Browsing News Entries

Cincinnati archbishop 'anticipating' Vatican investigation into handling of abuse case

Cincinnati, Ohio, Sep 17, 2019 / 02:37 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati has submitted a report to Rome, following criticism of the archdiocese’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse against a local priest.

Archdiocesan officials told CNA Sept. 17 that a complete file on the case of Fr. Geoff Drew has been sent to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, DC, for transmission to the relevant curial departments, expected to include the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA that a “full report” was sent to Rome via the nuncio on Aug. 30, and that Archbishop Schnurr “anticipates that the Vatican may order a full investigation” into the handling of the case.

“Archbishop Schnurr takes any accusations of sexual abuse very seriously, as well as any possible lapse in internal procedures for handling allegations,” the spokesperson told CNA.

Fr. Geoff Drew was arrested August 19 on a nine-count indictment for sexual abuse. The charges date back 30 years to before Drew’s time in ministry, when he was a music minister at a local parish. The accusations concern abuse said to have taken place over two years, when the reported victim was 10 and 11 years old. Drew pled not guilty during an Aug. 21 arraignment hearing. If convicted, the priest could face life in prison.

At the time of his arrest, Drew had already been removed from ministry following a several of allegations of misconduct with teenage boys which came to light in July and August.

Despite a series of complaints raised over a period of years, Drew had been able to remain in ministry and allowed to transfer from the parish of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Liberty Township, OH, to the parish of St. Ignatius, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese.

The handling of Drew’s case by archdiocesan officials, and his ability to transfer to another parish, has drawn heavy criticism from the priest’s former parishioners, who have asked how it was possible that a series of complaints was made to Church authorities and forwarded to local law enforcement, but resulted in no action against Drew.

In August, CNA reported that Cincinnati auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer had failed to inform Schnurr and the archdiocesan priest personnel board about past allegations against Drew dating back to 2013 and 2015.

As head of priest personnel, Binzer was in charge of the process that considers requests and proposals for priest reassignments, in conjunction with the priest personnel board. Neither the board nor the archbishop were made aware of the multiple complaints against Drew, and a 2018 transfer between parishes was approved for the priest.

After CNA presented its investigation to the archdiocese, a spokesperson said that Binzer would be removed from his position as head of priest personnel, effective immediately, while the archdiocese began its own internal investigation.

On Aug. 6 Binzer resigned from the USCCB’s committee on child and youth protection, which advises the bishops’ conference on all matters related to safe environment policy and child protection. Binzer had been serving as the regional representative for the dioceses of Ohio and Michigan.

The failure of bishops to act on allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse has been the focus of successive scandals in the Church in the past year. In addition to accounts that accusations against former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick were ignored by Church authorities over a period of years, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report revived criticism of past occasions where bishops ignored complaints against predator clergy.

The allegations that Binzer internally withheld the allegations against Drew came just weeks after the USCCB met in Baltimore to adopt measures aimed at building processes to address episcopal misconduct or neglect, and the ongoing crisis of credibility widely perceived to overshadow ongoing work to eliminate sexual abuse from the Church.

These measures included a set of directives applying in the U.S. the new universal norms for investigating allegations against bishops promulgated by Pope Francis in Vos estis lux mundi and which came into force on June 1.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese could not confirm whether Archbishop Schnurr had included a request for an investigation into Binzer’s conduct under the provisions of Vos estis, in the report submitted at the end of August, or whether Binzer will be the subject of the “anticipated” Vatican investigation.

“Archbishop Schnurr sent the full report to Rome on the whole case and he is waiting for the Vatican’s response,” the spokesperson told CNA.

Beware scammers, Cardinal Dolan warns, after online fraudster targets followers

New York City, N.Y., Sep 17, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York issued a statement Monday clarifying that he will not and has never used social media to privately solicit donations. The cardinal made the statement in response to an online scam operation being conducted using his name to solicit funds.

“I've heard from some of you you've received Facebook or Twitter messages from an account pretending to be me,” said the archbishop on Twitter Sept. 16. “Please know I will never reach out privately on social media to ask for donations.”

Dolan encouraged anyone who had been asked to donate money by an account purporting to be him on Twitter or Facebook to report it to the archdiocese. 

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York told CNA that they had received “several reports” that someone impersonating Cardinal Dolan was requesting money from people, “ostensibly for charitable purposes,” and that this was not the first time something like this has happened.

“Sadly, we’ve seen this scam being used in the past few months with other religious figures - pastors, priests, other clergy - being impersonated, and so wanted to remind people that Cardinal Dolan will never solicit donations in this way,” said Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese’s director of communications.  

