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Colorado’s Catholic bishops will open abuse records for review

Denver, Colo., Feb 19, 2019 / 08:51 pm (CNA).- An agreement between Colorado’s attorney general and the state’s Catholic bishops aims to investigate clergy sex abuse of minors in the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses the dioceses’ past handling of sex abuse, and current procedures and responses to abuse allegations.
 
“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said at a Feb. 19 press conference held with the Colorado attorney general.
 
This process will involve “painful moments” and “cannot ever fully restore what was lost,” the archbishop said.
 
“We pray that it will at least begin the healing process,” he said. Transparency for the Church’s history on child abuse is needed, said the archbishop, who hoped that the programs offer a “path to healing for survivors and their families.”
 
Also speaking at the press conference were Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who took office in January; Colorado’s immediate past attorney general Cynthia Coffman; and Father Randy Dollins, vicar general of the Denver Archdiocese. In addition to the Archdiocese of Denver, the Colorado Springs diocese and the Pueblo diocese are parties to the agreement.
 
“It’s well known that child sexual abuse is a societal-wide program,” Weiser said. “It demands our attention and action. I am so pleased the Church today has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for survivors.”
 
The process involves an independent review of church records, a compensation process for victims, and a victims’ support service to aid their participation in the compensation program.
 
Robert Troyer, former U.S. Attorney for Colorado, will conduct the independent review. The agreement with the dioceses gives him “full access” to their files on sexual abuse of minors by diocesan clergy, according to a Feb. 19 joint statement from Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and the Catholic bishops of Colorado.
 
The review will examine the records and policies of Colorado’s three Roman Catholic dioceses about the sexual abuse of minors. A public report will be drafted and released to the public. The review aims to ensure that there are “no known or suspected abusers in active ministry.”
 
The review aims to provide transparency regarding abuse in the Church and the dioceses’ historic responses. The report will analyze dioceses’ current policies and procedures for abuse prevention and their response to abuse allegations.
 
The independent review aims to provide “recognition of past wrongdoing” and an opportunity for healing. The report process is not a criminal investigation, but an “independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church.”
 
The joint statement from the attorney general and the bishops said that they are not aware of any previously unreported criminal conduct. Should the review find any abusers, they will be reported to law enforcement immediately.
 
The report is expected to be released by fall 2019. It will not identify victims by name to protect their privacy. It will name diocesan priests with “substantiated allegations” of sexually abusing minors. It will detail these substantiated allegations, including the assignments of abusive priests and the years of the alleged abuse.
 
Misconduct with minors, described as “inappropriate but not illegal behavior,” will also be included in the report, but those accused of misconduct will not be named.
 
The term “diocesan priest” does not include religious order priests, who, according to the agreement, are “assigned, transferred, and subject to the control of their own religious orders and religious superiors,” and not subject to the governance of the Colorado dioceses.
 
While sexual misconduct with adults is not a focus of the report, if adult victims of abuse come forward, the attorney general’s office will support them, Weiser said.
 
Half the costs of Troyer’s independent review will be met by the three dioceses, and the rest by anonymous donors.
 
The Catholic dioceses will also fund “an independent, voluntary program that will compensate victims of abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred,” the joint statement said.
 
The program will be developed by nationally recognized claims administrations experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros.
 
They were involved in compensations in the wake of the Aurora, Colo. theater shooting in 2012 and are also been involved in Catholic sex abuse victims’ compensation programs in New York, New Jersey and other states.
 
Colorado’s bishops and the attorney general agreed that the program must accept claims through the public release of the independent review, as well as for “a reasonable period of time” after.
 
Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown will chair an independent commission overseeing the reparations program.
 
The reparations program will be augmented by a victims’ support service that will be created to aid victims or survivors. The service will be staffed by professionals who can discuss the reparations, program, hear stories from abuse victims, answer possible claimants’ questions, and help support the submission of documentation to the program.
 
Coffman, Weiser’s predecessor as Colorado attorney general, initiated action investigating Catholic clergy sex abuse in Colorado in late 2018.
 
“There is a recognition that childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution,” Coffman said. “The spotlight is on the Catholic Church but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on the activity.”
 
After a July Pennsylvania attorney general report compiled allegations against over 300 Catholic clergy, with over 1,000 reported victims, Coffman’s office began receiving calls from Colorado citizens who had suffered sexual abuse in the past. Some were abused in other states by priests who were no longer alive.
 
“There is a recognition that childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution,” Coffman said at the press conference. “The spotlight is on the Catholic Church but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on the activity.”
 
Representatives of the group Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests asked the Colorado attorney general to conduct a grand jury investigation into sex abuse of children in the Catholic Church in Colorado. The request was part of the group’s national effort to engage every state attorney general.
 
