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'Unplanned' gets unexpected R rating

Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2019 / 05:11 pm (CNA).- The movie “Unplanned,” which tells the true story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s conversion into a pro-life activist, has been given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, a decision the directors fear could have been motivated by the pro-life message of the film.

The rating was announced Friday, Feb. 22.

"We had hoped that (the rating) would be different, but due to the political climate, and the fact that we're in Hollywood, it doesn't surprise us," co-director Chuck Konzelman told CNA.

Co-director Cary Solomon agreed, adding, “we’ve made a pro-life film in a pro-choice town. We’re very aware of that.”

By giving the film an a R-rating, Konzelman said that he believes the MPAA is inadvertently supporting the belief that “anything that has to do with abortion is an act of extreme violence.”

"Ironically, that's (also) our viewpoint," he said.  

In the United States, a film that is rated R by the MPAA is restricted to those over the age of 17 unless accompanied by a parent or another adult guardian. The MPAA said “Unplanned” earned the rating due to “some disturbing/bloody images.”

Solomon told CNA that he found it to be “absurd” that Unplanned was given an R-rating when several, far more violent, movies to be released later this year were given PG-13 ratings.

Despite the R-rating, “Unplanned”’s  directors told CNA that Christians should not worry about seeing the film alongside their children.

"For us, R means 'recommend.' Because the bottom line is that this is real life,” Solomon told CNA.

“It's time for Christians to come to the reality of the fact that (abortion) is going on. If a rating is going to keep them from even looking at this subject, then shame on us,” he added.

Konzelman agreed, and told CNA that there is no nudity or profanity in the film that would merit an R-rating.

“They're not even mentioning violence, other than the violence directly associated with the termination of an unborn human being. That's it. That's all that's in there," said Konzelman.

Unplanned is based on Johnson’s 2012 book of the same name. Johnson quit her job at Planned Parenthood in October of 2009, one year after being named employee of the year, after she had been asked to assist with a late-term abortion.

In the film, multiple scenes depicting an abortion clinic involve blood or post-abortive women. The directors told CNA that the MPAA objected in particular to a scene that depicts Johnson bleeding on a bathroom floor after taking an abortion pill.

The directors said they would not change that particular scene, or anything else in the film, as they felt it would be disrespectful to Johnson’s personal story.

“We're not going to change it. It's a true-life story. To change it just to appease the MPAA or a Hollywood entity is not going to happen. We told the true-life story of Abby Johnson, and these are the things that are happening,” said Konzelman.

Solomon told CNA that in real life, Johnson nearly bled to death in her bathroom after self-administering the second drug in an abortion drug protocol.

“For us to avoid that, for the sake of appeasing the MPAA, would make the story untrue,” said Solomon.

Even if the filmmakers sought to make changes to get a lower rating, it would be quite difficult as "(the MPAA) pretty much objected to everything, including black and white images of a sonogram,” said Konzelman.

To make any changes would require that the filmmakers “gut the entire movie,” which they said they did not want to do.

Johnson herself had two abortions prior to her ideological conversion. Since then, she has founded the organization “And Then There Were None,” which seeks to assist abortion industry workers with finding new jobs outside the industry. Since the group was founded, nearly 500 clinic workers have left the industry.

After Johnson left her job at Planned Parenthood, she converted to Catholicism. She and her husband are now expecting their eighth child.

“Unplanned” stars Ashley Bratcher as Abby Johnson. During filming, Bratcher discovered that her own mother had planned on having an abortion when she was pregnant with her, but changed her mind minutes before the procedure was to begin.

“Unplanned” was written and directed by Konzelman and Solomon, who also wrote “God’s Not Dead” and “God’s Not Dead 2.” The movie was partially funded by Michael Lindell, a born-again Christian and the founder of the company MyPillow.

“Unplanned” is the first-ever R-rated film distributed by PureFlix, and will be released in theaters nationwide on March 29.

 

Cardinal Cupich lays out framework for bishops' accountability

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Church needs to establish a new rules and standards for the accountability of bishops regarding sex abuse and its mishandling, the Archbishop of Chicago said Friday at the Vatican.

