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Decline in Hispanic Catholics a 'direct challenge' to the Church in the US

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Last week’s Pew report revealed that Catholics are no longer a majority among U.S. Hispanics—a stark challenge to the Church in the U.S. to evangelize.

 
“What we’re not doing well as a Church is that we’re not building a culture in the parish where the family is truly welcome, and for Hispanics, that really is unforgivable,” said Carlos Taja, associate director to the Secretariat on Evangelization and Catechesis at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an interview with CNA.
 
Last week, the Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life published the results of surveys of American adults conducted in 2018 and 2019.
 
The report showed a precipitous decline over the past decade in the percentage of the U.S. population that identifies as Christian, with the percentage of those religiously “unaffiliated” rising substantially in that time.
 
Overall, the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian has fallen by 12% in the last decade to 65% of the population, according to Pew. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans not identifying with any religion at all has risen by 9% to 26% of the American populace.
 
Protestantism saw a large decline from 51% of the population to 43% in the last decade, while Catholicism fell from 23% to 20% of the population.
 
This decline appeared within the Hispanic demographic as well. Hispanics identifying as Catholic fell by 10% over the last decade from 57% to 47%; those “unaffiliated” with a religion grew from 15% to 23% in that time span.
 
This drop in the percentage of Hispanic Catholics should not come as a surprise, said Hosffman Ospino, a theology and education professor and director of graduate programs in Hispanic Ministry at Boston College. Ospino authored a report in 2014 on “Hispanic Ministry in Catholic Parishes” that examined the challenges to the future of the Catholic Church in the U.S. among Hispanics.
 
While Pew has historically underreported the numbers of Hispanic Catholics, he said, a decline is palpable—and not surprising.
 
“Why should we be surprised?” Ospino asked rhetorically of the decline in numbers. “The truth is that many Catholics in the United States,” he said, “still do not fully understand the reality of the Hispanic experience, and who Hispanics are, and what Hispanics bring to the Church.”
 
Among religious immigrant populations, each successive U.S.-born generation usually trends more secular, Ospino observed. In the 1990s, around half of the Hispanic U.S. population were immigrants, but today 64 percent are U.S.-born, he said, and thus according to demographic trends there should be more Hispanics today who are not Catholic.
 
Another social trend is the urbanization of the Hispanic population, Ospino said. More Hispanic families either live in cities or the children move to cities once they leave their family home; cities are generally more secular than rural communities, and there the youth may discover that they can live without their family’s faith.
 
And secularization is not just increasing in the U.S. but also in Latin America, said Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ, a distinguished scholar in pastoral theology and Latino studies at Loyola Marymount University in California.
 
While many variables might affect this increase in secularization, what is clear is that the Church in the U.S. cannot simply rely upon immigration to fill the pews without actively evangelizing, experts said.
 
“There’s this naivete, I think, where the belief that the influx of the Hispanic population through immigration was going to simply revitalize the Church in the United States by sheer numbers, without any desire to actually sometimes minister or accompany these people in the different stages of their lives,” Taja said.

The decline in the parish community and a failure to accompany new Hispanic families has led to alienation of Hispanic Catholics on a mass scale, he said.
 
“Most of the time, it is the reality that there is a sense that they’re just not wanted,” Taja said.
 
Many Latino immigrants have suffered violence or abuse on their journey to the U.S., he pointed out, yet suffering and redemption through the Cross is not a message preached at U.S. parishes.
 
“No one in the Church will actually speak to their reality of the things they have suffered,” he said. “What happens when you suffer, and the Lord Who died for you on the cross is not spoken with the depths of His infinite mercy for those who suffer? What happens when redemptive suffering is just never spoken about?”
 
Parishes have also failed to actively seek out those who might come to Church but haven’t yet walked through the doors, Ospino said.
 
“The Church, her identity is to be on mission, to be the Bride of the Groom,” Taja said, “to proclaim and live the ministry of Jesus Christ.”
 
“When she does not do this, when she becomes self-referential, she becomes sterile,” he said.
 
So with a long-term decline in the Catholic population in the U.S., including within the Hispanic community, what must be done?
 
“Every diocese, every bishop in the United States of America must engage in synods, or conversations or assemblies that bring the Hispanic Catholic experience and the needs of the Hispanic Catholic community forward as a priority,” Ospino said. “We cannot keep treating Latinos, Hispanic Catholics, as second citizens in our Church.”
 
“If the parish community fails, the family has no place to go,” Taja said, and the family is at the crux of Hispanic culture.
 
In many Hispanic families, he said, the grandparents are the ones drawing the children to the faith, but many U.S. parishes don’t take this into account. Instead, for family events, they might invite husbands and wives but not grandparents.
 
A relationship with the parish priest is also critical in Hispanic culture, Taja said, especially for youths who have questions about the faith or doubts, or need someone to talk to.
 
However, in many dioceses there may be one priest for several parishes. For a parish with limited hours when the church is open, or when the pastor is only available by appointment, “that’s nuts,” Taja said. “It’s unknown, because he [the priest] is such a link to the Lord and to the Church.”
 
Pope Francis has provided a blueprint for evangelization, especially through his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, and the Church in the U.S. needs to take note.
 