While some states’ attorneys general have the authority to launch such investigations, Colorado’s does not.
 
Coffman’s office began examining alternatives for uncovering previously undisclosed abuse involving Catholic priests. That effort drew a response from the Catholic bishops, who reached out to understand the effort. Her office discussed options on investigations.
 
Meeting with Aquila, Dollins, Bishop Stephen Jay Berg of Pueblo, and representatives of the Colorado Catholic Conference, Coffman said, “demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”
 
She voiced gratitude for their “cooperation and collaboration.”
 
Aquila referred questions about the Denver archdiocese’s current policy on abuse of minors to a website the archdiocese created to provide information.

 

Notre Dame rescinds McCarrick's honorary degree

South Bend, Ind., Feb 19, 2019 / 05:52 pm (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame has rescinded the honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree it conferred on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2008, becoming the latest of a growing number of schools who have rescinded honorary degrees from the defrocked former archbishop.  

“The Vatican has announced the conclusion of the adjudicatory process against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, finding that he transgressed his vows, used his power to abuse both minors and adults and violated his sacred duty as a priest,” said the University of Notre Dame in a statement posted to its website on Saturday, the day McCarrick was laicized, or removed from the clerical state.  

“In accord with University President Rev. John I. Jenkins’ statement of Aug. 2, 2018, the University of Notre Dame is rescinding the honorary degree conferred in 2008.”

In August, Jenkins said that the school would revoke the degree if McCarrick were found guilty at the conclusion of his canonical process, but would hold off on a decision until that point.

McCarrick, who was Archbishop of Washington until his retirement in 2006, was found guilty on Saturday of charges of sexually abusing adults and minors, as well as soliciting sex from the confessional. Prior to his laicization, he was forbidden from public ministry and had been sentenced to a life of prayer and penance while the canonical process was ongoing. He is currently living at a friary in Kansas.

In July 2018, he resigned from the College of Cardinals after the Archdiocese of New York received two credible and substantiated claims that he had abused minors.

After these allegations were made public, it was revealed that the Archdiocese of Newark and the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton had paid two settlements to men who had been abused by McCarrick when they were adult seminarians in New Jersey. More people came forward throughout the summer of 2018 to describe a culture of abuse and sexual harassment that permeated seminaries in New Jersey while McCarrick was the Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark.

During his time as a bishop, McCarrick was awarded honorary degrees by more than 30 colleges and universities from around the world. Since June, a number of universities have rescinded honorary degrees they had conferred upon McCarrick.

His honorary degrees from Fordham University, Catholic University of America, College of Mount Saint Vincent, Siena College, University of Portland, and University of New Rochelle were all rescinded in 2018 after he resigned from the College of Cardinals. Georgetown University is currently reviewing whether or not to rescind the Doctor of Humane Letters it conferred on McCarrick in 2004. Providence College and St. John’s University, which conferred honorary degrees on McCarrick in 1987 and 1974, respectively, did not respond to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication.

Until Monday, the only other honorary degree that the University of Notre Dame had rescinded was an LL.D. the school conferred on comedian Bill Cosby in 1990. The school rescinded the degree after Cosby was convicted on numerous sexual assault charges in 2018 and sentenced to 3-10 years in prison.

Why the USCCB is speaking out against payday loan rule rollbacks

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2019 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Feb. 14 officially proposed to rescind a rule to protect borrowers from predatory lending, prompting concern from Christian groups nationwide that the CFPB may weaken existing protections against loan sharks.

Catholic Charities USA and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined a coalition of Christian groups to sign a letter last week expressing concern that rescinding the so-called “small dollar lending rule” could harm low-income borrowers.

“We encourage you to take this opportunity to strengthen, not weaken, the rule,” the letter reads, penned by the group Faith for Just Lending.

“The rule as finalized seeks to protect vulnerable individuals and families in time of financial crisis from debt traps designed around their inability--as opposed to ability--to repay their loan...We believe that the rule was a step in the right direction, but more must be done.”

The “small dollar lending” rule, which the financial agency announced in Oct. 2017, was designed to protect financially vulnerable consumers from annual interest rates of up to 300 percent on so-called payday loans and auto title loans. The bureau announced Feb. 6 that it seeks to delay the rule’s implementation until 2020 and remove key requirements on lenders.

Though an estimated 12 million customers use small-dollar loans each year, the agency has long chronicled the risks these loans pose to the vulnerable. Faced with having to repay a loan along with high interest and fees, borrowers risk “defaulting, re-borrowing, or skipping other financial obligations like rent or basic living expenses such as buying food or obtaining medical care,” according to the CFPB.

