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Bishops reject funding increase for USCCB, for now

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- A proposed increase in diocesan payments to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has failed to attract sufficient support among the bishops on Monday, the first day of their annual general assembly in Baltimore.

Diocesan and eparchial bishops voted 111 to 55 to approve a requested three percent increase to the annual diocesan assessment that will be sent to the USCCB in 2021, failing to receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass, though the decision is not definitive. 

The bishops, gathered for their four-day meeting Nov. 11-14, were told that a number of economic factors in, and out of the Church had impacted the finances of the USCCB. Concerns over the cost of clergy sex abuse settlements in U.S. Catholic dioceses was particularly highlighted.

Although the proposed rate increase did not pass, the vote was declared inconclusive because 28 eligible bishops were not present on Monday. The conference hall was told that once their votes are counted, the final outcome will then be announced. The bishops from New York state are currently in Rome for their scheduled ad limina visit with Pope Francis but are reportedly following the proceedings in Baltimore and able to vote remotely.

“It caused me no surprise,” Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Budget and Finance, told CNA of the inconclusive vote. As a longtime staffer and member of the budget and finance committee, he said that “this is nothing new under the sun.”

The diocesan assessment goes to fund administrative, pastoral, and public policy programs at the USCCB, and a regular increase is necessary to maintain the reserves of the conference, Schnurr said.

The archbishop acknowledged the financial challenges of some dioceses facing a resurgence in clergy sex abuse claims from new openings in state statutes of limitations.

“There are a lot of dioceses in this country that are looking at bankruptcy,” Schnurr said.

The bishops voted on the first day their fall general assembly in Baltimore on Monday. In attendance were active and retired bishops from around the U.S. including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis late in 2018 after persistent questions were raised over the extent of Wuerl’s knowledge of his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick’s, history of sexual abuse of minors and adults.

The bishops will also consider a slate of other action items, including election of a new president and vice president of the conference, approval of a letter and short video presentation of the bishops’ document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and presentations on gun violence and evangelization.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the outgoing president of the conference, delivered his final presidential address to brother bishops on Monday morning, emphasizing the need to overcome deepening divisions and polarization in society, to promote a renewed evangelization, and to practice solidarity with migrants and immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Archbishop Schnurr addressed the bishops on the proposed 2020 budget for the conference as well as a proposed three percent increase in the annual diocesan assessment to the USCCB.

The three percent increase was last approved by the bishops in November of 2017, for the 2019 diocesan assessment. However, in November of 2018, no increase was approved for the 2020 assessment largely due to the costs dioceses were facing from a surge of new clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

Schnurr noted other problems facing the national conference’s budget including stricter federal immigration and refugee policies that have reduced the number of cases handled by Catholic organizations, and the trade war between the U.S. and China which could affect the overall U.S. economy and thus the amount of donations coming in to the conference.

The archbishop said that it was not “sustainable” to not increase the annual assessment to meet the conference’s estimated $25 million budget.

“We’re just kicking the can down the road,” he said. “The expenses are there.”

However, while the proposal fell 18 votes short of passage, Schnurr said, he expected the votes of absent bishops to push it over the finish line.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia stated his opposition to the assessment increase, saying that his archdiocese’s assessment amounts to $257,000 per year which, when paired with a matching donation to the Holy See, totals more than half a million dollars annually.

“I don’t have this kind of money to keep increasing it [the assessment],” Chaput said. “We have huge expenses because of the sexual abuse issue and related circumstances.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had to pay more than $32 million in settlements to abuse victims, WHYY reported, after a window for new abuse claims closed on Sept. 30 in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse that was released in August of 2018.

Chaput said that the USCCB also has more savings and investments in reserve than the archdiocese does.

“I don’t think that some of the work of the USCCB is essential to the mission of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” he said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich noted that a three percent increase for 2021 would arrive three years since the last increase to the assessment had been made. The requested increases would not even keep up with the rate of inflation, he said.

On Monday morning, the bishops also voted on “revised strategic priorities” for the conference’s Strategic Plan for the years 2021 through 2024. The priorities included evangelization to “form a joyful band of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ,” promoting “life and dignity of the human person,” working to “protect and heal God’s children,” and promoting vocations to marriage, priesthood and the religious life.

The priorities are all coequal, “much like bishops in the episcopal conference,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, who gave the presentation on the priorities, said.

The bishops voted 214 to 4 to pass the revised strategic priorities, with two abstentions.

Cardinal DiNardo notes search for justice in last USCCB presidential address

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 11:35 am (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, outgoing president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlighted Monday his experience leading the conference and detailing his personal growth over the last three years as his presidential term comes to an end.