Catholics must be “active” and “go out and look for these people” who aren’t coming to Church “and engage them,” Ospino said.
 
Latinos make up a sizable portion of Catholics in the U.S., particularly among young people, and they need to be put in more positions of leadership in the Church, Fr. Figueroa said.
 
“Latinos, even though they are a very large percentage of the Church,” he said, “do not enjoy positions of leadership in the Church anywhere near their numbers.”
 
Many Hispanics also want to be Catholic and want to be better catechized, Ospino and Taja said.
 
Many in the community may not know Church teaching on a particular matter, but they do want to learn it in order to please God, Taja said. In contrast, many in the Anglo community may know Church teaching but are comfortable holding a belief contrary to it.
 
“Latinos are still here,” Ospino said. There are millions of young Hispanics in the U.S. who “want to be Catholic, they want a Church, they want to be in love with Jesus Christ,” he said.

As Hong Kong withdraws extradition bill, Catholic leaders call for inquiry into police tactics

Hong Kong, China, Oct 23, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Amid continued controversy surrounding large-scale political protests in Hong Kong, and fears of a crackdown by the Communist Chinese government, Catholic leaders are echoing protesters’ calls for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

“I ask the Lord to move the government of the special administrative region to respond to the public opinion, and set up an 'Independent Commission of inquiry' so that the community can begin with the truth and begin the path of real reconciliation,” Hong Kong Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, a supporter of the protest movement, wrote on Facebook Oct. 21.

“During a gathering last Saturday, I am so moved by our young faithful who expressed their views on our Church’s participation in the society. Again, I am convinced that one of the necessary ways to resolve the current difficult situation in Hong Kong is the setting up of an ‘independent commission of inquiry,’” he continued.

Bishop Ha’s statement was posted as the legislature of Hong Kong completed the process of officially withdrawing a controversial extradition bill Wednesday, which would have allowed the Chinese government to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong to the mainland to stand trial.

The impetus for the bill was a case involving a young Hong Kong man whom Taiwan requested be extradited for an alleged murder. Hong Kong previously has no formal extradition agreements with mainland China or Taiwan.

Christians and advocates widely opposed the bill, fearing that the Chinese government, which already seeks to control and suppress Chistianity on the mainland, would use it to further tighten its grip on free exercise of religion in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers enjoy freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

An estimated 1 million protesters turned out at the first major demonstration June 6. Catholics have played a major role in the protests since then.

Bishop Ha reiterated calls for prayer, urging the faithful to pray the rosary during the month of October and finish with the intention: "Mary, untier of knots, please pray for us!"

Bishop Ha has taken part in ecumenical prayer rallies with protesters in the past, urged an increase in prayer and said he is concerned for the safety of the many young people involved in the protests. He told CNA in September that he urges “Friday fasting” as part of the prayer for peace in Hong Kong.

Though chief executive Carrie Lam suspended the bill June 15 and even apologized, protesters feared that the proposal could be reintroduced. The next day, an estimated 2 million marchers were out on the streets.

Though the protests have been largely peaceful, participants on both sides have periodically resorted to violence. Police have used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon on protesters repeatedly. Thousands of high school and college students staged a strike on the first day of classes Sept. 2, with many wearing gas masks and helmets.

Police shot an 18-year-old protester in the chest Oct. 1, and Jimmy Sham, leader of the pro-democracy group Civil Human Rights Front, was hospitalized last week after being attacked by a group of men wielding hammers and knives at a protest.

Since the protests have gone on, Beijing has instituted a travel ban for some Catholics seeking to enter the island, and Chinese officials are reportedly concerned that Catholics on the mainland could work with the Catholic Church in Hong Kong to inspire similar resistance.

Protesters are demanding that Lam resign for her failure to respond to their demands.

Though Lam has said she has no plans to resign, the Financial Times newspaper reported recently that China's government is drawing up plans to remove Lam and replace her with an interim chief executive after calm returns to Hong Kong, though China's foreign ministry responded to the report calling it "a political rumour with ulterior motives.”

Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and a sharp critic of the Sept. 2018 Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, also has spoken strongly in support of the protesters and in support of an independent inquiry into the police’s tactics.

“We denounce the escalation of police brutality and arbitrary use of force against peaceful protesters, reporters, first-aiders, and ordinary citizens of Hong Kong. We believe it is in China's interest to show the global community; it is not an enemy of open society and democracy,” a statement from the International Coalition for Democratic Renewal in Hong Kong reads, which Zen shared on social media Oct. 23.
 

Texas court favors woman seeking gender transition for 7 year-old son

Austin, Texas, Oct 23, 2019 / 04:04 pm (CNA).- A Texas jury this week ruled against a father who wants to block the hormonal gender transition of his 7-year-old son James into a girl named Luna.

Texas dad Jeffrey Younger had appealed to a state court to obtain sole custody of his twins, Jude and James, in part to save James from a hormonal gender transition that the boy’s mother has been planning, according to the Washington Examiner.

The jury ruled on Monday that Dr. Anne Georgulas, the mother of the twins, would maintain sole custody of the boys, which would allow her to proceed with her plan to have James undergo a gender transition and be called “Luna.” Georgulas believes James identifies as a girl because of his affinity for the Disney movie “Frozen” and its female character leads, according to Town Hall.