Many borrowers will end up repeatedly rolling over or refinancing their loans, racking up more debt in the process and possibly running the risk of having their vehicle seized, the bureau says.  

The new rule would have required lenders to conduct a “full-payment test” to determine upfront that borrowers can afford to repay their loans within two weeks or a month without re-borrowing. It also would have capped at three the number of loans that could be given in quick succession, the CFPB said in its Oct. 2017 release.

The U.S. bishops’ conference and others said that the finalized rule would have also contained a loophole to allow customers to take out six successive 300% interest loans under certain conditions.

“This sanctioning of usurious loans not only contradicts our own faith traditions, but also contradicts the CFPB’s own reasoning laid out in its rule,” the Feb. 15 letter says.

“The CFPB recognizes in its proposal the harmful consequences of unaffordable loans, such as defaulting on expenses or having to quickly re-borrow. By the CFPB’s own reasoning, allowing six loans in a year in rapid succession, as exceptions to the assessment of a borrower's ability to repay, is too many.”

The letter notes that Scripture provides guidance for “honorable lending and borrowing,” which includes the principles of not taking advantage of the weak, not charging usurious interest, and seeking the good of the other person.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns usury as theft and a violation of the Seventh Commandment, specifically mentioning the “forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another.”

“A business that targets vulnerable people with a product that leaves most of its customers worse off does not contribute to the common good,” the letter says.

Bishops throughout the U.S. have decried the use of payday loans, and have backed legislation which would restrict the effect these loans on have on the borrowers.

In November of 2013, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, then-chair of the committee on domestic justice and human development for the U.S. bishops’ conference, wrote the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about payday lending abuses, calling such lending immoral because it “preys on the financial hardship of poor and vulnerable consumers, exploits their lack of understanding, and increases economic insecurity.”

Bishops elsewhere have fought for payday loan reforms, like in Texas, where the state’s Catholic Conference has pushed for regulations at the state legislature.

Dr. Robert Mayer, a professor of political theory at Loyola University Chicago, told CNA in a 2016 interview that regulations on payday lenders could successfully curb lending abuses, but they could also carry adverse consequences for some people needing a fast line of credit, including perhaps those who have successfully paid off such loans in the past without incurring large amounts of debt.

This is where the Church and faith-based organizations could step in to help those who need emergency cash at a low cost, including local St. Vincent DePaul societies and Catholic Charities branches.

Local Catholic Charities in places like Salina, Kansas already have offices that can help customers refinance their debt after falling into a cycle of predatory lending. Catholic Charities in Kansas started a program in 2016 that provides small, low interest loans, with a maximum of a $1000, so that people who do have an immediate need are able to borrow funds.
 

Philadelphia archdiocese has authorized $8.4 million to abuse victims

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 19, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has so far authorized more than $8.4 million in compensation to survivors of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy, according to an interim report released on Feb. 15.

The report analyzed the first three months of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP), which was formally launched in mid-November 2018. All who were abused as minors by members of the clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are eligible to apply for compensation, even if the statute of limitations has expired.

All 348 people who had previously reported abuse to the archdiocese were mailed information on the program and filing a complaint.

In addition, 120 people who had not previously reported a claim have registered for the program on the IRRP website, and of these, 72 were deemed eligible to file a claim, and 39 were ruled ineligible. Nine of these claims are still pending approval.

Only those who were abused as a minor by a member of the clergy within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are eligible for compensation. All rejected claims from the IRRP website were denied because the alleged abuse was not by a member of the clergy from the archdiocese, or the alleged abuse was committed by a layperson or non-Catholic employee of a church.

Per the report, the IRRP website has led to an “unearthing of new allegations” and so far has resulted in one priest in active ministry being placed on leave after an allegation of abusing a minor in the 1970s. This priest had not previously been accused of misconduct, and the complaint is being investigated by law enforcement.

Since November, there have been 86 claims filed for compensation. All but 16 were from previously-known claimants. There have been 36 claims that have been given determination letters, and of these, 16 offers of compensation have been accepted by the abuse survivor. Twenty claims have been authorized to be paid, but the offers have not yet been accepted by the claimant and are still under consideration.

Out of the $8.4 million authorized as compensation payments, a total of $4.5 million has been paid to compensate survivors of abuse. There is no cap on the amount an abuse survivor can be compensated, nor is there a limit on how much the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will pay all survivors.

The claimant is not under any obligation to accept the compensation offered by the IRRP, but none of the settlement offers so far have been rejected. One person agreed to drop his pending litigation against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia after being offered a settlement through the IRRP.

Counseling is also offered to all who request it as part of their claim with the IRRP. Since the program began in November, 25 claimants have requested counseling services.