“My service as president has been a continual reminder that, indeed, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,’” DiNardo said at the US bishops' autumn general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 11. While “our present culture can seem overtaken by various ideological or political divisions,” bishops and other followers of Christ need to be different, he affirmed.

“Follow a simple truth: ‘God is always courteous,’” said DiNardo. “Let us be courteous.”

DiNardo remarked that while his tenure was during the “difficult times within our own Church,” that the bishops must continue to seek justice and to work for “relationships that are ordered in the right way--that is, towards the salvation of souls, including our own.”

DiNardo presided over the USCCB after it came to light that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused minors and seminarians on many occasions, as well as during the release of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania. Other states have since begun grand jury investigations.

Properly ordered relationships, said the cardinal, exclude any trace of clericalism. An ordained man cannot act “as if he is a lord and master” over others, he said.

“The privilege of a cleric is to be a humble servant to all,” he said. “Justice demands that those who are shepherds should lead from in front, as courage requires, and from behind, as humility requires, going to those who are lost.”

The cardinal said that his experience meeting with victims of sexual abuse as president of the conference was one that “forever changed” his life.

“When too many within the Church sought to keep them in the darkness, they refused to be relegated to the shadows,” said DiNardo. “Their witness brought help to countless fellow survivors. It fueled the resolve of my brother bishops to respond with pastoral support and prevention programs.”

Sexual abuse victims empowered the bishops “with the knowledge needed to respond,” said DiNardo.

“We must never stop striving for justice and working unceasingly to prevent any future abuse from happening,” he said. “The measures we approved last June are a beginning of this renewed striving, but they are only a beginning – more needs to and will be done.”

“Traveling on your behalf these past three years, it was a privilege to learn from so many people along the way,” said DiNardo.

He spoke about his time visiting the border detention centers, and witnessing the faith of the children who were detained and separated from their parents, as well as his experience with other bishops visiting refugees and volunteers at respite centers.

“I met dozens of children who called upon their Catholic faith and the firm knowledge that Christ and His Church would be present with them. Along with my brother bishops, we went because Jesus was already there. We followed our shepherd,” said DiNardo. He extended an invitation to all present to “share our journey of solidarity with migrants and refugees.”

DiNardo said that workers at respite centers, who provided medical care and other needs for people at the border, were “doing God’s work,” as were people who worked at pregnancy centers. He praised the work of pregnancy centers, as well as public policy advocates seeking to change the country’s healthcare system.

“The continued fight to defend unborn children is one of the most significant things we do,” said DiNardo. “And it will remain so as long as the most innocent lives are left unprotected.”

The cardinal's successor as USCCB president will be elected Nov. 12. The bishops are almost certain to choose Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who is currently vice president of the conference.

US nuncio: Francis' 'pastoral thrust' must reach Americans

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- The apostolic nuncio to the United States told the nation’s bishops that their commitment to evangelization is the measure of their communion with Pope Francis.

Archbishop Christoph Pierre addressed the bishops during the opening session of the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore Monday morning.

Pierre told the bishops Nov. 11 that he would propose “some topics for reflection” which he hoped would inform the conference sessions. The central theme of his reflections was the commitment of the bishops to a state of constant missionary engagement.

“As often as we speak of the ‘new evangelization,’ serious reflection is necessary on the outcomes of our efforts,” Pierre said.

“Do you feel that we and our collaborators have been far-sighted and proactive in efforts at evangelization, anticipating cultural, philosophical, and political trends,” Pierre asked, “or do we find ourselves in the position of having been reactive?”

“Do pastoral priorities we have chosen truly touch the reality of the life of our people?”

The nuncio said that the extent to which the bishops themselves received and were able to transmit Pope Francis’ missionary and pastoral priorities, especially in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, was the barometer of their own communion with the pope.

Pierre said that adopting the missionary impulse of the pope’s own writings “and being in a permanent state of mission might represent tangible signs of communion with the Holy Father, for it would show the reception and implementation of his teaching.”

“The pope has emphasized certain themes: mercy, closeness to the people, discernment, accompaniment, a spirit of hospitality towards migrants, and dialogue with those of other cultures and religions,” Pierre said, while asking bishops to consider if these themes were reflected in their clergy and people.

“It is an interesting question to ask,” Pierre said, “because while there has been a strong emphasis on mercy by the Holy Father, at times – paradoxically – people are becoming more and more judgemental and less willing to forgive, as witnessed by the polarization gripping this nation.”

“The pastoral thrust of this pontificate must reach the American people,” the nuncio insisted, “especially as families continue to demand of dioceses and parishes the accompaniment envisioned by Amoris laetitia.”

Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, called for better pastoral provision and accompaniment for families and couples in irregular marriages. Whether the document can be interpreted as authorizing a change in Church teaching, or permitting the admittance of the divorced-and-civilly-remarried to Holy Communion, has been the subject of debate in dioceses and countries across the world.

The nuncio did point to some positive signs of life in American dioceses, specifically singling out the defense of human life and religious liberty and the generosity of Catholics in welcoming migrants to the country.

“The generosity and willingness of Catholic to sacrifice is witnessed in the charitable works during times of national disasters or through Catholic Relief Services,” he said, and signs of hope were present in the Church “even as many of us worry about the lasting impact of the sexual abuse crisis.”

The archbishop acknowledged that the Church in the U.S. faces “many challenges,” highlighting the demographic changes and the need to engage better with young people.

Pierre also highlighted a series of priorities and concerns about the welfare of the priesthood, acknowledging a shortage of clergy had led to strained circumstances in many dioceses. He urged to make “communion with the presbyterate” a key priority.

“Establishing communion within the presbyterate is becoming increasingly challenging, and not just because of differences in age, theology, or liturgical practices.” He noted the increasing numbers of priests from other countries serving in American dioceses.

“Although we are grateful for the sacramental and pastoral care provided by these priests, we must investigate how this has affected or is affecting the presbyterate within our respective dioceses.”

In answer to the shortage of clergy, Pierre said that there is “an urgent need the bishops to foster a “culture of vocation.”

“Building a culture of vocations also means providing adequate support for and accompaniment of families, where vocations are born and nurtured even at a young age.”

Pierre concluded by saying he hoped that the American bishops would find his “reflections” useful for the coming year.

“Knowing the richness of your spiritual and cultural heritage, as well as the depth of your faith and devotion and that of your people, I am confident that the Church in the United States will discover the right path for its spiritual renewal.”

Analysis: USCCB elections and the Church's theological vision

Baltimore, Md., Nov 10, 2019 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference fall meeting is unlikely to offer any surprises to Church observers watching the assembly. In fact, while the meeting will begin Monday, its only real surprise came weeks ago, when the list of candidates for the conference presidency and vice presidency was published.

The bishops will elect a new president Tuesday, almost certain to be Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, now the conference vice president. The uncertain question is who they’ll elect as vice president, but Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the military archdiocese are largely considered the front-runners, and one of them is likely to win.

But the surprise of the candidates’ list, released Oct. 21, is that nearly all the bishops eligible to be elected president or vice president are  typically classified, at least by secular media, as “conservative.”

Ordinarily, candidates represent a cross-section of the theological and socio-political perspectives within the conference. But this year, each of the candidates, save for one, has been described as a “conservative,” and, to some extent, the label fits. 

The categories of political sociology are not helpful in a Church context, because the modes of thinking and acting in the Church are very different from those of political partisanship.

Rather than speaking of “conservatives” and “liberals,” it is more accurate to say that the candidates for high office in the bishops’ conference can all be seen to represent the Communio school of post-Vatican II theological formation, instead of the Concilium school represented by Cardinal Blase Cupich and Bishop Robert McElroy.

The possible exception to this categorization is Bishop Dan Flores of Brownsville, who, as a rather well-read Thomist, does not fit neatly into either category. But in the contemporary theological landscape, a Thomist like Flores is generally thought to have common cause mostly with the Communio crowd. To borrow from political language, Flores might be spoken of as an “independent” who usually caucuses with the Communio school.

In short, though, the nominees are more uniform in theological perspective than is typical for slates of conference candidates.

Candidates are selected by nomination; each bishop is asked during the summer months of an election year to nominate candidates for office, and those who get the most nominations are in the running. The nominees they selected could be taken as a sign that most bishops hold to the Communio theological approach that defined the papacies of the St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, rather than the Concilium approach, which has enjoyed a resurgence in some quarters during the pontificate of Pope Francis.

It could also mean that any of the Concilium bishops who got a nomination declined it. There are, indeed, rumors that at least one archbishop who fits Concilium mold turned down the nod. But the idea that the U.S. bishops are mostly cut from the cloth of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and tend to think like those men, is hardly radical, and it makes sense they would mostly nominate bishops of a similar vein.

But the nominees’ slate does signify that a one-time tradition in conference elections is probably over, for good. It has long been customary that the conference elect its vice president as president, and it was once customary that the top job alternated between “conservative” and “progressive” bishops.

Both customs were interrupted in 2010. In that year, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was then considered to be a “conservative,” was elected president in a coup that saw the “progressive” vice president, Bishop Gerarld Kicanas, left out in the cold. Since Dolan’s election, two more mostly-conservative, Communio school bishops have been elected president of the conference.