Expert witnesses called in the court reportedly expressed doubts as to whether James actually strongly identified as female.

“There is still some fluidity in his thinking,” Dr. Benjamin Albritton said in his testimony, according to the Washington Examiner. “Neither child appears to be depressed, anxious or aggressive ... He [James] gave no indications of other significant psychological difficulties.”

Georgulas reportedly wants to enroll James as a patient at the GENECIS in Dallas in their “Gender Affirming Care Program” for youth. On their website, the clinic says it offers hormone therapy and puberty suppression therapy along with mental health and social services. It does not currently offer gender transition surgery.

The case of James Younger has met with outrage from critics who say it raises multiple ethical considerations, including the rights of parents as well as the best interest of children experiencing gender dysphoria.

According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose guidelines GENECIS follows, “Pubertal suppression is not without risks. Delaying puberty beyond one’s peers can also be stressful and can lead to lower self-esteem and increased risk taking. Some experts believe that genital underdevelopment may limit some potential reconstructive options. Research on long-term risks, particularly in terms of bone metabolism and fertility, is currently limited and provides varied results.”

Numerous doctors and ethicists have previously raised concerns about whether it is ethical to treat children with gender dysphoria with hormones, puberty blockers or surgery.

In a December 2018 article for The Christian Post, multiple pediatrics doctors said they would treat gender dysphoria as a psychological issue, and not an endocrinological or physical issue.

“[Parents] need to continue to love their children. They need to continue to affirm their human dignity. Yet they shouldn't have to jettison biological reality to be able to put what they're being told into practice, in terms of disrupting normally timed puberty,” Dr. Paul Hruz, an associate professor of pediatrics and endocrinology at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Christian Post.

The article featured interviews with several doctors who said synthetic hormones could put children on a pathway to permanent sterilization, and many other long-term repercussions which may not be felt for years.

“The reality is that there is no long-term data about treating children, and the only data that we have in adults indicates that medical interventions to align the appearance of the body to a transgendered identity does not fix the problem,” Hruz told The Christian Post.

“There is a core of very diabolical people who are filtering large sums of money into this and using mass social pressure,” added Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a pediatric endocrinologist in private practice in Atlanta.

The doctors said they also objected to medical interventions for children with gender dysphoria because most children will grow up to re-identify with their biological gender.

In 2016, many doctors protested after the Department of Health and Human Services announced that health providers could not refuse treatment, including surgery, for “gender transition” services if they were asked for them, even if they believed them to be harmful to the patient. The rule was struck down after challenges in court by nine states as well as by religious groups and doctors.

New US rep to United Nations in Geneva hailed for pro-life beliefs

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2019 / 03:18 pm (CNA).- The Senate’s confirmation Tuesday of Andrew Bremberg as U.S. Representative to the UN in Geneva drew praise from a pro-life leader, and condemnation from Planned Parenthood.

On Oct. 22 the Senate voted 50-44 to confirm Bremberg, assistant to the president and senior advisor for domestic policy at the White House, as the U.S. Representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva. Bremberg was nominated for the position by President Trump Sept. 28, 2018.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement that Bremberg “will be a strong advocate for the cornerstone of all human rights, the right to life, and will stand up to the international abortion lobby at the United Nations.”

The position is an important diplomatic post, representing the U.S. in front of more than 100 international organizations on issues ranging from refugee resettlement to human rights, arms control, and the environment.

As a key advisor to the White House domestic policy, Bremberg had a role in crafting and implementing the administration’s expansion of the Mexico City Policy.

The Mexico City Policy, originally begun under President Reagan and reinstated by the Trump administration, bans U.S. family planning funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning.

The administration’s expansion of that policy, Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance, applied the same funding prohibitions to $8.8 billion in global health assistance.

Bremberg was also the policy director for the 2016 Republican Party platform, which called for stronger refugee resettlement and immigration restrictions, said pornography was a “public health crisis,” and which was hailed by some pro-life leaders for its proposals to ban late-term, disability, and sex-selective abortions.

50 Republicans voted for Bremberg’s confirmation, and 41 Democrats opposed it. Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Democrats in voting against Bremberg’s confirmation.

The confirmation was also opposed by 38 organizations in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho); the organizations included pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes International, the National Abortion Federation, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and the National Organization for Women.

“Mr. Bremberg’s record and confirmation hearing leave no doubt he will use the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva to strip away reproductive rights and LGBTQI rights around the world,” the letter stated.

At his confirmation hearing June 20 in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bremberg faced tough questions on his views on abortion, LGBT rights, and refugee resettlement policy, among other problems.

Menendez asked Bremberg if he thought rape victims should be able to access abortions where it is legal to do so. “I don’t believe abortion is a moral solution to any problem,” Bremberg responded.

Bremberg told Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) that he accepted “reproductive rights” as outlined in two international documents—the 1995 Beijing Conference Strategic Objective, and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development—as “important rights.”

However, he added that the language in those international documents does not include promotion of abortion as a method of family planning.

When pressed by Menendez on proposed funding cuts to refugee assistance at a time when more than 70 million people have been displaced from their homes, Bremberg responded that “we need to see other countries step up and do their fair share” in refugee resettlement.