“We must move to establish robust laws and structures regarding the accountability of bishops precisely to supply with a new soul the institutional reality of the Church’s discipline on sexual abuse,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said Feb. 22.

In his speech at the Meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences on Safeguarding of Minors,  Cupich stated that the Church needs to assume the role of a loving mother to her children in working to end the sexual abuse crisis, and how acting in a synodal, collegiate manner will result in much good.

Cupich laid out what he believes will be an effective framework for his brother bishops, with an increased number of responsibilities for metropolitan archbishops, to ensure accountability in combating the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church.

“My aim is to offer a framework that is in keeping with our ecclesiological and canonical traditions in order to spark conversations among ourselves, knowing that there are differences in culture, civil and canonical laws and other factors that need to be considered,” said Cupich, who added that he felt as though “decisive action” needed to be taken “without delay.”

Cupich said he believes each episcopal conference, province, or diocese should “collegially establish” a standard for the investigation of a bishop for potential misconduct or cover-up, and that the process of creating these standards should involve both lay experts and the use of a metropolitan archbishop.

“All mechanisms for reporting allegations of abuse or mishandling of abuse cases against a bishop should be transparent and well-known to the faithful,” said Cupich, adding that a direct line of contact to report abuse allegations to either an apostolic nuncio or metropolitan should be established.

The cardinal said he thought it would be useful for episcopal conferences to adopt a set of procedural steps that would both mesh with the traditions of the Church, and also “fulfill modern needs” for the identification and investigation of misconduct by bishops.

These procedures and norms need to include compassion for those who report abuse and their families, which includes providing access to counseling and other support at the expense of the diocese, as well as all reports of offenses being made public. A person who reports abuse should not fear any sort of discrimination or retaliation for their report, said Cupich, and he suggested that “due attention” be given to the involvement of laypersons who are experts in the process.

The role of the metropolitan archbishop should be increased, suggested Cupich, and the metropolitan should be able to recommend “precautionary measures” to dioceses with accused bishops, and the metropolitan should be free to request an authorization from the Holy See to investigate an allegation of abuse against a bishop.

“After the metropolitan receives authorization, he should gather all relevant information expeditiously, in collaboration with lay experts, to ensure the professional and rapid execution of the investigation,” which Cupich advised should be concluded promptly. A common fund could be established at different levels in order to pay for these new investigation techniques, said Cupich.

After the investigation, Cupich said the metropolitan archbishop would forward all information gathered to the Holy See, where the pope would then proceed to make a final decision in the ensuing penal process.

These new frameworks will require “steadfast trust and openness in identifying with the aid of everyone in the Church, and with due regard for the diverse cultures and the universality of our Church.”

In order for these changes to happen, Cupich said, the bishops need to adopt what he termed a “synodal vision” that is “rooted in discernment, conversion and reform at every level.” The Church, he explained, has a sacred bond with her members, much like the bond between a parent and child.

“The Church must truly be Pieta; broken in suffering, consoling in enveloping love, constant in pointing to the divine tenderness of God amidst the pangs of desolation in those who have been crushed by clergy abuse.”

'Protect Life Rule' to strip Planned Parenthood of some federal funds

Washington D.C., Feb 22, 2019 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- After the Trump administration finalized new federal rules on Friday, by which abortion clinics will be ineligible to receive Title X Program funding. Planned Parenthood is expected to be stripped will be stripped of about $60 million in federal funds due to the rule change.

The finalized version of the “Protect Life Rule” was announced in a  Feb. 22 press release from the Department of Health and Human Services. Title X funding was not cut as a result of the new rules, which impact eligibility requirements.

“Today, the Trump administration took an imperative first step in the right direction by preventing Title X funds from being misused by those who promote and profit from abortion,” March for Life President Jeanne Mancini told CNA.

“Abortion is not healthcare, yet for decades the federal government has voluntarily supported abortion by subsidizing the industry with hundreds of millions of tax dollars every year,” Mancini said.

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

Among other provisions, the Protect Life Rule requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.  

Previous regulations, written during Bill Clinton’s presidency, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said the new rules move Title X closer to “its originally intended purpose--the provision of family planning services, not abortions.”

Smith said that Title X funding was “never” meant to promote abortion services.

