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As Ireland examines mistreatment of unwed mothers, Catholic bishops apologize for 'abject failure'

CNA Staff, Jan 16, 2021 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- Catholic bishops have welcomed an Irish government report on 20th century homes for unmarried mothers and babies run by local governments and often operated by religious orders. They have apologized for the harsh treatment of unmarried mothers and their children, calling this a betrayal of Christ.

“Although it may be distressing, it is important that all of us spend time in the coming days reflecting on this report which touches on the personal story and experience of many families in Ireland,” Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said Jan. 12.

“The commission’s report helps to further open to the light what was for many years a hidden part of our shared history and it exposes the culture of isolation, secrecy and social ostracizing which faced ‘unmarried mothers’ and their children in this country.”

He urged continued outreach to those whose personal testimony was central to the report.

“We owe it to them to take time to study and reflect on the findings and recommendations of the Report, and commit to doing what we can to help and support them,” he said. “We must identify, accept and respond to the broader issues which the report raises about our past, present and future.”

The Irish Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes released its report Jan. 12. The six-year inquiry concerned 14 “mother and baby” homes and four “county homes” in the time period of 1922 to 1998. The report examines individual homes and individual witness testimonies as well as providing historical context for the actions of the women, their babies’ fathers, their families, government officials, and religious leaders involved.

“Women who gave birth outside of marriage were subject to particularly harsh treatment. Responsibility for that harsh treatment rests mainly with the fathers of their children and their own immediate families,” said the report. “It was supported by, contributed to, and condoned by, the institutions of the State and the Churches.”

“However, it must be acknowledged that the institutions under investigation provided a refuge – a harsh refuge in some cases – when the families provided no refuge at all,” it added.

About 56,000 women and girls, as young as 12 or in their forties, were sent to these institutions. The county homes were government-run and -operated, while the mother and baby homes were generally run with government support by Catholic religious religious orders, technically under the authority of their local bishop.

About 57,000 babies were born in the homes over this 76-year period. There was a significant mortality rate, with 15 percent of babies dying before they left the homes. The high mortality rate was known to authorities and recorded, but there was no outcry and little effort to address these problems. The commission report said the high infant mortality rate was the institutions’ most “disquieting feature.” Before 1960, the institutions appeared to have “significantly reduced” survival prospects.

Some county homes had “appalling physical conditions,” as did the homes at Tuam, in County Galway, and Kilrush, in County Clare. Other homes were “considerably better.”
While poor living conditions were common in Ireland, poor sanitary conditions in the group homes had “much more serious consequences.” There was oversight and inspection reports were critical of conditions, but maximum capacity figures were not set for mother and baby homes until the 1940s. These figures were not enforced, because they would have massively reduced the homes’ capacity.

Archbishop Martin welcomed the report, saying, “as a Church leader today, I accept that the Church was clearly part of that culture in which people were frequently stigmatized, judged and rejected.” He “unreservedly apologized” to the survivors and all impacted for the enduring hurt and emotional distress.

“As Church, State and wider society we must ensure together that, in the Ireland of today, all children and their mothers feel wanted, welcomed and loved,” Archbishop Martin said. We must also continue to ask ourselves where people today might feel similarly rejected, abandoned, forgotten or pushed to the margins.”

“Mindful of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which calls us to protect life and dignity and to treat everyone - especially little children and all who are vulnerable - with love, compassion and mercy, I believe the Church must continue to acknowledge before the Lord and before others its part in sustaining what the Report describes as a ‘harsh … cold and uncaring atmosphere’,” Martin said.

While some 200 women who gave birth died while living at mother and baby homes, the report indicated that they likely received better maternal care than most Irish women through the 1960s or 1970s, as most gave birth at home with the aid of a midwife or even an untrained aid. Many Irish homes lacked running water. At the same time, county hospitals discriminated against unmarried women and would not admit them to maternity wards until the 1960s.

The report attributed the end of the homes to massive improvements in living conditions, changes in religious and moral attitudes, as well as gradual improvements like free post-primary education, the establishment of legal adoption in 1953, and an allowance for unmarried mothers in 1973.

Providing historical context, the report said that such homes were not particular to Ireland, at the same time the proportion of unmarried mothers admitted to these homes in the 20th century was “probably the highest in the world.” The group home system was believed to reduce the women's risk of entering prostitution or committing infanticide. The system also purported to advance their moral reform.

“Some pregnancies were the result of rape; some women had mental health problems, some had an intellectual disability. However, the majority were indistinguishable from most Irish women of their time,” said the report.

In the first decades of the time period concerned, most women admitted to the institutions were domestic servants, farm workers, or unpaid domestic workers in their family homes. In later decades, women were clerical workers, civil servants, professionals, and schoolgirls or post-secondary students.

Many of these pregnant women had failed to secure support from their families or the fathers of the babies and were destitute. Some women entered the homes to prevent family and neighbors from learning they were pregnant. Some were forcibly brought to the homes by family members. There was no evidence that pregnancies among under-age women were routinely reported to police. There is no evidence Church or state officials forced them to enter, but most women “had no alternative,” the report said.

Most were financially supported in the institutions by the local government health authority. Many women were cut off from the world and assigned a “house name.”