When pressed again by Menendez on his views on access to abortions for survivors of rape, Bremberg said that “I am pro-life, I believe that all human life is sacred, and that human life begins at conception.”

“So when you’re raped, a woman has no rights?” Menendez responded. Bremberg said that “suggestion” was “horrific,” and later clarified that “any suggestion that I do not have care for victims of rape, I find horrendous. I have family members that were raped, Senator.”

“Well—and I am deeply sorry. But—” Menendez responded, before Bremberg interrupted and said he accepted the apology.

“I am not apologizing,” Menendez retorted before telling Bremberg, “You should apologize to the women who are raped, who you say have to live with the rape.”

Planned Parenthood Action tweeted its disapproval of Bremberg’s confirmation on Tuesday, saying that Bremberg “has the power to erode the rights of women, LGBTQ people, & immigrants around the world.”

In his statement to the committee at his confirmation hearing, Bremberg criticized the UN Human Rights Council for not speaking out on certain human rights problemss such as China using its position on the council to pressure members not to attend an event on its treatment of Uyghurs. He stated his intent to work “to protect US sovereignty and the broader world order we have fought so hard to create.”

Bremberg has attended Franciscan University of Steubenville and the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America. He was for a time the top health policy expert at the Mitre Corporation, Politico has reported.

How should Americans think about religious liberty? New book explores

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2019 / 02:39 pm (CNA).- Helping Americans understand the importance of religious freedom, as well as a measured view of contemporary threats to it, is the goal of a new book from a leading attorney in the field.

Luke Goodrich has spent more than a decade at Becket, and has worked on the legal team in several high-profile religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court, including Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Holt v. Hobbs, and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.

Goodrich’s new book, “Free to Believe: The Battle over Religious Liberty in America,” explores the current religious freedom landscape in the United States today.

In an interview with CNA, Goodrich explained that when religious freedom conflicts arise, hostility is not usually to blame.

“You will sometimes have a case where the government is out to get religious people because of their religion, although that’s fairly rare. You will sometimes have a case where religious people are simply wreaking havoc on society because of their religious practices,” he said.

“But the vast majority of religious freedom conflicts involve neither of those situations, and instead simply involve situations where our very large government is going about its business regulating society, and religious people are going about their business worshipping God, and because of the breadth of government regulation and the diversity of religious practice, you end up with a conflict.”

In these cases, he said, it is important for government to leave religious practice as untouched as possible.

“In the vast majority of cases, there is a workable solution, where the government can accomplish its interest, and where religious people can be left free to practice their faith.”

Unfortunately, Goodrich said, the rhetoric in society does not always match this reality. Exaggerations and inflammatory rhetoric mean that the government is sometimes accused of persecution, while religious people may be falsely accused of bigotry or asking for a “license to discriminate.”

“What I’m trying to do in the book, and what we’re often trying to do in court in these cases is show that Americans are deeply divided over God, over sex, over human life. And yet we need to find a way to live together in relative peace, and protecting religious freedom is a starting point for that, and there are all kinds of solutions that will allow religious people to practice their faith without compromising the goals of society.”

All people, even those who are not practicing any religion themselves, should care about religious freedom, Goodrich said.

The American founders firmly believed that the type of government they were establishing would only be successful in governing a morally virtuous population, he stressed. “And religion is one vital source of moral virtue that’s necessary for our form of self-government.”

There are practical benefits to the flourishing of religion in society, he added, such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, soup kitchens, and halfway houses, which are often run by religious organizations.

In addition, he said, religion has historically reduced social conflict, and it is a protection for dissent and diversity, important elements of American society.

“Religious freedom is a source of protection for all of our other rights, because religious freedom starts from the premise that there’s an authority higher than the government, and the government can’t take that away,” he said.

“This recognition of some source of rights outside of and above the government is a foundational protection of all other rights – free speech, free assembly, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.”

But perhaps the most important reason to care about religious freedom, Goodrich said, is that it is a fundamental right, rooted in our nature as human beings.

Every person is born with a longing for truth, beauty, and goodness – ultimately a longing for God, he said.

“We all have this religious impulse and it can’t be directed by coercion, it can only be directed voluntarily by conscience,” he said. “So when the government tries to coerce us in matters of transcendent truth and our relationship with God, it’s going against human nature and violating a fundamental human right. Everyone should care about religious freedom, because you cannot fully respect human beings unless you respect their religious freedom.”

Still, religious freedom cannot be invoked to justify every type of behavior, Goodrich acknowledged.

“Like any right, religious freedom has limits, and they generally come from the government’s duty to protect other people’s rights – the right to life, the right to property etc.,” he said. Freedom of religion cannot be used to protect acts of terrorism or child sacrifice, for example.

Finding the correct balance of religious freedom claims against government interests can be tricky, but the legal system has worked out tools to help find this balance, he explained.

“I think in general, it’s essential to identify precisely what is the religious practice at issue and precisely what is the government’s interest at issue, and is the government consistent in the way that it pursues that interest.”

For example, difficult cases arise in a prison context, where prisoners are deprived of many liberties, but do not lose all of their freedoms, including religious freedom. Inmates motivated by religious conviction may seek to maintain a certain religious diet in prison, or groom their hair and beard in a certain way, or access religious literature. Meanwhile, the government has valid and weighty interests in restricting the liberty of prisoners.