“I am grateful that the Trump Administration has affirmed human life and dignity with this pro-child rule,” Smith said in a Feb. 22 statement.

President Donald Trump announced in May 2018 that his administration had proposed a rule that would block Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X funds.

“For decades, American taxpayers have been wrongfully forced to subsidize the abortion industry” through Title X funds, Trump told the crowd.

He said then that this new rule is “another promise” he had kept to the pro-life movement.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a Feb. 22 statement that she was thankful Trump took “decisive action to detangle taxpayers from the big abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood.”

Dannenfelser, like Smith, wrote that she felt as though Title X had strayed from its original intentions as a family planning program.

“The Title X program was not intended to be a slush fund for abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, which violently ends the lives of more than 332,000 unborn babies a year and receives almost $60 million a year in Title X taxpayer dollars. We thank President Trump and (HHS) Secretary Azar for ensuring that the Title X program is truly about funding family planning, not abortion.”

Planned Parenthood is still eligible for federal funds that are not part of Title X. Last year, Planned Parenthood received over $500 million in federal funding.

 

O'Malley defends 'zero tolerance' approach to abusive priests

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinals and clergy participating in the Vatican’s sex abuse summit expressed conflicting views on the use of the term “zero tolerance” Friday, with some claiming that “zero tolerance” is an American concept with a legalistic focus.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, one of the pope’s primary advisors on sexual abuse, said he knows that “there is a lot of resistance to using the terminology” of zero-tolerance at the summit because some believe it sounds “secular.” But, the cardinal insisted that the principle was “clearly articulated” by Pope St. John Paul II.

“There is no place in ministry for someone who harms a child and that has to be a line in the sand. That is something that is so important for all of us,” O’Malley said at a Vatican press conference Feb. 22.

Father Federico Lombardi, acting moderator at the Vatican sex abuse summit, told the press he does not use the term “zero tolerance” when he writes about the protection of minors because its definition is limited compared to what Vatican meeting has set out to accomplish.

“‘Zero tolerance’ … clearly refers to a very limited aspect of the problem we are confronting because the entire dimension of the pastoral care for victims, accompaniment, the selection of members of the clergy, prevention in parishes and in our activities, the definition of zero tolerance does not cover these aspects. It refers to one way of punitive action against criminals,” Lombardi said.

“This is very important fundamental part, but it is one part of the entire area of the protection of minors, which I think is much broader than ‘zero tolerance,’” he continued.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta supported the notion of “zero tolerance,” saying that “we cannot allow anyone in ministry” who might harm the young, but stated that “the prudential approach is not primarily a criminal approach -- I’m not going to remove someone from ministry to punish them, but to protect the flock.”

Scicluna added that “those who don’t like the notion of ‘zero tolerance’ … don’t know what this means.”

“This is a principle already stated very clearly by John Paul II in his 23 April 2002 and this is what is to fuel every decision from the prudential and pastoral standpoint. It has a fundamental principle if the person is removed to spend a life of prayer and repentance,” he said.

O’Malley explained that in the United States’ Dallas Charter for the Protection of Minors “the commitment was no one could continue in ministry after having harmed a child,” and that he would “advocate for that everywhere.”

Others focused on “zero tolerance” as “an American and Canadian” concept. Lombardi said at the press conference, “As Cardinal O’Malley says, to the Americans, the Canadians, it means something very specific. Anybody who has committed a serious offence they cannot remain in ministry, well I agree, but when I talk about protection of minors, I am talking about a lot of other things as well.”

While O’Malley advanced the idea of an application of the American model of protection of minors elsewhere, Cupich warned against becoming “imperialists” from “the United States or from the Western world” in dealing with different areas of the world that do “not have the experience of talking about these very intimate personal issues in a public way.”

In response  to a question about the difficulty of cultural diversity in the meeting of the world’s bishops, Cupich added that “this is what synodality is about -- it is walking together with each other, but also maybe learning from their experience and their own culture that there are some things that we could improve on given the richness of their own culture.”

The second day of the the Vatican abuse summit focused on the theme of “accountability,” which included discussion of “zero tolerance.”