Gomez, though naturally a bridge-builder and a man of modest temperament, falls rather squarely in the Communio school, and his successor is sure to as well. That will make five bishops of mostly similar theological orientation elected to lead the conference in a row. The unspoken custom of alternating between theological viewpoints seems to be dead.

Still, if the nomination of very similar bishops as candidates for the 2019 election signifies that the John Paul II Communio approach is the predominant viewpoint among the U.S. bishops, it’s not certain how long that will last.

There are two Americans on the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, which plays a heavy role in nominating candidates to the episcopacy. One is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is 78 and will depart from the congregation in two years. Wuerl, leaving aside the personal disgrace in which he now finds himself, is regarding theologically as a moderate Communio bishop. The other is Cardinal Blase Cupich, who, with his language of “paradigm shifts,” is regarded most definitively as a Concilium figure.

If Cupich plays a principal role in the nomination of U.S. bishops, the American episcopacy will likely tend toward the Concilium school, even as the Communio crowd takes leadership posts at the conference. If the Concilium bishops eventually occupy 51% of the American episcopate, however, the tides will turn.

That future possibility, in fact, may well be the reason why no Concilium bishops are running to be conference president. If they expect that the composition of the conference might undergo significant change in the next decade, they might judge it better simply to bide their time.

The real difference of opinion between Communio and Concilium bishops concerns the interpretive lens through which the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and indeed the Magisterium of the Church more broadly, should be read. That theological debate will have implications for decades, and perhaps centuries. For a sense of how the debate is going, the leadership and composition of the U.S. bishops' conference may prove to be a pretty good litmus test.

 

Corpus Christi bishop donates bone marrow to save a mother's life

Corpus Christi, Texas, Nov 9, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- This week, Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi reflected on bone marrow donations and the life of the mother whom he helped save.

Before he became a bishop, Michael Mulvey joined the Be the Match Registry, the world’s largest register for bone marrow transplants (BMT), which is run by the National Marrow Donor Program.

After the organization discovered a match, South Texas Catholic reported, Mulvey, 70, traveled to San Antonio to make a peripheral stem cell donation. He had matched with a mother who had been diagnosed with a type of blood cancer.

Although Mulvey has never met the woman, he said he was humbled by the experience and expressed gratitude to be able to contribute to the well-being of this mother and her family.

“Knowing that because of the life I have been given by God – I was able to give back and make a big difference in this person’s life, in the life of her children and her family is something I have thought of quite often,” he told South Texas Catholic Nov. 5.

Mulvey said he was introduced to Be the Match in 2004, while he was a priest of the Diocese of Austin. There, he had met Leticia Mondragon, a donor development and engagement specialist with GenCure who partners with Be the Match.

“When I was assigned in Austin years ago, one of our very charitable and active parishioners was signing up people for Be the Match,” said Bishop Mulvey, according to South Texas Catholic. “I appreciated her commitment and dedication to this cause, and after hearing more about the registry, I signed up.”

BMT replaces unhealthy bone marrow with healthy marrow from an outside source. The procedure is used to cure cancers in the blood as well as diseases in the bones and immune system. Among other illnesses, BMT has been used for leukemia, aplastic anemia, and sickle cell disease.

According to South Texas Catholic, Mondragon said the process to sign up is more convenient than in the past, noting that people may apply through their smartphone.

Unlike blood donations, a match for BMT does not focus on blood type, but ethnicity. Mondragon expressed hope that the new system will add more “people of all ethnic backgrounds” to the registry.

She stressed the importance of BMT donors, stating that life-threatening disorders are discovered every few minutes, and thanked the bishop for his contribution.

“Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a life-threatening blood cancer or blood disorder, such as leukemia or lymphoma,” said Mondragon, according to South Texas Catholic.

“We are thankful Bishop Mulvey wanted to share his story because it is so important that we have leaders like him promoting our global life-saving mission,” she further added.

Bishop Mulvey described the experience not only as an opportunity for charity but as a spiritual encounter.

“St. Matthew says what you have received as a gift, give as a gift,” said Bishop Mulvey, South Texas Catholic reported. “We must always remember that everyone’s life is a gift and true gratitude is expressed when you are willing to give back and share what you have.”

The Impossible Burger: Ethics and a CNA taste test

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Food trends come and go, and the trend du jour is plant-based “meat” that is partially made in a laboratory.

Many vegans and vegetarians have rejoiced at the growing popularity and relative mainstream success of both the “Beyond” and “Impossible” brands, and there is a growing claim that eschewing meat choices in favor of these new products is a more ethical choice for consumers.

CNA spoke to Catholic moral theologians to discuss the ethics of eating meat, and the morality of eating faux meat during penitential fasts. And, lest CNA coverage of these products seem incomplete, we conducted a taste test.