Both Irish men and women were more likely to be dependent on their parents into their early twenties. Families tended to have many children and would be less able to support an unmarried daughter’s baby. An out-of-wedlock birth could destroy marriage prospects for both the woman and her siblings.

Irish men were also reluctant to marry, especially to marry young. The commission said it is possible that fewer men married their pregnant girlfriend than they did in other countries. Land inheritance customs and economic necessity meant land passed only to one son.

It was often impossible for pregnant women to prove paternity claims, and compared to other countries a low proportion of Irish men acknowledged paternity or provided financial support. Before 1950, many fathers were themselves financially imperiled, working low-wage jobs or unpaid jobs for family farms and businesses.

Most children born in the institutions were too young to remember, but some stayed after their mothers left through age seven. Legal adoption, which the report called a “vastly better outcome,” was not available until 1953, with farming communities still proving less likely to adopt. Children often ended up in industrial schools or were boarded out.

While the Catholic hierarchy evidently had no role in the day-to-day operation of mother and baby homes, religious congregations who opened such homes required the local bishop’s permission. Local authorities often deferred to the views of these religious orders or to the views of the local bishop.

“The Catholic church did not invent Irish attitudes to prudent marriages or family respectability; however, it reinforced them through church teachings that emphasized the importance of pre-marital purity and the sexual dangers associated with dance halls, immodest dress, mixed bathing and other sources of ‘temptation’,” said the report.

There is no evidence the religious orders running these homes made a profit, said the report, which added: “At various times, it is clear that they struggled to make ends meet.”

The report suggested that the mortality rate was higher than the Irish norm either because of the high risk of infection, or because the children born in mother and baby homes came from less privileged backgrounds than other women who gave birth out-of-wedlock but had healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. Women who gave birth in the homes had more stressful lives and worse pre-natal care and nutrition. There was a failure to implement appropriate hygiene standards at the homes and to educate mothers about hygiene. Almost all the homes lacked the staff needed to perform such education.

Infant mortality rates at the homes peaked in the 1940s, a time of economic difficulty due in significant part to the Second World War.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin welcomed the report’s publication, saying such reports “bring to light the profound injustices perpetrated against the vulnerable in our society over a long period of time – against women and children whose lives were regarded as less important than the lives of others.”

“The silence which surrounded this shameful time in the history of our land had long needed to be shattered,” he said. “The pain of those who were hidden away must be heard; those once largely without a voice now can speak clearly to our world, and we need to listen, even when what we hear pierces to the heart.”

“A genuine response is required: ours – as a Church and a society – can only be a full apology, without any reservation. There should never have been a time for avoidance and facile solutions,” he said. “This country, the Church, our communities and families are better places when the light of truth and healing are welcomed. May the Lord’s compassion be the touchstone of our response. May the light of Christ bring healing to all.”

Bishop Tom Deenihan of Meath also apologized, saying: “While a lack of resources and an intense social poverty go some way towards contextualizing the period of this report, the lack of kindness and compassion, as identified by the commission, is also clear.”

Residents and children born in these institutions suffered from “unacceptable conditions” and inadequate assistance, and they have been “unfairly burdened with an unwarranted but enduring sense of shame,” he said.

The long-closed Tuam Children’s Home in County Galway became notorious after the discovery of an unmarked mass grave for children. Some 2,219 women and 3,251 children had been at the home, and 978 children died—80 percent before their first birthday.

The home was operated by the Bon Secours Sisters in from 1925 to 1961. In addition to unmarried mothers and their babies, it also accepted children of destitute and homeless families as well as children with special needs.

It is likely that many children who died are buried in the memorial gardens, but while there are records of their deaths there is no record of their burial places.

The Bon Secours sisters offered “profound apologies.” They said that the children who died at the home were buried in a “disrespectful and unacceptable way,” the Irish Times reports.

Sister Eileen O’Connor, the local superior of the Bon Secour Sisters, said Jan. 12 that the report “presents a history of our country in which many women and children were rejected, silenced and excluded; in which they were subjected to hardship; and in which their inherent human dignity was disrespected, in life and in death. Our Sisters of Bon Secours were part of this sorrowful history.”

“We failed to respect the inherent dignity of the women and children who came to the home. We failed to offer them the compassion that they so badly needed. We were part of the system in which they suffered hardship, loneliness and terrible hurt,” O’Connor said. “We acknowledge in particular that infants and children who died at the home were buried in a disrespectful and unacceptable way. For all that, we are deeply sorry.”

Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam also welcomed the report and asked forgiveness for “the abject failure of the Church for the pain and suffering visited on those women and their children.”

“The Church of Jesus Christ was intended to bring hope and healing, yet it brought harm and hurt for many of these women and children,” he said. “Many were left broken, betrayed and disillusioned. For them, and all of us, these revelations seriously tarnished the image of the Church.”

The Galway County Council owned the Tuam home and was responsible for the residents, and the sisters operated it. The diocese had no administrative role. However, Neary emphasized, the diocese had a pastoral role, “in that the priests of Tuam parish served as chaplains.”

“Today, how can we even begin to comprehend the raw pain and psychological damage of family separation and its devastating consequences on loving mothers and on the emotional development of their children?” he asked. “Must we ask as to the whereabouts of the fathers? Had the Church been more forthright in acknowledging the responsibility of the men who fathered these children, the outcome for many young mothers and their children would have been very different indeed.”