Sex abuse victims on the sidelines of the Vatican summit have been calling for “zero tolerance” for sex abuse for both abuses and bishops who cover-up abuse. Some survivors’ organizations, such as Ending Clergy Abuse, specified that for them “zero-tolerance” meant “laicization” for such bishops and abuser priests.

O’Malley explained that within current U.S. protocols, the specific promise of “zero tolerance” is that abuser priests will be removed from ministry in all cases.

“The conclusion wasn’t automatically that they would be laicized...and that if they were elderly or sickly that they would have prayer or penance. And some religious communities thought it was better to maintain that person within the community to be able to monitor them for the safety of children,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley also said that he has been told that the Holy See’s investigation on the American church’s handling of abuser Theodore McCarrick will be released “in the not too distant future.”

Scicluna also expressed a desire to someday release statistics from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on clerical abuse, and said that he had already spoken with Cardinal Luis Ladaria about the matter.

O’Malley clarified that the 21 reflection points given out to bishops on the first day of the summit were a compilation of points submitted by the bishops. “It wasn’t coming from [Pope Francis] himself.

On day two of the submit, Pope Francis circulated the United Nations’ document on the rights of a child among the presidents of bishops conferences gathered for the meeting.

Cardinal O’Malley said “there is a moral obligation to share this information with the civil authorities for the safety of children. I think that the terrible crisis that we have experienced in the USA is precisely because for so long these crimes were not being reported so reporting to me is a big part of the way forward and for the protection of children.”

 

Victims of Liberia gold mine collapse receive prayers from pope

Gbarnga, Liberia, Feb 22, 2019 / 03:21 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis offered his condolences Thursday to those affected by a mudslide at a gold mine in Liberia earlier this month which has killed at least seven and trapped another 40.

“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life caused by a mudslide in Gbanipea, and he expresses his heartfelt solidarity with you and all those affected by this tragedy,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin Vatican Secretary of State, wrote in a Feb. 21 telegram to Bishop Anthony Borwah of Gbarnga.

A pit in an illegal gold mine near Tapeta, about 100 miles southeast of Gbarnga, caved in Feb. 10.

Other miners attempted to recover the trapped workers by using their bare hands to remove debris in an effort to rescue people without further harm. The workers did not have access to heavy machinery, but an excavator is reportedly being sent to the site.

The government delegated the police, army, and immigration agency officials to monitor the situation. Thousands of people, some of whom are migrants, are believed to work in the dangerous mine.

More than 60 miners were arrested, the BBC reported Feb. 17. Some of the people were armed and the situation was “lawless,” said Aubrey Wehye, Tapeta district superintendent.

Archievego Doe, a member of the disaster management agency, told the BBC that these miners had “resisted” the government’s effort to improve order.

In the statement, the Pope promised to pray for all involved, asking God to grant strength to the victim’s loved ones and emergency workers.   

“He prays for those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and the emergency personnel who assist the victims. Upon all the Holy Father invokes the divine blessings of strength and healing.”

Cardinal Gracias emphasizes collegiality to address sex abuse

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay called Friday for the “entire Church” to “act decisively to prevent abuse from occurring in the future and to do whatever possible to foster healing for victims.”

Calling the abuse suffered at the hands of those in the Church “a profound betrayal of trust,” he offered practical solutions mainly focused on fostering better communication on all levels of the Church’s hierarchy during a Feb. 22 speech at the Vatican.

“As serious as the direct abuse of children and vulnerable adults is, the indirect damage inflicted by those with directive responsibility within the Church can be worse by re-victimising those who have already suffered abuse,” the cardinal noted.

Gracias is one of the principal organizers of a Vatican summit taking place this week to address the sexual abuse of minors, which features the presidents of national bishops’ conferences worldwide.

Gracias himself admitted to the BBC Feb. 21 that he could have better handled sexual abuse allegations that were brought to him in the past, after several Indian victims of sexual abuse told the BBC that Gracias failed to respond quickly or offer support to victims.

Gracias said the way to address the crisis must involve the “regional, national, local-diocesan, and even parochial levels,” which all must work together to create binding measures and decisions. He noted a recent meeting of the bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example of the bishops of a nation coming together in a collegial manner to address national challenges.