According to Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America a person is not morally obligated to choose a vegan patty, like the Impossible Burger, over a beef or chicken burger.

“There’s no reason, in my opinion, to think the consumption of products so dependent upon technology are superior to the consumption of animal products,” said Capizzi.

“I do think, however, in both cases, ethically relevant issues include the production of the foods, including not merely the environmental impact, but also the ways technologies might distance the human being from creation,” he added.

Capizzi told CNA that while he does not think it is ethically superior for people to stick to eating mostly plant-based food, he does think that “people need to reflect on the ethical nature of eating.”

“Though eating is a basic human need, how we eat, what we eat, with whom we eat--including whom we exclude--are all questions that need our reflection,” said Capizzi. While these alternative products have done some work to address some of these concerns, there is much work to be done.

“One thing I’ve noticed is the lack of hospitality that can accompany over-restrictive diets,” he explained, recounting the experience of seeing a poor person offer meat to guests, presented as a luxury, only to see the meat rejected because of the guests’ vegetarianism.

Dr. Charles Camosy, a professor at Fordham University who has written extensively about veganism and vegetarianism, disagreed with Capizzi’s take. Camosy told CNA that these new products make it harder for American Catholics to justify eating meat.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists we have a moral duty not to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly,” said Camosy.

“With good-tasting protein available from so many sources now, including from new imitation meat products, the teaching of the Church would seem to indicate that the necessity of participating in the suffering of death of animals, for most of us, isn't what it might have been in the past.”

Camosy noted that the Bible states that in the new Kingdom of God that will come with Christ’s second coming, “animals are to be our companions, not our food.”

The new kingdom “will be a Peaceable Kingdom among all creatures: lambs, lions, snakes, and babies,” he said, and there will be no need to slaughter animals.

The faux hamburger market is dominated by two companies: Beyond Meat makes the Beyond Burger patty, Beyond Beef ground meat substitute, Beyond Sausage, and Beyond Beef Crumbles. Impossible Foods sells the Impossible Burger patty and the Impossible Sausage.

“Protein, fat, minerals, carbohydrates, and water are the five building blocks of meat,” says Beyond Meat’s website. Beyond uses plant-based versions of protein--including protein from peas, mung beans, fava beans, brown rice, and sunflowers--and fats to create its products. Additionally, Beyond uses beet juice to create a burger that “bleeds.”

Impossible Food uses “heme,” a protein that is found in nearly all living things, to make its plant-based burgers taste like meat. This heme also mimics a  “bleeding” effect.

“Impossible Burger gets its heme from the protein soy leghemoglobin, which is naturally found in soy roots. Impossible Foods produces soy leghemoglobin through genetic engineering and fermentation. Thanks to heme, Impossible Burger has a rich, beefy flavor that satisfies the most discerning meat-eaters — but it contains no animal products whatsoever,” the company’s website says.

Dunkin’, the restaurant once known as Dunkin’ Donuts, launched a Beyond Sausage sandwich nationwide Nov. 6 after a successful test market in Manhattan. Customers can choose to substitute a veggie egg white patty for the fried egg. CNA paid $3.99 for the Beyond Sausage sandwich.

An ordinary pork sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin from Dunkin’ costs $4.99.

CNA recruited three journalists for a blind taste test of the Beyond Sausage sandwich and pork sausage sandwich. Two out of the three testers were unable to determine at first glance if the sandwich they were eating contained Beyond or pork sausage, and one mistakenly thought the pork sausage she was eating was actually the Beyond Sausage.

Two out of the three testers said they preferred the pork sausage sandwich to the Beyond sandwich, but one said she liked that the Beyond sandwich reminded her of a falafel. This tester was the only one who said she would order the sandwich again in the future.

The sandwich was not extremely popular among testers. But some Catholics have asked whether it would be good enough to eat on a Friday, when Catholics are instructed to abstain from (actual) meat.

CNA asked Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., the academic dean and vice president of the Dominican House of Studies, to weigh in on whether or not an Impossible Burger (or similar product) would be appropriate for a day when Catholics abstain from meat.

“The Church’s universal norms say that we should abstain from meat on Fridays, especially Fridays in Lent,” explained Petri. “The Impossible Burgers are not technically meat. So, of course, someone could argue that we can eat them on Fridays.”

Still, he said that “giving up meat but having Impossible Burgers that taste like meat seems to me to be a technicality to get out of the spirit of the penance,” he said.

“We should remember the point here is to give up something in union with Christ crucified. If a person is seeking Impossible meat to skirt the penance, it’s hard to believe they’ve really understood the point of it all.”

It is important for Catholics to remember that fasting and abstinence are not done for purposes of dieting, or to respect animals, said Petri. The purpose of fasting is to “unite our offerings to the perfect offering of Christ, and so to prepare for the great feast of his coming.”