Zwilling added that, “While the internet and social media can be great tools of evangelization, they can also be used by unscrupulous individuals seeking to ‘rip-off’ trusting and generous people.” 

“It’s always a good idea to be cautious, and double or triple check, especially online, that the person is who he or she claims to be!” 

These types of scams are called “phishing,” and are relatively common. A “phisher” will pose as either a known, trusted person or as a website, and request money, passwords, or other protected information. Frequently, phishers will create spoof emails and addresses that look like genuine emails from an organization or person in order to harvest passwords and credit card information from an unsuspecting victim. 

A person can protect themselves from phishing by using security tools like two-factor authentication, and exercising constant vigilance before sending personal information or money electronically. Electronic security experts advise considering if any request is typical policy for an organization, and to take a step back before blindly giving away sensitive info. 

Other safety recommendations include checking the full email or account address to ensure the authenticity of the sender or, in the example of a public figure such as Cardinal Dolan, to see if the social media account is verified as authentic. 

Massachusetts bishops say action is urgently needed on climate change

Boston, Mass., Sep 17, 2019 / 12:25 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Massachusetts warned in a new pastoral letter that climate change has reached a crisis level and requires decisive action. They encouraged Catholics to embrace the message of stewardship in Pope Francis 2015 encyclical, Laudato si’.

“In our home state of Massachusetts, we are blessed with inspiring natural beauty from the seashore on the east coast to the majestic mountain vistas in the west - with rolling hills, vibrant communities and rich farmlands throughout the state,” the bishops said.

They encouraged the faithful to reflect on this created beauty as a gift from God.

“To protect and sustain this gift we must act now within our faith institutions and throughout the state to take substantial, meaningful steps to protect our environmental [sic] and provide relief from the impact of toxic pollution and climate change to protect the health and safety of all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable in our society,” they said.

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Bishop Edgar da Cunha of Fall River, and Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield released a pastoral letter this week. They cited reports indicating that climate change has reached a point of unprecedented urgency.

This past July was the hottest month ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, which found that worsening wildfires, hurricanes and heat waves could continue affecting the United States, leading to a more than $400 billion impact on the U.S. economy each year, if climate change is not addressed.

The bishops also noted that world food security is at risk, due to changes in climate, according the United Nations, which estimates that there may be as little as 12 years to significantly cut global emissions in order to limit the rising temperature of the earth and prevent more catastrophic consequences.

The Massachusetts bishops pointed to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home as a model to follow in working to fight climate change.

In that encyclical, Pope Francis warns of increasing global temperatures and rising sea levels, saying, “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”

With an eye to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, the Massachusetts bishops called on individuals, schools, parishes and businesses to examine what they can do to be better stewards of the created world around them.

“Every person’s actions will depend on their life circumstance and their commitment to protect our natural resources,” they said.

“Families should discuss their concerns about the environment and how their lifestyle and consumption is contributing to the climate changes and other environmental degradation. Parishes should integrate Catholic social teaching on the environment in their liturgy and in their religious education program,” they continued. “Action is needed at all levels of government to encourage replacement of fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy while ensuring that the most vulnerable in society are protected from harm during this transition.”

The bishops echoed Pope Francis’ call for an “integral ecology,” saying that such an ecology “respects the dignity of each person, identifies a moral obligation to protect the environment, and promotes social justice by supporting responsible economic development with respect for all people and the earth.”

Louisville's Archbishop Kurtz will return to Kentucky before cancer surgery

Denver, Colo., Sep 17, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who announced in July a diagnosis of the most common form of bladder cancer, said Sept. 16 that his surgeon will allow him to return to his diocese around Oct. 20 for three weeks.

Kurtz, who served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2013 to 2016, has been staying in North Carolina for the duration of his treatment at the Duke University Cancer Institute.

“This date will mark the completion of the chemotherapy and immunotherapy and will allow me to be strengthened for the radical surgery that will occur at the Duke Cancer Institute on November 11,” Kurtz wrote on his blog.

“After the surgery, I hope to be released by my surgeon at Thanksgiving.”

Kurtz stepped down from leading the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ religious liberty committee a few weeks after announcing his diagnosis. Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, has been appointed as his replacement and will serve as acting chair of the committee until the November 2019 General Assembly meeting.

Kurtz said he has been sad to miss the many visits he would typically take throughout the summer to the various parishes in the archdiocese. He asked for continued prayers.

“While urothelial carcinoma is somewhat common, the form I have and its location is not,” he continued.

“Because of the aggressive nature of the cancer, I will be required to have this radical surgery on November 11 and should find out by Thanksgiving what ongoing treatment or limitations will be present.”

Kurtz said in July that Archbishop Christoph Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, was aware of his illness and imminent absence from his archdiocese, and was “supportive of the plan I have developed.”