Balancing these two sides requires asking the questions: “What is the religious practice at issue? What is the government trying to accomplish? Is there any way it can accomplish its goal while still allowing religious freedom?” Goodrich said.

Another key test is that of sincerity, he continued.

“Religious freedom ultimately flows out of the human thirst for transcendent truth and obedience to conscience,” he said. “And so because of that, religious freedom only protects sincere religious beliefs and practices.”

Determining the sincerity of one’s stated religious beliefs is similar to other questions of truth-telling in the law, Goodrich said. Courts look at consistency, how long views have been held, and sometimes basic knowledge of a belief system.

“That becomes relevant in prison, when a prisoner fakes a religious belief in order to get, for example, a diet that he thinks is better. It’s relevant in a military context, where someone says they are conscientiously opposed to war – you have to make sure that’s a genuine belief and not a convenient way to get out of military service. It comes up with parody religions like pastafarians, where they absolutely have free speech rights, but when they’re trying to parody religion and protest religion without sincere religious beliefs themselves, they don’t get religious freedom protection.”

Goodrich also discussed the questions behind conflicts of religious liberty and LGBT claims, among the most contentious religious freedom debates in the U.S. today.

In the book, he argues that “there are strong arguments for protecting religious freedom in the context of gay rights,” similar to the way that conscientious objectors are not forced to fight in war or participate in abortion.

“[W]hen our society is deeply divided on an important moral issue, we look for ways to protect both sides,” he writes. “Protecting conscientious objectors respects the fundamental right of religious freedom and allows our divided society to live together in peace.”

Christians should recognize that there is a “significant risk” posed by conflicts between gay rights and religious freedom, Goodrich advises in the book. They should anticipate such conflicts and possible mitigation, and they should avoid being overly reliant on government funds. But they do not need to give in to panic or alarm – they should also recognize that there are good arguments for protecting religious freedom in LGBT cases, and there is reason to believe these arguments will continue to prevail in courts.

Looking at the current state of religious freedom in the U.S. – and looking ahead to the future – Goodrich told CNA he is “very hopeful.”

“We have a stable legal system with strong guarantees of religious freedom, due process, and the rule of law, and a deep national commitment to religious freedom. Just looking at the legal system and what it’s been delivering, there are plenty of reasons for hope and for optimism.”

He noted that Becket has a 90%-win rate in all of its cases, and is undefeated at the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, though, he has a deeper reason for hope as well. As a Christian writing to other Christians, he said, “we have a source of hope that goes much deeper than the current composition of the Supreme Court or the current occupant of the White House. We have hope ultimately rooted in a person, in Jesus, who said, ‘In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world’.”

“We have hope rooted in an eternal perspective, so that regardless of the outcome of this or that case or that or that election, we have a strong foundation for hope, and that’s part of what I’m trying to accomplish with the book, is call Christians back to the ultimate source of our hope, as well as the ultimate source of religious freedom,” he said.

In this attitude of hope and confidence, Goodrich hopes his book will help Americans to better understand the nature of contemporary religious freedom threats, and be prepared to take practical action.

“We’re called in scripture to be innocent as doves, but also to be shrewd as serpents, so we need to take stock of where we’re at, and be ready for the challenges ahead,” he said.

Appeals court rules against Little Sisters' exemption from HHS mandate

San Francisco, Calif., Oct 23, 2019 / 01:26 pm (CNA).- Attorneys for the Little Sisters of the Poor reiterated their call for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in after a second appeals court ruled against the sisters’ exemption from the federal contraception mandate.

“The Little Sisters never wanted this fight and have spent 8 years trying to focus on caring for the elderly poor instead of fighting senseless legal battles. The states in these lawsuits should leave the nuns alone,” said Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, the law firm representing the sisters.

In an Oct. 22 statement on Twitter, Alvarado noted that Becket and the U.S. Solicitor General have asked the Supreme Court to review the matter.

“It must step in to fix the mess and secure #religiousfreedom for the Little Sisters,” she said. “Enough is enough.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Little Sisters of the Poor on Oct. 22, joining the Third Circuit, which in July also ruled against the order and other pro-life organizations that benefitted from a religious exemption policy against the requirements of the HHS Mandate.

The mandate, initially issued by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act, requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering free contraception, sterilization, and some early abortion drugs.

“The panel affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction barring enforcement in several states of final federal agency rules that exempt employers with religious and moral objections from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that group health plans cover contraceptive care without cost sharing,” said the Ninth Circuit decision.

The ruling was made by Circuit Judges J. Clifford Wallace, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, and Susan P. Graber. Wallace authored the majority opinion, and Kleinfeld dissented.

“We acknowledge that we are in uncharted waters,” says the opinion. “The Supreme Court has yet to address the effect of a nationwide preliminary injunction on an appeal involving a preliminary injunction of limited scope.”

The opinion says the judges would “welcome guidance from the Supreme Court.”