And for those who are still struggling (or hungry) on a Friday, Petri had some advice.

“If you’re craving meat on a Friday, offer it up.” 

 

Family demands answers after migrant in ICE custody removed from life support

San Diego, Calif., Nov 8, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- Relatives are still seeking answers about an asylum-seeker who was removed from life support after an apparent accident while in federal detention awaiting a hearing in immigration court.

Nebane Abienwi, a father of six who fled Cameroon this summer, was declared dead at a medical center Oct. 1 at the age of 37 after what was described as a “medical emergency” at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, USA Today reports. The detention center is a facility of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which had custody over the man.

Abienwi’s brother Akongnwi, who asked USA Today to identify him by his last name for fear of repercussions against his family at home, said the family wanted the ventilator to be kept in place until a relative could arrive. The family wants to know why it was removed.

“We did not approve that,” he told USA Today from Cameroon. “One hundred percent, we did not.”

“The family spoke and said, ‘We believe in miracles. It has happened to other families, why not ours?’,” said the migrant’s brother. “I made clear that he should remain like that and the family would decide if we want to take him off that machine or not.”

ICE told USA Today that Abienwi’s treatment was determined by hospital staff. When its detainees are admitted to the hospital, it said, it works with relatives “to the extent possible to ensure they can participate in decisions.”

Nine migrants have died in ICE custody in the past year. The department detains over 52,000 migrants per day across 225 detention centers and jails. The numbers of arriving undocumented immigrants have surged, straining the resources of government facilities and personnel.

Akongnwi, a resident of South Africa who runs a car repair and brokerage company, has sought a travel visa to travel to California to find out more about his brother’s death, to identify the body, and to perform cultural rites before the casket is sealed. He has been denied a visa at both the U.S. Embassy at Johannesburg and in his native Cameroon. He said U.S. officials in Cameroon asked him whether he would apply for asylum like his brother.

Akongnwi has had to borrow money for his travel expenses. He has arranged for his brother’s body to be kept at a California funeral home but does not know how to get it home.

ICE officials had contacted Akongnwi on Sept. 30 to inform him of his brother’s critical situation. Officials at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center said Abienwi was bleeding profusely from his brain.

Abienwi had suffered a medical emergency about 3:24 a.m. on Sept. 26, according to the ICE detainee death report, apparently after falling off a top bunk in his cell. A nurse found him and reported that he was confused, sweating, making “jerky movements” and complaining of thirst. The detention center staff contacted emergency services at 3:50 a.m. and he was taken to the hospital.

Just after noon on Oct. 1 two doctors reviewed Abienwi’s examination results, concluded they were “were consistent with brain death” and then “pronounced him dead.” The ICE report said the doctors informed Abienwi’s wife 30 minutes later and hospital staff then disconnected the ventilator two hours later.

Akongnwi has questioned the accuracy of parts of the ICE report, saying his brother’s wife could not deal with speaking with the officials and directed them to speak with Akongnwi.

ICE officials said they are reviewing Abienwi’s death to ensure that officials followed policy.

The department has come under heavy scrutiny after President Donald Trump tightened migrant entry rules and refugee detention rules, and implemented stronger enforcement against undocumented migrants.

Watchdogs like the U.S. Inspector General have faulted the border patrol’s federal detention facilities, citing dangerous overcrowding that put detainees’ health and safety at risk.

Trump administration policy seeks to detain asylees until their case is heard in immigration court. Abienwi, who did not have a criminal record, had been in Customs and Border Patrol Custody for two weeks before being turned over to ICE for long-term detention.

Abienwi left Cameroon due to armed conflicts in his country, where about 500 villages have been destroyed, his family said. He flew to Ecuador and traveled through Colombia, Central America and Mexico before reaching the U.S. border. According to Akongnwi, his brother said he planned to request asylum.

“He wanted to go to the United States, get his documents, start to work, open a business and bring his family, so they can be safe and the kids could go to school,” Akongnwi told USA Today.

For decades, Catholic bishops and other leaders have advocated for comprehensive immigration reform.

The bishops have faulted various aspects of Trump administration policy, including its treatment of unaccompanied child detainees, its family separation policy, and its “stay in Mexico” policy wherein would-be asylum seekers are denied entry to the U.S. pending court hearings.

In June Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, whose diocese borders Juarez, Mexico, denounced “a government and society which view fleeing children and families as threats; a government which treats children in U.S. custody worse than animals; a government and society who turn their backs on pregnant mothers, babies and families and make them wait in Ciudad Juarez without a thought to the crushing consequences on this challenged city.”

“This government and this society are not well,” he said June 26. “We suffer from a life-threatening case of hardening of the heart.”