He said his vicar general, Father Martin Linebach, traveled to North Carolina recently to “continue to develop pastoral directions on the horizons before us,” and next week diocesan Chancellor Dr. Brian Reynolds, Chancellor, and Vicar for Priests Father Jeff Shooner will visit North Carolina for additional discussions about pastoral issues for the fall.

He said his stamina remains good but he must still avoid crowds because of the risk of infection.

According to the American Cancer Society, urothelial carcinoma is the most common form of bladder cancer. The five-year relative survival rates for all stages of bladder cancer is 77 percent.

 

California Catholic Conference asks governor to veto college abortion bill

Sacramento, Calif., Sep 17, 2019 / 12:05 am (CNA).- California legislators passed a bill Friday that would require all state universities to offer medication abortions, despite the objections of pro-life leaders.

In a Sept. 16 statement, Andrew Rivas, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, encouraged California Governor Gavin Newsom to oppose the bill.

“We urge him to veto this unprecedented and unnecessary legislation because it purposely narrows a young woman’s choices and puts the state’s prestigious academic institutions in a position of actually promoting, facilitating and potentially funding only abortions,” he said.

The California State Assembly voted 55-19 in favor of the bill. It had passed through the Senate in May. Newsom has a month to decide whether to veto the bill or sign it into law.

Currently, a majority of campus health centers offer gynecological services and contraceptives, but they will refer students seeking an abortion to an off-campus abortion clinic. If the bill passes, all 34 public universities throughout California will be required to offer medical abortions for the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy.

The proposal would be funded by the College Student Health Center Sexual and Reproductive Health Preparation Fund, which would be established under the bill and administered through the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

The bill would require nearly $10.3 million in private money to be raised before Jan 1, 2020. According to the New York Times, supporters said the amount has already been raised. The money would be used to train staff and buy medical equipment. State law already requires abortion costs to be covered by insurers.

A spokesperson declined to comment on what Newsom intends to do, but during his campaign last year, he supported a similar bill vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the bill was “not necessary” because abortion services were “widely available” off-campus.

Sen. Connie Leyva, sponsor of the bill, said the legislation comes at a time when other states are “rolling back women’s health care.” She said California is leading the charge in reproductive rights.

“SB 24 reaffirms the right of every college student to access abortion. By ensuring that abortion care is available on campus, college students will not have to choose between delaying important medical care or having to travel long distances or miss classes or work,” she said, according to The Sacramento Bee.

The California Catholic Conference said the bill overemphasizes abortion as an option for college pregnancies. While the bill invites health centers to include abortion counseling services, the conference said it is “specifically written in such a way to exclude pro-life counseling.”

“This bill will promote only abortion-inducing drugs on college campuses,” said Rivas. “No government-funded institution, medical or counseling center, should ever provide only one set of services. If this bill is truly about providing choices for female students, the state should then also require and fund life-affirming services on campus.”

“Offering state-funded abortions as the only alternative to pregnancy undermines the ability of a state academic institution to promote the value of diversity and the empowerment of women,” he added.

Rivas said college-age women deserve a safe and supportive environment when faced with a pregnancy. He said campus centers should offer services like pregnancy counseling, childcare, housing assistance, and adoption.

“The life and dignity of every person is due respect and protection at every stage and in every condition. The right to life is the first and most fundamental principle of human rights. As Catholics, we recognize the sacredness and primacy of human life and we oppose any legislation or attempt to deny the basic human right to life,” he said.

Other groups, including the Department of Finance and California’s major university systems, have also questioned the bill’s effectiveness and potential problems with its implementation.

According to The Sacramento Bee, the Department of Finance said the program will likely exceed the established fund and expressed doubt that the commission had enough experience to lead a program of this size.

The New York Times reported that the University of California and California State University systems have raised questions about financial logistics and liability. If the private implementation fund is exhausted, the costs would have to be covered by the universities, who might then have to increase student health fees.

California’s bishops have also condemned the bill. In July, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop James Soto of Sacramento encouraged their parishioners to oppose the bill.

“If we are going to be the people God calls us to be, if we are going to restore and renew the Church and rebuild society, then we need a new dedication to living our Catholic identity and communicating that identity in everything we do, from our schools and religious education programs to the way we live our faith in society,” Gomez said in the Angelus, the archdiocesan publication.

“This is unprecedented intrusion on university campuses. It is unnecessary and only serves to further indoctrinate the young to the ideology of abortion,” said Soto in a pastoral letter. “We must continue our efforts to stop this deadly piece of legislation. The womb should not become a tomb for any child anywhere in our state. Women and children deserve better.”