“No bishop should say to himself, ‘I face these problems and challenges alone,’” Gracias underscored, speaking of the concepts of collegiality and synodality.

“Because we belong to the college of bishops in union with the Holy Father, we all share accountability and responsibility. Collegiality is an essential context for addressing wounds of abuse inflicted on victims and on the Church at large.”

Gracias cited a passage from Lumen gentium, the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution on the Church, which teaches that individual bishops are “obliged by Christ's institution and command to be solicitous for the whole Church.” He also noted that further development of “intercultural competences” and intercultural communication will help with effective decision making.

“The point is clear,” Gracias said.

“No bishop may say to himself, ‘This problem of abuse in the Church does not concern me, because things are different in my part of the world.’ We are each responsible for the whole Church. We hold accountability and responsibility together. We extend our concern beyond our local Church to embrace all the Churches with which we are in communion.”

Gracias pointed out that a culture of silence among bishops, unwilling to admit to mistakes and to engage other bishops in open conversation and point out “problematic behavior,” has contributed to the abuse crisis. He encouraged the cultivation of a culture of fraternal correction, where bishops are able to correct each other without offending the other, while also recognizing “criticism from a brother as an opportunity to better fulfil our tasks.”

He also called for better communication between bishops' conferences and Rome.

“We can always only take responsibility for something insofar as we are allowed to do so, and the more responsibility we are granted, the better we can serve our own flock,” he said.

Gracias highlighted three main themes for his brother bishops to reflect on: justice, healing, and pilgrimage.

“The sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable people not only breaks divine and ecclesiastical law, it is also public criminal behaviour,” he said.

“The Church does not only live in an isolated world of its own making...Those who are guilty of criminal behaviour are justly accountable to civil authority for that behaviour.”

Although the Church is not an agent of the state, he said, the Church recognises the legitimate authority of civil law and the state and cooperates with civil authorities to bring justice to survivors. This is only possible if bishops and local Churches can work together to build an appropriate relationship with the state.

Healing for victims requires “clear, transparent, and consistent communication” from the Church as well, Gracias said, beginning with “a respectful outreach and an honest acknowledgement of their pain and hurt.”

“Although this would seem to be obvious, it has not always been communicated,” he said.

“Ignoring or minimising what victims have experienced only exacerbates their pain and delays their healing. Within a collegial Church, we can summon each other to attentiveness and
compassion that enable us to make this outreach and acknowledgement.”

Once the hurt has been acknowledged, the Church can offer to help victims heal with the help of “professional counselling to support groups of peers” or other means, and can then implement measures to prevent abuse in the future.

“Our Holy Father has wisely and correctly said that abuse is a human problem. It is not, of course, limited to the Church. In fact, it is a pervasive and sad reality across all sectors of life. Out of this particularly challenging moment in the life of the Church, we – again in a collegial context – can draw on and develop resources which can be of great service to a larger world.”

Finally, the cardinal reflected on the pilgrim nature of the Church, noting that “we know that we have not yet arrived at our destination,” and “we are a community that is called to continuous repentance and continuous discernment.”

“We must repent – and do so together, collegially – because along the way we have failed. We need to seek pardon. We must also be in a process of continuous discernment. In other words, together or collegially, we need to watch, wait, observe, and discover the direction that God is giving us in the circumstances of our lives,” Gracias said.

The cardinal concluded by reminding his brother bishops that undertaking these tasks is not their mission alone, but that these actions “are the work of the Holy Spirit.”

“So, let the last word be Veni, Sancte Spiritus, veni,” he concluded.

Analysis: In spite of itself, Vatican abuse summit may still do some good

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2019 / 12:32 pm (CNA).- The Vatican’s abuse summit this week will not solve the problems plaguing the Catholic Church in the U.S.

In fact, it doesn’t aim to.

The summit was called by Pope Francis in September, shortly after he was accused of ignoring reports about the predatory behavior of disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

But from the beginning, Pope Francis and meeting organizers have been disinclined to include in the summit's schedule any discussion of the issues the Church in the U.S. faces.

Conference organizers, including Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, have insisted even this week that the summit will not discuss predatory homosexual behavior.
 
