporter that her mom had considered abortion while pregnant with her, after being kicked out of her home and lacking support from family. It was the support and joyful witness of pro-lifers that led her to reconsider and choose life for her daughter, who is now active in the pro-life movement in Canada.

This is the pro-life movement at its best: joyful, supportive, full of hope. And it is a standard that must not be compromised. When individuals wearing pro-life t-shirts shout antagonistic, vitriolic comments at anyone, they do a disservice to the cause they profess to care about so deeply.

 

Roe anniversary observed as National Sanctity of Human Life Day

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2018 / 03:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- US President Donald Trump has proclaimed that Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion nationwide, is being observed as National Sanctity of Human Life Day.

“Today, we focus our attention on the love and protection each person, born and unborn, deserves regardless of disability, gender, appearance, or ethnicity,” began the president’s proclamation issued Jan. 19, the same day he spoke to March for Life participants via live video.

“This is why we observe National Sanctity of Human Life Day: to affirm the truth that all life is sacred, that every person has inherent dignity and worth, and that no class of people should ever be discarded as ‘non-human,’” the President Trump explained in the proclamation.

The statement calls on Americans to recognize the human dignity of the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, the addicted, the mentally ill, single moms, orphan and foster children, pregnant mothers, and their unborn children. It also commends those who volunteer to assist pregnant mothers and legislators who work towards legal restrictions on abortion.

In the proclamation, the president explicitly highlights “the humanity of the unborn,” citing medical advances that make possible operations on babies in utero and images that “present us with irrefutable evidence that babies are growing within their mothers’ wombs – precious, unique lives, each deserving a future filled with promise and hope.”

On Jan. 19, the White House also released a separate document with information related to the Trump administration’s commitment to the protection of life, stating: “President Trump has expressed strong support for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would stop late-term abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, when science tells us that an unborn child can experience pain.”

The U.S. is one of seven countries globally that permits elective abortions after 20 weeks. The other countries are Canada, China, the Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The White House document cites a study by the Charlotte Lozier Institute that “taxpayer funding subsidizes 900 health care plans that cover abortions” in the U.S.

The Catholic Church has long held the sanctity of each human person as the foundation upon which stand her social teachings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church roots the dignity of the human person in humanity’s creation in the image of God with the powers of intellect and the will: “Endowed with ‘a spiritual and immortal’ soul, The human person is ‘the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.’ From his conception, he is destined for eternal beatitude.”

Mexico City Policy ensures US funds won't force 'abortion ideology,' backers say

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- One year ago, President Trump reinstituted and expanded the Mexico City Policy, widening a ban on funding for NGOs that are involved in abortion—a ban that could shift tens of millions of dollars away from groups like the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Backers and foes of the policy have voiced their views on the Trump administration’s expanded limitations on grants to international organizations promoting or providing abortion.

Greg Schleppenbach, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA the policy is needed “because the agenda of many organizations receiving U.S. population aid has been to promote abortion as an integral part of family planning – even in developing nations where abortion is against the law.”
 
“Abortion proponents assert that this policy is nothing more than powerful U.S. politicians forcing their policies on poor nations. But, frankly, the opposite is true,” Schleppenbach said, adding that the the policy “ensures that NGOs, as grantees of U.S. funds, will not themselves force their abortion ideology on countries without permissive abortion laws.”
 
The Reagan-era Mexico City Policy takes its name from the location of the 1984 United Nations conference on population and development, where the funding ban was announced. The policy was repealed by Bill Clinton in 1993, reinstated by George W. Bush in 2001, repealed by Barack Obama in 2009, and again reinstated by President Donald Trump when he took office.
 
President Trump, who had not promised to implement the Mexico City Policy during his campaign, signed the executive order on Jan. 23, 2017. He instructed the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to expand the Mexico City Policy, now called “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” because of its increased scope. When fully implemented, it would apply to over $8.8 billion in foreign aid for global health assistance. By comparison, the previous version of the policy affected $600 million in U.S. aid for family planning programs.
 
Foes of the policy characterize it as a “gag rule.”
 
In January 2017, before the policy’s expansion, a spokesperson for International Planned Parenthood Federation said the organization could lose $100 million in annual funding for its non-abortion services. On Thursday Marie Stopes International, a U.K.-based abortion and contraceptive services provider, has estimated its own funding shortfall at $80 million, about 17 percent of its income from donations.
 
“Unless we can fill the $80 million gap created by the global gag rule, it will deprive millions of women of the contraception they need to prevent an unintended pregnancy, and it is the world’s poorest women and girls who will bear the brunt,” said Marjorie Newman-Williams, Marie Stopes’ vice president and director of external affairs.
 
Marie Stopes claimed the lost resources would result in 2.5 million unintended pregnancies, 870,000 unsafe abortions, and 6,900 maternal deaths.
 
The new policy could affect 1,275 foreign NGOs and about $2.2 billion in global health funding, the Kaiser Family Foundation has said.
 