Ousted Planned Parenthood president says board violating contract on terms of exit

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2019 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- Dr. Leana Wen, the former president of Planned Parenthood whom the board fired in July amid a dispute over the group’s mission, is reportedly still locked in a contract disagreement with the board over the terms of her exit.

According to reports, Wen says that Planned Parenthood is refusing to give her severance pay and pay for her family’s health insurance unless she agrees to a gag clause.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Wen had on Sept. 9 sent a 1,400 word letter to Planned Parenthood’s Board of Directors, accusing the organization of withholding her contractually-mandated health insurance and severance pay as “ransom” to pressure her to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The Times has not released the full text of the letter, and Wen has expressed her disappointment that the letter leaked to the press.

“There should be no dispute regarding the terms of my employment contract, which are clearly spelled out,” she said in a statement.

Melanie Newman, a senior vice president for communications at Planned Parenthood, called Wen’s accusations “unfortunate, saddening, and simply untrue.”

“The attorneys representing the board have made every good faith effort to amicably part from Dr. Wen, and are disappointed that they have been unable to reach a suitable resolution regarding her exit package,” she said, as quoted by the Times.

According to the Times, Newman stated that Wen has remained on payroll during the negotiations and will be salaried through mid-October, with health benefits through the end of that month. She said Planned Parenthood had offered Wen a full additional year of salary and health benefits.

Wen took the reigns at Planned Parenthood in September 2018, following the 12-year presidency of Cecile Richards. She was president until July 16, when she announced that the “board ended my employment at a secret meeting.”

“We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood,” she said via Twitter.

Wen cited philosophical differences with the new board chairs over the direction that the organization should be moving. Wen has said she firmly believes Planned Parenthood to be a healthcare organization, not primarily a political advocacy organization.

“The new Board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy,” Wen said.

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion performer in the United States. In 2016, the organization performed about one out of every three abortions.

Alexis McGill Johnson, a former political organizer, was named acting president after Wen’s ouster, and the organization has said that they hope to appoint a new president by the end of 2019.

Wen said in her September letter, as quoted by the Times, that “there is a vocal minority” including many national staff and board members “who prefer a stridently political, abortion-first philosophy.”

Wen has recently announced her new position as visiting professor at George Washington University, and also that she and her husband are expecting a baby.

Former Planned Parenthood director-turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson told CNA that Planned Parenthood is “once again showing their true loyalties” and that she hopes Wen will open up about her experience. Johnson left her position as Planned Parenthood and founded And Then There Were None, an organization that seeks to help abortion clinic workers leave the abortion industry.

“Dr. Wen has been horribly betrayed by Planned Parenthood. It's heartbreaking to watch her former employer throw her under the bus because she dared to question their commitment to actual healthcare,” Johnson said in a statement to CNA.

“They don't value their employees because they don't value people, especially pregnant women, who they see more as dollar signs than human beings.”

Johnson has been publicly reaching out to Wen on Twitter to encourage her to speak confidentially about her situation.

"Dr. Wen doesn't need to go through this ordeal alone,” Johnson said.

“I sincerely hope she knows she has an ally in me, someone who went through a similar situation and who has not only excellent attorneys but also a vast network of support through And Then There Were None who would welcome Dr. Wen with open arms.”

In the past decade, Planned Parenthood has seen its number of patients decline. The number of cancer screenings, contraceptives distributed, and prenatal services provided by the organization decreased as well.

Abortions, however, have increased by about 10 percent since 2006, despite Planned Parenthood seeing fewer patients.

 

More than 2,000 aborted remains discovered at doctor's home

South Bend, Ind., Sep 16, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- An investigation has been launched by police after more than 2,000 remains of aborted children were found at the former home of late-term abortionist Dr. Ulrich “George” Klopfer in Will County, Illinois. 

Klopfer passed away on September 3. Nine days later, an attorney representing his family contacted the Will County coroner's office, reporting that “medically preserved fetal remains” had been discovered on the property and requesting proper removal. It was discovered that a total of 2,246 fetal remains were on the property. 

Authorities say there is no evidence that Klopfer was performing abortions at his house in Illinois.

The Will County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment further to CNA, citing the open and ongoing investigation into the remains and deferring all questions to a forthcoming press conference.

It is unknown what the approximate gestational ages of the fetal remains are, how old the remains were, or where the abortions took place. It is not legal to transport fetal remains over state lines, and abortion in Indiana is not legal past the 22nd week of pregnancy. If the abortions were found to have been performed on older fetuses, Klopfer also would have been guilty of this crime as well. 

Klopfer’s medical license was suspended in 2016 following numerous safety and legal violations in the state of Indiana.