The contraception mandate has been controversial since it was first unveiled in 2011, prompting lawsuits from more than 100 private individuals, religious organizations, states and for-profit businesses who held religious objections to its terms.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order dedicated to the care of the elderly poor, did not qualify for the religious exemption included in the original mandate, which was reserved for houses of worship and their direct affiliates.

Five years after the announcement of the mandate, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters, and ordered that a workaround be developed that appeased all sides. The Trump administration created a new religious exemption rule that exempted those with religious or moral objections to contraception from having to provide it through their insurance plans.

This rule is being challenged in court, as 14 states have argued that the sisters should not receive an exemption from the mandate.

“The states are arguing that even though there’s injunctions in the mandate in the Little Sisters’ case in this country, it violated the law for the federal government to issue a religious exemption,” Diana Verm, senior counsel with Becket, told CNA in early October.

“The Little Sisters just want to go back to serving the elderly poor,” said Verm. “If the Supreme Court rules in their favor, they’ll be able to do so.”

Lawyers for the Little Sisters of the Poor have noted that those opposing them have yet to present an example of a woman who was unable to access birth control due to the views of her employer.

Amazon synod final report an 'instrument', communications official says

Vatican City, Oct 23, 2019 / 11:24 am (CNA).- As the Amazon synod nears a close, a communications official downplayed Wednesday the importance of the assembly’s final report, saying it is not an official Church document, but merely an “instrument” in the synodal journey.

Fr. Giacomo Costa, S.J., communications secretary for the Amazon synod, told journalists Oct. 23 that the assembly’s final document “is not the objective of the synod, but an instrument for going forward all together.”

“In the elaboration phase of the final text, if the synod is a walking together, making these steps together for the Amazon – and for finding new paths of the Church in integral ecology – the instrument that helps in this journey is the final document,” he stated.

Costa’s comments were made during a press conference on the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region, a three-week meeting at the Vatican which will end Oct. 27.

The Amazon synod’s final document, which is essentially a set of recommendations given to Pope Francis, will be voted on by synod members Saturday. It requires a two-thirds majority to pass. It has not yet been confirmed if the document will be voted on paragraph by paragraph, as in the past, or as a whole.

Costa noted the advisory nature of the document in his comments, stating that the text is “entrusted to the last discernment of the pope. He will then receive it and he will underline in an official way the next steps.”

The work of the synod participants in the last several weeks has been “profound listening,” not looking for “the minority, the majority” on certain issues, he said, adding that “sure, numbers count. However, in all of this… everyone has contributed in an original way to construct, to put down these ‘stones’ to make a shared path.”

Costa said the period of the drafting and revising of the Amazon synod’s final text is, therefore, “a very delicate phase, meriting also a certain respect.” The preceding steps having taken place, “now, with faith, we await the last step,” he said.

A team chaired by the synod’s Relator General, Cardinal Claudio Hummes (a Brazilian, and prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy), is principally responsible for writing the final report, according to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who is a member of the final report drafting committee.

At the same press conference, Bishop Gilberto Alfredo Vizcarra Mori, Vicar Apostolic of Jaén in Peru, spoke about an experience he had before the synod. He spent one month with an indigenous community in part of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest as preparation, he said.

Vizcarra said that he went there to “walk with them in the middle of the jungle, to talk to these communities, to live not as someone who will teach because you can’t teach there, you have to depend on them to go into the jungle and discover what it is to live in the jungle.”

The bishop added that after that experience of a month with native people, he is “surprised at how far this world is from us, how difficult it is to be able to understand those categories that we use to define this world [of the Amazon].”

“Biome” is just a concept to most people, he said, but “being there and living in the jungle allows us to understand what this is.”

“The natives feel like themselves as part of a whole life that is composed of so much diversity, of such wonder,” Vizcarra explained, “and that then it is a gift for them and therefore they do not consider themselves a part of this world, of this biome, not as owners or possessors, but as living in the Amazon, being part of this Amazon.”

The synod, he said, should make Catholics better understand the relationship of human beings with the world around them.

Bishop Ricardo Ernesto Centellas Guzmán of Potosí spoke about the participation of women in society and the Church. He noted that women are very active in the Church, but not at the level of decision making.

This change must happen at the local level, he said, adding that he wishes to see pastoral councils move from advisory to deliberative. “To walk together is to decide together,” he said.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay said he thinks there is much more bishops can do to include women in the leadership of the Church.

“I think we bishops are the ones who are not really using the full opportunities that we have to give women much more, which we should really,” he said, explaining that per canon law women are not the ordinary ministers of any sacraments, they can do “practically everything else.”

He noted that CIC 517§2 provides that “If, because of a shortage of priests, the diocesan Bishop has judged that a deacon, or some other person who is not a priest, or a community of persons, should be entrusted with a share in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish, he is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a parish priest, will direct the pastoral care.

Gracias stated: “Women can be teachers, women can be running the parish, they can be organizing, they can be judges of our tribunal. So there is very, very much more that we can do at the moment and I think we must use all this.”

Bishop Zenildo Luiz Pereira da Silva, Prelate of Borba, responded to a question about different interpretations of the Amazon synod by the media, stating that these differences will always be there, but dialogue is always welcome.

The participation of media, both Catholic and secular, is constructive, not threatening, he added.