In a Feb. 22 press conference, Archbishop Charles Scicluna went so far as to acknowledge a reporter’s point that homosexual behavior in seminaries fosters a culture of cover-up, before he said, curtly, that “this has nothing to do with the sexual abuse of minors.”

Scicluna said this despite McCarrick’s coercion of both vulnerable seminarians and teenaged boys, and despite the fact that most clerical abuse of minors in the West has targeted post-pubescent boys.

In fact, the first reported victim of McCarrick was 16 and 17 at the time he was abused.

Is it possible to focus discussion so myopically and insistently on child sexual abuse as to ignore the idea that sexually abusing a 17-year-old might have something to do with sexual immorality among adults?

Will Catholics accept the presupposition that those who sexually abuse 17-year-olds have an entire different moral or psychological pathology than those who sexually abuse 18-year-olds, or who coerce them into the veneer of consent against the backdrop of an extraordinary power imbalance?

Those ideas, many Catholics will conclude, simply belie credibility.

The summit will also not discuss in-depth the need for mechanisms of accountability for negligent or malfeasant bishops, despite the fact that McCarrick’s behavior went unchecked even after it was reported multiple times, and the fact that several U.S. bishops now face charges of negligence or misconduct.

While Cupich gave a presentation on some approaches to procedural investigations, he presented only the plan that would vest investigative responsibility for bishops only in their archbishops, though lay experts, including the National Review Board in the U.S., have supported alternative proposals.

His address did not mention the potential for metropolitans to incur significant legal liability through the so-called “metropolitan model,” though this is a point of considerable importance with regard to the Church in the U.S.

Critics of the summit charge that the pope called this meeting mostly as a diversion from the accusations of negligence he’s faced personally, stemming from his handling of accused prelates in the U.S., South America, and Europe. The pope still faces questions about his handling of the cases of Chile’s Bishop Juan Barros, McCarrick, Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, whom Francis promoted despite evidence of serious sexual malfeasance, among others.

But even if the narrow focus of this meeting is intended to change the topic of global conversation, this week’s abuse summit can still do some real good for children around the world. There is a serious need for safeguarding policies in most of the developing world, and introducing them in the Church may catalyze their more widespread adoption.

But by design, the Vatican summit won’t answer the issues embroiling local churches in the U.S. And Catholics are especially frustrated because when U.S. bishops attempted to vote on a reform package in November, they were stopped by the Vatican, and advised to wait until after this week’s meeting. Now some bishops wonder what, exactly, they were supposed to be waiting for.

Real reform in the diocese of the U.S., it is becoming clear, will depend a great deal on local bishops making local changes in their local churches. Last month, the Archbishop of Baltimore announced a comprehensive whistleblower policy for his diocese, rather than wait for one to be introduced nationally. Other bishops can follow suit.

In response to the crisis, they can also develop more exacting local norms for screening seminary candidates, take up new approaches to leadership of their priests and lay employees, and they can commit to making themselves accountable to independent lay leaders.

The work of the Church continues in this country, even amid the crisis it faces. Catholic schools continue to educate millions of students, many of them poor. Catholic charities continue to serve the homeless, the undocumented, and the unseen. Catholic hospitals continue to treat the uninsured. And Catholic parishes continue striving to love the unloved- those whom Pope Francis says live on the “existential peripheries” of our society. The Church does all this in service to the Gospel it professes. But to continue to do so with credibility, the sexual abuse crisis must be addressed.

Neither the Vatican nor the national bishops’ conference has yet acted decisively to address the full scope of the crisis. And this week, the Vatican seems to have demonstrated key components of the crisis. But local bishops can, and without waiting for anyone else to act. Some have already begun that work, and the rest may soon be convinced to join them.

 

Little Rock diocese welcomes Roe-triggered abortion ban in Arkansas

Little Rock, Ark., Feb 22, 2019 / 11:03 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Little Rock has said that a law signed Tuesday banning abortion in Arkansas in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned is a step toward a future without the procedure.

“Act 180 is a welcome addition to the law in Arkansas and happily anticipates the day when our society can be free from the scourge of elective abortion on demand,” Catherine Phillips, diocesan respect life director, told CNA.

Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) signed Act 180 Feb. 19. The legislation had passed the Senate 29-6 earlier this month.  

The 1973 US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade found that a woman had the right to seek an abortion in the United States. If the Supreme Court decision is overturned, then the law would automatically ban abortions in Arkansas except in cases of medical emergencies.

Phillips said the law is important because it takes a pro-life stance, especially amid a push for pro-abortion protections in other states. She pointed to a January law in New York that decriminalized the procedure and stripped it of most safeguards.

“It is important in comparison with what has been done recently in states like New York. Regrettably, other states are passing laws to perpetuate and expand abortion, but Act 180 stakes out a national position that supports life,” she said.

“Act 180 affirms that Arkansas disagrees with the finding of Roe v. Wade and stands for the position that life begins at conception and should be protected from that moment.”

Arkansas is the fifth state to ban abortion in case Roe is overturned. Trigger bans are also in effect in Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Mississippi. Similar bills have been introduced in Kentucky and Tennessee, and legislators in Oklahoma have signalled their intent to do the same.

President Donald Trump has promised to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. Were Roe overturned, states would be again free to outlaw abortion, which has led to Republican-leading states acting to ban abortion in case Roe is overturned, and Democratic-leaning states, including Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Mexico, working to enshrine abortion protections.

Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the bench.

Before the Arkansas Senate’s Feb. 7 vote on the bill, its sponsor, Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, said the bill reflected the state’s pro-life intentions.

"The state of Arkansas is clearly a pro-life state and our citizens have spoken clearly time and time again that we should protect the lives of unborn babies," said Rapert, according to Arkansas Online.

Arkansas currently bans abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy. A bill has been introduced in the legislature to drop the limit to 18 weeks.

Women of Catholic Worker Movement on prayerful pilgrimage for abuse summit

Rome, Italy, Feb 22, 2019 / 05:02 am (CNA).- American women from the Catholic Worker Movement are in Rome this week to pray for the Vatican’s sexual abuse summit in emulation of Dorothy Day’s Roman pilgrimage to fast and pray for peace.

“We've all been very deeply grieved by the sex abuse crisis, and the crisis it has created for the entire Church,” Catholic Worker Movement leader Johanna Berrigan told CNA Feb. 21.

“It just dawned on us that this would be an important time to be in Rome, to bear witness to the suffering Church that we care deeply about and … we wanted to address ways for reform,” she said.

Through her involvement in the Catholic Worker Movement, a group dedicated to aiding and advocating for the poor, Berrigan co-founded the Catholic Worker Free Clinic for homeless and uninsured adults in Philadelphia in 1991 and opened another medical clinic in Haiti in 2005.

Berrigan, along with six other women, decided in November that they wanted to be in Rome as the summit was happening to pray and to give a voice to women, mothers, and lay people in the Vatican’s discussion of the issue.

“When we first heard about it, it was strictly bishops that were invited, we have since learned that there has been some lay involvement,” Berrigan explained.

Three of the nine official speakers at the Vatican sex abuse summit Feb. 21 - 24 are women, one of whom is a religious sister from Nigeria, Sister Veronica Openibo.

On the first day of the summit, the women were invited for a surprise visit to the US Embassy to the Holy See, where they met with Ambassador Callista Gingrich to discuss their perspective on the sex abuse crisis.

The seven Catholic Worker Movement women on pilgrimage meet each day to decide which historic churches they should visit to pray for the summit.

“We have an example in Dorothy Day, our foundress, who came to Rome in another significant point in the Church's history and she and a delegation of women came on pilgrimage to fast and pray for the Church to recognize 'conscientious objection,' and really calling for an end to nuclear weapons. So we have that in our history,” Berrigan said.

Dorothy Day, whose cause for canonization has been opened, founded the Catholic Worker Movement with Peter Maurin in 1933, starting soup kitchens, farm communities, and a Catholic newspaper. She dedicated her life to aiding and advocating for the poor and leading a life characterized by voluntary poverty and works of mercy.

During their time in Rome, the Catholic Worker Movement women attended a sex abuse survivors’ vigil sponsored by Ending Clergy Abuse Feb. 21 in solidarity with victims.