Prior losing his medical license, Klopfer was believed to be one of the most prolific abortionists in Indiana. Over his four-decade career, he is estimated to have aborted more than 30,000 children. He worked at three clinics, which he owned, with locations in South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Gary. Klopfer only reported performing first-trimester abortions, rasing further questions about the nature and developmental age of the fetal remains.

His home in Will County, where the remains were discovered, is not far from the Indiana border. 

Klopfer’s license was initially suspended in 2015 after he failed to timely report that two of his patients were 13-year-old girls. He was charged with a misdemeanor, but that charge was dropped after the completion of a pre-trial diversion program. 

Indiana law requires that abortions on patients that young must be reported within three days, and Klopfer instead waited six months to report their abortions. The state medical board voted to suspend his license, even though the charges were dismissed. The three clinics he owned were all closed by November 2015.

Indiana’s age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16 years old, although there are “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions for consensual relations between two underage teens. 

In 2016, after his license was suspended, the state’s attorney general’s office filed a complaint alleging that Klopfer had failed to provide proper personnel to monitor women who were undergoing a surgical abortion procedure. Klopfer was accused of regularly failing to offer painkillers to women undergoing an abortion, and often performed surgical abortions without any anesthetic.

During those proceedings, Klopfer also admitted to performing an abortion in Illinois on a 10-year-old girl who had been raped by her uncle, and that he did not report the crime to the appropriate authorities. 

The state’s medical board also found that Klopfer was using outdated surgical practices from the 70s and 80s, and that his facility in Fort Wayne was “rundown, not well-maintained” with expired medications and equipment that did not work. 

Police said Klopfer’s family has been cooperating with the investigation. 

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is currently a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. In August, Buttigieg expressed support for an unlicensed abortion clinic, Whole Woman’s Health, was beneficial for the women of his city. Due to a court injunction, the clinic is allowed to continue to operate. 

“The South Bend clinic would be the only one for a radius of several counties," said Buttegieg’s press secretary Chris Meagher. "It is a restriction on a woman's right if she is low-income, or doesn’t have a vehicle, and she has to visit multiple times, but the clinic is dozens of miles away.”

The administrator of Whole Woman’s Health’s South Bend location is a former employee of Dr. Klopfer who worked at his now-shuttered South Bend clinic. 

As Mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg attempted to block the operation of a pro-life pregnancy center that was attempting to open next door to Whole Woman’s Health, saying that he thought it was not “responsible.” The pregnancy center, Women’s Care Center, was eventually able to open across the street.

Arizona Supreme Court says artists have right to decline same-sex wedding creations

Phoenix, Ariz., Sep 16, 2019 / 01:47 pm (CNA).- The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of two Christian artists who argue that they should not be forced to create custom artwork for same-sex weddings in opposition to their religious beliefs.

“The rights of free speech and free exercise, so precious to this nation since its founding, are not limited to soft murmurings behind the doors of a person’s home or church, or private conversations with like-minded friends and family,” the court ruled. Rather it said, “these guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, paintings, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs.”

Attorney Jonathan Scruggs, who had argued the case before the court, hailed the ruling in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix as a victory for religious freedom.

“The government shouldn’t threaten artists with jail time and fines to force them to create custom artwork, such as wedding invitations, expressing messages that violate their beliefs, and that’s what the court has affirmed today,” said Scruggs, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski are the owners of Brush & Nib Studio. The pair creates custom artwork, such as wedding invitations and place cards with calligraphy and handpainting. The women say that their religious convictions forbid them from using their artwork to promote a message they disagree with morally.

The women were challenging Phoenix’s public accommodation law. Under the criminal law, they could face up to six months jail time, $2,500 in fines, and three years probation for declining to create artwork for same-sex weddings.

The city of Phoenix says declining same-sex weddings is an illegal act of discrimination based on sexual orientation, in violation of City Code Section 18-4(B). However, the women say that they will happily serve clients of any sexual orientation, but that they cannot promote all messages.

In a brief filed with the court, ADF argued that “Courts have long recognized individuals’ right ‘to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster…an idea they find morally objectionable.”
The brief warned that imposing on the right to refrain from speaking or supporting a certain message poses a threat to all people, regardless of belief.

A lower court had ruled against Duka and Koski. Scruggs said the Arizona Supreme Court was right to overturn the lower ruling.

“Joanna and Breanna will now be able to create custom wedding invitations and to communicate about their beliefs without fear of government punishment, as any artist should be free to do,” he said. “This isn’t just a victory for them. It’s a victory for everyone.”

Man jailed for threatening Little Sisters of the Poor set for bail hearing

Allentown, Pa., Sep 16, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvania man who sent online threats to the Little Sisters of the Poor is asking a federal court to allow him out of jail. Jaan Kruus, Jr., 55, will present his bail request in court on Monday at 3pm. 