The archdiocese does not control the IRRP, which is being administered by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, the same people who are administering a similar program for survivors of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy in New Jersey.

The IRRP is being overseen by Former Sen. George J. Mitchell and Hon. Lawrence F. Stengel and Hon. Kelley B. Hodge. Lynn Shiner is working as victim support facilitator.

The next report will be released in May, six months into the program. Claimants have until September 30, 2019 to file for compensation.

 

Supreme Court overturns death penalty for man with intellectual disability

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2019 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a ruling released Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the death penalty sentence of a Texas inmate whom the court found to be intellectually disabled.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network applauded the court’s decision, saying it “parallels a growing consensus among the American public that the death penalty is falling out of favor.”

“It is encouraging to see that even in Texas, one of the last strongholds for capital punishment in the U.S., executions like this will no longer be tolerated,” CMN's Executive Director, Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy said in a Feb. 19 statement.

“Though Texas accounts for 13 of last year’s 25 executions, in the years since Bobby James Moore was sentenced to death, we have seen a growing number of TX District Attorneys pledging to seek the death penalty less frequently.”

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court found that “on the basis of the trial court record, Moore has shown he is a person with intellectual disability.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moore’s case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-3 decision in 2017, the Court overturned the criminal appeals court’s decision, saying the Briseno factors were outside of the clinical consensus means of evaluating one’s mental capacity and adding that the appeals court strayed from Supreme Court precedent in its decision.

The Supreme Court told the lower court to reassess Moore’s eligibility for the death penalty using the updated standards. The appeals court reconsidered the case but again concluded the Moore was eligible for the death penalty.

However, the Supreme Court said Tuesday that the appeals court demonstrated “too many instances in which, with small variations, it repeats the analysis we previously found wanting, and these same parts are critical to its ultimate conclusion.”

“We conclude that the appeals court’s opinion, when taken as a whole and when read in the light both of our prior opinion and the trial court record, rests upon analysis too much of which too closely resembles what we previously found improper,” the Supreme Court found. “And extricating that analysis from the opinion leaves too little that might warrant reaching a different conclusion than did the trial court.”

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch dissented from the majority ruling, saying that the Supreme Court had not been clear in stating how lower courts should apply standards for evaluating intellectual disability. They said the role of the Supreme Court was to consider the standards used by lower courts, not to review factual findings of a particular case.

In their response to the ruling, the Catholic Mobilizing Network said they “continue to pray for Bobby James Moore’s victim, James McCarble, and his family,” and encouraged Catholics to defend all human life.

“As a Church, we are called to the work of building a culture of life that upholds human dignity,” Murphy said. “Catholics should pay attention to death penalty cases before the Supreme Court such as this one, because they serve as important measures of how the highest court in the land is working to defend or disregard human life.”

 

Assisted suicide threatens the entire medical profession, Maryland doctor warns

Baltimore, Md., Feb 19, 2019 / 01:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Assisted suicide contradicts the foundations of medical ethics, violates the basic standards of medical care, and threatens people who most need the assistance of the medical profession, warned a doctor who is opposing Maryland’s proposal to legalize the practice.

“If we allow this form of euthanasia into our health care system, it will inevitably corrode and destroy the values that define the health professions and lead to public trust in them,” said Dr. Joseph Marine, a Maryland cardiologist. “No one will be immune to its long-term corrosive and destructive effects on the health care system.”

Marine is a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who has practiced medicine for close to 20 years. He is also a member of the coalition Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide.

His Feb. 18 essay in the Baltimore Sun made a case against a proposal in the state legislature to legalize assisted suicide.

“Physician-assisted suicide is not medical care,” Marine said. “It has no basis in medical science or medical tradition. It is not taught in medical schools or residency training programs.” The drug combinations used to end patients’ lives “come from the euthanasia movement and not from the medical profession or medical research.”

The doctor warned that “patients will not trust physicians who prescribe death.”

Laws permitting assisted suicide create a new class of “human beings denied the protection of the law” and hinders the work of medical professionals who are “committed to preserving rather than taking life,” he said.

Marine’s commentary followed the introduction of the “End-of-Life Option Act” in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year, listed as House Bill 399 and Senate Bill 311.

If passed, the bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medications to patients with a terminal illness and an estimated six months left to live, while protecting prescribing doctors from prosecution. The bill would supersede a 1999 ban on assisted suicide.

The proposal is supported by Compassion and Choices, an Oregon-based group formerly known as the Hemlock Society, which advocates for assisted suicide.

Delegate Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat from Howard County who chairs the Health and Government Operations Committee is again sponsoring the bill after previous years’ versions were withdrawn before being voted down.

“Every person is one bad death away from supporting this bill,” she said. “Many of us have been there and many of us are on the way to another one of those.”