The diocesan archives on the home have been shared with the commission, but the archive does not have information on the living conditions. Neary lamented the absence of burial location records, saying the burials have “understandably, caused the most outrage.” He welcomed any progress in uncovering the full truth.

Dublin’s Regina Coeli hostel, founded by the Legion of Mary, appeared to show some ability to break with the trends of Irish society. The full report’s 21st chapter says that the hostel was “the only institution that assisted unmarried mothers to keep their infant” before the 1970s, the Iona Institute reports.

“Although the mothers who kept their babies were a minority until the 1970s, the proportion was undoubtedly much higher than for any other institution catering for unmarried mothers”

Venerable Frank Duff, the layman founder of the Legion of Mary, wrote a 1950 memorandum to the Department of Health about encouraging women to keep their children. Duff opposed committing children to Ireland’s industrial schools, which have also been the target of historical inquiry for poor conditions and abuse of their residents.

The hostel received no regular state support. At the same time, babies of women at the hostel suffered a high mortality rate, which peaked in the 1940s, and other reports have questioned the conditions there.

Open letter calls for investigation into mistreatment of Uyghurs

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 16, 2021 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Fifty human rights professionals and organizations have signed an open letter calling for an investigation into crimes against humanity and potential genocide of the Uyghur people in China.

The letter, published Jan. 14, was spearheaded by the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

“The international community has the responsibility to respond to these crimes and protect Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples through diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means,” said the letter. “The atrocities being perpetrated are no less egregious if they are found to constitute one international crime or another.”

The letter claims that the Chinese government, using programs they say are for the prevention of religious and political extremism, has “intensified widespread and systematic policies to repress Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples on the basis of their religious and ethnic identities.”

Over 1 million people have been in “arbitrary detention” in camps due to their religion or ethnicity, says the letter, along with being subjected to “a widespread program of political indoctrination, enforced disappearances, destruction of cultural sites, forced labour,
disproportionate rates of prison incarceration, and coercive birth prevention campaigns and policies.”

Since 2017, says the letter, about 80,000 Uyghur people have been in “conditions that strongly indicate forced labour.”

The letter also points to evidence that the Chinese government is taking steps to reduce birth rates among Uyghur women, including the use of forced abortions and sterilizations. Despite being less than 2% of China’s population, 80% of IUD placements in 2018 were in Uyghur women.

“These measures meet the threshold of acts constitutive of genocide, core international crimes under the Genocide Convention, which prohibits ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births’ among an ethnic or religious group,” said the letter.

“We also believe that the Chinese government may be perpetrating the following acts prohibited under the Genocide Convention: causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

There have been many reports of Uyghur children being removed from their families, the letter states.

The 50 signatories of the letter are encouraging countries to “convene a special session at the UN Human Rights Council to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations taking place in the Uyghur Region and develop strategies to end these violations”’; implement new diplomatic and bilateral efforts to prevent further genocidal activity; and “independently investigate and make appropriate legal determinations regarding the treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim-majority peoples in China.”

“It is our collective responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities, including crimes against humanity and genocide,” says the letter.

“We must act now to prevent further atrocities against this long-persecuted group.”

How do you foster Catholic community in quarantine?

Denver Newsroom, Jan 16, 2021 / 02:00 am (CNA).- Like many in 2020, Catholic author Leah Libresco Sargeant found much solace in the past year in spiritual reading— as well as in copious amounts of baking. 

“The big thing this year, especially with the new baby, is making large batches of cookies and then freezing a bunch of the dough so that there could always be fresh cookies, even if it's a very busy day and it's not plausible to make any. It's great,” she laughed. 

Leah is a convert from atheism, and writes and thinks a lot about ways to build up strong Christian communities. In fact, she wrote a book about it a couple of years ago, called “Building the Benedict Option,” in which she encourages Catholics to create opportunities in their lives to interact more with their faith community.

These additional, intentional interactions can include taking the initiative to host people more often for dinner or events at your home, especially on feast days. Her book offers tips on how to make these interactions more successful in building tight-knit Christian communities. 

Although many of the suggestions in Leah’s book are predicated on face-to-face interactions, she said she has found ways to adapt her community-building practices during coronavirus times. 

“I think one of the hard things is just having a routine shattered; some of the connections you have with other people vanishing. And it takes a bit of work, then, to build up from scratch what you otherwise could rely on from other people,” she noted. 

For example, she’s taken the initiative to maintain several penpals, keeping friendships alive by conversing via snail mail. A habit Leah practiced even before the pandemic was sending things to people that she found spiritually enriching— such as book passages, or information about interesting saints— in the hopes that they would find it spiritually enriching too. 

Most dioceses in the United States, save for a few in the West, have reopened almost all their churches for Mass with continued precautions such as social distancing and mask wearing. Catholic churches in Princeton, New Jersey where the Sargeants live have generally been accessible since the summer of 2020, but Leah says there have been times when the Sergeants have had to miss in-person Mass and instead participate from home via livestream. 

“We try and make that an opportunity to pray for people who are in more remote places, who have a traveling priest who doesn't come every week, even in normal times— or people who are living under persecution,” Leah told CNA. 