The bishops’ concerns about U.S. treatment of migrants pre-date the Trump administration. In a report released in May 2015, titled “Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System,” they charged that detainees receive harsher treatment than criminal defendants and face increased difficulty securing legal counsel and due legal process.

They advocated reducing the number of detention facilities and recommended community-based case management as a cost-effective and successful model in the legal processing of immigrants.

The report cited attorneys’ and pastoral workers’ reports of “the sexual abuse of women detainees, women forced to deliver babies in restraints, frequent hunger strikes, suicides, government officials pressuring detainees to abandon their legal claims, and the treatment of severe medical conditions with Tylenol, Advil, and Motrin.”

Second federal court rules against HHS conscience protection rule

Spokane, Wash., Nov 8, 2019 / 02:25 pm (CNA).- For the second time in two days, a federal judge on Thursday said the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule for health care workers violated the law.

Judge Stanley Bastian in the Eastern District Court of Washington, an Obama appointee, ruled against the Department of Health and Human Services Nov. 7 after the State of Washington brought a lawsuit against the agency’s conscience protection rule that was issued in May.

The HHS rule had enforced existing laws which stipulated that health care workers and entities did not have to participate in, provide or pay for procedures they morally objected to, such as abortions.

The conscience rule was originally set to go into effect in July but its implementation was delayed until Nov. 22 because of lawsuits filed over it. Then, a federal district court judge in New York vacated the rule Nov. 6, followed by Judge Bastian’s decision Nov. 7.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a statement following Thursday’s ruling, saying that “all Washingtonians deserve to receive the full range of health care services” and that the district court recognized this.
 
“This rule would have disproportionately harmed rural and working poor Washington families, who have no alternatives to their local health care providers, as well as LGBTQ individuals, who already face discrimination when they seek medical care,” Ferguson said.
 
In allowing health care workers and entities to opt out of providing certain procedures, the rule unfairly discriminated against people seeking abortions, gender-transition surgeries, and other procedures, he argued. 

The HHS rule “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority” drew upon existing conscience protections that had already been enacted by bipartisan majorities in Congress, and provided for enforcement of these protections in HHS-funded health care programs.

Under the rule, health care providers, entities, and workers would be prevented “from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide,” HHS said when the rule was finalized in May.

HHS also issued the rule to clarify the conscience rights of health care employees and institutions so they might not “feel compelled” to participate in a procedure against their moral convictions or leave the industry altogether.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, Congress had begun enacting laws and amendments to provide some protections for health care workers or entities opposed to participating in abortions and sterilizations, in federally-funded programs. Provisions such as the Weldon Amendment, the Church Amendments, and the Coats-Snowe Amendment were examples of these protections.

In 2008, at the close of the Bush administration, the HHS also issued a conscience protection rule for health care workers that was rescinded by the Obama administration.

In 2011, HHS issued a new conscience rule, one which “provided inadequate enforcement of conscience rights,” the Trump administration later said, as it was based on only three existing laws; in contrast, the 2019 rule was based on more than two dozen statutory provisions protecting conscience rights.

In response to the 2019 rule, a coalition of 19 states, the District of Columbia, local governments, and pro-abortion groups including Planned Parenthood’s national federation and Northern New England affiliate, all sued the administration.

On Wednesday, a district court judge in New York struck down the 2019 HHS rule, saying that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution.

However, the judge did not prevent the administration from amending the rule and reissuing it, writing that “The Conscience Provisions recognize and protect undeniably important rights” and that “HHS undoubtedly has potent existing authority to remedy violations of the Conscience Provisions.”

The HHS Office of Civil Rights says that, while the rule will not go into effect for the time being, the office will continue to investigate complaints of conscience violations in health care, under the agency’s 2011 rule and the existing laws passed by Congress “to the extent not prohibited by court order.”

During the Trump administration, the agency had created a new division for conscience rights and religious freedom within the Office of Civil Rights, as an effort to hear and investigate cases of discrimination against the conscientious beliefs of health care workers.

In August, the agency released the results of its investigation in a case at the University of Vermont Medical Center, where it said a nurse had been coerced into assisting in an abortion despite her conscientious objection. HHS issued a notice of violation against the hospital.

Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said in a press call announcing the violation that over the course of eight years the agency received only 10 complaints by health care workers of conscience violations; now hundreds are received per year.

The Department of Justice had not responded to CNA’s request for comment by press time on whether or not the administration would appeal the two decisions to a higher court.

Holy See won't participate in Nairobi Summit

New York City, N.Y., Nov 8, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Holy See will not participate in next week's Nairobi Summit, its mission to the UN announced Friday, saying next week's international gathering is too focused on “reproductive rights”.