Pendergrass said she believes the bill can pass this year, the Baltimore Sun reported. The legislation has a new co-sponsor, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee vice-chairman Sen. Will Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat.

For Marine, physician-assisted suicide is a dangerous practice, with promised safeguards “an illusion.”

“Suicidal impulses of everyone else in society are treated with crisis intervention,” said Marine, who argued that patients who qualify for legal assisted suicide are denied such intervention and are “tacitly or explicitly encouraged to take their own lives.”

He objected to the lack of required formal psychiatric evaluation and minimal informed consent for a patient seeking assisted suicide. No witnesses are required for the consumption of the lethal drugs, and legal assisted suicide proposal lacks routine audits and impartial third-party oversight.

“In addition, physicians and other participants are given broad legal immunity and records are excluded from legal discovery or subpoena. There is no accountability,” Marine said in his Baltimore Sun essay.

In practice, assisted suicide means prescribing a non-FDA-approved lethal overdose of a drug or drugs to a person “believed to have a terminal illness.”

In Washington state, doctors experimenting with new physician-assisted suicide drug cocktails caused some patients to scream in pain before dying, said Marine, who cited a Kaiser Health News report published Feb. 16, 2017 in USA Today.

The lack of medical witnesses for 80 percent of patient deaths in assisted suicide means it is unknown whether complications took place.

Marine said assisted suicide advocates make false assumptions about the reliability of a terminal medical prognosis. Some patients who received a prescription for assisted suicide drugs, but did not use it, continued living for several years.

In practice, doctors are unable to determine whether a patient considered “terminal” has six months to live with “sufficient reliability,” Marine said. This means some patients would die needlessly.

The “vast majority” of doctors will not take part in assisted suicide, he added. Where it is legalized, almost all prescriptions are “written by a small handful of doctors who may know little about the patients requesting it.”

After the District of Columbia legalized doctor-assisted suicide in 2017, only two of the 11,000 licensed physicians signed up to prescribe the relevant drugs, Marine reported.

Marine cited opposition to physician-assisted suicide from the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the World Medical Association. Almost all disability rights organizations also oppose the practice.

Doctor-assisted suicide has led to wider forms of euthanasia in every country that has legalized it, he said.

Marine praised Maryland’s palliative and hospice care, saying its programs are recognized as among the best in the country. He said support for these programs should be the primary focus of the state legislature, and not assisted suicide.

Maryland’s latest assisted suicide bill is the fourth proposal in five years. Similar bills were introduced in 2015, 2016 and 2017 but were withdrawn before they could be voted down.

The legislation has also drawn opposition from the Maryland Catholic Conference, the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Baltimore City Medical Society.

“As Catholics we stand firm with our partners across the state to strongly oppose this legislation,” Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said Feb. 1.

“Our state has repeatedly rejected this group’s agenda and with good reason: assisted-suicide threatens Maryland’s most vulnerable, putting those with disabilities, the elderly, our veterans, and those battling prescription drug addiction at grave risk,” she said.

Assisted suicide is legal in seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

 

Bishops ask Supreme Court to hear case on racism in death sentencing

Atlanta, Ga., Feb 19, 2019 / 03:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Three U.S. bishops have called on the Supreme Court to take up the case of a death row inmate in Georgia whose sentence may have been prejudiced by the racism of a juror.

“There is no toxin more pernicious than hatred based on racial stereotypes,” the bishops warned in a Feb. 17 opinion piece in The Atlantic.

They said that despite some progress in overcoming racism, it still exists in America today.

“Whenever personal prejudices surface in a trial, society relies on appellate courts and especially the Supreme Court to rectify these biases.”

The opinion piece in The Atlantic was written by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

The bishops pointed to the case of Keith Tharpe, who was convicted in 1990 of two counts of kidnapping and the murder of his sister-in-law, Jacquelyn Freeman.

Tharpe was scheduled to be executed in September 2017. The Supreme Court intervened with a temporary stay of execution just hours before the inmate was set to be put to death. The Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court in Atlanta to re-examine the claim that one juror’s racist views had prejudiced the case. In an affidavit after the trial, the juror had used racial slurs and said he “wondered if black people even have souls.”

The appeals court barred Tharpe’s appeal on procedural grounds and ruled that the Supreme Court’s 2017 opinion allowing courts to consider evidence of jurors’ racial prejudice could not be retroactively applied to Tharpe’s case.

Now, Tharpe has asked the Supreme Court to consider the merits of his case - to examine whether the inmate was unconstitutionally sentenced to death based on the racism of a juror. The Supreme Court has yet to announce whether it will take up the case.