“To try and take this unexpected and unwanted fast from the Mass as an opportunity to pray for people for whom [access to the sacraments] is an ongoing struggle, pandemic or no.”

Part of the key to making it through “unexpected fasts” from the sacraments is to reach out to others and offer to walk through it with them, she said. 

“If you can't go to Mass, or can't go to Mass as often as you used to, part of the question might be: do you have a friend who is also in this position?” she said, adding that you could call that person on the phone and offer to pray with them. 

“Is there a way that this can become something you share with others, rather than just a time of isolation?

Adding that she does not want to “sugarcoat” the difficulties in keeping a sense of community alive during the pandemic, Sergeant said restrictions on public gatherings, including Mass, have made spontaneous, organic interactions with her neighbors more difficult. 

“I think in some ways what the pandemic has done is strengthened some of my ties with people who I've fallen out of touch with a little, and who don't live nearby, and weakened them a bit with my actual neighbors,” she said. 

On the other hand, Sergeant said she has found that the extra time spent at home during the pandemic has helped her and her family to pray more in their home. 

Leah and her husband Alexi welcomed their first child in January 2020, so a lot of their domestic church traditions in the past year have been shaped by that joyful fact. For example, the Sargeants decided against putting out a physical Advent wreath in 2020. 

“A lot of our traditions have to be things that are less tangible, because literally everything in the house goes into [the baby’s] mouth,” she laughed. 

One “intangible” habit that Leah and her husband have gotten into is doing spiritual reading every Sunday, out loud, to each other. They’ve made their way through works such as the biblical poetry of Gregory of Nazianzus and “The Day is Now Far Spent” by Robert Cardinal Sarah. 

Leah has also continued her habit of blogging, attracting several hundred followers to an email newsletter in which she writes on topics such as motherhood, the benefits she has found from working from home, and a variety of others from a Catholic feminist perspective. 

One of the keys to a healthy spiritual life is silence, and cultivating periods of silence every day for prayer and peacefulness. Leah says she’s been working on this for a while, and added that the birth of her first child has, perhaps paradoxically, helped her to find quieter moments than she had before. 

“For me, a baby is sometimes an excuse not to find those periods of silence. But...a baby forces you to be fully present in the moment, to put aside some of your own goals or own plans for the day,” she explained.  

“And if she falls asleep on top of you after what's been a rough afternoon, suddenly it is enforced silence...and if you weren't planning to have any silent prayer too bad, now is the time!”

The human toll of the pandemic has a lot of people thinking about death— not only the deaths of others, but their inevitable own. Leah says for Catholics, who believe in resurrection, thinking about death is not necessarily a bad thing. 

“The Church has always told us to meditate on our own death, and to make that part of our spiritual practice,” she pointed out.

“[God] defeated death and freed us from fear of it, but that doesn't make it easy. That's why we talk about this as a spiritual practice, something we have to do deliberately again and again, to build up that trust in God and that knowledge of who He is. And so I think the pandemic is really forcing that good spiritual practice on us in a much more stressful and frightening way than if we'd chosen it ourselves.”

This meditation on what it means to die, and for things to end, applies not just to individuals, but to the Church as a whole. Even in non-pandemic times, there are always going to be people at Mass who are journeying through grief and suffering, and pastors shouldn’t shy away from addressing that, Sergeant said, seeking to assure people that experiencing spiritual aridity and grief does not make them “bad Christians.”

“There's always someone in your neighborhood, in your parish, who's going through a time that's just as hard as it is now [in the pandemic], but it isn't shared,” she said.  

“So part of the question is: Whatever's going on now that's helping us take care of each other, how do we continue that when there isn't the shock of a pandemic to remind us that people around us are suffering?”

The pandemic hasn’t only brought challenges, however. There have also been some fun opportunities for enhancing the Sargeant’s family life— several of which involve baking. Leah recommends seeking out a sourdough starter, as it makes for a fun baking activity as well as a potential gift to pass on to others. 

“If you're only feeding one thing in your house, it should be the baby, not the sourdough starter,” she laughed. 

This interview originally aired on Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. It has been adapted for print. Listen to the interview below, beginning at 9:40. 



CNA Newsroom · Ep. 89: Taking Back the Year  

US bishops applaud Supreme Court ruling in favor of FDA abortion pill regulations

CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 10:06 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ pro-life chair on Friday praised a Supreme Court decision allowing federal regulations of the abortion pill to stand during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision reversed a federal judge’s injunction on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) safety regulations of the abortion pill.

The ruling allowed the FDA to use its authority as requested and continue to prohibit remote prescriptions and dispensing of the abortion pill during the pandemic.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the FDA’s ability to enforce important and long-standing health and safety requirements related to chemical abortion drugs,” stated Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee.

In Tuesday’s 6-3 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the federal district court did not have sufficient authority to mandate regulatory changes to the FDA’s public health standards, due to the pandemic.

Since 2000, the FDA had placed the abortion pill regimen on its REMS list, reserved for higher-risk drugs and procedures. This listing meant that the abortion pill could only be prescribed in a health clinic setting, in-person, by a certified prescriber.