Schleppenbach, however, said critics made “the same dire predictions” about widespread harm to global health care services in 2001 when President George W. Bush reinstated the policy. He thought such claims were “dishonest and sad.”

Past experience with the policy “provides little to no credible evidence to support claims that the policy will lead to dramatic adverse health consequences,” Schleppenbach said.
 
“The vast majority of Americans reject abortion as healthcare and do not want their tax dollars used for programs that promote or provide abortion as a method of family planning,” said Schleppenbach. He said the expanded policy aligns foreign aid with Americans’ views, and with other laws limiting funding for abortion and abortion providers, like the Helms Amendment and like the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which bars funding for organizations determined to be involved in coercive abortion or sterilization.
 
The NGO Human Rights Watch has advocated congressional action as a long-term strategy to provide “stability” to U.S. global health assistance.
 
“It is disruptive and counterproductive to the global health community to have the U.S. policy on foreign assistance change dramatically from one presidential administration to the next,” the NGO said in June 2017.
 
The organization advocated passage of the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act, whose shortened name is the Global HER Act, which would permanently revoke the policy. Other backers of this legislation include Amnesty International.
 
Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the Susan B. Anthony List’s research arm, also backed the Trump administration’s policy, saying it “reflects the wishes of the American people who time and again have indicated they do not want their tax dollars used to provide abortions either domestically or overseas.”
 
He said that because some nations increase their funding for such programs when U.S. funding is cut, it is difficult to know how many millions of dollars are used for such campaigns.
 
The She Decides NGO was launched by the Dutch government to encourage donors to replace the funding cut by the Mexico City Policy. About $450 million has been raised from country donors, especially European governments, and private donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In July, Melinda Gates announced the foundation would boost family planning funding by 60 percent, another $375 million over the next four years, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.
 
Lilianne Ploumen, former Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation for the Netherlands, founded She Decides. Ploumen was the focus of controversy upon news that she had been awarded the Order of St. Gregory the Great. The honor was later described by a Holy See press officer as simply a matter of protocol during a visit of the Dutch royal family, not an endorsement of Ploumen’s abortion views.
 
The pushback against the Mexico City Policy itself has funders, including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Two $1 million grants from each foundation aim to track the policy’s effects in Kenya and Nepal through a research project based at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
 
The Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at the school announced the research project and the grants which funded it Nov. 29, 2017, while the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute reported on the grants in December.
 
Another $500,000, four-year grant from the Hewlett Foundation to the Guttmacher Institute backs a “large-scale, multi-country study” on the Mexico City Policy’s impact on “sexual and reproductive health funding, services, and outcomes” in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Uganda.
 
“Research findings will be useful for advocacy,” the foundation’s Oct. 6, 2017 grant listing said.
 
Since 2001, the Hewlett Foundation has given several million dollars to the Guttmacher Institute both for general support and support for various domestic and international projects, grant listings indicate.
 
The foundation is a major supporter of Planned Parenthood, giving tens of millions to the abortion provider’s local, U.S., and international affiliates. A 2015 grant listing from the Open Society Foundations indicated the Hewlett Foundation was a partner in a multi-million dollar campaign responding to investigations that appeared to implicate the abortion provider in the illegal procurement and sale of unborn baby parts and fetal tissue.
 

 

Scholars decode one of the last fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Haifa, Israel, Jan 22, 2018 / 12:35 pm (CNA).- The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are among the oldest extant biblical manuscripts, have been a topic of interest since they were discovered in the Qumran Caves in the West Bank beginning in 1946.

More recently, Israeli scholars have pieced together some of the last fragments of the ancient documents, revealing new information about the scrolls.

Dr. Eshbal Ratson and Professor Jonathan Ben-Dov of Haifa University decoded 60 previously unread fragments over the course of a year to discover a festival marking each changing season which was celebrated by the Jews. The researchers also found the name for the festival: the Hebrew word “tekufah,” meaning “period.”

These fragments, some of which were smaller than a centimeter, identified the seasonal celebrations, which included the festivals of New Wheat, New Wine, and New Oil, which are linked to the Jewish festival of Shavuot. These celebrations were based on the 364-day Jewish calendar.

Additionally, the researchers found that a second scribe made additional notes on the scroll, correcting some mistakes and omissions made by the original author. According to Ratzon, these notes made it easier for them to decode the ancient scrolls.

“What’s nice is that these comments were hints that helped me figure out the puzzle – they showed me how to assemble the scroll,” said Ratzon, according to the BBC.

While it is not known who penned the ancient texts, some have attributed them to the Essenes – a Jewish sect who lived in the desert. The scrolls, around 900 in number, contain Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic writing, and are thought to date to between 300 BC and AD 100.

According to The Telegraph, a statement from Haifa University said that both Ratson and Ben-Dov have moved on to decoding the last remaining scroll.