Since there is clear evidence that racism may have played a part in Tharpe’s sentence, the bishops said, the Supreme Court should take up the case and “correct the clear, documented racism in the case by granting him a new sentencing hearing.”

Last November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter recognizing the stain of racism on the history of the United States and reaffirming the importance of fighting the sin of racism today.

The letter, entitled “Open Wide Our Hearts – The Enduring Call to Love,” stressed that racism is a failure to recognize human dignity.

“In our pastoral letter, we explain that racism comes in many forms—and one of them is the sin of omission,” the bishops said in the opinion piece for The Atlantic.

“This occurs when individuals, communities, and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered. To do justice requires an honest acknowledgment of our failures and the restoring of right relationships among us. That’s why we are speaking out about Tharpe’s case.”

Archbishop Gregory, Bishop Dewane, and Bishop Fabre offered prayers for Freeman – Tharpe’s victim – and her family.

They also noted that the Catechism teaches that the death penalty is as inadmissible violation of human dignity, even for those who have committed violent crimes.

“As bishops, we take very seriously Jesus’s call to visit those in prison,” they said. “We have visited prisoners, including those on death row. In most parishes with prisons or jails, a priest or deacon visits every week to offer religious services.”

“We have been blessed to witness true rehabilitation and meet prisoners who earnestly seek redemption through God’s grace.”

The bishops emphasized their duty as religious leader to insist that racism be challenged on the grounds that “we are all brothers and sisters, equally made in the image of God.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court must intervene in his case to ensure that fairness is protected and justice is defended—before it’s too late,” they said. “To do nothing would be tragic not only for Tharpe, but for our collective dignity.”

 

Emergency declaration raises new questions about Texas border chapel

Brownsville, Texas, Feb 18, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border has again raised the possibility of a barrier being constructed through La Lomita Historical Park, blocking access to an historic chapel on the site.

 

A recent congressional funding compromise allocated more than a billion dollars for border barrier construction, but expressly forbid the use of appropriated funds to construct a barrier through La Lomita and a handful of other locations. But the president’s subsequent moves to access other sources of funding for the project have raised questions about the effectiveness of the site’s congressional protection.

 

La Lomita Historical Park is a small park located in Mission, Texas, which contains the La Lomita Chapel, built in 1865. The chapel is owned by the Diocese of Brownsville and administered by the nearby Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. If the border wall were to be constructed as planned, the chapel would be located on the southern side of the wall and would be much harder to access by the wider community.

 

On Feb. 15, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act into law, which included the stipulation that “none of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing” or any other barrier in La Lomita Historical Park.

 

That bill allocated $1.3 billion in funding for the border wall, far short of the $5.7 billion Trump had requested.

 

The same day Trump signed the bill into law, he declared a national emergency along the southern border and invoked the National Emergencies Act. The declaration is expected to grant Trump access to the remainder of the funds he had requested to build a border wall, plus further additional funding.

 

With the national emergency declaration, it is now uncertain if the exclusion of the La Lomita site and the other locations specifically mentioned in the bill remains intact, as the emergency funding may not be subject to the same spending restrictions as the money allocated by Congress.

 

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal cited a senior administration official who claimed that the White House considers the restrictions in the appropriations bill only to apply to the $1.3 billion it allocated by Congress, and not to the additional money accessed by the emergency declaration.

 

A source familiar with the case told CNA that there is no clear precedent to determine whether or not the emergency funds can be used to build in La Lomita Historical Park.

 

The source told CNA that an argument could be made that, by including the exemption in the appropriations bill, Congress had prohibited the use of any funds for border wall construction in those specific places, and that any attempt by the administration to build in the exempted areas would be highly contentious.

 

Shortly after the emergency declaration was announced, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced he would be filing suit against the Trump Administration to dispute whether the current situation on the U.S.-Mexico border constitutes an emergency.

 

The Diocese of Brownsville has been contesting the possible construction of a border wall near La Lomita Chapel for months.

 

Earlier in February, a federal judge ruled against the diocese, who had argued that allowing the government to survey the land around the chapel to determine its suitability for a wall was a violation of religious freedom. The judge ruled that the act of surveying land did not require or impede access to the chapel or the exercise of religious liberty.

 

Lawyers representing the Diocese of Brownsville told CNA that they were not surprised by this decision, but felt as though they would have a stronger case if the construction of the wall were to move forward and cut off worshippers’ access to La Lomita Chapel.

 

In response to the passage of the appropriations act and the declaration of emergency by the president, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville released a statement to CNA calling the congressional exemptions “commendable” given the “the significance of the La Lomita chapel to the Catholic community” and to the history of the region.

 

Flores then said that he would be praying that those charged with planning any construction  would use prudence in making their decisions.