Kruus was was indicted by a federal grand jury in July on two counts of sending threatening messages online, via his computer, to the Little Sisters of the Poor, LehighValleyLive.com reported.

According to the indictment, Kruus sent “a threat to injure another, specifically, persons affiliated with the Little Sisters of the Poor,” on February 1, 2017 and again on May 9, 2017, from Emmaus, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.. The Little Sisters of the Poor operate a residence for elderly patients in Northeast Washington, D.C., the Jeanne Jugan Residence.

Kruus was ordered to undergo a health and psychological evaluation by U.S. Magistrate Judge Harry S. Perkin. He requested bail, and at his hearing will take place September 16 in the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania.

According to his motion for pretrial release, Kruus resides in Emmaus, Pennsylvania and cares for a disabled friend while living with his parents. He was evaluated by psychologist Jeffrey E. Summerton, Ph.D., who decided that he could benefit from mental health counseling and may have anger management issues.

The motion says that after being questioned by FBI agents in June of 2017 about the online threats, Kruus was not arrested or deemed a threat despite having allegedly admitted to sending the threats.

“In its argument for detention the government relies heavily on a crumpled note purportedly in Mr. Kruus' handwriting that was found in a wastebasket in 2011 by his then and still estranged wife,” the motion states. “The note uses the verbs ‘kill’ and ‘bomb’ in the imperative voice with various objects including his parents, two neighbors, and law enforcement officials.”

“He [Kruus] was investigated by the local police regarding that writing and was not charged. Nothing has come of the writing in the following eight years,” the motion states.

It is unclear from the July indictment what specific content was contained in the threats Kruus sent to the Little Sisters of the Poor in 2017, as well as his motive for doing so.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have been in national news in recent years for their lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The health care law required coverage of certain preventative services in health plans, clarified by the Obama administration to include contraceptives and sterilizations—including emergency contraceptives that prevent implantation of a fertilized embryo, thus causing early abortions.

The religious exemptions to the mandate were narrowly tailored and excluded many religious non-profits that objected to the mandate, including the Little Sisters of the Poor. An “accommodation” offered by the Obama administration did not satisfy the sisters and others, who argued in court that it would still force them to contradict their religious mission in forcing them to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

Although the Trump administration issued a rule in 2017 expanding the religious exemptions to the mandate, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a lawsuit against the religious order, as did the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, saying the sisters should not receive a religious exemption to the mandate.

The Little Sisters of the Poor congregation was founded in France in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan and entered the United States in 1869; the congregation is dedicated to living with and caring for the elderly poor, and serves in more than 30 countries around the world.

Suicide is on the rise - What can the Catholic Church do to help?

Denver, Colo., Sep 15, 2019 / 04:42 pm (CNA).- This past week marked National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States, a week where mental and public health advocates share tips and advice on suicide prevention and spotting the warning signs of suicide.

On Monday of that week, popular evangelical pastor and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson, 30, reportedly committed suicide. Just hours prior to his death, Wilson had posted a message on Twitter about Jesus’ compassion for the depressed and suicidal.

“Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts,” Wilson wrote. “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that,” Wilson tweeted.

Wilson had been a long-time advocate for mental health, and founded “Anthem of Hope,” a Christian outreach for the depressed and suicidal, with his wife. His death followed that of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, another young, vibrant evangelical pastor and mental health advocate, who committed suicide last year. 

In the span of just 16 years, suicide rates among working-age Americans (aged 16-64 years) spiked 34% between 2000 and 2016, according to data from the Center for Disease Control. Among Americans aged 10-24, the spike was even more dramatic - CDC data shows a 50% increase in suicides among this group between 2000-2017.

The suicides of these two pastors highlight this concerning upward trend in suicide, especially among young people, even among those who are part of a Christian community.

CNA spoke with three mental health professionals about why suicide rates, particularly among young people, are increasing, and what the Catholic Church and other faith communities can do to help.

Overconnected, and under pressure

Deacon Basil Ryan Balke is a licensed therapist at Mount Tabor Counseling in the Denver area, and the co-host of the podcast “Catholic Psyche,” which aims to educate people on the integration between the psychological sciences and Catholic spirituality, philosophy and theology. He is also a married deacon with the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church.

Balke told CNA that he thinks one of the driving factors of an increase in suicide among teens and young adults is their constant connectedness to the world through mobile devices, coupled with a lack of greater meaning in their lives.

“When I was in high school...I would go home, and I wouldn't really have any contact with my friends unless I wanted it,” Balke said.