Pro-abortion groups sued, however, claiming that the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic warranted that women be able to obtain the abortion pill via mail without having to make a visit in-person to a health clinic. Judge Theodore Chuang of the Maryland district in July ruled in their favor and placed an injunction on the FDA regulations during the pandemic.

Roberts on Tuesday wrote that “courts owe significant deference to the politically accountable entities with the ‘background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.’”

“In light of those considerations, I do not see a sufficient basis here for the District Court to compel the FDA to alter the regimen for medical abortion,” he wrote.

On Friday, Archbishop Naumann said that the FDA is right to regulate chemical abortions, which if prescribed and dispensed remotely could carry special health risks for women.

“Mail order mifepristone compounds the risks and trauma of abortion by encouraging women to end the lives of their children in their own bathrooms, often without any medical attention or follow-up care,” he said.

“This dangerous, painful, and emotionally bleak process results in the death of innocent unborn lives and often has lasting negative impacts on women,” he said. “The inalienable dignity of women and their unborn children deserves so much more.”

After Chuang’s initial decision, Justice Department attorneys appealed the case to the Supreme Court; the court sent the case back for reconsideration, instructing that the administration be able to present new evidence.

In a Dec. 9 decision, Chuang did not lift the injunction, saying that the challenges of the pandemic had not changed. The administration then appealed its case again to the Supreme Court.

 

Becerra, Biden’s HHS pick, has shown ‘hostility to nonprofit institutions’, scholars argue

CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Conservative scholars argued this week that Xavier Becerra, president-elect Joe Biden’s pick for HHS secretary, has a history of “hostility to nonprofit institutions and the donors who support them,” particularly religious nonprofits.

In a Jan. 13 opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote that Becerra, currently serving as California’s attorney general, has a history of supporting initiatives aiming to “use the tax code to redirect charitable giving toward causes [he] finds worthwhile.”

Notably, they say, Becerra has taken steps to attempt to force organizations such as pro-life pregnancy centers and religious foster-care agencies to violate their principles.

“Religious organizations run many of America’s hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, foster and adoption agencies, after-school programs and hospices. Mr. Becerra seems to want the power to cast their principles aside in favor of his own ideological mission,” the authors assert.

“He holds many views of this kind, well outside the American mainstream, and would have broad discretion to act on them as health and human services secretary.”

As California attorney general, Becerra has frequently taken legal action against pro-life organizations and other religous groups. The authors of the op-ed expressed worry that in his likely new position as head of HHS, Becerra will use his influence to pressure such groups.

The HHS has authority over a broad range of concerns, including federally-funded adoption agencies, regulation of the abortion pill, refugee resettlement, anti-human trafficking efforts, global health, and family planning. HHS works with many nonprofit organizations, the authors asserted.

Becerra has said in the past that tax exemptions for charitable foundations lead to “disproportionate giving...skewed against people of color,” and that the government has an obligation to ensure that the tax exemptions enjoyed by charities serve a public good.

The IRS lists 29 types of organizations that qualify as tax-exempt charitable organizations. These include 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes most religious nonprofits and churches.

“Many foundations fund medical research, schools and religious organizations that benefit people of all races...Foundation money is private money and foundation leaders have a moral and even legal obligation to disperse it in the way donors have directed,” the authors asserted.

Becerra’s predecessor as California attorney general, Kamala Harris, prosecuted journalist David Daleiden for his undercover videos claiming that Planned Parenthood unlawfully profited from the trade in fetal tissue of aborted babies. Becerra continued that fight in court.

Becerra also defended a 2014 state mandate that employers cover abortions in health plans, despite religious communities such as the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit not being exempted from the mandate.

Becerra had defended the state’s Reproductive FACT Act, a law passed in 2015 before his tenure as attorney general, which required pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions. Pro-life groups claimed the state actively worked with the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) to craft the legislation.

During January 2020, the HHS Office for Civil Rights concluded that California had violated the Weldon Amendment—which bars federal funding of health care groups that force the provision or coverage of abortions— and gave the state 30 days to comply with the law. Becerra refused to comply with the HHS demand, saying that the state “has the sovereign right to protect women’s reproductive rights.”

Pope Francis prays for Indonesia after deadly earthquake

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2021 / 06:19 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis sent a telegram Friday with his condolences for Indonesia, after a strong earthquake killed at least 67 people on the island of Sulawesi.

Hundreds of people were also injured in the 6.2-magnitude quake, according to Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Indonesia.

Pope Francis was “saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life and the destruction of property caused by the violent earthquake in Indonesia.”

In a telegram to the apostolic nuncio in Indonesia, signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope expressed his “heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this natural disaster.”

Francis “prays for the repose of the deceased, the healing of the injured and the consolation of all who grieve. In a particular way, he offers encouragement to the civil authorities and those involved in the continuing search and rescue efforts,” the letter stated.

The death toll is expected to rise, according to local search and rescue teams, who say that many people are still trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings, CNN reported.

The telegram concluded with the pope’s invocation of “divine blessings of strength and hope.”

Sulawesi, governed by Indonesia, is one of the four Greater Sunda Islands. The western side was struck by the 6.2-magnitude quake at 1:28 a.m. local time about 3.7 miles northeast of the city of Majene.