Pope Francis: Synodality brought pagans to 'reject idolatry'

Vatican City, Oct 23, 2019 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that the first Christian evangelization of the pagans opened up “a very lively controversy” as the early Church discerned how to absorb new members from outside the people of Israel.

In the Acts of the Apostles, “a very delicate theological, spiritual and discipline issue is addressed,” Pope Francis said Oct. 23. “That is, the relationship between faith in Christ and the observance of the Law of Moses.”

“They proposed not to impose circumcision on the pagans, but only to ask them to reject idolatry and all its expressions,” Pope Francis said in his weekly catechesis in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope said that the assembly of Jerusalem, as described in the Acts of the Apostles 15:7-21, “offers us an important light on how to deal with differences and seek the truth in love.”

“It reminds us that the ecclesial method for conflict resolution is based on a dialogue made of attentive and patient listening and on the discernment carried out in the light of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit, in fact, that helps to overcome closures and tensions and works in hearts so that, in truth and in goodness, they may reach unity,” he said.

“This text helps us to understand synodality,” he said, adding that “the presence of the Holy Spirit is precisely synodality.”

“We ask the Lord to strengthen the desire and responsibility of communion in all Christians, especially bishops and presbyters,” the pope prayed.

Francis said that the Acts of the Apostles describes “the long journey of the Word of God,” which he said must be “announced everywhere.”

“The nature of the Church emerges from the Book of Acts, which is not a fortress, but a tent capable of widening its space and giving access to all,” he said.

Francis said that the Church is called to be “a Church with open doors,” and commented that it presents a sign contrary to the nature of the Church when he sees church buildings in Rome or in other dioceses with their doors closed.

“The Church is called to always be the open house of the Father. Thus, if someone wants to follow a movement of the Holy Spirit and approach, seeking God, he will not meet with the coldness of a closed door,” he said.

“But the novelty is for whom are the doors open? To the pagans, because the Apostles preached to the Jews, but the pagans also came to knock on the door of the Church; and this newness of the doors open to the pagans triggers a very lively controversy,” Pope Francis said.

Francis’ meditation on the theme “God has opened the door of faith to the pagans” was a part of his series of weekly reflections on the Acts of the Apostles.

The pope said that the journey of the early Christians’ proclamation of the Gospel begins after a strong persecution, which “instead of provoking a setback for evangelization, becomes an opportunity to widen the field where to spread the good seed of the Word.”

“Christians are not afraid. They must flee, but they flee with the Word, and spread the Word a little everywhere,” he said.

In his greeting to Italian pilgrims at the general audience, Pope Francis recalled the feast of St. John Paul II celebrated Oct. 22.

“Yesterday we celebrated the liturgical memory of St. John Paul II; let us imitate this master of faith and evangelical life, an example of love for Christ and for man,” Pope Francis said.

Florida bishops ask governor to stay planned execution

Tallahassee, Fla., Oct 23, 2019 / 12:26 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Florida have called on Governor Ron DeSantis to halt the scheduled execution of James Dailey, who is on death row for murder in a controversial case from nearly 35 years ago.

The bishops leading the seven dioceses of Florida signed a joint letter Oct. 21. While they noted their objections to any use of the death penalty in the state, they said Dailey’s case is “especially alarming” because of the evidence of innocence surrounding him.

“There is strong evidence that James Dailey’s death sentence was yet another failure of justice,” the bishops said. “Another man, Jack Pearcy, has signed a sworn affidavit that he, and he alone, was responsible for the tragic death of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio.”

Dailey, a 73-year-old veteran, is scheduled to be executed Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, whose body was found repeatedly stabbed and drowned near St. Petersburg.

There is no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony connecting Dailey to the murder, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Rather, Dailey’s housemate and co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, accused him of taking part in the crime. Pearcy is currently serving a life sentence for the murder.

Inmates at the prison where Dailey was being held were interviewed, initially yielding no results. A few days later, however, three inmates said they had heard Dailey make incriminating statements. The inmates received reduced charges in return for the information, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. One of the inmates was known as a prolific informant, giving testimony over the years that has sent four men to death row and being convicted himself of more than 20 crimes of deception.

Pearcy has acknowledged at least four times that Dailey was innocent of the crime, Dailey’s lawyers maintain, including in a 2017 affidavit, signed by Pearcy, which said, “James Dailey was not present when Shelly Boggio was killed. I alone am responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death.”

However, in January 2018, Pearcy took the witness stand and was questioned about the affidavit. He said some of the statements in it were untrue. When pressed further about which statements, he invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer.

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Dailey’s appeal, which argued that new evidence discrediting the jail informant testimony against Dailey should be permitted to be introduced. The court said Dailey should have raised this objection earlier. It ruled that all of his “newly discovered evidence claims were either correctly rejected as untimely or based on inadmissible evidence.”

The bishops of Florida voiced concern over the state’s high number of executions - and exonerations.

“Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations,” they noted. “Florida makes more mistakes than any other state in sentencing innocent people to death.”

Dailey would be the 100th execution in Florida since the state revived the death penalty in 1976.

“This use of the death penalty wounds our society by allowing a devaluation and coarseness of life in our community,” the bishops said.

Concerns over the scheduled execution have also been raised by three men who were sentenced to death but later exonerated due to poor evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.