“And now with the saturation of the iPhone...you get the communication that is constantly there and constantly moving and so you can never unplug, and you can never continue on with life outside of the image you have to put out into the world (through social media),” he said.

“They’re always distracted, always moving forward. I was a youth minister for many years as well, and it was just - these kids never had a moment's peace,” he added.

Tommy Tighe is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Bay area in California, who also hosts a podcast on Catholicism and mental health called “St. Dymphna’s Playbook.” Tighe told CNA that despite having more connections, young people today are more isolated than ever.

“There's so much more pressure...there’s so much more of a drive to be popular,” Tighe said, but social media connections often do not equate to “a close-knit community of close friends.”

According to a 2015 article from the peer-reviewed research journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, frequent social media use in children and teenagers is associated with poor psychological functioning, as it limits their daily face-to-face interactions, impairing their ability to keep and maintain meaningful relationships.

The study found that students who reported using social media for two or more hours daily were more likely to poorly rate their own mental health, and experienced high levels of psychological distress and suicidal ideation.

“There’s a trend towards superficial relationships, and of course you don't post on Instagram ‘I'm depressed’ or something like that, so I think people don't know who to reach out to,” Tighe noted.

Furthermore, Balke said, “I think what is also happening is the younger people have lost meaning in their day-to-day lives as well. I think all of us have lost meaning as a force in our lives.”

Balke said especially for young people, there is an increasingly intense pressure to perform academically or athletically that has replaced the things that used to bring people a sense of greater purpose, such as faith or virtue or close familial connections.

“Whether it be sports, they have to be track stars, they have to be in all AP (advanced placement) classes, they have to have like 30 college credits before they graduate high school, a 4.0 is not good enough anymore it's gotta be a 4.3 or something,” he said. “I don't even know how you do that. They're pushing themselves so aggressively to the point where there's no meaning behind it all because they don't have an overarching purpose. These things are substitutes for that.”

“You might do something stupid like literally eating a tide pod, laundry detergent, and you become world-famous for thirty seconds. It's so crazy,” he said. “It's like these kids are just waiting for their next big break.” 

The lingering stigma of mental health care

Another driving factor in the spike in suicides among young people and other populations is the lingering stigma of seeking out therapy or other mental health interventions, Tighe said.

“I think we try to act like we’ve really changed (as a society) in our perception of mental health, but I don't think that's really true,” Tighe said.

“Especially...it seems like every time there's one of these mass tragedies in our country, mental health gets brought up and I think that pushes people even further away from wanting to reach out or identify as having an issue,” he added.

Additionally, Tighe said, not only do young people today have a harder time making meaningful relationships with their peers, parents are also often afraid to broach the subject of suicide and mental health with their children.

“I'm hoping that the younger generation of parents will be a little bit more willing, but it's scary, right? That’s super scary to talk about.”

But talk about it parents must, Balke said, and the more specific they are, the better.

“You want to use that exact phrase: ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ Or ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ You don't want to use the phrase ‘self harm,’ or ‘Are you thinking about hurting yourself?’” he said. “You want to be very clear.”

Some people fear that bringing up suicide may plant the idea of suicide in their child’s head, or may worsen their depression, but Balke said that studies show that these fears are unfounded.

“Statistically speaking - you can't catch suicidal thoughts,” Balke said. “You're not going to be pushing kids to become suicidal by asking, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ That’s actually... helping them come out of that isolation.”

The Soul Shop movement: helping congregations prevent suicide 

In 1999, Fe Anam Avis was the pastor of a Presbyterian church in a small suburban town in southern Ohio when the suicide of three students within seven months rocked his community.

Searching for help and resources for his grieving congregants, he found that there was little to nothing when it came to faith-based resources for suicide prevention and mental health. He started traveling to speak about suicide, but noticed that clergy and church leaders weren’t among his audience members.

“He said, ‘I would go to these towns and they would have me in a fire hall and I would give a presentation about suicide and a hundred people would show up in a small town. And not one of them would be a clergy person,’” Michelle Snyder told CNA. Snyder is the director of Soul Shop, an organization founded by Fe that trains clergy and congregations in suicide prevention and interventions. Fe has since retired.

“(Fe) said consistently it felt like people in the church were not connecting this issue of suicide prevention with faith, and pastors were just not showing up to engage with this as an issue as a matter of faith.”

That’s what spurred Fe to found Soul Shop movement, a group which now travels the country to give workshops to congregations on how to speak about suicide, how to prevent it, and what the warning signs are.

“I'll often say to a group of faith community leaders, if you're asking yourself the question, is anybody in my parish thinking about suicide? You're asking yourself the wrong question. Because the right question is, which six people out of the hundred here are thinking about suicide right now?” Snyder said.