Eight people died and at least 637 people were injured in Majene. Three hundred houses were damaged and 15,000 residents displaced, according to Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management.

The affected area is also a COVID-19 red zone, provoking concerns about spreading the coronavirus amid the disaster.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a message of faith, hope and love, niece tells EWTN

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2021 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- In an interview with EWTN News Nightly (ENN), the niece of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Alveda King, highlighted that her famous uncle was a man of faith, who always looked for "nonviolent and Bible-based" solutions to the challenges of his time.  

ENN's host Tracy Sabol opened the interview, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Jan. 15, highlighting that "honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still give us as a nation an opportunity to pay tribute to his enduring legacy," before asking King, director of Civil Rights for the Unborn for Priests for Life, about the civil rights icon's place in history.

"When I remember my uncle during the Martin Luther King holiday week, I think about his messages of faith, hope and love,” she said, adding that in "all of his life, he exemplified solutions that were nonviolent and Bible-based.”

King remembered that her uncle used to say that faith is "like climbing a staircase; you take one step at a time and the faith builds. And so he was very sure that if he continued to trust in the Lord and to have faith and hope and love, then he could carry a message that God had given him to carry."

"My uncle was a nonviolent man. He believed that we were one human race … God made all people to live together on the face of the earth. And as one human race, we really could learn to live together as brothers and sisters and not perish together as fools. All of his sermons and his messages led us to understand that our answers would come from God and that we must unite and learn to get along,” King also said.

She also recalled that Martin Luther King Jr. "decided to stick with love." 

"Hate is too difficult a burden to bear. And then we bear each other's burdens and concerns, seeing each other as human beings, regardless of skin color. We could see skin color, of course, we really are not colorblind. We could see, but we should see ethnicity as something to be celebrated, not to be fought over,” she said.

"Martin Luther King Jr. lived a life of service and love," said his niece in closing. 

"If he were here today, he would be praying for us and with us and encouraging us to set aside strife and to come together in love. And as we do that, we can surely be blessed, and 2021 will be a very different year than 2020 turned out to be."

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year. The holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 but was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

 

British Columbia hospice to be evicted over euthanasia opposition 

CNA Staff, Jan 15, 2021 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- A hospice in Delta, British Columbia is laying off all staff next month as they will be evicted from their building due to their opposition to euthanasia.

The Delta Hospice is a 10-bed hospice. It is operated by the Delta Hospice Society, an organization which was founded in 1991. The hospice is located a one-minute drive away from a hospital which provides euthanasia.

Last year, the Delta Hospice Society was informed that they would be losing $1.5 million in funding from the Fraser Health Authority, a public health care authority in British Columbia, as well as its permission to operate as a hospice, in February 2021. This was due to their refusal to offer “assisted dying,” the Canadian legal term for euthanasia.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized federally in Canada in June 2016. Religious hospitals are not forced to provide euthanasia, but no such conscience rights exist for secular institutions like the Delta Hospice Society.

Angelina Ireland, president of the Delta Hospice, told CNA on Thursday that she thinks her organization has “clearly been targeted to make an example of how you will not defy a government directive.”

“If the government tells you to do something, you’d better do it,” she told CNA. “And then if you don’t do it, then they’ll basically just shut you down and destroy the society that you’ve built for the last 30 years.”

“We were only 10 beds. We are hardly high profile. We hardly matter,” said Ireland. “We have always been committed to palliative care.”

The Delta Hospice Society lost a court case when they attempted to block the membership of euthanasia activists in the organization. They are appealing and hoping the Canadian Supreme Court will take up their case.

The hospice's case regarded its efforts to hold a meeting and vote on proposed changes to its constitution and bylaws that would define its Christian identity and exclude the provision of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled in June that the hospice had acted wrongly in its attempts to define its Christian identity and to exclude euthanasia, because it had not been indiscriminately approving new applications for membership during 2020.

The hospice's actions were challenged by three of its members, Sharon Farrish, Christopher Pettypiece, and James Levin, who are in favor of euthanasia.

And while Delta Hospice is about to lose its physical building, Ireland said that her group’s work in promoting a peaceful natural death will continue.

“We've been in society for 30 years and for the last 10 of those, we had a facility,” she told CNA. “So what we will do is we will go back to our roots, and we will continue to do what we did for 20 years. We went directly to the community, directly to people's homes.”

“Without the building, we don’t stop being a society and we don’t stop advocating and doing the kind of work we’ve always done,” said Ireland.
Ironically, Ireland mused it may be “safer” to do exclusively home visits.

“If people are entering facilities that offer euthanasia, and they can’t get away from it, it may be a safer place, a safe space for them to have support and help in their own home,” she said.

“So we will continue to do that. That has been the purpose of our society from the beginning,” said Ireland, “And we will just soldier on and go back to our roots.”
 

What happens to the pro-life movement in a post-Trump era?

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2021 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump on Wednesday became the first president in American history to be impeached by the House of Representatives twice.

The vote came a week after supporters of the president breached the U.S. Capitol, delaying the formal certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election by several hours and instigating a deadly riot.

Both the violent scenes from the riot and the second impeachment vote—which followed unproven claims from Trump that the election was stolen from him—are likely to loom large in Trump’s legacy.