 

“I pray that in the days to come a spirit of good will and good judgment will animate all of our national leaders as they make decisions that affect daily life in our local communities along the Border,” Flores said.

Catholic Charities unveils plan to fight chronic homelessness in Southern Nevada

Las Vegas, Nev., Feb 17, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- As part of a new nationwide program, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada is hoping to reduce chronic homelessness in the area by 20 percent in the next five years.

Las Vegas is one of five cities taking part in the Healthy Housing Initiative – a partnership announced Feb. 13 between Catholic Charities USA, local Catholic Charities and Catholic health care agencies. Detroit, Portland, St. Louis, and Spokane are also part of the initiative.

Deacon Thomas Roberts, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, said the partnership simultaneously tackles shelter issues and the root problems beneath many cases of chronic homelessness – mental health and addiction.

“We think that it’s important to recognize the reasons why people have become chronically homeless and to address those issues,” he told CNA. “I think that is where we can have really meaningful change.”

Within five years, the project hopes to have built 100 homes, in either one or two buildings. Roberts said this will be enough to support 20 percent of the just over 500 chronically homeless individuals surveyed to be in south Nevada. He explained that the chronically homeless are those who have been homeless for at least two years.

The initiative does not stop with housing development. Instead, it includes plans to develop mental health offices in the housing units or transportation to a location off campus.

“Often, because [homeless people] don’t have transportation, if you don’t bring the resources close to them or provide them access to get to resources, you have got them housed but you have not addressed the underlying cause of what got them homeless,” Roberts said.

Having worked for Catholic Charities for six years, Roberts has witnessed homeless people continue to abuse alcohol and drugs as they struggle with mental health issues. This creates additional obstacles for people during their rehabilitation, he said.

He also pointed to the 2018 housing survey from Help Hope Home, which found that out of 16,641 cases of homelessness last year, nearly half were linked to mental health or addiction.

“Half of the people are stepping up and saying that mental health and addiction are primary cause for homelessness,” he said.

“If you don’t address that along the way, then people get into housing and they fall right back into…where they started.”

Roberts said the partnership will unite the strengths of three different organizations: Catholic Charities USA offers institutional and financial resources; Dignity Health can implement mental health and addiction programs; and the local Catholic Charities branch understands the regional community and can execute programs accordingly.

The initiative is a practical implementation of social justice, rooted in faith, he said, pointing to Pope Francis’ emphasis on caring for the vulnerable.

“As the Pope would say, we should be medics and we should smell like the sheep,” said Roberts. “Homelessness, mental illness, and addictions are ground zero for hopelessness, so it’s exactly where the Church belongs.”

 

How to pregame Lent: Septuagesima, Carnival, and Shrovetide

Denver, Colo., Feb 17, 2019 / 04:21 am (CNA).- Sunday, Feb. 17 is Septuagesima Sunday, followed by Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays. Sunday kicks off Carnival season, which comes right before Shrovetide, which culminates in Shrove Tuesday - more popularly known as Mardi Gras.

If all but the last of those holidays sounds foreign to you, you are likely not alone - they haven’t been officially a part of the Roman Rite’s liturgical calendar since the 1960s, after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

These strange-sounding days once marked a period of pre-Lenten preparation and feasting that is still observed by some rites within the Catholic Church and other Christian traditions.

“Septuagesima is kept in the personal ordinariates established by Pope Benedict XVI for former Anglicans, now within the full communion of the Catholic Church,” said Father James Bradley, a priest from the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in the United Kingdom.  

“Septuagesima is still marked in the older Anglican prayer books, and is part of the Anglican patrimony preserved by Divine Worship: The Missal, used by the ordinariates,” Bradley told CNA.

Pre-Lent Sundays: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima

Septuagesima is the ninth Sunday before Easter, or the third Sunday before Lent.  The name comes from the Latin word for seventieth, since the Sunday falls roughly within 70 days of Easter Sunday. The succeeding Sundays are also named for their distance from Easter: Sexagesima (60), Quinquagesima (50). Quadragesima Sunday (40) is the first official Sunday of Lent.  

Septuagesima Sunday is also symbolic of the 70 years of Babylonian captivity.

“Whilst Lent mirrors the 40-year exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to freedom in the Promised Land, Septuagesima mirrors the 70 years of the Babylonian captivity. Both lead from captivity to freedom, and so also point to salvation won for us by Christ: freedom from slavery to the Promised Land of Heaven,” Bradley said.

Septuagesima Sunday traditionally marked the beginning of some of the more somber practices that characterize the season of Lent - it was the day when the saying or singing of “Alleluia” would be suspended until Easter, and the first day that priests would wear penitential purple vestments. The last alleluias would traditionally have been sung after Vespers the previous night.