Part of the training consists in simply raising the awareness among clergy and church leaders that there are people in desperation within their own congregations who are at risk for suicide and need help. Snyder said they also train congregations on how to support people who have been impacted by the suicide of a family member or friend.

In addition, they study the stories about suicide, or suicidal ideation, found in Bible passages.

“There's quite a few,” she said. “We've got Judas, the story of Judas, and that's a suicide. But you've also got stories like Elijah (who was) praying to die. You've got Saul, who fell on his own sword and killed himself...you've got Job, who said death would be better than what I'm experiencing. You've got lots of heroes in the Bible who thought about (it) or else just said, ‘I'm in so much pain. Death would be better,’ but who didn't attempt (it). So you've got lots of suicide - you've got suicide attempts, you've got suicides, you've got suicide intervention.”

They also train church leaders in spotting some of the warning signs of a person who is at risk for suicide.

Tighe said some of those warning signs include people who have been noticeably depressed for long periods of time, social withdrawal, talking about suicide or self-harm, or the giving away of prized pocessions, among other things.

A warning sign that might seem strange, Tighe said, is when someone who has been depressed for a while is suddenly and inexplicably happy again.

“If someone's been super depressed and then all of a sudden they're sort of feeling really good...that makes us very nervous, because sometimes it’s because they’ve made the decision like, okay, on Friday, I'm going to do it. And they feel like a burden lifted off their shoulders, because there's an end in sight,” he said.

When those risk factors are spotted, those are the times to specifically ask people if they’re considering suicide, Tighe added.

During the Soul Shop trainings, Snyder said, the group takes a public health approach to suicide, meaning that they train faith communities to take a collective responsibility for the health of their own people.

“We spend a whole day equipping communities of faith on how to be communities of faith in relationship to this issue,” she said.

One of the biggest suicide prevention tools that communities of faith can provide, Snyder said, is being "soul-safe" communities of faith, where people feel connected and valued as whole people, and not just for one aspect of their identity.

People who are more resilient to suicide are those whose don’t have all of their “eggs in one basket,” Snyder noted.

“If every egg is in the basket of being on a full scholarship for football, and then I get injured, every egg was in that basket. I have no Plan B, and so that becomes a risk. And helping our people in our congregation become well-rounded people with lives that are full and rich and diverse can be a suicide prevention initiative.”

Soul Shop, church communities that are trained in suicide awareness and prevention are called “soul-safe communities,” Snyder said, which are “communities where people are intentionally connected to each other...communities where everybody knows what to look for. Communities where we are aware of our tendency to shun when we get uncomfortable and are challenged to not do that.”

What else can be done?

Besides hosting a Soul Shop or other suicide prevention training, what else can pastors and parishes do to help prevent suicide?

Balke said he would encourage all pastors to meet with their staff and frequent volunteers in order to familiarize them with locally available mental health resources. They should know the location of clinics, the hours of those clinics, and what crisis numbers to call, he said.

“They need to have quick access to them, so that when someone is coming in their office, or after a bible study or whatever it is when this kind of conversation comes up, they have it on their phone ready to go and they won't have to go searching for it,” he said.

Tighe said he recommended that parishes have flyers posted on their bulletin boards with information on local mental health resources, as well as local crisis hotlines to call or text. In the United States, texting “741741” will connect users to a crisis text line.

Text lines get great response rates, Tighe said, because “everyone's like, okay I would send a text, because it's easier. And they're incredible. We get people who come to our clinic who are like, ‘I was driving to the bridge, (because that's a very popular thing here in the Bay Area for people who are suicidal), and for whatever reason texted these people and they told me to come to your clinic before I went.”

Pastors and clergy should also make it a point to build a personal relationship with the mental health professionals in their congregation, Balke said.

“Someone that they can just phone and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this? What should I do in this situation?’” he said. “I have a number of priests and deacons who have phoned me on a regular basis and say, ‘You know, someone came into my office and said this this and this. What's going on here?’”

Pastors and other church leaders also need to treat suicide and mental health issues with the seriousness they deserve, Balke said, and not treat them as something that is either not a serious issue, or something that can be solved solely by prayer or spiritual direction.

“Mental health in the Church is a real problem, and...it's not necessarily being addressed with the seriousness, from an institutional level, that it deserves. People are committing suicide in our parishes and in our churches.”

Snyder said that she is confident that, if properly trained, churches and parishes have a key role to play in preventing suicides in their communities.

“We talk a lot about putting your seatbelt on before the accident happens. And that's kind of what we're describing here, is how do we do that in faith communities long before crisis strikes,” she said.

 

 




Correction 9/17: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified "soul-safe" communities as "full faith" communities. It has since been corrected.