And the pro-life movement that largely embraced Trump will have to grapple with this legacy, even as it braces for an incoming presidential administration that ran on a heavily pro-abortion platform.

Catholic theologian Charles Camosy told Catholic News Agency that as he watched coverage of the riot at the Capitol, “Like so many of us, including the overwhelmingly large number of pro-lifers I know, I was disgusted and horrified.”

“Especially with respect to the loss of human life that happened and, due to the now clear plans of many who put the Capitol under siege that day, the even greater loss of life that could have taken place,” Camosy said.

Camosy is a former Democrats for Life of America board member, who resigned from the position in 2020, saying the party’s embrace of extreme positions on abortion left him no choice but to abandon the party and join the American Solidarity Party.

Asked if the pro-life movement should sever its ties with Trump, Camosy said, “I've been warning against this relationship from the very beginning.”

“Significantly, many of the pro-life leaders and organizations who have been in some kind of friendly relationship with him over the past four years, themselves warned about Trump during the 2016 GOP primaries,” Camosy said. “Something changed. Proximity to power in order to do genuine good in the short run is a huge temptation, and those of us who never supported Trump should acknowledge the good things that were gone, but we are now seeing what many of us warned about.”

Camosy added that he thinks “it would have been difficult enough to try to undo the damage that having the pro-life movement associated with Trump even without the assault on the Capitol.”

“But now the task is absolutely gargantuan,” he said. “It is far too late to sever ties now.”

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, told Catholic News Agency she watched in horror, but not surprise, as the riot at the Capitol unfolded last week.

“I think for a lot of us who were opposed to Trump four years ago, we saw this coming,” Herndon-De La Rosa said. “This was an inevitability and I think for the pro-life movement to have attached itself to him so strongly—really any political candidate is always a dangerous thing—but especially as volatile as he is. He has shown us his true colors all along.”

Trump won the 2016 election after campaigning heavily on pro-life promises, including a pledge to appoint only pro-life Supreme Court justices. But his candidacy and election posed a dilemma for the pro-life movement, with some arguing that his record--particularly his treatment of women--made him a poor choice to represent a cause claiming to be pro-woman.

But despite these misgivings from some, Trump became a de facto face of the pro-life movement. In 2018, Trump became the first president to address the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., via satellite from the White House, although previous Republican presidents had done so by phone. Two years later, Trump became the first president to attend the March in person.

While these high-profile appearances drew attention to the annual D.C. event, not everyone in the pro-life movement was happy with the president’s attendance. Then-Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), among the most prominent pro-life Democrats, backed out of the 2018 March for Life, where he was scheduled to be a featured speaker, after Trump’s satellite address was announced. Lipinski said at the time he could not put himself in the “potentially morally compromised situation” of sharing a stage with a president whose words were unpredictable and often offensive.

Lipinski, who recently left Congress after a primary defeat last year, called the Jan. 6 riot “unbelievable.”

“The U.S. Capitol is the symbol and the real seat of our democratic republic and to see it attacked was just very concerning,” he told CNA. “It’s still something that’s hard to comprehend.”

 Lipinski said he had expressed concern about tying Trump too closely to the pro-life movement from the beginning. He acknowledged some positive policy accomplishments on pro-life goals by the administration, but said “we have to win the hearts and minds of people.”

“He’s hurting us in terms of recruiting more people over to our side,” Lipinski said. “We need more people who are with us, and one way that you get people with you is to have a good image of what it means to be pro-life, what type of person is pro-life. And so it’s good to have people who are viewed positively, who are good role models, to be seen as pro-life leaders. And in that respect I think Donald Trump was harmful over the last for years and in the long run.” 

As Trump’s presidency ends with a second impeachment--and polls showing a majority of Americans saying he should be removed from office--some pro-lifers worry that the president’s legacy could continue haunting the pro-life movement for years to come.

While some tout legislative and judiciary victories on pro-life goals, other pro-lifers worry that the president’s reputation could drive people away from the pro-life cause--or portray the pro-life movement as oppressive to women. While polls consistently show voters favoring substantial limits on abortion, support for Roe v. Wade hit an all-time high during Trump’s presidency.

Herndon-De La Rosa offered a biblical analogy to the pro-life movement’s association with Trump.

“The Supreme Court nominees that Trump promised, those were the 30 pieces of silver, and so we were willing to overlook these grievous offenses and problems with his character, because those Supreme Court seats were so vital and now we’re suffering the repercussions of that,” she said.

Trump’s legacy, Herndon-De La Rosa said, would still have been difficult to come to terms with prior to the riot, pointing to remarks Trump made about women revealed during his presidential campaign.

“We spent decades trying to show people how we are pro-woman,” she said. “The second we aligned ourselves with a man who made such degrading comments about women, we lost credibility. This was always a dangerous alliance, and now we’re seeing that it was more of a suicide pact.”

As for Trump’s association with the pro-life movement, Herndon-De La Rosa argued, “I don’t know that there’s recovering from it.”

“This is going to have to be a phoenix rising from the ashes moment where we really do some introspective soul-searching,” she said.

Herndon-De La Rosa said she and some of her allies have adopted terminology like “consistent life ethicist” to differentiate themselves from some other facets of the pro-life movement.

“And that’s either going to go nowhere, or it’s going to be something that is ultimately a bigger tent,” she commented.