In ordinariate communities, the “goodbye” to the Alleluia takes place on the Sunday before Septuagesima, when the hymn “Alleluia, song of gladness” is traditionally sung, Bradley said.

“This is an English translation of an 11th century hymn, wishing ‘farewell’ to the Alleluia, which disappears from the liturgy until Easter, replaced instead by a Tract (verses typically of the Psalms sung instead of the ‘Alleluia’),” he said.  

“The idea of ‘burying the Alleluia’ for the length of these penitential seasons is taken one step further in some places, where a depiction of the Alleluia is literally buried until the chanting of the great Paschal Alleluia during the Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter,” he added.

Septuagesima was also, in the early Church, the beginning of the Lenten fast, since according to the old liturgical calendar, Thursdays and Saturdays, in addition to Sundays, were days that Christians would not fast.

“Just as Lent today begins 46 days before Easter, since Sundays are never a day of fasting, so, in the early Church, Saturdays and Thursdays were considered fast-free days. In order to fit in 40 days of fasting before Easter, therefore, the fast had to start two weeks earlier than it does today,” Catholic author Scott P. Richert noted in a 2018 article for ThoughtCo.

Farewell to meat, cheese, fun: Septuagesima-tide, Carnival, and Shrovetide  

Septuagesima Sunday traditionally kicks off a season known by various names - Septuagesima-tide, or Carnival (typically the name for more worldly celebrations during this time), or Shrove-Tide (particularly in Anglican traditions). The point of the season, Bradley said, is to prepare well for Lent.

“Pope Saint Paul VI is said to have described the progressive move toward Lent in Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, like church bells that call the faithful to worship, 15, 10, and 5 minutes before Mass,” Bradley said.

“Each week in the lead-up to Lent is a nudge that the great and holy fast is around the corner, and our preparations for this should intensify.”

These days were also practical for Christians in pre-refrigeration days - they would use the pre-Lenten season to use up the rich, perishable foods such as meat and cheese that they had in their house before Lent began, and the unused foods would spoil, Michael P. Foley, Catholic author and associate professor of Patristics at Baylor University, noted in a 2011 article.

Days of preparation for Lent are also found outside the Roman liturgical traditions, Bradley said.

“For example, in the East Syrian liturgy (as celebrated by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church), the week before Septuagesima is marked by Moonnu Nombu, which recalls Jonah remaining three days in the belly of the whale. Moonnu Nombu is a short, three day fast, in preparation for the coming major fast of Lent.”

In Byzantine and Orthodox traditions, they even have designated “meatfare” and “cheesefare” Sundays, which focus on clearing the house of meats and dairy, respectively.

“Similarly, in Russia and other Slavic countries the week before Lent is called ‘Butter Week’; in Poland it is called ‘Fat Days,’” Foley noted. 

Carnival is the term for the more festive, wordly events associated with the pre-Lenten season, and is celebrated throughout the world with parades, parties and feasts. Still, the word itself is Catholic in origin, coming from Latin Carnem levare (carnelevarium) which means "withdrawal" or "removal" of meat, according to “The Easter Book” by Father Francis X. Weiser, S.J.

The intensity of some Carnival celebrations comes from the intensity of the fasting of old, which was much more restrictive than it is today, Weiser noted.

“The intensity of this urge, however, should not be judged to stem from the mild Lenten laws of today but from the strict and harsh observance of ancient times, which makes modern man shiver at the mere knowledge of its details. No wonder the good people of past centuries felt entitled to ‘have a good time’ before they started on their awesome fast,” he said.

“Carnival music” has Spanish, Portuguese, Native American and African influences, and is typically associated with the regions of the Caribbean and Brazil, which has some of the largest Carnival celebrations in the world.

“Though it varies from country to country, Carnival music has a common origin in bidding a fond farewell to fun before the forty-day fast of Lent,” Foley noted.

One last chance: Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday

The last day before Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent, is called Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, depending on the country or region.

“Mardi Gras” is French for Fat Tuesday, the biggest celebrations of which in the United States take place in New Orleans, Louisiana, with parades and parties on Bourbon Street and throughout the city. 

Besides being the last day to clear the house of indulgent foods, it is also traditionally the last day to clear the soul from sin before the start of the Lenten season. According to Weiser, the name “Shrove Tuesday,” typically more common in Anglican areas, was thus called because it was a day to be “shriven from sins.”  

The ubiquitous pancake breakfasts, most often associated with parish breakfasts sponsored by the Knights of Columbus in the United States, may also have their origins in Shrove Tuesday, as pancakes were a traditional English food served on the day to rid the house of any last sugar, butter and eggs.

Lent this year begins on March 6.