At the vigil, the women called for justice for survivors and an end to clericalism, as well as truth, reconciliation and healing for the entire Church.

“We care deeply about this Church, we are very, very grateful that Pope Francis has called this summit. It seems to be a step forward,” Berrigan said.

“The world is watching ... people of all faiths are watching to see what the outcome of [this summit] is going to be,” she said.

Vermont bishop: Abortion bill tests limits of human brokenness

Burlington, Vt., Feb 22, 2019 / 03:14 am (CNA).- With a bill to legalize abortion for any reason until birth advancing in Vermont, the local Catholic bishop has stressed that defending unborn babies is a matter of human rights.

“Do we really want to allow this? Do we really want to test the limits of where human brokenness can take us? Please God, no,” Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington said in a Feb. 15 statement.

Coyne cited his previous comments from January, saying the bill goes beyond Roe v. Wade and “does not recognize a viable life at any stage of pregnancy.”

“This bill will legalize infanticide. This is wrong,” he said.

The Vermont House of Representatives passed H. 57, called the “The Freedom of Choice Act,” on Feb. 21 by a vote of 106-36.

The bill had at least 90 co-sponsors in the House and has strong support in the state Senate. It claims to “safeguard the right to abortion” by ensuring it is not “denied, restricted, or infringed.” It bars the prosecution of “any individual” who performs or attempts to perform an abortion.

If it becomes law, the bill would strengthen the position of legal abortion in Vermont even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision Roe v. Wade and other precedents that mandate legal abortion nationwide.

Coyne said that advocates of the legislation claim that it will not be abused.

“But that is not what this bill says,” he added. “It says anyone has the right to kill her unborn child right up to the moment of birth, without any restriction or protection.”

While backers frame it as an issue of “women’s rights and healthcare,” he objected that the bill “allows abortions to be performed by non-physicians in non-medical settings” and “removes any rights or protections a woman might have in situations of coercion or malpractice.”

The legislation asserts that “every individual” has a fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization, that “every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or to have an abortion”, and that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.”

The bill would apply to all branches of the state government and municipal governments.

Arguing against the bill, Coyne said opposition to legal abortion is a matter of both religion and reason.

“The Catholic Church stands for the protection of all life from the moment of conception until natural death, and therefore opposes abortion in all instances,” said the bishop.
This is “not just a matter of faith,” but “an issue of human rights.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Ann Pugh, (D-South Burlington), said Wednesday night that legislation will “reinforce a woman’s right to reproductive health care freedom.”

“The most unrepresented person or thing in the world or here in Vermont is a viable fetus that has not yet been born,” said bill opponent Rep. Robert Bancroft, R-Westford, the news site WCAX reports. “But it feels pain, it feels love and, unfortunately, we don't regard it as anything until the day it is born.”

Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life, told the Washington Times that under the proposed law, notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell could not be prosecuted.

“Planned Parenthood says trust us, and everybody loves Planned Parenthood here. They’ve dominated the state for decades,” she said. “But they’re not thinking, or they don’t care, that somebody could just move here tomorrow and undercut Planned Parenthood for price and run a Gosnell-like clinic.”

In 2013 Gosnell was convicted of three first-degree murders of babies who were born alive at his Philadelphia abortion clinic, which was kept in an unsanitary state and had not been visited by a state regulator in years. One former employee said he saw his staff snip the necks of about 100 babies born alive.

Gosnell was also convicted of involuntary manslaughter for a patient at his facility, a mother who died of a drug overdose.

Eileen Sullivan, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said Gosnell “ran a criminal enterprise, not a health care facility.”

“His case makes clear that we must enforce the laws already in existence that protect access to safe and legal abortion,” she said, according to the Washington Times. Sullivan contended that abortion regulations “would limit patients’ options and lead them to seek treatment from criminals like Gosnell.”

A January 2011 grand jury report on the Gosnell case found that inspections of his clinic identified violations but never required corrections up through 1993. With the 1995 transition to a governor who supported legal abortion, the report said, “officials concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women’ seeking abortions.”

Other legislation strengthening legal abortion has passed in New York and Massachusetts. Such legislation is under consideration in the New Mexico legislature.