Camosy offered a more hopeful view of the future. While he thinks the pro-life movement will be “tarnished” by its association with Trump “for at least a generation - maybe longer,” he also thinks there are things pro-life advocates can do to promote healing.

Looking forward, he said, pro-lifers must “pursue our goals in a very non-partisan way.”

“[We should] work, especially at the state level, for prenatal justice--which is most likely to come from alliances with Republicans,” he said, but “we should also work to save babies' lives--and support their mothers--by working on the ‘demand side’ of abortion,” pointing to steps to address poverty and intimate partner violence.

“We must work to resist the social-structural problems which push so many women to have abortions and this likely will mean alliances with Democrats,” he said.

“Though perhaps, as the GOP figures out what it wants to be, we can help push Republicans to join us in this approach as well,” he added. “Political idolatry is poison more generally--just to human nature--but it is particularly poisonous to the pro-life movement. We must be more politically nimble and non-partisan in our pursuit.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and a vocal supporter of President Trump, did not immediately respond to an interview request through a spokesperson. But during the riot, she condemned the violence, writing in a tweet that it is “not reflective of pro-life Americans and Trump supporters who align with his call to support police today.”

 

Violence in pursuit of upholding justice and the dignity of the human being is nonsense at best. What is happening in the Capitol now is not reflective of prolife Americans and Trump supporters who align with his call to support police today.

— MarjorieDannenfelser (@marjoriesba) January 6, 2021  

Buffalo diocese rebuts claims it misrepresented seminary finances

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 15, 2021 / 04:04 pm (CNA).- The Buffalo diocese has responded to claims that it misrepresented the financial state of its seminary before closing it last year.

 
“The seminary has had sustainability issues for a long time, and for at least over the past 15 years. The financial information was readily available to all interested parties,” a spokesman for the diocese told CNA on Friday.
 
“In short, the seminary was running out of students, time and money,” spokesman Greg Tucker told CNA Jan. 15.

In February 2020, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, then-apostolic administrator of Buffalo, announced that the diocese’s Christ the King Seminary would cease operations at the end of the spring semester. He cited a 10-year average financial deficit of $500,000 a year as a primary reason for the decision.
 
However, WKBW reported Jan. 14 that one diocesan donor was questioning the financial reasons given for the seminary’s closure. According to the report, the seminary had actually been operating financially at a net positive from 2010 through 2019, after suffering a massive financial loss in 2009.
 
The nearly $3 million hit in 2009, when combined with the net gain of more than $150,000 from 2010-2019, did result in a $2.7 million net loss from the years 2009-2019—but not at the annual level reported by the diocese, the donor claimed.
 
Rather than an annual $500,000 financial deficit, the seminary’s loss was around $250,000 per year for the 11 years, according to the WKBW report—and the seminary had a net financial gain from 2010-2019.

"A false narrative. A $500,000 false narrative," former volunteer Jim Grubka told WKBW.
 
According to diocesan spokesman Greg Tucker, however, the seminary had deep, long-standing problems of sustainability, including operating losses for the last six years.
 
According to Tucker, seminary expenses were increasing and revenue was declining, with the seminary having kept afloat by “extraordinary” donation sources including annual diocesan subsidies—sources that might dry up due to the diocesan bankruptcy process.
 
Subtracting “extraordinary” donations from the seminary’s financials, he said, the seminary reported operating losses of around $800,000 a year, "which is the actual number vs. what the diocese reported at as averaging approximately $500,000 per year.”
 
“Operating cash was being depleted,” he said, and was estimated by management to be at only 12 months’ supply; reserves were also declining, he said.
 
Enrollment was also declining, with only 26 students at the seminary and only two first-year students from the Buffalo diocese at the time it closed. Tucker also cited concerns about the seminary maintaining its accreditation, an “underfunded” lay pension fund, and the seminary’s tarnished reputation as other challenges for its sustainability.
 
WKBW reported the story on the day before Bishop Michael Fisher would be installed as Buffalo’s 15th bishop.
 
On Friday, Bishop Fisher offered his installation Mass, preaching that “[i]t is Jesus Christ who has the words of eternal life - who makes sense of all that we confront in our lives and that often doesn’t make sense. It is Jesus Christ who never disappoints, though we confront deep disappointment; It is Jesus Christ whose promises are true and abiding, even when we have been disillusioned and left to wonder how it is we might recapture the zeal and joy that led us to become followers in the first place.”
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Bishop Fisher inherits a diocese rocked by scandal in recent years, and currently undergoing a bankruptcy process due to the number of clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed in the last 17 months under the Child Victims Act.
 
The former bishop Richard Malone resigned in December 2019, after a Vatican-ordered visitation of the diocese in October. Whistleblower reports by his former executive assistant and former secretary alleged a gross mishandling of clergy sex abuse cases.
 
In November 2020, the state of New York filed a 260-page lawsuit against the diocese, alleging that bishops and staff repeatedly mishandled abuse accusations.
 
In November 2019, the National Catholic Register reported a three-part series on scandals at Christ the King Seminary; the series included allegations of sexual harassment and violation of the seal of the confessional made by former seminarians against their confessor, and decades of allegations of sexual misconduct.