The men, Juan Melendez, Herman Lindsey, and Derrick Jamison, have written a letter to Governor DeSantis asking him to reconsider Dailey’s case.

“The same types of evidence that led each of us to be exonerated are also present in James’ case,” they wrote. “The only difference allowing us to be spared from execution while James is set to be killed is whether or not a judge and jury has had the opportunity to review all the evidence.”

The bishops of Florida announced more than 30 prayer vigils throughout the state on Nov. 7, where Catholics and other community members will gather “to pray for the victim and aggressor, their families, for our society which continues to impose violence in return for violence, and for an end to the use of the death penalty.”

“As Pope Francis has stated, and as the Catechism has been updated to reflect, the death penalty is ‘inadmissible’ due to modern penal systems,” the bishops said. “At certain times in history, the teachings of the Church did not exclude recourse to the death penalty when it was the only means by which to protect society and guilt was properly determine.”

“Today, however, alternative sentences, such as life without parole, are severe punishments through which society can be kept safe,” they continued, stressing that these alternatives “do not degrade us by ending yet another life - perpetuating, rather than ending, a cycle of violence.”

United Arab Emirates pledges to help rebuild Catholic churches in Mosul

Mosul, Iraq, Oct 22, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- The United Arab Emirates is partnering with UNESCO to rebuild two Catholic churches in Mosul that were destroyed in 2014 by the Islamic State.

The initiative will help rebuild Al-Tahera Church and Al-Saa'a Church.

“Today’s signing is a pioneering partnership that sends a message of light, in seemingly darker times,” Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister for Culture and Knowledge Development, said Oct. 10.

“By rebuilding a fraction of the past, Iraq can shape its future as an inclusive, tolerant and open society which has always found a tangible manifestation in Mosul’s rich historical sites.”

The parties signed the partnership to ‘Revive the Spirit of Mosul’ at UNESCO headquarters in Paris Oct. 10.

The agreement is part of the UAE’s “Year of Tolerance” initiative, which began with a $50.4 million agreement signed in April 2018 to help rebuild historical landmarks in Mosul. Students in the departments of archaeology, architecture and engineering of the University of Mosul will take part in the process of restoration of the landmark buildings, UNESCO said.

In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State made inroads into the Nineveh Plain region of Iraq – a home of Christianity since the first century – but over the course of 2016, areas in the region have been retaken from the organization's control by cooperation of various local and international actors.

In the two years of Islamic State control, over 3.3 million Iraqis were internally displaced.

The Islamic State destroyed at least 28 sites of religious significance in the city after taking control of it in June 2014.

Al-Saa'a Church is a Dominican church that was built between 1866 and 1873. Its structure was damaged and its convent looted and ransacked.

Brother Nicolas Tixier and Brother Olivier Poquillon were present at the signing to represent the Dominican fathers, who are working with UNESCO on the rehabilitation project.

Al-Tahera was a church of the Syriac Catholic Church built from 1859 to 1862. It has sustained severe damage in recent years and much of its arcade and outer walls were destroyed.

According to Gulf News, a Dubai daily, the UAE's project will create more than 1,000 jobs in Mosul.

Muslims and Christians have been teaming up to rebuild parts of the city.

In April, Syria Archbishop Youhanna Boutros Moshe of Mosul told Aid to the Church in Need that “there are very clear and concrete signs of progress” in the Mosul area, while adding that “no credit goes to the state: credit belongs to the faith-based and humanitarian organizations that rushed in to support us.”

'However, we still lack the funds to complete the reconstruction of all the homes that were very badly damaged or completely destroyed; we are waiting and hoping that governments, like those of the United Kingdom and Hungary, will step in and help us on this front,” he said.

“As for the creation of jobs, there are very few initiatives; we have made many requests to several American, British, French and even Saudi Arabian companies to launch some major projects in the region, so that our people can survive and especially our young people can find work – but we are still waiting. The Iraqi government has made many promises, but few projects have been implemented. Our confidence in the state is low,” Archbishop Moshe stated.

During the Islamic State occupation, thousands were killed and nearly 1 million residents fled the city. The Islamist group imposed a rigid version of sharia in its territory, but its rule also featured arbitrary violence, including killing and mass enslavement. A 2016 U.N. report said that 800 to 900 children in Mosul were abducted and put through Islamic State religious and military training.

Iraqi forces completed their recapture of Mosul from the Islamic State in July 2017, and the nation's ambassador to the Holy See said at the time that they are eager to rebuild the city and have people return home, but will require help to do so.

“We reiterate our need for greater cooperation and greater help for the reconstruction and stability of the freed areas, including Mosul, because there is no complete victory until the displaced are returned to their homes and guaranteed essential services,” Omer Ahmed Karim Berzinji said in July 2017.

“The most important challenge now is the effort for the reconstruction and the stability of the city through the construction of infrastructures in order for the displaced to return. We have need of international support to bring back stability and to prevent the return of the terrorists.”

Five years on from the conquering of Christian communities in Iraq by the Islamic State, Christians in the country remain at the “point of extinction,” Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil has said.

The Islamic State led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians from historical homelands, he told CNA in August, and to date about 40,000 Christians have returned; many have emigrated.