The Nov. 12-14 Nairobi Summit is sponsored by the UN Population Fund and the governments of Kenya and Denmark, and it marks the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, which was held in Cairo.

Its program includes five themes, among which are “Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as a part of universal health coverage” and “Upholding the right to sexual and reproductive health care even in humanitarian and fragile contexts.”

“The organizers’ decision … to focus the conference on a few controversial and divisive issues that do not enjoy international consensus and that do not reflect accurately the broader population and development agenda outlined by the ICPD, is regrettable,” the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations said Nov. 8.

The Holy See had informed Kenya Oct. 24 it would not be participating in the summit.

“The ICPD and its encompassing Programme of Action within the international community’s broad development agenda should not be reduced to so-called 'sexual and reproductive health and rights' and 'comprehensive sexuality education,'”, the Holy See stated.

Rather, there is an “urgent need to focus on critical aspects of the Programme of Action, such as women and children living in extreme poverty, migration, strategies for development, literacy and education, the promotion of a culture of peace, support for the family as the basic unit of society, ending violence against women, and ensuring access to employment, land, capital and technology, etc.”

The permanent observer mission said the Holy See cannot support the Nairobi Statement, citing that “no substantive and substantial consultations on the text were carried out. The Holy See notes that if more time and a truly inclusive approach had been chosen, broader support could have been ensured for the text and for the conference.”

It added that “the conference will be held outside of the United Nations framework, thus precluding transparent intergovernmental negotiations while conveying the misleading impression of 'consensus' on the 'Nairobi Statement.' Therefore, 'The Nairobi Summit' cannot be deemed a meeting requested by the United Nations or held under its auspices.”

The permanent observer mission added that “the Holy See is and remains a staunch supporter of ensuring the advancement of equitable, sustainable and integral human development that fosters human dignity and the common good of every man, woman and child.”

Several African bishops have also noted grave concerns with the gathering in Nairobi.

Bishop Alfred Rotich, Bishop Emeritus of the Military Ordinariate of Kenya and chair of the Kenyan bishops' family life office, told ACI Africa: “We find such a conference not good for us, (and) destroying the agenda for life.”

Archbishop Martin Kivuva of Mombasa described the summit's agenda as “unacceptable according to our teaching of the Catholic Church” and he encouraged Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to be wary of the forum.

To counter the agenda of the Nairobi Summit, the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum, with the backing of Kenya's bishops, has organized a parallel convention to be held Nov. 11-14.

Florida school asked to reconsider rejection of pro-life student group

Naples, Florida, Nov 8, 2019 / 09:58 am (CNA).- A Florida public high school’s decision not to recognize a student pro-life group is a violation of the Constitution, one legal group says.

Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom on Nov. 7 sent a letter to Gulf Coast High School in Collier County, Florida, asking administrators to reconsider the decision to deny the club official status.

Earlier in the school year, student Gabrielle Gabbard attempted to form a Sharks 4 Life student group on campus, affiliated with the national Students for Life organization. The purpose of the group, according to a promotional flyer, was “to educate students and bring awareness through community service projects and other events.”

However, the letter from Alliance Defending Freedom charges, Assistant Principal Catherine Crawford-Brown told Gabbard that the group would not be approved by the school district because it was too “political” and “controversial.”

The letter also says Crawford-Brown threatened the club’s faculty advisors, suggesting that they could lose their jobs if they were affiliated with the club, which caused them to withdraw from their participation in the group.

Gabbard and her peers have now missed out on club recruiting opportunities and been denied access to school facilities and advertising, the letter says.

Alliance Defending Freedom said the school’s actions constitute “a blatant form of discrimination based on the club’s viewpoint and the political content of its speech [that] is expressly disallowed” by both the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Equal Access Act.

“Public school officials can’t refuse to recognize a student organization for being too ‘political’ or ‘controversial,’ especially when they have rightfully approved a whole host of other clubs formed around religious, political, and social interests,” said Michael Ross, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, in a press release. “The First Amendment doesn’t permit a public school to play favorites when approving student organizations.”

The letter notes that Gulf Coast High School recognizes more than 75 students clubs, including others with religious and political affiliations, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Gay Straight Alliance, and Collier Students for Change, which is affiliated with Florida’s Democratic Party, have all been approved by the school.

In the letter, Alliance Defending Freedom asks the school to provide written notification of Sharks 4 Life’s approval within a week, and asked the Collier County school board to update its written policies clarifying that clubs will not face discrimination based on their religious or political views.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, warned that the scenario at Gulf Coast High School was not unique.

“Across the country, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion,” she said in a press release.

“But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot single out pro-life groups for exclusion from recognition. Officials in Collier County need to do the right thing and do it quickly.”